Thailand – A Mother-Daughter Wanderlust Adventure

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My Mum has really been my pillar of strength and is the reason why I am where I am today. She has been there for me, supporting me, giving her all to see me through life and having my back always. I always  celebrate her and show her my appreciation.

 I always wanted to gift my Mum with a vacation. That vacation that she has deserved for many years of toiling hard to feed, clothe and educate me and my siblings and has never had. That vacation she has deserved for her full time unpaid job of nurturing and raising us and giving us the best of her prime years. 

 So when I went home for the holidays, we planned a surprise birthday party for her and I had one more surprise for her present.  A trip to Thailand. 

She was so excited, counting down to the day until it finally came and we left for Bangkok, Thailand.

We arrived in Bangkok and took a taxi to our airbnb. 

The view from our airbnb

We freshened up and as it got dark , looking out from our airbnb we saw a fireworks display . I guess that is how they welcome you to Thailand. 🙂 

'Welcome to Thailand' fireworks

We took a stroll outside, walked around for a bit then grabbed a tuk tuk and headed out for dinner at Cafe Ice Silom where we had some delicious Thai cuisine and then walked back to the airbnb and called it a night. 

The next morning we had late breakfast at a cafe in the building and then took a tuk tuk to the  BTS Skytrain station where we took the skytrain to Silom MRT station. We got off and headed to Silom Complex for some shopping.  Afterwards we had lunch at the food court and then passed by the jewellery trade center to try on some bling. We then headed to MBK mall for a little more shopping (and a whole lot of window shopping). 

We then took a taxi to Si Phraya pier to catch the Chao Phraya River express boat and explore Bangkok via Chao Phraya river. We were not really keen on visiting the temples, wat pho or the grand palace, which are very popular tourist attractions. However, if visiting these attractions, there is a common scam where a taxi or tuktuk driver will tell you that they are closed for some ceremony / function and instead offer a private tour. This is a scam so do not listen to them. Actually when I was reading about Thailand, there were a lot of mentions of different scams especially by tuktuk or taxi drivers. 

Some taxi drivers do not like using the meter and will overcharge you so insist on them using the meter. Some will drive you to a different address than where you were going especially when you are looking to shop, and will instead take you to shops where they have an agreement with the shop owners and get paid some sort of a commission for taking customers there. (This actually happened to us. Lol! When we realized this we demanded that the taxi driver let us out and figured our way from there) For tuk tuks, always agree on the price before getting on board.

The Chao Phraya River Express boat has five lines. The orange, yellow and green flag boat, the no flag (local) boat and the Chao Phraya tourist boat (blue)  They have different stops and some common stops and many of the Bangkok attractions are actually located along theriver so you can get to them  via these boats. Just be sure to check which stop you are going to and that the boat you pick is going to stop there.  We picked Orange flag boat. In addition to getting a  view of the city, we also experienced Bangkok like the locals do as many of them take the boat as a means to get to and from work and other places. 

Chao Phraya River Express Boat map
These floating houses look pretty cool!
Grand Palace

By the time we were heading back on the boat , the sun was setting so this was a plus for us. We got to go on an unplanned sunset boat cruise. And then the night set in, the temples, bridge and buildings lit up and the view was magnificent. 

Sunset
Memorial Bridge
Wat Arum night view

Once we got off the boat we headed to China town for a feel of China in Bangkok. There are plenty of market stalls street restaurants lining the streets. After a walk around we settled down for some dinner.

Taking a walk in China town
Dinner!

From here we took a taxi to Asiatique mall. Yet another mall with a lot of souvenirs, clothes, shoes and restaurants. We had some beautiful passport covers made here. We also took a ride on the Mekong ferris wheel and the view from the top was truly breathtaking. Pictures do not even do it justice. 

Shops at Asiatique mall
Inside the ferris wheel
view of Bangkok from atop the Mekhong ferris wheel
These are the passport covers that we had made at Asiatique mall

We called it a night and headed to our airbnb. The next day we had a very early morning since our flight to Krabi was at 6.39 a.m. meaning we needed to be at the airport by latest 5.39 a.m. Early in the morning, we checked out and went to the airport. We had breakfast at a restaurant at the airport and then waited for our flight, with our eyes all puffy.  

All puffy eyed but happy!

We arrived at Krabi airport and took the Krabi airport bus to Ao nang beach which is where our hotel was. We checked into Aonang Viva Resort where we stayed in a room that had direct pool access, so any time we wanted to we would be able to jump into the pool for a swim. 

Mum sampling the pool at the pool access room

We explored the area and later on that evening took a stroll to the beach where we watched this picturesque sunset. We then went and had some dinner, took a stroll around Aonang and then we went for a Thai massage. 

Strolling to the beach
Restaurants lined up in Aonang
One of the numerous massage parlours

The next day we decided to to stay at our hotel, so we had breakfast  and then jumped into the pool where we stayed for most of the day, breaking for lunch then jumping back in. 

Later that evening we took a shared van from Ao Nang and went to the Krabi night market which is a great night market full of life, food, music, souvenirs and more food. 

