#CTC13 Capture The Colour 2013

Five colours, five photos, that can’t be too difficult can it? Thanks to the talented Lani Cox, who kindly nominated me to participate in this devilish competition devised by Travel Supermarket, I’ve now discovered just how hard it is. The aim of this cool competition is to go through your travel photographs, (which most of us have far too many of), and pick five photographs in five colour categories: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and White.

Which is why I am now scrambling to get this up at about five minutes to deadline. Because searching for just the right photo can lead me off daydreaming for long periods of time. So lets just get on with it.

 Red – the monks of Mandalay

red - monks alms procession, mandalay, myanmar
red – monks alms procession, mandalay, myanmar


I am no stranger to a good monk photo, but normally the robes are various shades of saffron. In ancient Mandalay however the monks robes are generally a red wine colour. This photo was at an alms procession at a major monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Yellow – enormous bunches of yellow flowers in the local markets of Mandalay

yellow - markets in Mandalay, Myanmar
yellow – markets in Mandalay, Myanmar

I really thought yellow was going to be my ‘hard’ colour. As it turned out, I was completely wrong, I found many more favourite yellow photos than any other colour. So many that I’ve included a little gallery of the runner-up’s at the bottom of this page. Keeping to the Mandalay theme here, these huge bunches of flowers were all destined for the receptions and dining rooms of the hotels in Mandalay.

 Green – the blue hole in Vanuatu

green - the blue hole, vanuatu
green – the blue hole, vanuatu

The blue hole on Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu is a glorious place to swim in deep clear blue waters. Except for the corner which is more shaded, and is all glorious greens in the water and the surrounding vegetation. It’s a beautiful spot to relax.

Blue – fins, togs and the sea

blue - at play on the Island of Rah, Vanuatu
blue – at play on the Island of Rah, Vanuatu

If you head to the very northern islands of Vanuatu, you can eventually find the tiny island of Rah. It’s warm blue waters, hospitable families and cheeky children will have you donning snorkel and fins to spend the day in the water as well.

White – girl in white in Mandalay, Myanmar

white - girl in white, mandalay, myanmar
white – girl in white, mandalay, myanmar

This young girl was a vision in white, including the complicated tanaka pattern on her cheeks. She was in the old teak palace grounds in Mandalay.


And some more yellow

I couldn’t narrow it down to only one yellow or green, so here’s a few more.

Now it’s my turn to nominate! And thanks again Lani for thinking of me. Unfortunately due to my very late attempt to get this finished, I doubt I have given my nominees any time left to enter the comp, but its such a fun post to do, I hope they will give it a go anyway!

Melissa at Mellovestravels
Laura at Little Travel Bee
Terri at Black Chick on Tour
Emily-Ann at The Grown Up Gap year
Mike and Linda at Moving Sushi

>>>> the rules:

To enter is simple, you write a post with your five best photos from these color categories: RED, BLUE, GREEN, YELLOW and WHITE. Be sure to nominate five other bloggers and tweet it with the hashtag #CTC13.

There will be a winner from each color category who will get: an 128GB iPad, a Fuji camera or £750 worth of Arc’teryx clothing and equipment (you choose). Then from the five winners, an overall winner will be chosen to win: £3,000 travel fund (worth about $4633 USD).

For the full contest rules go here.

To follow the entries watch the contest’s pinterest boards.

Or follow the Facebook page.


4 good reasons to go to Kep, Cambodia

The perfect recipe for a joint birthday party with your best friend – travel with a group of friends and family to Kep, on the south coast of Cambodia. Which is exactly what my BFF Helen and I did recently. Why did we pick Kep? I’ve been there before and liked it a lot, it’s hot and coastal and very laid back. And it has a few extra attractions to seal the deal.

1. Crabs and peppercorns

Kep is famous for it’s bountiful supply of delicious crab. Next to the fish markets in town are a row of crab/seafood restaurants, built out over the sea on stilts. There is no better way to have dinner than to pick one of these restaurants and order up a large serve of crab in peppercorn sauce (Kampot peppercorns are another local speciality). Wash it all down with cold beers while listening to the sea wash under your floorboards, and get your hands very sticky pulling apart a dozen or so freshly cooked crabs, cut in half and covered in sauce. Or maybe the squid in peppercorn sauce for a change? There may be a power-cut while you are eating, it doesn’t matter, candle light will do nicely.

2. Kep Lodge

There has been a big increase of accommodation in Kep in the last three years (from a low base), but I’m sticking with my original favourite, Kep Lodge. A boutique lodge with only a handful of cabins and a big open air communal restaurant/bar and  pool, it’s a couple of hundreds of metres back up the hill, amongst lush vegetation, and it’s great value too – very affordable and very comfortable. My front deck with its armchairs and hammock was a great excuse for a siesta, and the pool and bar were both good options to cool off.

