Annchen

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I knew I was going to like Bangkok when I woke up in this new city for the first time, but I had no idea I would love it this much. And, indeed, the only thing that I did not like about it was that we too little time to explore it before making our way home after two relaxing weeks on the islands in the gulf of Thailand. But when I woke up that morning and saw the big sprawling city stretched out in front of us, I could not contain my excitement – I love being in cities. And Bangkok is a whole lot of city.

Without wasting any time, we put on some pants (very reluctantly in the 35°C, 80% humidity weather), grabbed our cameras, and headed out, ready to make the most of our one, single, little day in Bangkok.

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TEMPLES

I’m guessing you could spend a month in Bangkok and not see all of the gorgeous Buddhist temples (and all of the gold) in Bangkok. We set our sights on three of them – Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun – but our plans dissolved as soon as we managed to catch a taxi that was actually willing to take us to the temples. We were told that it was Coronation Day, and that the Grand Palace would be closed because the Thai King is there for some ceremony. And then, before we knew what was really happening, we were dropped off outside some other temple, told ‘go…beautiful inside’, and we abruptly exited the AC-zone.

The Marble Temple – Wat Benchamabophit

It would appear that we ended up at the Marble Temple, in an area called Dusit. It wasn’t one of the temples we originally wanted to go to (or knew about), but it was sort of an ‘oh well’ moment and we headed in.

With the construction having commenced in 1899, Wat Benchamapobhit is one of Bangkok’s more modern temples. It’s comparatively and beautifully simple with its blazing white, Italian marble silhouette contrasted between the three-tiered orange-and-gold roof.  The simplicity of the white shell of the temple gives way to an ornate hall inside, a large golden, seated buddha towering over everything. We were in there for just a few moments when the hall began to fill with people while a row of monks in their saffron-coloured robes took their seats in front for some ritual; we slipped out shortly after to explore courtyard, which is like a buddha museum with 50-something different buddhas exhibited – each in a different pose, carrying a different meaning.

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Temple of the Reclining Buddha – Wat Pho

As the Marble Temple was not busy at all, we weren’t able to shake our persistent taxi driver (who has been waiting for us the whole time) and as he was still insisting that the Grand Palace is closed, we had him take us to one of Bangkok’s more famous temples: Wat Pho.

We made our way through some exhibitions on the temple grounds, marvelling at all the gold leaf everywhere, sometimes even floating around the gold-plastered buddhas on a breeze, before we made our way into the main temple.

Now… I had seen photos of the grand, laid-back buddha, but really nothing could prepare me for what was inside. The enormity of this 46-meter-long reclining buddha is hard to comprehend as you slowly make your way along its gold-leafed body, your eyes frantically switching between the overwhelming monotone shade of gold and the intricate murals on the walls and delicate patterns on the ceiling . We gave up on trying to take photos after not too long, realising the impossibly of it, not even being able to see the entire thing from any point with your own eyes.

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Temple of the Emerald Buddha – Wat Phra Kaew

Located on the palace grounds, Wat Phra Kaew enshrines a smallish buddha that was carved from a single block of jade. It is housed in an enormously elaborate temple within even more elaborate palace grounds that bustles with tourists. It is a maze of intricate murals, gold spires, gilded lions and wafts of incense – our heads turned from one point to the next, hardly looking at any one thing at a time, and not even looking at each other – not saying much, because nothing we could think to say would ever describe what we were actually seeing.

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Wearing long jeans in the sweltering heat paid off when we entered the palace grounds and noticed strict security guards sending men and women away because of their bare shoulders and legs. However, we did not get to enter the Grand Palace, as women wearing pants are not allowed inside.

FLOATING MARKET

Hot, exhausted, and on the verge of hangry, we jumped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the Taling Chan Floating Market. After negotiating a price, and assuring the taxi driver that this is the floating market we want to go to (and not the one tourists usually request), we were off.

Bangkok has many floating markets along the channels, the two most famous being enormous events with hundreds of boats about 100kms from the city centre. We opted for a much smaller one that is only about 12kms from downtown Bangkok, and it was one of our favourite experiences in Thailand and, hands-down, the best and cheapest meal we had.

