Tai Chi with the locals in Bangkok

Apparently, tai chi is all about internal energy flow, but the only energy I’m channelling is nervous energy. How much of a goose (or perhaps that should be crane?) am I making of myself? But I don’t care.

Lumpini Park is a tranquil place to exercise

Lumpini Park is a tranquil place to exercise

I feel enormously privileged to be invited to join a tai chi session in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park by people I don’t know, don’t share a language with and will probably never meet again.

Lumpini Park is a green oasis in the heart of Bangkok. Like New York’s Central Park, it’s a place for exercise, relaxation and recreation. It’s also a great place to escape the heat with its shady trees, artificial lake and trickling fountains.

Lumpini Park offers cool respite from the heat in Bangkok. Photo © Briar Jensen

Lumpini Park offers cool respite in the heart of Bangkok

Every morning the park is filled with people meditating, socialising and exercising – from ballroom dancing to sword fighting.

Exercise comes in various different froms

Exercise comes in various different froms

On an early morning walk from my hotel, the Sofitel So Bangkok, I stop to admire a group of women practising tai chi when, with hand gestures and encouraging smiles, I’m invited to join in.

IMG_4502

Sofitel So Bangkok overlooks Lumpini Park

While it looks simple, tai chi takes concentration and control. I lack the fluid movements of the leader as I cross my arms the wrong way and turn in the wrong direction. My ‘White Crane Spreads Wing’ is more ‘Black Bird Dies Slowly’.

tai chi takes place throughout Lumpini Park

Tai chi takes place throughout Lumpini Park

But the grins of appreciation at my clumsy efforts have me brimming with pride. Hmm, the energy flow of pride – that’s probably not quite the tai chi philosophy, but I certainly feel good on the inside. And it’s a lovely way to start the day in Bangkok.

The lovely group that invited me to join them to tai chi

The lovely group that invited me to join them in tai chi

On your travels have you ever spontaneously joined locals exercising in a park? I’d love to hear your stories.

More: The Sofitel So Bangkok overlooks Lumpini Park. The rooms are decorated in four themes: earth, water, wood and metal and the staff wear quirky, vibrant uniforms designed by Christian Lacroix.  Visit www.sofitel-so-bangkok.com

Disclaimer: I travelled to Bangkok as a guest of Accor Hotels. This story first appeared on the Get Up & Go magazine blog.

Posted in Accommodation, Bangkok, Thailand, Travel | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

10 Travel-themed homewares

Just because you are stuck at home, doesn’t mean you can’t dream about travelling. Part of the joy of travel is reminiscing about past adventures and planning new exploits. So surround yourself with travel memorabilia as a reminder of holidays past or to inspire you to ‘get up and go’ on another journey. Here are ten travel-themed homeware suggestions to get you started.

Just go

Just do it

Need a nudge to book the next holiday? You’ll get a daily reminder from this mug as you sip your tea or coffee. As you eat your Tim Tam you can study the world map for inspiration on where to go next. Available at Australian online retailer Annabel Trends.

Miss Melbourne?

Miss Melbourne?

Love Melbourne? Want to go there or have just been? Then mull over the Melway map on this teapot while you have your next cuppa and dream about Melbourne’s bustling laneways, quirky street art and rattling trams.  Available at Australian online retailer Make Me Iconic.

Remember your road trip

Road tripping

Cushions are an easy way to add character and flair to your home, and travel-themed cushions come in so many different styles, from map prints to photographs (watch out for an upcoming post just on cushions). This cushion lists destinations along America’s Route 50. Others in this series include Melbourne tram routes and Sydney bus routes. Available from Melbourne designers Johnson and Waters.

Where in the world

Where in the world

Add some funky art to brighten up your wall. This airport tag canvas wall hanging would add kitsch to a kitchen or sass to a sitting area. Available from US online retailer Airporttag who ships to Australia.

Jetlagged

Jetlagged

Curl up on the sofa for some much needed rest after your next long haul flight and make sure you’re not disturbed by snuggling up under this cosy blanket that lets everybody know just how you feel. Warm and plush it comes in three sizes from US online retailer Airporttag.

