Monday, 24 April 2017

Kratie – The Real Cambodia

 By Brett Goulston 

Without doubt, Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s national icon – especially where tourism is concerned. But there is much more to this beautiful country and if you want to see the real regional Cambodia, where the tourists are few and far apart, head to the north east township of Kratie. Some travellers on their way to Laos from Phnom Peng, drive via Kratie, but many fail to stop. It’s a shame because they are missing something special.  

Life in Kratie is very different to that of the larger cities. Agriculture is the main source of income. The pace is slow and most people live on or near the banks of the Mekong River. It’s a sleepy township with markets, a few basic shops here and there plus a few restaurants.  

Apart from strolling through the township, there are a few wonderful ways to pass some time. A boat trip on the Mekong, spotting the Irrawaddy dolphins, is a must-do. These rare mammals are not that hard to spot because they tend to live in a small section of the river where the water is deeper and where the fish live. Whilst they might not be that hard to spot, they are very hard to photograph.  They pop up briefly for a quick breath of air every 5 minutes or so and unless you are ready to press the shutter at an instant, you may be disappointed with your snaps.  The boats leave from a jetty (I use the word loosely) about a 15 minute drive north of the township.  

The other great thing to see and do in this area, is to walk along the road – also north of the main town - among the traditional wooden houses. The locals are keen to interact with you – especially the children. Do this in the afternoon because when the sun sets on these homes, it’s hard to find a more tranquil setting! 

If this sounds like your kind of destination, join Blue Dot Travel for one of our unique adventures.  Click here for more information on our small group tours Cambodia, Laos & Myanmar.

Brett & Kate Goulston exploring the Mekong River Kratie Cambodia

Monday, 17 April 2017

A few days in Seoul Korea

By Brett Goulston 

Years ago in the advertising industry we used to joke, that if a manager did a lousy job, they’d get a “promotion” to run the Seoul office. Well, things have changed. Seoul tourism has come a long way and Seoul is a great city with a great vibe. Having been there many times, here are four things to see if you visit Seoul and are stopping over.  

Hang out in Myeong-dong (or better still, stay there). This place is full of colour, smells restaurants, shops and it’s a real buzz. Even if you don’t like shopping, it’s a good few hours of strolling around. There are quite a few BBQ restaurants off the alley ways. For about A$20, you’ll have a traditional Korean BBQ meal cooked at your table with a local beer. I often get asked where to stay in SeoulThe Seoul Orchard Hotel is a great 3.5 star option right on the edge of town. 

Take a trip to the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). You can do an organised or private tour. It’s about an hour’s drive from the city. The highlight is a walk down one of the tunnels (there are three that have been found so far). These were built by the North in readiness for an attack on the South. It goes for more than a kilometre and can feel a little spooky. Well worth the effort though.     

The Gyeongbokgung Palace is a must-see. It was the Joseon Dynasty’s main place and was originally built in the late 14th century. If you really wish to learn about this remarkable residence, organise a guide from your hotel, otherwise you can just walk around for a few hours and enjoy it on your own. Try and arrange it for the changing of the guards.   

Stroll around Bukchon Hanok Village. This is where there are 100’s of traditional wooden houses (Hanoks). The only ones left in Seoul. It’s very quaint and great for craft shops, galleries and a coffee stop too. The locals are very friendly and may even invite you inside. 
Markets, markets and more markets! I love a good traditional market and Seoul has dozens of them – fish, fruit and veg, antiques, furniture, electronics, clothes and more. There’s even an official hop-on-hop-off bus tour that takes in the markets.   

Blue Dot Travel's small group tour to The Stans of Central Asia, hubs in and out of Seoul. For more information click here.

Brett Goulston enjoying some Korean cuisine

Tunnel in the De-Militarized Zone

Korean drum outside Gyeongbokgung Palace
Markets in Seoul

Myeong-dong area

Wonderful Korean street food

Monday, 10 April 2017

Corsica – Home of Napoleon & Paoli

Napoleon                                                                                      Paoli
By Brett Goulston 

The story of Napoleon Bonaparte is known around the world. A successful military leader, born in Corsica and became emperor of France. But lesser known and more of a Corsican hero is Pasquale Paoli. Paoli led the resistance against the French in the late 1700’s, wrote and implemented the Corsican constitution and became the island’s military leader by popular vote. You’ll see more statues, plaques and memorials to Paoli, than you will to Napoleon.  But, as this is not an exercise in Corsican history, I’ll let you read up on this topic yourself.  