What it lacks in hundreds of boats it makes up for in proximity and lack of tourists. The market was quiet and relaxed, seemed about 80% local, and had a little bit of everything. Everyone was already busy devouring grilled shellfish and slurping coconut soup and we were 100% ready to join in.

We ate green mango salad, coconut rice, chillies, noodles and freshly grilled shrimp until we couldn’t anymore, all the while shaking our heads in disbelief of how good it all is. Feeling full, relaxed and just a little bit nappy, we watched families throw chunks of bread to the hundreds of catfish swarming in the canal while a local community band played soothing thai music behind us.

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VIEW FROM THE TOP

For someone with a mild fear of heights, I really love going up towers or spires or castles or high rise anythings to see what it looks like from up there. If you want someone to climb hundreds of stairs to see some random view, any view, with you – I’m your girl. So, when a new friend we met through our open water diving certification the week before recommended a rooftop bar in Bangkok we were all over it.

And so we found ourselves on the 48th floor of the Marriott Hotel with dusk hanging over the city and the breeze finally cooling us down, looking over the lights flickering below and hearing the city soundscape from a very far distance. With every new hue the city seemed more beautiful, and more crazy as the contrast between the night sky and shimmering city intensified. We reminisced about our first and only day in Bangkok, knowing it now as an undefinable, complex place that we love and that we will undoubtedly return to.

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Bangkok, we will be back to lavish our love on you. It’s only a matter of time.

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Vík’s Black Sand Beach | A Photo Post

With our heads down, our hands clutching our jackets, and the icy wind singing in our ears we walked to Vik’s famous black beach. As it started drizzling, it was hard to believe our eyes when we started to gaze at this unreal landscape on the edge of the wild atlantic ocean.

Bizarre basalt rock formations forms the cliffs on the edge of the beach, and beyond – as solitary spires reach out from the ocean floor in the distance. The white foam of the piercing ocean pushes violently in and then tugs back out, creating, for a moment, a shade of grey on the black beach as it pulls back towards itself.

And then that black sand. Blacker than we imagined, and more pervasive, tracing Iceland’s boundaries where they aren’t marked with steep cliffs or frozen fjords. It makes the ocean seem sinister, vaster, both more alive and more desolate than before. 

Maybe its magic that grey morning may be owed to the perfectly stormy weather, but that is what the black beach was to us, and we loved it.

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The #1 Thing to Do During a Layover in Qatar

If you have had long haul flights, chances are you’ve had to deal with one of every traveler’s worst airport nightmares: the long-ass layover. And honestly, if you aren’t filthy rich, endorsed, expensing your business trip or just plain crazy, chances are they are not that easy to really enjoy. Maybe you pay up and lounge it out, but options are slim if you aren’t looking to spend a whole lot of money.

Upon returning to London from Bangkok last week Joel and I had the longest layover ever (without accommodation). FOURTEEN HOURS at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. And with a visa-less South African passport that’s quite an amount of time.

I mean, that’s a short lifetime right there.

So when we heard about Qatar Airways’ FREE Doha City Tour, we were ALL OVER IT.

Basically, Qatar Airways are able to take up to 22 of their transit passengers on a complimentary tour of the city’s capital four times a day – it’s as easy as checking in at the city tour booth, and then gathering back there an hour before the tour’s departure time. They organise free visas, an air-conditioned bus (this is essential), an english-speaking tour guide (again, essential) – and all you have to do is show up.

Where they take you depends on the time of day and the traffic, but after we all got through border security and into the bus we were taken to Dhow Harbour, where we stopped for 5 minutes to get out and look at New Doha’s skyline from across the bay and I.M. Pei’s Museum of Islamic Arts on the other side.

After that we were walked through the heart of the Katara Cultural Village, which is a recent development that is  a centre for cultural production with theatres, exhibition centres, public sculptures, gardens, beautiful mosques and some traditional Arabian bird houses.

Doha's promenade and a glimpse of it's amazing skyline

Doha’s promenade and a glimpse of it’s amazing skyline

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Traditional Arabian bird houses in Katara

Traditional Arabian bird houses in Katara

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The beautiful, glossy amphitheatre in Katara

The beautiful, glossy amphitheatre in Katara

Our little group

Our little group in front of Turkish architect Zainab Fadil Oglu’s masjid  🙂

 

Taking the 4pm tour had its pros and cons. One of the cons was that we had to drive through the city during rush hour, but a major pro was being out in the city during sunset, when all the lights come on and the uniqueness of this glowing desert city hugging the Persian Gulf really becomes apparent.

