Paris is a city you can wander around for hours and hours, with a charming french cafe at every corner, the stunning, historic architecture and famous landmarks, you will not get bored. If you have a short, overnight layover in Paris you must go out and explore the city at night, it’s known as the ‘city of lights’ and for good reason. The best way to ease yourself into the city is to do a walking tour. Some companies offer night time walking tours, especially during the summer season. If you are like me and visiting during the winter period, Sandeman Tours have a couple of free walking tours throughout the day and also run a “City of Lights Tour” throughout the week from 5pm to 7pm for around 16 euro per person. This tour will bring you to a lot of the main monuments and landmarks including, Place Du Concord, Champs Elysees, Pont Alexandre III, Petit Palais and up to Trocadero Gardens for a fantastic view of the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel tower sparkles for about 5 minutes every hour so make sure you wait up there for this – also known as the ‘light show’, it’s magical! I highly recommend the tour as it is a great way to see a lot in a short space of time as well as learn a lot about the history of the city from a local guide. You can book the ‘City of Lights’ tour on the Sandeman’s website here.
My one complaint about my trip to Paris was that I had less than 24 hours there, which is definitely not enough time to see everything this city has to offer!
If you are heading to South East Asia, the temples of Siem Reap, Cambodia should be at the top of your go- see list. Siem Reap is known for it’s ancient temples and three of the most popular also known as the “big three” include Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple (the faces temple) and Ta Prohm temple (otherwise known as Cambodia’s Tomb Raider temple) which, if planned well can be visited all in one day.
How to purchase tickets
In order to enter the temples you must first purchase a ticket or Angkor pass, this can be done online or at their official ticket center which opens daily between 4:30 am and 5:30 pm located 4 km from Siem Reap town. In Cambodia, the US dollar is widely used along with their own currency called the Cambodian Riel. This can also be used to purchase your pass along with Thai Baht or euro. Cambodians do not need to purchase a pass.
You may choose between 3 different passes: (you may purchase passes with US dollars, euro, Thai Baht or Cambodian Riel).
A one day pass is $37 which allows you any of the temples within the Archeological park on the date of purchase.
A 3 day pass is $62 can be used within a 10 day period from the day of purchase.
A 7 day pass is $72 is valid for 1 month from issue date.
Dress code for visiting
As with all asian countries, visiting a temple in Cambodia means you must dress appropriately. Men and women must wear clothing that covers shoulders and women especially must wear attire that is below the knee. You will be denied access to many temples around Asia if you are not wearing the correct clothing, the dress code is taken very seriously.
What to bring
Make sure you bring water, sun cream as you will out walking in the sun for most of the day, ensure you have a valid pass to the temples, a camera for all the photo opportunities, trust me there are many!
The Angkor Wat Temple is the most famous and popular of all temples within the area and may well be the number one reason for many travelers to visit Cambodia. It is seeped with Khmer history, along with being the largest religious monument in the world, it has also become a Unesco World Heritage site. You could walk for hours and hours and still not really hit the surface of this stunning site so do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to get around.
There is an area in front of the main temple within Angkor Wat where people gather to watch the sun rise behind the stunning architecture. You should arrive around 5 am when the complex opens in order to get a good place to watch the sun rise as it can get extremely busy.
Opening Hours: 5 am – 5:30 pm
Time to arrive: Before sun rise
Time to explore: approximately 4 hours
Located at the very centre of the Archeological park, the Bayon temple, otherwise known as the “faces” temple is a favourite amongst many and included in the “big three” along with Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom. It is renowned for the faces carved into stone offering photo opportunities at every corner, one of the most intriguing being the ‘touching noses’ of two faces.
Opening Hours: 7:30 am – 5:30 pm
Time to visit: Quietest in the afternoon
Time to explore: approximately 2 hours
Located a few minutes tuk tuk drive from Angkor Wat temple, Ta Phrom (also known as the tree temple) is the third and finally temple of the ‘big three’, it has gained popularity due to the 2001 filming of Tomb Raider featuring Angelina Jolie on the site. It is an unusual temple as many trees have grown through the stone work making it one of the most photographed sites.
Lisbon is most certainly a foodie city, it is awash with great food spots which makes it surprising that Portuguese cuisine isn’t more talked about. Below are some of our finds on our weekend there in October.
Santo Antonio pastry shop
R. Milagre de Santo António, N.10, 1100-351, Lisboa, Portugal
The most popular sweet treat and delicacy in Lisbon is most definitely their Portuguese tarts known as pastel del nata. You’ll see custard filled pastry tarts can be found all over the city in most cafes and pastry shops and they are a must try while visiting. A local guide recommended Santo António pastry shop for some of the best tasting pastel del nata. Of course, due to its great reputation it was packed out the door with queues of tourists, like ourselves waiting to order. These tarts are so in demand they bake batches upon batches, which means they are hot out of the oven and melt in mouth once you get your hands on them. They were so delicious that no other tart we had elsewhere even competed!