We enjoyed some street food and bought some souvenirs.  My Mum really loves her tshirt with ‘Krabi’ written across the front, which we bought here. 

Fried Insects, anyone?
We were so excited to see guavas a.k.a. Mapera. Huge ones at that.

We wound up the night with a thai massage 

The next morning we headed of on an island hopping excursion on a speed boat.  There are a few island hopping tours available. We picked the Phi Phi Islands tour. 

Hair does not obey gravity

First stop was Bamboo island where we enjoyed swimming in the pristine clear waters and sunbathing 

Then we passed by Viking cave. It is not possible to go into the caves but it was still beautiful to look at.

Next we headed to Lohsamah Bay on Phi Phi Ley which is famous for scuba diving and snorkelling.

And we saw the very famous Piley lagoon on Pi Leh Bay. It was like straight from a movie scene. 

Next stop was Maya Bay which is actually from a movie scene. It was made quite popular with tourists when the 2000 movie ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo di Caprio was shot there. I read that it is now closed indefinitely because the thousands of tourists who were visiting it daily caused extensive environmental damage. This is really quite sad. 

 

One of my goals this year is to actually research on environmentally sustainable travel and try to implement some measures to ensure that I am reducing my carbon footprint. And not just travel but just overall in my daily life I am trying to be more conscious about the environment.  Because climate change is happening. It is so real, it is scary. We all should play a role in mitigating its effects. For instance I now use refillable water bottles as much as possible and try to avoid buying water in plastic bottles and coffee or drinks that come in plastic cups and straws. 

It really guts me when I see plastic and other garbage floating in our rivers, lakes and seas, poisoning our flora and fauna. We should all  practice responsible tourism. 

And then we made another stop at Phi Phi Don where we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant on the beach, had some ice cream and relaxed for a bit. 

Back on the boat we headed to Monkey beach to have a glimpse of the monkeys living their best lives out on the beach. I wonder if the monkeys call the beaches where humans live ‘Humans beach’ 

Can you see the monkeys?

And then Nui Bay for some snorkelling, though by this time we were pretty exhausted and settled for watching the fish from the boat. They were pretty close to the surface. 

We then headed back to Ao Nang beach where we had dinner and , of course, a Thai massage. We were here for the massages! They were so so cheap!! Later on I enjoyed some cocktails at the pool bar as Mum rested after a long day of activity. 

The next day, it was time to leave. And as usual, it always feels like it was too short!! One last pose at the hotel and we were off to the airport 

One last photo...
Shoe game
The photo bomber! Lol!

And so we parted ways as Mum headed back to Kenya and I back to Korea. 

It was a wonderful trip and I feel so blessed to have been able to give my Mum such an experience. I saw how happy she was and that in turn made me so happy! I cannot wait for more adventures with my Mum. I am a big believer in buying experiences and not things. Being able to share these experiences with special people in my life is that cherry on top. 

Jeju Island – Photo Story

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I have been drafting a couple of stories but always hitting some kind of amateur-blogger’s block so I decided to get a bunch of photos from one of my trips and use them to tell a story. A photo is worth a thousand words after all, right? So here is how my trip to Jeju island, Korea in 2017 went.

On this Thursday afternoon I headed from work straight to the airport . 

I flew into Jeju airport. These garbage bins in the shape of suitcases caught my eye. So cool! 

Then took a bus from the airport to Whistle Lark Hotel 

We had dinner then settled in for the night. I woke up the next morning and realized I didn’t have to go to work and I was so happy haha!

After freshening up, we got started for the day. Went to this lovely cafe for breakfast .

Then we went to catch the city tour bus. As we waited for the bus to arrive we went to this underground market for some shopping

And of course we had to sample the famous Jeju black pork…

And then we went to Jeju Loveland Park, an outdoor sculpture park full of ….erm….sculptures. That is all I have to say about that. 

And I met someone. I think he is The One. 😉 

The next day we went to the Southern part of Jeju called Seogwipo.  We stopped by the Hello Kitty Island. 

And then went to the shooting range. 

Trigger happy?

Then we went go karting

And then went to have dinner by the sea…

And then back to Toscana Hotel which was pretty amazing…

And we planned on how we would wake up early the next morning to go and climb Mount Hallassan which has an amazing view from the top. The night unwound with some KGB vodka…

And of course none of us woke up on time to go climb the mountain. Lol. 

I headed to the pool. It was September so the water was cold. I got in anyway. Splashed around for a bit before the pool guy came and told me the pool was actually closed and no one was allowed in. But oh well, I had already had my fun. 😉 

Later on we went to check out some waterfalls. 

We had an early morning the next day, with a flight leaving at an ungodly hour on a Monday morning. We went straight from the airport, back to work. We plan to go back to Jeju and this time make it to the top of Mount Hallasan. September was a great choice of a month to go because the weather was great; not too cold, not too hot, just great…and it was not crowded as it gets in the summer so flight tickets and accomodation were affordable. I loved that we made an itinerary on the go. We really didn’t have anything planned, we just grabbed a map with the attractions and decided where to go. There is soooo much to do and see!! I love Jeju. Can’t wait to go back!!

