My royal visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia

Greetings, this week I am in the bustling metropolis of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I am here in Cambodia to do some pro-bono consultancy work for a microfinancing organisation based in Phnom Penh. Wow – life cannot be any different to Iceland. Its super hot (late 30’s celsius every day), chaotic – with tuk tuks, motorbikes, and cars everywhere, and noisy with vehicles honking morning, noon, and night.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in the world, with an average wage of only USD$1 per day. Yes can you believe that? To put that into context – if a Cambodian person had to buy a coffee with our Western prices – then they would have to use 100% of their wages for over 3 days, just to pay for the luxury.

As part of the volunteer work I am doing, I was fortunate enough to be taken out to the villages of Cambodia to watch the microfinancing process in action. I arrived escorted in a car with a driver and flanked by other local members of the microfinancing organisation . When I got out of the car – the villagers were completely surprised and started giggling with broad smiles on their faces when they saw a foreigner step out of the car. When I returned the smile, the started bowing and pressing their palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion. I felt like a Queen on a state visit – visiting my ‘subjects’ in a far away land. These women were dirt poor – living in primitive huts and trying to make ends meet. When I asked through a translator why they were applying for a loan – many responded that they were trying to get a loan to buy food to feed their families, or pay their electricity bills. And I could tell they desperately needed the money. Their rice fields, which should be fertile and full of water, were arid because despite it being monsoon season, there has been no rain. The situation got even worse when I asked some further questions. They said to me that they couldn’t read or write, and when they needed something read out to them they would ask a child in the village to read it for them. But the thing is – a lot of the children are not in school. When I asked why – the response was that the parents couldn’t afford to pay for the handouts the teacher would give out, or the pencils and papers needed for school. It broke my heart to see school age children hanging around – not doing anything, because they couldn’t afford to go to school.

What are the options when the rice fields have dried up and you don’t have any money or education? Well you work in the garment factories (i.e. sweat shops) also for a pittance. I drove past one of these while en route to the villages and I was shocked – I didn’t expect to see a huge open air shack full of women. Because it was all open air – there weren’t even toilets for the women to use. The conditions were so bad – I couldn’t speak, I just had to put my sunglasses on and hope that my colleagues didn’t see my eye well up with tears. It was utterly dreadful. When you look at your clothes and see ‘Made in China’, it is probably made by a Chinese company who has outsourced it to Cambodia because the wages are cheaper. It has really made me think about where I buy things from now. Do I want to be contributing to this for the sake of an impulse purchase of a new t-shirt?

But it was the resilience of these women that was really inspirational. Despite having nothing – they had big smiles on their faces and they were so welcoming, offering to me whatever they had (a chair to sit on and an offer of a drink). But one thing I have to admit, I have a new found appreciation of what the royals have to do. Sitting for a long time in very very humid 40 degree heat listening to someone talk in another language while everyone stares at you – it is actually harder than it looks. I almost fainted on a number of occasions. But I wouldn’t have missed that opportunity for the world – was such an inspirational experience to meet these women – and these are the women I want to help.

Microfinancing in action - the women counting the money they have borrowed.

Microfinancing in action – the women counting the money they have borrowed.

On the exact opposite end of the scale – I also attended an expat party at an upmarket hotel in Phnom Penh. At this party, I met people on the other end of the wealth spectrum. I met people working for the UN, Asean, various international companies and even someone who was the pilot for Warren Buffet’s private jet. Yes – as you can see – totally different end of the spectrum.

It has been a tough week getting my head around experiencing two ends of the spectrum – but it is great being here. Being back in Asia. I have missed being in Asia – the mayhem, the friendly smiley people, and lets not forget the food. OMG having rice again. I swear, there is nowhere in Europe (apart from my aunt’s place) that knows how to make rice properly – its nice to be eating it again.

Asian food - I missed you!

Asian food – I missed you!

That’s my adventures for this week.

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

Penis Museum, Elf Houses, and a carpooling adventure – my experience in Iceland

This week, I am in Iceland. Iceland is a very small country, population wise, with only about 300,000 people, of which 200,000 or so live in the capital, Reykjavik. Of all the Scandinavian countries I have visited, it is the most Americanised, with a plethora of massive American cars, American fast food joints etc. This is because there was an American military base in Iceland up until only a few years ago. The country is also pretty new, with it’s independence from Denmark only fifty years ago.

Iceland is a cool country in both senses of the word. The locals complained that they were experiencing a heat wave – and the weather was 13 degrees celsius outside. I didn’t want to tell them that back home the temperature now in mid winter was almost 10 degrees higher. And the country, especially the capital Reykjavik is super hipster cool. There are loads of young people in the city, all with quirky attire sitting in cafes and bars tapping away for hours on their laptops or tablets. Iceland, situated right at the top of the world, is super cool and quirky for sure.

