Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tips On How To Handle Long Train Rides

Today, we have another guest post, this time from Outreachmama. This guest post "Tips on How to Handle Long Train Rides" is written by Wendy Dessler.

Enjoy The Experience

While there can be a lot of beauty in traveling alone, if you’re hauling your own luggage around, that beauty will be metered with fatigue.

It can be easy for your luggage to get lost in the shuffle when you’re traveling during the holidays. Here are some tips to make holiday travel less arduous; but one thing worth considering is that you don’t have to haul your bags around as you go from one place to another. This is especially good news for those who have larger moves ahead of them!

Now certainly, if you’re traveling on a train, losing your luggage will be less likely. It stays on the same train throughout the journey! But it could be expensive, depending on how much you have to bring with you. Additionally, some may have access to it that you would prefer didn’t.

My personal statement is that traveling on a train today is a bit of a novelty in the USA. Nobody travels by train anymore. They usually take a vehicle or a plane. But on a train you can work, or watch movies, or read a book throughout the journey. In Europe is quite different - people do have common practice to travel by train a lot, especially in between countries. You can watch the landscape go by and meet new people in the varying passenger cars.

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A New Kind Of Train

The anatomy of a modern passenger train may take several forms, but for longer journeys, you can expect to find several different kinds of cars. There will be “first class” cars, there will be luggage cars, dining cars, cocktail cars, observation cars, and on some trains even a smoking car—that will depend on your region, though.

If you’re on a really long trip, you want to get to know each of these cars. Trains are great to travel in because you can get up and move around. That said, if you have a bag with you the whole time, you’ll be worried about how it sits—especially if you are traveling alone.

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Surprising Possibilities

If you really want to enjoy your travel, why not send your luggage on ahead of you? The No.1 Student Shipping Company,, are: “…experts at shipping students’ effects around the world. We make worldwide luggage delivery convenient for University Students, Holidaymakers, the Forces, and Seasonaires.”

Consider this: if you work from a computer, during a ten-hour journey you could conceivably work through your backlog and arrive at your destination without anything else to drag you down.

If you plan it right, you can send your luggage on ahead of you while you enjoy all the many things a train has to offer. Bring a book, or watch a movie on your tablet. Meet that pretty young person in the bar and get to know them better—you may even be going to the same place.

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Look at the scenery. There’s a passenger train which goes through Montana all the way to Glacier National Park. On its observation car, you can see some of the purest breathtaking vistas in all of North America. Many other trains have similar routes that are likewise astonishing, and can change your view of the country in certain ways.

If you’re a photographer, you can catch some truly beautiful shots—the kind you wouldn’t be able to find any other way. Some trains will go through a gorgeous mountain pass where for as far as the eye can see, no sign of humanity is visible.

However you spend your time on a train, there are new experiences to be had, and convenience to be enjoyed. In some cars you can even take a nap in the provided bed. So if you haven’t tried traveling by train, maybe it’s time to give it a shot!

Author Bio

Wendy Dessler
Wendy is a super-connector with Outreachmama who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking. She frequently writes about the latest advancements in digital marketing and focuses her efforts on developing customized blogger outreach plans depending on the industry and competition.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Salzburg on a Budget using the Salzburg Card

Being a "slow" traveler, I am usually not a fan of those "City Cards", a tourist travel card that gets you free admission to tons of attractions (alot of it are museums), get discounts in shops and ride the local bus/metro free. Many of the popular cities in Europe have these cards (sometimes called "Pass"), eg. Lisbon Card, Granada Card, Firenze Card etc. I feel that I usually do not "use up" the value of the card as I usually visit very few attractions a day. Some of these Cards allow you to skip queues or grant priority access and for these, I think they are certainly worth considering (esp to those mega popular sites).

Now obviously not all the cards are created equal. I visited Salzburg Austria over the New Year last year, and found the Salzburg Card amazing value (for me). The card comes in 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour versions. Here's sharing some info and tips on how I used a 24-hour card over a 2-day period!