R. Does Remédios 98, 1100-345 Lisboa, Portugal.
Come here if you want to properly experience Portuguese cuisine. This restaurant located in the oldest neighbourhood of Alfama specialises in tapas style dishes with meat, fish and vegetarian options. The menu changes on a daily basis with some quirky offerings such as octopus rice, blood stew rabbit, wild boar and chicken gizzards, i guarantee there will be something on the menu you have never tried before. Due to its popularity I recommend booking your table in advance, you can do so through Facebook messenger. Click here for their Facebook page.
Time Out Market Lisbon
Time Out Market is Lisbon’s largest food hall where an impressive amount of local restaurants, bakeries and other food businesses have congregated to showcase their offerings in one place. There is so much choice here it’s hard to decide! You can choose from more casual take away offerings or sit down restaurants options. See here for full list of options.
O Surf n’ Turf
This restaurant is a sit down restaurant located in the Timeout Market. It specialises in meat and fish dishes, what makes this restaurant so great is that the seated bar surrounds the kitchen so you can watch the chefs prepare your food, which was delicious and full of flavour.
If you are looking for a decent brunch spot in an Instagram worthy setting, Basilico is your place. We came across this place accidentally while wandering around and it looked too inviting to not sit down. The menu has a great selection of fruit smoothies, acai bowls, pancakes, fruit bowls as well as eggs Benny options.
Boqueira Savor a Brasil – LX Factory
Located in the LX factory which can be best described as the Camden market of Lisbon. Boqueira is a Mexican BBQ restaurant with BBQ kebab options and also had a live reggae band playing while we were there.
Budapest is a city break that you need to take. We managed to visit for a long weekend in the first week of September while the weather was still pretty decent. This city is full of youthful vibes, alternative nightlife, vibrant street art, delicious food and so much more, making it a great pick for a city break. The city is divided by the Danube river into two cities, Buda and Pest with beautiful architecture and vistas all around, it is easy to see why it’s nicknamed the ‘pearl of the Danube’. In this weekend travel guide, I will try to highlight just that along with the main attractions. So let’s dive right in and show you what you can do to make the most of your visit to the city.
Where to eat?
Budapest is jammed full of Mediterranean and Israeli style restaurants as well as its traditional Hungarian cuisine, if you’re up for trying something more local. Here are some of my recommendations for dining around the city:
Fekete Cafe, Budapest, Múzeum krt. 5, 1053 Hungary Fekete is a great spot for breakfast or brunch with a pretty, open courtyard area.
A beautiful, instagram worthy venue with a open courtyard with a juice bar situated in the centre. The menu focuses on Israeli style brunch options.
Lunch & Dinner
Dobrumba, Budapest, Dob u. 5, 1074 Hungary A Mediterranean style restaurant with a wide selection of delicious hummus plates and tahini dishes. The food was so good and reasonably priced here, it was definitely my favourite place to eat in Budapest. It is worth noting as it is so popular, you will likely have to reserve a table in advance, we found out this when we were turned away the first night we tried to eat there. The only way we were able to book was through Facebook messenger, alternatively you may get lucky and walk in and get a table at an off peak hour.
Szimpla Zert is considered the ‘mecca’ of ruin bars in the city, with funky decor and artsy graffitied walls. These bars offer something truly unique to the city, situated in ran down, old buildings, it was the first ruin bar to open and definitely one of the coolest in Budapest.
Wander around the Great Market Hall
Check out what the locals have on offer at the great market hall, from traditional food to souvenirs.
Try some Hungarian food
While definitely not my first choice of food, it would be a shame not to try some local Hungarian cuisine on your visit. There are many Hungarian restaurants dotted around the city, unfortunately I cannot make a recommendation as we did not get lucky with our restaurant choice, so my top tip would be to check the reviews before you sit down. Typical dishes include Hungarian sausage and local goulash.
Book into one of the city tours
A fun way to see the city is to book into a tour, there are many to choose from, from free walking tours, to Segway and electric bike tours. We opted for the castle district electric bike tour which brought us up around Fisherman’s Bastion and the surrounding area. This district is particularly hilly so being on the bike was far easier than having to climb all those hills.
Check out the views from Fisherman’s Bastion
Once you are in the castle district, you can look out from fisherman’s bastion onto the Danube river which provides stunning views in all directions.