 

And that, folks, is the end of my story. 

Zanzibar travel tips. 8 Things you should know before you go.

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  1. Travel Documents

You need a passport to travel to Zanzibar. If you are an East African citizen and don’t have a passport you can also get a temporary permit by applying on the eCitizen portal. I used a temporary permit since I did not have my passport at the time I was travelling as I had applied for the digital passport.

Once you have completed the application, make the payment via Mpesa (Kes 350 for an adult), print the temporary permit and attach a passport size photo. Don’t bother going to immigration to have the temporary permit stamped. I woke up so early to go to Nyayo house only to be told that the permit would be stamped port of exit so it was stamped at the airport. 

If you are coming from Kenya, you also need to get yellow fever vaccination and present a yellow fever certificate at the airport. You can get the vaccination at City Hall Annex, Port Health at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Wilson Airport or private hospitals in Kenya e.g Aga Khan, MP Shah, for approximately Kes. 2,500. Please note that you must get the vaccination a minimum of 10 days before travel. East Africans do not require a visa to go to Tanzania.

TIP: Always check the validity period of your travel documents. Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months before your travel and should have at least one empty page for stamps.

2. How to get there

The two times I have gone to Zanzibar I have gone by air. The first time I went with Kenya Airways and the second time with Safarilink. An air ticket from Nairobi to Zanzibar costs around Kes 30,000 – Kes 50,000 ($300-$500) depending on the season and timing of the flight. It takes about 1hour 40 minutes.  I usually use Skyscanner to search for available flight itineraries then go to the individual airline websites to make the booking.

Another way to get to Zanzibar from Nairobi is going by road to Dar es Salaam and then taking a ferry to Zanzibar. It would be a nice way to also see the Tanzania countryside. This would require that you have enough time to travel since it takes about 14 hours to get from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam by road and around 2 – 2½  hours to get to Zanzibar by ferry. You could also consider having an overnight stop in Moshi or Arusha. The cost of a VIP bus ticket from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam on Modern Coast bus is Kes. 3,850 and the ferry from Dar to Zanzibar costs around USD 35 or Kes 3,500

 

TIP: Sometimes the flight cost on a search engine like Skyscanner is not all inclusive so when you check the actual cost on the airline you may have to pay extra costs for instance baggage fee, seat and meals, especially for low cost airlines. Please be sure to check these when reaching a decision on which airline to use. 

I usually try to make a booking all the way until I reach the payment stage, without paying so that I can see if there are any additional costs involved. Also, be sure to read the terms and conditions on the flight ticket and call the airline to confirm if not sure of anything. 

3. Where to Stay

I am a total beach bum. When I go to Zanzibar, or any island, I always want to stay on the beach, wake up by the beach, go out and explore other areas during the day and then come back and watch the sun setting over the sea.

When choosing where to stay in Zanzibar, your itinerary and budget would be the starting point for making the decision. If most of the activities you want to do are in or around Stonetown then you can consider staying around the Stonetown area. If you are like me, then definitely stay on any of Zanzibar’s many beaches. 

Also if you are going to stay in Zanzibar for longer than say a week, you could ‘hotel-hop’ and stay in Stonetown for 2 or 3 days then move to the beach. Then again it would depend on how much luggage you have and what transportation means you are using. 

My preference when looking for accommodation in Zanzibar was The North Coast, South East Coast and East Coast.

The North Coast is home to the popular Nungwi and Kendwa beaches with a long stretch of beach and a lot of water-sport activities like diving and snorkeling. This area is full of life, with a bustling nightlife so you can get a little bit of everything here.

The South East Coast stretches across Jambiani, Paje, Bwejuu, Dongwe and Pingwe beaches on the map.  On my first trip to Zanzibar I stayed at Mbuyuni Beach village which is between Paje and Jambiani. I loved this area and I really enjoyed the nightlife, especially the beach parties at Jambo Beach Bungalows. Other places you can explore for the night life are Paje by Night hotel bar and Red Monkey Lodge beach bar.

The East Coast which is around the Pongwe and Uroa area on the map is also beautiful with a whole lot of beach. I stayed at Uroa Bay Resort on my last trip to Zanzibar and it was great. It is a quiet and serene area and very good for a relaxing holiday. The tide would go out in the mid morning and you can walk out to the sea and get your own little stretch of an island within an island and then come back before the tide comes back in. There was no night life in this area but this was ok since on this particular trip I was not really keen on partying.

TIP:  Check accommodation options according to your budget and preferred areas on Booking.com. You can also check reviews and photos submitted by travelers on Tripadvisor to help you reach a decision. I usually book accomodation either through booking.com or the directly with the property, whichever is cheaper. 

Go to Zanzibar during low tourist season to save on accommodation costs. You can get discounts on hotels if you go between March and early July. March to May is monsoon season with long rains though so check the weather forecast when planning your trip.

