THE BRUSSELS CITY GUIDE - TWENTY THINGS TO DO (AND PLACES TO EAT) IN BRUSEELS

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So much to share from my time in Belgium. This was different than a lot of my trips but that was exactly what made it perfect. I am usually on the go and trying to fit multiple trips into one. My time in Brussels was very different, it was slow paced; I slept in and I did not get to do all the things. One thing did not change though - my eating. I still ate my weight in food. Between the waffles; fries and the local dishes - I feel like I gained 10 pounds over the weekend.

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If you are thinking about Belgium - waste no time; finalize your plans; book your trip and get ready for an incredible time. I stayed in the Rogier area at the Hotel Le Plaza Brussels. Rogier is not quite city center but it is close enough. It is a short ten minute walk to city center and less than a ten minute walk to the Brussels nord train station. Rogier train station is a short walk from the hotel and access to city center means access to all the food and shopping options your heart desires. If you are headed this way, here are a few things I recommend for your itinerary.

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Visit Grand Place. The facade of the buildings that make up the grand place is my definition of architectural opulence. The grand place is a UNESCO world heritage site in the center of the city and known for its decorative facade. The square is surround by the guild house; Maison du roi and city hall. If you find yourself here on a saturday you will likely catch a wedding or two. The square is also lined with shops and restaurants and if you are interested - the Belgium museum of beer.

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Manneken Pis. The bronze sculpture of the urinating boy stands as a symbol of Belgium (and of the City’s defiance). is a must see. The statue is replicated all over the city. The main statue is a short walk from the grand place and one of the most visited spots in Brussels. These days you will find the statue clad in one of a reported miniature nine hundred suits.

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Statue of Everard ‘t Serclaes. The statue of the reclining man is just off the grand place and legend has it that rubbing the statue will bring you luck. If you believe in such; then by all mean go for it. If not, still stop by and read up on history of the statue and man depicted in the statue. Everard was lord of Kruikenburg who recovered the city from the Flemings.

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Visit Brussels Park. If you want a break from the city or a spot to picnic or work out. The Brussels park is ideal. It is the largest public park in Brussels in walking distance to the palace and mont des arts. There is a main pond and several monuments that add to the character of this park.

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The Royal Palace of Brussels. This is the administrative home of the king and queen of Belgium. It is only open to the public (for free) every day (except for Mondays) during the summer (end of July to early September). Unfortunately, I could not visit the interior; the exterior and gardens are accessible and very lovely.

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Shop at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. This is known as one of the oldest shopping arcades in the world. Apparently it is older than the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. The shopping arcade is lined with restaurants ; film theater. Some of Belgium best chocolatiers have shops here including Mary and Leonidas.

Eat Waffles. Belgian waffles are top notch - they are so good. If you google best waffles in Brussels - you will get a variety of options. I decided to treat myself to Maison Dandoy. Waffle and one topping of choice will set you back seven euros if you are dining in their tea room. Prepare to wait in line for fifteen to twenty-five minutes; but I thought it was worth it. I decided to go for the dine in option. I ordered the waffle with one topping of speculoos ice cream. If you have tried the famous Dutch Christmas cookie then you are in for treat. if you are in a treat yo self mode - then can I recommend the hot chocolate with whip cream as well.

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Eat Frites (Fries). Good lord, they make amazing fries in Belgium; the price for an order of fries and sauce range from 2.50 euro to 7 euros and worth the splurge. In my research Maison Antoine and Frit Flagey were highly recommended. The latter was out of my way and the former is closed on Sundays. Instead, I decided to try Fritland which is in the heart of city centre. This spot has been around for a few decades and their fries and sauce will set you back about 4.20 euro and they are the best fries I have ever eaten.

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Belgian Centre for Comic Strip Art. This was probably my favorite part of the trip (don’t judge). Did you know the Smurfs was created by the famous Belgian cartoonist - Peyo ? There was an exhibition of the Smurfs and great female comic artist on while I was visiting. I missed the Mangis exhibition by a day (insert: sad face). Ticket to the centre is 10 euro and I thought it was worth every penny.

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Visit Mini-Europe. The park is a reproduction of famous monuments from the European countries - from big ben to the Eiffel tower and everything in between. The monuments are reported to be at a scale of 1:25. The entry fee is 15 euro and I initially thought it was too steep but I really enjoyed my time there, It is not something I will do again (maybe when I have kids), but I am glad I stretched my budget to fit this one on the itinerary, The park is about a half hour from city centre. From Rogier train station, take the number six train all the way to Heysel train station; a short seven minute walk will get you to Mini-Europe and the Atomium.

