The Philippines has been on the top of our must-visit list for as long as we can remember. The beautiful and pristine clear tropical waters were enough to hold our interest. That’s why the moment we planned an extended trip to South East Asia, we knew this country needed to be one of our first stops. We can now confidently say the Philippines is one of the best vacation spots in the world.

Despite all this country has to offer, it is quite remote and isn’t your typical tourist destination. All busyness is replaced with ‘island time’ where everything is a lot more relaxed and leisurely. If you’re like we were, you may not know what to expect travelling in the Philippines. We’ve made this list to get you more prepared on what to expect in the Philippines.

We’ve made a list of 10 must know facts we were surprised to learn on our trip through this country.

1. The Philippines is very eco friendly

If you are anything like us, you are always looking for ways to go green and make your travel vacation more sustainable. While in Canada we are just starting to take notice of the harsh effects of plastic straws, in the Philippines there is not a plastic straw in sight. Everywhere you look you will find paper straws being your only option.

Plastic cutlery is replaced with compostable wood and you have to ask if you want a plastic bag, they aren’t just handed over.

photo of a pontoon boat with crystal clear water in El Nido, Philippines
Crystal clear water by El Nido, Philippines

While it is not safe to drink tap water, that doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a bunch of water bottles. In the Philippines, you will find water refill stations just about everywhere you turn.

From big jugs found in hotels everywhere that are FREE to a cheap refill station located on the streets, you have tons of options. Lots of restaurants offer either free or affordable filtered water that typically is served in reusable glass bottles.

As their tourism is on the rise, you can expect to pay many “eco fees” when travelling around.

Eco fees work to clean and protect both the beaches and the ocean where you are travelling. While these are often around 200 – 500 Philippines Pesos ($5 – $12 CAD) the money does seem to really work to keep the land and waters clean making it worth every single penny.

2. Stray dogs in the Philippines are usually friendly

As with a lot of areas in Asia, stray dogs and cats are a real problem in the Philippines. As heartbreaking as this is, especially to animal lovers such as ourselves, there is a slight light at the end of the tunnel. Animals in the Philippines seem to be better treated with this country where the dogs and cats seem to be a bit better treated as a whole.

Stray dogs in the Philippines are less fearful of humans. You will see the dogs playing all over the streets, a sight you simply do not see in other parts of Asia.

Where normally dogs in this area are in a survivalist “dog eat dog” world – literally – and are much more similar to coyotes than to household pets, this doesn’t ring as true in the Philippines. It is a small breath of fresh air to see dogs acting like, well, dogs.

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3. More islands are constantly getting found

The Philippines consists of over 7,600 islands… and counting. Some islands are so small that they disappear completely in high tides. There are Philippines islands that hold large bustling cities while others show no signs of human civilization.

With so many dots on a map, it is easy to understand how you can lose track of which islands have been discovered and which have yet to have a human ever step foot on them. Combine this with the rough waters of the open ocean and you will see how some islands have never been found.

In our modern world, how crazy is it to think that there are some areas of this world that are so remote that they have had absolutely no human influence.

4. The Philippines is vegetarian and vegan friendly

Whether you’re living a dedicated vegan lifestyle or simply looking for healthier plant-based options, you will be pleasantly surprised by how many options you have in the Philippines.

We always expect a bit of a challenge finding vegetarian and plant-based meals but we didn’t struggle at all here. From smoothie bowls, vegan burgers, veggie kebabs and pasta we always had our choice of tasty cuisine. We found that many restaurants offered up more veggie options than meat options, which surprised us.

5. English is widely spoken in The Philippines

For not being a huge tourist destination, we expected more of a struggle to communicate with locals. We were incredibly surprised to learn that almost all of the locals here, even those not in the tourist industry, speak English well.

As the Philippines is so spread out with many islands, there are multiple different dialects spoken so as a way to communicate easier everyone simply speaks English. This was really great for us as it means we could communicate with locals more readily.

Speaking of communicating, we were so humbled by how friendly the locals are in the Philippines. It seemed everyone we encountered was ready to chat with us, help us and have real connections.

Getting to know the locals as we travel is one of our favourite things to do and we are always so honoured to get the chance to spend quality time learning about other cultures.

6. The remote location comes with a cost

If you compare the costs of the Philippines to other areas of Asia you will be quite surprised. We found food and especially accommodation prices to be quite high in comparison to places like Thailand and Bali. Still, a bargain compared to American and European prices, but much more than other Asian backpacking countries.

When considering lodging, we found it worth the cost to stay in a resort when visiting these islands as we found the cheap hotels to be full of bed bugs and cockroaches. While these prices may not be the lowest we have seen, it is still a great cheap beach vacation that is sure to provide memories of a lifetime.

We also found that while we spent a bit more on accommodation prices, what we got really was worth it!

7. ATMs are not easily accessible

When you are travelling through Asia you will likely not want to travel with excess valuables. The more you travel with, the bigger the target you are. While this is true in most places, the Philippines is not one of them.

There are many cities, and even islands, that do not have ATM machines in the Philippines.

If you do find an ATM machine, it will commonly undergo power outages or other service issues that limit your ability to access your money. This can be quite dangerous at times.

We recommend always having extra money with you at all times when visiting the Philippines.

8. The internet in the Philippines isn’t reliable

The internet in the Philippines is more of a fond notion rather than something that actually works. No restaurants or fast food chains offer wifi, something that I have only found in this country. Hotels and airports in this country typically have wifi but not one that actually works.

This is not necessarily a bad thing – just something to know before you go.

There is so much to see and do in the Philippines that you will have no trouble busying yourself for some precious days unplugged from the world. While no signal can be a great recharge for the soul, it is lethal for a digital nomad. We were able to get no work done the whole time in the country, we couldn’t even check a social media handle – a very foreign concept to us.

Luckily we were kept very busy swimming through some of the clearest and most beautiful turquoise waters in the world. We thought the Caribbean was blessed with amazing waters until we went here and experienced this beauty.

9. Blackouts are common in the remote areas of the Philippines

If you were hoping for a cool night’s sleep in the air-conditioned room you paid for, think again. Blackouts happen but in the Philippines, they happen OFTEN. We never experienced a single day in the Philippines that didn’t have at least 2 blackouts. Some lasted a few seconds, some much longer.

This further limits your ability to find any wifi but also cuts out fans, air conditioning, TVs, etc. For this reason, we kept our room colder than we normally would so it could stay cool even when we lost power.

10. Travelling between cities and islands in the Philippines can be hard

This is by far the biggest struggle we encountered in the Philippines. This becomes even harder when you are travelling in the rainy (ie, monsoon) season, as we did. There are very few airports in the country making it so the primary way of getting from island to island is by boat. The seas are CHOPPY and dangerous which makes motion sickness a real thing.

This is by far the biggest struggle we encountered in the Philippines. This becomes even harder when you are travelling in the rainy (ie, monsoon) season, as we did. There are very few airports in the country making it so the primary way of getting from island to island is by boat. The seas are CHOPPY and dangerous which makes motion sickness a real thing.

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We heard stories of people getting stuck on an island for more than 2 weeks because of treacherous waves.

It is not uncommon for boats to go down in bad weather, so they stop all boat traffic when rough waters are present. This can leave you stuck in an area with little control over when you can leave.

Friends we met who were travelling here for 3 weeks ended up getting stuck on an island. They missed their flight out of the country and overstayed their 30-day visitor visa. Luckily, I think, this is quite common as the officials were understanding of the overstayed visa.

When you are travelling on an island, there are many different transportation methods you can use. Our favourite is always renting a scooter. But if you are too nervous about this you can always get by using taxis or tricycles (the Philippines version of a Tuk Tuk).

Have you ever travelled to the Philippines? What surprised you most about this remote country?


It is no secret nowadays that cell phones have turned into our lifelines. You will rarely find anyone, let alone a millennial, without their cell phone with them at all times. Most people, us included, even sleep with our cell phones just inches from our bed so that we are always within reach.

But this is especially true when you’re traveling. More than likely, you’re only going to travel to a place once in your life. This makes the decision of the device you choose extremely important. Nobody wants to look at their pictures after their trip only to find out they look like potatoes.

While it’s a romantic idea to be away from your phone and be so caught up in your travels you don’t even know where your mobile phone is, it isn’t really reality for most people. The truth is our phones have even more of a role to play when we travel. From a mere a way to check our social media when you’re home, when traveling smart phones turn into video recorders, cameras, travel agents, GPS guides and even in-case-of-emergency lifeline. This means travelers require the best smartphone you can get.