Paris at your feet

Paris at your feet

Walking around Paris has never been easier – just put this floor rug down and away you go – there’s not much chance of getting lost and you don’t have to watch out for doggy doo-doo either. Available from the Australian branch of online retailer Cafe Press.

Shower curtain

Shower inspiration

Be inspired to see the world during your morning shower with inspriational travel quotes printed on your shower curtain. Other designs include colourful airport code tags, black and white US flight board or aeroplane toilet door print. From US online retailer Airporttag.

Sunset drinks

Sunset drinks

Sunset drinks anyone? Be the envy of your friends as you sit down to cocktails on the terrace with these gorgeous deckchairs printed in Australia. Choose from sunset palms or vibrant ocean blues. Look out for their directors chairs which will be added to the range soon. Available from Australian design team Pacific Pillow Co.

scratch wall map

Well travelled

Like to keep a record of where you’ve been (or just show off to your friends how well travelled you are)? Then you’ll love this world map – just scratch off the gold surface to reveal the places you have been. Available from Australian Geographic.

Colourful dreams

Sweet dreams

Go to sleep sleep dreaming about your next holiday destination. There’s a world of designs (pardon the pun) available for pillows and quilts. From colourful paint-splashed world maps to vintage atlas maps, you can choose a design to suit your decor. Available from the Australian branch of online retailer Cafe Press.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these companies and do not receive any remuneration should you choose to purchase from them.

Posted in Travel, Travel Accessories & Gadgets, Travel Gifts, travel-themed homewares | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Postcard of the week – Glorious gum trees

Nature's canvas

Bark beauty

Sometimes nature blows me away with its beauty. Like this magnificent gum tree, whose subtle colours were given a vibrant makeover by summer rain (actually a summer downpour that turned our walking track in a mini riverbed). Rain gives the bush a welcome spring clean, sluicing away the dust and highlighting things you might otherwise miss, like delicate cobwebs strung between branches and abstract patterns on tree trunks. I came across this tree in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, on the Cowan to Brooklyn track, part of Sydney’s Great North Walk, which I did last year (read about how you can do it here). I love the gutsy way Australian gum trees tenaciously grip the rocky ground, draping their trunks over sandstone boulders or, like this one, stretching out across rock platforms in search of soil. Parks Week from 5-13 March is an ideal time to get out and admire nature’s beauty in  park near you. See www.parks-week.org.

Posted in National Parks, Postcards, Sydney, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

10 World Map themed travel accessories

Earth Stressball

Globe squashing

Getting stressed at work? Rather be travelling the globe than stuck in the office? Then you could do with an Earth Stressball. Simply squeeze and relax says the tagline, but you could also just fondle it and dream of where you’d rather be (or perhaps where you’d rather send your boss – like Siberia)  About $5 from selected outlets, including ABC online

Glasses Case

Where in the world

Put your sunglasses in this world map case and you’ll be reminded about your travels or prompted to book your next holiday whenever you put your glasses on. It comes with world map cleaning cloth too so you can polish your rose-tinted lenses. $24.95 from Australian online retailer Annabel Trends.

Travel attire for iPad

Travelling iPad

Protect your iPad while projecting your globetrotting credentials with this iPad cover from deva Australia. Cushioning protects it from damage on your travels and it opens up to form a stand so you can watch your favourite shows while on the go. $19.95 from Australian online retailer Ciao Bella Travel.

Pimpos

Walk around the world

The world is at your feet, or rather on your feet, with these cool, quirky shoes from Pimpos. Part of the Chocolaticas range, they are made in Venezuela, are ethically produced and vegan friendly. Take on the world one step at a time. $89 from Pimpos Australia.

Vintage globetrotter

Vintage globe trotter

You can never have too many luggage tags. This all leather one has a gorgeous old-world look with it’s vintage world map print.  $12.95 from Australian online retailer Ciao Bella Travel. 