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Check out the Atomium. Next to Mini-Europe is the Atomium. This is the last remaining structure from the 1958 world’s fair. The very unique structure is made up of nine atoms; five of which are open to the public and house restaurant with panoramic view; exhibition and a view deck with a telescope that gets you views of Antwerp and its port. It cost 12 euros to visit the interior.

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Explore Mont des arts. You could easier spend several hours here. It is about ten minutes from the palace or about fifteen minutes from the grand place. This hill of arts has got all the art your heart desires. The garden is a work of art in itself and the complex is home to the royal library; national archives; the mim (museum of musical instruments); Belvue museum and so much more. My time was spent in the garden taking a break from the trek around the city; there is a restaurant/bar at the top of the hill. Brussels centre train station is not far off. You can get trains to other parts of Belgium from there.

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Plan a day trip (or two). You know how much I love my day trips and Brussels is perfectly stationed for several day trips. Brugge is less than an hour and half away; Antwerp , Brugge and Ghent is about an hour from central station. You can also take a train to Amsterdam and other parts of Europe from central station.

Where to eat in Brussels. The food in Brussels is fantastic. For brunch, I recommend Peck 47 and Streetpecker. Lyly’s is an amazing fondue restaurant in the city center; Grimbergen cafe has a great menu mix - the steak and flemish beef stew were excellent.

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Drink Belgian Beer. Full disclaimer ! I am not a beer person and was very overwhelmed by all the options. The folks at La Belgique gourmande were incredible to this beer novice and after my twenty questions to the staff, I decided to try the Belirium red. It was really good. If you like beer, you should check out the beer museum located in the Grand place.

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THE PRAGUE CITY GUIDE - HOW TO SPEND AN UNFORGETTABLE WEEKEND IN THE CZECH CAPITAL

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I have heard so much about Prague . I could not imagine I will have a chance to visit or that it will be my first trip after moving to London. Prague was more than just a destination ; it was food for my soul. Part of the reason for moving to London was better work/life balance and the opportunity to travel more; but five months after moving here and I had not made one trip. Work was incredibly busy and very unpredictable those first few month; it was extremely tedious trying to fit in a trip. Thankfully Easter came early (literarily) - Easter was at the end of March and since Good Friday / Easter Monday are bank holidays (public holidays) in the UK - it seemed like the perfect time to take a trip. We caught an evening flight from London Heathrow and spent three unforgettable nights in the capital city of the Czech Republic. This was the first trip with my sister in and we had an excellent time in spite of being dead tired and sick.

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TIME OFF WORK. We planned this trip around a holiday weekend in the U.K (and most of Europe); so I did not have to take anytime off work. If you don’t have that option, you can still pull off a trip. Fly in Friday evening (like we did) after work and catch the first flight back on Monday morning. Prague is an hour ahead of the U.K and the flight time is just under two hours; if you are on the 7 a.m. flight out of Prague; that will get you back to the UK by 8 a.m.. That was what we did and we were home by 9:30 a.m. If I had to go to work; this itinerary will have worked as well.

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WHERE TO STAY. We stayed at Park Radisson hotel in Prague - we were not quite at city center but there was a train station right outside the hotel and we were in the heart of the city in three stops. That was very convenient for getting around. Given it was a holiday weekend, all the hotels were booked and staying away from the heart of the city was good for the wallet.

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GETTING AROUND. We did a mix of shared transports; trains and walking. The metro system in Prague is very reliable so we used that as our main mode of transportation. We relied on Uber for our transport to and from the airport and after our visit to the castle. It has started to rain as we left the castle and given we were both tired. The uber seemed like the best option. Old town is best explored on foot which is exactly what we did and I think we may have explored more on foot if we were not fighting a bug.

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WHERE TO EAT. We were pleasantly surprised by the food scene in Prague; every restaurant was incredible. On our last night in the city, we discovered this instagram account with loads of food recommendations in Prague. I have it saved for my next visit to Prague. When you go to Prague, order some bread and butter. I am not sure what they put in their bread dough but it is amazing and the butter is excellent. It was so good, we bought a few tubs on our way back to the UK. While we were in the city, we had amazing brunch at Eska and Cafe Savoy. I had the onion quiche at cafe savoy and it was really good. I highly recommend the rose hip cappuccino at Eska for coffee lovers. We also had some delicious desserts in Prague - if you only have time for one spot; I will recommend IF Cafe; they serve sandwiches and soups but it was their dessert that made us vow to return to Prague. Also their menu reminds me very much of the illustrations in the great British bakeoff. We had a traditional Czech meal at Next Door by Imperial - I could not think of a better meal to round out our time in Prague. We also dined at Gran Fierro - order the chicken wings and salted cucumber as starters (also the flan for dessert). It was delicious. Make sure to try Trdelink while in Prague. While we were informed this was not a tradition Czech dessert; it was incredibly delicious non the less. We purchased one from a vendor while visiting Prague castle (but you can find them in city center).

