The Spiritual Capital of India – Varanasi

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By Telma | 24 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

“Brace yourself. You’re about to enter one of the most blindingly colourful, unrelentingly chaotic and unapologetically indiscreet places on earth.”

~ Lonely Planet

If there is a city that inspires love and hate at the same time, that will be Varanasi.
In India, where some of the most important religions were founded, Varanasi is one of the most sacred in the world. Known as “the spiritual capital of India” it is regarded as one of Hinduism’s seven holy cities. Hindu pilgrims believe that visiting this holy city and bathing in the Ganges River’s sacred waters will purify their souls. Everyday men in underpants, women in saris, children and the elderly go to these Ghats (stone-paved cremation platforms with steps leading down to the water) and bathe in the holy water to wash away their sins or to attend cremation ceremonies. From dawn to dusk spiritual practices take place in public, in devotion of their Goddess – Ganga. Thousands chanting Mantras, bathing into the icy-cold water, every day, every hour as they “free themselves from the cycle of death and rebirth”. These rituals, the river, smells, cows, goats, dogs and people, all at once around the Ghats can be overwhelming, to say the least!
But Varanasi isn’t only one of the oldest and most religious cities in the world, it is without doubt a city that captivates you, that leaves you speechless. Varanasi is an experience.

things to do varanasi

varanasi everyday

ganges river varanasi

sadhu varanasi

About Varanasi

Arriving in Varanasi and looking around, our first impression wasn’t great, in all honesty. Is this a “Holy city” or a “Chaotic mess”? We have seen dirt, experienced crowded places and unpleasant smells lingering around but Varanasi it’s on another level. This is real!
From the first step outside the Guesthouse to returning back, it was a constant struggle with things, animals, people! Touts following us trying to sell anything and everything to the point they would grab our arms to get our attention. Sadhus (Holy Man) trying to shake our hands and touch our heads, shouting in the end because they were actually demanding money. Rickshaw and Tuk Tuk drivers wouldn’t leave us alone and literally followed us everywhere. Children begging for money, no I am not talking about one child at a time, I mean 8-10 children surrounding us at once. The stray dogs it’s heartbreaking! We lost count how many there are roaming around; broken legs or legless, covered in wounds, skinny, starving…So sad to a westerner’s thinking.
And last but not least…let’s talk about the cows. They are everywhere! Ok, it’s fine, they are cute and harmless. But there were roads that it was impossible NOT to step on cow’s dung. I mean seriously? No, I am not exaggerating. Perhaps I can show a few pictures…

holy cow varanasi

cows everywhere varanasi

india sacred cows

Besides all the madness Varanasi has its good points: interesting people, great vegetarian/vegan food, amazing history sites and a relaxed pace of life. No wonder there are so many westerners. After all, Varanasi might be the place to be.

Top Things To Do in Varanasi

Walking around the Old City

Ditch Google Maps. Get lost and enjoy the experience! Yummy street food, some of the coolest, trendiest cafés in town, vegetable markets, street vendors, hidden temples, thousands of people, rickshaws, cows, goats, chickens, dogs… the list goes on.

people streets of varanasi

what to do varanasi

travel guide varanasi

Visit the River Ganges Ghats

There are 80+ Ghats bordering the river and most were built 1700 AD. Yes Varanasi is an old city, dating back 3000 years ago. So how can anyone not feel the goose bumps while there?!
Anyway a good start would be from Assi Ghat all the way down to Manikarnika Ghat. Some are busier than others, due to its religious practices and number of attendees.

varanasi people at the river

Here are the most important Ghats in Varanasi:

Assi Ghat – A place of worshiping Lord Shiva, pilgrims bathe here before any rituals take place. As its location is at the far extreme south of the river, the area is less crowded.
Chet Singh Ghat – The old Fort represents more of a historical symbol than a cremation site itself. Maharaja Chet Singh built the fort during the 18th century battle with the British.
Darbhanga Ghat – The Royal family of Bihar built the palace early 1900s. The Ghat is amongst the favourites in Varanasi due to its architecture.
Scindhia Ghat – There is a partially submerged Shiva Temple at the water’s edge. Some cremations happen here during the day.
Dasaswamedh Ghat – This is the main Ghat and ultimately the oldest and holiest of all. It’s where the Ganga Aarti ceremony takes place every evening.
Manikarnika Ghat – Here is where it all happens! The busiest Ghat in Varanasi. According to one of the locals “up to 100 bodies are cremated here every day”.