My first experience of Iceland was my hostel. I don’t think I have had such an amazing private room in a hostel. Check out the photos of my digs, Kex Hostel, pretty cool huh, and with a view to die for:

Kex Hostel - pretty cool digs

Kex Hostel – pretty cool digs

One of the quirkiest things in Reykjavik is the Penis Museum. The museum has over 250 penile artifacts and was initially a person’s private collection. The artifacts were from all different types of animals, from a mouse to a whale and everything in between. I’m not sure how one starts such a hobby, but hey, it’s definitely one of the most interesting museums I have visited that’s for sure. Check out some of the pictures below :

Artifact from a Sperm Whale - wow!

Artifact from a Sperm Whale – wow!

Ouch!

Ouch!

The Icelandic handball team won a silver medal at some Olympics and celebrated by making a copy of their junk - ummmm ok - weird right?

The Icelandic handball team won a silver medal at some Olympics and celebrated by making a copy of their manhood – ummmm ok – weird right?

And the quirkiness of Iceland doesn’t stop there. It is said that Icelanders believe in Elves, and on my visit it seemed very evident. I was lucky enough to see one of these Elf houses while there – alas no Elves though! They say that the strange volcanic formation make it conducive for Elves to freely roam – wonder why I’ve never seen any in New Zealand? Guess we have hobbits right?

Elf House

Elf House

Whilst in Iceland, I decided I wanted to have a look around. I wasn’t confident to drive on the other side of the road, but I met some girls on a Icelandic carpooling site, and one of them was going to Akureyri, near the Arctic circle, so I decided to tag along on the ride and see the spectacular scenery. The girls were a lot of fun, the driver from Denmark, a German Artist, and local Icelandic girl also as passengers. It was my first experience having a good chat to an Icelandic person and was wonderful to find out more about the country from her. I have found that the Icelandic people have been super introverted and elusive. I had come to Iceland in the hopes of visiting some distant relatives – but it was not to be. However, I did not take it personally, because most of the other travellers I had met had also come to meet their Icelandic friends – who had bailed on them last minute. Icelanders – will we ever really know them? Mysterious for sure…

Carpooling adventure with a Dane, German and Icelandic

Carpooling adventure with a Dane, German and Icelandic

I have truly loved seeing the insanely beautiful scenery in Iceland. Locals wondered if it was very different to New Zealand. In some ways a little similar with the volcanic rock, but completely different landscape, vegetation, buildings. And nowhere in the world have I actually seen tectonic plates (they are usually underwater right?) – in Iceland you could see the North American and European plates with your own eyes. It was a real thrill to see it close up. I met so many professional photographers in Iceland, all taking their pilgrimage to the country of incredible landscape photography. If you are a photographer – this place is a must.

Gullfoss waterfall - Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall – Iceland

The American and European tectonic plates.

The American and European tectonic plates.

Overall, my time in Iceland has been wonderful. I have met so many interesting travellers, seen scenery to take your breath away, and travelled in a Scandinavian country that caters very well for tourists. Shops, transport companies, tour companies all open early to very late – all very accommodating and punctual making travel a breeze.

Iceland – the quirkiest country I have every visited, and a great way to finish the European leg of my travels. Now back to some warm weather. See you next time!

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

The hills are alive – with the sights and sounds of Norway

I’m back! Apologies for the radio silence. I’ve been in Scandinavia where I have been enjoying spending quality time with family. This post is coming to you from Norway, where I have spent three weeks zooming around the country. Norway is a country I have visited countless times, but this time I not only enjoyed my favourite things, but also some new experiences like encounters with reindeer and moose in the wild, and visiting new places like Roros and Bergen.

The thing I love most about Norway is it’s spectacular countryside, from the fjords, to the mountains and lakes. All breathtaking and serene. Most of my time was spent up in the mountains where my family have their holiday cottage, in Gudbrandsdalen, an area north of Lillehammer (famous for the 1994 Olympics). There is a long family tradition of holidaying up in this area, in fact we have been holidaying here for over 120 years. And when you see the unbelievably gorgeous scenery you can see why this place has been a perennial favourite through the generations. The picture perfect cottages sprinkled along the mountainside (all kept in traditional Norwegian style), the sheep and cows roaming aimlessly, and the fresh mountain air. I loved going for walks in the in the mountains, picking wild berries and seeing the vibrantly coloured wild flowers swaying in the wind. But the best thing about the Norwegian countryside was what I heard. I heard nothing – absolutely nothing. No people, no cars, no dogs barking, even no subdued hum of electricity – nothing. Do you know how often you hear absolute silence? Hardly ever for me, and I relished the experience.