The best travel smartphone is one that is rugged enough to handle your travels (Samara is known to be hard on her technology), is reliable and perhaps most important of all Not only does it need to be reliable but also fast enough to respond to your every demand (trust us on this, you will not believe how many photo opportunities have been missed due to slow technology).

What do you look for in the best travel phone? Is it a camera quality, battery life, screen size, worldwide bands? If you are anything like us your answer is ALL OF THE ABOVE. After careful consideration and a ton of research we opted for the Huawei Mate 20 pro.


One of the biggest issues people have with aging phones is the limited storage space. Just a few years ago 32 GB’s of storage came standard on most phones. Nowadays though, that is simply not enough.

Smartphone applications are constantly increasing. Instagram, for example, is 116 megabytes. This means an older phone with smaller storage won’t be able to have access to as many crucial applications.

In a given day we use: google maps (saving maps for offline use), Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Messenger, WhatsApp, Spotify, Snapchat, GMail, Google Photos, Trello, One Drive, Planoly, Lightroom and LensDistortion.

This list then increases with banking apps, travel apps, loyalty apps and Netflix. Needless to say, we require a lot of storage. Most travelers will agree that having enough storage space to not have to worry about snapping too many photos is so important. We have been in situations where we weren’t able to capture a special moment because of a lack of space on our phone.

The Mate 20 pro comes with 128 GB’s standard. This allows us to not only have as many apps as we want but also take thousands of photos and back all those photos up. We don’t always have the time to transfer the files off our phone to our computers or we are off traveling abroad without our computers with us.

  • 32 gb = 6,250 photographs
  • 64 gb = 12,500 photographs
  • 128 gb = 25,000 photographs
  • 256 gb = 50,000 photographs

Having the ability to download full length movies or 12 episodes of our favourite showa makes long flights or extended buss hauls so much easier. Trust us, you’ll love being able to store your top 2000 Spotify songs directly to your device.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

Just like a laptop computer, smartphones have RAM. This is similar to the actual storage of the device but allows you to have multiple applications open at one time without them closing. RAM also plays a massive role in the speed of your device. The Mate20 pro comes with 6 GB’s of RAM which is excellent by today’s standards.

Our previous smartphone only had 4 GB’s which means it is more susceptible to slowing down over time. A higher amount will ensure the device is future-proofed (ie, won’t be considered old technology in a matter of months). This will give you the longevity you need out of a $1000+ device.


This should really be at the top of our list as it has proved to be one of the most important things to us. Camera quality is one of those things that you don’t know what you’re missing until you have the best and then think to yourself “how did I ever go any other way”. If you read our 2018 Smartphone review you know we were impressed with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus cameras quality. Well, upon trying out the Mate 20 pro camera we quickly realized it doesn’t even compare.

Nowadays, the need for bringing along your big bulky DSLR camera is diminishing as smartphone cameras are becoming real rivals in delivering photo quality.

Rear Camera

Especially when it comes to traveling, you have one shot to take that great photo. You don’t know when, if ever, you will be zooming down a backroad of Thailand on a scooter so it is important that get your perfect shot the first time.

This phone has a set of 3 rear facing lenses that work together to take the perfect photo. All of these work together to make some of the best photos we have ever seen from a phone. We aren’t kidding when we say the quality of this phone is unlike anything we have experienced. There’s also data to back this up!

There is an 8 megapixel (MP) telephoto (zoom), a 20 MP ultra wide angle, and a 40 MP main lens. Yes, that is a higher count than our Nikon d5200 DSLR shooter.

What we like the most is that the smartphone seamlessly switches between the lenses. If you are in the camera app and slide the zoom the camera will transition between the lenses without issue. This is a stark difference from a DSLR setup which requires you to manually remove each lens. Not only is it a pain to switch the lenses, it means you have to carry each one individually – not ideal for travelers.

We love having a built in wide angle lens. This gives us the freedom of being able to take shots without having to backup too far.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

This is one of the most powerful cameras when it comes to scene detection. Huawei touts the camera is able to detect more than 1500 scenarios and 25 categories. What this means for you is when you’re in a snowy environment it’ll automatically switch scenes, and thus all the settings, to optimize the photo. The camera auto-detects faces and automatically switches to portrait mode.

At first we didn’t give this feature as much thought as we should have. We knew it was cool but didn’t recognize how much it would transform our photo quality. Our blue skies are enhanced, photos of our dogs are crisper, the snow is whiter… it is honestly one of the main reasons we are such advocates of this phone.

Front Camera

We know that it can be hard to take photos of yourself on your trip. This is why the front camera of a smartphone is so important. Yes, we know it can be embarrassing using a selfie stick but trust us, you’ll be thankful you did 6 months down the road.

The front facing camera on the Huawei Mate20 pro is 23 MP. It takes stunning photos but we definitely recommend turning off, or at least down, the phones beauty mode.

Battery life

All of this doesn’t matter if the smartphone dies halfway into your day. This is why we picked a phone that has one of the best batteries on the market. It is rated at 4200 maH which is high for such a small device.

This is so nice as we often have really long days traveling without access to a plug in. We rented a car in Bali and drove around the island and by the end of the 12 hour day both of our phones were completely dead with the amount of photos we had taken.

Huawei has coupled the battery with software that learns your usage patterns and tailors your experience accordingly. For example, if you use Instagram, maps, and WhatsApp regularly the phone will keep those apps open in the background. This makes it easy to switch between apps without having to wait for them to reload. It also means that the device uses less power (and thus less battery) throughout the day.

Fast charging

If you are a super heavy user and find yourself with a low battery you’ll be happy to know that you have a device that has built in fast charging. This has to do with the charging cable and brick setup you use. In fact, this is one of the fastest charging phones on the market. A 30 minute charge will give you 70% battery. We always travel with a portable battery bank which gives us nearly 5x our battery life.

Reverse wireless charging

One of the coolest features about this phone is that it was the first phone to have reverse wireless charging. This means you’ll be able to charge another phone (with Qi capabilities) with this phone wirelessly. This may seem silly, but it can really help out in a pinch. It’s not the world’s fastest charging (less than 5W), but it will give you enough for a couple hours while you eat dinner.

High resolution screen

The screen on this smartphone is pretty special. It can be bumped up to 3120 x 1440 for when you’re editing photos or watching movies. But out of the box it comes set to 2340 x 1080 and the Smart Resolution feature is turned on. This increases or decreases the screen resolution based on what you’re doing. So, if you’re watching a movie it’ll increase to 3120 x 1440 but if you’re just browsing the web it’ll decrease it. You should care about this because the screen is one of the biggest factors in determining battery life; The higher the resolution, the worse the battery life.

It is also made with OLED technology. This is usually found in high end televisions and smartphones. What’s great about this type of screen is that the blacks are actually the pixels of the screen being turned off. This makes it have true blacks instead of the panel trying to imitate black. None of this you will notice a difference on but will contribute to a longer battery life.

Curved glass

Not only can it be a super high resolution, it also features a curved display. While some people don’t like it we are not part of this group. It seems to fit in your hand more comfortably. Overall, it makes the devices feel much more premium than its competition. It seems like all of the best rated cell phones have this type of screen.

Small Bezels

It seems like there’s a race to a bezel-less phone, including this one. Yes, there is a notch but it houses some important features (more on this later). The curved edges give the feeling that there is no bezel along the sides. There is a slight chin at the bottom of the screen but that’s the only wasted space you’ll find. It actually makes it easier to hold in landscape (aka watching movies).


There are many ways this device keeps your information safe. It has an in screen fingerprint sensor that works surprisingly well. This one is an optical sensor meaning it takes a photo of your fingerprint. The only drawback of this is that it has to shine a bright light onto your finger. You’ll only truly notice this at night or in dark environments. The cool thing about this feature is that you can set the home screen to be different based on a different fingerprint. So if you use certain apps more frequently than your wife, you can simply set it up to show a different home screen when it detects her fingerprint.

The notch is where the high tech 3D Face Unlock is located. Unlike other Android smartphones which simply use a photo to recognize your face the Mate 20 pro shoots over 30 000 little dots onto your face. This makes it much more secure as it “reads” the contours of your face. In fact, it can recognize you even if you’re wearing glasses or a hat. In our time using the phone the face unlock has worked so well that we’ve actually forgot we had it enabled.


Most phones these days come with some sort of water resistant rating. This device is IP68 rated. The “IP” stands for Ingress Protection meaning it fights against debris entering the device. The first number refers to solids – 6 meaning it is “dust tight”, while the second number is talking about liquids – 8 meaning it is able to be submerged in water for a period of time.

When this is put together, Huawei says this phone can handle up to a 1.5 meters (5 feet) depth for up to 30 minutes. While we don’t recommend swimming with the device we do regularly bring ours out into rain storms or kayaking with us on a lake. Just keep in mind also that this doesn’t include salt or chlorinated water. Both of these can damage the gaskets that keep the phone water tight.