Shop in the trendy thrift stores
If you are up for some shopping, the city is full of second hand clothing and thrift stores which are worth a visit. You are likely to find some vintage gems at great prices!
Stroll across the chain bridge at night
Walking across the Danube river via the chain bridge is something that is particularly special at night with views of the Basilica and parliament building lit up.
Relax at the Gellert Baths
Budapest is known for its array of ancient bath houses, a perfect place to relax after a ton of walking and exploring around the city. There are a couple of baths to choose from in the city including the Szechenyi baths often described as the time square of baths in Budapest, as it is generally overcrowded so we opted for the quieter option – the Gellert baths. The Gellert baths has various indoor and outdoor baths of varying temperatures from freezing cold to around 40 degrees, there is a sauna and steam room area to relax in. It was around 12 euro to enter for the day including use of a locker. Just be sure to bring your own towel and swimwear and if you want to use the main swimming pool, you will need a swimming cap.
Hike up to the top of the Citadel
Opposite the Gellert Baths, you will be able to hike to the top of the citadel. It will take you approximately 20 minutes to hike to the top but the panoramic views are worth it.
Take an evening stroll around Margaret Island.
Margaret Island is accessible from the mainland of Budapest and a nice option for an evening stroll. There are also bike and golf buggy rental kiosks if you’re feeling more adventurous.
Where to stay?
We booked into an Airbnb for our stay in Budapest, there are many to choose from in the city at an affordable cost per night. Here is a link to the studio we booked, it is in a great location close to the ruin bars, restaurants and main nightlife area, we didn’t use much public transport as we found each attraction relatively walkable from our accommodation. I really cannot fault this apartment at all, it’s beautifully decorated and quiet as it’s facing a courtyard, perfect for couples or two to three people sharing.
How to get around?
While the city is relatively walkable, here are some transport options to get around:
Bolt.Download the Bolt app, it is the equivalent of Uber in Budapest and it is a pretty cheap and easy way to get around. You pay through the app via credit so no messing around with cash plus you find out the rate before getting in so you can avoid the hiked up prices cab drivers often set for tourists. You can also get bolt to and from the airport in Budapest.
Lime.Download the Lime app to avail of electric scooters scattered around the streets. Although a little pricey, this is a quick and fun way to travel from place to place around the city, plus you can avoid the traffic by zipping down the footpath. You simply top up your account via the app using your credit card, then use the app to activate the scooter.
Tram. The tram operates throughout the city, simply buy a ticket from a local newsagent and hop on.
Currency. Hungary does not use the euro, it still has its own currency called Hungarian Forints. Avoid changing currency at the airport and get money from an ATM once in the city.
Budget. Budapest is relatively cheaper than Ireland. On our 4 day visit we spent around 50 euro per day including food, drinks and sightseeing (excluding accommodation).
So you are trying to plan your trip to Morocco but have no idea where to start or what to include in your itinerary? This is the post for you! Morocco is a country that definitely needs a little bit of forward planning and research on where to visit, what to see, what to wear and what to avoid. Stepping into Morocco you will be immersed in the cultural ways, get lost a couple times within the medinas and experience all it has to offer from the bustling souks of Marrakech to the winding dunes of the Sahara Desert. Morocco is a large country so it is ambitious to say you will see it all in the space of one week but here is an itinerary to cover the highlights in 7 days.
Marrakech (2 days)
Sahara Desert (Merzouga) (3 days)
Ait Ben Haddou
Gorge De Dades
Chefchaouen (2 days)
Time to spend here: 1 to 2 days
Marrakech is one of the major cities in Morocco and with relatively cheap flights from Ireland thanks to Ryanair it has become the starting point for many tourists travelling through Morocco. From the bustling street markets of Marrakech to the snake charmers on Jema El Fnaa square, it is sure to awaken all of your senses.
What to do and see:
Explore the gardens.
There are a couple of beautiful gardens to explore in Marrakech:
More information can be found on the website here.
Shop around the souks of the medina.
Most of the souks (Moroccan market stalls) are located in and around the medina of Marrakech. Here you can purchase anything from Moroccan Spices, glassware, jewellery and nick nacks. Haggling is the name of the game when shopping at the souks, and it is not unusual for souk owners to follow you down the street shouting discounts at you if you don’t agree to their asking price and walk away.
Visit the Quzoud waterfall.
This can be done as a full day trip from Marrakech. It will take a 2 and half hour drive to reach the waterfall.