So when we finally got to the Souq Waqif, a traditional Arabian market, and the sun gently started setting behind the stone-coloured world, it really beat coming up with something to do on your tenth hour during a layover at Hamad International Airport. We strolled around, trying some Arabian sweets, taking in this new landscape that we got to explore. I even got to have one of my favourite desserts – dondurma, a Turkish speciality that also happens to be the best kind of ice cream in the world – which was a welcome treat in 38°C weather (although I’ve been known to eat dondurma outside while it’s snowing).

Exploring the Souq Waqif

Exploring the Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif

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I will ALWAYS say yes to dondurma

I will ALWAYS say yes to dondurma

We drove back to the airport having been able to discover a whole new, vastly different landscape that is Doha, Qatar. What better way to spend your layover getting to explore a new city…for free?

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Souq Waqif at sunset

Souq Waqif at sunset

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P.S. We are not getting paid to say this – we just genuinely thought it was so awesome of Qatar Airways to offer this tour.

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Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle

After a short flight from London to Reykjavik and one night’s sleep in a cozy AirBnb in the capital, we woke up ready to explore the crazy unique country that everybody has been raving about. We have been dreaming about a trip to Iceland, and when morning came we were more than ready to start our roadtrip by taking on the 300km loop that is the Golden Circle.

GETTING OUT OF THE CITY

Getting out of Reykjavik was so easy, and the transition from city to wilderness happened to suddenly that it seemed so surreal; It was hardly believable as the landscape changed from the grey concrete streets of Reykjavik to snowy hills, with patches of yellowy green moss and black, volcanic earth contrasting the white. And in less than 30 minutes the horizon had disappeared into the white of the cloudy sky, with bright blue frozen pools here-and-there becoming the only distinguishable feature between one stretch of land and the next.

Our first glimpse of the wilderness beyond the grey capital

Our first glimpse of the wilderness beyond the grey capital

Then it quickly changes to this

And then the nothingness of the white

And then all of a sudden the nothingness of the white, marked by bright blue frozen water

That is until the earth gradually dips down to reveal Iceland’s largest natural lake, the Thingvallavatn lake with its icy dark blue-grey waters reaching a depth of 114 meters. Our first stop lies at its northern shore, so we take some photos before we hop back in our rental and head over to Thingvellir National Park.

The road around Thingvallavatn lake

The road around Thingvallavatn lake

Snow on snow - Iceland in Spring

Snow on snow – Iceland in Spring

THINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK

Iceland’s parliament (Althing) was established in 1930 (this is also the world’s first parliament), about fifty years after a Norwegian chieftain became the first permanent settler. Everyone who lived in Iceland came together for a few weeks during the summer and the laws were read from the Law Rock (Lögberg). Because Thingvellir is located in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian Tectonic plates meet, it has been subject to enormous change over the past 1000 years (spreading around 2.5cm annually) and no one knows exactly where the law rock was, but the estimated location has been marked with an Icelandic flagpole.

Not only is it historically important and beautifully impressive, but you can get a clear sense of the geological significance if you take a walk next to a rock outcrop marking the Eastern edge of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Walking here means being able to see, for a few brief moments, what is only visible everywhere else deep underneath the ocean. It is witnessing the movement and breath of our earth, seeing oceanic crust being formed above sea level.

The easternmost edge of the mid-atlantic ridge shows its head above the earth's surface for a few brief miles.

The easternmost edge of the mid-atlantic ridge shows its head above the earth’s surface for a few brief miles.

Joel walking in between two tectonic plates!

The estimated site of Lögberg

The estimated site of Lögberg

GEYSERS

When we got out of car, we weren’t sure if we were still on this earth that we were familiar with. Amidst the dark earth and yellowy-green moss there were pockets of steam rising to the sky as far as we could see, and as we headed across the bubbling earth into the steaming landscape the feeling of otherworldliness intensified.

