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When Daniel and I were planning our Philippines trip, I noticed that one of the most popular activities is swimming with whale sharks. What I quickly realised though is that many places that offer this activity are more interested in attracting tourists than in the vitality of the whale shark. So Daniel and I decided that this was an activity we’d save to do in Australia.

No trip to the Philippines is supposedly complete without a visit to one of its hotspots, El Nido. Infamous as THE place to be for island hopping tours, it’s no surprise that El Nido has become a hub for tourists. But what if we told you that there was a secret hideaway a mere 15km away? A place to escape the noise with an idyllic and peaceful setting away from the crowds. Would you go?

Vietnam is a backpacker’s dream. It’s safe, easy to navigate around and there are plenty of things to do. And if the wafts of delicious street food aren’t enough to allure you, the cheap prices will. Daniel and I spent 12 days in North Vietnam visiting the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, the infamous trekking town, Sa Pa and Cat Ba Island (the cheapest way of exploring Ha Long Bay).

Total Vietnam Budget

We spent a total of $807.59AUD for both of us – an average of $33.65AUD / $25.88USD per person per day exclusive of flights, our visa and travel insurance. We found this to be quite a comfortable budget that afforded us luxuries such as hotels and good food.

Our total cost inclusive of flights and our visa: $675.80 per person

Average per day: $56.31AUD / $43.31USD per person

Note: We cannot give a cost of travel insurance as we purchased travel insurance for the entire 4-month block of our SE Asia trip. 

A full cost breakdown of what we spent travelling through North Vietnam including what we spent and tips for keeping travel costs down.

Flights

We flew one way from Perth to Hanoi via Kuala Lumpur and paid $189AUD per person without baggage. An additional 20kg of baggage cost us $35AUD.

Total spent on a one-way flight: $224AUD / $172USD

Visa

To enter Vietnam, visitors from most foreign countries require a visa.

To check if you need a visa, check out VisaHQ.

Arriving by air: The cheapest option for getting a visa is to first pay for a ‘Letter of Invitation’ into Vietnam. On arrival, you will then pay $25USD for the stamping fee.

My Vietnam Visa Pro charges $12USD / $14AUD for a 1 Month single entry visa which is the cheapest we could find on the market. The processing time is 1 business day.

 

Upon arrival in Vietnam, you will need:

  1. A printout of your letter
  2. 1 passport photo and
  3. $25USD in cash.

Crossing by land: Vietnam does not have a visa on arrival system so you will need to either organise a visa in advance before you leave home or purchase one from Cambodia or Laos before entering the country. 

Total spent on visa: $37USD / $48AUD per person 

Accommodation

A full cost breakdown of what we spent travelling through North Vietnam including what we spent and tips for keeping travel costs down.
Sharing a delicious meal with our homestay hosts

We spent a total of $197.30AUD for 11 nights accommodation for the two of us. To keep costs down in Hanoi, we stayed in a dorm room for the first 2 nights. Every other night in Vietnam was spent in a private hotel room or homestay (Sa Pa).

This is a breakdown of what we spent at each place:

Our top picks from this list are: Sapa Heavenly Homestay and My Moon Hotel.

Total spent on accommodation: $98.65AUD / $75.87USD per person

Average per night: $8.97AUD / $6.90USD per person

Tips for cheaper accommodation: Unless it’s peak season and places are booking out, don’t book online. We found that we could arrive and negotiate a price for a room. Travelling with another person will also help keep costs down in places where there aren’t dorm rooms as you will still get charged the cost of the room.

Food and drinks

We love our food is so our budget always gives way to delicious food. We ate and drank through 3,375,463VND/$209.06AUD/$160USD. This is an average of $17.42AUD per day for both of us on food. We eat a meal each, Daniel gets a beer and I get a drink.

Cost examples:

  • Water – 26,000VND / $1.61AUD / $1.24USD for 5L bottle of water
  • Beer – 15,000VND / $0.93AUD / $0.70USD
  • Pho – 30-55,000VND / $1.86-3.50AUD / $1.43-2.69USD

Total spent on food and drinks: $104.53AUD / $80.39 per person

Average per day: $8.71AUD / $6.70 per person

Tips for saving money on food: I’m sure you’ve heard it before – eat street food. Cut down on alcohol to save money. 

Transport

The cheapest way to travel between cities and towns is to take a bus. The buses in Vietnam are quite comfortable and may or may not have toilets (we’ve always been told that there’s a toilet on board but have never had a bus with a working one).

We took a bus from Hanoi to Sa Pa (return) one from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island. We also hired a scooter in Sa Pa to explore around.

Cost examples of transport:

  • Taxi from the airport to hostel in Hanoi: 75,000VND / $4.15AUD  / $3.19USD per person
  • Bus from Hanoi to Sa Pa: 220,000VND / $14AUD / $10USD per person
  • Scooter hire in Sa Pa: 77,500VND / $5AUD / $3.85USD per scooter
  • Fuel for scooter: 35,000VND / $2.50AUD / $2.96USD per scooter
  • Taxi to homestay in Sa Pa: 200,000VND / $12.40AUD / $9.50USD

Total spent on transport: 1,280,000VND / $80AUD  / $61USD per person

Tips for saving money on transport: don’t book buses in advance or online. Wait until you’re in Vietnam and negotiate with the many agencies in the area. 

Tours & Entrance Fees

Cost examples for tours & entrance fees (all per person):

  • Entrance to Women’s Museum: 30,000VND / $2AUD / $1.50USD
  • Entrance to Love Waterfall: 70,000VND / $5AUD / $3.80USD
  • Guide for Sa Pa Trek: 225,000VND / $14AUD / $11USD
  • Ha Long Bay Tour: 300,000VND / $20AUD / $15.40USD

Total spent on tours & entrance fees: 625,00VND / $40AUD / $31USD per person

A full cost breakdown of what we spent travelling through North Vietnam including what we spent and tips for keeping travel costs down.

Read:  Hot Air Balloon Ride in Vang Vieng, Laos: The Cheapest in the World!

Massages

There are 2 things that keep me going back to SE Asia – food and massages. Vietnam isn’t the cheapest destination for a massage but it sure beats what I pay in Australia. Yes, it’s an addiction. Daniel isn’t a fan so this is my spend entirely. A 70 minute massage including tip set me back 200,000VND / $12.40 AUD / $9.50USD.

Total spent on massages: 680,000VND / $46AUD / $35USD 

Tipping culture: massage therapists working for other people usually aren’t paid or are paid a very minimal amount. Therefore, tipping is necessary. As an Aussie, I get the dislike towards tipping. I used to think that tipping should be discretionary and dependent on the quality of service – when the person goes above and beyond. That was until I was made aware of the wages. Please be mindful of this when tipping, even if it’s against what you naturally do at home. Or just skip out on these services altogether if you don’t want to tip!

A full cost breakdown of what we spent travelling through North Vietnam including what we spent and tips for keeping travel costs down.

That’s a wrap on everything we spent in Vietnam. Let us know if you have any other tips for keeping costs down. Please also feel free to ask any questions regarding our budget in the comments below.

Travel safe!

Our North Vietnam Budget for 12 days including a full cost breakdown of what we spent and tips for keeping travel costs down.

For male readers, just in case you missed the “menstrual” part in the heading, heed my warning – this post is about periods. My period to be exact. Read at your own peril. 

“It’s going to be cold and it’ll probably hurt.” She knows it’s pointless trying to say anything comforting so the truth will suffice. I nod and pull the skin at my abdomen – what I usually do when I’m in a similar position with my waxer.

Except this time I’m not with my super friendly, polite and soft-spoken Japanese waxer lady. I’m laying on a hospital bed, pants off and legs spread with an intern doctor standing at the other end holding a pair of forceps. I would have laughed had it not been so bloody painful.

I know you’re thinking. What. The. Actual. Fudge.


Why is she writing about this and what does it have to do with travel? Well, you see, the menstrual cup is very popular among female travellers and indeed, it is a huge game changer for periods.