assi ghat

chet singh ghat

ghat to visit varanasi

varanasi ceremony ghat

cremations varanasi

things to do varanasi

Boat Tour on the Ganges River

Hold your breath! You will be haggling a lot for this boat ride! Be smart, if you have time (and patience), ask around first and see what these men have on offer. Some might be knowledgeable of the Ghats, others not so much. And that is why time is needed here, so you can get a glimpse of what they know. Our boat ride, along with our friend Peter, was at Rs100/USD1.50/GBP1.20 each.
Now, were we 100% satisfied with the service? Not bad, but could have been better because we agreed one hour and only made it to Dasaswamedh Ghat within 45 minutes. Also, the man refused to carry on, saying he had to row back and it would take time. At the end he demanded a tip… me being me, I laughed and walked off. Obviously!

boat ganges river

Attend the Aarti Ceremony

Every day, regardless of the weather, the Aarti Ceremony takes place at sunset (7pm in the summer, 6pm in the winter) at Dasaswamedh Ghat. The flow of pilgrims, Sadhus, Priests, beggars, homeless and flower sellers, is enchanting. Oh, and the cows, of course!
It is a spectacular, must-see ceremony with a lot of meaning in a spiritual context and for non-Hindus it is still a fascinating ritual to be able to witness.
The ceremony is a devotion for the Goddess Ganges, Lord Shiva and symbolizes the five elements: Akash (Space); Vayu (Wind); Agni (Fire); Jal (Water); Prithvi (Earth). A group of young pandits (Hindu Priests) perform the highly-choreographed ceremony using fire, water, incense, and many other elements. During the ritual, there is music and dancing in circular movements that represent the presence of the Gods in everyone’s life.
The ceremony lasts for one hour and cannot be missed!

evening ceremony varanasi

evening ceremony varanasi

Travel Tips for Varanasi

  • Don’t be fooled, man will try and get you on a rickshaw for twice the money or will convince you to hire him as a Guide for the day. Always ask the host at the hostel/guesthouse for recommendations.
  • Don’t lose your appetite. For us, the street food in Varanasi wasn’t very appealing to say the least, but don’t worry there are some options. Check the list of Restaurants in Varanasi. Aum Café located in Assi Ghat was our favourite!
  • Say NO more often. People will grab your hands, arms and chase you. It’s exhausting. Be prepared for the odd man shouting back because you ignored him. Don’t be embarrassed ad walk away.
  • Observe the everyday life and immerse yourself in Varanasi!

varanasi cremation ghats

boat at varanasi

varanasi itinerary

varanasi ghats and people

holy man of varanasi

varanasi people

So after all, you must be thinking “I would have left straight away!” But you know, this is it, this is part of India. This is why there is no other place like Varanasi; its uniqueness makes it one of a kind. Thousands come for “soul searching”, for its spiritual practices, a “once in a lifetime experience”. Although we both don’t share the spiritual connection, we did “enjoy” the chaos.
There is a love-hate relationship towards Varanasi amongst travellers, and I don’t blame people for it. In all honesty isn’t the most pleasant place to be. And one massive piece of advice, for people that are planning a visit to India, DO NOT start in Varanasi. I feel not many will be able to cope with it.
After all, who said people come to India for a holiday? You don’t see India, you experience India.

Thanks to our friend Peter we had delicious meals in Varanasi! His recommendations were spot on! While in Varanasi we spent a lot of time together. And it was such a pleasure to be surrounded by good energy. We met him in Kathmandu, a few weeks after coming back from Everest Base Camp. And by the look of it, we will meet many times more in India. Cheers buddy!

Is Varanasi on your travel list? Let us know in the comments below.

india varanasi

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Agra Travel Guide – Beyond the Taj Mahal

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By Telma | 10 January 2017 | India | Travel Guides

Visiting Agra is like stepping down from a time machine. The city located on the banks of the river Yamuna has many splendid Mughal-era buildings, dating back the 15th and 16th century. Early morning, a very slow start: vendors setting up their shops, dogs and cows hunting for the first meal of the day, rickshaw drivers gather and the streets start filling up with people and cars. Just another day in Agra.
Understanding the lifestyle and the everyday life is not easy for a westerner; life here is different, but its people are proud of their roots. Even though for us, it is like living hundreds of years back in time.
Once in Agra, the most visited city in India, we already knew that one of Agra’s points of interest was the Taj Mahal, but surely there was more to explore. The city has amazing sites; a splendid fort, fascinating tombs, beautiful gardens, the bustling of the local vendors and its people, make it a very exciting city to explore and worth spending a few days wandering around. Agra, as many other Indian tourist destinations, must be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s busy, loud, not so clean, too many rickshaws, everyone wants to take a picture with you and the constant pestering of children offering to be a guide for the day or insisting that you visit their uncle’ shop! All of this is a huge culture shock and can be tiring and stressful if you are not prepared for it. But not enough to forget the magical attractions of the city.

