Over the years, when I found Christmas tree ornaments that I liked on travels I’d take them home as souvenirs. It started as a fairly sporadic collection, but over the past few years, I’ve tried to find ornaments from each trip to add to my Christmas Travel Tree.
I’ve always enjoyed seeking out ‘Crystals’ in my travels around the world.
From the beautiful Crystal shops in Hungary and the Cristal beer in Cuba to swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida to these shining Crystals at the Galaxy in Macau.
So when I heard there was a Crystal Pagoda in the small village of Ban Thaton, where we were staying, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, I just had to go see it for myself.
Wat Thaton is a large temple complex located at the top of a hill overlooking the Mae Kok River. It turned out to be quite a hike up into the hills surrounding Ban Thaton, near the border of Myanmar. The view on the hike up was incredible.
The temple complex is built on several levels, hosting statues, temple buildings and a Buddhist school on the way up to the top.
While the hike itself was beautiful and all the statues and buildings on the way up were great, none were as striking as the Chedi Kaew or Crystal Pagoda.
Sitting at the top of the hill, this colourful building can be seen from miles way. The structure is covered with intricate designs depicting the Buddha’s teachings.Wandering inside, we found a large number of Buddha statues coming from many different countries. In the centre of the Chedi Kaew is a spiral platform that leads to the top level of the building, with more artifacts found along the way.
The Wat Thaton organizes several programs to benefit the local community. A project for local children and hill tribe children aims to bring several communities living in the area closer together.
Within the complex , there is a Buddhist school for monks and novices and a Vipassana meditation center. You can also find a herbal medicine center, a restaurant, a large meeting hall and several other buildings.
So, if you’re headed to Northern Thailand, pack your hiking shoes and visit the beautiful Crystal Pagoda. The Wat Thaton is open from 8 am until 5 pm. Admission is free and the view is incredible!
While in Northern Thailand, what better way to travel from one place to another than by traditional long boat?
After flying into Chiang Rai, we spent the night at The Legend Boutique River Resort & Spa in Chiang Rai, a gorgeous, peaceful spot a short tuk tuk ride from Chiang Rai’s bustling night bazaar.
After a delicious breakfast in the morning, we made our way down to the dock, where a long boat was waiting to take us along the Mae Kok River to our next spot.
It was a long 6 hour journey, but it was peaceful out on the river with hardly anyone else in sight most of the journey and the landscape we stunning.
Our long boat captain knew the river like the back of his hand, easily maneuvering through the sometimes very shallow, sometimes very rough water, knowing exactly where any dangers like rocks or sandbars were hiding.
Along the way, we stopped at the Ruammit Elephant Camp in Karen Village. While you could ride them here, we decided against that and instead spent our time feeding and petting these incredible animals, before heading across the street for a delicious Thai lunch.
Continuing along, we made it to our final destination, the Maekok River Village Resort, another incredible resort on the banks of the Mae Kok.
The grounds here were lush and filled with flowers and you could wake up and have breakfast each morning with a view looking out over the Mae Kok River.
While it may take longer, if you are travelling around Northern Thailand, consider taking a long boat. You won’t regret it!
Halloween is my favourite holiday. I love the decorations, Hocus Pocus, carving pumpkins, and most of all – dressing up. It’s a magical holiday, so what better place to celebrate than at one of the most magical places on earth! Disney World is one of my favourite places to visit and I’ve always wanted to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with the magic of the park. So this year, I headed to Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party to celebrate Halloween with Mickey and the gang.
The event is a separate ticketed event that runs certain evenings from the end of August until November 1st. Once you get your wristband, you are given a bag to go trick or treating!here were Treat locations set all over the park where you could go to get candy. There were also lots of characters out for photos and autographs, including those who aren’t normally out like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas
There were Treat locations set all over the park where you could go to get candy. There are also lot’s of characters out for photos and autographs, including those who aren’t normally out like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
In Tomorrowland, you can join Mike Wazowski, Sulley and Boo for a Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball – a fun dance party with all your favourite songs.
Not all of the rides are open, but there’s still a good selection for those wishing to enjoy them (including The Haunted Mansion, the perfect ride for this time of year!)
Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade makes its way through the park at 9:15 and 11:15, filled with Mickey and friends as well as a number of villains.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go was to see The Sanderson Sisters in the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular! The sisters were back for the night to brew a potion to create the most Villainous Halloween Party the Kingdom has ever seen. They were joined by a variety of Disney’s greatest villains and ended with their iconic song.
As always, there was a great fireworks show over Cinderella Castle. This one had a Halloween theme. “Happy Hallowishes” invites you to join the 999 happy haunts for an evening of fun!
It was a great night at the park with all of Magic Kingdom decorated for Halloween, but one of my very favourite parts was getting to dress up in costume and seeing everyone else dressed up, wandering around this magical place!
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party runs from 7pm-12am on certain dates during the Halloween season, but you can typically start entering the park as of 4pm. Just be sure to get your wristband as only party guests are allowed in the park after 7pm.