You don’t have to spend $10-$15 every month for 40 odd years on products that aren’t reusable or recyclable and in Australia, aren’t even tax-free (a conversation for another time).

The menstrual cup is an environmentally friendly, safe and reusable cup for menstruation. Basically, it’s a cup that collects your period and you can keep it in for 8 hours without any issues. Most female travellers RAVE about their menstrual cup and how practical it is not having to buy pads and tampons overseas or having to change in dirty toilets.

It’s November 2013 and I’m dreaming about my future long term travels so I decide to give it a shot…

How bad could it be?

22 November

Alright, I’m ready for this. A period catching cup is a little weird but if all these YouTubers have used it successfully, I can too. I’ve watched a week’s worth of reviews, how to, what to and not to do. I even read up on the menstrual cup equivalent of ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting’.

$45 later, I’m in my bathroom with an overly read manual in one hand and the cup in the other.

Man, this looks rather large for something meant to be “small”.

I fold it, as per the instructions, put it up and leave it. I can feel it but it isn’t uncomfortable – just like all the YouTubers have told me. So far so good.

3 hours later…

Although you can leave the cup in for 8 hours, I want to practise removing it before bed just in case. I go to the bathroom and poke my finger up there to feel for the little stem…where is it?!

I reach in a little further and can just touch the tip. The instructions say to grab the stem with my thumb and forefinger, but I just can’t reach it. Panic.

OK. Breathe. Google. “My menstrual cup is stuck”. I watch another few tutorials on how to remove it.

“Push like you’re doing a poop.”

Right.

Push.

Nope.

It’s not budging and has managed it suction its way further up. More panic. I call on my younger sister to do what sisters are pretty much born to do – help you with your lady bits.

“Do I have to?!” As if she really has a choice.

After her initial inspection, she comes back with a pair of tweezers and a torch. Tweezers + vagina = no bueno.

After a gruelling 30 minutes, she resorts to using her hands. Grosse, I know. But remember – sisters. She eventually gets a hold of it, pinches it and pulls it out.

There are some experiences that only sisters are blessed with.

The next day I decide to try again. I didn’t just pay $45 for something not to work. And I am no quitter.

‘Perhaps I inserted it too high’ I think to myself. I read an article written by some rando who suggests allowing it to sit low and then cutting the stem a little so that it wouldn’t poke out and be uncomfortable. And this part goes down as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.

I follow the advice, trim the stem and put it back in. 4 hours later, I am back in the toilet and my sister is up my vagina fishing it out. “Please stop using it, I don’t want to keep seeing your bits,” as if I consider this quality sister bonding time.

This time, however, she can’t reach it because, well, I trimmed the stem. 2 hours of failed attempts later and we agree that it’s officially stuck. It’s midnight. I call Daniel and ask him to come over to take me to the hospital.

At the ER…

The receptionist eyes me strangely as I tell her the short of what happened. I repeat the story to a male doctor who bails and sends in a female doc. The doctor assures me that I’m going to be fine as I apologise profusely for putting her (well, the both of us) in this uncomfortable position tonight.

Apparently, it’s quite common for people to have foreign objects lodged inside them so it’s just another day in the office for her.

She gets me on a bed, takes a look and resolves that she must stick a pair of forceps up there to clamp and remove it. Forceps + vagina = also no bueno. After 20 minutes, the doc has a grip on it and through my wincing, she yanks it out.

I ask if I can wash and keep my cup. A little confused as to why I’d want to keep something that reeked havoc on my life for 2 days, she shrugs her shoulders and tells me ‘sure’.

I return to the pharmacy the next day with the washed cup back in the box, a doctor’s note and a fun tale about the last 24 hours. Horrified, the salesperson gives me a refund without hesitation. My days of a menstrual cup are over. For now.

Learn from my experience

If you’re planning on making the switch to a menstrual cup, here are 3 tips:

1. Check the position of your cervix

I didn’t do human biology in school and to be honest, never took the time to learn much about my own anatomy. A friend told me a few days ago that the problem I had with the cup was due to my high cervix. I was like, wut dat?

After lots of googling, I discovered that I do indeed have a high cervix which explains why I couldn’t reach the cup (yes, I’m a little slow with these things). This matters because there are plenty of different menstrual cups on the market and some will be better for you than others depending on its position.

2. RESEARCH. RESEARCH. RESEARCH.

Read up about it. Speak to someone who has used it (successfully – ie not me) and get some advice. The cup is far more popular now than it was when I first used it so there are ample resources and reviews out there. I found this article extremely helpful to answer many of my questions.

3. Give yourself ample time before taking it travelling

You might have some impending travel plans and want to use the cup. Make sure you try it out for the first time at home. There are some things in life that you can wing and others that you cannot. This is one of those!

Should I give it another go?

Will I try the menstrual cup again? When I first started writing this article, I would have said no. But after doing more thorough research, understanding the cup and my body, I think I will. Just need to invite my sister over first.

What do you think? Have you had any troubles with the cup or has it been a major success for you? Should I give it another crack and do you have any tips for me? Let me know in the comments below! 

I tried the environmentally friendly menstrual cup to make my life and travel easier...then wound up in the hospital. Here's what happened.

“Relationships,” Byron tells me as we drive along the bumpy dirt roads, “is what we focused on first. One village thought we were scoping the area for mining. They didn’t understand why foreigners would travel all this way just to see a waterfall.” Despite being the biggest city in Shan state, you won’t find good info in any guidebooks, it just isn’t considered a hotspot for tourists – until now.

Byron Hartzler is the managing director and founder of Myanmar Adventure Outfitters, a social enterprise aiming at investing in local ethnically diverse communities in Myanmar through off the beaten path adventures around Lashio.

He and his wife, Eileen, have a heart and passion for people and have spent the better part of the last year fostering relationships with local isolated villages to introduce tourism in a way that is manageable for the locals whilst still being responsible and enjoyable for foreigners.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
Some friendly kids happily wave at our car load of foreigners

After meeting a couple of other guests at MAO’s office, we jump in Byron’s pick up truck and get moving. As we continue along the dirt roads, I ask Byron about what brought him to Lashio and how Myanmar Adventure Outfitters was started.

Having lived in Thailand and Myanmar for 5 years, Byron quickly learned that many people were leaving Myanmar to find work in neighbouring countries, particularly Thailand. Being undocumented and without a legal identity offers these people very little to no rights a vulnerable position that is exploited by Thai employers since they can pay them 1/10 of an already low Thai wage.

Families move and sell young girls and boys into the sex industry. These are driving factors for the business – Byron wants to boost job opportunities in rural Shan state so they don’t have a reason to leave to Thailand or China. Together with his wife and kids, Byron relocated to Lashio to make it happen.

Byron, the MAO team and some fellow explorers help the locals carry gravel to build a road

Having been on the road for almost a year, Daniel and I were eager to write about a company that is interested in something other than profits. We stumbled upon MAO on Facebook and after some research, I knew right away that this is the type of business that we wanted to recommend to our readers – a business that combines eco tourism with epic adventures. I assure you, this was not only a very rewarding experience but a heck of a lotta fun and our top highlight in Myanmar.

EXPLORING WITH MYANMAR ADVENTURE OUTFITTERS

We drop off one couple who are mountain biking and another who are trekking to our final meeting point. We drive through various small villages out in rural Myanmar passing by bamboo houses powered by solar panels and little kids who shyly wave at the big blue beast of a car filled with foreigners. Daniel and I opt for a sneak peak of the waterfalls we’ll all be visiting later.

As we climb through some boulders and cautiously navigate to avoid slipping on some moss covered rocks, I hear the sound of surging water, its roar urgent and strong. Have you ever seen a waterfall so powerful and mighty that you feel it in every part of your body? That next to it you feel so insignificant and small, that in any given second it could completely wipe you out? I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few in my life but this one takes the cake.