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WHAT TO SEE / DO. We were looking forward to seeing the Prague Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj) in the center of the city. Unfortunately , it was under renovations for most of the year and we could only catch a small glimpse of it. That was slightly disappointing but a reason to make a return visit to Prague. I always recommend a stroll around the city center because you discover things that are not found on any guide or travel blog. While we had our wander through the city center we stumbled on a weekend market where we purchase for sweet treats; we also stumbled on a beautiful church that was not on any of the guides we consulted. You never know what you stumble on when you set the map and itinerary aside. We visited the Colloredo-Mansfeldsky palace which is an old palace that is not featured in any guides but by sheer luck we found it and loved exploring it (it only cost 2 euros for entry); we trekked across the Charles Bridge into the old town on our way to Prague Castle. The view from the bridge should not be missed; it is beautiful. Take your time going through old town; there is a lot of see and architecture to admire. I recommend going through the Old town square. The clock is in the old town square and if you are visiting during the weekend, you might stumble on the market here. For some directions on locating the square, it is between the Charles bridge and the Wenceslas square. The Wenceslas square has shops and hotels and is hope to the St. Wenceslas statue and the National museum which is worth visiting. After a long trek (mostly up hill) we arrived at Prague castle and St Vitus cathedral. I recommend planning a few hours here to fully explore the castle and cathedral and the garden around the Castle. Prague is home to one of the largest John Lennon tributes; spare some time to visit the Lennon wall - we did not make it to the tribute wall but recommended it to friends who recently visited - they were very pleased. The Clementium is another stop I recommend; it is home to the mirror chapel and baroque library. The dancing house designed by Franck Gehry is a must see in Prague; if you have time; there is a restaurants on the top floor which offers great views of the city. The area around the river is also worth exploring as it gives another view of the city. After breakfast at Cafe Savoy; we stopped by the IF Cafe location by the river for dessert and walked along the river post dessert to get over the food coma. Outside the Quadric shopping centre, we found the Head of Fraz Kafka (aka Statue of Kafka). This is rotating/spinning outdoor statue of the Czech born literary great. It is a must see. There is so much more to see and do in the city and like I said nothing beats having a stroll around the neighborhoods; we discovered a lot of monuments and art that way.

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WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL EUROPE IN WINTER - THE PROS AND CONS

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Winter in Europe is different - in London it is cold and rainy and the sun goes down at 3 p.m. on certain days. If we have an off day when the wind decides to join the party. Ugh !

I have had the pleasure of traveling this continent in both winter and summer and while I will always been a sunshine no rain kind of girl; most of my travel across this continent has been in the Winter months and I will not have it any other way. There are a lot of advantages to choosing to travel this continent between mid-November and March. At the top of my list for why you should travel Europe in winter - the economics.

Flights and hotels are significantly cheaper in winter than in the summer. It is off peak season and due to less traffic, hotels are deeply discounted and already cheap flights are even cheaper. I have seen flights for as little as £9 on one of the low budget airlines.

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Less foot traffic. During the winter, there are usually less tourist; everyone is hibernating and staying indoors trying to stay warm. If you can brave the outdoors, you will rewarded with less crowds and shorter queues to get into tourist attractions. That said, certain attractions like the Eiffel tower or the London eye will likely have a queue year round. I was in Portugal in December and it was crowded. That might also be because Portugal is one of the warmer countries in the Continent this time of year.

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There is nothing like winter in Europe. While most of the continent is cold (and sometimes rainy); you do get rewarded with an excellent festive season. The continent transforms at Christmas - elaborate decorations; mulled wine and Christmas markets. If you have not experienced Christmas in Europe - it should be on your bucket list. I wrote a post about it - check it out here.

Access to locals. Due to less tourist, you are more likely to engage and interact with locals. I think that is a key to traveling - it not just about the sights but also trying to connect with the local. It makes travel a much richer experience.