agra travel guide

The obsession of visiting the Taj Mahal draws people from all over the world and regardless of all the hype, the monument really does live it up to its fame. People often visit for the day, coming from Delhi on a tourist bus. After being here, we cannot believe that people chose a day-trip. Not only is it a very rushed visit but also because by the time they arrive at the 
Taj Mahal it’s nearly impossible to take good pictures, appreciate it and make the most of it. As early at 10 am, there are already endless queues. If you can, extend your trip.

However, there is a world beyond the Taj Mahal. Let us convince you to to stay longer with our Agra Travel Guide.

agra points of interest

people of agra

everyday india

Agra Travel Guide: Why Agra is not only about the Taj Mahal

Things To Do in Agra

The history of Agra is complex, it’s easy to shut your eyes and imagine the emperors, the battles, the palaces, its princes and princesses; it’s a fairy-tale city. Not wanting to waste any time, we started exploring this little gem.

Beyond the Taj Mahal located in the city-center are Itimad-ud-Daulah and Agra Fort (UNESCO World Heritage site). To the west Akbar’s Mausoleum and a little further, on the other side of the river, Mehtab Bagh.

Itimad-ud-Daulah

baby taj mahal

agra baby taj mahal

day trip baby taj mahal

baby taj looks like

places to visit agra

what to visit agra

Also known as Baby Taj, is considered the first Mughal structure in India built out of white marble. Apparently, it was built as a draft for the construction of the Taj Mahal.
The mausoleum was commissioned by Nur Jahan for her father who was honored with the title of Itmau-ud-Daula (Pillar of the state). It’s quite a small site to visit, but worth it for its architecture.
Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

Agra Fort

places of interest agra

agra tourism

inside the red fort

Located on the banks of the river Yamuna was built in the 15th Century by Emperor Akbar and was the main residence of many emperors of the Mughal Dynasty. Also, known as the Red Fort, beyond its walls are palaces, both in red sandstone and white marble, all added by the Emperor’s grandson, Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal). Due to its structure the fort is described as a walled palatial city as it had later become a palace. It’s an impressive site to visit!
Entry Fee: Rs500/USD$7/£5

Inside the fort, these are a few places that caught our eye:

agra palaces

Khas Mahal – white marble palace

red fort palace

Diwan-i-Aam – used as communications ground between the public and the aristocracy

places to visit agra

Musamman Burj – octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal (where Shah Jahan spent his last 8 years imprisoned looking at the Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife)

Akbar’s Mausoleum is the tomb of Akbar, The Great Emperor of the Mughal Dynasty. Built by himself while still alive, Akbar could not complete the entire work, leaving his son with the responsibility to make it the final resting place for the greatest emperor of the Mughal rule. The red sandstone mausoleum is a beautifully carved four-tiered building and its upper chamber is made of white marble. The three-storey minarets at each corner are also built of red sandstone with white-marble geometric patterns.
A curiosity regarding the tomb, is that contrary to other Muslim structures, the mausoleum is turned towards the rising sun and not towards Mecca.
Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

interesting places agra

visiting agra palaces

places to visit agra

interesting places to visit india

Mehtab Bagh or “moonlit garden” is situated to the north of the Taj Mahal across the river Yamuna. The garden was an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex comprising of the mausoleum (Taj Mahal) set in a charbagh (a Persian-style garden layout). The aim of the garden was to provide a tranquil and magical setting to view the Taj Mahal in moonlight across the river. We decided to go only because we had seen beautiful pictures of the Taj Mahal across the river, but this is just an ordinary garden. Worth it if you are into photography.
Entry Fee: Rs200/USD$3/£2.50

beyond taj mahal

Last but not least…

Visiting the Taj Mahal

Of course, once in Agra, we could not ignore a visit to the famous Taj Mahal.
Built stone by stone with a story of eternal love, the Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People from all the world visit the mausoleum of white-ivory-marble, built between 1631 and 1648. And the truth is, the monument simply captivates you. Taj Mahal, one of its kind in the world is a monumental labour of love from the Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child. This enchanting mausoleum took 22 years to complete with the help of an estimated 20,000 workers. Taj Mahal is “the jewel of Muslim art in India’, as per UNESCO and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. The details of the structure are enough to leave you speechless.
Entry Fee: RS1000/USD$14/£11