Corsica, with its small population of around 300,000, looks a little like the south of France but that’s where the similarity ends. It feels very different - like you are on an island (which of course you are) and not part of mainland Europe. French is the most common language but many older folks still speak Corsican which has its own dialogues depending on where you are on the island. 

Depending on what your “thing is” Corsica’s fortified old towns are among the best places for tourists to visit. Bastia, Calvi, Ajjacio and Bonifacio have fabulous harbours where you can spend hours sightseeing and learning the about the fascinating history. Or simply sit and watch the boats come in and the world go by. The old capital of Corte – in the middle of the island – has a beautiful square at the base of the fortress. One of the best lunch stops on the island.  

If you like your food, you have arrived at the right place. The Corsican diet has a strong French influence (naturally). There’s an enormous emphasis on freshness and it being provided locally. Whether it’s local sea food, wild boar from the mountains, herbs and spices from the forests or cheese from the farm next door, the food is guaranteed to be fresh and locally produced.  Oh, did I mention the wine? Check out the local Cape Corse aperitif. 

One of the best and most memorable meals I have ever experienced (I kid you not), was lunch at a family owned restaurant in the little village of Murato. It’s not far from the famous San Michele du Murato church which dates to the 13th century and is a must-see. The owner showed us his pig farm, his cellar, his cold storage for meats and then we ate (and ate) at his gorgeous restaurant. If you want to eat at the same place, come and join us.

We catch the car ferry to Corsica from Sardinia, then travel in smaller style mini coaches. For more information on Blue Dot Travel’s small group tour of Malta, Sardinia and Corsica.  Click here.

Corsica Map

Even the Corsican dogs eat baguettes

Wonderful local produce

San Michele du Murato church

Turquoise waters of Corsica

Corsicana is a French cattle breed - obviously highly intelligent

Cellar storage for meats

Monday, 3 April 2017

Malta is definitely the mouse that roared

Valletta Harbour

Malta is definitely the mouse that roared. It is tiny, yet impressive enough for the country to be awarded the George Cross for bravery in World War II.

There are five islands in all, with only three being inhabited. Malta, the main island, is 28 km long by 14 km wide. Gozo is 15 km by 7 km, and Comino (with 5 elderly inhabitants) is only 2.5 square kms.

The centre and south of Malta are almost totally built up, with cities and towns merging into each other. Sliema, a great place to stay,  looks across the harbour to the capital, Valletta.

In fact, Malta and Gozo have more than enough churches to have a different one for every day of the year. Every village has a much larger church than the population warrants. Village rivalries played a big part in this facet of Maltese life. It gets even more competitive in the towns where local loyalties can be divided between rival saints, each of which will have his own spectacular church. 

Both Malta and Gozo are indented with some beautiful harbours. Valletta and Sliema are located in the main harbour, with attendant cruise liners etc. But it’s the enormous fleets of yachts that grab the attention. 

Malta has two main resources: sunshine and rock. Both are in great supply, and both Malta and Gozo have the granite and limestone cliffs to prove it.   While Malta is heavily settled, Gozo has quite a bit of farmland. Gozo is set around a narrow rocky inlet. 

Gozo’s offering is hidden from casual inspection with what they refer to as an Inland Sea near Dwejra that’s filled with water from the Mediterranean through a narrow cleft.  Small boats will power you through a dog-leg channel that is almost invisible from the seaward side. The whole cliff area is riddled with grottos.  

Sadly, after heavy storms,  Malta's famous Azure Window recently collapsed into the sea.  Although a beautiful landmark, be sure to keep Malta on your bucket list as there is plenty more where that came from.  

Join Blue Dot Travel's small group Malta tours, which include Corsica and Sardinia -  Click here.

Malta Map

Vedette Watch Tower

Fort Saint Elmo - Valletta

Sliema Harbour looking across to Valletta

Rotunda of Mosta

Boats for hire in Valletta Harbour
Gozo's grottos

Valletta - capital of Malta