Byron calls her Dark Horse Falls.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
The only way to get to Dark Horse Falls is on a tour with MAO

We head back with my excitement in tow and join the others for a delicious lunch of Shan noodles. Time quickly disappears as we jump from various waterfalls, explore secret caves hidden beneath the a curtain of water and enjoy nature’s jacuzzi. Almost everyone is having too much fun to even bother pulling out their phones or GoPros – a good sign in today’s digital age.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
A few different groups joining together for Shan noodles before exploring waterfalls
Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
The only thing better than a good waterfall is one you can jump from

We venture onwards to Ban Khaw village, a village with mostly Lahu & Lisu tribespeople, for our homestay and meet the chief of the village who has prepared dinner for us. He shares with us some of the deer that was caught earlier in the week – a prized catch that would feed the village for 2 weeks.

We are humbly reminded that it’s often the people with little to give that are most generous, even with complete strangers. We are shown our quarters for the night, a bamboo hut – basic and rustic but comfortable and warm. As the sun slowly disappears, stars begin to light up the sky. No electricity in the village means no light pollution and a million star view of a heavenly array.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
Million star view at our village homestay

I wake at sunrise to the sounds of roosters cockle-doodle-doing and pigs oinking. I silently beg the roosters to shut up. It doesn’t work. We begin a short morning hike through some more very… refreshing (OK, they were bloody cold) waterfalls with small pools to play in. With the hike getting us warmed up, I manage to summon the courage to do a rope swing into one of the pools. Note to future self: don’t rope swing whilst holding GoPro because you will slip off the rope and nearly smash your head.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!

For the rest of the afternoon, Daniel and I are going on a motorcycle tour. We ride through red dirt, across some pretty dodgy bamboo bridges and river banks and after a couple of hours, arrive in Ban Khan, a Palaung village where the family of our guide, Aik Pu, lives. We watch one of the most beautiful sunsets through an open rice paddy field and settle in for our second homestay.

We watched this beautiful sunset from our guide’s village
Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
Our village homestay complete with roosters and buffalos

My alarm (ie. the roosters) go off and we’re all up early for our last day of exploring. We ride through some more villages before stopping at Kashi Falls, a deceivingly tall 17m waterfall cascading from an upper river. If you’re game, you can also jump from this waterfall but for those who are too chicken scaredy cats less inclined to take the plunge, there is a safer and smaller jump (2.5 – 3m) available.

Smaller jumps for those less inclined to plunge 17m

We then head to a lake for stand up paddle-boarding. The lake is peaceful and serene, offering the perfect quiet time for reflection. I shut my eyes and hear nothing but the gentle tap of the board against the lake and the songs of a few birds. Magically, the paddle board finds its way around the lake and back without my having to paddle (i.e. Daniel did all the work).

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!

The last 3 days have been nothing short of incredible. It’s not just that I had the best time and met great people, it’s that I could do that AND know that I was making a positive impact in the community. Daniel and I are trying to be more socially responsible in our travels and this has been a great opportunity to gear us forward. Needless to say, we loved exploring Lashio with MAO and consider it one of the top places to visit in Myanmar, right up there with Bagan.

WHY CLIFF JUMPING MATTERS

“People are the reason we do what we do, the reason for epic adventures, the reason we go out day in and day out to isolated communities, the reason we are in business in the first place.  Along the way, each day, we are meeting people, building relationships that have potential for dramatic life change.” – Myanmar Adventure Outfitters

Having experienced just a glimpse of the community impact firsthand, I can see Byron’s vision and mission coming to life. As we climbed through waterfalls, the guides were always prepared with bags to pick up garbage. When our group helped collect rubbish scattered around the base of the waterfall, some locals watched on and eventually joined in.

In fact, a couple of months prior to this, locals saw Byron’s team picking up rubbish so some villages weaved a large basket and left it there as a bin. Simple act, big impact.

As foreigners from privileged countries, we often get frustrated when we see people littering, dumping piles of trash on the side of the road or burning a mountain of plastic. I think what we can sometimes forget our privilege – particularly the privilege of education which teaches us about how to dispose and manage waste in the best way possible.

This is just not something taught or enforced here. Accordingly, Myanmar Adventure Outfitters is planning on working with local schools to help educate students on proper waste management to help change the way the community deals with it.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
MAO is working to keep places like this beautiful and clean

Byron shares another story about a local woman who cooks delicious Lahu food in a village where they were going to a waterfall.  After bringing picnic lunches a handful of times, the locals got used to having them around, and they asked a woman they knew to cook lunch for their groups.  They went so often that the lady had the amazing idea of opening a village restaurant.

Now, it is not just a home, it is a small business stimulated through tourism coming to their community for the first time. Every time that MAO go to that waterfall or homestay in the village, they help support her business which helps send her grandchild to school.

Since working with MAO, families that offer homestays now see their earning potential doubled, something Byron hopes to achieve through many more villages through northern Shan state. But the only way he can continue to make a difference in these communities is with travellers.

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

The best way to contribute and be a part of this community impact is to book a tour with MAO. Tours range from 60,000 to 80,000MMK per day ($60-80AUD / $45-60USD) which includes food, transport and homestays.

Whilst this may be a little more costly than the usual backpacker tours, your money is being put towards a positive social impact and we are certain that you will love every moment of your customised adventure.

All activities are completely off the beaten path and you will not meet any other foreigners outside of those travelling with MAO.

Without having to hear it from Byron, it is clear that MAO is not setting out to be some kind of lucrative business venture. At its core, it is about people, so profits are invested back into the community. To make the most out of your adventure, we recommend touring for a minimum of 2-3 days with at least one homestay.

The team at Myanmar Adventure Outfitters can cater an adventure package to best suit you. Contact MAO by email at: info@myanmaradventureoutfitters.com or on +95 97 9536 6426.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!

LOGISTICS & TRAVEL TIPS

How to get to Lashio: 

From Mandalay you have a few options:

  1. Train from Mandalay directly to Lashio. You’ll depart at 430am and arrive at 8pm. This is an extremely long day and journey, but get the upper class seats for an affordable level of comfort. The train isn’t the most comfortable so we recommend you either go with option 2 OR
  2. Bus to Pyin Oo Lwin (shorter than the train). Train to Hsipaw if you want to break up the journey or directly to Lashio. We highly recommend this train route. It’s scenic and enjoyable.
  3. Bus or Shared Taxi from Mandalay. Local buses run overnight for about 6,000MMK, and shared taxis can be arranged for about 15,000MMK, and will drop you off at MAO.

From Inle Lake you can take a bus directly to Lashio. The bus ride is 15 hours (overnight) and will cost around 15,000MMK.  Suggested bus companies are Shwe Loom Pyan or Taung Pya Tann.From Yangon there is one flight a day for around $100-$150 USD.

From Bagan the easiest & cheapest route is to take Kyay Dagon bus for about 17,000MMK.  It is a direct overnight bus and arrives early and in enough time to start your tour.

From Yangon there is one flight a day for around $100-$150 USD, and numerous overnight buses for around 20,000MMK.

Best time to visit:

The dry season in Myanmar runs from October to May – with the hottest month on average being April (temperatures of around 40°C). The peak season for travel is November to February and the wet season is from June to early October. Although MAO offers adventures all year round, the wet season often means that some waterfalls are off limits due to safety. The great news is that there are other falls that are too dry during the dry season that open up. So really, you can visit anytime! We generally prefer travelling in the shoulder season (Feb / March)  to avoid booking and planning in advance.

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!
See beautiful waterfalls like this – only in Lashio

Don’t forget to…

  • Dress quite conservatively (shoulders covered and longer than the knees) for both men and women.
  • Say hello in Burmese – “mingalabar” (ming-ga-la-ba). Note: there are many different languages throughout Myanmar though most will understand Burmese.
  • Ask before taking photos of people – it’s just the respectful thing to do and some ethnic minority groups don’t appreciate being photographed.
  • Remove shoes when entering pagodas and religious places.
  • Place your left hand under your right elbow when handing over money.
  • Withdraw large amounts of cash at ATMs – all transactions are in cash and sometimes ATMs run out of cash so don’t let yourself get stranded without backup!
  • Bring crisp, clean (pretty much brand spanking new) US dollar bills if you plan on exchanging cash. Banks don’t accept worn out or torn bills so neither will any other business.