3. Rabbit Island

View my previous post to see why this is such a bonus: Rabbit Island.

4. Kep fish markets

In addition to spending lunch or dinner in the crab restaurants, a visit next door to the fish markets is a must-do. This is a true village market, with locals selling to locals, although there are often a few tourists with cameras wandering around as well. The crab traps are brought ashore here and their bounty immediately put up for sale, as well as the current catch of squid and a variety of fish. Many locals come here for a meal fresh off the BBQ, and it’s great lunch option for us too. There are stalls for clothes, shoes, homewares, basic electronics, and plenty of fruit and veges. And you can’t miss the durian, the smell is impossible to ignore. It’s a small market and a great place to browse, people watch, and chat with the locals.

Where would you like to have your next birthday party?

Relaxing on Rabbit Island, Cambodia

Cambodia does not have to be only about the heat (and hectic exploring of all those glorious temples) of Siem Reap, or the chaos and nightlife of Phnom Penh. When it’s time for a bit of back-to-basics relaxation, Rabbit Island is the place to go.

Known locally as Koh Tonsay, Rabbit Island is offshore from Kep, on the southwestern coast of Cambodia. To get to the island, head to the Kep port pier before 9am to catch one of the boats for a 20-30 minute (5 km) ride out to Rabbit Island. The island itself is two square km in size. Remember the number of your boat, as you have paid for the return trip and you need to catch the same one back in the afternoon, or you’ll be hit up for another fare.

For me, a big part of the attraction of Rabbit island is how undeveloped it is. It’s as loved by locals as by tourists. There’s a long golden sand strip shaded by towering palms. A few sun-loungers and low bamboo platforms are spread along the sand, all free to use. The water (in April anyway) is body temperature, as tranquil as a lagoon, no waves here. And being saltwater, it aided our buoyancy as we floated around happily for hours, only emerging occasionally to top up our sunscreen. There’s an open air tent for soothing massages, a couple of basic-but-good open air restaurants with cold water and beers, and a public long-drop toilet just out behind the trees. And thats all. A perfect place to relax with a few friends. Let’s hope it stays undeveloped for a while longer.

And if you want to stay overnight, there are a handful of nice little cabins that can be rented, I think I might need to try those next time.

Where have you found your ideal relaxation island?


Kangaroos and Vineyards

Kangaroos and Vineyards in Hunter Valley, Australia

Being a Sydney urbanite, I rarely see kangaroos in Australia, so I still get very excited every time that I do. Sometimes we may give the impression that in Australia there will be kangaroos bounding down major streets in the CBD and dodging street-side cafe tables in trendy suburbs, but sadly there is no truth to this. It is possible in small towns or in bush suburbs on the outskirts of the city, but not in Bondi Beach.

I was happy to discover that the vineyards of Hunter Valley at dusk are a great kangaroo spotting location, and of course the vineyard landscapes themselves are pretty nice as well.

Sculpture Garden in the Hunter Valley

Sculpture garden and wine-tasting in the Hunter Valley

It’s a no-brainer to visit a vineyard cellar door for some wine tasting. It becomes much more unique when it is surrounded by a sculpture garden, and also has a art gallery in its wine tasting area. Mistletoe Winery on Hermitage Rd is all of that, and is proudly local, boutique, and family run as well. A stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden on a sunny day is a great refresher in the middle of vineyard visits.

Where have you found surprising art or sculpture in your travels?

Eat Drink Hunter Valley

Top six tips for eating and drinking well in the Hunter Valley.

Mmmm, wine and food. Always gets my attention. The Hunter Valley is about a two and a half hour drive from Sydney and is a well known vineyard area, although historically not one of my favourite ones (I’m not a fan of the region’s most famous wine, Semillon, and I find the average Hunter shiraz a bit green, but that’s just me). Australia is blessed with many amazing wine making areas (and wine makers), enough for everyone to have their own favourites. One advantage the Hunter Valley does have is that it is the closest winemaking area to Sydney, and is a popular day-trip or weekender destination.