View of Salzburg city from Hohensalzburg Fortress

Now, the 1st thing to note is that it's a 24-hour card. This is different from some other cards, which may be a "1-Day card" or "3-Day pass" etc. Because it's based on hours and not on a date, you can actually use this card over a 2 day period. Today's technology is such that entry into attractions are through bar-codes and QR-codes etc, so the Salzburg card (which has a barcode) activation is done on your first use/entry into an attraction. The 24 hours validity of the card start from this activation time.

Mozart's Birthplace, now a museum of course!

So on my first day, I walked around the city in the morning, which is what I usually do when I reach a new city. I love to just walk around and get a feel of the place without visiting any attraction. Sometimes I can spend a whole day just walking (told you I am a "slow" traveler). I only started using the card like 1.30pm. Now, the list of free admission and discounts attractions are quite numerous. So read your favorite guidebooks or on internet to see which attractions interest you. Obviously, most of the Mozart/Sound of Music stuff are included in the list :). The key tip is, leave your favorite attraction or one that you know will take up the longest time to the last. So next day, just make sure to reach it before the activated time, eg. for me, I made sure to reach before 1.30pm. Once you enter, you can enjoy the attraction however you like even though your Salzburg card is past the validity since the validity is only checked on the point of entry! (by the machine scanning the bar-code on your card)

Cable-car up Untersberg - the cost of the cable car is 23.5€, which is almost the cost of the 24hr Salzburg Card!

The cost of the 24-hour Salzburg card in winter is 24€ and the cost of all the places I've visited worked out to be 84€, so I figured it's really value for money ;). As opposed to those "1-Day" kind of cards, where you'll have to cram visiting all the attractions in 1 full day, this allows you to split your "touring" over 2 days with an overnight rest! (assuming you activate it in the early afternoon like me)

For those who are only staying a night, arriving late morning/noon and leaving next day afternoon, can also utilize this card perfectly. Remember this card also includes free local transportation, so you could take the bus etc to the train station free. I have to say though, that Salzburg deserves more days! So enjoy this tip, and oh, it may be applicable to other "City cards" as well, so do read the fine prints / details!

Salzburg at Night

Walking along the river in Salzburg

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Galapagos Islands on a Budget

I have never really looked at the Galapagos islands as one of my destinations, mainly because of my perceived costs of the cruises going there. But a chance conversation with a friend pointed me to the possibility of a Galapagos trip in an "independent" fashion. And so, I made it to the Galapagos Islands on a "budget"!

The Galapagos Islands lie about 900km west of Ecuador (which it is part of), and consists of a couple of main islands, a dozen other smaller ones and many more islets. They are well-known for the biodiversity available only in this region, which contributed largely to the formulation of Charles Darwin’s famous theory of evolution.

Of these islands, only Santa Cruz and San Cristóbal have access to an airport. So, independent travelers can fly in/out of any one of two — you could also fly in one, and out from another, which can be a nice arrangement if you are doing island-hopping. Several airlines fly there from either Quito or Guayaquil, so check out your favorite airline booking site. Flights can get as cheap as US$350 return, so do buy your tickets in advance. My trip to the Galapagos was a last minute decision, so I could only afford 5 days, and so I limited myself to only 1 island, and got myself return tickets to Santa Cruz island from Quito. TIP: If you ever fly airlines on the oneworld alliance, it may be worthwhile to signup LATAM's frequent flyer program and clock your miles in there, esp if you have intention of going South America. On my flight to Iceland from Singapore 2 years back, I decided to do just that and got myself about 16k miles. And guess what? Return flights to Santa Cruz from Quito can be redeemed for 16k miles (so 8k 1-way). So I only paid us$50 taxes for my flight to the Galapagos! :) :)

Now, the airport is actually on Baltra island, a tiny island just for the airport, and then you'll get a free shuttle transfer to the ferry port. From there, a US$1 ferry brings you to Santa Cruz island proper where you will then take a US$2 bus transfer to the town of Puerto Ayora.