World Map zippered pouch is great for the plane

Zip it

Pack you travel accessories in this little three-zip pouch and you won’t lose them in your bag. Great in your carry-on luggage for items you need inflight, like a pen, tissues, lip balm, mints etc. Just whip it out and hang it from the seat in front or pop it in the seat pocket. $19.95 from Australian online retailer Ciao Bella Travel.

Secret your laundry

Hide your laundry

Where in the world do you put your dirty laundry when travelling? Hide it in this pretty Kikkerland laundry bag and you’ll never expose you dirty underwear at customs again. From Australian online retailer Jetsettr. (Temporarily out of stock, but enter your email address and they’ll let you know when it comes in.)

Sweet dreams

The world at your neck

Put your world-weary head to rest on this DQ&Co map print neck pillow as you nod off to sleep on your next train, plane or automobile. Bead-filled for squishy comfort its monochrome colour won’t show the dirt too much. $24.95 from Australian online retailer Jetsetter.

Sweet dreams

Sweet dreams

Like to take your comfortable full-size pillow from home when travelling? Then give it travel panache with a dedicated world map pillowcase. Choose from brightly coloured maps or more subdued tones.  $44.50 from online retailer Cafe Press

Take the world with you

Take the world with you

Where in the world is your suitcase? Hopefully in the same place as you. At least this ‘worldly’ suitcase by Heys America will standout at the baggage carousel for easy identification and quick getaway. Currently on sale at US$139 at US online retailer Wayfair. They only ship to America, but set up an Australia Post ShopMate account and have it delivered to Australia.

Special thanks to my travel buddies at Bike Walk Eat and Marian McGuinness for their globe-printed gifts which inspired this post.

 

Posted in Travel, Travel Accessories & Gadgets, Travel Gifts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Five things you probably don’t know about Canada

1. Victoria, British Columbia is experiencing a baby boom ­­– of orca whales.

p150018_077rr

There have been nine calves born to the Southern Resident Orcas in the last 12 months, the largest number of births since the 1970s. The Southern Resident Orcas are actually made up of three pods, with family sub-pods centred around older females, usually grandmothers or great grandmothers.  Granny, the matriarch of ‘J’ pod, is the world’s oldest known orca, estimated to be over 100 years old. www.tourismvictoria.com

2. Land-locked Calgary is a burgeoning surfing destination.

Most famous for the Calgary Stampede, the annual rodeo festival held every July, Calgary now boasts river surfing too. Following floods, which changed the contour of the Bow River bed, a permanent wave suitable for riding can be found under the 10th Street Bridge. For more river surfing action, head about an hour west of Calgary to Kananaskis where the group Surf Anywhere has built a permanent wave by placing boulders in the Kananaskis River to form a channel. www.visitcalgary.com

3. Edmonton has the largest Fringe Festival outside Edinburgh.

c110004_029rr

As well as world-renowned artists, 30 percent of performers are non-professional, so you could witness the start of someone’s stellar career (or not).  The best thing is tickets are all $20 or under. Edmonton has a wealth of other festivals too, from craft beer to dragon boats. www.exploreedmonton.com

4. Toronto has one of the largest shoe museums in the world.

03 CCOP Heights Bata Musuem

A whopping 13,500 shoes and footwear-related exhibits are housed in the purpose-built Bata Shoe Museum. Items span the centuries, from 4,500 year-old Egyptian wooden sandals to contemporary celebrity footwear. There’s an extensive collection of Native American and circumpolar footwear too. www.batashoemuseum.com  www.seetorontonow.com

5. Vancouver International Airport is an art gallery in itself.

Reg Davidson Art Celebration 1 (1)

It has the largest collection of Northwest Coast art on public display, with a focus on First Nations art. The thematically linked art, architecture and interior design are integrated to reflect a theme of land, sea and sky. Artworks include sculptures, paintings, weaving, ceramics and glassware.  So take some time at the airport to appreciate this vast collection.  www.yvr.ca  www.tourismvancouver.com

More: au-keepexploring.canada.travel

 

Posted in Attractions, Canada, Events, festivals, Museums, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do Sydney’s Great North Walk one leg at a time

Fancy tackling the Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle, but don’t have the time to do the full 260km in one thru-hike and/or a bit nervous of getting lost along the way?