4. What to Do

There is no shortage of activities and excursions in Zanzibar. Here are some suggestions. 

  • Take a walk through Stone town

Enjoy all that this historical town which is a UNESCO world heritage site has to offer. Walk through the alleys, have a look at the beautiful doors, Vistit the Hamami baths, Old Fort, Freddy Mercury’s former house. Just walk around and take in the beauty of Stone town.

  • Take a tour through and shop at Darajani market

Darajani market is a colourful market with a wide variety of products including spices, fresh food and fabric. If you want to experience Zanzibari culture, Darajani market is a must visit.

  • See the red colobus monkeys at Jozani forest Chwaka Bay Park

There are guides who will take you around the park where you will get to see the Zanzibar red colobus monkeys as well as take a walk on the Mangrove Boardwalk. The entrance fees is USD 8 per person.

  • Visit Prison Island and learn about the Zanzibar

Take a boat ride from Stone town to Prison Island which was once a holding place for slaves as they waited to be transported and is now home to tortoises, including some very giant and aged ones. I paid $30 for the 30 minute each way boat ride with only me, my mum and sister as passengers in the boat and $4 per person at the island.

  • Spice up your trip with a Spice farm tour

Zanzibar is aptly named spice island. A visit to Zanzibar is incomplete without a trip to one of the several spice farms where you get to see how spices are grown and buy some too.

  • Enjoy some good food at Forodhani gardens

In the evenings Forodhani gardens is teaming with food vendors selling different kinds of Swahili food including grilled meat, fish, vegetables as well as refreshing drinks. You can also watch young boys jumping off the pier into the sea.

  • Zanzibar butterfly centre

Visit the butterfly centre to see how the butterflies are bred and watch the beautiful creatures flying around. There is a charge of $6 per person. 

  • Water sports – Swimming, diving and snorkeling

There are numerous spots for water sports including the famous Mnemba Atoll.  

  • Make an international phone call for free at jaws corner.

Only if you can reach the phone!! Otherwise just have some coffee and enjoy. 

  • Take a ride on a dhow

From Stone town you can take a dhow ride and for a more serene trip, take the boat just before sunset so that you experience the sun setting over the ocean.

  • Get a henna painting / tattoo

My sister had this done at our hotel. 

  • Be a beach bum

Just lie on the beach and do nothing except eat, drink cocktails and sunbathe. I had so many activities planned out for my last trip to Zanzibar with some on the second last day of our trip but after a couple of excursions we decided to cancel everything planned for that day and just bum at the hotel. So remember to save one day, preferably the last day, or even more for this, otherwise you may end up being more tired after your vacation than you were before.

TIP:  It is very possible to get around Zanzibar without booking an excursion. For the stone town tour, I asked my contact at the car hire company to recommend a guide. The guide charged $20 for the stone town tour though it is very possible to get one for $10. Alternatively you could just use your google maps to find the places you want to see, or ask shop owners for directions. Be careful not to be scammed by the many touts that will approach you offering to show you around. 

For the spice tour, you can take a taxi or public transportation or,  if you have hired a vehicle, you can drive to one of the spice farms and there will be some guides to show you around. You can leave them a small tip after the tour.  For the island excursions for instance to get to Prison island, you can go to the pier and negotiate a price with the boat owners. There will always be plenty of boats looking for business. Make sure you haggle about the price, do not accept the first price they offer. Same goes for buying anything on the island, unless it is a fixed price in a store. Haggle, haggle, haggle.  

5. What/where to eat

  • Lukmaan Restaurant

Eat at one of the most popular restaurants in Stonetown, Lukmaan restaurant and enjoyed the variety of authentic Zanzibar dishes served there at a reasonable price. We had some sumptuous biryani rice, chicken and tiger prawns washed down with fresh juice. The restaurant is very busy though so if you are not able to get the waiter’s attention, go to the counter, pick out what you like, pay for it then carry it to your table. Also try to avoid going during lunch hour (12.30 to 1.30 p.m.) as this is the busiest hour and go either before or after.

  • Zenji food lovers joint

Our guide took us here after our Stonetown walking tour. We were just happy to see a restaurant and food after walking for a bit. We had some fish and rice which was quite tasty.

  • Forodhani gardens

You can enjoy a variety of food and drinks at Forodhani gardens in the evenings. There is so much food, you will be spoilt for choice.

  • Rooftop restaurants

Experience the magical sunset in Stonetown while overlooking the Indian Ocean from a rooftop restaurant. Food can be a bit pricey at the roof top restaurants but you can always order a coffee or some other drink and drink slowly.

  • Street food

Street food in Zanzibar is amazing! There are always street food vendors along the highways selling grilled meats, French fries and sea food. When in Zanzibar I hardly ever eat at the hotel. I just grab some street food on my way to or from the hotel.  

TIP:  You must try the ‘Zanzibar pizza’! And the sugar cane juice with lime. So refreshing!!