There are clear information in the airport on how to connect to the islands

From Puerto Ayora, there are many tourist agencies that can arrange all manner of activities - from wildlife viewing to scuba-diving. Now, one of the advantages of coming to Puerto Ayora for independent travel, is that Santa Cruz itself has quite a number of attractions that you can visit yourself! Of course, for more intimate encounters with wildlife, especially those underwater, an arranged tour with an agency would be inevitable. So set aside some budget for that. But you do have the option and flexibility to choose what and where to go. There are a variety of day tours in all the agencies you can choose from, so you can shop around. Various islands in the Galapagos offer different wildlife viewing opportunities, and most of the uninhabited islands can only be visited by official tour operators and cruises. This ensures that the delicate ecosystem within the Galapagos is not overly affected by tourism. A typical day tour costs from us$130-$180, and there are of course 2 or 3-day tours as well. Do readup on the various attractions in your favorite guidebook.

As for accommodation, options range from hostels with dorm beds to comfortable hotels, so there's something to cater for everyone. I got myself a hotel with private bathroom for us$30+ a night, so it wasn't as bad as I initially thought! (Tip: It can get quite hot during the day, so having air-conditioning is a good thing....)

And similarly for the food, there are actually budget options in the form of small local eateries offering set menu del dias (menu of the day) at us$5! There are also more upscale restaurants, as well as touristy night markets that offer fairly good seafood!

The other two islands (Isabela and San Cristóbal) that support independent travel infrastructure similarly has budget options, although it may be slightly more limited than Puerto Ayora. I did not have time to visit them, so I could not provide more info but the point I am putting across is that the Galapagos islands can be visited and enjoyed in some manner by budget travelers. And you could actually mix the independent budget travel with a cruise too, as many agencies on Puerto Ayora offer last minute discounted cruise deals!

And the Galapagos islands are indeed a destination worth checking out! In one of my wildlife encounters, someone was taking photos with an iPhone, and someone remarked that only in the Galapagos could someone shoot wildlife with a mobile. Indeed, one could get really close to the wildlife here, and as testament to that, all photos shown in this blog post are taken on an iPhone 7plus!!


Getting real close to birds and wildlife

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Travel Photography with the iPhone II (dual lens!)

This is an update to my blog entry on Travel Photography with the iPhone. Specifically, an update to the point about add-on lens for the iPhone to expand its focal length. As many would have known by now, the iPhone 7 plus now comes with dual lens inbuilt. This effectively means that I can now have a always-carry-around-with-me camera which wields a nice 28-56mm focal length!

In addition to the expanded focal length, the IOS Camera app is also updated with a new feature called "Portrait Mode". Now, Photographers all over love taking people photos with beautiful "bokeh" - the creamy blurred background that makes the subject stands out so beautifully. The portrait mode in the Camera app essentially tries to emulate that - pseudo digitally. It uses the 2 lens in the camera, and digitally combine them to simulate the bokeh effect. The purpose of this article though, is not to explain the technical aspects of this portrait mode. Rather, my aim is to show what can be achieved with this feature in reality, esp for travel photography!

Now, the portrait mode is far from perfect. However, with some understanding of the behavior/quirks of the feature, I have to say that the results can be pretty impressive!  Here's a few pointers on utilising the portrait mode of the iPhone 7 plus :

  1. Firstly, while its labeled as "Portrait" in the Camera app, you obviously don't need to use it for people portraits.  You can use it for any subject that you want to isolate and have a nice blurred background. After all, after "processing" the shot, the image is marked with a "Depth Effect" label in your image gallery. So yes, essentially you can use "portrait mode" for anything that you want to create a "depth effect"...!
  2. In order for the Camera app algorithm to create the bokeh/depth effect, the focal length is fixed at the "tele" end,  ie 56mm, and the subject needs to be literally confined to a certain distance from the camera (the app will tell you to move further/nearer etc). So it is not as flexible as like a DSLR with a 50mm lens with a wide aperture. Learn to know this distance so that you know what sized subject is best for your creative composition.
  3. Choose well-defined subjects too, so that the app can clearly "guess" the whole subject. Subjects like bushes with thin branches/stems or subjects with fuzzy lines will confuse the app. 
That seemed rather restricted, isn't it? But the reality is that, I now DO have the additional creative capability. Remember, all my other points about travel photography with the iPhone (in my previous post) are still very much valid! I still carry a DSLR or mirrorless with me on my travels, but as a testament to what I've written about "the best camera is the one with you", 60+% of all my photos which I've selected and deemed suitable for sharing/display is from the iPhone!