Are you planning a trip to Myanmar? Let us know in the comments what your plans are and if you’ll be visiting Lashio to explore with MAO. 

Do you want to make a positive impact through tourism?! These guys enjoyed 3 days of epic adventures with a company that invests back into the community. Read this to find out more about their time with Myanmar Adventure Outfitters!

Google. “Where to go in the Philippines”. Enter.

Borocay. El Nido. Bohol. 

You’ll generally find the same list of recommended places when you’re searching online. Sure, we were planning on hitting up some of these places but like many other travellers, we also love looking for hidden gems – the places that aren’t ridiculously overcrowded. Alcoy. I came across a Facebook post where one person had suggested a visit here and ended up getting connected with one of the managers at Dive Point Alcoy. Keen to get started on some diving, Daniel and I made our way there and settled in to the simple but beautiful resort with everything we needed for the next few days.

Keen on visiting somewhere different in the Philippines? Get off the beaten path and enjoy a little bit of luxury in Alcoy!
Relax here at Dive Point Alcoy

WHERE ON EARTH IS ALCOY & HOW DO I GET THERE?

The best thing about finding a place like Alcoy is that there are NO. BUSLOADS. OF. TOURISTS.

NONE.

Located on the east side of Cebu Island, Alcoy is easy to get to from anywhere on the island. The buses in the Philippines are very convenient and you don’t need to book in advance. From Cebu City, head to the south bus terminal and let them know you’re going to Alcoy – the bus is approximately 3.5 hours.

From anywhere else on the island, just wait on the side of the road heading in its direction and wave down a bus. If you’re travelling from the west side of Cebu island, you’ll need to go to Cebu City or Bato first (whichever is closer). From Moalboal, we took a bus to Bato and then to Alcoy.

Bus from Moalboal to Bato: 72 pesos ($2AUD / $1.50USD)

Bus from Bato to Alcoy: 70 pesos ($1.85AUD / $3USD) each way (depending on if the bus has air-conditioning)

DISCOVER THE UNDERWATER WORLD

I’m quite surprised that Alcoy isn’t more popular given the incredible surrounding dive sights. We dived at Mambagi Reef (a short distance away) and Cabilao Island which was approximately 1.5 hours away by boat. Alcoy’s very central location means that you can dive at many popular places and Dive Point Alcoy offers diving trips everyday. You can also get certified through SSI (PADI or CMAS on request). The dive masters here are extremely professional and proficient and we felt that there was a good balance between safety and flexibility. At one point during my third dive for the day, I had a horrible headache. James, one of our guides, kept me calm and we commenced our exit out of the water. He made sure I was safe and ok on the boat before returning to dive with Daniel.

The marine life here is wonderful and visibility is good up to around 30m. We are only open water certified so only dived to 20m and we could see everything clearly. We saw a few turtles, lion fish, sea snakes, a ray (can’t remember which kind and the only photo evidence we have is blurry), plenty of tropical fish and coral. At Cabilao Island, we dived along a coral wall which dropped to over 40m so there’s certainly something for all levels of divers.

Never get sick of seeing clown fish

DISCOVER OTHER PLACES TO SEE & THINGS TO DO

Visit surrounding islands

Alcoy’s convenient location puts you within a day trip distance to 6 incredibly picturesque islands. We visited Cabilao for scuba diving and Siquijor on our own after visiting Alcoy. Of the islands available, it’s best to pick the tiny ones (such as Similon) for day trips as islands like Siquijor are better enjoyed over a few days.

Keen on visiting somewhere different in the Philippines? Get off the beaten path and enjoy a little bit of luxury in Alcoy!
Map from Dive Point Alcoy

Waterfalls

Being in Alcoy means that you are in a pretty central location for day trips to waterfalls. You can reach Tumalog Falls, Aguinid Waterfalls, Binalayan Falls (Hidden Falls) and Kawasan Falls all within a day.

Kawasan Falls is the furthest away on the west side of the island and will take a few hours to reach by bus. Although you can still enjoy it in a day, if you’re keen on seeing Kawasan Falls without the crowds and on a budget then it’s best you stay in Moalboal.

Planning a trip to the Philippines? Kawasan Falls is a must visit but is best without the crowds and done on a budget. Check out this awesome post for great tips and ideas!
Kawasan Falls

Check out nearby towns

Since the bus comes regularly in both directions and there are plenty of trikes you can wave down, you can take yourself on a day trip to any nearby towns such as Dalaguete or Oslob. There isn’t so much around there but sometimes it’s just fun to wander around and meet locals.

Osmeña Peak

30kms north of Alcoy is Osmeña Peak. If you’re planning on visiting Chocolate Hills, this is a nice and similar alternative without having to make it all the way to Bohol.

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed with Dive Point Alcoy in the bungalow room. The room itself is HUGE and has a private bathroom with air-conditioning and complimentary drinking water. We found that the resort had a laid back vibe and ample space for you to have some private time or to meet other travellers.

Stepping out right into the sea

There is an outdoor swimming pool although you are also right in front of the sea. Just beware of sea urchins if you plan on snorkelling – bring reef shoes! There is a restaurant which offers a buffet dinner and a bar with pretty reasonably priced drinks. You can also walk down the road to the beach if you want to chillax there.

Dive Point Alcoy also offers single rooms and sea view rooms. Prices start from 3,650 pesos for a double room ($100AUD / $75USD). Dive Point Alcoy is offering a special for June 2017 where you will get 2 free dives if you book 5 nights in a bungalow room or first timers can try scuba diving for free.

WHERE TO EAT

Dive Point Alcoy offers a buffet breakfast for 270 pesos ($7AUD / $5.50USD) and a buffet dinner for 520 pesos ($14AUD / $10USD). We chose to skip out on the buffet breakfast and just bought noodle cups from across the road. We had dinner at the resort every night because it was delicious and offered a great variety each night.

If the price is a little out of your budget, you can take a bus or trike to Dalaguete for cheap restaurants and 7-Eleven although we do recommend that you have at least one dinner at the resort.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Coming to Alcoy was surprisingly a nice break for us – one that we didn’t even know we needed. We were able to chill out, take it easy for a few days and not have to worry about anything.

If you’re a backpacker, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how nice it is to have a hot shower with decent water pressure and air conditioning at night. For super budget conscious travellers, unfortunately Dive Point Alcoy might be stretching your wallet.

However, if you’re willing to spend a little bit more for luxury or want to treat yourself since you’ve been so good and eating $1 meals for a month, this is the perfect place.

Stay for at least 3-4 nights to get the most of diving and the many sights nearby (the other guests we met were all staying for well over a week) and then continue your journey on to other of the Philippines other beautiful islands.

Are you going to the Philippines? Let us help you customise an itinerary and give you any tips you might need. Drop us a line below!Keen on visiting somewhere different in the Philippines? Get off the beaten path and enjoy a little bit of luxury in Alcoy!

Turquoise blue water, 3 stages of waterfalls and canyoneering – there’s really nothing to complain about… except perhaps the crowds. Kawasan Falls is one of the most famous waterfalls in the Philippines but it’s difficult to enjoy it in all its glory when you have hundreds of people to share it with. We recently visited and were completely blown away despite our high expectations. Having the entire place pretty much to ourselves made a huge difference. When we arrived, the falls were empty but at 2pm, it was PACKED and we couldn’t wait to get out of there. So, here’s our guide to visiting Kawasan Falls without the crowds and on a budget!