So when I am invited along on a long weekend with friends who happen to have great taste in food and wine, I answer with a very quick & resounding “Yes”. After three days and nights of sampling some of the best of the Hunter, here are my tips:

  1. What goes really well with wine? Cheese! The Smelly Cheese Shop at 188 Broke Rd, Pokolbin is a ‘must visit’.  Not just for your cheese supplies, it also has a large and tempting range of other delicatessen items, an amazing range of gelato flavours, and a barista making you a fresh cup of coffee. Stock up for a picnic lunch or a dinner at your accommodation. This comes in particularly handy if you are planning to cook dinner in, and the entire neighbourhood has a power cut from 6:30pm for about 3 hours – with an endless supply of wine and good cheeses, plus a roaring fireplace, this becomes a positive, not a negative. (yep, that really happened).
  2. Brokenwood Vineyard is a Hunter Valley icon, with a very friendly and professional cellar door.  They are also a stand out exception to my “shiraz is too green” rule for the Hunter – Brokenwood make a wonderful range of sophisticated, well balanced shiraz, including their flagship Graveyard Vineyard Shiraz (94 points Robert Parker for the enthusiasts out there). If there is a group of you, and you want to taste some of their top end wines, phone ahead and book into the private tasting room and get the special treatment. One new tip I picked up there was that in winter, the staff liked to drink the Tawny (can’t call it port any more) warmed up – 20 seconds in the microwave in a small glass will do it, perfect when there is a frost settling in overnight. Oh, and Brokenwood is just across the road and about 20 metres down from the Smelly Cheese shop – very convenient.
  3. I don’t know if he is there all the time but there was a man with a market garden stall outside the petrol station on the outskirts of Cessnock (on Wine Country Drive), we stocked up on boxes of fantastic in-season mandarins, tomatoes, and apples. (Good for the one token healthy thing for the weekend).
  4. On the way into Cessnock is a garden centre called Simply D’vine, with a sign boasting “best coffee in the Hunter Valley”. This is not an idle boast, and you don’t need to take my word for it, as every local we talked to agreed strongly with this hypothesis. The garden centre is fun to visit and has a variety of market stalls and shops inside as well, but the real gem is the cafe, also called Simply D’vine. Open for breakfast and lunch, the quality of the food is outstanding. Between us we sampled a plate of Parfait Liver on brioche toast with a beetroot relish, and the creamiest mushrooms on toast with soft boiled eggs – the aroma had us salivating for many minutes before the dish arrived. Spoiler alert – get into this place soon, it can only be a matter of time before this chef opens his own restaurant and does dinner service as well, but for right now we know where to find him.
  5. It’s a frosty Sunday morning, with clear blue skies and a warm middle of the day. What to do? How about a 40 minute stroll in the sun down the backroads to Beltree Restaurnat for a long, lovely lunch, and then another 40 minute stroll home again. Yep, that’s a good plan. Beltree Restaurant (Hermitage Rd) bills itself as rustic italian (couple Jess and Guy, the front of house and chef respectively, previously lived in Positano where Guy trained under a Michelin starred chef). The adobe building used to be a cellar door, with a de rigour cosy fireplace. The food is rich but not too heavy . How about  King Mushrooms, truffled potato mayonnaise & soft egg? Or a roast pork share platter of various cuts of suckling pig & belly, pork sausage, apples and prune? Or maybe balsamic duck with beets, chard, chilli, almonds and grapes? Or maybe go all out, share all of them and wash it down with some Otago pinot noir and big Tuscan reds. For a few hours. Yes, a good plan indeed. A good thing we were walking home afterward, although we probably were staying a bit too close for it to really help.
  6. And in case all of that is not quite self indulgent enough, try staying at the Thistle Hill cottage. It strikes me that the word ‘cottage’ may be a bit of an understatement for a luxurious building with two large bedrooms and private ensuites, at either end of a large dining/lounge area (with a splendid wood burner fireplace of course). The breakfast is deservedly quite famous here, but I won’t reveal their secrets, you’ll have to go try it for yourself.

I’ve definitely warmed to the Hunter Valley after this trip. We just scratched the surface, it would take a couple of weeks to try all the food and wine options, but it was a pretty good start. So give me some tips for next time – which places did you enjoy when you went to the Hunter?

City2Surf in Sydney, not just for runners

London marathon, New York marathon, Sydney’s City2Surf, fun runs in just about every major city in the world – these are iconic events which tens of thousands of people compete in every year, and which I have never, ever, aspired to do. Until this year!

I’m not a runner, and I don’t enjoy running – for me it’s all about walking and I currently walk around 40 kms a week. And I live in Bondi, which is where the 14 km City2Surf race finishes on the beach every August – it is billed as the world’s largest race and regularly has 80,000+ entrants. I’m a big fan of the sausage bbq on the beach at the end, which is just as much appreciated by the spectators as the participants. But this year, completely out of character, I decided I wanted to actually enter the City2Surf, and one of my friends , who has run it before, agreed to join me in the walkers group.

