24 hours in Hualien and Taroko National Park in TaiwanKollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Oh, Taiwan. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Taiwan is known for its mouthwatering food and unparalleled hospitality. Visitors rush to see the iconic Taipei 101, but there’s more to Taiwan than just Taipei. The true beauty of this island country lies on the east coast, where plains are forever green and where mountains meet the sea. 24 hours in Hualien and Taroko National Park doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it’s totally doable (without being rushed) if you plan carefully.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

24 hours in Hualien – How do I even get there?

Chances are, you’re heading to Hualien from Taipei. Cities and counties in Taiwan are connected by the Taiwan Railways Administration, with the fastest being the Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains. Taroko Express and Puyuma Express are both reservation-only Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains that run from Taipei to Hualien. Duration and fares are the same- they’re just owned by different companies.

Tip: Buy your tickets ahead of time; you can do so up to 2 weeks in advance. The Puyuma line is very popular and sells out quickly, especially on weekends and national holidays. You can pick up your tickets at a post office or at any convenience store (7-Eleven, Family Mart, Hi-Life, OK Mart); make sure you have your passport with you.

Read more: Social responsibility at its best – Horizon Inn Taipei

How do I get around in Hualien?

If you’re only interested in checking out Taroko National Park, there are tours and hop-on hop-off buses that do just that. However, I strongly advise against them because let’s be honest- ain’t nobody got time for that! Rent a moped instead and explore the gorge on your own. You’ll be able to go at your own pace and stop whenever, wherever you want.

If you’re in a group of 2-4, aren’t comfortable with scootering around, or are pressed for time… just hire a private driver! We’re all about efficiency here so I highly recommend this option. This allowed us to customize our own itinerary and visit sites outside of Taroko.

Tip: Our driver no longer offers services but there are plenty of recommendations on Tripadvisor. The rate for an English-speaking driver is fairly standard at around $3,000NTD/day (around $100USD).

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

What can I see and do within 24 hours in Hualien?

Qixing Beach

QiXing means ‘seven stars’ in Mandarin. Once a thriving fishing village, this area is now home to Qixing Beach and the Hualien Air Force Base. If you visit at night you can even star-gaze! Visitors are able to see all seven stars of the Big Dipper (hence the name).

You won’t find any sand here- this pebble beach is considered one of the most beautiful in Taiwan. The waves and currents are too strong for a swim but the bike trail is perfect for a beach-side cruise. We spent half an hour here and watched in awe as an F-16 figher jet took off.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Qingshui Cliff

20 minutes away from QiXing Beach is the QingShui Cliff, arguably one of the most stunning sights in Taiwan. Dropping vertically into the Pacific Ocean, the cliff is over 3,000 feet high and stretches more than 12 miles along the Suao-Hualien highway.

Tip: There’s an observation deck once you exit the Chongde Tunnel. Here’s your chance to snap that IG-worthy shot!

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Shakadang trail

Also known as the ‘Mystery Valley’, this was once a narrow path used only by aboriginals- the Taroko people. When Taiwan was under Japanese rule in the 1940’s, the Japanese broadened the trail to transport equipment in order to build the Liwu Power Plant. Marvel at the marble stones and Shakadang River as you explore the past of the Taroko tribe.

Tip: This is by no means a strenuous hike; it’s more of a stroll stretching more than 4km that’ll take you 3-4hrs round-trip. You won’t miss out on much even if you turn back before you reach the end.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Lushui and Baiyang Trail

If you’re interested in more easy hikes check out the Lushui and Baiyang Trails. The scenery is more or less the same as Shakadang Trail.

Eternal Spring Shrine

Modeled after a famous temple from the Tang Dynasty, this shrine commemorates 225 veterans who lost their lives constructing the Central Cross-Island Highway. Visitors can’t enter the shrine; you can only view this picturesque landmark from afar.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Swallow’s Grotto

Weaving in and out of a mountain, this trail overlooks a deep gorge and powerful stream. Your driver will drop you off at the entrance while you make your way to the other end on foot. A safety helmet is not required but just put it on anyway. It’s free! This area is prone to falling rocks; better safe than sorry!

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Dongdamen Night Market

This humongous night market will probably be the highlight of your 24 hours in Hualien. Come hungry! The food scene in Taiwan is like no other and I wrote about this in another post. You’ll be able to cross some dishes off that list at this night market.

Dongdamen Night Market has a section dedicated to traditional Taiwanese snacks, another featuring aboriginal cuisines, and a third with foods from mainland China. There’s even another smaller night market within Dongdamen… nightmarketception is a thing.

Tip: Listen to your Taiwanese homegirl and try these 3 stands: stinky tofu sticks, deep fried egg scallion pancake, and a variety of barbeque skewers- all pictured below because none of it is in English. If you see anything with signs in English, assume it’s a tourist trap.

Read more: The Ultimate Food Guide to Taiwan

Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 17
Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 18

Where should I stay in Hualien?

Echo Villa is where it’s at! You’ll see what I mean by Taiwanese hospitality once you meet the host. Situated right next to a forest, this glass house is the perfect hideaway. I wish we spent more than 24 hours in Hualien because I adored our little B&B so much. There are only 5 rooms, each tastefully decorated with a style of its own.

Homemade breakfast is served in your room every morning. Echo Villa is 20 minutes from city center but trust me, once you’re here you won’t want to leave. There’s also a short trail (20-30min walk) leading you to a hidden waterfall.