How to avoid the crowds

Kawasan Falls can be reached very easily by any point on Cebu so weekends are always a lot busier. The best way to beat the crowds is to go on a weekday and early in the morning – we’re talking 7am early. If you’re coming from Cebu City, the bus takes 3.5 – 4 hours and buses don’t start running until around 5am so it’s impossible for you to get here until after 8 or 9 am. Instead, we recommend that you stay in Moalboal the night before. The bus from Moalboal only takes 30-40 minutes. We arrived at 7:30am and had the whole place to ourselves with the exception of 2 other people. The restaurants weren’t even open! This meant we could just enjoy the place free of noise and touts and take plenty of photos without a tonne of people everywhere.

If you plan on going canyoneering, it’s best to visit the waterfalls first. The iconic photos of Kawasan Falls is taken at the first waterfall but the last waterfall is just as beautiful. There is a short uphill walk to the others and we also enjoyed these to ourselves early in the morning.

Planning a trip to the Philippines? Kawasan Falls is a must visit but is best without the crowds and done on a budget. Check out this awesome post for great tips and ideas!
Pure bliss! Kawasan Falls without the crowds

The cheapest way to get to Kawasan Falls

A pre-booked canyoneering tour is around 1,500-1,700 pesos and restricts your freedom to explore the falls before starting the canyoneering. Most tours start around 8am so by the time if you finish your canyoneering trip, the falls will be busy. The cheapest and easiest way to get to Kawasan Falls is by bus. From Cebu City, go to the South Bus Terminal and hop on any bus bound for Badian. From anywhere else, just wait on the main road and wave down a bus heading south. Let the driver know you want to go to the main entrance of Kawasan Falls (rather than the canyoneering entrance) and from there, it’s a 20 minute easy walk to the main the waterfall. Buses are quite frequent and have no set timetable so you don’t need to book in advance.

Bus from/to Moalboal: 15-20 pesos ($0.50AUD / $0.35USD) each way (depending on if the bus has air-conditioning)

Bus from/to Cebu City: 130 – 150 pesos ($4AUD / $3USD) each way (depending on if the bus has air-conditioning)

Kawasan Falls entrance fee: 40 pesos ($1AUD / $0.75USD)

Canyoneering: 1,000 pesos ($26AUD / $20USD)

Locker: 100 pesos ($2.60AUD / $2USD)

Total per person from Moalboal: 70 pesos ($2AUD / $1.50USD) or 1,070 pesos ($29AUD / $22USD) with canyoneering 

Planning a trip to the Philippines? Kawasan Falls is a must visit but is best without the crowds and done on a budget. Check out this awesome post for great tips and ideas!

Canyoneering: is it worth it?

If you love adventure, then canyoneering is a MUST! Rather than booking a tour company in advance, we picked a guide after we finished exploring the falls for ourselves. Mike gave us a great price and we recommend that you get in contact with him on Facebook. A guide is compulsory and there are a couple of different registration points so there is no way to avoid this or get through on your own.

The canyoneering starts at a a separate entrance which can only be reached by motorbike. From there, it’s a 30 minute hike to the river. The great thing about canyoneering at Kawasan Falls is there are many different options to suit your adventure level. You can go crazy and do every cliff jump varying from 1 – 10 metres (I highly recommend this option, it was a tonne of fun) or navigate around these if you don’t feel comfortable jumping. But come on, you’re already here, so give it a crack! The canyoneering starts upstream and you will travel down the river until you reach the third waterfall at Kawasan. For safety, every person is required to wear a life jacket and helmet. You will be traversing through some pretty slippery and rocky areas so come prepared to get wet and wear good shoes!

Planning a trip to the Philippines? Kawasan Falls is a must visit but is best without the crowds and done on a budget. Check out this awesome post for great tips and ideas!
The third waterfall you can cliff jump from if you’re game!

What to bring

  • Cash
  • Water and snacks
  • Camera / GoPro
  • Swimsuit
  • Sandals / water shoes / runners if you are canyoneering. Thongs/flip flops if you’re not.
  • Towel
  • Dry bag if you have it but not absolutely necessary

Do you have any other tips for Kawasan Falls that you think we should share? Let us know in the comments below!Planning a trip to the Philippines? Kawasan Falls is a must visit but is best without the crowds and done on a budget. Check out this awesome post for great tips and ideas!

I am not usually someone who responds to Facebook posts. Actually, I’m the Michael Jackson eating popcorn GIF – scrolling through reading the opinions of others with that frozen laugh look on my face that makes my husband think I’m a little nuts. But the other day I came across a post that I just had to respond to. It was one that I believe had good intentions, a post that was aimed at empowering women to feel comfortable looking messy and sweaty in travel pics.

However, the OP also called out the women who take “perfect” looking photos – you know the ones she’s talking about. She made remarks like these women wouldn’t last a day in her type of travel. Not cool. And she’s not the first either; I’ve seen many posts on blogs and larger publications calling out this style of travel photography and deeming it inauthentic. And every post seems to target and criticise female travellers. If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s usually women who are putting down other women.

It’s 2017 people, when are we going to FINALLY let women just BE? We can’t, as a gender, move forward and close the gap or change unconscious bias towards women if we are the same people dictating what women should look like when they’re doing X, Y or Z. When are we going to stop being so critical about every. little. thing? And since when did a certain “travel look” determine the “authenticity” of travel? Since I am someone with way too many opinions (and too much time to spare), I couldn’t resist the urge to break it down and give you 4 reasons why people need to stop hating on those perfect travel photos we see on Instagram.

1. Instagram is a Business

The way I used social media before travel blogging was completely different to how I use it now. Something a lot of people forget or don’t realise is that Instagram is a business. My personal Instagram account is personal – I post about my friends, weddings, birthdays and other silly things. But I also get to set it to private and only allow my family and friends to see.

My business Instagram account is the complete opposite of this. My followers are following me for high quality, adventure and landscape photography (well, I hope so anyway), so no, I don’t post photos of my best friend’s baby and how cute he is (and trust me, he’s ridiculously cute). I also have hundreds of food pics and yes, I’d love to post them all and relive the delicious culinary adventure but unfortunately my blog isn’t about food.

It took me a while to figure out that I couldn’t just post anything as much as I wanted to. It had to fit my niche and my business otherwise it just wouldn’t work. Imagine if your favourite #CatsofInstagram account started posting photos of frogs. I’m pretty sure you’d unfollow. Anyway, my point is – there are tonnes of different travel accounts out there – that’s the beauty of social media.

Travel blogging is a business and these women you see on Instagram are working. Some people love seeing “perfect” travel photos – perhaps they don’t get to travel themselves and this is their escape. They want to see dream locations and imagine themselves there. Vicarious travel at its finest. Others like accounts that tell stories of the raw side of travelling- the not-so glamorous, the blisters, aching muscles and stolen wallets. People get to choose between following the glamorous travel blogger who can hike 10 hours and look like a doll in a beautiful dress at the top of the mountain or the no-frills and no makeup chick with has had too many kisses from the sun and is bright red, sweaty and is proud to show it off. No single style is “better,” they are simply different. Let’s just enjoy the fact that we get to see people’s travel experiences no matter what form they come in.

2. Sometimes a picture isn’t worth 1,000 words and makeup and nice clothes don’t determine hard work

I am actually laughing to myself as I write this because I still cannot believe that to this day, we have a problem with how women look when they are doing different things in life. I remember when Alicia Keys decided she wanted to go makeup free to some awards show. She made headlines everywhere – some critics praised her and others attacked her for launching “an agenda” and being so scandalous as to not wear makeup at such an event.

I’m seeing the exact same thing in travel – like how dare this girl wear makeup during a hike. Or how dare she bring a change of clothes to take photos. Sometimes I’ll see a photo of a bad-ass woman, outfit and makeup on fleek after a hike and think “damn I look good.” I’m kidding, relax, we’re just having some fun here. But for real, I see these girls and I get a little jelly inside – I wish I could look that good too. Never in a million years does my mind go to a place to think that they haven’t worked hard, can’t rock climb or slum it out the way I do. I recognise the fact that a photo is just that, a photo. Social media is a highlight reel, so some people who cool with posting messy photos of themselves and others aren’t. And sure, while the “perfect” Instagram photos may not paint the entire aspect of travel and the hard work it takes to do many things, it is still AN aspect of travelling to someone. Refer back to point one. It’s business. So, if you don’t like what you’re seeing, scroll along.