Check out the gallery of images below taken during my 3-months trip to Europe and South America. They are all taken using the depth effect of the portrait mode of iPhone 7 plus. Looks good?


Finally, here's one example that the app failed to properly define the subject :

Notice how the leaf on the right has lost its branch, which has been "blurred" by the app...

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Patagonia from the Air

I was just chugging along in my Santa Cruz trek in Huaraz region of Peru when I overhead the guy behind me mentioned about flying from Punta Arenas to Santiago. He was saying something along the lines about having the most amazing view of Mt Fitz Roy in Patagonia. This jolted me alert as I had been contemplating flying down to the Patagonia region due to my limited schedule, but somehow had never thought about the ability to see the famed mountain from the air. I spoke to him briefly, and before I know it, my heart was kinda set on the flight.

Of course, it was all down to the flight cost. I have been searching on and off and it was only in Cuenca Ecuador when I finally settled down to confirm my plan. Apparently in summer, there are flights from Santiago to Puerto Natales and I managed to find, on the Chilean LATAM airlines site, a flight from Santiago to Puerto Natales at US$87 all-in! Considering that this 3-hr flight saved me a few days of travel southwards, and likely money as well, as the long distance buses while comfortable, do add up, it was a done-deal. And of course, there are the views :).

The tip from my trekking friend Thomas was, on the northbound flight, seat on the right. So for me, I had to seat on the left. 23.5hrs to my flight, I login to the airlines website to check-in and select my seat, and to my horror, all the leftmost window seats are all taken! I had to settle for a middle seat and kept a tiny flicker of hope that I might still get a window seat somehow.

Well, the flight was quite full. So there I was, a fidgety figure frequently looking wistfully over to the window and trying to take pics. The lady at the window seat was very understanding though, but it was still rather inconvenient stretching across (her chest) to the window to take the pictures. But ironically when Fitz Roy came into view, I still did not recognize it and wondered briefly which beautiful mountain was that!

Cerro Fitz Roy and even Cerro Torre partially covered

Somehow, up to this duration of the flight, it did not occur to me that beside Mt Fitz Roy, there are more to Patagonia from the air... At some point, some guy at the front mentioned Perito Moreno, and an internal lightbulb connected. I was almost standing up, craning my neck to its limits but alas, the clouds seemed to have thickened quite abit further south and I could not even catch a glimpse of it, or even what I am seeing. I can only cross my fingers and my toes and take whatever pics I can. When the plane flew over the Towers of Paine, the clouds eased up a little just to tease me with a glimpse of where the Towers are. It was a little disappointing.

Torres del Paine covered

Torres del Paine covered

Nevertheless, I'm really still quite happy to see the landscapes of Patagonia from up in the air. While I have seen the famous landmarks of Patagonia on land (Cerro Fitz Roy & Torre, Perito Moreno glacier, Torres del Paine), it would be cool to be able to see all of them in the air in one flight. And that commercial flight path just allowed that. The notorious weather of Patagonia had allowed me to see one and I guess I should be contented.

For those who's doing the Patagonia route should consider this flight. Aside from Santiago, you could also fly from/to Puerto Montt as I believe the flight route down to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales should be the same. Aside from LATAM, Sky Airlines fly some of these routes too and they have affordable fares if booked in advance! And remember, for southbound, get the window seat on the left. For northbound, get window seat on the right. And hope for good weather (less clouds)!

In the meantime, enjoy the views below! :)

Look at the colours of the lakes!!

That's a glacier I believe!

Can see its a glacier but doesn't look like its Perito Moreno

Sunday, September 18, 2016

9 Most Iconic Architectural Pieces in Southeast Asia

Today's blog post is actually not written by me. I have decided to include articles and posts from other writers and bloggers, and today's guest post is from the folks at Tripovo, a startup based in Kuala Lumpur.