Tip: We were in the Stellar Attic and loved it. It’s almost always sold out due to its popularity. Booking opens 2 months in advance so get on it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 5
Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 15
Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 11

24 hours in Hualien – sample itinerary

7AM   –   train from Taipei to Hualien
9AM   –   arrive in Hualien, head to QiXing Beach (七星潭)
11AM  –   stop by the 7-ELEVEN before the Taroko National Park entrance for a quick lunch
Noon  –   QingShui Cliff (清水斷崖), Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道), Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), Swallow Grotto (燕子口)
4PM   –   check in at your B&B, wash up and rest before dinner
6PM   –   pig out at Dongdaemun Night Market (花蓮東大門觀光夜市)

Don’t miss Mukumugi Valley and Sixty Rock Mountain if you’re able to spend more than 24 hours in Hualien. They’re a bit out of the way so you’ll need an extra day or two.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

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Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, JapanKollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

If you’re visiting the Kansai region of Japan, chances are you’re including at least one of Kobe, Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima in your itinerary. All of these can be easily accessed because Japan’s vast transit network is ridiculously efficient (much like everything else in Japan)! Why not escape from the hustle and bustle of city life with a Miyajima day trip?

Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima, is said to be an island where gods lived. Considered one of the most scenic spots in Japan, Miyajima is not only romantic but also family-friendly. AS and I brought Mama Ko along on this journey and we had a fantastic famjam time. We connected on a whole ‘nother level as we stepped back in time on this sacred island; the whole place radiates tranquility! I assure you you’ll suffer from a serious case of FOMO if you don’t make this Miyajima day trip a priority.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Getting to Miyajima

Tip: Because we only visited Kyoto, Osaka, and Miyajima on this trip, the JR-West Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass was enough. Find out which JR Pass best suits your needs depending on where else you’ll be visiting in Japan.

From KIX – Kansai International Airport

Take the JR Haruka Limited Express train from KIX to Shin-Osaka station (50min).

From Osaka

From Shin-Osaka station, take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Hiroshima station. This 90-minute journey will fly by because the Shinkansen is so darn fast and comfortable.

From Kyoto

If you’re making the Miyajima day trip from Kyoto, keep in mind that it’s close to 3 hours, one way. From Kyoto station, take the direct Hikari train to Hiroshima station.

Read more: How to see Kyoto in 2 days

FROM Hiroshima

Take the JR Sanyo Line, in the Iwakuni direction, to Miyajima-guchi station (30min). Follow the signs to the ferry and hop on for a 10 minute ride over to the island.

Tip: While it’s not okay to eat on most trains in Japan, you can on the Shinkansen. Shin-Osaka station has tons of mouthwatering food stalls; grab a bento (and a giant Pablo cheesecake) and enjoy on the ride.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

What to do and see on your Miyajima day trip

O-torii (The Great Gate) and Itsukushima Shrine

This giant vermilion gate, or torii, is the icon of Miyajima. The one we see today has withstood many typhoons and earthquakes since 1875, and is the eighth generation since the first was erected in 1547. Depending on the tide, you’ll either be able to walk to the pillars of the o-torii or see it floating in the sea from afar.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

A stone’s throw away from the o-torii is the Itsukushimajinja.  Numerous buildings and possessions from this Shinto shrine complex have been designated as National Treasures by the Japanese government. At high tide, this UNESCO World Heritage Site appears to be floating on water. The current structure was built in 1571; however, the shrine dates back to 593. Due to fires and typhoons, many restorations and constructions have taken place since the first buildings were constructed.

Tip: You can’t enter the shrine after sunset but both the o-torii and Itsukushima-jinja are illuminated every night until 11pm. The two vermilion structures paint the perfect backdrop, so put on your yukata and go for an evening stroll.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Goju-no-to (Five-storied Pagoda) and Senjokaku (Hall of 1000 Tatami Mats)

Constructed more than 500 years ago, these are both at the entrance of the Itsukushima Shrine. At nearly 28 meters high, this pagoda once enshrined the Buddha of Medicine. Visitors can’t enter the pavilion but this fusion of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles is stunning from any angle, any time of day.

Senjokaku originally served as a Buddhist library to hold sutra chants. The interior is decorated with countless ema, or Japanese wooden tablets with votive images. It’s the largest structure in Miyajima but it was actually never completed.

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Mount Misen Ropeway

Indulge in aerial views of the Seto Inland Sea and Miyajima’s ancient forests as you glide through the sky in a ropeway gondola. You’ll have to hike another 1km or so to get to the summit, Mount Misen Observatory, where you can enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the surrounding islands and sea.  Alternatively, Shishiiwa Observatory (right next to the ropeway station) also offers a great view.

Daisho-inn

Located at the foot of Mount Misen is one of the most significant temples of Shingon Buddhism. There are no crowds here, which makes the already spiritual experience even more spellbinding. You don’t have to understand much of the religious aspects to appreciate Daisho-in. Maybe it’s the serenity and stillness of the forest or maybe it’s the cute jizo statues watching over us, but we’ve never felt more at peace.

Tip: You’ll see a row of spinning wheels with sutra inscriptions on the steps. Turn them as you walk up; it is said that you can benefit from the blessings!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs)

A small, white and fluffy mammal strolled by as we were walking back to our ryokan late at night. We’ve never seen anything like it so we kept our distance until it sniffed and wiggled its way back into the forest. It wasn’t until we asked our host that we realized we had encountered a tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dogs. They’re usually dark brown in colour, but we were lucky seeing an extremely rare white tanuki! How rare? Think 1st Edition Charizard Pokemon Card.