3. What does ‘real travel’ even bloody mean?

Unless you are:

a) photoshopping yourself into various destinations, or

b) travelling via virtual reality,

you’re probably travelling if you are, well, travelling. Sounds confusing right? Let’s break it down. Somewhere along the way, someone decided that unless you have $2 in your dirty ripped pockets to last a month, a broken backpack and worn out shoes, you’re not travelling. Apparently, if you stay in nicer hotels, you’re not “really travelling.” Here’s the thing- everyone has their own travel style and that is p.e.r.f.e.c.t.l.y fine. I am a backpacker who has shamelessly slept on the floors of airports, hitchhiked in the one of the most dangerous countries in the world; I am simply just an adventure-seeking adrenaline junkie. I am a frugal, cheap, hard-ass bargain machine and I love doing things like jumping off bridges, zip-lining, and diving.

That is not everyone’s idea of travelling. Just because this is my style and most of the time, Daniel and I are broke, it does not give me the right to sit on a high horse and be judgy mc judgy towards someone else who doesn’t do what I do. The elitist attitude towards a particular style of travel (or the traveller vs tourist debate) is unnecessary and doesn’t encourage people to travel in whatever way they want. Let’s just embrace travel in all of its forms and just let people explore, travel and be free!!!

4. It’s a little ironic that no one is judging the dudes on Instagram

I’ve never seen post or article complaining about men:

a) taking glamorous travel photos,

b) being in the “perfect” travel photos with women, or

c) being shirtless in photos.

And I’m not saying that we should judge them at all. I’m just wondering why women cop it so badly when men are out there doing the same thing? What makes it worse for me is that most of the time, it’s women that are bashing on other women.

Say what?! If there’s one thing that travelling has taught me, it’s to love and embrace myself in all aspects – particularly the physical. For the majority of my life, I have always been extremely self-critical, worried about my weight, and self-conscious about my body. Travelling opened up eyes to realise that none of my value or worth is placed in my physical appearance – being happy and healthy are way more important than having awesome abs (which I still wouldn’t mind). I have started becoming more comfortable with my body and damn, if I want to post a photo of myself in a bikini on a beach, I’m going to bloody well do that. So to all my travelling ladies, no matter what your style, no matter what your look – whether it’s frizzy hair, sunburnt skin or the damn wide brim hat that everyone seems to hate on – YOU. DO. YOU.

Live and let live! Let’s travel.

 

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Aerial photography and videography is on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. Drones, quadcopter, unmanned aircrafts or flying cameras – whatever you want to call them – have opened up awesome opportunities to capture footage and photos at angles that people didn’t have access to before (without a helicopter). And let’s be honest, almost everything looks better from above. Now that drones have entered the market at pricing points for photography and videography hobbyists, we’ve seen many travellers with them around the world. Whether you’re new to the market or an experienced pilot, this post is going to be super helpful if you’re considering traveling with a drone. We’re going to cover everything – equipment, logistics, insurance, frequent questions we get asked, travel advice and even some photography tips!

To jump directly to a particular section, just click on one of the headers below. We love feedback so if you’ve found this post useful or have additional information for us to include, drop us a line in the comments below.

  1. What’s the best drone on the market?
  2. Long term travel with a drone
  3. Our equipment: drone, backpack and accessories
  4. Taking it on board: check in or carry on?
  5. Flying in other countries
  6. Insurance
  7. Photography & videography tips
  8. View some of our work

WHAT’S THE BEST DRONE ON THE MARKET FOR TRAVEL?

After travelling through 4 continents, we are certain when we say the DJI range is hands down the most popular. When we were on the market for a drone, we had our hearts set on a Phantom 3 Advanced but its pricing point had us questioning whether or not we should by it. Then, we stumbled upon Autel Robotics X-Star Premium. Autel Robotics is new to the market, launching it’s X-Star in May 2016. It had everything we needed and for a great price (an entire kit with additional batteries was still cheaper than buying a Phantom 3 Advanced on its own). So we bought one and named it Onji.

We bought Onji before DJI’s Mavic was released on the market. From what we’ve seen for general travel purposes, this is probably the best option given how compact it is. If you are a after a more ‘professional’ drone, are a first time flyer and want something within a good price range, we stand by the X-Star Premium.

The XSP shoots in 4K, has a 25 minute battery life, comes in a bright orange colour that you can see, comes with a hard case and best of all, you can remove the gimbal and camera in the event these need replacing or upgrading. The only downsides we’ve noticed are that it’s a bit nosier than the DJI range, it drifts a little when stopping (i.e. it doesn’t just halt) and the yaw isn’t very smooth. However, for a drone less than a year old, these are pretty minor limitations that we know can and will be fixed and also don’t affect the final quality of our videos or photos.

We believe that one of the biggest dividing factors is not in the specifications of the drones but in the customer service. If you watched Day 9 of our Iceland vlog, you would have seen that Onji fell out of the sky. We contacted Autel Robotics, sent through our flight logs and within 1.5 weeks, we had a replacement. Since then, the only issue we’ve had is with the SD card and again, Autel was quick to send out a replacement. This type of customer service is invaluable and the feedback we’ve received from DJI customers is that this level of service and product guarantee isn’t offered.

LONG TERM TRAVEL WITH A DRONE

Traveling with a drone can be pretty tiring so read up on some awesome tips and recommendations!We have been travelling with our drone for 5 months. At the moment, we’re currently travelling SE Asia. Since we use our Manfrotto D1 Drone Backpack for our camera equipment, we have one backpack for clothing, shoes and toiletries. This works because we are a duo so Amanda carries the “tech” bag and Daniel carries the backpack with everything else. However, if you are a solo traveller and want to take a drone, we recommend either going for a smaller drone (such as the DJI Mavic Pro) or bringing along a small backpack that you can carry at the front for your clothing.

We have no regrets carrying all of our gear with us. However, we’ll admit that we have considered purchasing the DJI Mavic Pro purely for its portability. If you’re tossing up between which to buy, we asked a fellow pilots, David Durst and Matt Langdon who own both the DJI Mavic Pro and the X-Star Premium about their experiences.

1) Which do you think is easier to fly for a total newbie?

DD: I think either one of them would be easy for a person that is new to drones to fly. Both have GPS stabilisation on them and have auto take off, auto landing and hover functions so that if someone were to have some problems they could let the drone take over and fly itself or land itself.

ML: Mavic

2) Which do you think is better overall for value and quality? And why?

DD: The build quality of both are very good. The Mavic is made of aluminum and is very sturdy. The XSP is plastic but very sturdy as well. Value wise the Mavic would win this hands down. It has the ability to do many flight functions with the included DJI Go 4 App. The XSP however is limited in scope to Orbit, Waypoints and Follow-Me.

Pricing wise, I would say that the XSP wins here, for a price tag of $699 for an open box test unit off the production line you get a great drone, with all the features and warranty of the normal drones that are not open and tested by engineers. The Mavic at $999 is a good value for what you get, however there seems to be some limited quality still happening so you may have a wait of a week or two before it shows up. Comparing support from both companies, DJI still has its issues that even I have problems with getting warranty support.

ML: The XSP is more durable than the Mavic. The camera on the Mavic is known to rip out on first crashes. Even a small crash from 3 feet can knock the camera out and then you have to pay a fee for a refresh through DJI. The XSP can handle multiple crashes and keeps on chugging like nothing happened. I fly it in NY temps in winter and in snow.

3) If you were travelling long term, which would you take?

DM: It would be the Mavic, its portable, small and goes inside a nice small backpack and due to that alone it wins with no question.

