Category Archives: The places I love – my travel writings

Hola España – The journey is an adventure, right?

Friday 15 August 2pm: The journey begins. Airports and Bloody Marys – I have a bit of an adventure ahead. Cape Town to Dubai, Dubai to Madrid, overnight stay in Madrid and then catch a train from Madrid to Valencia. Just realised that I have a 9 hour layover in Dubai. I want to kill myself. I’ve done a 10 hour stint in that airport before and it took all  of my strength not to slit my wrists. Too late to get a visa for the day, too late to see if I qualify for a hotel from my airline. Mild panic. Downloads some movies from iTunes, packs extra jacket in my hand luggage for extra freeze factor of Dubai airport, plans on showing Exclusive Books who is boss.

Friday 15 August 6pm: 
In the boarding queue. Makes conversation with hot German guy. Lots of hand gestures due to language barrier. He’s sweet. ‘Let’s get a drink when we land in Dubai’, he says. We land at 5.30am. I say yes.

Saturday 16 August 5.30am:
Plane doors open like a cracked rotten egg. We pile out and I race for the nearest bathroom to brush my teeth. ‘Sweetheart, I missed you!’ Says the hot German. Great company for a few hours, winning. Hot German says goodbye. We sneak a kiss. I think we could have been arrested for that, not too sure.

Saturday 16 August 8.00am:
I saw a sign for a spa. I must have a massage. Oooh, perfume. Stop for shopping. Head to spa. 45 Minute massage, 1 amazing hot shower and $90 later, I emerge a new person. Feeling rich (sometimes I just submit to the fantasy world in my head), I decide to book myself in at the Marhaba Lounge and see what I missed online, while eating free food and drinking Bloody Marys. Food is gross, there is no alcohol (obviously, Candice, it’s Dubai) but at least there is a couch and internet. I diligently learn some basic Spanish words and phrases and then nap to my heart’s content.

Saturday 16 August 2pm: 
Board flight to Madrid. FINALLY! I have never seen so many beautiful people in one room in my life. The Spanish know how to breed well. The woman across from me is hanging out on the chair, with her long and luscious dark curls perfectly framing her face. The shortest shorts I have ever seen. She’s got one leg up on the chair. I can see into her shorts. I’m trying to figure out if I can see any ingrown hairs from her bikini wax. There aren’t any. Realise I am staring at a beautiful stranger’s crotch. Not winning.

Saturday 16 August 9.15pm: 
I make it to Spain! Sun’s still shining. This is a good sign.

Sunday 17 August 7.30am:
After a good night’s sleep, I’m off
to the train station to catch the fast train to Valencia. I had booked my ticket online a few weeks ago (with some language help from my Spanish friend via Skype) so am feeling like a local. I think my taxi driver is taking me to the airport. Can’t be sure. That’s not where I’m supposed to go. His English is bad. Hand gestures and showing of tickets, he understands and heads towards train station. Forgot to ask hotel how much cab fare is. He rips me off (I’m sure) with a €40 charge. I forget all the Spanish I learnt in the fancy lounge adventure yesterday and just shrug and pay him.

Sunday 17 August 8.10am:
On a train to Valencia with all the beautiful people. I translated it all on my own, I’m on the right train, in the right seat. Basically I am Spanish. All the beautiful women in tiny denim shorts. There’s lots of bum cleavage. There’s dishy Spanish men everywhere. They speak Spanish to me. I just stare. Realising that I should have maybe starved myself for a week before I left.
Stop staring, Candice.



A Philippine Paradise – El Nido

Guys, I do believe that I have just experienced my top holiday of all time – the island paradise of El Nido, Palawan, Philippines.

I find myself on a never-ending backpacker search for the ultimate island-style destination and each time I’m convinced that ‘this is the one’. Thailand’s Haad Yuan on Koh Phangan and Kantiang Bay in Koh Lanta, Cambodia’s Sihanoukville islands, Egypt’s Dahab, Australia’s Byron Bay and now the Philippines’ best kept Palawan secret:

El Nido Sign

Basic simplicity in tropical paradise of still relatively raw and untouched beauty.