Trust us, this is more than a feature you should overlook. While traveling in Bali one of our phones got a little wet and started malfunctioning. This wouldn’t be an issue if we were somewhere we could get it repaired, but we were in a remote area. The phone stopped working the next day, meaning we lost a way of capturing photos.

Worldwide bands

Travelers will appreciate the long list of available bands this device can connect to. For those not familiar with this term “bands” refers to the frequencies a device can connect to. Each country, region, and cellular company uses different bands. This means that no matter if you’re road tripping through Canada, or backpacking Thailand, you’ll be able to stay in touch with your friends and family.

Expandable storage

Even though this phone’s storage can be expanded it’s not entirely needed, and can be expensive. This is because Huawei have strayed from the industry’s standard of micro SD cards. Instead, they use something called Nano Memory. It’s quite similar to micro SD cards except it’ll be much thinner. You can get 64 GB, 128 GB, all the way up to 256 GB.

Comes with a case

Most top of the line smartphones these days come with the bare minimum in the box: a charger, the device and headphones (if you’re lucky). You’ll find a fast charger, headphones, a 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter and a case. It may not be the most durable but it keeps the device from scratching. Every time you place your device on a surface it has the chance to scratch so even the thinnest cases will ensure it stays in pristine condition for as long as possible.

Addressing the controversy

Huawei has been in the news a lot in the past few months, especially in Canada. This has tainted their name a little when it comes to their products. Some people have brought up that the company may be spying on it’s customers. Most people don’t realize that Huawei manufacturers nearly all of the cellular communication towers (at least here in Canada) so if they really wanted to take your data they’d simply siphon it from the towers. In other words, they wouldn’t need to produce a physical device in order to spy on you.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for the best smartphone for travel in 2019 you’ll want to check out the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. When it came time for us to upgrade our phones, we did a lot of research in order to find which one was going to fit into our busy rough lifestyle the best.

We are so happy with our choice to go for the Huawei, mostly for the impressive photo quality it gives us as well as the waterproofing technology.The entire device has built in Artificial Intelligence which tailors everything from the apps that stay open to the battery to the automatic selection of the cameras.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro specs speak for themself. Having 6 GBs of ram allow you to multitask without apps force closing, 128 GBs of storage gives you the ability to take photos for months without having to transfer them to a computer.

Until next year…

What unlocked smartphone do you use for travelling? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means we may get a commission if you make a purchase at no extra charge to you. Our opinions are our own and we only share what we believe you’ll find helpful. We also use all the products that we have links to. You can even see them in the photos we post.

Did you know that the United Nations is reporting 1.2 billion international travelers are taking on this big beautiful world every year? This just shows why ecotourism is so important.

That is a stat we can get behind! We love to see as more and more people travel this world experiencing different cultures, stepping out of their comfort zones and making new friends from all different walks of life.

We have a deep respect for the travel industry. As we find ourselves so completely immersed in it we can’t help but appreciate its effects in our world. Not just on a personal but also an economical level as well.

ecotourism, sustainable travel, thailand, beach
We need to do everything we can to protect beaches like this one

We have made friends from literally all over the world and have become completely immersed in all things travel. With work, school – and as our hobby, we have a great understanding of the importance of TRAVELING ETHICALLY. With sustainability on the rise, it is a wonder why people aren’t bringing this concern towards tourism impacts and making a vow to turn to responsible travel.

Too many people think that sustainable tourism is the responsibility of the government, hotels, and tour companies. We know this isn’t the truth. While tourism companies do have the responsibility to create wholesome travel experiences with eco tours we, as travelers, hold a very similar duty.

We love traveling and have huge respect for the travel industry. But, we also know the importance of doing so ethically. Ecotourism and sustainable travel are the responsibility of every single traveler.

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What Is Ecotourism?

You are likely wondering what ecotourism is and “how do I travel sustainably”. Don’t worry, you are not alone. Many people associate traveling sustainably to mean solely the ethical treatment of animals. While this is a great part of it and incredibly important, the concept is much bigger than this.

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A monkey family in Monkey Forest, Bali

Ecotourism focuses on environmental, cultural, and animal welfare.

Environmental factors largely come from the over-consumption of materials. While the gas that is used to get around is worth noting and paying attention to, the real concern comes from the massive consumption of single use items. These include water bottles, take out containers, coffee cups, plastic straws, etc.

From a minimalist standpoint, all the useless purchases made while traveling also take a negative toll on the environment. But it’s not only when you’re traveling. “Disposable” straws have gained notoriety in the news and have created a movement against using them. This is a way you can help the environment in your daily life.

Those cotton elephant pants you wear while walking the streets of Bangkok use an astounding amount of resources to make and are likely going to end up in a landfill sooner rather than later.

ecotourism, guidelines, monkey forest
Monkey forest has rules to protect you and the animals

Every area you visit will have a completely new culture and religion that they hold very close to them. While you may not follow the same thoughts, it is important to consider yourself a guest. Degrading others is not what traveling is about. Instead, using your time abroad to immerse yourself in this culture and gain insight in the why and how behind it can help you to be a much more worldly person.

Animal welfare is incredibly important and perhaps the most talked about area of ethical tourism. It is important to remember that wildlife is meant to be just that: wild. While it may be tempting to get up close and personal with these majestic animals, it leads to a life of slavery for them. The taming practices seen to make these animals suitable for human interaction are incredibly brutal and not worth a simple photo op. It is best to avoid these places to ensure the longevity of these animals.

Read: 6 heartbreaking things to avoid in Bali

Social media, specifically Instagram, has greatly threatened our ability to practice ecotourism. This includes everything from the drive to get that “Instagram worthy” picture by releasing lanterns in Thailand to riding elephants in Africa, or taking an insta story of you bargaining down a new shirt for much less than you know is worthy. The impacts of sustainable tourism can be strong and life changing for many.

How Can You Make A Difference?

As we move to a world where more and more people are limiting their plastic use, it is important to remember that just because you are out of your own country and it may be harder to carry around a refillable bottle, it holds the same importance.

For us, when traveling to Southeast Asia we were incredibly uncomfortable with the amount of water bottle consumption happening around us (us included). We thought this was the norm and simply didn’t even know that there was possibly another way. That is until we saw a water refill station outside one of our hotels in Thailand.

It then became apparent to us that the locals weren’t drinking out of these cheap plastic water bottles like all the tourists were.

There is a way to do it, we were just not trying hard enough.

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Samara volunteering in an orphanage in Vietnam

Eco tourism needs to be an active conscious thought while you’re traveling.

It is important to ask yourself whenever you travel how are you making a difference. The tourism sector is amazing for its ability to open your eyes and raise awareness to what is happening in different areas of the world. When visiting there it is important to remember that every dollar you spend is a vote for how you want their economy to run and how you want the world to be. The same is true with your time.

  • Volunteering is powerful!
  • Enjoying your meals at local small businesses can make a great difference.
  • Buying handmade local souvenirs is important.
  • Not supporting child beggars and instead helping on ground organizations improve the poverty these kids live in will change lives.

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Where you spend your money is a vote for that practice

Sustainable Holidays: How To Make Your Trip More Ethical

The truth is, everywhere can be a sustainable tourism destination if you make it a priority. Beyond the environmental impacts of tourism, there are many other concerns the tourist sector has regarding sustainability issues.

Responsible tourism is no longer an option. You can no longer claim it to be something you just didn’t think of. As a traveler, you have a responsibility to ensure that you are only making positive impacts on the country and culture in which you are visiting.

How do you practice responsible tourism when you are abroad? Talk to us about it in the comment section below! Also, share with your friends! Together, we can make this world a better place!

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Vietnam is one of those amazing countries that never disappoint. It was easily one of my favourite places I’ve been. The history, lush greenery, friendly people, lazy beaches, delicious food, stunning landscapes, affordable price…. Ah! There is so much to love about this stunning south-east Asian country.

Not knowing what to expect from the country was likely a big part of the reason I loved it. You will need to set aside at least 2 weeks to travel through this country. As a Canadian, you will need to get a visa on arrival which will allow you a 1 month’s stay in the country. I stayed the whole month and could have easily stayed longer.

Vietnam is a long and skinny country which makes it an easy spot for traveling. Most of the significant sites are situated along the country’s coastline making this a very scenic country to travel to. For traveling purposes, you will want to note that there is a significant city in the north: Hanoi, and another in the south: Ho Chi Minh City. We highly recommend utilizing both cities for their international airports and booking a flight into one city and out of the other. This will allow you to travel through the entire country and efficiently hit all the major spots on your travels. For the purposes of this post, I list the cities in order from south to north.