Native to Japan, tanuki look like a cross between a big Pomeranian and tiny baby polar bear. Adorable, right? Wait ’til you hear about their gigantic ballsacks! In legends and folklore, tanuki are masters of shape-shifting and have huge scrotums symbolizing prosperity. If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, you probably remember the movie Pom Poko where tanuki use their enormous scrotums to protect their community. Don’t worry, their balls are quite proportional in real life.

Sika deer

Hundreds of wild deer roam freely on the streets of Miyajima. Thought to be messengers of the Shinto gods, they’re considered sacred and killing one was once punishable by death. Ironically, many of them now suffer from malnutrition and starvation. In 2008 city officials prohibited the feeding of these deer as a form of population control. I’m not sure if the ban was lifted but we did see this dude feeding them crackers.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

What to eat on your Miyajima day trip

Miyajima is famous for its fresh oysters and conger eels caught from the Seto Inland Sea (different from the eel in unagi-don). You’ll find the best anago-meshi (grilled conger eel on rice) at Ueno, which is a restaurant in betwen the Miyajimaguchi JR Station and ferry terminal. Want oysters? Head to Kakiya for fresh-to-death bihalves, prepared any way you like, over a glass of wine.

Don’t leave the island without trying some momiji-manjuThese are freshly baked maple-leaf shaped castella with a sweet filling. You can choose from matcha, custard, chestnut, or red bean paste. They’re the perfect souvenior as they’re tasty and packaged in beautiful boxes.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

If you’re staying at a ryokan you’ll also get to feast on Kaiseki-ryori (traditional multi-course Japanese meal). This is one of the reasons why you should stay overnight!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Staying overnight in Miyajima

I know, I know. This is a post on a Miyajima day trip but I urge you to spend at least 1 night in a ryokan! Not only will you truly experience Japanese hospitality, but you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the island in the quiet mornings and evenings, without the daytrip crowds. We highly recommend Watanabe-inn!

READ MORE: Our first ryokan experience in Japan

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12 Must-Do’s for first-timers in Bali, IndonesiaKollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Kintamani

Some people say Bali is overrated and that it’s lost its magic over the years. I say those people must be on something 😛 The list of things to do in Bali for first-timers can go on forever, you’ll never run out of things to do! We spent a week in Bali and only scratched the surface of this paradise- there’s still so much left to be explored.

Bali’s one of those places that made us go “Okay, we’re definitely coming back”… and we are! We loved it so much that we just booked our flights to revisit this fall. There’s still so much we want to accomplish but first, here are 12 of many, many things to do in Bali for first-timers.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Kintamani

12 things to do in Bali for first-timers

1. DON’T try the Kopi Luwak, or cat poo coffee

Known to be the most expensive coffee in the world, it’s actually brewed from the feces of an Indonesian cat-like animal called the civet. They feed on coffee cherries, magic happens in their digestive system, and out comes these ridiculously priced coffee beans. However, most coffee plantations in Bali force feed these animals and cage them up in appalling conditions. Perhaps it’s not as intense as the making of foie gras but still pretty damn inhumane.

2. Visit rice terraces and rice fields

One of the main things to do in Bali for first-timers is to visit rice paddies, and Tegalalang is the obvious choice. If you want to avoid the crowds, head to Jatiluwih instead. But really, there are rice fields everywhere! We saw so many driving through the rural areas of Bali.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Rice Fields

Tegalallang Rice Terraces

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Rice Fields

rice fields outside Karsa Spa Ubud

3. Stay at a villa, live like a king

You can live like a king for the price of a 3-star hotel in metropolitan cities (i.e. Vancouver, New York). Ours at The Amala came with a private plunge pool, outdoor jacuzzi tub, and a steam room- all within our own suite! You can easily spend a day just relaxing, doing absolutely nothing.

Kollecting Koordinates - The Amala

breakfast at our private pool at The Amala

4. Make friends with monkeys

Or not, they might have rabies and most likely carry other diseases. Remembering what our travel doctor said, we tried our best to keep our distance. It was awesome seeing so many monkeys monkeying around because they’re so smart. A baby monkey tried to steal my clutch while another little dude tried to pickpocket AS!

We only visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, but our driver said that the ones at Uluwatu Temple are a lot more feisty. Regardless, keep your hands to yourself and your personal belongings close or hidden.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

little thief

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

5. Chill out at infinity pools

Do you like infinity pools overlooking the jungle or do you prefer listening to the ocean while you sip on a tropical drink? The choice is yours depending on where you stay. You can still find stunning infinity pools at reasonably priced resorts even if you don’t have a fat wallet to afford the Hanging Gardens. If your resort or villa doesn’t come with an infinity pool, you can simply spend a day at Jungle Fish.

Kollecting Koordinates - Puri Gangga Resort

infinity pool at Puri Gangga Resort Bali

infinity pool at Bisma Eight Ubud

6. Go temple hopping

Visiting temples is one of the top things to do in Bali for first-timers. While Indonesia has a Muslim-majority population, the predominant religion in Bali is Balinese Hinduism, which is a fusion of Buddhism and Shivaism. Pura, or Balinese temples, integrate core beliefs of Hinduism and Indian spiritual ideas.

Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, Tirta Gangga, Goa Gajah, Ulun Danu Beratan, and Besakih are some of the most popular ones. Because these temples are scattered throughout Bali, you’ll have to group them by region and plan your itinerary accordingly so you’re not wasting the whole day on the road. 

Pura Lempuyang is by far our favourite one. It’s waaay out in the east but the scenery at the ‘Gateway to Heaven’ is second to none.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Pura Lempuyang

Gateway to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang

7. Pig out on healthy delicious food

Using a variety of spices, fresh veggies, and meats, there’s a hint of Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian flair in Balinese food. Our favourite dish is probably the glass noodles at Bambu Restaurant in Seminyak.