My holidays tend to be simple and carefree: make-up, and pants for that matter, are long forgotten and soaking up the coastal vibes takes priority. This is what life is about.

I’ve travelled with friends, boyfriends and on my own and people often ask me about how to do it, where to go, what to do, what to book and what to just wing.

So here is my account of my trip with all the info that you need to do it yourself and know what you’re in for. If you can’t cope with all the writing, there are pretty pictures too.

The Journey

Be prepared for a long haul – likely the longest that you’ve ever experienced. I sit here in Dubai airport, writing away a few hours of the 10 I have here to wait between flights. I’m feeling a little like Viktor Navorski in The Terminal. You’re looking at around 3 flights, at least, and some road time to get to this little island paradise. I kind of like that it’s a little more difficult to get to than other places – it makes it a little more exciting knowing that you’re going off the beaten track and the likelihood of bumping into someone you know is slim to none.

My journey was on Emirates from Johannesburg to Dubai and from Dubai to Manila, Philippine Airlines from Manila to Puerto Princesa, then a private van drive from Puerto Princesa (arranged by the hotel in Puerto) to El Nido. Don’t bother to spend any time in Manila – it’s a hole (I am not a fan of Asian cities at all, so nothing appealed to me here). The airport is a hole too, so try not to have too much of a layover there. In and out – that’s the key.

There is also a private charter airline ITI which flies direct between Manila and El Nido. It’s priority is the El Nido Resorts guests in the fancy Schmancy resorts on the Bacuit Archipelago, but you can get yourself onto a flight by booking directly with them or through the Art Cafe in El Nido.


The Town

After three days or so (lost count) of solid travel, arriving in El Nido is a quite a feeling to remember. There’s not much in life that is as sweet as the first glimpse of palm trees, white sand and bright turquoise sea through the gaps between the village huts. I’d later learn that Palawan was showing off its’Las Cabanas beach on the way into El Nido town.

Las Cabanas

The town itself is bustling. Through the haze of humidity, the streets are alive – street stores spilling their goods out onto the road, tricycles maneuvering through people and obstacles,  motorbikes flying around corners. Hooting. Smiling. Hooting. Tricycle!

El Nido at night

Electricity in El Nido only runs from 2pm until 6am, so be prepared to sweat it out for most of the day without fans if you stay in town during the day. The beach itself in Bacuit Bay is not fantastic, so you’ll be out each day to spend spend some time in paradise – it’s part of the adventure and SO worth it. Every day out holds something to top the day before.

El Nido town itself seems like merely a place to start your island hopping through the Bacuit Archipelago, but spend some time there and you’ll see how its’ own personality comes to the surface.

The Roof Over Your Head

El Nido town itself has plenty of basic accommodation available, but I would recommend staying a little out of the city, along Caalan Beach, where you wake up to a quieter, cleaner, breathtaking island home.

This is the view from the Main House at Makulay Lodge – a self-catering cottage with the BEST view in El Nido, I swear:

Makulay Lodge

Copious amounts of gin and tonic were consumed while sitting on the deck and looking at this view – so much so that the town literally ran out of tonic water during our stay! Granted, there are 103 steps up to this hilltop paradise (which is also incredibly affordable), but you need them anyway to work off all the fresh seafood that you consume every day.

There are quite a few resorts along the coastal path of Caalan Beach as well as some incredibly cheap bungalows right on the beach, which require no prior booking – just rock up and make yourself at home.

The Stuff To Do

Spend your time in El Nido – there is so much to do and everything runs on island time so take it e-a-s-y…

Here’s some suggestions:

  • Island hopping

This is a must on your to-do list. There are four standard island hopping tours offered by everyone in El Nido and is a great start to your adventures, without you having to anything much at all. Try and find someone who will source a smaller local operation – if you get shoved onto a boat with ten other tourists and forced to wear a dorky orange life jacket, you’re likely to be less than impressed. Makulay seems to have their own little local operation that they use and even only two people on a boat is the norm.