Exquisite scenery - Norwegian countryside

Gudbrandsdalen – exquisite Norwegian countryside where we have been holidaying for over a century

Wild flowers, picturesque views - bliss

Wild flowers, picturesque views – bliss

Berry picking - blueberries, raspberries, red currents, lingonberries. Yummmm...

Berry picking – blueberries, raspberries, red currents, lingonberries. Yummmm…

The Norwegian countryside was exactly what I needed after the debauchery of Croatia. I craved a home cooked meal loaded up with healthy vegetables and lots of exercise in the mountain air. Spending time with my family, meant that I got exactly what I needed. Runs and hikes in the mountains, swimming in the lake, it was all bliss.

But the highlight of my trip was without doubt seeing the wildlife. Ever since I coming to Norway as a young child, I have wanted to see a reindeer and a moose in the wild. I would get up early or stay up late, looking outside the window – wishing, hoping, praying to see a reindeer and moose. Alas I have never been lucky enough – until this trip, where I saw both in one day. I first saw a reindeer when I was travelling in the car with my relatives. I had been told that reindeers hang out in groups and in exposed mossy areas. I kept my eyes peeled for hours, until suddenly, I saw what I thought was a reindeer. But it wasn’t in a group, or in its normal environs…I had to do a double take and then scream so I could get out of the car and take some photos. I was thankful that it was a pretty chilled reindeer, didn’t run or turn away when it saw me coming. We happily co-existed for a few minutes, him happily eating the moss, while I became snap happy with my camera. While I was taking photos of the reindeer, I kept feeling guilty looking at this gorgeous creature – because I had eaten it’s relative for breakfast – reindeer salami, so delicious!

Reindeer in the wild!

Reindeer in the wild!

I was on a total high when I arrived back at the holiday home, I had to go for a run to calm down, but I was in for an even bigger surprise. While I was going for a run, I ran past some ski fields late in the evening (yes, you can go for a run in Norway at 10pm, because of the midnight sun!). I was running past this field when I saw a massive creature grazing. I gasped – could this be? Could this be the moose I have been waiting decades to see? It was a lovely moment, just me and the moose staring into one another’s eyes. I’m not sure who was most scared – must have been the moose, because it ran away first! Two quintessentially Norwegian animals that I had waited a long time to see and I saw them both in one day – wow it was certainly my lucky day.

But seeing these animals for the first time was not the only ‘firsts’ I had in Norway. I was lucky enough to visit Roros, a cute little mining town in the centre of the country – where it is said to have the coldest winters in all of Norway. We were lucky that it was a scorching summers day, so no definitely no frost bite on this visit! This town is on the UNESCO World Heritage List – and the town felt like it had been frozen in time. Such a cute town – and a fabulous destination to practice my photography skills.

The gorgeous town of Roros in Norway

The gorgeous town of Roros in Norway

Roros Cathedral

Roros Cathedral

The other destination I explored was Bergen in West Norway. When I arrived in Bergen, there were thousands of people lining the streets as I walked down with my suitcase. Wow – people really know how to welcome a gal, I thought ;)

Ticker tape parade for my arrival in Bergen ...

Ticker tape parade for my arrival in Bergen …

Alas, they were there for the Tall Ships Festival. I’m not really into ships so much (sorry Dad), but it was a good excuse for a massive street party – and that for sure I was something I was not going to miss out on. So I contacted my Norwegian friend whom I had met in Croatia, and we partied Bergen style – with $US17 beers and Norwegian style hot dogs to soak up the alcohol. Suffice to say – you need a Cayman Islands bank account to get drunk in Norway (well on the good stuff anyway). So it was cheap beers on this visit, definitely no Hendricks & Tonic or French champagne for me this time. I had to laugh when we went to go and watch the fireworks to celebrate the festival in Bergen. There was one thing that was slightly overlooked for the fireworks – the night sky as there is no darkness because of the midnight sun, haha.

Beautiful Bergen

Beautiful Bergen

A big thanks to my family for taking such great care of me while in Norway. I was in great need of a home cooked meal, healthy lifestyle, and being with family again and it was all bliss. Tusen Tusen Takk! Missing you already…

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

Sometimes travel mistakes are ok…Changing plans in Croatia

This past week I was on an island called Brac in Croatia. It was an idyllic island, with wonderful beaches, great weather, and a nice relaxed lifestyle. Should I have loved it? Yes. Did I love it? No.