9 Most Iconic Architectural Pieces in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the most notable havens of enchanting historical sites and fascinating buildings. And over time, the region has built some contemporary structures to keep up with the shifting culture.
No! South East Asia is not just paddy fields and a big jungle filled exotic felines and orangutans. It is so much more than that, you, not well travelled European (serious though, my Eureopean friends think Asia is a big rice field). Enjoy the virtual trip as we zoom in some of the most iconic structures in Southeast Asia. All these architectural pieces are definitely worth a visit!

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

This architectural and luxurious marvel is located in the heart of Singapore. Marina Bay Sands is a high-end resort that caters a hotel, mall, museum, skating rink, casino, theatres and restaurants. What more could you ask for? And to sum it up, it is considered as the most expensive stand-alone integrated resort. Book your trip to Singapore, maybe?

Light Show at Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands, Image Source : aotaro, Flickr

Petronas Towers, Malaysia

When you talk about Malaysia, most travelers could think about the iconic Petronas Towers. These towers are the most popular buildings in Kuala Lumpur and they were once the tallest structures in the world. It certainly deserves a spot on our list!

Petronas Towers at Night 2
Petronas Towers, Image Source : Colin Capelle, Flickr

Shwezigon Pagoda, Myanmar

The golden Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan is one of the most significant, oldest and impressive religious buildings in the country. The structure sparkles bright in the whole city. Such a golden sight!  
Shwezigon pagoda in Nyaung U (Myanmar 2013)
Shwezigon Pagoda, Image Source : Paul Arps, Flickr

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is a mesmerizing masterpiece of Angkorian architecture. The structure served as a  temple to the Hindu god Vishnu and a personal mausoleum of the monarchs. The interior details of the temple depicts the historical events and mythological stories which is still visible in the country up to date.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The Temples of Angkor, Image Source : Juan Antonio, Flickr

Pha That Luang, Laos

Pha That Luang or 'The Great Stupa' is the most significant Buddhist shrine in Laos. It is a golden  fortress bordered by towering walls and splendid interior designs. The large golden stupa covered with gold, portrays the beautiful architectural Lao style - classical and regal.

Pha That Luang
Pha That Luang Temple, Image Source : Stefan Fussan, Flickr

The Grand Palace, Thailand 

The architectural design of the Grand Palace was inspired by Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand. The Grand Palace is a large complex of buildings that illustrates the finest Thai style, such as artistic crafts, paintings and Buddhist sculpture. To add, Thailand in itself is such a great place for everyone its cities Bangkok are great for nightlife and shopping. No wonder it is such a hit amongst the Western crowd.

The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace, Image Source : Jason Eppink, Flickr

University of Santo Tomas, Philippines

In the frenzied city of Manila, Philippines, University of Santo Tomas stands out as an attractive and peaceful sanctuary. UST is the oldest university in Asia and is one of the world's largest Roman Catholic colleges.

University of Santo Tomas
University of Santo Tomas, Image Source :, Flickr

The Turtle Tower, Vietnam

Aside from the ever popular Halong Bay and wonderful waterfalls, Vietnam is also packed with iconic structures. One of the most notable buildings in Vietnam is the Turtle Tower of Hanoi which is a very popular destination for tourists.

Hanoi Sword Lake Turtle Tower
The Turtle Tower, Image Source : HoangP, Flickr

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Brunei

The splendid work of art was named after Omar Ali Saifuddien III. The royal mosque which is located in the capital of Brunei, is considered as a symbol of the Islamic faith in the country. Definitely a majestic sight to witness.

The golden domed Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Image Source : Jorge Láscar, Flickr

Wisma 46, Indonesia

Wisma 46 is the tallest building in Indonesia. It is commonly known as the Fountain Pen building. The structure dominates the Jakarta skyline and other commercial buildings in the Central Business district with its exceptional design and stature.

Kota BNI
Wisma 46, Image Source : BxHxTxCx, Flickr