You’ll be boated off to five isalnds/lagoons throughout the day, dropped off on the small and breathtakingly beautiful beaches, be served the freshest seafood and fresh produce lunch and snorkel/laze away to your heart’s content. It doesn’t matter that you’re sharing it with a bunch of other dork tourists, it’s so unbelievably gorgeous that you just block them out.

Island Hopping in El Nido

Another option for some island time is to pack your own food and drinks and organise a private boat drop-off and pick-up on an island for the day.

Se kayak rentals are in abundance. Rent one of these for the day and choose your own islands to kayak to (if you’re feeling particularly energetic).

  • Diving

I’m a diving person, when I’m in some sort of tropical paradise and craving some boat time. There are loads of dive shops in El Nido to choose from and plenty of good dive sites. A day out on a dive boat always soothes a stressed soul.

I chose El Dive, a very new dive shop run by Yoshi Ohtshuka, who has 20 years of diving experience under his (weight) belt already. All his equipment is brand new and good quality, clean and comfortable.

You can also book in on one of the dive days as a snorkeller and enjoy the best snorkel spots with the best snorkel gear in town.

Diving in El Nido

  • Nacpan Beach

Rent a scooter/motorbike and take a scenic drive up to Nacpan Beach. When I say ‘scenic drive’ I mean ‘motor cross adventure’. If it’s been raining, you’re in for some extra mud fun 😉

Motorbike trip El Nido

Nacpan beach is beautiful and quiet. There are one or two little restaurants on the beach that you can grab some fresh seafood (seeing the pattern here?) or a coconut. There are also some incredibly cheap bungalows on the beach that you could stay at for some SERIOUS time-out. No pre-booking is required, or even possible, just rock up and chill out.


  • Las Cabanas

Las Cabanas is a GORGEOUS beach just a short tricycle/motorbike ride from El Nido. Hang out there all day, swim in the perfect sea and sip on cocktails while you wait for the sunset that happiness is made of. You should definitely NOT fill your coconut up with rum and take cheesy silhouette sunset photos. Just kidding. You should definitely do that.

Las Cabanas Sunset

  • Quiet beach time

If you walk along the beach/coastal path on the Caalan beach side of El Nido, there are two rather secluded and beautiful beaches for lazy days of nothingness and the occasional dip in the sea. You’ll catch a pretty mean sunset from there too.

  • Massages

Massages are on offer on almost every corner. My recommendation is most definitely the spa bungalow at Cadlao Resort – it’s outside in the shade by the resort poolside. Book your massage just before sunset and catch the pink skies as you fall into a relaxation coma. Then slip on up to the deck for cocktails and dinner. Epic.

Cadlao Resort Sunset

  • The Other Stuff

There’s loads more – treks, mountain biking, rock climbing, overnight island camping, hikes to waterfalls… I couldn’t do it all – I became too relaxed and ‘island made’ prevented me from doing much more than walking to a beach or climbing on a boat. Life sucked!

The Food Stuff

You’ll find some lovely eating spots in El Nido. Fresh, grilled seafood is easiest to find and some speciality spots in between.

My favourites:

La Bodega – This stylish French spot is a few weeks old and offers some beautiful French and Western meals. The decor and ambience is by far the best in town. If you have some cash to splash, they have champagne and some good wines!

La Bodega

Lonesome Carabou Lounge – This Mexican spot serves decent tacos, burritos, quesadillas and fajitas. They also have speciality wiskey! Do it.

Altrove – These guys have a wood-fired pizza oven. Enough said. The only place worth eating pizza. They have a queue every night of people waiting to get in. They also do take-aways.

GK Restaurant – A tiny little local kitchen on Caalan beach makes the most delicious sandwiches, with a view to die for.

GK Restaurant

El Nido Corner – They have great Arabic coffee and homemade bread.