Why you may ask? Well the first few days were fine. I was terribly exhausted from all the late nights and partying over the past few weeks and needed a few good nights of sleep. But after a few days of wine tasting, hiking, and checking out the beaches I felt like I had done everything that needed to be done on the island. The other thing was that I was travelling there by myself, and the island was more geared towards families and retired couples. Not really my scene. So I started to get itchy feet and wanted to move to my next destination, but I had booked accommodation till the end of the week. Arghhhh – I made the mistake of thinking I wanted to stay here longer than I did…

Beautiful beach on the island of Brac – lovely but not my scene…

Small town of Bol, on island of Brac, Croatia

After much deliberation, I decided to forego my accommodation on the island of Brac (even though I had already paid for it), put it down to a travel mistake, dip into my emergency travel fund, and move back to the mainland in the search of a more ‘happening spot’. I had a gut feeling that Split (one of the main cities in Croatia) was the place I needed to be.

And I was right. When I arrived, it was buzzing with people, way more than when I was passing through there 10 days prior. I wondered why this was the case, and I soon found out there was a massive musical festival called Ultra happening in Split. Wow, it sounded like fun, and I wished I had known about it so I could have enticed one of you to come with me J

Little did I know that less than 24 hours later I would randomly met a bunch of guys who would somehow miraculously smuggled me into the festival without a ticket. Not just into the general admission area, but the VIP area. Wow, sometimes I really can’t believe my luck.

There I was lucky enough to see such big acts such as Carl Cox, David Guetta, and Armand Van Helden play to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people. Yes, that’s hundreds of thousands of people. I have never seen anything like it. Something I would have never been able to experience back home, such a thrill.

Ultra Music Festival, Split, Croatia

Ultra Music Festival - Split, Croatia

Ultra Music Festival – Split, Croatia

Unbelievably, I was able to (with the aid of a couple of red bulls & vodkas) stay out partying with my new friends till 6am in the morning, quite and achievement for me. Alas I paid a big price for such fun, as I only had 2 hours sleep before I had to make my way to the airport for my next destination. So incredibly tired, but sooo worth it.

Moral of the story is: When you make travel mistakes (or any mistake for that matter) – accept it, take action, and move on. You never know what amazing things your next destination has in store for you…

Bisous,

Ms Scandinasia xxx

 

PS: I will take some time away from blogging for the next couple of weeks while I enjoy hiking in the mountains of Norway – without wifi. Ciao for now!

Croatian Riviera vs. French Riviera? And the winner is…

I’ve heard fabulous things about Croatia for years. Many state that the Croatian Riviera is fast becoming a rival to the glitz and glam of the French Riviera. Certainly high profile visitors such as Beyonce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Prince Harry indicate that it is a popular destination for the hip trendsetters. But is it good enough for Ms Scandinasia? That is the real question. I visited to make up my own mind. Let’s just get this straight. My standards are high. Very high in fact when it comes to rivieras. Many of you would have heard my epic stories from a few years ago, when I not only visited Cannes, St Tropez, and Monaco, but did it in style as a guest on my friend’s superyacht. Oh yes, and we had 7 staff at our beckoning call and we also partied on a certain ‘A’ list celebrity’s superyacht. Probably the best day of my life – one of those days when you pinch yourself at least a million times to make sure you aren’t dreaming. Hence my standards are ridiculously high when it comes to holidaying in glam destinations.

My mode of transport in the French Riviera

My mode of transport in the French Riviera

On board my friend's superyacht, departing from St Tropez to Nikki Beach!

On board my friend’s superyacht, departing from St Tropez to Nikki Beach!

Needless to say, Croatia is up against some tough competition when it comes to winning my affection. Let’s see how the two destinations rated: 1. Best beaches – Winner: Croatian Riviera The limestone rocks throughout the Croatian coastline have resulted in stunning emerald coloured water, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Water is slightly warmer than the French Riviera as well.

Dubovica beach, Hvar, Croatia

Dubovica beach, Hvar, Croatia

2. Best place to people watch – Winner: French Riviera I love people watching in France – the locals, the tourists, everyone. Especially when there are some super wealthy heavy hitters involved. Designer duds, massive egos, and the odd tantrum. It’s a fascinating sociological experience. The people I met in the French Riviera were from all over the world: Europe, US, Middle East, South America. When I said I was from ‘down under’ the response was “oh yes, we have a good friend from there – do you know our friend James (Packer)?” In Croatia, the mix of visitors is different. I would estimate 80% of the tourists are Norwegian. Everywhere you go, Norwegian is being spoken. Which brings me to the following observation: Ms Scandinasia does not need to go to Scandinavia. Scandinavia comes to Ms Scandinasia! 3. Best lounge bars – Winner: Croatian Riviera Ummm, so Croatia wins really by default. Lounging around drinking Veuve on a certain celebrity’s yacht in St Tropez was about as close as I got to a lounge bar in France. But Croatia really does have some seriously cool lounge bars. My favourites in Hvar were Laganini’s at Palmižana, Falko, and Hula Hula.