Where to eat:
Marrakech offers a wide range of restaurants from traditional Moroccan to American and more westernised restaurants. The medina in Marrakech is a good place to start when looking for a nice bite to eat. Here are my restaurant recommendations which are all located within the medina;
If you are a fan of some rooftop views during breakfast this little cafe which is located in the heart of the medina (old city) is the place for you. While there isn’t a huge selection on the menu, it is decently priced and a perfectly morning location to soak up the moroccan sunshine while taking in the views of Marrakech. See their facebook page here.
If you are looking for some Moroccan cuisine once you land into Marrakech, this restaurant will provide just this. Choose from a range of tagines to cous cous for the equivalent of around 16 euro and enjoy the views from the rooftop. See website here for full menu.
Le Jardin, 32 Souk Jeld Sidi Abdelaziz, Marrakesh 40000, Morocco.
Also located in the medina is Le Jardin, a cute outdoor courtyard restaurant. An Instagrammable location due to all of the green tiles. See their instagram page here for inspiration.
High up on my list is SOUL food restaurant which we discovered on our last night in Marrakech and I must say was some of the best tasting food we had in all of our trip around Morocco. A rooftop location complete with misting sprinklers over your table to keep you cool through the often outrageous heat in the city. Soul Food Restaurant is part of clothing brand, Max & Jan store which offers Morocco inspired fashion. Find out more about their menu here.
Sahara Desert (Merzouga)
Time to spend here: 3 days.
If time allows, an absolute must on your Morocco itinerary is a trip into the Sahara Desert. Camel ride through the dunes to the middle of the Sahara desert, then watch the sunset and views followed by star gazing at your campsite. The journey from Marrakech to the desert is a long bus journey so I recommend to allocate about 3 days out of your trip to reaching and experiencing the desert. It is approximately a 12 hour bus journey from Marrakech to the desert.
The best way to get to and from the desert is to book a tour that will include your transport and accommodation and a few stops along the way.
Tourradar.com offers a range of tours from Marrakech and some include either a return journey back to Marrakech or an onward journey to Fez. Prices vary depending on the tour type, you can choose from more basic camping tours to more luxury tents or hotels. See full list of Sahara and Morocco tour options on Tour Radar here.
Ait Ben Haddou
Time to spend here: 1 to 2 hours.
Included in many of the tour options to the desert is a stop off at the ancient pre Saharan village and Unesco World Heritage site, Ait Ben Haddou, located in Ouarzazate it is the filming location of many well known films and TV shows from the Gladiators to Game of Thrones and it is still occupied by four local families.
Gorge De Dades
On your journey to the desert, you can stop off at the Gorge De Dades. Here on the edge of the sahara region, you will find a series of wadi gorges carved out by the Dades river in Morocco.
Time to spend here: 2 to 3 days
Chefchaouen was one of my favourite stops on our trip through Morocco. Read more about what to do and see in this beautiful, blue washed town in my blog post, ‘Chefchaouen, Morocco guide’.
(A Homestay is an opportunity for local people to share their culture and way of life with you by offering you bed and board in their own home and you’ll find them all over South East Asia.)
Experiencing a traditional homestay in Cambodia was most one of the most memorable moments from my trip to South East Asia – being entirely pulled out of my comfort zone by staying under a local families roof for a night! While a lot of places within Thailand and Vietnam seem to be designed for tourists, Cambodia stands out as one of the least adapted countries in South East Asia for tourism so I recommend anyone who is really interested in understanding the culture and how people live in this country to participate in an overnight homestay. Not only will you get to know the locals and how simply these people live their daily lives but the money you give to the families for staying with them goes straight towards helping them make a living and to the local community who are so appreciative of tourists visiting.
Chambok Homestay, Cambodia
The stilted house we stayed in overnight.
We did one overnight stay at local Cambodian family Homestay in Chambok. There are around 37 Chambok homestays in the area and they form a big part of the the Chambok ecotourism project which has helped to support the local community. Chambok is a rural countryside area in Southwest Cambodia not far from Kampong Cham where cows roam freely along the orange dusty dirt tracks and the cutest Cambodian children playing on the road greet you with some of the warmest smiles and ‘hellos’. What struck me was how simply this Cambodian family live yet seem so content. The facilities in their home were extremely basic and a far cry from the materialistic, western world which was an adjustment for many of us. We stayed in their wooden stilted house which comprised of a single room with 3 thin mattresses lining the floor with mosquito nets overhead and just a single outlet allowing us to charge our phones. As our host family spoke absolutely no english, our guide did the translating and informed us that they did not have electricity available to them up until about 5 years ago and the family would rely on a car battery to provide power for just one hour every evening. We were shown the outhouse bathroom which we were invited to use located away from the house close to where the family cows were tied up for the night. Inside lay a hole in the ground as a toilet (bring personal toilet paper with you everywhere you go in Cambodia, it’s not always readily available) and a very basic bucket of water as the shower which, despite the heat outside, none of us braved. As I hope you can grasp from my descriptions, one gains a new appreciation for the western toilet while traveling Asia!
