Tissamaharama (Tissa) and Yala National Park – Sri Lanka

Tissamaharama (Tissa)

Most people who visit Sri Lanka will visit Yala National Park, but not many will spend time in the nearby town of Tissamaharama (or Tissa for short), which is a shame because it's a really nice place to spend a night or two. So rather than rushing through and only seeing the bus station, why don't you spend a night or two to take in the sights and recover from that 4:30am Safari trip. 

The town itself is small, there aren't many places for dinner so we ate at the hotel, more on that below. There are however plenty of small bakery's along the Main Street, our favourite was Hambantota, we stocked up on Gull buns for our safari trip and then the 3 hour bus to Ella the next day. 

Tissa has its fair share of Buddhist temples just like any other town in Sri Lanka, the best one is Yatala Wehera, if you keep walking a few minutes along Tissamaharama road you will come to Galkanumandiya, I don't really know how to describe this place other than "ruins", it's absolutely incredible and kind of similar to Stonehenge in the UK. 

The countryside surrounding Tissa is mostly rice farms and wilderness. We were woken up on our second morning by approximately 30 monkeys crossing over our hotel roof, it was such good fun, the best type of wake up alarm ever. 

Yala National Park

Tissa is the perfect base for anybody visiting the Yala National Park, it's only a 30 minute drive (the closest town to Yala) and there are dozens of different tour companies based in Tissa. Your hotel will help you arrange your tour, we paid $44/pp for a 5 hour private tour, there is also the option to share your vehicle with another couple and the price drops to $31/pp. 

We were lucky enough to see a small family of elephants in the park, as well as lots and lots of other creatures, including crocodiles, wild pigs, buffalo etc. 

Where To Stay:

The Nature Resort was absolutely perfect, the rooms were clean and the hotel manager was very helpful. The food was fantastic but the restaurant is very small so you will need to place your order at least a few hours in advance to give the chef time to go and buy all the ingredients etc. The traditional Sri Lankan dinner was beautiful (and cheap). 

Getting There:

It's really easy to get there from  Matara by bus, there are frequent direct buses every day. If you have a driver, ask them to stop at the blow hole at Tangalle, it costs Rs250/pp to enter, and it's. it in a very nice area so a passing visit is more than enough.


Mirissa/Weligama – Sri Lanka 

I'm including Mirissa and Weligama in one post because they are within walking distance to one another. We stayed in the middle and spent 2 days in each town. 

Mirissa:

The beach here is a small crescent that is absolutely picture perfect, there's a small island on one end that you can walk to (you will get wet) which has a seat on the top, a perfect place to watch the sunset, and the other end of the beach is capped with a green cliff face which would look great on any post card. 

There are a few cafes built right onto the sand (like Unawatuna but not as overly developed), and the whole place has a laid back vibe. 

The harbour in Mirissa is colourful and busy, certainly worth a quick detour. 

Mirissa is famous for its whale watching tours, but we visited during low season and were told that there would be no tours during July and August because the sea was too rough. 

Weligama:

A surfers paradise, the beach here goes on forever. We walked about 25 minutes before seeing another human being, there was nothing on the beach other than the odd fishing boat and a few surfboard rental huts. 

Once you leave the Beach and cross the road, Weligama is a bit more developed that Mrissa, with more selection of restaurants and a supermarket. 

There is a small but impressive statue in Weligama, it's alleged to be over 1,500 years old. It's called the Kushtarajagala statue and is just after the railways tracks on Matara road. 

Overall Weligama was our favourite out of the two, the beach was less crowded and we had our best curry in Sri Lanka at Akila Kitchen, it's number 1 position on TripAdvisor is truly deserved. 

Where To Stay: 

We stayed at the Latheena Resort, Weligama was about a 20 minute walk west and Mirissa was about 30 minutes east. The hotel backed onto the beach. 

Breakfast was good and was included in the price. The family who ran the hotel were great and their kids were adorable. We got laundry done for Rs50/item, smaller items were free. 

I would certainly stay here again. 

How To Get There: 

If coming from Galle or Unawatuna, take any bus headed for Matara, and if coming from Matara, take the bus to Galle. A tuk-tuk will cost around Rs1,200. The train services are infrequent. 

Historical Berlin 

Berlin has a long and turbulent history, if you’re a history geek or not interested at all, it’s impossible to visit Berlin and not be reminded of what has happened here, I have listed some of my ‘must see’ attractions below. 

Brandenburg Tor (Gate), probably the most iconic view of Berlin, this used to be the official entrance to Berlin used by the Royal family. Now a meeting point for most tours. There is a free tour every day at 10am and 11am which leaves from the Starbucks opposite. There’s no need to book, just show up, if there are too many people for one tour then they just divide you up into groups.

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, we spent about 15 minutes here on the free walking but we made a special effort to return here and spend longer, the artist who designed the memorial never announced what it was or what it was supposed to represent, he wasn’t visitors to really think about the different possible meanings and make up their own opinion.