One of the great characteristics about the City2Surf is that it is both competitive and egalitarian (a good reflection of the national character perhaps). The 85,000 entrants this year included some of the worlds best runners at this distance, plenty of serious runners, lots of fun runners, a surprising number wearing superhero and animal costumes, and around 20,000 walkers as well. The start groups for the City2Surf are split by speed, starting with invitation-only seeded and preferred runner groups, followed by runners with previous race times under 70 minutes, runners with previous race times under 90 minutes, an open entry running group, an open entry jogging group, and finally an open entry “Back of the Pack” group for walking, using a wheelchair or pushing child strollers.

Yes, it was definitely the back of the pack group that attracted me, and because the race is so large, we snake along amongst a huge crowd for the whole 14 kms, which is quite awe-insipring every time we breach another hill and see the size of the crowd in front and behind. Of the 85,000 entrants this year, around 70,000 actually turn up on the day and finish the course. In addition, another 120,000 spectators plus dozens of bands and DJ’s line the entire course, and it is quite surreal (and awesome) being cheered on from the sidelines for the whole race. The sun is shining, the views are sparkling, the participants are all friendly and positive, it’s a real feel-good factor event. Now that I am a convert I would say that everyone should give it a go, at least once! We aimed to walk it at a fast pace, with a fair bit of ducking and diving to overtake through the crowds, and ended up finishing in 2 hrs 27 minutes, beating 11,000 other walkers and a fair few stray joggers who ran out of puff. The race winner did it in 41 minutes and the average runner took about 1 hr 30m so we’re very pleased with that. And then we retire to a bar overlooking the beach for a cold bevy and some yummy fried foods. I think I may just have to do it again next year – who’s going to join me?

Sleepless In Shan State, Myanmar

We arrive at the monastery in the early evening, as the shadows lengthen and the heat of the day is about to disappear. I am so tired now that my knees are starting to wobble. The temperature is plummeting.

We’re hiking through the bucolic countryside of Shan State, from Kalaw to the shores of Inle lake, and tonight we are sleeping on a monastery floor. This is a teaching monastery where a few dozen kids (a.k.a. novice monks) live and get educated by the older monks.

Here’s what I learn about sleeping in a monastery in the hills.

  • Monastery buildings are built from wood – floor, walls, roof, and are raised up on stilts. Theres a lot of draughty gaps between boards, and it will get down to 6 ° tonight.
  • the monks hang sheets from the rafters to create separate sleeping spaces within the one large room, but we are all just metres from each other and every sound carries.
  • my bed roll is the thickness of a couple of sheets, with a sleeping bag and another sheet on top. It will feel like I am sleeping on a wooden floor (because I am)
  • tourism dollars have contributed to the building of a collection of quite new huts housing the squat toilets, down a path under the trees. It’s still a challenge , in the dark, to balance my light source while using them.
  • there is cold water available for a shower (of the tip the bucket over my head variety) but I choose to stay dirty and dry – I am going to be sleeping in today’s clothes and continuing the trek in them tomorrow so getting wet and cold for cleanliness seems superfluous.
  • lying on my bed roll and peeking under the sheet curtain to watch baby monks in their class is fun.
  • the monks evening prayer session is more singsong style than chanting.
  • young monks sing with enthusiasm and gusto, but not necessarily in tune. Get used to it, prayers go for a long time.
  • the easiest way to sit on the floor for dinner, when my hiking muscles are too tight to sit cross legged for long, and I need my arms free for eating, is to sit back-to-back with a friend, an easy way to prop each other up. I still need to make sure my feet are not pointing at Buddha.
  • a dinner of vege soup, rice and a fresh apple is a welcome diversion from evening prayers.
  • it will be lights (candles) out and everyone into bed before 8pm.
  • I will stay warm and cosy in my layers of clothing inside my sleeping bag, my angry birds hat from Kalaw market will also keep my head and ears warm overnight.
  • Floorboards are not a mattress. I am in deep discomfort all night (yes, I am a soft westerner who is used to a mattress, any mattress, please!). Moving is painful so I position myself as best I can on my left side, and then try unsuccessfully to doze off. After about an hour, the pressure points are burning so I gingerly roll over and repeat on my right side. I am so uncomfortable that getting up at 3am and heading out into the cold and dark to find the toilets seems like a substantial improvement.
  • I have never been happier to hear the monks’ prayers start up at 5am, out of tune or not – I can get up now! I discover that most of my fellow hikers also didn’t sleep, but everyone kept quiet as they didn’t want to wake anyone else – so we were all lying there awake all night!

After morning prayers, we hear the baby monks trying to recite the english alphabet as part of their lessons. We spontaneously start singing the alphabet back to them (while still wearing our silly market hats), and they burst out laughing at us, and then join us in a sing-a-long. All of a sudden sleeping on the floor is forgotten, we are having fun, making a small connection with our hosts, and it is all worth it after all.