As an evening activity we were invited to the local community center, for a Cambodian meal for dinner cooked by a local volunteer followed by a traditional dance performed by the local children of Chambok village. Once back at the Homestay, it was a restless night from the majority of the group, with the first Cockerel sounding it’s alarm at 3:08 am, and continuing throughout the morning, until the sun had fully risen and the noises of all sorts of wildlife were now in full swing before we had even lifted our heads – something that needs to be embraced after spending the night in the Cambodian jungle.
How to book the Chambok Homestay
You can book the Chambok homestay for as little as $3 per night here. More information on the Chambok Ecotourism Project can be found here.
Morocco uses the Moroccan Dirham as its national currency. 1 US $ converts to 10 Dirhams. Euro is also accepted as a form of payment by much of the souk owners at the markets and accommodation such as Moroccan Riads and Dars.
Excluding accommodation, daily budget comes in at around the US $30-50 per day or 300 to 500 dirhams for the average backpacker. Prices were comparable to the Western world particularly in the larger cities of Marrakech and Fez and definitely more expensive overall than traveling in South East Asian countries.
Moroccan restaurants and cuisine are easy to find. Traditional dishes include Moroccan soups, Tajine or Tagine (a stew containing meat and veg) and couscous with vegetables or meat. You will get a bowl of bread with every meal that you order and fresh fruit such as watermelon is popular after meals. Alternatively, if Moroccan cuisine is not your thing, many restaurants will offer western dishes such as burgers, spaghetti bolognese, and pizza.
Note: please consult a doctor about your own needs for travel vaccinations for Morocco.
It is recommended that you get the standard vaccines such as Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Typhoid before traveling to Morocco. You can find more information on the necessary vaccinations per destination on the Tropical Medical Bureau website here.
As a tourist, you do not require to apply for a visa in advance of entering Morocco nor are you required to pay a fee upon entering for a stay of up to 90 days. You may enter Morocco for a stay of 90 days visa free on a valid passport with at least one blank page. Please consult the embassy website on Morocco visa requirements for more up to date details.
Many people may not think about their clothing options while planning a trip to Morocco however, it is important to remember that Morocco is a conservative country and your usual summer wear of shorts, skirts and string tops may not be the most acceptable in many areas of Morocco, no matter how hot it may be outside. It will be necessary to respect their culture by covering up. Most locals and women especially wear clothing which is high around the chest, covering the shoulders and below the knee. For your own safety and to not draw attention to yourself, dress conservatively like the locals. Pack plenty of light cotton pants, long skirts, and sleeved tops. In more relaxed areas like Chefchaouen in the North, you may get away with your usual summer dress.
Traveling by bus is one of the most inexpensive ways to travel through Morocco. The CTM bus service provides a large number of routes to and from many cities with reasonably priced fares and air conditioning. For example, a single ticket from Fez to Chefchaouen is $7.50 or 750 dirhams. It is possible to book tickets online for CTM services on the CTM website here or directly from the CTM bus station in each city. Often your hostel can help you book tickets also.
Public City bus:
There are also public city buses that operate around the cities. For example, Bus #19 runs from right outside Marrakech airport into the city centre for 30 Dirhams.
There are many taxis/cabs available around the cities. Generally, drivers will try to charge you a sky-high price as a tourist, so it is important to negotiate the price of your journey before hipping in. With a little haggling, you will be able to get them down to a more reasonable price. For example, a 15 to 20-minute journey should cost no more than 50 Dirham or $5.
Note: there is a taxi law across Morocco that only allows 3 passengers per journey.
The weather varies per region across the year in Morocco. The more coastal towns are milder while cities like Marrakech and Fez experience the most humidity and higher temperatures.
Hot Season: From early June to late August, temperatures soar and reach around 40 degrees Celsius. It can become unbearably hot and humid in the cities and the desert during this period, so please be aware before traveling. Despite the heat during the day, temperatures tend to plummet in the evening so it is necessary to pack a jacket.
Winter season: The winter months are from November to February, where temperatures are coldest and the Atlas Mountains experience snowfall.
Best time to visit: March to May are the spring months in Morocco when the weather is more pleasant and bearable and temperatures are in the 20s. The Autumn season of September to October is also a great time to visit.
This is an annual Muslim holiday that takes place in Morocco for the entire month of May. The opening hours of shops, restaurants, and cafes may vary during this period as locals must fast from sunrise to sunset, however, the access to food is still widely available for non-muslims. As Muslims are not permitted to drink during this period, the availability of alcohol is limited. Many restaurants offer alcohol to non-muslims but they must show their passport as proof before being served. Despite this holiday, it is still a peak season for tourists to visit so do not let this put you off visiting Morocco during this period as it will be a culturally enriching experience.