Be sure to check out the costume guidelines on the website before planning what character you want to be.
Treat bags are fairly small, so if you want to hit all the locations, you might want to bring a bigger bag or buy one at the park.
The character lines are LONG, especially Jack and Sally. They are out before the party officially starts, so you can get in line early or try later at night.
For more info visit the park’s website
Full length versions:
Happy Hallowishes Fireworks
Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular
Wat Rong Khun, better known as the “White Temple,” is one of the most recognizable temples in Thailand. This unique temple, located just outside the city of Chiang Rai, is one of the most visited attractions in the area. It’s not hard to see why.
The temple looks like something out of a fairy tale. The entire structure is a brilliant white colour with pieces of glass in the plaster, sparkling in the sun. It almost doesn’t look real. It’s more like a mirage you’ve stumbled upon – a beautiful mirage with a glistening pool of water below, filled with Koi swimming around.
Last year, we made our way to Wat Rong Khun just before Halloween. With all the demons and villains that met us as we entered, coming out of the ground and hanging from trees, it was the perfect time of year to visit.
Wat Rong Khun was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist. He chose white to signify the purity of the Buddha. The pieces of glass throughout it symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and Buddhist teachings. The temple is filled with Buddhist symbolism.
To enter the main chapel (ubosot), you cross a narrow bridge over a pool of hands and faces reaching up, trying to claw their way back to the surface, representing suffering souls in Hell.
The pathway symbolizes the way to happiness by overcoming worldly things like temptation, greed and desire.
After crossing the bridge you arrive at the “Gate of Heaven,” guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu, who decide over men’s fate. At the end of the bridge, you reach the ubosot where there are several Buddha images in meditation.
Once you make your way out of the main temple and leave the fenced in grounds, you come to an ornately decorated golden building. This one represents the body while the ubosot represents the mind. The building was created in a gold colour to symbolize the focus on worldly desires and money.
Around the temple grounds are several concrete “trees.” Hanging from each of them are thousands of ornaments or ‘Lucky Leaves.’ For 30 Baht, you can add one with your name and a message written on it for luck.
You can also make a wish by throwing a few coins into the wishing well.
Most of Thailand’s Buddhist temples have centuries of history. By comparison, Wat Rong Khun is very young as construction on it only began in 1997.
Then, on May 5, 2014, a strong earthquake hit Chiang Rai and Wat Rong Khun was damaged. The designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided to restore and further expand the temple.
At this point, the temple is not finished. It’s stated that eventually there will be nine buildings on site.
If you find yourself in Northern Thailand, Wat Rong Khun is a must-see. Just get there early to avoid the crowds.
- The temple is located about 13km south of Chiang Rai
- The temple opens daily from 8 am until 6 pm.
- The temple gets very busy with both tourists and locals, so plan to arrive early.
- Admission is 50 Thai Baht per person.
- Dress respectfully. No revealing clothes. Shoes must be removed before entering a temple building.
- Taking photos is not allowed in the main building.
- Souvenirs, coffee and snacks are available on the grounds.
For many, Paris, the ‘city of love,’ conjures images of romance, architecture and art. But once you’ve had your fill of the Mona Lisa and sipping champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower, a different side of Paris awaits. For this, you need to head down – about 20 metres below the city streets, where the catacombs wait.
Located across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau station, is the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. Here in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.
During the late 1700’s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby. In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.
This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall, where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil.
Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.
Since their creation, the Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war.
In the beginning, visits were only granted a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mine inspector. This turned into permission from any mine overseer, but as the number of visitors grew, it returned to its “permission only” rule in 1830. Then, in 1833, they were closed completely as the Church opposed the public being exposed to human remains on display. By 1850, the Catacombs were once again open, but only for four visits a year. Public demand led to the government allowing monthly visits as of 1867. This turned into bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month in 1874 and then weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World’s Fair Expositions.
Today, they are open for daily visits, so head over and spend an hour wandering through the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels below the streets of Paris!
Plan your tour
The Catacombs are open daily from 10am-8:30pm (except Mondays and holidays)
Admission is granted in time slots, with the last admission at 7:30pm
Located across the street from Denfert-Rochereau Station
Métro et RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
Bus : 38, 68
Parking : Boulevard Saint-Jacques
Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods. Be prepared to wait. (We did for almost 2 hours).
Distance covered: 1.5 km
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available
For more info, click here
Newfoundland was the only province I hadn’t been to, so for Canada’s 150th, I figured it was time to visit the last province to join Canada.
With only a couple of days, I spent my time in St. John’s trying to see as much of the city as I could! After getting screeched-in, exploring Quidi Vidi, visiting the two local craft breweries and wandering around enjoying the colourful “Jelly Bean” houses, I had checked a lot of ‘must-do’s’ off my list.
Two remaining were visiting Signal Hill and taking a boat ride out into the Atlantic Ocean in search of whales.