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Winter Fashion. A little bit of vanity but winter fashion is very chic so pack your winter bests and come on down. While in Portugal, I saw several couples having a professional photoshoot done in chic winter attires as part of their holidays. I have to say I felt a twinge of jealousy at not having thought about doing that myself.

Certain cities are exceptional in winter. While we may fret about the freezing temperatures; there are certain parts of Europe that are worth visiting in winter. Just search for images of the Black forest in Germany in winter; Montreux and St Moritz in Switzerland; the region of South Tyrol in Italy or the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France. These are great in summer but their winter ambience is the best.

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There are actually Cities and Countries with mild-ish winter temperatures. While a lot of the continent is cold and certain parts are covered in snow; there are also several cities and countries that have milder temperatures if you are craving some sun and warmth on your winter excursion to Europe. We visited south of Spain in December and we had sunshine and warmth most of the time we were there. Portugal in December/January was quite warm - I could have gotten by with just a thick jumper and scarf; you can lay beach side in south of France in November. Gibraltar is also another warm destination.

While I believe the pros outweigh the cons, it is important to know the downside of traveling this continent in winter as well….

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Days are shorter. The sun does not rise till about 7:15 a.m. in London and there are days the sun goes down by 3:30 p.m. so you will have shorter days. My advice to make the most of day light is to start off your days early and wind down early (if you so choose).

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Weather is unpredictable. Even in the warmer parts of the continent; it does not hurt to pack some winter options including a rain coat or umbrella; gloves; hat; boot; scarfs and coat. The weather is unpredictable and you can have sunshine; rain and snow in the same day or week.

Winter closures. Certain hotels and restaurants shut down for the winter. I have had to rethink trips to Santorini and parts of Croatia due to several hotel closures. There are also tours that close down for the winter. Take that into account when planning your trip. If you are not sure, call or email the hotels to confirm they will be open during your visit.

Plan some bad weather days. While in Paris last November - it rained non stop for twenty-four hours. That was not part of the plan. Thankfully, I always plan a bad weather day itinerary to ensure I make the most of my time in any city. That may include treating yourself (shopping; spas) ; museum hopping; catch a movie; see a play.

A DAY AT THE BEACH IN LAGOS - LA CAMPAGNE TROPICANA BEACH RESORT // LAGOS, NIGERIA

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I thought it might be useful to share about our beach day in Lagos. As I said in my last post; spending a day at the beach is a must do if you are in Lagos. The beach at the La Campagne tropicana beach resort is one of the most popular beach destinations in Lagos. It is about an hour drive from the Island and probably two hours from the mainland; but well worth it if you need to get away from the hustle of the city. We only pspent a day here but there are options for overnight stays if you want to stay a bit longer.

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We arrived early afternoon ; I thought the check-in process was a bit tedious; but that probably has more to do with hunger pangs than anything else. We checked in and purchased coupons - while you can purchase food and pay for activities beach side - you need coupons to do that and it is easier to purchase at check-in. After the check in, we were directed to the waiting area for the shuttle to the beach. It is a trek from check in to the beach but not a terrible one; we did the trek at the end of our visit and I did not find it to be an issue. As we approached the beach, I could see the rows of palm trees and the ocean peaking from behind them.

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We found a spot to camp out under one of the umbrellas and proceeded to order meals and drinks. Mainly ordered the fresh coconut water; you can also bring a picnic with you. The party camped out beside us came prepared with an incredible spread of food and drinks. Next time, I am doing that. Besides the general seating area. There are also “SIMI” - essential luxurious queen bed sized cabanas that can be rented using coupons.

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I spent most of my day lounging beach side but for those restless ones who cannot be bothered to lounge beach side all day; they have got several activities including horseback riding ; jet skis and kayaking. The facility has also got spaces for sports play like beach soceer ; basketball court ; football field. For those of us with no inclination for physical activities, there is an area for board games as well. The facility seems very kid friendly; there were several groups with little ones and they seemed to be having a great time. Here are a few pictures from our beach day.

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2019 TRAVEL BUCKETLIST - TEN PLACES I AM DYING TO VISIT

As someone who enjoys traveling, one of the top three question I am asked is with regards to my bucket list; Usually starts with a question about where I have been and then a question about where I want to go. Before I get into my list, I have to say keep an open mind on destinations; take advantage of flight and travel deals and don’t limit yourself to a bucket list. Essentially, make a list but don’t be afraid to toss it out. 2018 was an incredible year of travel and ninety percent of the destinations were not on my bucket list. The opportunities presented themselves and I took advantage of it and had an incredible time. I have got 10 countries listed here - some I can knock off in a long weekend and others will require a bit more planning; time and money. If you have been to any of these places - I will love recommendations of what to do and where to eat.