Advice and Tips

  • You will spend copious amounts of time in the water and on the water, so have a waterproof bag
  • Bring waterproof shoes/booties. Getting in and out of boats if often rocky and you will cut your feet.

Exhibit A:

Island injury

That being said, pack bandages, antibacterial cream and antibacterial tablets. If you cut yourself, it will not heal in the wet and humidity and is almost certain to get infected, no matter how well you look after your wounds.

  • If you need an automatic scooter, book the night before to ensure that you get what you want
  • It can rain a lot in tropical paradise, be flexible enough to cater for this
  • There are no ATMs in El Nido, you need to take cash with you
  • Wearing a bikini in the town is illegal – I kid you not
  • If you’ve booked an ITI flight out of El Nido, be aware that the luggage restriction is 10kg, including hand luggage (you can pay 100PHP per extra kg of luggage). Your bags will be thoroughly searched. Your flight time is also not actually your flight time. It is really the time that the priority passengers (El Nido resorts guests) arrive at the airport to check in and eat their cucumber sandwiches.
  • Be prepared for humidity and heat! Temp: 30’C, real feel: 74’C. Don’t bother packing any creams or make-up. Or anything with a sleeve or a leg.

The Round Up

So there it is, folks, all you need to have an epic island holiday. Get in there before it becomes another commercialised Thailand. And don’t be a douche – leave nothing but memories in the wake of your travels – respect the untouched beauty that you explore.

Palm Trees

Middle Class Musings

There has always been a huge migration of South Africans to Australia and very often back again when it doesn’t work out. This back and forth between South Africans and Afro-Aussies is a never-ending story. South Africans think that the grass is greener on the other side of the world and they MUST get there.

It’s safe, it’s clean, government is not corrupt, the police do their jobs and are well-respected, you can leave your belongings on your beach towel while you dip in the sea, house alarms are unheard of, fences are there for aesthetics, everything works. Having family in Australia and currently here on a visit, I can tell you that it really is like that – an almost-Pleasantville. When you’re in this Eutopia, the crime stories in South Africa make you feel even more sick than usual. The idea of our walls and electric fences etc. suddenly feels claustrophobic.

Here’s something you may not have considered, though:

The problem with everything working so well and everyone getting along (except the politicians – they don’t seem to have enough real issues to argue about, so turn to slating each other instead) is that it creates a standard of mediocrity. Middle Class Syndrome. Everyone walks along the same line and it’s the same walk along the same line every day.

You work really hard for your standard salary. You are your own domestic worker(s) on top of it all. You may be able to afford a cleaning lady once a week, for 2 hours, for general cleaning only (no dishes, washing, ironing etc.) for the same cost as us South Africans pay our domestic workers for two full days’ work. Your ironing lady picks up a basket of ironing once a week and drives a better car than you do. If you have kids, this is your life: cook, clean, iron, work, shop, work, kids, work, clean, kids, mow the lawn, clean, kids, work… you get the picture?


And then there’s the accent. Perhaps a topic for another day 😉

There are, of course, many facets to this discussion that I’m sure I’ll still get into and I’m being light on this topic for this post. The severe poverty and crime in South Africa is not something to gloss over lightly, but before you run off on the Aus train, consider how your life will drastically merge into mediocrity.

South Africans, stand up and cheer!

Having recently been on holiday two weekends in a row, to unbelievably beautiful places of South Africa, I’d like to raise my glass to all my fellow South Africans living in the country. We have an amazing life, we really do. Where else in the world can you road-trip for 2 hours and be in a completely different world, greeted by butterflies and waterfalls, all on a shoe-string budget? Where else can you visit an (illegal) mampoer farm, get a tour, what can only be described as a theatrical performance, and hang out at the bar tasting mampoer with the farmer for under R50?

Where else will you find ‘twee meisies alleen innie bos’ (translation: two girls alone in the bush) down in the dust changing a Land Rover tyre in their bikinis? Where else can you go for a little walk and come across a 127m waterfall? Where else can you do all of this, turn a silver car into a filthy brown replica of a machine and then sit and read a book while it gets cleaned at the car wash?