Signal Hill is one of the most famous landmarks in St. John’s. It’s part of the capital’s historic past, offering a beautiful view of St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as great hiking trails along the coastline.
Signal Hill is significant as it was the site of St. John’s harbour defences from the 17th century to the Second World War as well as being the birthplace of modern communications. It was here that Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. It’s a good hike up the hill, so be sure to have proper footwear. Part way up is a visitor’s centre, which this year hosted a huge Canada 150 sign to pose with.
There was also a statue of the mascots- a Newfoundland and a Labrador dog!
The view from the top was great. On one side, you could look back over St. John’s harbour and from the other, straight out for miles into the Atlantic Ocean.
You could also see where it narrows into the harbour, with Fort Amherst Lighthouse standing guard at the entrance.
At the top, you could climb up Cabot Tower, which was built as a monument to John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Throughout the tower, as you made your way to each level up steep, winding stairs, you could read all about the history of the tower, the history of communications, and the historic first transatlantic signal that happened right here. The view from the top of the tower was even more incredible.
I made my way back down and continued to wander around Signal Hill. As I was at the top, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, a thick fog started to roll in until you could barely see 10 feet in front of you.
I decided not to head out on all the hiking trails since the beautiful view had vanished. Instead, I made my way down to the harbour to catch a boat ride out into the Atlantic.
It was the wrong time of year for icebergs, but I took an ocean cruise with Iceberg Quest, hoping to find some whales. We set out of St. John’s harbour in the thick fog, which didn’t seem to want to let up. Our guide told us all about what we would have been seeing if the fog wasn’t blocking our view, and we made our way out of the harbour into the Atlantic Ocean.
We couldn’t see much, but had an enjoyable cruise listening to Great Big Sea. Just as we were heading past the sea caves on our way to Cape Spear, the fog began to lift!
We passed by the famous lighthouse on Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America.
(Another spot I missed visiting on this trip, but seeing it was still cool!)
We saw tons of puffins flying and swimming around, but sadly no whales on this trip.
By the time we were on our way back, the fog had lifted and you could see the mouth of the harbour, Fort Amherst from the water and all the colourful houses greeted you as you entered St. John’s harbour.
While I may have checked out most of my ‘must-do’s’ in St. John’s on this short trip, I quickly added many more and realized I’d just have to come back to this beautiful province for more exploring soon!
The brightly coloured houses known as “Jelly Bean Row” have become one of the most popular photos used in St. John’s, Newfoundland tourism, but if you come looking for a specific “row” of houses, you’ll be surprised to learn that these brightly coloured homes can be found all over the city.
Ranging from vibrant to pastel shades, a rainbow of colour hits you as you wander up and down St. John’s hilly streets. Many homes and shops are enhanced with “gingerbread” trims, in an equally bright, contrasting colour.
These houses were constructed as temporary accommodation after the Great Fire of 1892, but many remained as permanent residences.
So where did this colourful tradition come from?
Some say it started with the fishermen who painted their homes bright so they could find their way home in the fog (or after having a few too many drinks at the pub). It was also cheaper to buy large amounts of one colour of paint, so they’d paint their boats and their homes the same striking colour.
As fun as those stories are, the majority of the Jelly Bean houses appeared in the late 1970s as a way to inject new life into a rundown-looking city.
And they have certainly done their job. Walk along any street in St. John’s and you’ll come across a brightly coloured home (or a row of them!) Many even have Jelly Bean Row mailboxes posted out front, adding just one more splash of light to these already sunny homes!
While most people travel to Havana to spend their time exploring the beautiful old city, just east of all the glorious old architecture is a series of white-sand beaches, known as the Playas del Este.On a recent trip, we decided to stay in the beach area and have the best of both worlds as our resort provided a free shuttle into Old Havana.The string of beaches stretches 24 kms along the north coast. While the beaches here are a gorgeous white sand, palm tree-lined, turquoise water heaven, the accompanying resorts aren’t exactly luxurious. Many of them have a worn down appearance as most are over 50 years old, but for those wishing to spend their time in the city or enjoying the beaches, they are just fine.
Our resort was located on Playa Santa Maria del Mar, one of the most popular beaches, where many of the international resorts are located.
Weekends can get very busy with locals heading out to relax and parking lots soon fill up with vintage cars and mopeds.
The crystal clear turquoise waters are perfect for swimming and snorkelling to check out a variety of fish.
But the best part was the incredible sunsets!
Getting there: The beach area is about 20 kms away from Old Havana.
You can take the Habana Bus Tour tourist bus Line 3, which runs from Old Havana to the beaches at Cojímar, Bacuranao and Santa Maria del Mar daily from 9am-6pm for 5 CUC.
A taxi will cost around 15 CUC each way. Be sure to set the price before leaving.
I just can’t get enough of the classic cars and colourful, and sometimes crumbling, architecture found in Havana. Even the gloomy, grey day seemed a little brighter with all the colours!
So here’s a gallery of some of my favourites!