Laganini’s at Palmižana

Laganini’s at Palmižana

Laganini’s at Palmižana

Laganini’s at Palmižana

Craziness of Hula Hula Lounge Bar, Hvar

Craziness of Hula Hula Lounge Bar, Hvar

4. Best food – Winner: French Riviera As you know, I am obsessed with French food, and when you have your own personal chef aboard a superyacht preparing all your favourites, it is hard to beat. Having said that, I have tasted some incredible food in Croatia, especially the seafood. I was lucky enough to be taken to Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik and Di Vino in Hvar. Both have stunning views with exquisite food and impeccable service. These restaurants certainly do showcase a high level of quality – however, it wasn’t quite the same as having your own personal chef…

Divine food at Restaurant 360, Dubrovnik.

Divine food at Restaurant 360, Dubrovnik.

5. Best small bars – Winner: Croatian Riviera If there is one thing I know, it’s a good bar. Having worked in the alcohol industry for many years and frequented many many bars around the world, everywhere from New York, Guatemala, Tokyo, Bogota, Bali – I’ve seen it all. I believe I know a good one when I see one. So when my Airbnb host recommended a wine bar owned by his friend, I was intrigued. I love a good wine bar. This wine bar was aptly named ‘Red Red Wine’ which I assume is after that great 80’s UB40 hit. What I loved about this place, was that the minute I walked in, I was greeted like an old friend. For small bars that kind of rapport is essential and these guys were masters at it, as we chatted most of the night. I was lucky enough to try various Croatian reds and whites and let me tell you – Croatian wine is a.m.a.z.i.n.g. – not to be missed. I tried many a bar in Croatia, and this was by far my favourite. If you head to Hvar, check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

My fav - Red Red Wine bar - Hvar Island

My fav – Red Red Wine bar – Hvar Island

Closing up the bar at Red Red Wine Bar - Hvar.

Closing up the bar at Red Red Wine Bar – Hvar.

Fabulous Croatian hospitality at Red Red Wine Bar, Hvar

Fabulous Croatian hospitality at Red Red Wine Bar, Hvar

6. Best service – Winner: Croatian Riviera Yes, I can see some of you rolling eyes as I write this, saying ‘French service? What service?’ I actually find French service quite endearing and humorous. In fact, I have placed and won many bets around the length of time it would take a French waitress to serve us. French service = extra pocket money for me. Anyway, I digress. Yes, Croatia is without doubt the winner. Everyone from the old pensioner who came up to me to ask me if I was lost and kindly gave me directions when I was in Split, to the waiter in Hvar who didn’t want me to eat a meal by myself, so ‘stole’ the next door restaurant’s wifi password and we went through a long list of destinations he recommended in Hvar. Wow, everyone is so friendly and really do want you to have a great time here. They are proud of their country and it shows. On top of that, I have not had to carry my heavy luggage at all since I arrived in Croatia. All the men, whether young or old are very chivalrous and believe me it is much appreciated. You hear that boys at home – chivalry is not dead in Europe – take note!

Beautiful view of Hvar Town

Beautiful view of Hvar Town

Whilst overall, my holiday in the French Riviera will always be the ultimate experience, when breaking everything down you can see Croatia has placed very well. Well done Croatia ☺ A big thanks to Makiko, my partner in crime in Dubrovnik this past week. Loved the adventures, especially watching the football alongside the world cup players – always in great company with you ;)

Partner in crime for cocktails in Dubrovnik this past week - Makiko!

Partner in crime in Dubrovnik this past week – Makiko!

Any regrets or negatives about Croatia you may ask? My first negative – nudist beaches. Why are the most unattractive people the ones that are taking their kit off at these nudist beaches? There were a multitude of nudist beaches along the coastline that we had to pass by. OMG, my eyes have been traumatised forever by the amount of beer guts, saggy man boobs, and saggy arses. To the nudist people on beaches around the world – please work out before taking it all off, it gives me nightmares. On a more serious note, my other biggest regret is that I didn’t visit Croatia five years ago, before the hordes of mass markets tourists arrived. Not to worry, I briefly passed through Bosnia en route to Dubrovnik and have earmarked the Bosnian and Montenegro coastlines as a future trip. Watch out Bosnia & Montenegro, I’ll be there as soon as I can! Bisous, Ms Scandinasia xxx