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When you see pockets of boiling water sputtering on the surface of deep vents and clouds of steam rising from the ground, the realness of this earth is hard to comprehend – it’s surreal. It almost feels like Iceland is the door that leads to the earth’s core, to its beating heart. You become aware of the movement and the activity of the earth, the fact that the countries and continents are fluid and is still developing, that the earth is constantly shifting and moving, laden with pressure, underneath the surface.

Then there’s also the squeals of joy every 3 to 5 minutes as Strokkur erupts, theatrically shooting boiling hot water 30 meters into the air, followed by a billowing cloud of steam.

Visiting the geysers means visiting a magical yet undeniably real place, that is made up of moments of wonder, joy, awe and the awareness of something much bigger than yourself.

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'Little Strokkur' ferociously and ceaselessly bubbling

‘Little Strokkur’ bubbles ferociously and ceaselessly

Strokkur geyser shoots boiling hot water 30 meters into the air every 5ish minutes

Strokkur geyser shoots boiling hot water 30 meters into the air every 5ish minutes

Strokkur geyser shoots boiling hot water 30 meters into the air every 5ish minutes

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GULLFOSS

If the awareness of something much bigger than yourself becomes apparent while traversing a boiling and steaming landscape, it culminates into an undeniable force when you encounter Gullfoss waterfall about 10 minutes’ drive later. Speechless, we edged closer and closer to this mighty waterfall, watching from multiple viewpoints as masses and masses of water cascade down its two tiers, framed by glacial ice formations, seemingly on the edge of breaking apart with a single, deep crack.

We watched the tumbling masses of water for as long as daylight allowed us, before we jumped back in our car (and frantically turned up the heating) and drove off to explore further – with hearts full of nature’s glory and minds fatigued with the newness of Iceland’s crazy and strange landscapes.

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Iceland’s best kept secret | Finding the Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool

The sun was already slowly setting on our first day in Iceland. We had spent the entire day exploring Þingvellir National Park and were on our way to Vík, where we were sleeping over that night. However, a quick detour into the mountainous valleys on the south coast in search of the secret Seljavallalaug geothermal pool turned out to be one of the best, most special little excursions of our travels yet.

This little destination is not in any of the travel guide books (yet), and so we relied on a myriad of directions from multiple travel blogs. Some described it as a 10 minute walk, others account of how they trudged around through thick snow for 40-odd minutes. Expecting anything between an easy 10 minute and a confusing 40 minute walk, we plugged the exact location into Google Maps and followed the road as far as we could.

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FINDING THE SECRET SWIMMING POOL

Turning left off the main road, we followed the road as it bent to the right, past a couple of lonely houses on the bottom of the mountain slopes. We parked our car at the end of the road, in what seemed like an indiscriminate dirt ‘parking lot’, feeling a little surreal as we bundled our swimsuits, some beers and a towel in our backpack in the 4°C weather. We headed towards the valley, crossing a stream or two on the way. The trick is just to follow the river upstream into the valley, as you can’t see the pool until you’re right by it. It’s a short and easy walk – 10, maybe 15 minutes – and it is so worth it when, all of sudden, the pool materialises before your eyes, set against Iceland’s snow-capped mountains, mossy greens, and crystal-clear, cyan-blue water.

Head into the valley

Head into the valley

Hop over some mountain springs

Hop over some mountain springs

And there it is

And there it is, with the steam rising from the rocks

You can see the steam rising from the rocks as it trickles into the pool, its water ranging between 30 and 40°C (like between lukewarm bathwater and nice & hot bathwater), depending on how close you are to the pipe that leads most of the water into the pool. We changed into our bathing suits in the handy little changing rooms, and shivered as we tiptoed to the pool ladder. Then we submerged our freezing bodies in the wonderfully (and naturally) warm waters with big sighs of relief.

It is something so simple, yet so extraordinary – wading around in geothermal water in Iceland’s oldest pool (built in 1923 so that the locals could learn how to swim), secluded in the quiet solitude of a gorgeous valley that is just breaking into Spring. We will never forget this experience, and we love Iceland for it.

The unbelievable setting

The unbelievable setting. #nofilter. For real.

 

Seljavallalaug pool

Sweet memories of our cold bodies in the naturally warm water

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