The weather is HOT so packing light is easy. Lots of bathing suits, sunscreen, and comfortable walking shoes are a great start. Tourists will enjoy that English is widely spoken here so you will have no trouble communicating. As with most other countries in the area, costs are incredibly affordable here.

When traveling from city to city, I highly recommend taking overnight buses that will get you from city to city. These are comfortable as they have a full bed that allows you to fall asleep and wake up in a new city. They are affordable and easy to book making them perfect for almost every traveller.

Without further ado, the best cities in Vietnam to travel to:

1. Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

As the largest city in the country, it has two different names that are both frequently used throughout the country. Ho Chi Minh City is the official name of the city while Saigon was the name pre-1975. Ho Chi Minh was a leader in the north of the country. Following the north’s success in the civil war in 1975, the north flexed its power over the south, forcibly changing the name from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City is a history buff’s dream. If you aren’t familiar, Vietnam has had a very turbulent history with a long presence of war up until 1975 with lingering effects of the war still seen throughout the country. With the war being largely between the north and south of the country, there were a few notable outside players such as France and the USA.

The city is full of museums that will give you insight into the history of the country. A great one worth visiting is the War Remnants Museum. This will give you a good overview of the history of the country and equip you with a better appreciation of what to expect from your trip.

In Ho Chi Minh City, be sure to take a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. This is an incredible way to take in history as you get to literally immerse yourself in it. The tunnels that the Vietnamese people carved out during wartime to hide through are still accessible today. Some of these tunnels have even been expanded making them “American sized” and allowing tourists to crawl through them. If that’s not enough, you can fire off an M30 gun to get the full magnitude of the battles throughout the war.

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A hidden entrance to the Cu Chi tunnels
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Shooting a clip from an M30 at the Cu Chi Tunnels

If you are going to visit any of the historical monuments in the south, I recommend prioritizing a visit to museums in Hanoi, as well. The differences seen in the way the history is represented from north to south is very interesting and show a very real change in perspective. A civil upset between the north and the south, while not being actively fought, is still felt throughout the country.

If history isn’t your thing, the city still offers so much to do. You can’t go here without enjoying some local cuisine. Pho, iced coffee and salad rolls are all must-tries when visiting. The food in the city is all amazing, in fact, I even had the best sushi of my life in this city!

There are many large markets and street shopping to be done in this walkable city. With a largely Buddhist population, you will find pagodas and temples throughout the city that are well worth a visit.

History, Cu Chi Tunnel, Vietnam, War, Ho Chi Minh
A view of inside the “American-sized” tunnels

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City

Mia Saigon Boutique Hotel is the place to go if you’re looking for luxury. The staff is so friendly and makes this beautiful hotel that much more appealing. The massive pool will make you forget you’re in the city. If you’d rather have luxury in more of a traditional Vietnamese style, The Reverie Saigon is a great hotel. The decor here is stunning, the staff is friendly, and the food on site is unbeatable.

If you’re looking for a stunningly quirky urban mid-range hotel, Fusion Original Saigon Centre is a must-see. The location of this hotel is perfect and its rooftop pool will give you insane city views.

If sticking to a budget is important to you, Sunrise City Central By Dhome is a great hotel. The rooms are clean and bright and there’s even a rooftop pool. If you don’t need a pool and are looking for a beautiful place on an even tighter budget, the Woody House Saigon is one of the best budget hotels in Ho Chi Minh City.

2. Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is located a few hours south of Ho Chi Minh City making it seem very out of the way. While this might detour you, it really is worth the visit.

If you are looking for a simple trip, there are lots of tours you can book leaving from Ho Chi Minh City that may be for you. If you’re looking for more adventure, you can take a bus or plane here to take in the beautiful sights.

You can expect large lush agricultural lands and a fairly dense population in this area. Rivers, swamps, and islands dot the area which is all easily accessible by boat. In fact, boats are actually the primary means of transportation in this area.

The soil is so nutrient-rich that you will find rice paddies, vast orchards, tall coconut palms, and sugar cane growing everywhere in this area. The Mekong Delta is full of life and is one stop you will not want to miss.

If you’re staying in Ho Chi Minh City and are looking for a day tour, this full day tour on the Upper Mekong River is a great trip to book. The 10 hour tour costs $35.10 CAD ($25 USD) and includes round trip transportation from Ho Chi Minh City.

Where to stay in the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Lodge Resort is a beautiful mid-range hotel for those looking for a luxurious jungle inspired experience. The resort has so much greenery, the rooms are amazing, and the pool is clean and beautiful.

The Ben Tre Riverside Resort is an excellent budget friendly hotel option. The rooms are clean and bright and the views from the large pool area are unbeatable.

3. Mũi Né

Sticking to the south-north route plan, Mũi Né (pronounced moo-ee-nay) is a coastal city located 4 hours northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. If you’re looking for a lazy beach vibe, this is the city for you. A top vacation spot in the area, the stunning white sandy beaches of this gorgeous seaside vacation town are sure to impress. Not really a city as much as a picturesque beach town, this is one area where you can happily sit on the beach with a good book and some tasty iced coffee.

If you prefer to be in the water than looking at it, this is a great spot to try your hand at sailing or windsurfing. The windy coastline brings in some great waves which make this a dream spot for many water sports enthusiasts.

For adventurers, there are two sand dunes in the area that are both worth a visit. The red dunes are the closest to town while the white sand dunes are much larger in size and therefore much more popular amongst tourists. Both make for an incredible day trip.

Get here early and enjoy the serenity of the sunrise glistening on the sand. Throughout the rest of the day, the peacefulness of the dunes is disturbed by a mass of tourists and loud quads so coming first thing in the morning will give you a good alternative look.

Renting a quad to explore these dunes is a great way to explore and will save you a ton of energy. The dunes may look small as you don’t have a lot of references but the hills are high and the sand is hot.

Vietnam, beach, summer, vacation, ocean

Mui Ne, Vietnam, Resort, Beach, Pool

Where to stay in Mũi Né

If you are looking for luxury, there are two great hotels I highly recommend in the area.

  • The first is the Anantara Mui Ne Resort which is an absolutely stunning boho style hotel with a jungle meets beach vibe. There are multiple pools to choose from, the food is delicious and the greenery makes it feel so luxurious.
  • Similarly, the Sailing Club Resort is another great option with similar jungle-beach vibes that just scream relaxing luxury.

Centara Mirage Resort is a great hotel option for those looking for a lavish mid range option. Located right on the water, you will enjoy stunning rooms with your choice of multiple pools offered at the resort. This is a great family friendly hotel with lots of amenities including playgrounds, water parks, bowling, karaoke, and more!

If you are looking for budget friendly accommodations but don’t want to compromise on luxury, I highly suggest the Gia An Hung Guest House. The rooms are clean, the staff is incredibly friendly and the rooms are bright and clean. The location is ideal with a lot of restaurants and markets nearby.

4. Nha Trang

A 4-hour drive north up the coastline of the country you will find the bigger coastal city of Nha Trang. This area is a beach bum/water enthusiast’s paradise. Not far from the coast, there are many different islands that you can sail to that offer scuba diving and snorkelling tours.

Overfishing in the area unfortunately means the waters are not as densely populated with marine life as they once were. Still, the crystal clear tropical waters are worth exploring, specifically when entering the water from a boat.

Vietnam, ocean, boat, fishing, holiday

Interested in scuba diving? Read about what to expect getting scuba certified in Thailand.

One popular island in the area is called Monkey Island. As the name suggests, the island is home to a ton of primates who freely roam around. A tourist island, there is a surprising amount of family-friendly activities to do on this island.

If you’d prefer to spend your day in freshwater, this area has a lot of nearby waterfalls that are worth exploring. A light trek through the jungle will take you to some impressive waterfalls, the most popular being the Fairy Springs and the Ba Ho waterfalls. Yang Bay is another great, far less touristy, area to go in search of impressive waterfalls.

For those more interested in exploring dry land, you are sure to enjoy the many markets, malls and street vendors in the area. Lots of cafes and stunning ocean side restaurants are offered in the area. This is a great spot to enjoy a relaxing massage right on the beach. For a truly relaxing experience, head to Thap Ba Hot Springs where you can dip in both cold and hot mineral pools. The mud in this area is known to be packed with minerals that offer an array of healing properties. Mud baths here are a great way to soak in wellness.

Where to stay in Nha Trang

It doesn’t get much more luxurious than Vinpearl Luxury Nha Trang. This is a great secluded resort style accommodation for those looking to live a stunning island life. If you’d rather stay on the mainland, Mia Resort Nha Trang is another great hotel on the mainland. The villas are amazing with stunning ocean views and the staff here are incredibly friendly.