taj mahal agra

Best Time to Visit the Taj Mahal

We were intrigued by its beauty but the weather in Northern India in December is not at its best and at 8am the fog partially covered the monument. And by that time, the site was crowded. Not a good start! But there was nothing we could have done. Arriving at the opening time of 6am, would have been a waste of time because the fog is dense and sometimes impossible to see anything as far as 50 metres. We walked around taking as many pictures as we could, filmed our Christmas Message video, appreciated the architecture and wondered around the mausoleum for a few hours. By 11am, it was “impossible” to walk around due to the number of people.
The best time would be October-November (after the monsoon) and just before it gets really hot, February-March.

taj mahal best pictures

best tips for taj mahal

taj mahal visit tips

best time to visit taj mahal

Agra has a rich heritage, culturally and architecturally. But, as any other Indian city, it has its downside. Often seen by the western world as the “not-so-nice-India. Poverty, litter, dust and smells are real, and enough for anyone to hate the city. No road signs, cows, monkeys, goats, rickshaws, cars, buses, children begging….it’s chaos. But all runs smoothly, for them!! Don’t be too hasty, beyond the negatives it is really a fascinating city. The only way to enjoy is to see beyond the dirt, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural side of the city.
Coming to Agra is to understand and accept that people live differently, they have their own ways. We are there for a mere few days or in many situations just for a few hours. While there we made the most of it: walked around, talked to people, took pictures, slowed down and observed the daily life. The results were fascinating, we got amazing pictures out of it.
The monuments, the palaces and the strong religious influence in Agra is enough to leave you with a taste of what the Indian life was like a few centuries ago.

people of india

Special Thanks:

We would like to thank my dear friend Rahul Jain and his wife Priya for driving us to Agra and organising some of the sightseeing. Thank-You brother for being a great friend and welcoming us in your family home.

Is the Taj Mahal on your bucket list?

taj mahal guide

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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

How Much Does Trekking to Everest Base Camp Cost?

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By Telma and Thomas | 18 October 2016 | Nepal | Budget

People often have the idea that trekking to Everest Base Camp is only for the wealthy. But it’s not. It’s affordable to most of us. In fact, we met people on the trail doing it on a shoestring: walking all the way to avoid the expensive flight to Lukla, cooking their own meals and camping. That only shows that anyone can go.
Although we were not on a super-strict budget we still ended up running out money due to bad budgeting. We found that many resources online didn’t quite show how much money people really need. Often it talked about the flights, documentation and the cost of a room at a teahouse, but what about Insurance, Trekking Gear, Renting Gear, Food and all the other extras? Our list, is the ultimate breakdown on how much an Everest Base Camp trek costs.

The first question that came to our heads during the planning stage was: How can we trek to Everest Base Camp without breaking the bank? And it wasn’t until digging deeper on Google that we found out that we could trek independently, which is a massive saving on the budget. Unfortunately, people are not aware of it because as soon as you type on google “Everest Base Camp”, the first page it’s only for Tours and it isn’t until you type “Everest Base Camp travel blog”, that you find out that many fellow bloggers have done it.
Saying that, we found bias opinions about tours or going independently because a few bloggers do get paid or invited to join a tour and later promote the company on their blogs. However, we also found people who did it independently and enjoyed it as much.

Trekking to Everest Base Camp independently and on a budget is possible. We can show you how!

Note: The prices shown below are for two people for the length of 16 nights/17 days.

Everest Base Camp Costs?

Flights
Unless people want to add an extra 4-5 days by walking to/from Jiri, flying is the only option. Although quicker it’s not cheap at all. At a whopping USD170 per person for a 30 minutes’ flight it will have you wondering if walking could be a better option.
Having done it, I would say: splurge a little. The views from the Himalayas are incredible and if like us your flight is smooth and the weather is just perfect, that will be without doubt a flight to remember!
Cost: Rs71,500/USD$655/GBP£515

Insurance
It sucks! But must be done. We never travel without insurance and no-one should. Unfortunately, our policy did not include trekking at high altitude, so we had to buy a new one just for the length of our stay. Insurance for 17 days: Level 3 – Trekking up to 6,000 meters on recognised routes (UK Citizens or Residents only).
Cost: Rs23,500/USD$215/GBP£170