Where else can you experience so much nature and open spaces just on your doorstep wherever you are in the country? Where else do people live in the lifestyle that we do, as comfortably as we do?

Africa has its’ issues but f#*% me, we live in an awesome country.

Cheers to all of my fellow South Africans who are lapping it up here in SA (we do work our butts off, don’t forget that) and really enjoying our lives in the beauty that we call South Africa.

A piece of (elephant) heaven – Elephant Nature Park – Chiang Mai, Thailand

There is a big part of my recent trip to Thailand that is missing from my blog posts – my one week volunteership at the Elephant Nature Park – just outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was the main reason that I headed off to Thailand again and I’ve been struggling to blog about it, as I cannot seem to capture the experience in words. I will try my best, in words and pictures. What I feel in my heart for this place cannot be expressed.

Elephant Nature Park is an elephant sanctuary, or more accurately, an elephant heaven. All the elephants at the park have been rescued from some form of (in most cases, multiple forms of) abuse and domestic work. Land mine victims, illegal loggers with broken limbs, blind ellies, broken and beaten, they’ve all been rescued by the amazing people at the park.

The stories behind the past of these elephants is heartbreaking and the fact that there are countless more where they came from, in the same situation, is even more heartbreaking. What animals that take part in as domestic work, or tourism entertainment, have to endure and the multitude of animals treated in this way is something that I struggle to comprehend. Thailand is famous for its’ elephant trekking and all sorts of animal entertainment for tourism, but if you take a look behind the scenes of this trade, you will be disgusted at what you uncover. I’ve never been one to force the realities of animal abuse down anyone’s throats and I am not about to now, but what I learnt about Thai treatment of animals, and Asian elephants in particular, who are supposed to be revered in their culture, is really something else.

So the Elephant Nature Park provides a haven for these gentle giants with such traumatic pasts. It was founded and is run by Lek Chailert – the warmest heart you will ever meet. She has so much love for these elephants and has dedicated her life to saving them. Hearing her sing to the young elephants to calm them down when they were upset with the introduction of a new baby, Navann, reinforced the gentleness of her kindness and passion.

Not only do they care for elephants (and let me tell you – the process involved with this task is no easy feat, it is a mass effort on a daily basis to keep the place alive), but they also have a dog shelter with over 300 rescued dogs (mostly from a mass rescue mission in the last Bangkok floods) and there also seems to be a water buffalo rescue effort going down there inadvertently!

When one of our volunteer group members asked Lek what we, as society, can do to help the cause, she did not respond with the standard answer of “donations”, she rather said “your voice”. So this is me, sharing my voice and helping to show people what is really going on in Thailand. As a tourist, please please please stay away from anything animal-related – it is almost certainly an abusive situation. Don’t be a part of it. Visit the Elephant Nature Park instead and experience true compassion. It is rare in this world.

This is proof that there is good in the human race. We see so much stupidity and heartlessness on a daily basis that this refreshing experience of raw human kindness is rare.

Feel free to leave your comments asking me any questions about my experience there as a volunteer – I am very happy to answer anything about this treasure of a sanctuary!

You can find them on Facebook as Elephant Nature Park and Twitter @save_elephant.

Random words of wisdom – from the mouths of the monks #GoThai

Whilst being stuck in Chiang Mai, hanging around the city, I visited one of the many temples in the city (Wat Pra Singh) to pass the time. Having been to Thailand before and done the whole ‘visit the temples’ thing, I wasn’t too excited about it, but this temple was actually really interesting as you could wander around the temple grounds, discovering random words of wisdom pinned to the trees.

Here are some that I found quite interesting. I hope that you find something here that speaks to you.

Lost in Translation #GoThai

The very entertaining part of travelling to non-English speaking countries is the funny translations that you come across along the way. Here are my favourites for your giggling pleasure…