Nevada Beach Hotel is a great mid-range hotel for those looking to blend luxury and affordability. Spending your days looking out on the water from the rooftop pool will not disappoint.

Azura Gold Hotel & Apartments is a great budget friendly hotel with the best location in the city. You will not know you’re on a budget with the luxury treatment you get at this hotel. The rooftop pool has stunning views of the ocean making this hotel one of the best in the area.

5. Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam, history, architecture, boats, water

A long 9-hour drive north from Nha Trang will take you to the beautiful coastal town of Hoi An. To get here, an overnight bus is a great option and will save you both travel time and hotel accommodation price.

This colourful town is full of rustic charm and looks like it’s right out of a fairytale. One of my favourite places I’ve visited, this is a must-see area for those that visit Vietnam. In fact, the old town, the area along the river, is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is due to its impeccable preservation from its time as a trading port.

This is a great area to rent a pedal bike as the geography is fairly flat and the ideal size. While you can see the sights walking, renting a bicycle will help you to get around faster and allow you to take in more areas. With a river in the center of the city, bars, restaurants and shops line the sides giving you a very unique vibe.

One of the best things to do in this city is eat! Every restaurant we went to seemed better than the last until you’re in a full food coma. I ate the best Indian food I’ve ever had in this city. If you want to stick with the tropical vibe, the beaches are not far from the city center in this area. One of the best beaches in the area that is often less crowded is An Bang beach.

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Inside the Japanese Covered Bridge in Hoi An

Where to stay in Hoi an

Ann Retreat Resort & Spa is a great hotel to choose if you’re looking for a slice of luxury in this beautiful city. The pool alone is absolutely gorgeous but combine that with the spacious rooms and delicious food and you are set for a perfect vacation.

The Silkian Hoian Hotel & Spa is a great mid range hotel with a great location. The swimming pool is unbelievable and there are bikes you can use free of charge. The Hoi An Golden Holiday Hotel & Spa is another great hotel close to the city center and the beach.

For those on a budget, you can’t get better than Hoi An Heart Lodge. The cozy hotel has a great location, friendly staff, and a fun vibe. Le Charme de Joi An Villa is another great budget hotel with a stunning pool. The location is great being about a 20 minute walk from Old Town.

6. Da Nang

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A short 1-hour trip north will transport you into the hustle and bustle of city life found in Da Nang. This city is most known on Instagram for its stunning golden bridge nestled into the Bà Nà hills. Iconic for the large sculptured hands that look as though they are holding the bridge up, this is a must-see travel site. To get to this bridge, you must first take a cable car from Sun World. Head there in the early morning (the first cable car is at 7 am) to beat the crowds.

Da Nang is one of those areas where you will definitely want to rent a scooter. Travelling inland you will find many lush hillsides just waiting to be explored. The street food in this city is an absolute must as it offers a wide variety of delicious cuisine. Da Nang beaches are some of the nicest in all of Vietnam.

The nightlife is also worth a note in the area. This city is booming with growth which you can easily see in the many new resorts lining the beaches and big cosmopolitan towers being constructed in the downtown core. We recommend heading downtown at least once to soak up some of the buzzing downtown scenes.

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Where to stay in Danang

A great luxury hotel is Sel de mer Hotels & Suites. You will feel like a VIP with the large rooms, the incredible pool that overlooks the beach, and the on site spa. Louis Mo Apartment is another great space with a stunning pool and friendly staff. If you’re looking to stay on the water, Le Sands Oceanfront Hotel is a great mid-range hotel. This is an especially great hotel for families traveling with kids.

Daisy Boutique Hotel is an absolutely gorgeous budget friendly hotel. Full of greenery and a gorgeous pool in the center of the hotel, this is a beautiful place to stay. Similarly VernalHome Boutique is another great budget conscious hotel with lots of greenery and a beautiful pool.

7. Hue

Vietnam, Water, Hue, History, vacation

Two hours up the coast of Vietnam gets you to the old smaller town of Hue. This is a great place to visit because it’s located in the middle of Vietnam. A top site in the area is the Đại Nội Citadel. This was built in the 19th century and has a moat completely surrounding it. Thick stone walls encompass the grounds and is currently one of the top sights to visit in the area. Renting a bicycle to tour through this area will allow you to see and get more from this place.

Taking a day trip to the demilitarized zone not far from Hue is another great experience you shouldn’t miss. This is home to the border between the North and South and is marked by the 17th parallel. There is a great walk-through history tour and you will spend the day looking through tunnels and old military bases.

When in this area I walked into a backpackers hostel for some lunch and had the opportunity to visit a local orphanage. Getting a tour of the facility and spending the morning playing with the kids and building awareness through donations are so important and incredibly valuable. Be sure to take part in some of these opportunities as they come your way.

Where to stay in Hue

If you want to make Hue a destination in itself and are looking for a stunning resort to spend all your time in, the Vedana Lagoon Resort & Spa is a destination in itself. You will stay on the water in a slice of paradise as you enjoy a full royal treatment.

If you’re looking for pure luxury with a mid-range price point, look no further than Pilgrimage Village Boutique Resort & Spa. You will feel like you’re in the jungle with all the greenery, huge beautiful pool, and cozy boho vibes.

Jade Scene Hotel is a great hotel for travelers looking for clean comfortable rooms, a nice pool, and a great price tag.

8. Hanoi

Vietnam’s capital city is more than 12 hour’s drive north of Hue making this the longest leg of travel you will do. This northern city is home to a large international airport that we recommend using as your port of exit from this trip. There is lots to see and do in this city, although it should not be your last stop – trust me Sapa and Halong Bay are worth their own visit!

The downtown area is centred around a massive lake, Hoan Kiem Lake. According to Vietnamese legend, this lake is home to a mythical ancient turtle. This is the main hub where you will see many locals exercising around throughout all hours of the day. One of the best places to take in the sights of the city is from the 65th floor of the Lotte Tower Observation Deck. Grabbing a drink at the building’s rooftop bar is a must!

Hanoi offers a rich history from both the civil war and international wars with France and the USA. If you took the time to explore the history in the south, you will want to compare that with what you learned in the north. Walking the halls of the famous Hoa Lo Prison is an experience that will stick with you. This capital city is one that is very walkable and loaded with history. A trip to the city’s Imperial Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, will give you another great look into the country’s rich history.

The far northern location of this city makes it easy to see the heavy external influences at play. With a large French and Chinese influence, the old architecture is a sight to behold. The French Quarter in Hanoi is also one of the best places to stay in Hanoi. The old quarter is very budget-friendly and therefore popular amongst backpackers.

From Hanoi, you have two remaining must-see destinations: Sapa and Halong Bay. Hanoi is nestled in the center of the two cities (Sapa being inland west and Halong Bay being a coastal town to the capital east) it is up to you which you’d prefer to explore first.

Where to stay in Hanoi

Looking for luxury in the big city? Look no further than La Sinfonia del Rey Hotel & Spa. The stunning dark decor throughout is sure to impress but if that’s not enough the rooftop bar sure will. The Peridot Grand Luxury Boutique Hotel is another great luxurious hotel option with a stunning pool, great location and amazing staff.

The Golden Rooster Hotel is a great mid-range hotel with an amazing location in the city. The rooms are clean and spacious and the beds are comfortable.

If you’re on a budget, Hanoi La Cacada House & Travel is a budget friendly hotel with a nice location.

9. Sapa

Veering inland, a long 5-hour bus drive west, or take an overnight train, will take you from the country’s capital to the mountain town of Sapa. This area is a popular destination among tourists – and for good reason. The lush green mountainous landscape is hard to get through in a short period of time. In these hills, you will find different tribes of people living throughout the paddies. They offer guided overnight tours through the paddies, some of which are overnight explorations that will allow you to sleep with the locals in the villages. These Sapa trekking tours are one of the best things to do in Sapa.

Don’t Forget: Be sure to bring along a good pair of trekking shoes as this requires a decent amount of hill climbing through muddy landscapes.

If you don’t want to commit to an overnight stay in this area, it is still a great place to go hiking. With many waterfalls, a favourite being Silver Waterfalls, there is so much to see and do. The cooler weather in this inland town will welcome change-making hiking much more accessible.

If you aren’t thrilled about the idea of hiking through Sapa, consider renting a motorbike and driving through the nearby streets. Many of them are not paved so you will need to be comfortable on a motorbike before taking to these rugged streets. There are a lot of other small villages that you will come across when exploring. A noteworthy one is Cat Cat Village which is just as cute as the name suggests.