Documents
No-one can go trekking in Nepal without obtaining documentation. Not only that is a safe tracking system to know people’s whereabouts, because accidents do happen, but also the fees goes towards the maintenance of Sagarmatha National Park.
Both documents are compulsory.
TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management System) Rs2000 per person
National Park Permit Rs3,390 per person
Cost for two people: Rs10,780/USD$95/GBP£75

Trekking Clothing & Gear
Unfortunately, we had to buy majority of our trekking gear, because it’s not something that we carry during our travels. We had been travelling for nearly a year and had been lucky to have visited countries during the Spring or Summer.
So, when deciding to go trekking to Everest Base Camp, we knew there wasn’t much option but buying the minimum. For more about our packing list check here.

Trekking Clothing
Cost: Rs14,000/USD$130/GBP£100

Renting Gear
Sleeping Bag – Rs80 per day
Down Jacket – Rs60 per day
Cost for two people: 17 days = Rs4,750/USD$40/GBP£35

Miscellaneous
Not wanting to buy a lot because ultimately, we were the ones carrying it, we managed to buy the essentials. Our original First Aid Kit needed some refilling so maybe that is why in this section some people will not spend as much.
First Aid Kit / Toiletries
Snacks
Prayer Flags (pack of five)
Cost for two people: Rs3000/USD$30/GBP£25

Accommodation & Food
Paying for a room on the trail is actually laughable at how cheap it is. The “most expensive” room at Gorap Shep was Rs300, other villages rooms were at Rs100 or in some teahouses, free of charge if we had all our meals there. Regarding food, it really depends on how the body reacts at high altitude and after walking for several hours a day. After Tengoche, from day 5, we both developed an enormous appetite and were very hungry all the time. Nevertheless to say that the meals are not that big and seeing people eating porridge for breakfast and soup for dinner, made us even more hungry. We ate a lot and skimping on food along the trail was never an option.
Average food prices are between Rs300-Rs700 for a meal. Also the higher you are, the price of the food increases. Food isn’t that expensive, it’s true but when eating 4-5 times a day it adds up.
Cost: Rs80,900/USD$740/GBP£580 (includes 4-5 meals a day each, dozens of tea pots and deserts)

Wifi & Charging electronics
Having a power bank helped a lot, there was no need to pay for charging our electronics. Only at Namche we charged the phone and GoPro, but it was “free of charge” because we ate there.
We also had purchased a SIM card prior to Everest Base Camp but at Lobuche when there was no signal, we bought a Data card.
Average charging rates: Rs250-Rs350
Rs500 – 200MB data
Rs250 – charging power bank for 1 hour
Cost: Rs750/USD$7.50/GBP£5

Airport Transport
Perhaps there is a bus to/from Kathmandu to the airport but on the 1st day, our flight was at 7am and the check in at 6am, getting a taxi seemed obvious.
On the way back, we met this lovely couple at Lukla, and once in Kathmandu we shared a taxi to Thamel.
Cost: Rs800/USD$7/GBP£5 (Drop off & Pick up)

Grand Total: Rs209,980 / £1,530 for two people

Summary:
Because we ate so much and often, the amount of money spent on food is probably the equivalent of having hired a Guide/Porter. Some people will argue this budget is way too much, some might say it’s not enough. As usual, we can’t win.
The truth is, nothing can really prepare you for this trek: some people reach base camp on day 8, some only eat two meals a day, others cook their own meals and camp all the way. Everyone is different. We took our time, added days when necessary, ate a lot and enjoyed every moment of it. Thinking about it, there isn’t much we would have changed, apart maybe adding a “little porter”.
We are very happy with the budget and at £765/USD950 per person, considering that a third is just for the flights, trekking to Everest Base Camp can be achieved.

What do you think of our budget?

breakdown of costs for everest base camp

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We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.

Hong Kong Travel Guide on a Budget

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By Telma and Thomas | 4 September 2016 | Hong Kong | Travel Guides

Hong Kong was a city we had long wanted to visit, so we were happy it was on our itinerary. Luckily we had a help of two friends during the planning stage and although there is a lot of information online about it, we were concerned on how much visiting Hong Kong would cost and what to visit while out there. Our itinerary was divided into four areas, not only this is the absolute best way to explore the city, but also because we wanted to have enough time to enjoy it fully and take lots of pictures! Hong Kong was the first destination when we left London, back in November 2015.
This travel guide has useful tips for people wanting to visit, and it shows that Hong Kong can be done on a budget. A very useful resource was Discover Hong Kong website, which helped us a lot on putting some ideas forward before arriving.