Because it’s a tropical island, Bali is loaded with tons of fresh fruits and veggies. Lots of restaurants serve organic cuisine using only fresh local ingredients, making healthy eating very easy. Earth Cafe and Kafe Ubud are perfect examples!

8. Always chase waterfalls

Home to many stunning waterfalls, Bali is the place to prove those TLC girls wrong. Some waterfalls you can swim in, some you can slide down, and others you can only watch from afar. Just look at how many there are!

Our favourite is the Nungnung Waterfall. We had to descend down around 500 steps to reach this oasis, which means it was a strenuous hike back up. It was totally worth it though, because we had this all to ourselves!

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Nungnung Waterfall

9. Take a cooking class

Learn how to make local cuisines from scratch! We learned how to cook a 3-course Balinese meal at The Amala: lawar salad, tum ikan, and dadar gulung.

10. Get pampered, treat yoself

Massages are dirt cheap here- without losing quality! Most resorts have an on-site spa. Many also offer a complimentary 30min massage when you book a stay with them.

Our favourite is Karsa Spa in Ubud. Surrounded by rice fields, its idyllic location is perfect for some R&R. The best part? A 60min massage is only 160,000IDR, which is around $15CAD! A flower bath can be added for an additional 160,000IDR.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Spa

flower bath at Karsa Spa in Ubud

11. Go scuba diving

I legit thought I was going to drown when I went diving the first time in Oahu but I’m so glad I gave it another shot in Bali. We got PADI certified last spring with Bali Aqua and it was one of the most surreal experiences ever. I’d have to say that diving is one of the best things to do in Bali for first-timers.

We checked out the USS Liberty Shipwreck in Tulamben, swam with manta rays in Nusa Penida, and were carried by the currents through a giant aquarium while drift diving in Nusa Lembongan.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Manta Point

mantas in Nusa Penida

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Shipwreck

shipwreck dive in Tulamben

12. Catch the Mount Batur sunrise

If you can wake up at 2am for a hike, you’ll be rewarded with a majestic 360-degree view of the sunrise on the summit of Mount Batur. Or if you’re lazy like us, just ask a driver to take you to Kintamani. The sunrise seen from here is still gorgeous, no?

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Sunrise

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Sunrise

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8 Reasons to convince you to visit Cebu in the PhilippinesKollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Cebu - Sunset

Ahhh, the Philippines… Where the sun’s so hot that it hurts and the water’s so clear it looks like the pool. The first choice that comes to mind when people are picking a destination in the Philippines is usually Boracay or Palawan. While Cebu doesn’t have the white sandy beaches of Boracay nor the limestone cliffs and islands of Palawan, there are still plenty of reasons to visit this amazing island. With so many things to do in Cebu, you’ll never want to leave once you get there.

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Lantern Festival in My Motherland – Taiwan!Kollecting Koordinates - Lantern Festival

This post about the Taiwan Lantern Festival is sponsored by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

If you didn’t know already, I was born in Taiwan and I can’t praise my motherland enough. The food is to die for and the people are one of the friendliest in the world! What better way to experience authentic Taiwanese culture and hospitality than to visit the Taiwan Lantern Festival?

Also known as 元宵節 (Yuan Xiao Jie), it’s considered one of the most significant festivals in Taiwan. The first full moon of the Chinese New Year shines on the 15th day of the first lunar month- this is exactly when the Lantern Festival takes place. You can say that it’s the grand finale of the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

History and Background of the Taiwan Lantern Festival

元 (yuan) refers to the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar, and 宵 (xiao) refers to ‘night’. In a nutshell, the Lantern Festival symbolizes unity, prosperity, and new beginnings. The whole idea is to celebrate the coming of spring and a fresh start to the year ahead.

So how did the Lantern Festival come about in the first place? There are tons of legends and myths surrounding the origin of this festival. Some say the celebrations are to ward off evil, others say these festivities welcome deities. One legend talks about pleasing the Gods, another explains that firecrackers and red lanterns are to distract an angry emperor.

Whichever story you believe, this important event is where the Taiwanese gather with their loved ones to welcome a brand new year filled with happiness and good fortune.

Festivities include making lanterns, solving riddles, and eating 湯圓 (tangyuan), which are glutinous rice balls with sweet or savoury fillings. Growing up in Taiwan, it was a yearly tradition for my family to gather at my grandparents’ house in ChiaYi to make sesame flavoured tangyuan from scratch. The kids would run around with decorative lanterns and play with firecrackers, under adult supervision of course!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

One of my favourite desserts: tang yuan! It’s usually served hot in a sweet soup but you can find this cool twist at Tong Hua night market!

Taiwan Lantern Festival

The first Taiwan Lantern Festival was held in 1990. Since 2001, the official national Taiwan Lantern Festival has been hosted in different cities every year, with each year being bigger and better.

This annual event features dazzling laser and light displays, parades, live music, and various performances. If you’ve been wanting to watch lion and dragon dances, acrobatic acts, fireworks, and folk art skits all in one place, this is the place to do it! Visitors can also check out booths selling traditional handicrafts and snacks.

YunLin County in the mid-western part of Taiwan has been selected as the host of the 2017 festival, which marks the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac. The venue will be decked out with lanterns, lights, and art installations, including a gigantic rooster lantern installation at the exhibit!