Topography or Terror, one of the few pieces of the Berlin wall still standing, it’s been kept in its original state and is open to the public, there is a free museum next to the piece of wall which is open every day.

Gendarmenmarkt, a historical market square, the French cathedral is at one end and the German cathedral is at the other end. The French cathedral was a huge statement when it was first built, it was one of the first (if not the first) foreign church to be built in Germany, signalling that French migrants were welcome in Berlin.

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Berlin Dom (Cathedral), located on museum island and probably my favourite building in all of Berlin and we didn’t even need to go inside to appreciate its beauty. If I ever visit Berlin again then I will make time to see inside the cathedral for sure.

The memorial for the May 10th 1933 book burning opposite the university library. All books written by Jews, homosexuals, non-German authors etc. were burned on this spot in 1933. Now the memorial is an underground library with only bare shelves. There is a glass platform above ground to allow visitors a view of the memorial. Students sill line up outside the university every day selling second hand books to raise funds for charity as a direct response to the universities dark history. 

A quick note on the free tours, every tour is different and you don’t cover every single thing on this list. The tour guides don’t get paid so they rely heavily on tips, please be generous.

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Click HERE to read our Essential Information post about Berlin.

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Click HERE to read our Modern Day Berlin post.

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2 weeks in Vietnam

August 2016

This really wasn’t a budget holiday at all, we used the money we were given as a gift from our family and friends for our wedding, as well as some of our savings. Saying that, if you don’t take into account the luxury hotels and international flights, we spent only around £200/pp on food, drinks, souvenirs, entrance tickets, taxis etc. during our 2 week trip. 

Night 1 – Hanoi 

We arrived in Vietnam early on Saturday Morning, we had arranged a pick up through the hotel but it was too early to check in so we had a lovely 1.5 hour massage while we were waiting for our room. Once we checked in we dumped the bags and went for a stroll around the streets.

There wasn’t much I specifically wanted to see in Hanoi, it was more just about taking in the culture and mainly people watching. We got completely lost (on purpose) in the old quarter, then we found a nice bar and watched the wold go by while we tried to adjust to the temperature and humidity.


Night 2 – Ha Long Bay

We were picked up at 8am and driven to Ha Long Bay, it takes about 3 hour including a little break half way. I’ve written a separate post on our amazing trip, click here to read it.

Night 3 to 5 – Da Nang

This was Sean’s favourite place on the planet, our room in the Novotel was on the 27th floor and had an amazing view of the river. There was also a rooftop infinity pool and a rooftop night club. We struggled to hire a bike in Da Nang and everything was quite spaced out, we did a lot of wandering around and we went to a local market, which wasn’t aimed towards tourists at all but it was an experience.

We took a taxi to the Marble Mountains which is about 25 minutes away. The marble mountains are when most of the marble in Vietnam is extracted and sculpted. The main mountain has some stunning temples ranging from a few different eras, and one cave in particular was so much fun to climb through. You do need to be quite fit for parts of it and I wouldn’t recommend flip flops. There is a small admission fee of a few dollars. At the base of the mountain is the sculpting village where you can see work in progress and buy some souvenirs.

It was only £8/pp for a night time river cruise which was about an hour long and took you under all the bridges. Buy tickets at the pier about 5 minutes walk north of the Novotel. The boats all sail at about 8pm every night.

Night 6 to 12 – Hoi An

My favourite place in Vietnam, it has a small village type feel to it, we stayed in a stunning beach front resort which was a shirt bike ride into the town centre. It was really easy to get a bike here, our hotel offered them for free but there was loads of places in the town centre where you could pay to hire them, the roads weren’t too busy and we felt really safe.


There were so many places to eat and drink really cheap, and a lot of the places are catered towards foreign tourists, it’s a backpacker’s paradise. I could easily spend a month in Hoi An.

 
I booked a few different tours for while we were in Hoi An using www.vmtravel.com.vn, the service was really good and the prices were the best I could find online.

Tour 1: Mỹ Sơn, 
I really recommend this tour if your into ruins and beautiful countryside, its al long drive form Hoi An so take plenty of water with you. Coming home we only drove half way then stopped at a local fishing village and jumped on a boat for the final leg of the journey.

Tour 2: Cham Island, it’s a shame to see the island become littered and busy, we were on a snorkelling trip, but there were so many other boats in the bay that the fish had all been scared away, and you had to be very careful not to be hit by another boat while you were swimming.

Tour 3: Farm tour and cooking class, the farm was only a short bike ride away from our hotel and it was a really informative day. We got to help the farmer pick ingredients for our meal then his wife showed us how to cook a traditional dish. The tour guide spoke fantastic English.


 

Night 13 to 14 – Ho Chi Minh

 
We only really had 1 day here because we arrived late and left early. Things not to miss are:
 
The day time indoor market (Bing Tay Market) and the outdoor night market
– we did all of our souvenir shopping here, it’s really well catered to tourists but be prepared to haggle. The night time market is out on the street right next to the daytime market.