Against all suggestions and itineraries online, we spent nine amazing days exploring this incredible city and some hidden gems in the neighbourhoods. From dirty hallways at the Chungking Mansions, navigating through the MTR, cycling in the countryside, spending the day discovering villages outside the city, taking the ferry to see the glorious skyline, to shopping in Mong Kong’ street markets. During our stay we had enough time to get over the jet lag, get some rest, edit pictures/videos and do a little research about the next destination.
Looking back, we would have liked to have stayed two weeks instead, because Hong Kong is just amazing and we couldn’t get enough of this hectic city!

travel tips hong kong

Hong Kong Travel Guide

Hong Kong must be one of the most fascinating cites in the world. The city welcomes with the best food you have ever tasted, an iconic skyline and breathtaking harbour, one of the world’s easiest transport system, mountainous country parks and diverse landscapes where a combination of rural and urban life comes to life.
Hong Kong is captivating; this city just has it all.

Minimum stay: 5 days. We stayed 9 days – which included 2 half days and a day trip to Macau.

Best time to go to Hong Kong: During the cooler, dry season, from October to January. Avoid travelling on Public Holidays, China’s major holidays: Lunar New Year, the first week of May and the first week of October. All tourist attractions will be crowed at these times.

How to explore Hong Kong: The best way to explore Hong Kong is to divide the city into four areas. This way you can focus in each area on different days.
Kowloon Peninsula – Hong Kong Island – Lantau Island – New Territories

Read our 5 Day Itinerary for Hong Kong for more information on how to explore this amazing city.

hong kong travel guide

How to get started

Buy a SIM Card:
At the airport go to the CSL kiosk (small yellow shop) and buy an 8-day SIM card for HKD$118/USD$15/GBP£11. You will be surprised how much internet you really need in this hectic city!

Buy an Octopus Card:
Public transport in Hong Kong is excellent! Frequent ferries between the islands, a huge bus network, a great tram system and an excellent underground railway, known as the MTR.
The Octopus card requires a HKD$50 deposit (USD$6/GBP£4), which is refundable at the end of your stay. For 8 days we topped up ours with HKD$200/USD$25/GBP£18 each. The Octopus card is rechargeable, valid on the MTR, most forms of public transport, some restaurants and convenience stores.
It is very simple to get around and the Octopus Card is without a doubt the cheapest way.

Transportation to/from the Airport:
There are 3 ways to get to Kowloon Peninsula from the Airport.
Airport Express (HKD$90/USD$11/GBP£8), which is the fastest way but also the most expensive. Get a Taxi (HKD$300/USD$35/GBP£25). Or by Bus (Bus number A21) (HKD$33/USD$4/GBP£3), which takes approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on the traffic. But is the best way to start your stay in Hong Kong and you will most probably meet fellow backpackers on the way to the city.

bus hong kong

Stay within your budget in Hong Kong

Accommodation:
• Stay at Chungking Mansions (at Tsim Sha Tsui) or Sincere House (at Mong Kok), there are plenty of Guesthouses & Hostels to choose from
We really recommend booking through Airbnb (use our code and get $25/£30 discount on your booking). You can get great deals for a private room or the entire flat, if you prefer
Avoid staying at Hong Kong Island; it is expensive compared to the other areas

Food:
• Look out for local restaurants, meals can cost HKD$25/USD$3/GBP£2 around Kowloon Peninsula
• During lunch times, many restaurants offer great deals
• Enjoy the street food as much as you can, it is filling and cheap

Free things to do in Hong Kong

There are a lot of free things to do in Hong Kong, so you can give your daily budget (and your wallet) a break. Here are some of the places that are free of charge which we visited:

• Visit the Top Three Museums for free (Wednesdays only) – Hong Kong Museum of History, Hong Kong Space Museum, Hong Kong Science Museum
• Visit the local markets, as these offer the cheapest clothes, electronics and all those “fake” brands & gadgets
Victoria Harbour
Symphony of Lights – Laser Show, everyday at 8pm
The Peak Galleria (even though you must pay to get there, either by bus or by tram, it will not cost you a thing to walk around the Peak)
10,000 Buddha’s Monastery
Mid-Levels Escalator

If you would like to know more on what to see and do while in Hong Kong read our 5 Day Itinerary for Hong Kong for more information.

what to see in hong kong

Have we missed out on anything?

what to see and do in hong kong

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How to Road Trip the South Island – New Zealand

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By Telma and Thomas | 1 September 2016 | New Zealand | Travel Guides

New Zealand has everything your adventurous soul can only dream about. Never short of options, people can drive through spectacular scenery, hike a glacier, swim with dolphins, go trekking, star gazing, sea kayaking, join some exhilarating activities, witness gorgeous sunsets and sunrises… really this country has it all.