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

The giant zodiac installation last year- Year of the Monkey! Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Sky Lantern Festival in Ping Xi

Running concurrently is the Sky Lantern Festival in Ping Xi, a small village in New Taipei City in northern Taiwan. People from all over the world visit Ping Xi and Shi Fen year-round to release sky lanterns with their wishes written on them.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival - Sky Lanterns

My friend and her hubby at Shi Fen station. Photo cred: Angel at Also There’s This

During the actual Lantern Festival, thousands attend this one-of-a-kind Sky Lantern Festival after dark to launch lanterns into the night. Imagine countless glowing lanterns slowly rising and lighting up the black sky with everyone’s hopes and dreams!

2017 Taiwan Lantern Festival – Event Info

Event Page:  Taiwan Lantern Festival
Dates: February 11 – 19, 2017
Location of the 2 exhibits:

  • Between the HSR (Taiwan High Speed Rail) YunLin Station and the Agricultural Ecological Park (Map)
  • BeiGang township – surrounding areas of ZhongShan Rd and the Tourist Bridge (Map)

For more information, please visit Taiwan Tourism Bureau’s official website or check out their Facebook page.

Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

Image source: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Heading to Taiwan? Make sure you try these must-eat dishes while you’re there!

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Kollecting Koordinates - Taiwan Lantern Festival

How to See Kyoto in 2 DaysKollecting Koordinates - Kyoto

This little blog of mine is all about making the most out of limited travel time. Now, you obviously won’t be able to explore every little corner of Kyoto, but you’ll be able to hit up most of the must-see’s in just under 48 hours. Impossible? Nah. Ambitious? Just slightly. But if Mama Ko can do it, you can too! Here’s our comprehensive Kyoto 2 day itinerary.

This ain’t Mama Ko’s first rodeo in the Kansai region of Japan- having been here many times before, she told us Kyoto is even more breathtaking when it’s cherry blossom season or when it’s decked out in fall foliage. What a show off. Don’t mind her- Kyoto is beautiful regardless of the season.

 

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Fushimi Inari

 

What you need for this Kyoto 2 day itinerary:

  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • Bus map of Kyoto – you should be able to grab one of these from the reception desk at your hotel or any info booth, or you can download the PDF here. This baby is gold- so listen to Gandalf and keep it secret, keep it safe
  • Base yourself at a hotel/Airbnb/cardboard box within walkable distance to both a major bus hub and Keihan Railway stop. We stayed at Piece Hostel Sanjo which is close by Shijo Karasuma and Sanjo Station.
  • Transportation:  ¥500‎ for a 1-day bus pass (enter through the rear door and exit through the front door; pay upon exit) and ¥210 for train fare (fares vary depending on where you stay)
  • Optional: Travel buddies with a good sense of humour (brownie points for taking your parents)

— Day 1 of Kyoto 2 day itinerary—

Arashiyama

Get your butt on a bus and make your way towards Arashiyama (left side of this trusty map). Get off at Arashiyama Tenryuji-mae, which literally means “in front of Tenryu-ji“. You’ll eventually end up in the bamboo grove after you make your way through the gardens.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Arashiyama bamboo

If you’re down to check out more temples and shrine compounds, there are a few you can choose from after you exit through the bamboo path. (i.e. Jojakko-jiNison-inGio-Ji ) If you’re ready to kick it (or if you’re traveling with your mum who doesn’t give a shit about temples and shrines), just follow the signs which will lead you back to the main road where the bus stop is.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Arashiyama bamboo

Read more: Our first ryokan experience in Japan

Kinkaku-ji

The easiest way to get to Kinkaku-ji from Arashiyama by bus is to take the 11 and transfer at Yamagoe Nakacho for the 59. Get off at Kinkakuji-mae and ta-da, you’re there!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kinkakuji

The grounds are gorgeous but this was by far the most crowded place we’ve visited in Kansai. Watch out for the hordes of Japanese students on school field trips and (some very classless) tourists. Some ajumma shoved me, quite hard actually, just so she could get a closer look at the Golden Pavilion. Ruuuuude.

Kiyomizu-dera

There are a couple of different ways to get from Kinkaku-ji to Kiyomizu-dera. We got on the 205 and transferred at Shijo Kawaramachi for the 207. Hop off at Kiyomizu-michi and follow the signs.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

If you wanna get fancy for photo opps you can head to a kimono rental store where they’ll do your hair and dress you up. If you’re peasants like us, just continue uphill in your peasant clothes. You might not be as kawaii but your photos will turn out just fine.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage were built using a traditional Japanese method of construction, with wooden pillars and without a single nail! But don’t worry, it’s hella sturdy- it has withstood hundreds of disasters over centuries like a champ.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

Don’t forget to visit the Jishu Jinja Shrine to make a love wish! Given we were only 1 year into this supposedly lifelong marriage, I had to jump on the prayer bandwagon.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

Am I doing this right?

Legends say if you’re able to walk from one of these stone to the other that’s 10m away with your eyes closed, your wishes will come true. Tons of Japanese students cheered each other on as they made their way across. Awww young love is so cute.

Gion

Take the bus back to Gion and have dinner there. If you’re lucky you might even see a geisha!  There are hundreds of restaurants and pubs in this area but don’t get too wasted (easy, tiger). You’ll want to wake up early the next morning to beat the crowds.

 

— Day 2 of Kyoto 2 day itinerary —

Fushimi-inari Taisha

We left our hotel at around 7am and arrived at Fushimi Inari station via the Keihan Railway by 7:30am. It was dope because we had the whole place to ourselves.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Fushimi Inari

It takes around 2-3hrs to hike (stroll, really, the stairs aren’t bad at all) through over 10,000 of these red gates. By the time we made it back down the mountain the whole plaza was packed. A complete 180 from what we saw early in the morning. You’ll thank yourself for not drinking that extra shot the night before.