The shopping in this area is unique in that most of the items are handmade by locals. You can expect to see everything from beautiful jewelry, clothing, and trinkets that line the streets. If you take a trek or stay in a homestay, you can often buy some of these trinkets straight from the locals in their village.

Hiking, Sapa, Vietnam, Adventure, Hill tribe, rice,

If you’re staying in Hanoi but are looking to get a taste of the beautiful hills in Sapa, this 2 day 1 night Sapa hiking tour is a must! The price varies based on the size of your group but is $137.50 CAD ($98 USD) for 2 people including transportation from Hanoi.

If you’d prefer to stay a bit longer and explore some of the city, this 3 day 2 night trekking tour is a great option. You will spend some nights in the city and one night in a hotel in the city.

Both of these tours will have you spending your days hiking through the terraced fields and small villages and staying overnight in a bungalow in a local hill tribe village. These tours are all inclusive and include a guide, all transportation, and even your meals along the way.

Where to stay in Sapa

Luxury in the mountains can be found at the 5 star Silk Path Grand Resort & Spa. This whole hotel is Instagram worthy from the restaurants, the rooms, and the pool! The KK Sapa Hotel is another hotel built for luxury with stunning views of the mountains. The rooms are bright and spacious and absolutely gorgeous.

If you’re wanting luxury but a more affordable price tag, Sapa Relax Hotel & Spa will give you just that. A great location, bright beautiful rooms, and friendly staff combine to make this hotel amazing. Pao’s Sapa Leisure Hotel is another great hotel in the area with a spacious, upbeat, and quirky vibe with stunning views of the area.

If you’re wanting to stay on a budget, the Sapa Mountain Queen House is a great hotel with big beautiful rooms with authentic decor. The location is ideal and the staff is friendly. Cat Cat Galerie d’Art is another great hotel with clean and large rooms.

10. Halong Bay

Perhaps the most photographed part of the country, Halong Bay is located 2.5 hours west of Hanoi. All those picturesque limestone rock formations you see in Vietnam lie within this one magical northern mecca. It’s a true sight to behold.

The most popular way for seeing this area is, of course, to get out on the water and stand amongst these stunning rock formations. Sure to give you a fresh perspective of the country, these boat tours are incredibly popular amongst tourists.

The limestone rocks are topped with jungle paradises. Overnight cruises are referred to as ‘junk boat cruises’ and are a great way to weave through these islands. If you are feeling more adventurous, rent a sea kayak and tour yourself through some of the 2000 islands. Or you could take a Halong bay cruise through the area for a different perspective of this area.

The beauty in this area goes far beyond the limestone cliffs and stretches into the underwater world. Halong Bay is one of the best places to scuba dive in Vietnam. There are a ton of snorkelling trips that you can do in these emerald green waters.

The rock formations found here naturally house some impressive caves that can be fun to explore. Some popular ones are Hang Sung Sot Caves and Me Cung Caves which are well worth a visit.

As you can imagine, these large limestone rocks are also popular amongst rock climbers and really act as an outdoor playground for adventurers. A great place for hiking is through Cat Ba National Park

Where to stay in Ha Long Bay

If you’re looking to stay overnight, this all inclusive 2 day 1 night cruise is one of the best experiences you can have. The price for the tour varies based on the type of room you’re wanting but luxury is guaranteed.

If you’d rather just spend the day on the water, this Ha Long Bay Day Cruise is an action packed day you’ll never forget. You can expect to spend your time kayaking, swimming, and exploring caves with this experience.

Since the beauty of the area is the water, why not stay on it with this luxurious 5 star Elite of the Seas. If you are looking to splurge, staying aboard this stunning yacht is the way to do it!

If you’d rather stay on dry land and instead do day tours you have lots of options! A great budget friendly hotel is Ha Long Essence Hotel. The rooms are bright and spacious and a great value for your money.

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Have you ever visited Vietnam? What was your favourite city?

These last few months have been well spent. You may have read our recent post about why we decided to settle down for a bit. As much as our soles need to explore, our bodies needed to catch up. Myles was able to devote the time he needed to rehab his body while we escaped winter. With our heart’s longing for more, our brains knew how important this time was for us.

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As the days grow warmer we are spending more and more time outside. We are surprising ourselves at how much we missed living 100% of our life outside. It’s not just us, our dogs feel it too. Despite their daily walks and endless love, they are BORED! We are moving into our van in a couple of days and Myles said to me “I can’t believe how much better I feel, I can’t wait to start actually living again.”

Just like that, I knew we made the right decision. Staying still wasn’t lavish but I am so grateful that our admittedly hectic life gives us enough flexibility to move (or stay) how we need to. As hard as it was to give up our life of mobility, I am so thankful that we were in tune with our bodies enough to know what it is we needed.

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As our bodies began to regain their strength we found ourselves turning our talks and dreams into a reality. Lying in bed one night we started with a simple “wouldn’t it be cool to do this extended Euro trip, where we jump from the beaches in Sicily to the islands in Greece?

We can sip wine in Nice and get in a massive food fight in Barcelona (it’s a real thing and we couldn’t be more excited for it!)”. Somehow, this transformed into an overwhelming “holy shit we are moving in less than 2 months.”

I can’t confidently tell you how in less than a month we went from an idea to plane tickets and dog vaccinations. But I can confidently tell you one thing: Always marry someone as crazy as you are. Or don’t and save A LOT of money ;).

I am going to be honest here, Europe has never been at the top of my list of places to explore. I know, the history is amazing. The architecture, the food, the castles, the cobblestone streets… the list is endless. I have travelled to Rome and the Netherlands before and loved both trips.

The vastly different day-to-day life experienced in other parts of the world has always been appealing to me. Asia, Central and South America have always been the areas on my radar. Recently, my wanderlust has skyrocketed and you’d be hard-pressed to find a country I don’t want to visit.

There are 195 countries in the world and I want to explore all of them

The beauty of Europe is the range you can see in a shorter time. On our Canadian road trips, we drive for 6 hours and are still in the same province. In Europe, we could be in 3 different countries. Not ready to give up our time in the mountains and forests quite yet, we will be devoting our next two months to nightly campfires and getting lost in the woods (hopefully not literally FRECKLES). Mid-June we will be ON A PLANE TO… well, who knows.

This is how we see our next few months shaping up. Our plan as of today (keep in mind this changes HOURLY):

  • Throw our pups on a plane
  • Land in EUROPE – we’re thinking London or Amsterdam.
  • Hunt through the streets for a van #vanlife FOREVER
  • Spend the summer driving anywhere and everywhere throughout Europe

*DID YOU KNOW that Sweden has a “Freedom to roam” act. This allows you to camp on ANY land that is not privately owned!! That’s right the stunning mountains, coastlines and archipelagos are all fair game! GO SWEDEN! 🙂

  • Find an apartment in Barcelona for the winter to act as our home base.

*Their winter months average around 16 degrees, we can live with that!

Any advice could not be more welcomed!!!!

Getting scuba certified allows you entry to an elite club of humans scattered around the globe who have the privilege of breathing underwater. Earth is roughly 70% ocean, meaning you haven’t travelled until you’ve explored below the water’s surface. PADI has issued over 28 million diving certifications in the last 55 years. While that may seem like a high number, that’s only 0.35% of the world’s population.

Scuba diving has been increasing in popularity thanks to underwater technologies that have allowed photos and videos to be taken of this secret world.

Thailand is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Each island hones its own vibes making them all worth a visit. Koh Tao is a small island sitting just north of Koh Pha Ngan (famous for its full moon parties and yoga retreats) and is most famous for its affordable scuba diving certification. Not only is it one of the cheapest places to get PADI Scuba Dive Certified in the world, but it also has some of the best diving.

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What To Expect In Koh Tao?

No matter where you come from, you will be arriving on the island by ferry. As you approach the island you will be met by pristine waters washing up on white sandy beaches with a lush jungle on top. Koh Tao is the smallest of the three islands clustered together in this area. The closest to Koh Tao is the neighbouring island, Koh Pha Ngan, while the biggest is Koh Samui.

Koh Tao is a tropical paradise swimming with natural beauty. Despite its boom in tourism, Koh Tao has a very rustic feel, having as many dirt roads as paved. A good portion of the island is lush, undeveloped jungle that is great for hiking. The calm and clear turquoise waters surround this island with multiple pristine beaches to visit.

Filling your time on the island is easy. One of the most popular things to do in Koh Tao is actually located just a couple hundred meters from the island. A three-island series that are connected together with thin strips of white sandy beaches make up Koh Nang Yuan. This famous Instagram spot is a must-visit while here.

This is a great island to rent a scooter to drive around and explore the small island – just be careful on dirt roads (especially where they transition to paved roads) because there are some pretty large potholes.