6. How to get around

There are public transportation means like mini vans and Dala-dala which we call matatu in Nairobi. It would be important to research on where you are going to stay, which dala-dala goes there and where they can be found. This would be suitable if you are not planning to travel much around the island and are going to stay more or less around the same area.

There are also taxis but these can be quite expensive.

I always prefer to hire a car. On my second trip to Zanzibar I hired a Suzuki Grand Vitara (5 door) from Zanzibar Best Car Rental  for $30. You need a temporary driving permit which costs $10 per person. I picked up the car at the airport and returned it there as well. Before you take the car, inspect it, go around and note if there are any dents or scratches and also check the insurance and make sure it is valid.

Within stone town and residential areas the speed limit is 40 to 50km/h. While driving on the highways, I was advised to go at a speed of 60 km/h on the highway by my contact at the car hire company.  It seemed annoyingly slow especially when I had had a long day and wanted to get to the hotel and rest, but I was not about to get pulled over for over speeding.

TIP: When driving around Zanzibar, always be on the look out for people, bicycles, scooters and other vehicles. I noticed a lot of people walking along the highways at night and others cycling people walking and cycling along the road while not wearing any reflective clothing. I almost always had full lights on because there were people everywhere along the road. I was driving like a learner, edging forward, my face almost touching the windscreen and eyes wide open. Another reason why you need to drive slow. Also, do not drink and drive! That’s a no brainer though.  

If you are planning to use Google maps and are not roaming buy a SIM card at the airport so that you can have internet connection for about USD 20 for 12 GB.

7. Currency

The local currency in Zanzibar is Tanzania Shillings. However, US dollars are widely used and most hotels, restaurants and vendors accept US dollars so if you have USD, it is not necessary to change too many bills into Tanzania Shillings. Break the dollar bills into smaller nominations though for easier transactions in smaller establishments.  There are currency exchange bureaus in Stone town where you can change money. If you use a credit card to pay, you will likely be charged an extra fee.

8. What to wear

Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim so when going into Stonetown or outside the beach areas, dress conservatively. For ladies, avoid short skirts,shorts and cleavage revealing clothes. Some places will require you to have your arms and legs covered so either wear some loose fitting trousers or a long dress or skirt to be on the safe side. Alternatively, you can carry around a wrap around /shawl/ lesso / shuka to cover up when need be. When at the beaches though, you can wear whatever you want.

Carry light clothing since it is very hot.

If you want to venture into the sea carry sea shoes to protect your feet from coral rocks.

Do not forget to bring your hats and sunglasses and definitely do not forget to bring sunscreen. And yes, people of colour or if you like, black people also need sunscreen! It is not only for white people . Protect your skin, please!!!!

So start planning that trip!! A wonderful adventure awaits!!

ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA

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It takes an exceptional experience to make me go back to a destination. Zanzibar is one of those destinations I always want to go back to. The first time I went to Zanzibar in 2014 was quite impromptu.  Kenya Airways was resuming their flight service to  Zanzibar after a hiatus so when I saw the incredible offer for a return flight ticket to Zanzibar of $99 for a ticket that normally costs an upwards of $ 300, I snatched it up

Since the offer was limited I bought the ticket quickly and then started looking around for accomodation. I was on a tight budget and Zanzibar is not exactly cheap. I eventually settled for Mbuyuni Beach Village which is in the East Coast of Zanzibar, between Paje and Jambiani. The accomodation rate was $35 per night inclusive of breakfast. 

Mbuyuni Beach Village is about 45 minutes drive from Zanzibar airport and I also needed to get around the island so for convenience I opted to rent a car and got this Suzuki Escudo 3 door for $35 per day. 

 

I requested a friend to arrange for someone to meet me at the airport and guide me to the hotel since it I was going to be arriving at around midnight, I was going to be alone and I didn’t know how to get to the hotel. 

When I travel to a new place I always want to get there during the day so that I can figure my way around but in this case I had no control over the timing since, well, terms and conditions of the ticket applied.  

On the day of travel, I arrived at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Zanzibar at around 2345 hours and found the guy from the car hire company waiting for me just once I exited the airport. He kept looking behind as if he was expecting someone else.

 ‘Umekuja na nani? Mume wako? Boyfriend? Ako wapi‘ (who did you come with? Your husband? Boyfriend? Where is he) he asked 

Nimekuja pekee yangu’ (I travelled by myself) I responded

‘Daaah! Umesafiri pekee yako? Kwa nini?’ (what? you are travelling alone? why?) he was so surprised.Maybe even shocked. 

He led me to the car and handed me the keys. The guide came to meet me and said hello then proceeded to his car. I got into the hired car and we headed out of the airport, with me driving behind the guide. 

About 15 minutes into the drive I realized I had not collected my check-in luggage!! I flashed my headlight continously to get the attention of the guide and we turned around and headed back to the airport 

Luckily by the time we got there they had not yet locked up so I was able to get my luggage, put it in the car and we set off once again. We arrived at the bungalows, I checked in and promptly went to sleep. 