ML: Mavic and X-Star Premium.

Check out these awesome tips and recommendations for traveling with a drone! You can take photos like this!
Rock climbing up here with all of our drone gear

OUR EQUIPMENT: DRONE, BACKPACK AND ACCESSORIES

We first bought the XSP in the US before our trip to Iceland. The hard case it came with was suitable for our road trips in Iceland and the US but not for backpacking. For our 3 month SE Asia trip, we are carrying:

At the moment, we are using an iPhone 6S as the screen for the remote control but we have purchased a NVIDIA SHIELD K1 8″ Tablet – Black which we will use instead. We find that using the iPhone is limiting due to the screen size and battery life since we also use it throughout the day. We carry our laptop with us so we are able to remove footage from the SD card during our travels. If you are planning on shooting in 4K and won’t have access to a computer or laptop, we recommend that you bring 2 SD cards.

The Manfrotto D1 Drone Backpack has been great for travelling because it has enough space for the X-Star Premium, all of our accessories, a laptop, tablet and DSLR camera. The backpack has a hip strap and chest strap, making it easier to carry for longer periods of time. Daniel hiked in Vietnam with the bag for about 6 hours and found it to be quite comfortable, however, the material isn’t breathable the same way travel backpacks are so you can get pretty sweaty wearing it.

TAKING IT ON BOARD: CHECK IN OR CARRY ON?

We have taken our drone on board for all of our flights through USA, Iceland, Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar. I think it’s safe to say that carrying it on isn’t a problem. When going through the security scan, we’ve had the bag opened twice for inspection and that was it. If you are travelling through a country that requires licensing or permits, we recommend that you carry a printed copy with you.

These guys have the best guide to traveling with a drone. Awesome tips, recommendations and photos!
Aerial photo captured in Mandalay, Myanmar

FLYING IN OTHER COUNTRIES

Before travelling to any country, we always check updated laws. Countries that allow drones usually mandate that you:

  • Don’t fly over people
  • Fly within line of sight
  • Don’t fly above 400ft
  • Don’t fly within a certain distance from an airport.

For the USA, we registered drone since this is a legal requirement. Other countries such as Perú require you to apply for a permit. It’s best to do your research ahead of time so that you have an adequate period to apply for any permits you need.

These are common sense flying rules that we adhere to:

  • Don’t be a d-head when flying. If you’re at a busy location (eg a sunset spot), don’t fly in the way of people’s photos.
  • Respect people, customs and cultures, not just laws. We often ask permission to fly in case it is considered offensive or if there is something we aren’t aware of. Most of the time we get a YES!

We have found traveling with a drone in South East Asia very easy. Locals love drones and are usually just curious to see what you’re seeing on the screen.

Traveling with a drone can be pretty tiring so read up on some awesome tips and recommendations!
Photo credit: Chrys Boraschi onestbienailleurs.com

INSURANCE

Our drone is not covered by our travel insurance as it is considered an aircraft. This means that we aren’t covered for the contents OR liability. I worry about liability more than anything which is why I must stress the importance of common sense flying and knowing how to fly in manual mode (ie without GPS). Drones really are easy to fly. We flew it the first time without even reading the manual. However, it is still a piece of technology and ANYTHING can happen. We were very fortunate that when our XSP decided to fall out of the sky, it was when we were flying over land so we didn’t damage any property or injure people.

There are insurance companies dedicated to drone coverage. However, they will set you back a fair bit (we were quoted $1,000USD a year) so it is best if you contact your home insurance company and ask if it can be covered as personal property. We know that State Farm covers contents and liability as a additional cost to home insurance for around $60USD. Commercial flying also requires a different insurance so please look into this carefully. We’ve looked into several travel insurance companies and none provide cover for drones. We’d love to hear recommendations for insurance companies, particularly for travel, if you have any. Please let us know in the comments below!

PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEOGRAPHY TIPS

We’ve learned some valuable lessons over the past 5 months, mostly through trial and error. To save you plenty of time and memory card space, here are some of our top tips for photographing and filming with a drone.

1. Practise, know your equipment & be confident in flying

We recommend that you get in ample flying time in large open spaces before you fly in foreign locations. You should read your manual carefully and know your equipment. What are the different camera and video functions? How do you make adjustments? Do you have any issues with the drone that can be rectified before you start travelling? Familiarity with your drone and its use will save you plenty of time when you are out on location. Knowing how to fly in manual mode is also a huge life saver should anything go wrong.

2. Assess your location before flying & PLAN

We have flown in large open spaces, confined spaces, through ruins and among trees. All flying has always been with a plan. When we arrive at a location, we suss it out and determine first if it is safe to fly. Are there any obstacles in the way? What flight path can we take? Could we spook any wildlife around? We also have to ask ourselves if it’s worth flying. If we aren’t going to get anything different than what we’d get with our DSLR, we won’t fly.

Once we’ve assess the area, we come up with a plan of what type of shots we’d like and how we’re going to fly. The reason for this is the limited battery life. Though 25 minutes seems like a lot, if you’re just hovering in the air thinking of what to do next, you’re wasting precious battery time. This is why we often get 2 locations out of 1 battery. We get all of our filming and photographs done within about 10 minutes.

3. Test your flight route

We do this if we are flying low or near obstacles. We will plan the route and then fly slowly to ensure that we are capturing what we want to see and to gauge the distance between obstacles. Whilst you don’t need to do this for every flight, we highly suggest it for dense areas.

4. Showcase different angles and aerial perspectives

We firmly believe that if you’re going to fly a drone, your photos and videos should actually show this fact. We saw a guy flying a drone at our eye level to film a bridge in Mandalay, Myanmar. This annoyed many people because it was noisy and in the way of their photos. It was also pointless because the pilot wasn’t capturing anything different than what a regular camera could film at that angle. If you’re going to fly the drone, make use of it and show case angles and perspectives that you couldn’t otherwise achieve.

Check out these awesome tips and recommendations for traveling with a drone! You can take photos like this!
Aerial photo captured in Myanmar

5. Learn how to use camera settings

To get the most of our your aerial photography, you should learn how to shoot manually and what the different settings mean. The X-Star Premium allows up to an 8 second long exposure which means we can take great night photos and better sunrise and sunset photos. We’ve tried taking photos on auto-mode and though it’s fine during the day, the photos can be quite grainy if there isn’t enough light.

6. Edit, edit, edit

Most computers and laptops will come with a video editing software for free. If not, there are plenty available online or in an app store. Whilst you could just post up for 6 minute long video of you flying in a certain area, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to watch the footage except for maybe your mum – if you’re lucky. Throwing some random back track isn’t the solution either. Instead, try editing some of your best shots together but keep forward and backward motions together. Cut footage mid movement so that the video doesn’t feel like it’s stopping and starting. Keep this in mind when filming – you should always film an additional few seconds before and after.

Check out these awesome tips and recommendations for traveling with a drone! You can take photos like this!

SOME OF OUR WORK

The Iceland video is the very first video we made using drone footage. It was also our first time flying. We’re still learning and improving but hopefully you can pick up some ideas from our videos. You can view more of our work on our YouTube channel.

Fly responsibly!

 

Information current as of 6 February 2017 and only relates to tourist visas.

APPLYING FOR A MYANMAR VISA IN CHIANG MAI

Everything was supposed to easy, straight forward and cheap. However, what we expected to take 30 minutes turned into a 1.5 hour nightmare thanks to some new changes and a price hike. We’re going to give you EVERYTHING you need to know and bring so that you can avoid the debacle we (and many others there that day) went through. I am also going to highly recommend that you just go through the eVisa process since they now advise that it’s a 3 business day turn around and the price difference is $5USD

The visa is valid for 90 days from the date of issue and allows you to stay in Myanmar for 28 days.

WHERE TO GO?

OPENING HOURS:  Monday – Friday 9:00am – 12:00pm (application only); 3:30pm – 4:30pm (collection only). No appointment required.