Please click here to read my post about safety advice for Morocco where I go into a lot of detail about do’s and don’t’s for traveling through the country.
If you get a chance to visit Fez, Morocco you will no doubt experience the utter chaos of walking through the Medina, the largest in the world which has over 9,500 sprawling streets and alleyways. So when people talk about getting lost while traveling, this medina will have you in a disorientated mess in seconds. The Fez medina is best described as a cross between a giant market and a maze where the souks or shops offer herbs, spices to carpets, rugs, anything. The city is dripping in culture, from the infamous tanneries to men transporting goods on donkeys backs to open funeral processions through the crowded medina. It will no doubt be an intense overload of the senses and you need to have your wits about you especially as a woman in this city. Here are a few nuggets of advice for traveling through the city of Fez:
Research the location before booking your accommodation.
This is hugely important for any city you travel to. I would strongly recommend to either find accommodation on the edge of the Fez medina or just outside the medina walls. For safety, I would also recommend staying in a busy part of the city. There is no comfort in staying down a dark quiet area where you do not know what may be lurking behind each corner. By doing this it will limit your chances of getting entirely lost deeper inside the medina or booking into accommodation located in a dodgy area.
Brace yourself for locals trying to hassle you.
Traveling throughout Morocco you will soon become very accustomed to locals trying to hassle you on the streets, everything from trying to lure you into their restaurant, to buying tickets for a day trip to buying souvenirs from a souk. It will run you down, draining the life out of you at points and you will have to develop a thick skin to bluntly say no and turn them in the other direction.
Beware of fake tour guides.
You will no doubt come across locals who seem oh so willing to offer you help with directions. Beware of people on the streets that seem eager to walk with you to show you the way, it is likely that they will try to lead you in circles then demand money once you say you are fine to find the way on your own. This is a well-known tourist scam happening all over Morocco. If you do come across a local who acts in this way, I would advise you to sternly tell them you do not need their help so you do not run into hassle later. These ‘tour guides’ tend to lead you towards their friend’s souks and businesses to encourage to you buy from them. This is something you need to be aware of also.
Do not venture too far into the medina at night.
This is my number one safety tip for Morocco in general as it gets very sketchy. I would not recommend wandering around the medina at night especially as a woman. It is not safe and you will get hassled by local men trying to show you the way and there will not a local woman in sight.
Keep your belongings close.
This is good advice for any city, but particularly in Fez where pickpocketing and thefts are fierce. Always carry your bag on your front and in your view so nobody can try to steal from you. If you have access to a security box at your accommodation, I would keep all of your valuables locked away there instead of walking around with them on you.
Do not rely on Google Maps or your phone’s GPS.
We found out the hard way when we got entirely lost that the GPS is not 100% reliable in the city of Fez, especially the further you wander into the medina. While it will appear to work in some parts of the city, venturing just a 5-minute walk in one direction the GPS might black out.
Beware of the carpet scam.
The story is told the same across the internet that carpet shop owners will invite you in, nice as pie, offer you all some mint tea as a hospitality gesture and before you know it you are in the middle of a sales pitch on ten different types of carpet. What we experienced is that while you are innocently drinking your mint tea they will ask everyone their nationality to pick out who is most likely to spend big money on a carpet, then whisk you away into a room on your own before you can ask for a second opinion and the haggling begins. The more interest you show the more outrageous the initial asking price will be. Do not feel pressured into anything and if you feel uncomfortable, its time to get out of the situation.
Negotiate the price of the taxi before hopping in.
This is a rule of thumb everywhere you travel and Morocco is no exception. Taxi drivers will try to take full advantage of the fact you are a tourist and try to charge you an over the top price for a 10-minute journey in the hopes that you will know no better. Always haggle down their initial asking price, if you are persistent you should be able to get it for at least a third of what they initially asked for.
Note: There is a weird taxi rule around Morocco that a standard taxi with four seats available can only transport three people at a time so bear this in mind when choosing your mode of transport.
Do not be afraid to haggle… for everything.
Like taxi drivers, most shops and tour agencies will try to upcharge tourists. Their initial asking price may be as high as 7 times the amount that they are willing to sell an item for. Do not be afraid to haggle and be persistent, it is a very large part of their culture so do not be afraid that you might insult anyone. They are willing to try a rip off a tourist, you are entitled to try and get the best deal possible.