Guided walks

The Great North Walk can seem daunting by yourself

That’s exactly how I felt. Billed as Australia’s most accessible trail, it’s possible to do it in stages, using public transport to get to and from each section. But I was still nervous about taking a wrong track or running late for the last bus at the end of the day. Basically, I lacked the motivation to do it by myself.

So I was thrilled to find you could walk the first 150km, one leg at a time, in the company of a national park guide over ten months, which is what I did last year. Abdicating responsibility for navigating and time keeping, I was free to absorb my surroundings; historic harbour slipways, hidden parks beneath busy freeways, peaceful riverside woodlands, ferny fairylands and vast sandstone escarpments.

Meet like-minded people

Enjoy the company of fellow walkers

Within Sydney’s heart were fragile fungi and feathery ferns, tiny wildflowers and towering trees, gurgling streams and gushing waterfalls, cloistered vistas and vast views. Initially the dreary drone of traffic competed with the sounds of nature, but as we walked further from the city the urban cacophony gave way to a bush symphony of rustling foliage, croaking frogs, trilling insects and piercing bird calls.

Take time to admire where you've been

Yes, we climbed that peak – Mount Wondabyne

Guide Warren Irish, a NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service volunteer, has been leading monthly hikes of the Great North Walk from Sydney Cove to Somersby (about halfway to Newcastle) for the past eight years, and is doing so again in 2016.

Vlunteer guide Warren Irish

NPWS Volunteer guide Warren Irish teaches as he walks

Accompanied by fellow volunteer, Wendy Hurdwell, Warren  enriched our knowledge with historical anecdotes, astonishing statistics and a passion for botany that was infectious – I can now tell a mountain devil from a grevillea and know a waratah belongs to the genus telopea, which means ‘seen from afar’ (something which scored me a recent trivia point!).

Swamp honey myrtle

Learn about the wildflowers, like this swamp honey myrtle

There’s no doubting Warren’s love of the bush – he pats majestic trees as he passes and when asked about his favourite section of the Great North Walk, like a faithful father not wanting to choose a preferred child, he said he loves it all. I can understand his viewpoint, as each walk has its own charms, which change with the weather and the season. By walking each month I experienced the full floral calendar and witnessed the power of a summer storm on the landscape.

sandstone country

There’s lots to photograph in sandstone country

The walks run on both a Wednesday and a Sunday (starting 21st Feb). Group sizes vary from week to week, with some people doing all the walks, others just those that take their fancy or that they missed the previous year. The Sunday walks attract full-time workers and families, while the Wednesday walks are a mix of part-time or self employed workers and active retirees. You get to meet fellow hikers, and while the odd one might talk too much, you’re likely to strike up friendships with like-minded people. I walked mid-week and was thrilled, given how much I travel, to make nine of the ten walks, and was able to undertake the one I missed with a fellow hiker I’d met during the year.

The terrain varies on each walk

The terrain varies on each walk

Initially a was little worried about handling the sometimes multiple ascents and descents of some walks, but Warren stops regularly for people who need to catch their breath and Wendy brings up the rear with slower-paced walkers. I’d recommend exercising your thighs before tackling the 280-odd sandstone Depression Steps on section three though, if you’d like to walk pain-free the next day.

The views are worth the climbs

The views are worth the climbs, like this one of Berowra

Walks need to be booked by the day before by phoning Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park’s Kalkari Discovery Centre, when meeting place details will be confirmed. Phone 02 9472 9300. Cost is $15 per walk.

Walks commence Sunday 21 February and Wednesday 24 February 2016.

Follow this link for details of the first walk and how to book. Great North Walk Stage 1  (Update:  Unfortunately, the National Park website only seems to upload the upcoming walk, not the year’s schedule, and they do not alwyas come up when searching, so phone Kalkari and they should be able to give you the full schedule. )

Happy hiking!

Postscript May 31 2016: It is with great sadness that I learned Warren Irish passed away this week. For those that would like to attend his service, it will be held in Sydney at the Magnolia Chapel, Macquarie Park Crematorium, 2pm Friday 3rd June. Condolences to family and friends.