[Disclaimer: None of the pictures in this post is mine, click on picture to visit the respective source]

1. South Korea - Looking forward to exploring the capital city of Seoul ; seaside city of Jeju. Visiting night markets and eating the local food. I have loved this Country for so long and I have been lucky to meet a few Koreans who have made me love the Country even more and the desire to visit has only grown. A few areas I am looking forward to visiting in the capital city - Apgujeong-dong aka the Rodeo drive of Seoul; Insa-dong for street food and teahouses; Sisa-Dong; Songhyeon-dong for its close proximity to Gyeongbokgung Palace walls with traditional hanok houses and Yeonnan-dong.

2. Morrocco - I have not heard or read one negative thing about this Country. I will love to visit Marrakech ; Essaouira and Casablanca. If I can squeeze Chefchaouen into the same trip; I will be over the moon. I am looking forward to visiting out souks and medina and lounging in Raids. Also the architecture - beautiful and tiled colorful goodness to feast my eyes on and capture through my lens and in my heart.

3. Iceland - I have always wanted to see the Northern lights and while there is no guarantee that I will see it; the potential is very exciting. I am also looking forward to visiting Reynisfjara for the black sand beaches ; the waterfalls at Skogafoss and the lagoons (blue lagoon and secret lagoon).

4. South Africa - I have done a piss poor job of exploring my continent and I will very much like that to change in 2019. I am hoping to visit South Africa as my first big trip of 2019. I will like to spend most of my time in Jo’burg and Cape town (maybe Durban as well). Looking forward to wine tasting; “hiking” to table mountain; Chapman’s peak; Simon’s town ; Robben Island; Cape of good hope; Bo-Kaap and Boulder beach. I will also like to go on Safari in Kruger National park.

5. Southern Italy - I have visited Italy a few times and it never disappoints. In all of my visits, I have not spent a lot of time in Southern part of the Country and I will very much like to do remedy that this year. Looking forward to visiting Cinque Terre and the towns of Amalfi cost. Have you seen pictures of the colorful homes stacked on a hill-side ? I will also love to visit Sicily and the Isle of Capri. Maybe I will just move to Italy (might be easier).

6. Costa Rica - Some dear friends honey mooned here several years ago and they loved it and have not stopped recommending it. While planning my Christmas trip this year - this was a very top option but Portugal won out. Costa Rica is often recommended as a great geo-tourism destination. Looking forward to wander through Las Baulas National Marine Park; explore Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manuel Antonio National Park.

7. Greece - Do I really need to justify this ? I definitely want to visit Athens for its historical and architectural significance and the islands of Mykonos and Santorini. However, the place I am most looking forward to visiting is Zakynthos - (Navagio and the shipwreck beach) because it is incredibly beautiful and it is one of the locations of one of my favorite shows of all time - Descendants of the Sun and I cannot wait to see it in person.

8. Maldives - Have you seen pictures of Maldives ? It sells itself - this nation in the Indian ocean is known for its beaches; lagoons and extensive reefs and I cannot wait to see all of it. Looking forward to the fish markets; Madjeedhee Magu and Hukuru Miskly in the capital city of Male.

9. Hong Kong and Macau - Yes ! I know these are not the same Country but the ferry ride from Hong Kong to Macau is only 55 mins so why not combine both, right ? Looking forward to exploring the Portuguese influences of Macau - from Ruinas de Sao Paulo ; Taipa village; Coloane; egg tarts from Lord stow’s; long wa tea house; and lou lim leoc. In Hong Kong, I cannot wait to see the views from Victoria hill; the Victoria harbour; markets at Mong Kok; climb the 260 steps to Tian Tan Buddha and Lantau Island.

10. Thailand - From Bangkok to Chiang Mai - I want to see and experience it all. This was another destination I considered for Christmas but could not free up my schedule to get the travel papers sorted. However, I did the research for this trip and I cannot wait to get there. Friends told me to avoid Phuket because of the crowds and go to Koh Phi Phi Island or Koh Lipe, instead. Stay at the Chai Lai Orchid elephant sanctuary and visit the white temple at Chiang Mia; floating market ; riding in tuk tuk and temple hop (Wat Arun ; Wat Pho ; Grand Palace) in Bangkok and lounging on the beach in Koh Phi Phi.

Any others I should consider ? What is on your travel bucket list ?