For the two days I was in Zanzibar I visited Jozani Forest to see the red colobus monkeys and mangrove forest. Zanzibar is also famous for spices so a visit there would be incomplete without a tour of a spice farm where you get to learn a bit about the history of spices, the types of spices grown there – you get to smell the spices and guess what they are- and you can also buy various spices. I particularly loved the locally made perfume with lavender scent, the smell is so heavenly.  

Zanzibar’s stonetown is enchanting, full of vibrant people and rich in history. The architecture is amazing and it was great to see all the buildings made out of coral rocks and the beautiful artistic doors.   

I went for the very touristy but very amazing dhow ride. I also enjoyed the nightlife in Paje, there was a beach party going on every night! I loved the street food and ate that for most of my stay. I only ate at a restaurant once. 

Forodhani Gardens in stone town is also a great place to visit. In the evenings there is plenty of street food and you can watch young men diving off the pier into the sea, each dive more fancy than the previous one.

I went back to Zanzibar 4 years later, with my Mum and sister. This time I did not need a guide as we arrived during the day so I just hired a Suzuki Grand Vitara (5 door) from Zanzibar Best Car Rental who are really amazing and I would totally recommend, for $30 per day and used Google maps to get to my destination. We stayed at Uroa Bay Beach Resort in Uroa. 

Aside from the jozani forest tour, stone town tour, spice tour and hanging out at Forodhani, we also visited the Zanzibar butterfly center , Darajani market  and took a boat ride to Prison Island, learnt about the history of slave trade and also saw the giant tortoises on the island. We also had lunch at the very popular Lukmaan restuarant. Another restuarant which we went to and really enjoyed the food was Zenj Food Lovers Joint. So aptly named because we are food lovers. 🙂 

There is not much going on in the Uroa area in terms of nightlife. Luckily the hotel put on very nice shows each night with different themes. On the last day of our trip we decided to just stay at the hotel and by the beach, soaking in the sun, eating sumptuous food, drinking cocktails and swimming. 

 

Zanzibar still remains one of my favourite holiday destinations. The people are amazing, very kind, helpful, warm and welcoming. I think there is something about island people. All the islands I have gone to the people have been really really nice. The beaches are white and beautiful. The history is captivating. It is just magical. 

I will share my tips on travel to Zanzibar: what to do, where to stay, how to get around, etc. on a separate post.

 

KIGALI, RWANDA

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Kigali Convention Centre

I was in my final year of Primary School in 1994 when we had this essay writing competition and were asked to write one of those compositions beginning a particular phrase which I can’t recall. 

What I do recall is that I wrote about the events that were making headlines in my country at the time and were still fresh in my memory. A few days earlier, the airplane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, among other passengers and crew had been shot down leading up to chaos in Rwanda and later on massacre and bloodshed leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead, others injured and displaced and the world shocked. 

I came first in the competition, taking home a mathematical set, some books and pens as my prizes. To me, at that time, it was just a story. All I knew about it is what I read in the newspapers and what I saw on the news. Much much later on, I came to realize that this was much more than just a story. It was the reality which hundreds of thousands of people had to live through and continue to live with. The aftermath will continue to be felt and affect people for generations and generations. 

It is impossible to speak about Rwanda without speaking about the genocide. It is part of history.  But for me the most intriguing thing about Rwanda is how it has been able to rise up, against all odds, and become a force to reckon with in Africa, and in the world at large.

I made my way to Kigali, Rwanda in 2014. I travelled by bus via Kampala and it took about 18 hours to get from Nairobi to Kigali. The first thing that struck me about Kigali when I arrived is how clean and neat it was. I had heard about it and I got to see it for myself.  The city was green . The streets were clean and at night they were well lit. People were walking leisurely after dark, others were jogging. Rwandese people are beautiful! Everywhere I looked I saw handsome men and beautiful women.  

The next day I toured the Rwanda genocide memorial centre which left me with a lump in my throat. The centre has information on Rwanda’s history and the genocide, including events leading up to it. It is important for people to understand this so that they affirm their resolve to never allow something like this to happen again. Ever. 

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

We then drove around Kigali city then had lunch at Carwash Grill where I also sampled some Rwandan beer. I don’t even know why I sample beer when I travel. I don’t even like beer. It’s just one of those things on my list to try in every country that I can’t even explain. lol!  Goat meat skewers, referred to as brochettes served with french fries are a popular dish in Rwanda. 

And of course you can’t forget to add some Rwandan chilli, akabanga, which, for anyone who is not used to spicy food,  should be taken in small doses otherwise it can make you feel like your intestines are being deep fried in hot oil in Satan’s kitchen, there is an inferno in your mouth and steam is coming out of your ears. I like it a lot though. I love my food quite spicy. Later on we sampled Kigali nightlife at Papyrus Night Club and danced the night away to some good music.

Sampling Rwandan beer
...and some brochettes and french fries
...and the night life

I must say I hold Rwanda in alot of awe. What I gathered from the few days I spent there is that the women in Rwanda are treated with so much respect. Any violation against a woman lands the perpetrators straight in jail. The citizens won’t even wait for the police to come they will arrest the perpetrator themselves. Women have really been empowered. 