Read more: Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, Japan

Nishiki Market

Feast your eyes (and stomach) on this 400-yr old strip of shops and restaurants. You’ll find anything and everything food-related in this buzzing market. Mama Ko had a blast eating her way through these five blocks. This octopus with a quail egg in its head was her favourite.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

AS and I spent no less than 4 hours (srs, no joke) at Daikoku Drug. This is the perfect place to stock up if you’re obsessed with Japanese products like we are. It’s also duty free for foreigners who spend more than ¥5000, which is easy to do considering we dropped close to 4 bills at this store. Oops!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

Pontocho

To wrap up this Kyoto 2 day itinerary, spend your evening in Pontocho, one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric areas to grab a bite. Most establishments offer a view of the Kamogawa River. Now’s your chance to load up on all that beer and sake you’ve been deprived of the previous night!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Pontocho

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Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary

Our First Ryokan Experience in JapanKollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima

Mount Misen was cloaked in white as our ferry approached the pier at Miyajima Island. We could see the bright red torii (a traditional Japanese gate at the entrance of a Shinto shrine), ever so faintly amidst the fog. After docking, we asked the nice gentleman at the visitor booth to make a call. Within 10 minutes, Watanabe-san appeared to greet us (with the most sincere bow ever!) and loaded our bags into his van. AS, my mum, and I were all giddy on the short ride through the ancient alleys of Miyajima. Not only was this her first time traveling with us, it was also our first time staying at a traditional Japanese inn- a ryokan.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima

We received a warm welcome from Watanabe-san‘s wife and snacked on momiji manju while we waited. These are maple leaf shaped cakes loaded with azuki paste; they’re also Hiroshima’s most popular souvenir!

Read more: Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, Japan

After being shown to our rooms, we washed up and changed into yukata.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima

The Location

Watanabe-Inn is a short drive from the pier. Watanabe-san picked us up and dropped us off in his van (the signature white van in many Japanese anime series I grew up watching- so nostalgic) so we didn’t have to haul our luggage. The famous torii and Itsukushima Shrine are about 10 minutes away on foot, and the stairs to Daishō-in‘s main entrance is right outside the inn!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima

Our Rooms

There are only 4 rooms at Watanabe-Inn (for maximum service!) and each comes with a Japanese cypress tub. These are Japanese style rooms with tatami mats, meaning you sleep on a super comfortable futon that’s laid out for you on the floor.

AS and I stayed in Momiji which was awesome, while my mom stayed in the peasant room (kidding, hers was dope too because it came with a loft!). We liked ours just a tad more because it came with an attached sitting area for tea that overlooks a beautiful garden and pond.

Remember that cypress tub I was talking about? Not only does it smell refreshing, it fills by itself and stops once it reaches a certain level. And it keeps the water at the temperature you set!

Read more: How to see Kyoto in 2 days

Food

Food. The best part. This is the main reason why we wanted to stay at a ryokan– to experience Kaiseki-ryori, which is a traditional multi-course Japanese meal originally served at tea ceremonies.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima

These guys use only fresh seafood caught from the Seto Inland Sea and present every dish beautifully. Seriously, just leave it to the Japanese when it comes to immaculate culinary details with a homey touch. Needless to say, our taste buds were very happy and thanked us (and the chef) for the delicious meal.

The traditional Japanese breakfast was exactly what we expected. Rice, miso soup, some proteins, and pickled vegetables as side dishes. It was so yummy- I don’t normally eat rice (even though I’m Asian- weird, I know) but I finished the whole thing!

Service

I think it goes without saying that the Japanese are one of, if not the most polite and well-mannered people in the world. Watanabe-san and his wife are perfect examples of what hospitality should be. They lent us umbrellas and rainboots, and did everything they could to ensure our stay was on point.

Have you ever stayed at a ryokan? Tell me about your experience below!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

tips

  • If you’re looking for an authentic ryokan experience, pick somewhere that’s not in the big cities (i.e. Kyoto or Osaka). We were so glad we did this on Miyajima Island- the remoteness and serenity made our stay extra special. Our friend stayed at a ryokan in Arashiyama and he loved it.
  • A night’s stay isn’t cheap, but it’s totally worth it! Rates range from $230-280CAD per night per person.
  • Pick the Momiji room if you do end up choosing Watanabe-Inn.
  • Stay longer! We regret spending only 1 night.

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Kollecting Koordinates - Ryokan

 

Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & SpaKollecting Koordinates - Shangri-la Mactan

Ah, Shangri-La Mactan. This gorgeous resort in Cebu served as my sanctuary on our last night in the Philippines. We knew we were in good hands from the moment our airport shuttle pulled up to the security check. Our time in the Philippines was going to end on a good note after all.

A nasty flu slapped me in the face towards the end of our Philippines journey. When I finally saw my GP after week 3 of nonstop coughing, he said I would’ve gotten pneumonia if I didn’t recover from laryngitis by week 4 (yikes!). Anyway, after suffering from high fevers for 3 days straight in El Nido, I was relieved when we landed in Cebu. We were to stay here for one night before flying back to Taiwan.

First Impressions

Similar to other Shangri-La properties, this one is grand; it was like walking into a palace. We were welcomed by staff in gorgeous uniforms (that’s right, even their outfits are spot on!) and sipped on yummy welcome drinks while checking in. A bell boy, full of smiles, then walked us to our room. We don’t know his name, but he picked us out from the crowd the next morning to say bye to us!

Kollecting Koordinates - Shangri-la Mactan

Room

Perched on the 9th floor, our massive room offered a beautiful view of the coastline. The king-sized bed is the most comfortable bed we slept on this entire Asia trip.