A scooter will allow you access to the island’s many pristine beaches. While many of these beaches have a small entry fee (normally around 25THB or $1CAD), they are worth the visit as most offer great snorkelling right from the beach. Having snorkel gear with you is invaluable when visiting Thailand.

How To Get To Koh Tao?

Thailand is a very easy country to travel around. With trains, buses and multiple airports, getting from place to place is a breeze. As Koh Tao is an island, you will need to take a ferry to get here no matter where you are coming from.

A typical boat schedule in Thailand

There are three ways to get to Koh Tao:

Plane – Ferry: The closest airport to Koh Tao is Samui International Airport located on Koh Samui (an island just south of Koh Tao). If coming from the airport you will have to get from the airport to the ferry terminal. You will then need to buy a ticket through Lomprayah High-Speed Ferries to Koh Tao. While this is undoubtedly the most expensive way to get to the island, it will save you a lot of time and stress.

Heading to Thailand? Read about the best ways to get around in Thailand

Bus – Ferry: Another great way to travel is to take the bus/ferry combo. Taking a bus from Bangkok is incredibly popular and budget-friendly. If you head to a local travel agent you can easily book a bus ticket to get to Koh Tao. You can either book a day bus or a night bus.

I prefer the night buses as I have no problem sleeping anywhere and hate losing days to travel. A roughly 7-hour bus drive will take you from Bangkok to Chumphon where you will be dropped off at a ferry terminal. You will then take a stunning 2.5-hour ferry ride to the tropical island of Koh Tao.

The harbour at Chumphon to Koh Tao

Train – Ferry: A luxurious form of travel, Thailand has a great train system that can be very comfortable. A mid-range way of getting to Koh Tao, sleeper trains offer comfort and efficiency. You can choose between their first-class or second-class sleeping options.

Where To Get Scuba Certified In Thailand?

The island of Koh Tao is able to offer such affordable open water diving certification due to the huge supply and ongoing demand. Almost every hotel has its own dive center meaning you don’t have to leave your hotel. This is the ideal way to go about getting your diving certification as they will often package dive prices with hotel stays leaving you with free, or reduced-priced, accommodations.


When deciding where to get dive certified, make sure you ask a lot of questions. The most important question is to ask what ratio of divers to instructors can you expect. We always ensure this number is 4 or under. In order to feel the most confident below water, you want to make sure your guide is focused on you. For maximum comfort, numbers should not exceed a 4:1 ratio for open water certifications.

There are many different scuba diving courses and companies that you can choose from. The ferry ride to the island will have salespeople from many different companies trying to get you to choose theirs. It’s best to compare a few different salespeople to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.

PADI Scuba Certification Requirements

When deciding on the right dive center for you, make sure to check that they are a PADI certified facility. It means the certificate is recognized all over the world and is a requirement for further diving.

PADI = Professional Association of Diving Instructors

In order to scuba dive, the first course that is required is the Open Water Diving Certification. This is a fairly simple certification program that only has a few basic requirements. You must be over 10 years old, be able to swim (there will be a treading water test) and be medically fit to dive.

Similar to gaining altitude in an airplane, sinking below the water’s surface will change the pressure around, and on, you. This is why you have to do safety stops to properly equalize when ascending from the depths on a dive. It’s important that you are able to properly equalize your ears at this time. Those with ear problems should consult their dive centers before signing up.

Steps To Getting PADI Open Water Certified

Plan for the open water diving certification to consume about 4-7 days, depending on where and how you choose to go about training.

1. In class/online training: 5-10 hours of classroom work with an instructor. You will first learn the skills through a knowledge-based program that reviews terminology, goes over what to expect and equips you with the knowledge you will need to successfully dive below the water’s surface. For those short on time, you can often do this training online at a reduced price. This means you can complete the training before you go to maximize your time.

2. Written test: Your classroom knowledge will then get confirmed in a basic test.

3. Practice skills in the pool: Once the theory is behind you, you will move to pool training to get comfortable with the dive equipment. During this time you will practise key skills like removing your mask and regulator underwater and then retrieving them. You will also dive to the bottom in an effort to get comfortable breathing under the water. You’ll learn how to purge your mask (which involves taking it off underwater – it sounds scarier than it is), and inflate and deflate your buoyancy control device (BCD).

4. Ocean dives: Once you have the tools you need, it is time to get into the ocean. 4 dives in the ocean complete this course and give you a great introduction to the world of scuba diving.

During the first ocean dive, you can expect to again practice your main diving skills like dropping your respirator and retrieving it, taking your mask off and on, purging your mask and performing necessary safety stops.

How Much Does It Cost To Get Scuba Dive Certified In Thailand?

The price to get PADI Scuba Dive certified ranges depending on where you choose. We chose Koh Tao because of the low cost and the amazing diving. The scuba shop resort we chose included 5 nights of accommodation at their resort along with shuttles to and from the Koh Tao pier, all the course material, diving gear and refreshments on the boat.

All of this worked out to around 10, 000 Baht a person (~$360 CAD). If you are planning on completing the PADI Open Water dive certificate in a group of people you may be able to get it for a bit of a discount.

The resort was right on the beach and had an amazing property. We were upgraded for free to an airconditioned queen room. It also had a restaurant offering stunning ocean views while you eat.

Is Scuba Diving Dangerous Or Scary?

You may be wondering if scuba diving is a safe sport. While it is important to have the skills and a knowledgeable guide to the area, you should not be scared to get scuba certified. If you are diving with a PADI accredited facility, checking over your gear (you’ll be taught how to do this) and are confident in your training, there is nothing to worry about.

As with anything unknown in life, a little bit of fear is natural in something you’ve never done before. You should embrace the butterflies in your stomach and jump in anyways to explore a unique world, unlike anything you’ve experienced before. Trust me, scuba diving is addictive and one of the best ways to explore our big beautiful world.

There are typically 3 big fears with scuba diving:

1. Claustrophobia: Many people worry about feelings of being trapped or claustrophobic underwater. The great thing about getting certified in a tropical climate like Koh Tao is that ocean temperatures sit around 28℃ (83℉), even in the winter months. This climate means you’re able to wear thin wetsuits or short skin guards that are a lot more comfortable than bulky wet suits.

The underwater visibility in Koh Tao sits around 30 meters or more. This means that you can see far underwater and helps to reduce any claustrophobia you may anticipate.

2. Breathing underwater: This can feel really unnatural and take a while to get used to. Everyone you are getting trained with will have the same nerves around this one. Be patient with yourself as you’ve never done this before. Similar to flying, it’s a fantasy of many but one we aren’t expecting to be able to do.

Really use the time in the pool to calm your heart rate down and relax your breathing. I go into a meditative state below water repeating a mantra to keep myself comfortable and happy. The calmer your breathing underwater, the less air you will use, meaning a longer dive. This is why it is so important to calm your breathing.

When I jump into the water on any dive, I immediately put my face below the water while we wait for the team to get ready. Before we begin the descent, I like to spend a couple of seconds breathing underwater while still on the surface to acclimatize myself.

3. Animal encounters: If your fear comes from animals you may see below the water, thank Hollywood for that one! The most common fear for diving is simple: SHARKS. While these majestic creatures are villainized so heavily in our world, they are so misunderstood.

Most sharks are very gentle creatures that offer absolutely no risk to human life. In fact, of the hundreds of species of sharks that roam our oceans, only 3 actually pose any threat to humans. Great White Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks are deemed a dangerous species only resulting in about 10 combined human deaths worldwide a year. You are more than 15 times more likely to die from a falling coconut than a shark.

What Can I Expect In Open Water Dives?

Your Open Water Certification allows you to dive 18 meters, 60 feet, below the water’s surface. There are two main ways to enter the water on your dives: by boat or from the shore. Having done both types of dive, we greatly prefer boat dives as you don’t waste time and energy getting to the site. Most of the dive centers in Koh Tao offer boat dives for PADI Open Water certification.

We recommend packing light for your trips. Refreshments (water and light snacks) are typically provided but bringing a water bottle along is never a bad idea. You will want to wear a bathing suit, have your hair tied back and bring some flip-flops along.

You will go on 2 dives for 2 days totalling 4 tank dives to complete your PADI Open Water certification. These dives will take up a good portion of your day. You can expect to spend roughly 45-55 minutes underwater per dive, depending on your air consumption.

Diving takes a lot out of you, physically. Spending an hour or so above the water on the boat drinking water, resting and enjoying some light snacks will be a welcomed break between the two scuba dive sessions. This combined with the time it takes to get to and from dive sites, you can expect your dives to consume about 4-5 hours of your day.