At the busy bus stop the touts approach you trying to convince you to board their vehicle. but none touches you, unlike in Kenya where they pull you in different directions sometimes dragging you, your children and your luggage to three different vehicles. Bribing police officers is unheard of. Nobody can even dare approach a police officer with such intent. Rwanda is infact one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. 

Rwanda is the country with the highest representation of women in parliament in the world. More than 60% of Rwanda’s members of parliament are women. Rwanda also enacted and enforced a ban on plastic bags. You cannot be allowed to enter the country with plastic bags so you best check your luggage and ensure you are not carrying any. I am happy that my country Kenya followed suit with a similar ban and I hope it will continue to be enforced stringently. We do need take active measures to reduce carbon emissions. 

Rwandans also have a national community service every month where everyone participates in cleaning their cities, towns and villages. It is no wonder that Kigali is one of the cleanest cities in Africa, and I believe in the world. 

I left Rwanda the next day, breaking my journey by making a stopover in Kampala to visit a friend before proceeding on to Nairobi. The trip to Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, though short was quite an eye opener for me. I would have loved to see more of the country, except that I was constrained both budget-wise and time-wise. 

I would definitely love to go back. 

KAMPALA, UGANDA

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When I heard that my all time favorite band, Boys II Men was going to be in the neighbouring country, Uganda, I just had to go and see them! I know most of their songs by heart. I had replicated their lyrics when writing letters to my romantic interests. I had dreams of one day marrying a guy with a deep goosebump-inducing  barritone who sang ‘Thank you in advance’ to me and made my heart skip a beat or ten. I know…I know….I was a hopeless romantic and believed in love then. All because of Boyz II Men. The show was scheduled for 6th December, 2008, so I planned my trip for 5th December. I packed and left everything ready for pick up in the evening. The plan was to go home after work, grab my bag and head to the bus station. As fate would have it, this is one of those days that my inbox was overflowing with work assignments and a report was required ‘by c.o.b.’ so I had to work late. While leaving work hurriedly, I realized that if I went home to pick my luggage I would get late so I boarded a matatu and headed to town. I met up with a friend for dinner and he was kind enough to give me his jacket. He thought I was crazy for travelling on a whim like this, but if spontaneity equals craziness, then I am certified crazy. The good type of crazy I would hope

Boyz II Men

I boarded the Kampala bound night bus at around 8 p.m. I took my seat and promptly fell asleep as bus snaked its way out of Nairobi city. It took us about 8 hours to get to the Busia border town. We got off the bus to go through immigration and since I had left my passport at home I had to get a temporary pass so that I could cross the border to Uganda. I paid about 500 Kenya shillings to have passport photos taken, filled in the forms , paid the fee and was granted the pass. Currently it is much easier to go to Uganda (and Rwanda) for  Kenyan nationals as they can use only a national identity card as the travel document. We crossed the border on foot and had our travel documents stamped on the Ugandan side. Once everyone had gotten through, we set off towards Kampala. As the morning wore on, the sun begun peeking through the clouds. Every time the bus would slow down near a busy area, dozens of vendors would throng our windows holding out meat skewers, water, soda, biscuits, groundnuts, and more meat skewers.  6 hours later we arrived in the busy Kampala town

Uganda skewers
Vendors selling meat skewers along the Busia-Kampala road

My first stop was a shopping mall because, well, a girl did not have any clothes lol! After walking through a couple of stalls I picked out two pairs of jeans and three tops. I then boarded a mini-bus and headed to a guest house recommended by a Ugandan friend, checked in and freshened up. I had not bought the ticket to the Boyz II Men event so I called the concert organizers to find out how to get a ticket only to be told that the concert had been cancelled. What!! Cancelled? How? Why? When?? Why didn’t anyone tell me this like 16 hours ago? Joe Thomas who was supposed to be the curtain raiser was now going to be the main act instead but my heart was already broken.  Nathan, Wanya and Shawn….after years of memorizing all your songs word by word only for you to stand me up on our first date….you really did me wrong!! I don’t even like you any more. Ok, I still do. Lol! But you really hurt my feelings. Anyway, I went to a nearby restaurant and had some breakfast then decided to take a nap and figure things out later.

Later that evening I decided to check out Ange Noir which was a popular club in Uganda and it did not disappoint. I remember being so amused that there was a carpet in a club. Haha! And so I am dancing the night away to mostly Ugandan artists’ songs and then Kenyan artist Nameless’ song comes on. ‘Commit a crime and I’ll be your defender….Nasinzia nikikuwaza’ ….Now every time I am outside Kenya and a Kenyan song comes on in a club I jump, scream and yell at the top of my voice ‘that’s my sooooong! that’s my sooooooong!!’ and then start dancing like crazy. So I did exactly that and noticed there was this guy who also went into a similar frenzy. I figured he must be Kenyan so I made sure I angled myself perpendicularly and kept dancing while moving towards him until we intersected and were dancing together. I had a great time and in the wee morning hours I made my way back to the guest house. I woke up later on that day and went out to have some lunch. I found it interesting how you can order a dish of rice and meat in Uganda and get a full plate of rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, matooke, vegetables, meat and groundnut sauce.  Later that evening I got on a bus and headed back to Nairobi as I needed to be back at work on Monday. That, my friends, is the story of how I found myselefu in Uganda the first time.