Like many people who visit New Zealand, we wanted to see as much as we could, but once there we soon realised that all we needed was extra time. Or perhaps, fewer plans!
Not only because the distances between towns are huge, but also because there is so much to do and see. If we go back and I hope we will, we will definitely focus on some specific areas rather than trying to see everything at once. Our South Island road trip was amazing, we did have some wonderful experiences, but we definitely planned way too much and ended up being burnt out at the end of it. But NO regrets! Because we enjoyed every minute of it!

renting a car and driving the south island

New Zealand South Island Road Trip

We spent 15 days driving from Christchurch to Picton, clockwise, and tried to see as much as possible. During the planning stage of the road trip we realised that it would be impossible to do it all. The Island has so many wonderful places, that we would need months to really explore it fully.
The truth is, we didn’t follow the original itinerary because we just couldn’t fit in everything that we had written down. We thought we could, but the weather, the roads, our mood, or sometimes just spending a few hours looking at the scenery around us, made us take it slow and appreciate it more. Planning is difficult when you haven’t actually experienced the reality of it. Factoring in the amount of time to spend somewhere is just a fantasy as it will always change if you want to explore further or love somewhere so much you just have to spend more time there. Soon we realised that driving for more than eight hours a day wasn’t something that we were looking forward to do.
Our New Zealand itinerary is designed for people who choose to self-drive as this is the absolute best way to see and experience what New Zealand has to offer.

new-zealand-south-island-map

Photo credit: 100% Pure New Zealand

Trip Highlights: 1 – Christchurch; 2 – Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki; 3 – Oamaru; 4- Moeraki; 5 – Baldwin Street; 6 – Sandly Beach; 7 – Otago Peninsula; 8 – Tunnel Beach; 9 – Te Anau; 10 – Milford Sound; 11- Queenstown; 12 – Glenorchy; 13 – Wanaka; 14 – Fox Glacier; 15 – Hokitika; 16 – Punakaiki; 17 – Lake Rotoiti; 18 – Thorpe (staying in a Yurt); 19 – Motueka (Sea Kayaking); 20 – Picton (Ferry to Wellington)

South Island Two Week Itinerary

On the 29th February 2016 we landed at Christchurch International Airport in the morning. We picked up our rental car and got settled in.
Below is the exact South Island driving itinerary that we followed and the highlights of two weeks. Hopefully this travel guide will give other travellers an idea of what to do and see in the South Island.

Christchurch – Afternoon

  • Christchurch Cathedral
  • Cuba Street

1st night – Christchurch

Aoraki / Mount Cook

  • Lake Tekapo
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Mount Cook

2nd night – Oamaru – public car park

Oamaru

  • Town & Harbour

On route to Otago Peninsula

  • Moeraki Boulders (make sure it’s low tide)
  • Baldwin Street, the steepest residential street in the world
  • Sandfly Beach

3rd night – Dunedin – public car park

Dunedin

On route to Te Anau

  • The Arch at Tunnel Beach 
  • Southern Scenic Route

4th night – Lumsden – public car park

Milford Sound

  • Te Anau
  • Milford Highway – Mountains & waterfalls cascades
  • Mirror Lakes 

5th night – Frankton (Queenstown) – public car park

Queenstown

6th night – Arrowtown

what to see in the south island new zealand Top – Left to Right: Lake Tekapo; Church of the Good Shepherd | Bottom – Left to Right: Albatross Colony; Tunnel Beach

things to see in new zealand Left to Right: Moeraki Boulders; Glenorchy

Queenstown

  • Glenorchy

7th night – Arrowtown

Lake Wanaka

  • Puzzle World
  • Lake Wanaka
  • Lake Hawea
  • Lake Paringa (Through Mt Aspiring National Park)

8th night – Lake Paringa – Paid car park

Fox Glacier 

  • Fox River
  • Gillespies Beach

9th night – Gillespies Beach (Fox Glacier)

Fox Glacier

On route to Hokitika

  • Hokitika Town

10th night – Hokitika – public car park

Greymouth (Heavy rain through the whole day so we stayed in MacDonald’s, for free Wi-Fi and editing pictures & videos)

11th night – Greymouth Car Park

Punakaiki

  • Pancake Rocks & Blowholes

On route to Nelson

  • Lake Rotoiti – Jetty

12th night – Alpine Hostel, St Arnauld

our itinerary road trip in new zealand Top – Left to Right: Lake Wanaka; Mt Aspiring National Park | Bottom – Left to Right: Fox Glacier; Pancake Rocks

Day 13

Thorpe

13th Night – We spent the night on a Yurt 

Thorpe

Abel Tasman National Park

14th Night – We spent the night on a Yurt

Picton

15th night – Alexander Holiday Park

South Island Road Trip Recommendations:

The best suggestion I could give to a fellow traveller is to have their own transportation. Like us, we wanted flexibility, so going at our own pace was the best decision. For the solo traveler, hitchhiking in New Zealand is very popular, we actually offered countless car rides. Oh and of course, make sure you have a camera and spare batteries to capture those unforgettable moments, because everywhere is “postcard perfect”.
Once we left, we understood why New Zealand is on many people’s bucket list and as much as you plan, one trip will never be enough!

Road Trip Recommendations:

  • Get a Free NZ Map at the airport – The best one is YHA Hostel Guide (Google Maps will not always work due to bad reception)
  • When planning your itinerary DO add a few extra hours per day for: Lunch/Dinner, stretching your legs, pictures/videos, looking for free car parks/accommodation
  • Try not to drive more than 6 -7 hours per day. It’s not worth it.
  • There are two long drives:
    – Te Anau to Milford Sound – up to 2 hours one way
    – Wanaka to Fox Glacier/ Franz Josef – up to 4.5 hours.
    (Add some extra time, there are some beautiful spots on route. Make sure you fill up the tank before both trips).
  • Bring insect repellent, at dusk sand flies are unbearable.
  • Buy a USB car adapter so you can charge two devices at the same time.
  • Stock up with bin bags. You will not find a bin that easily in some parts of the country side.
  • We booked all our accommodation through Airbnb (use our code and get $25/£30 discount on your booking). It was the best way to get some beautiful houses, like the Yurt we stayed in Thorpe (picture below), meet the locals and enjoy the relaxed pace of life. If you are looking for accommodation in New Zealand, join Airbnb.

our yurt room in the south island new zealand

How much does a Road Trip in the South Island Cost?

Below is a breakdown of our costs:

Christchurch 1 night – NZ$57
Queenstown 2 nights – NZ$170
St Arnauld 1 night – NZ$69
Thorpe 2 nights – NZ$110
Camping Sites 9 nights – NZ$200

Total Cost for 15 nights: NZ$606/USD$440/GBP£335
Per night:
NZ$40/USD$30/GBP£22

Total Cost for 15 days: NZ$430/USD$315/GBP£240
Per Day: NZ$28/USD$21/GBP£16
Queenstown Skyline – NZ$64/USD$46/GBP£35
Heli Hike – NZD$798/USD$580/GBP£445
Sea Kayaking – Cost: NZ$150/USD$108/GBP£83

Total Cost: NZ$1,012/USD$734/GBP£563

Car Hire (Car + full cover zero excess) – NZ$675/USD$490/GBP£375
Petrol – NZ$370/USD$265/GBP£200
Ferry from Picton to Wellington – NZ$138/USD$100/GBP£75

Total Cost for 15 days: NZ$1,183/USD$855/GBP£650

Total

The total for 15 days in the South Island was NZ$3,231/USD$2,344/GBP£1,788
Per day: NZ$215/USD$156/GBP£119 – For two people

New Zealand is an expensive country, and there is nothing we could do about it.
We slept inside the car for 9 nights in car parks to save money but gave in a few times for a bed, the car hire was the cheapest we could find, and petrol is just ridiculously expensive, We only chose 3 activities and all our food ( apart from the Fergburger in Queenstown and a meal at the hostel in St Arnauld) was from the supermarkets.
So looking at it, we did pretty well! We just can’t see where we could have saved more money. Ok, the Heli Hike! But that was something that we really wanted to do.

Overall we are very happy with the outcome, and hopefully it will give people an idea of how much money they will need to travel the South Island.

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What do you think about our itinerary? And the budget?

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Thank-You for Readingfiji islands travel blog

We are Thomas and Telma – the writers, photographers, videographers and founders of Blank Canvas Voyage.

Let us inspire you to explore the world through the sharing of our experiences, stories, videos and useful tips. Click here to know more about our journey.