Morocco is a conservative country so you won’t get away with wearing your usual summer skirts and shorts without some stares. As a sign of respect for their culture and to avoid drawing attention to yourself on the street, it is recommended that you dress as the locals do, wear clothing that covers below the knee and your shoulders.
You will get lost.
This is inevitable in Morocco, especially in the larger cities. Fez, for me, is one of the most disorientating places I have ever visited. When you do get confused as to which way to go, do not ask people hanging around the streets as they will continue to hassle you even after you no longer need their help instead stop into the next riad or restaurant you come across and ask the staff how to get to where you are going. It is advisable to carry with you at all times the address of the place you are staying at. Often hotels and riads will hand you their business card on check in which has the location and address on the back.
Chefchaouen also named the Blue Pearl is a breath of fresh air and the perfect town to chill out in after experiencing the hectic cities of Marrakech and Fez. We had heard along the way that many people make the journey Chefchaouen as a day trip but it deserves more time than that on your Morocco itinerary. Just a 3-hour drive north of the city of Fez, this pretty little city is situated high up in the mountains and it is unique in that the entire town is painted in shades of blue (an Instagram lovers dream). It is popularly believed that the city is painted blue to keep mosquitoes away while others believe it was done so for spiritual reasons. While we had suffered through in 40 degrees late May heat in more southern cities, the weather in Chefchaouen was a decent 10 degrees cooler which we were pretty pleased with. There is also a noticeable difference in the daily cost of things including eating and drinking out from the North and South of Morocco. The pace of life is a lot less maniac, fewer local people were out to hassle and bother you and your chances of getting lost here are slimmer as the medina and town itself is smaller. Below is a suggested itinerary for exploring the town of Chefchaouen.
Hang out in the main square.
In the main square you will find an array of restaurants, souks, ice cream stops.
Choose to do your souvenir and gift shopping here.
Chefchaouen is far more laid back than other parts of Morocco. Here you won’t feel under pressure or pushed into purchasing anything and your shopping experience will be far more enjoyable. The town also has better quality shops than other places in Morocco so I definitely recommend picking up gifts or souvenirs when you pass through. The souks sell everything from leather bags, soaps, argan oils to Moroccan carpets and spices.
Hike to the Archour waterfall.
Hire a car or hop in a shared taxi to the area of Archour. We joined a couple of people we had met along the way to do the hike so a taxi between 7 of us cost around 5 dollars in total for an hour-long journey there and back to Chefchaouen. Remember to haggle and agree on the price before hopping in or the driver will likely try to charge you a lot when you get there. The hike is about 2 hours up to the waterfall and the views of the Moroccan countryside and mountains on your drive there are beautiful.
Hike to the mosque to watch the sunset.
Just a 10 minute walk up the mountain from the center of town to the local mosque, you will be able to look down on the city of Chefchaouen as the sun sets behind the mountains. The walk is short and not overly challenging, you’ll likely pass goats being herded from one direction to the other and the view at the top overlooking the blue city is pretty.
Where to stay
Located on the edge of the Medina and just a 5-minute walk from the main square, this guesthouse is perfectly located. A double room with private bathroom booked through booking.com cost around $30 per night.
Where to eat
A restaurant with locations also in Fez and Marrakech offers the usual Morrocan dishes as well as decent western plates such as burgers and fries for decent prices.
Located on the square, this little restaurant offers a great breakfast at a small price. Enjoy a great coffee, orange juice, and a Moroccan style crepe for just $2.50.
One of the best places we experienced for food was this little restaurant, Marisco’s. Located right on the square of the town. The menu is well priced, food tastes great and there’s a great view from the terrace.
Hang out at the cafe on the waterfall
Enroute to the mosque, you’ll find a little cafe located at the base of the waterfall. Tables and chairs are right on the water while you’ll find watermelons and oranges in the waterfall to keep them cool. It’s a little pricey in comparison to other places in the area, we paid around $2 for an orange juice but worthwhile for the experience of sitting in the waterfall.
How to get to Chefchaouen.
The CTM facilitates many bus routes from city to city across Morocco and it is considered the most reliable of all bus services and also provides air conditioning, which is a huge bonus during hotter months. We booked our CTM bus from Fez to Chefchaouen which cost only $7.50. Often times, your hostel will help you book a bus ticket in advance otherwise, you can purchase the CTM bus station.
Bangkok was my first stop on my solo backpacking adventure around South East Asia. I made it my starting point due to a cheap flight from Dublin and I would also be joining a group tour through Vietnam and Cambodia from the city. I decided to arrive a few days before to find my bearings and explore the city.
Having heard mixed reviews about Bangkok being a city that takes a while to warm to, I felt apprehensive yet excited on my way there, especially as it would be my first time stepping into this side of the world so I braced myself for a culture shock.