WHAT TO BRING

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport (front page)
  • 2 passport photos
  • Printed proof of ENTRY or EXIT into/out of Myanmar*
  • Printed proof of accomodation in Myanmar (eg booking confirmation)**
  • 1600THB cash for 3 business days turn around (application in on Monday, collection on Wednesday)

Notes:

*So this is the annoying thing – many people travel from Chiang Mai to Myanmar by land and usually don’t book bus tickets until after they have received the visa (makes sense). The Consulate won’t accept this logical explanation. Something HAS to be provided – either a bus ticket to the border (eg Mae Sot) or a flight out of Myanmar. Our friends managed to convince our hostel to provide them with a bus ticket confirmation so they could photocopy and use for the visa. 

**If you need photocopying or printing done, the Consulate can do it for 5THB per sheet. Alternatively, there is a place that does printing and copying for 1THB per page. Location is on the map but note that it doesn’t stand out as a printing place. Just look for some computers and a big printer. 

WHAT INFORMATION YOU NEED TO PROVIDE

The application form requires the following information:

  • Colour of hair, eyes, complexion and height
  • Father’s name
  • Address in Myanmar
  • Number of days in Myanmar
  • Proposed date of entry
  • Reason for entry (if you are selecting business then you’ll need to apply for a business visa)
  • Current and previous employment details (position, department, telephone, address and dates). Don’t write unemployed, you probably won’t get a visa.

Glue sticks, pens and tables are provided. Once you have completed the application and have all of your assisting documents, submit everything for review. They’ll let you know if anything is missing or requires change. After a few minutes, you’ll be given an invoice and need to pay for the visa immediately.

IN PERSON OR eVISA? 

The eVisa used to be the less attractive option due to the cost of the getting a visa in person (it used to cost 800THB). However, now that the visa in person is 1600THB ($45USD), the eVisa is only $5USD more and is definitely the more convenient option. Just make sure you have a passport from one of the countries permitted to apply for an eVisa.

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

I rub my eyes and yawn, “way too early to be alive” I say to Daniel. It’s 3 degrees celsius and every inch of glass around our campervan is covered in condensation. Clean, crisp air greets us as we step outside the van. I take a deep breath, throwing my arms above my head in a stretch. Birds are singing their favourite morning song whilst I struggle to wrap my mind around waking up before sunrise. I immediately jump back in the car and start warming up the engine. We drive until the heater delivers enough air to stop my shivering and then Daniel stops. Silently cursing him, I completely forget the cold as I look to my left and see an incredible sight. A lone tree embracing sun rays as if they are giant arms delivering the warmest hug.

Our next few days in Yosemite deliver nothing short but awe-inspiring photo opportunities without bus loads of people to disturb the tranquil environment. We enjoy our time together and outside with nature, just how it should be.

Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip! Here's a photo of a bobcat we spotted!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip! Some deer we spotted!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!Yosemite National Park is a must visit if you're in California! Check out some beautiful photos to inspire your next trip!

Hot air ballooning was always a faraway bucketlist item, something I’d do when I had lots of spare cash because, let’s face it, it’s hard to justify spending $350USD on a 40 minute ride when my frugal self usually tosses up between a $2 or $3 dinner option. You can imagine my joy when I learned that Vang Vieng was home to the world’s cheapest hot air balloon ride. I knew then that I had to do it. We spent our first couple of days in Vang Vieng watching the same 3 balloons go up in the late afternoon before sunset. After chatting with a couple of different tour companies, we realised that there was only one company operating the balloons so we knew the best deal would come from the company directly.

RISE & SHINE SLEEPY HEAD

We arranged for a sunrise ride which meant an early morning wake up at 5:30am. A tuk tuk pulls up at 6am to pick us up. We load into the back of the tuk tuk, the early morning cold breeze chills us as we speed through the empty roads of Vang Vieng. We arrive to see the 3 balloons laying flat on the ground and a team of men wearing camo scurrying around to get set up. Being the Lunar New Year, all 3 balloons are jam packed. The first balloon leaves the ground at 6:30am. We decide to go in the last balloon so that we have time to take photos and film the other balloons taking off.

hot air balloon laos
Balloon prep

hot air balloon laos

TAKE OFF

As soon as the first balloon is set up, there’s a lot of yelling and it’s all a bit frantic. Random people are getting pulled into the balloon – I guess there isn’t much time before the balloon starts floating so it’s just GO GO GO. We scramble into our balloon, still trying to zip up our backpacks as the balloon ascends from the ground. By 7am, we take off and are up in the sky within a couple of minutes.

Hot air balloon Laos

Hot air balloon Laos

IN THE SKY IN A HOT AIR BALLOON

I am surprised that my fear of heights isn’t triggered. We are 600m high and yet I don’t feel the tiniest bit of anxiety, it’s almost like I’m on a plane and the slow movement is actually quite calming. Between snapping photos and filming, I enjoy a few moments just appreciating the 360 degree view of mountains lit up by the sun’s glow and a haze softening the light. My moment is abruptly interrupted by continuous blasts of fire – no one tells you how loud this is. Regardless, soaring through the sky in a balloon is just pretty damn awesome.

Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon

GOING DOWN

After 40 minutes, we slowly descend, sweeping above the houses in the town below us. It feels like we are skimming the roofs and could touch them. We brush past a tree and the same camo dressed team of guys is below ready to catch the balloon – I didn’t know this is how we’d stop! The guys push their weight down on the basket as we swap our places with the new group waiting to go up. We are hurried into the tuk tuk and driven back into the main town. By 8:00am, we are back in Vang Vieng, happy to have enjoyed quite a magical experience. Now I get what the fuss is all about.

Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon
Landed safe and sound!

LOGISTICS

The Company – Vang Vieng Balloons

Vang Vieng Balloons is the only hot air ballooning company in Vang Vieng (at the time of writing). It offers hot air balloon rides, paramotoring and bus / minivan tickets out of Vang Vieng. Unfortunately the paramotor operator was away when we were in Vang Vieng so we could not go. Chansouk is the main guy running things on the ground and we found him extremely helpful. He also speaks great English and is open to negotiating prices. It is preferred that you visit the shopfront directly to arrange a booking although the below email address was provided to me. Bookings for the following day usually aren’t a problem.

Vang Vieng Balloons
Contact: Chansouk
Email: vangviengbaloon@gmail.com
Times: 6:30am, 4pm and 4:30pm (additional times depending on season)

Cost

Vang Vieng Balloons charges $90USD (formerly $80USD). Tour companies sell the hot air balloon ride as an intermediary so they also charge a commission. The cheapest rate you’ll find is through the company directly and we recommend you to chat to Chansouk about discounts.

What if I’m scared of heights?

I usually experience extreme physiological effects when my fear of heights is triggered. I get sweaty palms and tingles from my feet. My heart starts racing and everything starts to feel numb. It was really interesting that I didn’t feel any of these sensations during the balloon ride. I think this is attributed to the extremely slow floating and the basket being quite high. Also, the impressive views can be quite the distraction.

Do we recommend it?

Absolutely. It was quite a surreal experience and getting a full birds eye view is really cool. If you’re after a ride with a lot of balloons in the sky, this isn’t the place. It isn’t going to look like photos in Turkey or Myanmar. At any time, you’ll only ever see a maximum of 2 other balloons in the sky. With the lowest pricing point for this activity, it’s definitely the backpacker’s version of a luxury balloon ride. We felt safe the entire ride and really enjoyed the beautiful views over Vang Vieng. Going at sunrise is the better option as the afternoon rides are a bit too early for sunset.

We hope that if you’re planning a trip to South East Asia, you make time for Laos and a hot air balloon ride. Let us know in the comments if you’ve enjoyed this experience before or if it’s something you’d be interested in doing!

Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon Laos

Vang Vieng Hot Air Balloon
Panoramic views of Vang Vieng

RELIVE THE RIDE WITH US BELOW!