Posted in Australia, Events, Great North Walk, Hawkesbury, National Parks, New South Wales, Travel, Walking | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

New Zealand promotes Cycling Trails with Megan Gale

Two of my most memorable trips to New Zealand included cycling; one on the relaxing Otago Central Rail Trail outside Dunedin, the other on a hair-raising mountain bike trail through the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest, Rotorua.

Otago Rail Trail

Otago Central Rail Trail

The Otago Central Rail Trail, which connects Clyde to Middlemarch following a 150km section of the former Otago Central Branch Railway, is regarded as easy and can be done in one to five days with multiple places to stop along the way to eat or stay.

Together with my New Zealand girlfriend Karen, I did a one day sampler from Daisybank to the Hyde Memorial, accompanied by Neville Grubb of Trail Journeys, before he delivered us to Pukerangi to catch the stunningly scenic Taieri Gorge Railway back to Dunedin. Karen hadn’t cycled since childhood, and was understandably a little apprehensive, but the easy gradient track soon built her confidence. Our section of trail followed the willow-lined Taieri River, between rolling paddocks, across towering viaducts and through cool, dark tunnels. I was hooked and during lunch at the Hyde Hotel discussed coming back one day to do the whole trail.

Price's Creek Tunnel on Otago Rail Trail

Price’s Creek Tunnel on Otago Central Rail Trail

It was a more strenuous affair in Whakarewarewa Forest outside Rotorua, where I went for a three-hour mountain bike ride with Multi-day Adventures. The 120km of trails wind through towering forests and ferny glens, across gurgling streams and up tracks with ominous names like ‘Mad if U Don’t’ and ‘Frontal Lobotomy’. Guides Tak and Jordie had their hands full with our group of novice females (one girl put her helmet on backwards), but Tak encouraged us to, “Fang it downhill if you want!”

Whakarewarewa Forest

Whakarewarewa Forest

Feet parallel, bum up and leaning back I braved a muddy downhill jump (albeit only about half a metre) much to my own astonishment and the accolades  of my buddies. The fact I didn’t do a ‘superwoman over the handlebars’ as Tak put it, was testament to his tutelage.

So I was thrilled to learn more about The New Zealand Cycle Trail from newly-appointed Australian ambassador Megan Gale at a Tourism New Zealand media function recently. International model, businesswoman, TV personality and actress (her latest role is in Mad Max: Fury Road) Megan is a great fit for the ambassador’s role. Her mother is part Maori, so she has strong ties to New Zealand, she’s an avid cyclist and she loves active travel experiences. Not to mention she looks great on a bike.

Megan Gale on the Timber Trail

Megan Gale on the Timber Trail

Megan sampled both the Otago Central Rail Trail and Rotorua’s Timber Trail for a series of promotional videos. Check out the stunning scenery in this video taken on The timber Trail near Rotorua.

New Zealand is promoting its 2700km of cycle trails, hoping they will attract as many tourists as hiking and skiing does. The 23 off-road tracks that make up The New Zealand Cycle Trail are dotted throughout the country, from the Bay of Islands in the north to Queenstown in the south. Graded from ‘Easiest’ to ‘Advanced’ it’s simple to choose a ride that meets your capabilities. But as I learnt in Rotorua, it can be exhilarating to push your limits too.

Rides vary from one to six-days, and can be guided or done independently, and many operators offer snippets of trails, dropping you off and picking you up at designated points, so you can pedal as much or a little as you want, leaving plenty of time to sample the delicious food and wine and take in the history and culture along the routes.

I can’t wait to get back to New Zealand and cycle some more trails. I’ll take Megan’s advice and pack some (padded) cycling pants.

Happy cycling everyone.

More: http://www.newzealand.com/au/cycling

http://www.trailjourneys.co.nz

http://www.multidayadventures.co.nz

http://www.taieri.co.nz

http://www.rotoruanz.com

 

Posted in adventure travel, New Zealand, Travel, Travel News & Events | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments