York is a historic walled city located in the northeast of England. This picturesque and vibrant city is a perfect size to explore for the day and has plenty of exciting things to see and do. Here 13 things to do in York that will keep you entertained for hours.
1. York Minster
The impressive York Minister is the second largest gothic style cathedral in Northern Europe and is well worth a visit when in York. It took over 250 years to build York Minster, with construction starting in 1220 and was finished in 1472.
York Minister is 72m high and boasts impressive views of the surrounding city. For general admission into the Minster, it costs £12 for adults, £9 for students and children go free. To visit the tower as well as general admission it cost £17 for adults, £14 for students and £5 for children.
2. National Railway Museum
Discover all things railway at the National Railway Museum. Ride on the miniature railway, take a simulator train ride, build your own LEGO steam locomotive and much more. The perfect York activity, especially if you have kids.
Entry: FREE but you must book a slot in advance
Location: Leeman Rd, YO26 4XJ
3. York City Walls
The York city walls encase the old part of the city and are 3.4km in length. In fact, York’s city walls are the longest city walls in England. York’s walls were built in the 13th century and are the perfect place to explore the city from up high. The city walls can usually be accessed from 8AM to 5PM.
This cute little hand drawn map provided by York Walls is helpful for getting your bearings.
4. York Art Gallery
The York Art Gallery is free for all and a great way to while away an hour or so especially on a rainy day. From paintings to pottery there is plenty to discover inside the art gallery. Some of the current exhibitions include: ‘Young Gainsborough: Rediscovered Landscape Drawings’, ‘Pictures of the Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-E Prints’ and the ‘Yorkshire Tea Ceremony’.
Opening hours: Wednesday – Sunday 11AM – 4PM
Location: Exhibition Square, YO1 7EW
5. Enjoy a Shopping Spree
There are plenty of shops in York from the new to the old. From clothes to chocolate shops there are plenty of places to peruse. Some shops like White Stuff have a rather artsy interior that’s worth entering the shop to see! York is not massive, but does house the usual shops, H&M and Zara as well as a plethora of boutiques, fairtrade shops and quirky interiors to rummage through.
6. The Mansion House
This picturesque building has been the residence of the Lord Mayor of York since 1732 and continues to be so today. Located in St Helen’s Square this early Georgian style house can also be viewed from the inside. Once inside you can discover the quirks and stories of this Mayoral residence
General admission to the house is £6.50 for adults, £5 for over 65’s and students, and £3.50 for children over the age of 5.
7. Walk Along the Shambles
This tiny shopping street of York, otherwise known as the Shambles is one of most well preserved historic shopping streets in the entire of Europe. With authentic cobbled streets and buildings leaning in on each other from both sides of the lane, the Shambles will no doubt leave you feeling as if you just tapped a brick on a wall and entered into Diagon Alley. The street was historically designed to be narrow so that the meat that used to be sold there wouldn’t be hanging in direct sunlight. Today there is not a dangling carcass in sight, but you will find interesting boutiques, cafes and even a shop selling Bāo zi.
8. Harry Potter Fans Get Your Galleons Ready
Talking of shopping, if you’re a Harry Potter fan then you best prepare your gold galleons and silver sickles because there are a few Harry Potter shops with plenty of goodies to stuff your trunks with. Most notably ‘The Shop That Must Not Be Named’ is well worth a visit. I, an unashamed self-proclaimed Harry Potter nerd and expert was positively tantalised by the small details in the shop. Including the ‘park your broom’ sign out front. I love shops like this because the staff are always genuine fans. I had a funny exchange with one staff member. I was busy looking at the wands that were displayed on this velvety purple board on the wall. Then this guy comes up to me and says “did you know they actually turn to reveal more wands”, I slightly sarcastically replied “Wow, like real magic” and he, not picking up on the sarcasm, exclaimed in pure passion and delight “Yes exactly, its brilliant isn’t it!?” Bless him, he also probably spent his entire childhood reading nothing but Harry Potter on monotonous repeat.
9. Cruise Along the Ouse
A cruise along the Ouse sounds enticing simply because of the rhyming, but in all honesty it’s a nice way to view the city of York from a different perspective. The River Ouse flows for 84km through York to the Humber estuary. Hop aboard one of the City Cruises sightseeing tour boats to learn all about the history of York whilst taking in the sights. These tours set off from King’s Staith Landing just a 3 minute walk from our next destination, the Jorvik Viking Centre.
10. Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Centre provides an insight into life in 10th century York, during the Viking Age. Discover some rare Viking artefacts, explore the site of the Coppergate dig and travel back in time to discover what life was like for people during this time. The Jorvik Centre is a great place to take the kids for a spot of history and educational fun.
This entry is actually treated as a donation and entitles you to 12 months free admission from the date of payment
Location: 19 Coppergate, YO1 9WT
11. Eat Lunch at Lucia’s
After all that morning wandering you may just be ready for some lunch, so why not head to the pretty and pink Lucia’s. Located on 13 Swinegate, YO1 8AJ, this is a perfect spot for lunch. There are indoor and outdoor tables, perfect for escaping the COVID crowds. It’s a sizable restaurant with two downstairs indoor seating areas, an outdoor space and a cocktail bar upstairs. We sat outside for COVID reasons and it was plenty warm enough as they had blankets and outdoor heaters. For lunch there was an a la carte menu and a lunch set menu. I had the steak ciabatta which was enormous but delicious and just £10, my mum had the fillet of sea bass also for £10 and my nana had king prawn starter as a main for £8.95. In total our bill for 3 lunch meals, 2 coffees, a coke plus their 10% service charge was £41.58.
12. Cliffords Tower
Proudly standing on top of a small hill Clifford Tower is all that’s left of York Castle. York Castles construction began in 1068 by William the Conqueror and Clifford’s Tower was built by Henry III in 1245. Whilst you cannot go inside Clifford’s Tower at the moment due to conservation works, you can still explore from the outside. Ticket and pricing information is currently unavailable due to the construction.
Location: Tower Street, YO1 9SA
Now don’t get too excited as this is literally just a street sign. But you have to admit that Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate is well worth a picture. What’s more its located on the street next to the Shambles so you don’t have to trek across town just to see this rather long named street. The street name dates back to 1505 where is was previously called Whitnourwhatnourgate, but over the years has transitioned into Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. Rather quirky!
It took me an ashamedly long time to realise why New York is always referred to as “New York, New York”. Before visiting the famous city, I had traveled to the west coast of America as well as Massachusetts and New Hampshire but hadn’t quite made the connection. Embarrassing (I don’t have an BA and MA in geography or anything!).
Anyway, back to the Big Apple. Before I went to New York I was worried it may be underwhelming. You know when something is talked about so much, portrayed in movies enough times to make you think you’ve been there, I was concerned it wouldn’t live up to expectations. But New York you surely did. There’s something so incredible about the streets of New York. They seem to ooze unique quirk and charm. There wasn’t a street I walked along that I didn’t find something interesting or something to make me lift my camera.
This list of 30 things to do in New York City is by no means complete but I have tried to show you things that I managed to do during my time in the city.
I had heard about these passes in New York, that give you discounts into attractions, or allow you to visit attractions for free once you’ve bought the pass; but I wasn’t sure whether they were really worth it or not. I do not like spending money unnecessarily and am arguably quite a stingy tourist who likes to get the best for her bucks. But I decided to go ahead with the pass. This was hands down the best decision I made on this trip. I travelled to New York in 2014 (gosh isn’t that long ago now) so the prices were a lot different back then, but the current New York Pass price list can be found here. For a 3 day pass you will less than $200 but right now it’s just $179. That means just by doing 4 or 5 of the big attractions you will have got your money back already.
Not only does it save you a ton of money but it’s easier for travelling, you don’t have to bring so much cash with you. Most of all I loved it because I did things I would never have normally spent money on. For example, I went on a ferry cruise of New York which I probably wouldn’t have done without the pass, then on the last day I spontaneously went on a sailboat tour of the city as well. It ended up being much more intimate than the ferry cruise and we got far closer to some of the landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. I also went to silly things like Madam Tussauds (without the pass I would never have spent money on seeing wax), and also a fantastic bicycle tour of Central Park. You can find the list of attractions included in the pass here, and please note that you may need to book some tours and experiences in advance even with the pass.
Right, lets go!
1. The Statue of Liberty
One of the most iconic landmarks in the USA, the Statue of Liberty is located on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor. This 93m high copper statue was actually a gift of friendship from France to the U.S. donated in 1886. When visiting the island there are few different ticket options, including general admission to the foot of the statue, pedestal tickets (beneath the actual copper statue) and crown tickets to explore Lady Liberty’s actual crown (it should be noted that due to COVID the crown is currently closed).
As there are a lot of hawkers and dodgy salesmen selling tickets by Battery Park, the National Park Service website recommend booking through Statue City Cruises. Tickets on their website also include Ellis Island and you can pick time slots throughout the day. Booking in advance is essential to avoid disappointment and long queues.
General Admission – $23.50
Pedestal Reserve – $23.80
Crown Access – $23.80
Monday – Sunday 9.30AM-4.30AM
Last entrance to pedestal is 3.30PM
Statue Cruises Ferry departs Battery Park every 40 minutes from 9.30AM to 3.30PM
Location: Liberty Island, New York, NY 10004
2. Head to Queens for the US Open
I have played tennis since I was 6 years old, I have even played at Wimbledon in the Road to Wimbledon tournament when I was 14. After many trips to Wimbledon, when I started travelling, I made it my mission to eventually visit all 4 of the Grand Slams. Naturally when in New York I had to go to the US Open.
I had an incredible time at the US Open, it felt like a very personable tournament as I was able to get a lot closer to the players than at Wimbledon. I watched Andy Murray, Agnieszka Radwańska, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jelena Janković as well as Murray’s coach Amélie Mauresmo.
Not flushed with cash at Flushing Meadows I bought a Monday ground pass for around $100 and it was absolutely well worth it. The pass allowed me onto some of the bigger outer stadiums which was great. Just a word of warning, bring sun cream. I left mine in the locker outside the ground and then spent the next day violently sick and unable to visit Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Just outside the US Open grounds is the beautiful Flushing Meadows park which has this rather epic globe statue and water fountain.
Opening hours: Gates usually open at 10AM for the day session and 6PM for the night session
Location: Flushing Meadow – Corona Park, Flushing, NY 11368, United States
3. Wall Street & New York Stock Exchange
Located in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan, Wall Street is the hub of all things finance and a recognizable site from an array of American movies. The famous 1929 stock market crash that led to the Great Depression has an unconditional connection to this area. I think, owing to the tall imposing buildings Wall Street feels eerie and quiet compared to the rest of the city. I expected it to be a hubbub of noise but I guess that all goes on inside the stock exchange. I almost think this street doesn’t look real, its so old and completely juxtaposed to its surroundings, almost like it’s a movie set.
Location: 11 Wall St, New York, NY 10005, United States
4. Take a Sailboat Cruise from North Cove Marina
I had been wandering around Lower Manhattan for some time, exploring some of the other things to do on this list. Letting my feet lead the way, I ended up at the North Cove Marina, a nice area in itself. I recognized the name but couldn’t instantly figure out from where, then I realised I had seen it on the list of attractions on my handy New York City Pass. Now I am not sure if this is still available as it’s been 6 years now (man I’m getting old) but there was a sailboat cruise listed on the attractions list. Well thank you very much, I will pretend I own one of these luxury yachts and cruise around Manhattan. Now I hadn’t booked in advance and I saw that the cruise was leaving in just 20 minutes, so I didn’t have high hopes. But one of the perks of travelling solo is that sometimes there is just an odd number of people. I got the last spot! I would absolutely not have been able to afford this without the pass and as you can see from the pictures it was an incredible trip.
Entry: Prices vary depending on the excursion
Location: North Cove Marina at Brookfield Place, New York, NY 10281, United States
5. Take a Tour of the Yankee Stadium
The New York Yankees are one of the most well-known baseball teams in the U.S. and you can head to the hallowed grounds for a tour of the stadium or even a baseball game. The Yankee Stadium that’s there today, was built in 2009 and can seat 54,251 to watch their Major League Baseball games. Head to the Yankee’s website for more information on games and tours.
Entry: Classic Yankee Tour – $30.22
Location: 1 E 161 St, Bronx, NY 10451, United States
6. Visit Historic Ellis Island
Located next to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island was once the busiest immigration station in the USA. Today you can head to the island to learn about the rich immigration history of Ellis Island at the National Museum of Immigration.
For guidelines of how to get to the island refer back to activity number 1, the Statue of Liberty as you will need to take the same ferry. It is free of charge to enter the museum so the only thing you will need to pay for is the ferry which you will probably also be getting at the same time to the Statue of Liberty.
Location: Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY 10004
7. September 11 Memorial & Tribute Museum
I was just 5 years old when the 9/11 terror attacks took place, but much like the rest of the world I still remember that day vividly. I remember having had a good day at school, walking to the gates to reach my mum only to find that the atmosphere was strange and tense. I know I wasn’t fully aware of what was happening, but I remember the chill in the air.
I travelled to New York partly with my American friend. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial was a sad and reflective occasion. The footprints of the twin towers have been turned into a square shaped man-made waterfall and along the surface the names of the 2,996 people who died in the attacks are carved for ever more. It was a really humbling and emotional place to be and I learnt a lot in the museum, especially intimate stories of heroism of the first aid responders.
Entry: $15 to the 9/11 Tribute Museum or free with the New York Pass
8. Madam Tussauds
The most well-known wax museum in the world, Madam Tussauds NYC is New York’s branch. Now I would never normally waste my time in a place like this, preferring to see the city, be outside or learning something new. But once again the New York City Pass had me experiencing it for free, so why not! On average it takes around 60-90 minutes to walk around the wax works, probably for me quite a bit less time, a bit of yawn in my opinion, but I know people this sort of tat it.
Location: 234 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036, United States
9. Watch a Broadway Show
Broadway is home to 41 theatres located in the Theater District along Broadway in Midtown Manhattan right next to Times Square. This lively area is the perfect place to step inside and escape the city by watching an award winning musical. Shows that are currently on Broadway include, The Music Man, Aladdin, The Phantom of the Opera, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wicked, Chicago and many more.
Location: Broadway theatres are located between 41st Street and 54th Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues.
10. The Empire State Building
This 443m high Art Deco style skyscraper is one of the most famous buildings in the world. Completed in 1931 the Empire State Building was built to house offices and corporate businesses but also slightly as a competition to reach the tallest building in the world status at the time.
An absolute must see whilst in New York is to head up to the Empire States 86th floor observatory deck. The views are amazing, I spent rather a long time up there spying on the yellow ant-like taxis below. It’s also a perfect place for sunset and to watch the city lights turn on as it stays open until late.
Entry: Adult – $44, Child – $38
Opening hours: Daily from 10AM-10PM
Location: 20 W 34th St, New York, NY 10001, United States
Chinatown was originally created by Chinese immigrants who wanted a place to live where they would be safe from racism, but now Chinatown is a place where all cultures meet to explore the wonders of Chinese cuisine and culture. Chinatown also accounts for the largest group of Chinese people in the entire of America with an estimated 90,000-100,000 people living there. You can head to MOCA (The Museum of Chinese in America), stroll along Mott Street (Chinatowns unofficial main street), and even go on a Chinatown food crawl.
Location: Lower Manhattan in and around Mott Street and Canal Street
12. The High Line
The High Line is an old, elevated rail line that has been converted into an urban park. The High Line stretches 1.45 miles through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea. This is a really edgy and green space right in the heart of a huge city. Public art, plants, and vendors line the old tracks, which are still visible. The park first opened in 2009 and it is a great environmental regeneration of an unused space.
Location: From Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, Chelsea towards the Hudson Yards.
13. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
So I was very much looking forward to seeing the St Patrick’s Cathedral mostly because I am a massive fan of juxtaposition and this cathedral sits peculiarly in the middle of a skyscraper filled city. Sadly, when I arrived at this 5th Avenue attraction it looked like this…
Completely under construction. Oh well.
On a normal day this cathedral is mightily impressive. The cathedral was built between 1220 and 1260 in homage to the Irish patron saint. Once inside you can take a free guided tour of this spectacular chamber.
Location: 5th Avenue between 50th/51st Streets, New York, NY
14. Central Park
There is so much to do in Central Park that I may as well just write a separate travel guide to the place. Rent bikes, visit Belvedere Castle, see Chuck and Blair’s wedding spot at Bethesda Terrace, head to the zoo, walk over the Gapstow Bridge, watch a baseball game, swim at Lasker pool, visit Shakespeare’s Garden, the list goes on and on. You can also get great views of Central Park from the Rockefeller Centre observatory.
Location: Between Upper West and Upper East Manhattan
15. Visit the Tacky Tourist Shops
I wouldn’t usually put this on a list of things to do, however there was something special about the souvenir shops in New York. I am by no means suggesting you go and by all the little plastic replicas of places you’ve visited (though I suppose you could) but I found it a really nice place for photography, strangely enough.
16. The 5th Avenue LEGO Store
Whilst we’re on the topic of shopping, why not head to the LEGO store. I again can’t really believe I am suggesting this as I am 26 years old and haven’t played with LEGO since I was about 5 but I was really impressed. It was kind of like a museum, with so many New York buildings, monuments and landmarks made of LEGO. Located right outside the entrance way of the Rockefeller Center you may as well pop in and have a look.
Location: 636 5th Ave, New York, NY 10020, United States
17. Take a Manhattan Boat Cruise
Hordes of tourist on a boat doesn’t sound appealing, but this was another of the New York Pass’ free attractions, so I gave it a try. It actually turned out to be not only impressive in terms of landscapes but highly informative.
For example, we were told why the UN building (pictured below) only has glass windows on two sides. It was seen to be the fairest way to make sure than no country was allocated a much desired corner office. All is fair at the UN building.
And this giant letter C on this rock…well Columbia University medical student Robert Prendergast painted the “C” on this 100ft cliff wall after getting permission from the New York Central Railroad in 1952. He was part of the university rowing team and they would regularly train on this part of the Hudson River.
I took the Circle Line boat tour.
Location: Departs from Pier 83 Midtown
18. Take a trip to Staten Island
Heading to Staten Island, one of New York’s boroughs, via the Staten Island Ferry is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This big glaringly orange (or yellow?) ferry is actually a free service run by the City of New York. There are plenty of things to do on the island for a good day out, visiting the Staten Island Children’s Museum, the National Lighthouse Museum and Fort Wadsworth.
Entry: Remembers don’t let a hawker sell you a ticket. The ferry is free!
Location: Whitehall Ferry Terminal in Manhattan – 4 Whitehall St, New York, NY 10004 St. George Terminal in Staten Island -1 Bay St, Staten Island, NY 10301
19. Admire Grand Central Terminal
I got the impression that Grand Central Station was never shut, a constant hubbub of activity, 24/7 hours a day, 365 days a year. But when I rocked up at Grand Central Station, excited to relive the opening scene of Gossip Girl I was disappointed to find it shut and with no suggestion of when it would be open. Hopefully you will be luckier than I was. Then known as the Grand Central Depot, this famous station opened its doors in 1871, now it sees 750,000 visitors crossing its floors each day.
Location: 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017, United States
20. Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Meet you on the steps of the Met”, another destination for those Gossip Girl fans and of course those interested in art. The Met as its colloquially known is one of the world largest fine art museums. Some of the Met’s most famous paintings include, ‘Gertrude Stein’ by Pablo Picasso, ‘Study of A Young Woman’ by Johannes Vermeer and Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Self Portrait With Straw Hat’.
The whole world knows about Time Square and the famous New Year countdown, but it’s not really all that to be honest. Of course, you must visit, but unlike other ‘must visit’ places on this list, its rather underwhelming. Yes, it is a fantastic hubbub of noise with garishly flashing billboards but I found it tacky. There were way too many creepy men dressed as Elmo to take this place seriously.
Location: Intersection of Seventh Avenue, 42nd Street and Broadway in Midtown Manhattan
22. Little Italy
We’ve had Chinatown, but how about exploring Little Italy. Little Italy is a neighbourhood in Lower Manhattan, during the 1880’s Italian immigrants began to move to the area and brought with them their incredible food, language and culture. Located right next to Chinatown, Little Italy has sadly had much of its area overtaken by Chinatown. Eat some delicious food, explore the gourmet shops and be sure to visit Lombardi’s Pizzeria, the country’s first pizzeria which opened in 1905.
Location: Centre, Mulberry Street
23. The Brooklyn Bridge
Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1869 and it was finally completed in 1883. The bridge is around 1.8km in length and is located in Lower Manhattan and begins at City Hall Park and leads you right to Brooklyn one of New York’s 5 boroughs. It takes around 30 minutes to walk across but if you’re stopping for photos maybe a bit longer. If you want to see the bridge in all its glory you can take one of the aforementioned boat tours or head to the Brooklyn Bridge Park for fantastic views of the bridge with the impressive Manhattan backdrop.
24. American Museum of National History
All things geography, history and natural science oh and did I mention lots of dinosaurs. The American Museum of National History is a good way to while away a few hours, especially if its rainy.
Entry: Adults $23, students & seniors $18, children $13
Location: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
25. Chrysler Building
The Chrysler Building is one of my favourite New York skyscrapers. Built in Art Deco style this building was the world’s tallest building for 11 months after its completion in 1930. It’s silvery top shimmers in the sun making it a great building to photograph.
It must be noted that you are only allowed in the lobby of the Chrysler Building. As you cannot go up the Chrysler Building you can head up the Empire State or the Rockefeller Centre for views of the building. Alternatively, you can get a good street view from 3rd Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street.
Location: 405 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10174
26. Thurgood Marshall United States Court House
I like to walk when I travel, I mean pick a couple of destinations and walk between them, I just find that you see so many hidden gems that might not have been on your list. I was walking from Little Italy and Chinatown south towards the Brooklyn Bridge when I came across this courthouse. Just like Wall Street this area had an eerie atmosphere, one where you could almost sense those awaiting trial becoming nervous and apprehensive.
Location: 40 Foley Square, New York, NY 10007
27. Bryant Park
Bryant Park was the best park I went to in New York, of course Central Park is great too, but Bryant Park feels so personable and local. I liked being able to take photos of the skyscrapers next to the trees, there were tables to sit at with charging points (how handy when you’re travelling), people were enjoying picnics and circus acts on the grassy area, there were table tennis tables and even coffee shops. And in winter an ice-skating rink.
Location: Behind the New York Public Library between 40th and 42nd Street and 5th and 6th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
28. One World Trade Center
The One World Trade Centre was built in 2006 in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks. This striking building now dominates the Manhattan skyline. You can head up the One World Trade Centre for expansive views of the city.
Entry: Adults $38, seniors $36, youth $32
Opening Hours: Daily 9AM-9PM
Location: 285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007
29. Washington Square Park
Washington square Park is the park with the baby Arc de Triomphe. Actually, named Washington Arch, it’s a marble arch which was made by Stanford White and is 22m high. Set in the heart of Greenwich Village, is a popular spot for students and sunbathers.
Location: Washington Square, New York, NY 10012
30. Rockefeller Centre (Top of the Rock)
Last, but by no means least, we have the Rockefeller Center, one of New York’s must see attractions. You will probably have seen New York’s famous Christmas tree lights switch on which happens right in front of the Rockefeller Center. You have probably also seem pictures of people skating in front of the building too. I really like this area, there is so much going on even before you set inside the main building.
Named the Top of the Rock, this Rockefeller’s fabulous observation deck. I simply couldn’t get enough of standing on top of skyscrapers in New York and spying on all the ant like people below.
Make sure to get there early or anticipate a queue as this gets to be quite a busy attraction.
Entry: Adult $40, Senior $38, Children $34
Opening hours: Daily from 11AM-7PM, Saturday- Sunday 10AM-10PM
Location: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112
New York Top Tips
Avoid the famous yellow cabs, they may be iconic, but they are slow, get stuck in traffic and are expensive. Take the subway, the subway is your best friend in New York.
Jaywalking is illegal. Don’t be dashing across the street, although you might get away with it, it’s a ticketing offense and there are police offers patrolling.
Be careful of hawkers selling tickets to the famous attractions, they are everywhere and are often scammers or selling at an extortionate price
I have always been aware of elephant riding, but in all honesty, I thought it was something that was going out of fashion as people realised how cruel it was. I have only seen one physical example of this mistreatment of elephants and that was in Cambodia at Angkor Wat. I took a photo and then turned away I simply couldn’t watch those hideous laughing tourists sitting astride an elephant who had absolutely no choice in the matter. When I moved to Zambia in 2020, I assumed that with it being a place of such natural wonderment and the land of the walking safari that people wouldn’t feel the need to ride elephants.
As I started following more tourism pages on Instagram, I began to become concerned that this really was something that tourists and locals were doing. Not only were they riding elephants, but they were also posing with cheetahs and stroking lions. I was shocked.
I will state this plain and simple right now, it is absolutely not ok to pose, pet and aggravate wild animals and it is certainly not ok to ride elephants. Perhaps this generations innate desire to selfie their way through life has led to this industry still existing, but it is not ok.
If you are reading this as a person who has partaken in these activities, then I hope by the time you finish this article you will reflect on your past choices and choose never to do it again. If you, like me are shocked by the images you see on Instagram then I hope this article will help to provide some motivation to educate others and create change.
The Elephant Ride
What has to happen in order for you to ride an elephant?
Sitting on top of an African elephant thinking about how many likes this picture is going to get on Instagram, with absolutely no thought of what this poor elephant has been through. Well, let me tell you how this process works.
From a young age elephants are taken from their mothers and forced to partake in brutal training known as “THE CRUSH”
“THE CRUSH” is designed to break the animals’ spirits and ‘tame’ the animal teaching it to become submissive.
During “THE CRUSH” baby elephants are tied down, beaten and made to fear their handlers and most importantly obey them
Through years of physical torture in captivity elephants go through tremendous psychological torture. This is how you are able to ride them. Did you never think, why is this wild elephant being so still? Why is this wild elephant allowing me to climb onto its back and ride it? Well, the only reason you can do this is because of the years of torture they have suffered.
Yes, people in favour of this, especially those at the Mukuni Big 5 will inform you that the animals are able to roam freely; and even if that were true they don’t wander off because they are trained to stay, they were ripped away from their mothers and have nowhere else to go.
Unfortunately this is happening in lots of places in Southern Africa, see this diagram below provided by SA People News.
Why when you could see an elephant like this in all its glory would you choose to participate in this cruelty?
Mukuni Big 5 Safaris: The Main Culprits in Zambia
Mukuni Big 5 arguably monopolize this sector of the wildlife tourism industry. Since 2009 this company have been offering these “experiences”. They are located on Plot 133, Mosi-oa-Tunya Road if you want to go and throw eggs at them (I am in no way to be held responsible for any egg related damages, egg at your own risk)! There website makes for quite the read and is frankly laughable in places. Two parts in particular stood out to me.
“We are committed to the conservation, wellbeing and livelihood of our vulnerable African Lion, endangered African Cheetah, Elephants and Caracals. We are pioneering the breeding and hopefully future release of Cheetahs here in Zambia, this being the important aspect of our Volunteer and Cheetah Conservation Trust.” – Mukuni Big 5 Safaris, 2022
The idea that they are pioneering in conservation is frankly ridiculous. I would describe Conservation South Luangwa as being pioneering in conservation (please read more about them they do such a great job in protecting Zambia’s wildlife). But cruelly allowing tourists to ride elephants no, no, no that is NOT pioneering. Secondly their breeding program and their desires to “hopefully” release cheetahs. So are no other animals on the list for release? Have any releases happened? Why is it only hopeful? Too many questions remain surrounding this vague statement.
“We are also committed to the education of our youth using our ‘education through conservation’ programme conducted at our site for school children as well as at the schools themselves . We recognise the need for our youth of today to respect and conserve our animals for the future. The future of these animals are and will be in the hands of the youth of today.” – Mukuni Big 5 Safaris, 2022
Excuse my language but F*********K! They are educating people, they are educating children. Hell no. I cannot possibly imagine what mixed messages these kids are receiving. “Be nice to animals, ride the animal, well done you were nice to animals”. I’m not sure of the reach of programs like this, but it is very concerning.
Mukuni Big 5 Safari Prices
Under the disguise of a false name, I contacted Mukuni Big 5 and enquired about the prices for international and Zambian tourists to participate in these tortuous activities. Though I didn’t use the word tortuous thought that might be too much of a giveaway. Here are the prices below.
INTERNATIONAL TOURIST RATES
As the Zambian rates are in Kwacha let me just do a little converting for you. So for the oh so cruel trip of the combined ‘lion, cheetah walk, elephant ride and sunset cruise’, international visitors will pay US$179 more than Zambian’s. It should be noted how affordable simply ‘viewing’ the animals is, this is important because it gets people in the door, it keeps this torture happening day in day out.
Why do people do it?
I have been thinking about this for so long and can barely fathom as to why tourists choose to torture animals in such ways. I’ve hand to think of this from their perspective which is hard but I’ve come up with what I think are a few potential reasons why people do it.
To take cool photos – There is no doubt that elephants, lions and cheetahs are impressive beings so of course you would want to capture pictures of them. We live in a selfie generation and for many nothing is truly captured until your face is in the photo too. Ok, so I assume this is the big draw for that “wow look at you on that elephant” response from people. I don’t get it but I’m imagining.
Education – I am a PhD student and having studied for 5 years in the areas of geography, environment, society and culture I feel lucky that I have lived through these lenses. I have learnt about the world in ways that many have not. I have seen the world, been educated on best practices at preserving rainforests and treating animals in the best manner. It’s in my blood you could say. So, I suppose unfortunately others have not had that chance and maybe with better education they would think differently about their choices. In Zambia in particular shouldn’t curriculums focus on the incredible aspects that Zambia has to offer in terms of tourism and shouldn’t Zambian’s grow up with pride in their wildlife and with the knowledge to treat it in a respectable manner? The same can wholly be said for international visitors too, shouldn’t you educate yourself on the place you are going to and the wildlife you could see. This issue of elephant riding is undertaken by international tourists and Zambian’s alike, the more information we can spread about these heinous practices around the globe the better it will be for the animals.
Affordability – I have often wondered whether people, assuming that safaris are too expensive, opt for this Mukuni Big 5 elephant ride and lion walk option as a more affordable option. But as you can see from the details above it’s still pretty expensive to partake in these activities especially for international tourists, but it is far cheaper to see these animals in this way for Zambian national than it is to go on a safari. Either way you are literally spending money to torture animals, when you could see them happy in the wild just down the road in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park.
I love Zambia. It is a truly breathtaking country and frankly I have lived in no place like it. I have been lucky to visit Livingstone and Victoria Falls and the South Luangwa National Park to view the countries exceptional wildlife and plan on many more trips in the future. Don’t get me wrong this is a small part of Zambia’s tourism industry with most in the country opting to promote the wild and free version rather than the tortured selfie posing side. So many of these comments on Instagram are encouraging to see, I sometimes even think that I see more and more people these days commenting in protest of these pictures of elephant rides and cheetah walks.
Our biggest issue on this topic is DEMAND. If the demand is there, then these places will still exist. It’s only through education and raising awareness of the torture these animals go through that we will one day stop this type of tourism.
I have written about this issue in a Zambian context, but this is by no means solely a Zambian issue. This is happening in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe as well as (perhaps in greater severity) in Asia. Please research more about this issue in Asia as it’s truly terrible. Asian elephants are treated with the same lack of care as these African elephants only that most are trained to perform in demeaning and cruel shows to tourists where they perform tricks for the tourists pleasure.
Phnom Penh (pronounced puh-naam-pen) is Cambodia’s busy capital city located near the south of the country and situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers. The city of Phnom Penh is steeped in history and known as the location for the heinous guerilla group leader Pol Pot driving his military tanks through the streets as he began his 3 year reign of terror between 1976 and 1979.
Phnom Penh is a good city to spend two or three days, but I wouldn’t recommend it beyond a quick city break or a stop over to other places in the country. It didn’t leave me overawed like many other places in Asia have. So here are 6 things to do in Phnom Penh.
I apologies now for the severe lack of photos on this post, but I like to use my own photos and as you will know if you read my post on Siem Reap I was hit with bout of food poising which coincided with my arrival in Phnom Penh. I had to literally drag myself around the city and I could barely lift my camera. I soon accepted this was going to be a photo-less trip.
1. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is a harrowing visit but one steeped in history and an opportunity for you to learn more about the harrowing genocide undertaken during the reign of Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979. Between these years an estimated 17,000 people were detained and tortured at S-21 prison and were then senselessly murdered. There are killing fields across Cambodia but Choeung Ek is believed to be the biggest.
The Choeung Ek Genocide Centre is located around 17km south of the city of Phnom Penh. You can reach Choeung via Tuk Tuk or taxi or via the 4C bus which you can take from the downtown area. A round trip will cost less than US$1. If you are travelling with mobile data you can also order a Grab Bike or Taxi.
2. Phnom Penh Night Market
The Phnom Penh Night Market is a market located right near the Tonle Sap River and a few streets away from Wat Phnom. You can listen to live music, search for trinkets and clothes. You can also enjoy some cheap Cambodian street food, including spring rolls, noodle soup, pork skewers and fish amok. People eat on mats on the floor which makes for a friendly community atmosphere.
The market is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5PM to 11PM.
Located right next to the Royal Palace in the central area of Phnom Penh on Street 13, you can learn all about the history of Cambodia at the National Museum. This museum is certainly one of the most beautiful I’ve seen with its terracotta structure which was built between 1917 and 1920. The museum houses the world’s biggest collection of Khmer sculptures, the style that can be found at Angkor Wat.
The museum costs US$10 for adults and US$5 for children.
Location: Preah Ang Eng Street 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
4. The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is Cambodia’s official royal residence and the grounds include the famous Royal Palace as well as the Silver Pagoda. There are actually a number of elaborate structures to view all with gold plated roofs built in the classic Cambodian style. The Royal Palace is home to His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preach Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia. Whilst there you can also view Wat Preah Keo Morakot, otherwise known as the silver pagoda. It used to be the place where the King worshiped and practiced Buddhism.
It costs around US$10 (40,700 KHR) to enter the palace and tickets can be bought at the entrance. It should be noted that the Royal Palace opens between 8AM and 10.30AM, then breaks over the lunchtime period and re-opens between 2PM-5PM. Having just travelled from Siem Reap, with unbelievable food poisoning I managed to drag myself out of bed at around 10AM and by the time I hauled my feet to the palace it was closed for lunch. I therefore took a rather long break on a park bench and then with all my efforts walked (at snail’s pace) up to the next destination on this list.
Wat Phnom or Wat Phnom Hill is a Buddhist temple set on top of a 27m hill in a park. Gosh that 27m felt like I was conquering the summit of Everest in the state I was in. Apparently, the pagoda was first erected in 1373. The main entrance to the pagoda is via an impressive staircase on the eastern side of the grounds. Many travel to the pagoda for luck with exams or business ventures.
Wat Phnom is located in a circular park in the middle of a roundabout. From the waterfront on Preah Sisowath Quay you can take Baksei Cham Krong Road (Street 94) to the temple. From the Royal Palace you can walk along the waterfront heading north and then turn left on Street 94 to reach Wat Phnom.
6. Sisowath Quay Boardwalk
Before heading to the Phnom Penh Night Market why not take a stroll along the river, at the Sisowath Quay Boardwalk. There is a plethora of restaurants, shops, street vendors and locals selling crafts, fruit and flowers. You can look across the river and watch the boats go by. There is always something happening on the boardwalk providing you with a multi-sensory sensory experience.
Where to Stay?
I would usually opt for a hostel or cheap hotel but for some reason the cheapest best accommodation Phnom Penh were all apartments on Airbnb. I stayed in a fantastic modern apartment with a huge bed large kitchen and living room and lucky for me an ensuite bathroom.
Grab is basically the Uber of Asia, it was a common form of transportation in Vietnam as well for those who didn’t have a bike. I found Grab really useful in Phnom Penh, as I like knowing how much the fare is going to be to keep costs low and you can take either taxi’s or bikes. Download Cambodia’s Grab App here!
I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do in Siem Reap. Being home to such an iconic landmark like Angkor Wat I thought there may not be too much else to see in the town. But I really enjoyed Siem Reap’s vibe, it felt sleepy and relaxed yet bustling and plentiful at the same time.
Here are 9 things to do in Siem Reap because guess what, lists don’t always have to be to 10! Oh and don’t worry only number 1 covers Angkor Wat. Whilst research for this trip I would search ‘Things to do in Siem Reap’ only to discover lists of ‘Things to do at Angkor Wat’. Not WAT I asked for.
Bonus: Where to stay in Siem Reap
1. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is not just one temple but a series of 72 Buddhist temples. Built in the 12th century and set across over 500 acres of land, the Angkor Wat site is one of the worlds most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites and was one of the finalists for the Seven Wonders of the World.
Angkor Wat was built as the funeral temple of King Suryavarman II and is consider the largest religious monument in the world. You are transported to another world as you climb in and out of segments of the main temple, through small archways and up and down steep steps.
The main temple is really impressive, but I also thoroughly enjoyed looking at a lot of the smaller temples. By no means did I do them all, because the area is massive, but some of them I had entirely to myself, and it was so peaceful and quiet to be in this historic place in nature.
Angkor Wat is located just under 8km from downtown Siem Reap and is accessible by Tuk Tuk. To get inside Angkor Wat you need a permit, which you obtain from the official ticket office outside the park area (all Tuk Tuk drivers will know where this is). It is open between 4.30AM – 5.30PM. It is open early because people go to watch the sunrise. When I was there the sunrise was not spectacular at all, but it helped to go early to beat some of the crowds because as I was leaving the main temple to explore the smaller ones, it was getting packed.
As the site is so big there are a few different payment options. A 1 day pass costs US$37, a 2 day pass US$62 and US$72 for a 7 day pass. You don’t need to plan your visit on consecutive days as the 3 day pass is valid for 10 days and the 7 day pass for a month.
You can pay in cash or by credit card, there is also an ATM. Currencies accepted include, US dollar, Cambodian Riel, Euro and Thai Baht.
Be sure to watch out for these cheeky little fellas!
2. Have Drinks at Pub Street
If you’re looking to have a night out on the town, then you will definitely find yourself at Pub Street. Most of the bars serve US$0.50 draft beer and it’s a big place for expats and tourists to gather.
Appreciate this slightly blurry picture of the Pub Street sign, as I walked from my hotel to Pub Street for the sole purpose of taking this picture. Been there, done that, got the picture and then went to bed!
3. Cambodian Landmine Museum
The Cambodian Landmine Museum has a really interesting story behind it. Cambodia has a bloody and devastating history, most notably between 1967 and 1975 during the country’s civil war.
Well, the Cambodian Landmine Museum was set up by an ex-child soldier named Aki Ra in 1997. During his time as a child soldier Aki was forced to plant thousands of landmines and after the war, he returned to the villages where he places the mines and began removing them with handmade tools. In 2008 he set up an NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD) which now helps clear landmines around Cambodia and has worked to set up the museum.
In the museum you can learn about the dangers of landmines, how they work and why they were planted. The Landmine Museum is open daily between 7.30AM and 5.30PM. Cambodian citizens go free, but international visitors pay $5 (£3.70).
4. Shop at Old Market
Locally known as Psar Chaa, this old market is located between Pub Street and the riverside. It’s the most central market so is very popular with locals and tourists alike. They have everything from fresh food, herbs and spices to souvenirs, crafts, jewellery and artwork. The market is open every day from 8AM to 6PM.
5. Get a Cheap Massage
There are a plethora of spa’s in the main area of Siem Reap, located in the main downtown area. Now I can’t remember the exact one I went to, but I really don’t think it matters they will all be super affordable and incredibly relaxing. As in the kind of relaxing that has you walking away feeling like you no longer have bones, a body of walking jelly. An hour full body massage in 2019 set me back around £4 or £5.
I had my first massage in 2017 in Vietnam and I haven’t looked back since! I have made it my new mission to have a massage in every country I go to. Well, only the countries where massages are affordable. Now I’ve had a massage in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Zambia.
6. I Dare You to Eat a Crocodile Burger
When walking around the downtown area I kept noticing signs for ‘crocodile burgers’. I just thought that this was one of those deceptively named foods like tiger bread, or Bombay duck and that perhaps the burger bun was adorned with a scaly looking top. Oh, how naïve I was. A crocodile burger is a burger, with crocodile meat. I was shocked. I have lived in two country that eat dog (Vietnam and China) and yet I was surprised by crocodile! No, I did not try it, but you are welcome to! Maybe it just tastes like chicken! Why is it that everyone describes uncommon meat as just tasting like chicken?
7. Wat Bo Temple
After trapsing around Angkor Wat in the scorching heat you might be rather tired of temples. But the Buddhist temple of Wat Bo is really beautiful and grand and much different than the World Heritage Site.
Wat Bo is one of the towns oldest temples and is located along Tep Vong Street close to the Siem Reap River on the east of the downtown area.
8. Wat Damnak Temple
Another temple, but Wat Damnak was the ultimate escape from city life. The temple is located just 400m from the Villa Wat Damnak Hotel, where I stayed. The ground was littered with fragrant frangipani flowers and the details on each structure were impeccable.
9. Eat at the Cafés and Restaurants
There are lots of cafés and restaurants located in cutesy streets in the downtown area of Siem Reap, so you’ll never be short of places to eat. I was an instant fan of the mango smoothies that you seemed to be able to find everywhere. I also had this delicious mango, coconut rice dish which I still to this day claim was one of the best meals I have ever eaten (even though it gave me 3 days of food poisoning). Anyone whose lived in Vietnam will know that the best restaurants are those with plastic chairs or even better no chairs at all, well maybe the same cannot be said for Cambodia! Some popular dishes to try include, fish amok and bai sach chrouk.
Where to Stay?
I stayed at the Villa Wat Damnak Hotel and it was a really great stay. From the airport I took a Tuk Tuk (I simply love the idea of taking a Tuk Tuk right from the airport) all the way to the hotel, with the end of the journey leading us down cute little streets with hanging pink flowers.
My room at Wat Damnak Hotel was really nice, spacious, lovely bathroom, comfy bed and cute little leaves arranged on the bed spelling ‘Welcome’. And did I mention a swimming pool!
Whilst I was there, I had an issue with my UK bank card and I was more than a bit stuck in Cambodia not able to withdraw any money. The Damnak Hotel let me use their phone to make an international call to the UK, which I thought was kind as it took me over 20 minutes of international calling to solve the issue!
The hotel was also in a perfect location, just a short walk to the market, an array of massage parlors, restaurants and Pub Street.
Finally, did you notice on this post absolutely no where did it suggest that you ride an elephant. So therefore, do not ride an elephant. DO NOT RIDE A BLOODY ELEPHANT. Yes they are offering it, but that’s to make money. These animals are tortured to be able to offer you this experience. It’s unnaturally cruel and I am going to write a post about it soon, so you can find out exactly why.
This isn’t a post where you are going to find details of the exact location I stayed, because I genuinely have no idea! This trip was a while ago now but still, at the time I had no real idea of where I was going. Two fellow teachers had asked if I wanted to join them on a trip to escape the city and I jumped at the chance to be in nature and on the motorbike.
This post is called 37km North West of Thai Nguyen because that’s the last big place that we stopped before continuing onto our mysterious homestay in the middle of nowhere. When we were in the city of Thai Nguyen I remember seeing on Google Maps that it was 37km to our destination. This was over 4 years ago now, so frankly I should have written this blog post at the time, it might have been more helpful then.
But hold on one minute. After a solid hour of trying to figure this thing out I may just have an answer for you and frankly, myself, as to where I went. Using my self-proclaimed investigative journalism prowess and having trawled through endless photos on my hard drive I have managed to pinpoint the location to somewhere around Làng Nghề Chè Truyền Thống. That’s because I managed to find this photo that I took on the drive to the homestay.
Lang Nghe Che Truyen Thong helping me get closer to discovering where on earth this trip was.
Luckily when you drive into new places in Vietnam they have these arches with the place name. So, Làng Nghề Chè Truyền Thống gave me a rough location of where this beautiful trip took place. Then boom just like that with the help of good old trusty Google Maps I found the exact place La Bằng Homestay. A quick scroll through photos to check it was the right place and eureka! So, hold up, what I said in the introduction isn’t true I am providing you with the exact location of where I went!
And hey, I wasn’t far off with the title either. Google Maps tells me its 40.5km North West of Thai Nguyen.
So, how to get to La Bằng Homestay from Hanoi?
119km of beautiful open road and Vietnamese countryside. This is a driving time for a car not a bike, so it was definitely longer than this. Probably best to add on a couple of hours.
Once at La Bằng Homestay there isn’t much in the way of shops or anything, well actually there is nothing in the way of shops without driving all the way back to the QL37 road. But we didn’t come here for shops and conveniences we came here for the pure bliss of nothingness.
Absolutely nothing on this trip was planned, I was accompanied by a South Africa, Shane and a Brit-Brazilian, Miguel, two adventurous elder gentlemen. The first day we just relaxed but the second day the homestay host took us on an adventure. I had absolutely no idea what this “adventure” was going to consist of. I felt a little nervous about all this uneven, open greenery because just one year previously I had broken both of my ankles (a story for another time) and was still having some discomfort and wasn’t confident with much more than flat road walks.
But morning came and off we went, life jackets were packed, an instant clue. We ended up heading right into the mountains on a 3-4 hour round trip hike. It was breathtaking and so enjoyable, and at times a little scary. We had to traverse things that didn’t look like they should be traversed. Scramble over rocks that were precarious and oh yeah slide down waterfall slides. Here are some photos below to really get a feel for the trip.
I lived in Vietnam for a year, and one weekend we decided to ride our bikes to Cát Bà Island from Tu Son, near Hanoi. So once on the island there wasn’t any need for us to rent. But if you’ve come by bus or train, I would highly recommend renting a bike on the island and exploring. When with the bike one of my favourite things to do is fill up the tank and just get lost, investigate all those hidden roads, take those precarious paths, and get my bearings. Cát Bà Island is a great place to just ride, it’s not so big so you really can’t get too lost and you’re bound to find some unexpected wonders along the way.
2. Hit the Beach
Cát Bà’s beaches are helpfully called Cat Co 1, Cat Co 2 and Cat Co 3 beaches. You can ride your rented bike to Cat Co 1 beach and then park up and walk to the next two beaches. A perfect way to relax after a long bike ride to the island.
3. Explore Cát Bà National Park
The Cát Bà National Park is truly spectacular and much of it is located on Cát Bà Island. The National Park is 263 sq km in size meaning that the majority of the island is in the National Park. Beautiful valleys are covered in dense vegetation and much of the park is uninhabited and unexplored. There are apparently 1,500 plant species, 32 mammal species and 78 species of birds as well as the critically endangered white-headed langur.
4. Trung Trang Cave & Hospital Cave
The Trung Trang cave is 300m long cave is set with a backdrop of incredible mountains and luscious vegetation.
Entry: 15,000VND (50p)
Opening Hours: usually open between 7Am and 5PM
Located just 3km from Trung Trang Cave and closer to the main Cát Bà harbour is the Hospital Cave (it’s well signposted). You can park your bike and pay for your ticket just across the road from the cave. Look out from the opening of the cave to classically Vietnamese views of fields and lumpy bumpy mountains.
The Hospital Cave was an actual working hospital during part of the Vietnam War between 1963-1965. The cave acted as an ideal place to avoid the bombs and treat the wounded soldiers. There was a total of 14 rooms, including operating rooms, waiting rooms, space for hospital beds and even an exercise room; this is all laid out over an impressive 3 stories inside the cave. The cave even had a well-equipped ventilation and freshwater system.
It was really impressive to see this cave and imagine what it would have been like to be inside during the war.
Entry: 40,000VND (£1.30)
5. Views from Cannon Fort
For views of the surrounding archipelago head up to Cannon Fort for spectacular scenery. Cannon Fort is at the top of a 177m hill. The area is much more than just a viewpoint, it is also home to historic artillery guns and military tunnels built in the 20th century. Fort Cannon was an important strategic point during the Vietnam War. The observatory will provide you with unapparelled views of the surrounding islands and boats bobbing in the water.
Entry: 40,000VND (£1.30)
How to get to Cát Bà Island
I lived in Vietnam for a year from 2017-2018. I was based just outside of Hanoi so had a motorbike and often explored with the bike. A couple of friends and I decided to ride in convoy one weekend all the way from Tu Son (just outside of Hanoi) to Cát Bà Island.
This is the route we took.
Of course, it took longer than 2h45m because we were on motorbikes, and it started raining near the end of our journey. I’m not too sure of how long but I’d say it took us around 4-5 hours.
We arrived at the Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal and purchased a ticket to Gia Luan Harbour this cost 90,000VND (£2.90). This was a one way ticket for one passenger with a motorbike. The ferry departs at 7.30AM, 9AM, 11.30AM, 1.30PM and 3PM. For the return journey the ferry departs at 9AM, 11.30AM, 1.30PM, 3PM and 4PM.
There are other ways to get to Cát Bà including via the Bến Gót terminal, which is much shorter but far less spectacular. Just look back at the map at Tuan Chau Ferry Terminal, Cát Bà island is directly south, and you get to go through the archipelago.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the Central Backpackers Hostel which is located just a 20 minute walk from the main town area. For me this was the perfect location because it didn’t have the loud noise and beeping horn sounds of the town. The hostel was a vibrant and lively place though. With options for shared rooms or outdoor rented cabins right next to an idyllic swimming pool. A 12 bed mixed dorm is just £4.19 a night!
Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a modern city filled full of culture, skyscrapers and many things to see and do. KL is a boiling pot of cultures, including Chinese, Indian and native Malay. KL was one of those places, similar to Singapore, where every street or every experience reminds you of another fascinating place in Asia. I visited KL in 2018 and really enjoyed the city for its vibrance, buzz and multiculturalism.
I would recommend spending around 3-5 days in KL, so check out these 10 place to visit in this bustling city.
1. The Petronas Towers
I unashamedly could not stop calling The Petronas Towers, The Expecto Patronum Towers, if you’re a Pothead you’ll know what I’m talking about. The Petronas Towers dominate the KL skyline with their distinctive H shape. The towers are the tallest twin towers in the world and have been since 1996.
The towers are the headquarters of Petronas, Malaysia’s biggest oil and gas power company. But they are also filled with a diverse range of activities. Home to one of Malaysia’s best shopping malls as well as KLCC Park and KLCC Aquarium, there’s plenty of things to do.
Location: Lower Ground (Concourse) Level, PETRONAS Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088, Kuala Lumpur
2. Sri Mahamariamman Temple
This is one of the most intricate and beautiful temples I have ever been too; and having lived in Vietnam and China for 3 ½ years I have been to my fair share of temples. Incredible carvings adorn the temples tower in all their colourful glory. The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in KL and is well worth a visit. Built in 1873 this temple is located in between two Buddhist temples on the outskirts of Chinatown. This Hindu temples location between a collision of Buddism and Chinese culture shows the diversity of Malaysia and how these cultures can happily coexist.
Location: Jalan Tun H S Lee, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
3. Heli Lounge Bar
I have never been one of those people who searches for good bars on holiday, but I travelled to KL with South African’s so naturally I ended up at this rather incredible bar. Ever wanted to drink on top of a helicopter landing pad? Well, Heli Lounge Bar is the place for you. Wander inside and into the elevator and you may just think this is a cool inside bar, themed around aviation, but push open a grey door and you will find yourself on top of KL. We went for sunset and stayed into the night; it was amazing. Watching the city turn its lights on all from the sky with a refreshing drink in hand. The whole time I couldn’t help but admire the tennis match that Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played on the helicopter landing pad of the Burj Al Arab Hotel. Scary stuff!
Entry: 50MYR (£8.70) – This is cover for the door but includes an alcoholic drink
Location: 34 Menara KH, Jln Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang, 50450, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
4. Wander Around China Town
The heart of KL’s China Town is Petaling Street, and the area might be a little dilapidated and crowded but it’s vibrant and atmospheric. I actually stayed at the Mingle Hostel in Chinatown and the moment you exited the hostel there were strong and alluring smells and a real atmosphere, even in the middle of the day.
Find some good deals at Petaling Street market or Central Market, visit Chan See Shu Yuen Temple and certainly tuck into some of the delicious street food from any one of the hundreds of stalls that line the streets.
Location: Jalan Petaling, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
5. National Museum of Malaysia
If you’re looking to become more knowledgeable about Malaysia and its history, economy, geography, culture and art then head on over to the National Museum of Malaysia. After visiting the museum, you can head to the beautiful and tranquil Perdana Lake Gardens, which has an installation that somewhat resembles the glass structure inside the Singapore Changi Airport.
Entry: The cost of the museum is next to nothing, with foreigners being charged 5MYR (88p) for adults and just 2MYR (35p) for children.
Location: Jabatan Muzium Malaysia, Jln Damansara, Perdana Botanical Gardens, 50566 Kuala Lumpur
6. Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
OK, so visiting a railway station doesn’t exactly sound like a tourist attraction, but hold on one minute, did you see this building? Construction was completed in 1917 and this railway stations is a mixture of western and Mughal styles. Adorned with horseshoe arches and two distinctive golden gazebo style towers, its quite impressive!
Location: Kampung Attap, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
7. Thean Hou Temple
This extravagant red, white and copper orange temple has six tiers for you to look round. Thean Hou Temple is a temple dedicated to the Chinese sea goddess Mazu and is one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia. The temple was built by the Hainanese people living in Malaysia and was completed in 1989. The Hainanese people of China come from the smallest of the country’s provinces, Hainan, a tiny island in the south of China.
Opening Hours: Daily between 9AM-6PM
Location: 65 Persiaran Endah, Off Jalan Syed Putra, Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan 50460
8. Batu Caves
Arguably Malaysia’s biggest tourist attraction, the Batu Caves are located just outside the boundaries of KL. The Batu Caves are a series of caves inside a limestone hill. The domineering golden Sri Muruga Statue stands proud and there are 272 steps leading up to the cave. When I was there in 2017 the steps were plain, but by August 2018 they had been painted multicoloured. The jury’s still out for me on whether this colour change was an improvement. On the one hand you cannot beat a rainbow but on the other they don’t exactly look in keeping with the environment. Top tip: hold onto your possessions or a monkey might just come and grab them.
I personally found the caves themselves a little underwhelming, but it was a great day out all the same with the outside being far more impressive than the inside.
Its pretty easy to get to the caves from KL. Just take the KTM Komuter train along the Batu Caves-Port Klang route from KL Central Station. The train should cost around 2MYR (35p) one way. There are stalls selling nik-naks along the walkway from the train station, I don’t normally bother with those things, but I did pick up a colourful bracelet which has been tied to my arm for the past 5 years.
Location: Gombak, 68100 Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia
9. Masjid Jamek Mso
10. Kuala Lumpur Tower
We started with the Petronas Towers we will end our list of places to visit in Kuala Lumpur at the Kuala Lumpur Tower. The KL Tower stands at 421m high, just shorter than the 452m high Petronas Towers. Head up the tower to the observation deck for 360° view of KL.
It should be noted that due to COVID the KL Tower’s Observation deck is currently closed.
Entry: Adults: 29MYR (£5) Children:14MYR (£2.45)
Location: No. 2 Jalan Punchak Off, Jalan P. Ramlee, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
11. Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Another of KL’s spectacular and elaborate and detailed buildings, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building was built during the British occupation of Malaysia. It is the current location of the Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture of Malaysia.
Location: Jln Raja, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
I will start this post by admitting that I have done some big international trips during in COVID, but not just for the hell of it. I have (will have) done 3 international trips between February 2020- January 2022. So, its not like I’ve been gallivanting this whole time, and they were for legitimate reasons, not a jolly holiday.