The staff even surprised us with fresh fruits, wine, chocolates, and a cake to celebrate both our birthdays! We had reservations at Cowrie Cove, one of Shangri-La’s onsite restaurants, but had to cancel because I was just too weak. When we ordered room service later in the evening, they surprised us with 2 more cakes! That was such a sweet gesture. The service and attention to detail here is just impeccable!

Kollecting Koordinates - Shangri-la Mactan

Food

To be honest, I’m not a big fan of Filipino food. I don’t like rice nor do I eat meat, so I didn’t have many options in the Philippines. The food at Shangri-La Mactan, however, is a different story. The vegetarian bibimbap I had for lunch was and the breakfast buffet was the best thing I ate that whole week. The cuisines they offered included Filipino, Western, Japanese, and Korean. There was a fruit bar, salad bar, dessert bar, and even a gluten-free zone! There were also plenty of vegetarian options too- I was in heaven.

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Amenities

With its own private beach and onsite spa facility, Shangri-La Mactan has something for everyone. Fitness training, snorkeling, beach volleyball, jet ski, tennis, yoga… the list goes on and you’ll never run out of things to do. It’s the perfect place not only for couples on a romantic getaway, but also families with small children. They even offer nail art and hair braiding for kids!

Kollecting Koordinates - Shangri-la Mactan

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Thoughts

It’s a shame that we weren’t able to indulge in everything the resort has to offer. We would’ve loved to have a romantic candlelit dinner or try some water sports, but I just wasn’t physically able to do anything. Thanks to Shangri-La Mactan’s luxurious comfort and service, though, I was finally able to rest up and recharge my body.

We’ll be coming back- and next time, we’ll be treating ourselves to a spa treatment after cruising on jet skis!

Kollecting Koordinates - Shangri-la Mactan
Disclaimer: We received a discounted rate for our experience at Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa. However, these are our own honest opinions and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves! 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Shangri-La Mactan

Social responsibility at its best – Horizon InnKollecting Koordinates - Horizon Inn

I wasn’t going to let AS leave my motherland without taking him to one of the best night markets in Taiwan. Our plan was to stuff our faces at TongHua Night Market, hike up Xiang Shan, and continue to eat at the night market until we drop (Stay away from ShiLin Night Market like a plague! It has become too commercialized in recent years. The quality has declined exponentially while prices increased… but more on this later).

Because my family doesn’t live in Taipei, we needed a place by an MRT station to stay for the night. To my surprise, clean, fairly priced, AND conveniently situated hotels are hard to find in Taipei… until we found Horizon Inn!

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Located in the heart of Taipei, Horizon Inn is within a 10-minute walk to not 1, but 2 MRT stations. Family Mart is just steps away, and Breeze Centre is pretty much right across the street. One of Taiwan’s oldest night markets, Ning Xia, is also within a few blocks’ radius. Because the hotel is right by a main street, we never had to wait more than 2 minutes for an empty cab.

Images courtesy of Horizon Inn

After a warm welcome and fresh fruits, we were given the keys to our Deluxe Room. This is the part where I’m supposed to talk about the rooms and amenities, the friendly staff, the cleanliness, the delicious buffet breakfast, etc., but I’ll save you the boredom. Don’t get me wrong, everything was perfect and breakfast was indeed amazing. We’ve actually never seen a non-five-star property offer so many top-quality options at a buffet. While Tripadvisor reviews are all true, what makes Horizon Inn special is its commitment to social responsibility.

Horizon Inn is by no means a luxury boutique hotel, but its mission and values are more than extraordinary.

We had the honour of meeting Iven, the General Manager- the man who started it all. Iven is a globetrotter.  After spending years abroad, he wanted to build a hotel in his motherland so travelers visiting Taiwan from around the world can also have a place to call home. A map hangs in the lobby for guests to pin their hometowns onto. Travelers can also document their memories in a massive 365-paged guestbook. His love for traveling, combined with his desire to do something for the greater good, resulted in the birth of Horizon Inn.

Horizon Inn provides a platform for the under-privileged and less fortunate. Commodities like food, bedding, and toiletries are often sourced and purchased from non-profit organizations and small businesses. To give back to the society, it collaborates with many groups and offers opportunities for communities in need in Taiwan.

Mentally disabled children

Baked goods served at breakfast are purchased from the Children Are Us Foundation. Its restaurants and bakeries employ kids with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other mental illnesses. These children and teenagers are provided with job skills, opportunities and long-term care.

Poor seniors

You’ll see a fresh, handmade cake at breakfast every morning. Not only is it without any additives and low-fat, but it’s also for a good cause. Horizon Inn buys these cakes from a Nuns Bakery that raises money for the poor elderly people in Taitung.

Aboriginals and rural residents

The Welldoer Volunteer Association raises money for aboriginal tribes and poor rural farmers by promoting their produce and products, and redistributing in the city for better sales. Many of the fruits and vegetables at Horizon Inn’s breakfast buffet are purchased from this organization. Guests can also help out by buying fruits off a display cart in the lobby.

Images courtesy of Horizon Inn

Victims of domestic abuse

Horizon Inn works with the government and offers rooms to victims escaping from domestic abuse.

The Homeless and long-term unemployed people

You may have heard of The Big Issue. Published in four continents, this is a street newspaper that gives homeless people an opportunity to earn legitimate income so that they can be reintegrated into the society. On top of being a corporate sponsor for close to 2 years, Horizon Inn donates a portion of their revenue every year to support this cause. Iven’s face lit up as he showed us pictures of last year’s Christmas party, where people in need were invited to join in on the festivities. He’s planning to provide the same warmth and support this holiday season!