Saigon Sky Deck – for a stunning view over the city at night, we got there at sun set and it was practically empty, there were only a handful of people at the top. There is also free bottled water and a museum at the top.

AO Show – I booked this online before we travelled, the show involved traditional dancing. There was a strict no photography rule but I managed to sneak this one photo.

We didn’t have time to get to the Mekong Delta but it’s on the bucket list for next time.
 
Essential Info


Visa: 
UK Passport holders do not currently need a visa to enter Vietnam providing that you are staying less than 15 nights.


Vaccinations: 
At the time of writing we only needed a tetanus, Hep A and Hep B vaccination. No malaria medication is required unless you travel into the mountains. 


Money: 
As of today, (March 2017) the exchange rate is:

1 GBP = 27,904 VND
1 USD = 22,805 VND
1 EUR = 24,271 VND

It was really easy to find a cashpoint (or ATM), if you can’t find one on the street then pop into any large hotel complex, they usually have one in the lobby.

When buying anything of value many vendors will agree a price in USD, but they require payment in VND.
 
Would we do anything differently?

If I could change anything, I would have liked to stay one more night in Hanoi to get used to the climate before we travelled to Ha Long Bay and one less night in Da Nang.

I think we could have fit a trip to Hue and Sapa if we really tried, but we only had 2 weeks and we still wanted to fit in a bit of relaxation time. We are going back to Vietnam as part of our around the world trip and I plan to spend at least a month there this time.


TOURS:

For Hoi-An use: www.vmtravel.com.vn 
For Ha Long Bay use: www.bestpricevn.com
 
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment and we will do our best to get back to you.

Thanks for reading xx

Mini tour of Italy 

I’m heading to Milan with the girls in a few days’ time and it got me thinking about an amazing trip I took to Italy with Sean last year, we saw so much in just 9 days, it was before my blogging days but I still wanted to write a quick summary of our trip.

There isn’t any daily flights from Newcastle to Rome and we couldn’t change our time off work to suit EasyJet’s timetable, which ended up as a blessing, it inspired a mini tour of North West Italy because we had to fly into Pisa and out of Rome.

We were there the first week in May and we were really lucky with the weather. This was our itinerary:

First stop Pisa, landing at lunchtime and leaving the next afternoon, 24 hours really was the perfect amount of time to stay here. We stayed at the Hotel Terminus and Plaza because of how close it was to the train station and it was walking distance to everything else. The taxi to our city centre hotel cost only €8, or if you’re really tight on budget you can take a train.

I pre-booked tickets online to claim to the top of the famous leaning tower (It was really busy so I recommend booking online before you go), we were given a dedicated time slot so didn’t need to wait in line. You do need to leave all bags in a locker at the foot of the tower for security reasons, which we didn’t mind, better safe than sorry!

 

Other than the tower and the main square, we basically wandered from Gelato shop to Gelato shop!

We took a 45 minute train journey to La Spezia, (all train tickets booked on the GoEuro.com app) where we spent 4 nights bed and breakfast at the Affittacamere La Loggia De Banchi hotel. Honestly, I only chose to stay in La Spezia because the hotels in nearby Cinque Terre were so expensive, and I’m so glad we did stay here, it’s the most beautiful place I have ever been, the landscapes aren’t quite as dramatic at its neighbours but it’s the only place I could ever imagine us actually living.


We took two day trips to the Cinque Terre, only about 15 minutes on the train which runs frequently throughout the day. If you haven’t heard of the Cinque Terre before, it’s basically 5 small villages built along the coastline, they are all connected by hiking trails of various lengths and fitness levels. The villages are adorable and traditionally Italian, and the trails offer some of the best scenery in the world. A quick google search will give you hundreds of reviews and more in depth itineraries.


 We also took a day trip to the town of Portovenere, there is an hourly boat from the main harbour at La Spezia, return tickets were €20/pp, and takes around 30-40 minutes. The castle ruins are the perfect place to take photographs and the whole town has a really relaxed feeling. We missed two boats back to La Spezia sitting outside drinking the classic Aperol Spritz.

 

From La Spezia there was a 3 hour train journey to Rome, where we stayed at the Hotel Terminal for 3 nights, we spent the first night getting intentionally lost and people watching. The rest of our time was taken up with all the history stuff, I was in my absolute element learning as much as I could.

 

Sean discovered Suppli (deep fried pasta and tomato with cheese in a breadcrumb coating) for the first time, and ate it every chance we got in Rome, the best was at I Suppli on Via di S. Francesco a Ripa, it was abit out the way but had been recommended to us and was well worth the walk.


We took the train back to the airport and both agreed that Italy was one of our top 5 trips ever!

Thanks for reading xx

PS. More posts with a lot more detail on my upcoming trip to Milan and Venice coming soon.