To protect the underwater reefs you swim through, we recommend skipping the sunscreen altogether and instead bringing light clothing to provide some coverage. Keep in mind you will have a fair amount of above-water time as you will be needing to get to the dive site.

Waiting for you onboard you will find your tanks, BCD, wetsuit and the rest of your gear. As these are your first ocean dives, expect to be nervous. We were most nervous about equalizing underwater. Your body, especially your ears, builds up pressure the further you dive. To release the pressure you plug your nose and gently blow air through it. Of course, you will be told a number of scary precautionary stories during your classroom sessions, but trust the process.

First Dive Of PADI Open Water Certification

Your first dive site will look like nothing more than a random spot in the middle of the ocean. With barely any landmarks visible, trust that you are about to be shocked at all that is going on underwater. You will go over with your instructor how to check over all your equipment and go over some basics on board. Your instructor will then guide you on how to get in the water. There are a number of different methods to this, most places will try different entry styles on different dives to get you comfortable with getting into the water.

Jumping in the water you will be met by warm 30-degree Celcius temperatures. If you were doing a shore dive, you would follow the shoreline in a gradual descent. In boat dives, you follow a buoy line in a straight descent to the ocean floor.

Descending to the bottom is scary as there are so many unknowns. Visibility at the surface is also disorienting as you don’t have any notable reference points to show how far things are. You will likely not even notice the descent on your first dive as you will be focused on all the skills you just learned, most importantly equalizing and breathing.

Once you reach the bottom, your instructor will go over the same skills already practiced in the pool the day before. Don’t overthink this, removing and retrieving your goggles and air supply is an easy skill that goes exactly the same in the ocean as it did in the pool.

One thing I didn’t expect is all the sound underwater. I thought this was going to be a completely silent experience. My breathing was loud and for the first couple of minutes, it was all I heard. This noise quickly turned to a white noise that actually was useful for calming down and getting into a meditative state. You can at times hear ships soaring above.

Once we got down to our desired depth I forgot about everything going on in the world above me.

I didn’t know (or care) about time, any stresses, or the skills I had learned. None of it mattered. I don’t think I had a regular thought the whole time I was down there. All the colours, the schools of fish, the hiding stingray – that was all that I cared about.

Your dive instructor will consistently check what PSI you have left in your tank. Once the first person has reached their limit, you will begin to ascend as a group. When your whole team groups together, your instructor will put a line up to the surface which will have a buoy on top letting boats know divers are on the surface. You will then begin to float towards the water’s surface. At about 5 meters deep you will stop for 3-5 minutes in an important safety stop. This allows your body to properly acclimatize to the pressure changes.

Following this, you will continue to swim to the surface and meet with your group. The boat you took will come to pick you up and you can climb back above water with guaranteed smiles and a ton to talk about. Time to relax a bit before your next dive.

On The Boat Between Dive 1 and Dive 2

Between your first and second Open Water certificate dive, you will relax on the boat for around 1 hour. There will be some fresh water and snacks that you should eat and drink. Use this time to take some photos and take in the scenery.

You can also ask your instructor any questions you had about the first dive.

Second Dive of PADI Open Water Certification

The second dive of the day will be used to go over more of the skills you learned in the pool. You will feel more comfortable getting in the water and diving below the surface. Your breathing will be more steady and you won’t feel as nervous as on the first dive.

Getting scuba dive certified was probably one of the most life-changing things I have ever done. Now all I want to do, all I want to spend my money on, is underwater diving. I am more hooked than I ever thought I would be.

Upgrading Your PADI Scuba Dive Training

Once you start your dive training, you may want to keep advancing your skills. There are many different courses and certificates you can work your way through. Once you get your Open Water Diver scuba diving license the specialty courses allow you to do advanced dives like digital underwater photography, wreck diver, night diver, underwater navigation to name a few.

Check out all the cool things you can do with your PADI certification below:

A flow chart of PADI Scuba Dive Courses and the specialties available
Have you tried to scuba dive? Let us know how getting certified was for you!

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 PADI open water scuba diving certification in Thailand  PADI open water scuba diving certification in Thailand

From a mundane life working 9-5 Monday – Friday and only living for the weekends, we overhauled our lives to that of adventure. No more strict work schedules, no more bosses telling us hen we could eat or go to the bathroom.

We completely transformed our life to a point where we travel full time.

This way of life is against everything we have been taught. From minimalism to stepping away from the corporate ladder and opting out of indulging in climbing housing prices it isn’t easy. That is why we have created a list of tips to take your travel experience to the next level.

From saving money, making money and finding the most affordable ways to travel we have listed them all here.

We found through our travels that many hotels don’t like when you book through Agoda.com because they receive less of a profit. In an effort to practice sustainable tourism where we help local destinations to flourish as well we looked for the most reputable way to book your hotel (and car and flight) while keeping to a tight budget and helping local businesses.

For those who have traveled to South East Asia you know that there is no where else quite like it. Bangkok is no exception to this. I am sure everyone who has ever been has said to themselves “only in Thailand” more than a few times. From the incredibly memorable array of smells, the ground that looks like you will absolutely fall through it and the incredibly sketchy forms of transportation it is truly one of a kind.

One thing you can surely count on when traveling to Thailand is that you will meet some of the best people in the world. Both locals and fellow travelers, there is nowhere else quite like it. Oh, and the beaches, they’re pretty nice too.

Trying to explain Thailand to people who haven’t been there is nearly impossible. No explanation is necessary when it comes to affordability. This is a place that is accessible to everyone (seriously, book your ticket!) except maybe those with a severe peanut allergy. They put peanuts on EVERYTHING and there is no such thing as using a different pot for cooking.

On the flight over I was giving Myles a run down of all he should prepare himself for. “Barter everything to at least 50% of their original asking price. Stay away from the mysterious meat kabobs. Drink as many iced coffees as possible, and make sure we only get into metered taxis”. He agrees that these are words to live by – at least in Thailand (well, there’s no such thing as too many iced coffees no matter where in the world you are).

Once we landed and walked out of the airport we were sweaty in a matter of seconds. Eager to get Myles to the backpacker capital, Khao San Road, for his first look into the backpacker lifestyle we grabbed a taxi and headed for the streets of Bangkok.

We instantly did what I think every traveler coming into Thailand: we ate! The food, oh the food! Street food is one of the biggest draws to this country (just me that loves this?). Markets are home to a beautiful array of food that is, for the most part, less than a dollar! With fruits tasting a new kind of delicious you will find yourself sucking back more banana shakes than you’d care to admit (they’re healthy, right?).

The best part of all the food? You walk so much that you don’t get left with that bloated feeling. This leads way to the next biggest thing in Bangkok: shopping! With countless high end shopping malls and even more street vendors with all the low priced knock offs you could ever want, there is something for everyone.

You will get pulled in all directions here so prepare to get your firm “no thank you” face on. From people trying to fit you for a new suit to drivers offering cheap rides in their Tuk Tuk’s you will quickly feel like a mere dollar sign. Learning to embrace this will make your trip much more enjoyable. If you laugh and joke with everyone you will get an amazing response, even from people trying to sell you.

Thailand is an amazing place that will always leave you surprised.


Let us know what your first impressions of Thailand was in the comment section below!

Indonesia is a laid back country made up of more than 17,000 islands. Of all these islands the most popular amongst tourists is the large island of Bali. Surrounded by water and full of a boho vibe this island is full to the brim with surfers and yogis. The islands are dotted with stunning white sandy beaches that have large waves that are perfect for surfing. Some calmer areas are heavily used for snorkeling and diving where you will see a plethora of colourful tropical fishes.

The island’s center, an area called Ubud, is where you will find the many hippie/yogi types and the city carries a very earthy vibe. With some world class restaurants and hotels, rich green rice fields and many temples to visit this is a super unique area.

The north of the island is more reserved for locals with no huge touristy areas. Rock lined beaches lead way to some of the most spectacular dive sites in all of Southeast Asia. With shipwrecks, walls of coral and gardens of sunken Buddha statues there is lots to be explored below the sea.

This island is one of many in Indonesia but with a rich culture and such vastly different landscapes it can easily leave you with countless stories. We know we left with many. Read them below.

Thailand is one of the most touristy countries in all of Southeast Asia for young people to visit. With cheap flights, stunning beaches and delicious food it is no wonder it is quickly becoming a top destination. Perfect for backpackers this country is becoming more and more accessible with many international airports and a cheap and user friendly bus and ferry system.

Having an increasingly tourist driven economy ensures that you will stay safe and have a fun time touring through this country. But with quirks like penis shrines and unmanned potholes you can’t help but think “only in Thailand.”

Get ready to laugh when you hear some of our wild stories with this country.