China – Zambia (After being trapped inside China for 9 months I finally flew to Zambia to be with my boyfriend, who was locked out of China)
Zambia – South Africa (Having had to abandon his attempts to go back to China to finish his degree, my boyfriend moved to SA for 6 months to finish his studies there. I visited him for a month)
Zambia – UK (I have not been home in 3 years. I travel on the 26th January all things going to plan)
I want to write this post as I reflect on the COVID travel era. Travel has always in my eyes been a luxury item, but one that I have tailored my lifestyle to be able to do more frequently. Knowing I was never rich enough to simply fly around the world after university, I moved to Vietnam to teach English. This enabled me to explore much of South East Asia on a more stringent budget, because flights between countries are cheaper once you’re already in Asia.
Moving to a new country and travelling within it, is a great, more affordable way to travel. But now with the added pressure of COVID for me international travel has lost much of its appeal as its just become an absolute mess of worry, stress and extra expenses. Below I outline a few reasons why travel has just become more stressful and is putting pressure on our bank accounts.
My boyfriend flew from Changsha, China to Lusaka, Zambia in February of 2020, just after COVID broke out in China. He paid around 3,000 Kwacha for his ticket, around £130. Fed up of depressing COVID life in China I finally flew out to Zambia to see him 9 months later in October and paid 12,000 kwacha (£510) for the privilege. THATS FOR A ONE-WAY TICKET! At the time I was in a position to pay that having had a good teaching job in China for a couple of years and knowing for my mental health I needed to get the hell outta there. But what!!! A 9,000 Kwacha increase. Of course, we all know COVID has had devastating economic impacts on airlines but bloody hell, I drew the short straw there!
Having lived in Zambia for a little over a year, it was my intention to attend one of my best friends’ weddings in September 2021. Unfortunately, due to all the UK’s COVID bullshit (sorry but there’s no other word) I was unable to travel. Now we find ourselves in January and I am one week away from my departure to London. But it’s been a stress.
My go to move with flights in the pre-COVID era was to always book cheap, no matter the connection times or the flight times, who cares, its cheap. Now that is no longer an option, owing to the elements of risk that are associated with cheaper airlines. Book with cheaper airlines now, especially for a big trip from Africa to Europe and you could be left with non-refundable tickets if COVID regulations change. And boy oh boy do they change. They change as fast as a Lockhead SR-71 Blackbird, well at least when the UK and bloody party-going Boris are involved. Now it seems for both peace of mind and to protect your bank balance, you have no choice but to book with the bigger more expensive airlines.
My first ticket to fly home was booked with Emirates for the 22nd February 2022. Of course more expensive than usual! After Emirates decided they would cancel flights between Lusaka and Dubai I decided to get a refund and book for an earlier date on Ethiopian Airlines. Having got a full refund in about 7 days from Emirates, I was able to book through Ethiopian. I previously hadn’t booked through them because of the potential troubles associated with the ongoing issues in Tigray. My dad having been in a situation in Ethiopia around 30 years ago didn’t want the same thing to happen to me and be stranded in an airport. But having kept a close eye on the situation we finally decided to go with this Ethiopian flight for the 26th January.
My Filipino friend in Zambia is also hoping to fly home this weekend to see her son. She is flying with Emirates and her flight is on the 22nd. They have informed her that they will only be letting customers know whether they will resume their services on the 21st. Umm I’m sorry what! THE DAY BEFORE HER FLIGHT. This would be terribly inconvenient in normal circumstances, but we are in a COVID era here, COVID tests need to be purchased and taken at 72 hours before flying. So, what, she is just meant to spent that £84 or so to get a COVID test for it to be completely useless. Or what does she now wait until the 22nd, find that she is ok to fly and take a 2-3 hour COVID test which costs almost double the price of a 24h one. It’s a continual trade off. Do I save money? Do I risk it? Do I spend the money to maybe save money if all goes to plan? Again, evidence that flying is now only for those with big disposable incomes.
My point is, the options are no longer there, the larger airlines are monopolising the markets, playing on the fact that people have no choice but to book with them and it totally sucks. My first case and point that travel for the purpose of sunbathing and site seeing is now an activity solely for the rich.
2. COVID related crap you need to buy
Of course, I am all for the prevention of the spread of COVID, but to me, especially with this OMICRON it really seems to be out of our hands now. A COVID test in Zambia costs anywhere between K1500 to K2000 (£84) plus the additional issue of travel expenses to take the test and go back the following day for the results. My flight with Ethiopian Airlines requires that I have a NEGATIVE PCR test from a test centre listed on their site. I live in Kitwe, Copperbelt and guess what there are no officially registered test centres in the city I live in. I therefore have to drive 62km to get a test from neighbouring Ndola. So that’s 62km there. Do the test. Drive 62km home. Next day. Drive 62km to collect results. Drive 62km back. That’s 248km of petrol money gone to the COVID travel cause!
And not only that, but now the UK don’t require you to have a PCR test to enter, oh whoopie I save money. Oh, wait no I don’t, because Ethiopian Airlines still require you to have a PCR test to transit through the country. So, no savings there. Oh, but wait, Boris is involved. He may have scrapped the PCR test, but he’s gone and added a day 2 test for vaccinated citizens who are returning to the UK.
When you got to the UK.GOV website to buy your covid test (because you need proof of this to enter the country) you are taken to a list of places that off tests “from £15”. Ok I know the word “from” in this situation is like a get out of jail free card for charging more, but not one of those tests listen on their website is in the range of “£15”. The cheapest one I could find was listed under “£30” and was actually “£34.50”. So misleading and so frustrating and another expense.
Before this shituation that is COVID I would look at flights every week, sussing out the cheapest spots and where might be nice to go to. You know, not to actually travel there and then, but just because it makes me happy to investigate and dream of travel destinations. A couple I knew from university have recently moved to Oman and it looks so beautiful and a destination I hadn’t previously considered. I immediately hurried to Skyscanner just to check prices and before the results had even loaded, I just felt dejected and defeated. I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to Oman, I would have to pay for tests and maybe quarantine and it’s just not worth even looking anymore. It’s worth it to go home to see my parents but it’s just not worth it anymore to travel for the fun of it.
I wonder daily when this will end. When all our wanderlusts can be reignited again. Will it be a snap back to normality? Or will it be gradual over the coming years? Waiting for flights to reduce in price. Waiting for borders to open (CHINA SHOUT OUT TO YOU AND STILL BEING BLOODY CLOSED). Waiting for decisions to be made for entry requirements. It’s a stress and I can honestly say now travel is tiresome and frustrating, especially intercontinental travel.
So, cross your fingers. This time next week I should be in London. And hope that my next blog post isn’t me just bashing my head against the keyboard in despair.
I will be the first to tell you that Zambia is insanely beautiful, but Zambia is also huge so sometimes it can be difficult to find things in the Copperbelt Province that are close by and fun to do. If there is one thing that the Copperbelt does in abundance its boating clubs/dams/man-made lakes. There is Mindolo Dam, Ndola Boating & Sailing Club, Luanshya Dam and of course the star of today’s post Mufulira Boating Club.
Mufulira is a small town located just an hour north of Kitwe, on the Copperbelt. The lake itself is around 25 minute drive further north of the town itself. Be warned it’s not exactly a tire road to get there, quite a few bumps on a gravel road.
There is a 25 Kwacha entrance fee, a not-so bank breaking £1.04! Once inside there are a variety of things you can do, including braai areas, picnic spots with tented benches, a swimming pool, football pitch, volleyball court, a bar, pool table and of course the lake to enjoy. On the lake you can take a boat ride for an additional fee or simply sit by the water to enjoy the sunset.
I went as a guest of some friends who were hosting a Christmas team building afternoon and it really was a perfect location for that. To play a few games, take photos and have a braai it was a great afternoon out, breathing in the fresh air.
Of course, for me a lover of flying my drone it is always important to get up in the air and see what happening. Wow! This was an incredible drone spot. Further down this large lake there were so many trees sitting like giant ducks in the water creating a sort of Filipino island vibe. I was completely in love.
I felt myself comparing Mufulira to Mindolo Dam in Kitwe because they sort of offer the same day out, but Mufulira was far superior. The views from the sky were far more breathtaking and I liked how they had better sheltered areas for a barbecue as well as other activities to enjoy.
10/10 would definitely recommend Mufulira Boating Club as a great place to visit on the Copperbelt. We went on a Friday afternoon and there were a few groups enjoying the space so I imagine on a weekend or a holiday the place could get pretty busy.