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DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA

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Image By Alidamji at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0

When the travel bug bit me I didn’t even know I had been bitten.  I was living and working in Mombasa. After looking for a job for one year after graduation, you realize that that dream job may not really be forthcoming so you take the first thing that comes your way and try to make it work. My first job was a sales job for a publishing company in Mombasa. My task was to sell advertising space in a business directory.  Now, being a Coastal town, Mombasa is hot. So I would be out in the glaring heat walking from office to office trying to convince business owners to sign up (and pay) for space to have their businesses featured in the directory. Most business owners had never seen or heard of this directory before and were skeptical about visibility.  Others wanted to sign up  but not pay. Well, that would mean that I did not have any earnings at the end of the day since I earned only a commission, dependent on the number of sales I made in any given particular month. Often times I would just get doors slammed in my face with a firm ‘No, I am not interested’. It was tough! I have great respect for salespeople around the world.  That job is HARD!!! But it toughened me up and taught me important life skills. My second job was quite a reprieve. In a different field from what I had studied, it gave me an opportunity to learn a lot and ultimately led me to my current profession.

Anyway,  I was talking about travel so let me get back to that. The year is 2007. This one day I reconnected with a former friend of mine on graduates.com (does anyone remember this? It was the best thing tha happened before FB haha). He was in Tanzania at the time doing a sales promotion for some organization he was working for. And jokingly he says ‘Why don’t you come over?’ And just like that, that afternoon, straight from work with the clothes on my back and my handbag I go the bus station, pay for a ticket and get on a bus (I think it was called Tahmeed) to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. I was thrilled to be going on my maiden trip outside of Kenya. It was supposed to be an approximately 8 hour overnight trip and we would arrive in Dar es Salaam the next morning. About 3 hours into the trip, however, the engine started overheating. This slowed down our journey considerably. At some point, the driver pulled over and before the engine had cooled down, tried to open the radiator to add some water to cool it down. He immediately yelped as the steam scalded his hand. So now we had two problems. Overheating engine and injured driver. We are in the middle of nowhere, it’s pitch dark.  A couple of passengers went to the front and together with the ‘turnboy’ tried to give the driver some first aid. I heard them speaking in hush tones then someone calling out, asking if anyone had tea leaves.  In my head, I am wondering, tea leaves? Are we cooking tea now? I guess no one had any tea leaves. More hushed tones, then someone called out again, this time for Colgate toothpaste. One passenger came up with a tub of toothpaste and one of the first aiders applied some of it on the driver’s scalded hand.  My first travel-related lesson learnt. Always carry a first aid kit when travelling. And always have one in your car when driving. But also, have handy information about possible first aid treatment for  various injuries.

 

Overheating engine

After the engine cooled down somewhat, some water was added to the radiator and the driver was able to continue driving, this time slower than before, seeing that he was only using one hand. Every so often we would stop, wait for the engine to cool down, add some water to the radiator and resume the journey. Eventually, several hours behind schedule, we arrived at the border town of Lunga Lunga. Normally this would just be a short stopover and then the journey would continue but we had to wait for daylight in order to get the radiator fixed. Those passengers who could afford it went to sleep in some guest houses nearby. Those of us who could not slept in the bus till morning. In the morning one passenger who had gone to spend the night in a guest house did not return to the bus. I think he overslept. After waiting for a while and not knowing exactly where he had gone, the driver decided to leave without him. The bus was driven to the mechanic, we waited as it was fixed and then set off.

My first passport stamp was at Lunga Lunga, Kenya-Tanzania border

It was a long tiresome journey. When we arrived at Dar es Salaam, every part of my body was aching.  I met my friend and immediately went to take a long shower. It helped that the shower had very strong pressure and I would direct it to my neck and back and that felt like a very good massage.

I honestly don’t remember much about Dar es Salaam so this post might be inappropriately titled. I did not have a phone so I have no photos to make reference to. I remember going to a shopping mall, at that time shopping malls were not really existing in Kenya so this was fascinating to me.  I remember going to Shoprite supermarket and basically, that’s about as far as my memory of Dar goes.  I need to go back and have a proper orientation of the city and maybe I can do a proper ‘Tanzania” post.

We drove back to Nairobi via Arusha then Namanga. The trip was less arduous than the trip to Dar.  The next day I got on a bus and went back to Mombasa. My first trip out of Kenya was quite interesting. I can laugh about it now. From then on, I knew I wanted to travel. Far and wide. Go everywhere. See everything. The travel bug had bitten me. And it was not the last time I would travel out of the country with only the clothes on my back. 

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