What to see and do around the city
The Grand Palace.
The palace is beautiful and a must on any Bangkok itinerary. It is pretty centrally located, about a 15-minute walk from the main backpacker street, Khaosan Road.
It opens daily from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. I recommend getting there early to beat the crowds and make sure you wear temple appropriate clothing. They are very strict about this as it is seen as a mark of respect, you will be denied entry to the majority of temples and pagodas in Asia without the proper attire.
The entrance fee to the grand palace is 500 baht (around 14 euro or 16 US dollars). You may hire a guide for extra or wander around by yourself. I spent about an hour and a half walking around the temples but you can spend as little or as long as you like!
This street is the world-renowned backpacker street, appropriately named given the amount of Westerners I passed by. A nightlife hub with bars lining the street along with street vendors selling all sorts from coconuts and noodles to scorpions and crickets if you are feeling more adventurous. There are also a decent number of hostels and hotels on this street. If you do choose to stay on this street remember it is noisy so try and request a room facing away from the street if possible.
Hop on Hop off Boat (Chao Phraya Tourist Boat)
This was one of the best ways to explore what Bangkok has to offer. It allowed me to see a lot of the sights without getting lost or having to fork out a lot of money on taxis trying to get around. I paid 300 baht for the ‘hop on hop off’ boat which allows unlimited stops in one day. The closest boat to Khaosan Road is less than 10 minutes walk away at the Phra Arthit stop. The boat runs down the Chao River and includes 10 stops, with an onboard tour guide who will tell you a little about each attraction and stop.
Some of my recommended stops include:
The admission fee to this temple is 100 Baht.
2. Pakklong Taladd (The Flower Market)
This stop was one of my favorites as it allows you to step out of the tourist area and experience how the locals make a living at the flower market. Streets bustling with locals pushing carts of produce; fruit and vegetables, flowers, straw bales.
Experience some of Bangkok’s most talked about markets in Chinatown. The minute you step off the boat, you will be hit with narrow streets lined with vendors and a sensory overload of new smells and crowds. There are two main markets in this area; Yaowarat (the main street) and Pahurat (Little India) where you will find some great Asian street food and stalls selling all sorts.
4. Icon Siam Shopping Mall
One thing Bangkok does well is it’s shopping malls. The Icon Siam is a shopping mall of dreams right on the river complete with gold gilded elephants inside the entrance, chandeliers made out of flowers, vendors slicing and preparing fruit on boats floating along indoor ponds. There are some great food stalls and restaurants here also which makes it a great stop for lunch. Check out the Icon Siam website here.
You won’t have to look far for a Thai massage, nail salon, and spa. At a fraction of the price back home, take full advantage. You can get a 60 minute full body massage for the equivalent of 3 euro or a foot massage for even less. Walking around Bangkok, people will stand outside their shop fronts offering you their best price for a massage.
Visa requirements for Thailand.
For Thailand, if you wish to stay less than 30 days you do not require a visa as an Irish citizen. Immigration officials may want to see the onward journey from Thailand within 30 days of arrival. Proof of this can be an international flight ticket or train ticket across a border. Fortunately, I wasn’t asked any questions by the officer at Bangkok airport however a few people I met were asked for evidence of leaving within the 30 days. If you plan to stay longer in Thailand, you will need to apply for a longer visa at the Thai embassy before you leave. You can re-enter Thailand after the 30 days by land (only twice in a calendar) which allows you an additional stay of 15 days or by plane for another 30 days.
Please consult the Thai Embassy website for more up to date details on visa requirements.
How to get from the airport to your accommodation.
There are many transport options from the airport to the city (about a 45-minute drive depending on traffic). I chose to pre-book an airport transfer for a piece of mind ($25) but you could get a far cheaper taxi if you are willing to haggle. Haggling is a huge part of the Asian culture so do not be afraid to do so. Rule of thumb: always negotiate the price before sitting into the taxi to avoid getting ripped off.
Transport around the city
Download the ‘Grab’ app
Like Uber, you can book cabs and order food through this app throughout Asia. You can order a car or motorbike and prices are usually better than a regular cab. I found during busy times however, it was near impossible to get a car via the app.
Brave the public bus for the equivalent of 10 cents for most routes around the city. Ask your accommodation for which bus to take to reach your destination!
You won’t have to look far to find a Tuk Tuk, they usually sit outside hotels and tourist hotspots waiting for confused and lost looking, tourists. Make sure to negotiate the price for taking you to your destination before you hop in – they have a tendency to hike up prices for tourists.
There is also a normal taxi service around the city. Make sure you also negotiate prices for these.