Images courtesy of Horizon Inn

Burn victims

The hotel regularly donates to and fund raises for the Sunshine Social Welfare Foundation, which provides rehab and counseling services for burn survivors and those with facial disfiguration. When the Forma Fun Coast explosion happened last summer, Horizon Inn provided free accommodation for victims’ families who needed to be in Taipei to care for their loved ones.

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AS and I are amazed at the way Iven runs this hotel; it made us really think about how we can make a difference. Social responsibility has never been a criterion when we’re planning our travels but it is now. We visited Taipei in search of yummy food, but we left with so much more than just a full belly.

Thank you, Iven, for opening our eyes to a completely different side of hotel operations. The amount of effort and care put in to supporting all these different groups and communities is truly inspirational!!

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tips

  • You can do your laundry for free!!
  • Rooms start at just below $100 CAD a night (breakfast and tax inclusive).
  • Like many hotels in Asia, not all the rooms have windows.
  • Some may find the tub a bit small, but it wasn’t a problem for us since we’re only 5’4″.
  • Take the time to chat with Iven if he’s available. The work that he’s doing is amazing.
  • For more information and current promos, check out their official website and Facebook page.

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Disclaimer: AS and I were invited guests at Horizon Inn. However, all opinions are our own and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves! 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Horizon Inn

Unforgettable jungle stay – Bisma Eight UbudKollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

We had the pleasure of indulging in one of Bisma Eight’s 38 suites. This is a fairly new luxury boutique hotel (opened in early 2015) that’s very close to Ubud Centre. Surrounded by a lush jungle and rice fields, it only takes 10-15 minutes to walk to Ubud Market and the Monkey Forest. The location is unbeatable!

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

From the moment our cab pulled up to Bisma Eight we were treated like royalty. Staff with huge smiles rushed over to greet us and carry our bags. Welcome drinks were served promptly and we were each given canang sari to offer to Ganesha, the God of knowledge and wisdom, at a small shrine in the lobby.

Bisma Eight prides itself in being more than just a hotel- it is a community that embraces even the smallest act, ensuring a unique experience for both their guests and staff. We were immersed in a relaxing atmosphere right from the get-go. The property takes on a minimalist, yet classy design. This bamboo path leading from the lobby to our building blends in seamlessly with the gorgeous architecture and grounds.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

We stayed one night at a Forest Suite, located at the west end of the property. All the Forest Suites offer a jungle view from a private balcony (from the bed too, actually!). Because our suite was on the ground floor, we could only see the base of the trees. Don’t get me wrong, it was still lush and beautiful. But I’d imagine the higher floors would offer a better sweeping panoramic view of the jungle from the treetops.

Our suite was MASSIVE; it came with all the essentials plus more. There were more than enough outlets (always a problem when we have so many electronics to charge) and the WiFi signal was very strong (wasn’t always the case in Bali). Not only did we get our own living room with tons of space for luggage storage and a huge bed with a forest view, but also a Japanese inspired soaking tub in our bathroom! I adored the interior design- the minimalist approach with a wooden touch was so chic and luxurious.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

After we settled in, we got a knock on our door with afternoon tea. Each individual treat was a burst of flavour, leaving us wanting more.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

Copper Kitchen & Bar

Bisma Eight’s rooftop restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating. We dined here for both lunch and dinner- it gave off a different vibe in the day vs. night. During the day, you can see the fields of greens and volcanoes in the distance while you enjoy your food. AS devoured his Focaccia Club while I munched on my healthy vegetarian Bisma Eight Bowl. Only fresh, local ingredients are used and they even have their own organic garden where they grow their own produce!

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

After dark, the restaurant comes to life with romantic lights and candles. The ambience is perfect for a dinner date with beautifully presented fusion dishes. Both our entrees were delicious, but the star of the meal was this dragon fruit tart with milk rocks and meringue. It’s so pretty. And it was as yummy as it looks- tangy with just the right amount of sweetness.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

We chose to have our breakfast served on our private balcony. With 11 options to choose from (western, Balinese, Japanese, and Korean), there’s something for everyone. The pastries were full of buttery goodness and both our mains were cooked to perfection. I love how the fruits were served with a piece of lime- the tiny bit of sourness makes them much sweeter.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

wellness

There are also yoga classes every morning that take place on the roof top. AS tried yoga for the first time and he loved it! Although there is no spa facility at Bisma Eight, there is a stunning infinity pool and a well-equipped gym. We were finally able to burn off some of the fat we’ve gained, hah. Nothing feels better than letting loose and relaxing after a workout. That was exactly what we did- we went back to our suite for a soak.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

It takes around 45 minutes to fill up the tub but trust me, it’s worth the wait!

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

There are both daybeds and cabanas by the infinity pool, along with a rooftop pool bar with an equally gorgeous jungle view. The pool is even heated at night. Daybeds get filled up quickly but we never had an issue with finding a spot. This was the perfect place to unwind and get your tan on.

tips:

  • Rates start at 330CAD a night (before taxes), breakfast inclusive.
  • It’s just a little over an hour from the airport by car, which costs around 300-350K IDR (~$30-35).
  • Stay in a Forest Suite and request a room on the 3rd floor.
  • All the suites are equipped with a Japanese onsen tub, regardless of room type.
  • For more information and current promos, check out their official websiteInstagramFacebook, and Twitter pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight

Disclaimer: AS and I were invited guests at Bisma Eight. However, all opinions are our own and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves! 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Bisma Eight