Hello and welcome to Carmen Green Photography!

Here I will be sharing my photos of landscapes and wildlife from around the world along with helpful travel tips. Please follow my journey and check out my photo galleries. All images have been taken by myself and are available to purchase as prints and photo products. All of which are available to purchase from my Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/CarmenGreenPhotos
 

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New Forest Photo 2022 Calendars now available

December 09, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Nature in and around the New Forest photo calendar 2022

Featuring 12 original photos taken across the seasons in and around the New Forest, Hampshire, England and capturing the beauty of its nature.



- A4 (210x300mm) when folded flat and opens to A3 (300x420mm) size
- 250gsm silk coated paper
- Ring bound with a pre-punched hole ready for hanging


January - brent geese in flight
February - starling murmuration at sunset
March - blue tit and Spring blossom
April - bluebells in Spring
May - mother and baby New Forest donkeys
June - silver-studded blue butterfly on heather
July - roe deer buck
August - honeybee on wild marjoram
September - New Forest pony
October - woodland colours in autumn
November - false death cap mushroom
December - robin and holly


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Visiting the island of Langkawi, Malaysia

September 28, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Langkawi is a lovely archipelago comprising 99 small islands in the Malacca Strait, approximately 30km off the coast of mainland Malaysia. While rather small in size (only about 478.5 km²) there is plenty to see and do and it's small size makes it ideal to easily travel around and explore everything that this beautiful place has to offer.

Langkawi cable car & skybridge 

One of the main attractions in Langkawi, and a place that you have to go to before you leave, is the Langkawi Sky Bridge. Take a ride up on the cable car starting from Oriental Village and witness amazing panoramic views of the archipelago from the top of Langkawi's second highest peak. The cable car ride takes about 15 minutes allowing you plenty of time to observe lush rainforest, mountains, islands and the Andaman sea. There are many photo opportunities with a stop about midway up before you arrive at the very top and access the sky bridge; a 125m long curved pedestrian bridge above Mount Mat Cinchang, and considered to be one of the world’s longest curved suspension bridges. If you are feeling brave, step onto the glass floor and look straight down into the vast valley below.

View looking south-east from Langkawi skybridgeView looking south-east from Langkawi skybridge Looking down onto the Langkawi skybridgeLooking down onto the Langkawi skybridge

Don't forget to stop by the Seven Wells Waterfall before you leave; it is just a few minutes up the road from the skybridge car park. Park at the bottom and follow the short trail up to the waterfall. Look out for cheeky macaques on the way. They seem to be everywhere in Langkawi, particularly where there are people and potential food to steal. It is advisable to keep all food hidden and bags closed as they are very intelligent and will easily snatch food from you when your back is turned.
Seven Wells WaterfallSeven Wells Waterfall Mother and baby long-tailed macaque, LangkawiMother and baby long-tailed macaque, Langkawi

Kilim Geoforest Park

Visit the Kilim Geoforest Park, an impressive 100km² expanse of lush mangrove forest and impressive limestone rock formations with numerous islands, beaches and caves. Here, the easiest way to explore is to take a boat trip through the beautiful mangroves, stopping off at a number of view points on route. The first stop off is at Kelawar Cave where you can observe stalactites, stalagmites and a large colony of bats roosting within the caves. It is thought that three different species of fruit eating bats roost here. Bringing your own torch is recommended otherwise you can rent one there as it does get quite dark within the cave, although take care not to disturb the sleeping bats! Next you can watch the birds of prey being fed and get some fantastic close up views of the white-bellied sea eagles and brahminy kites swooping down for fish; they are very impressive birds. After sailing along the coastline, you can then stop off at a secluded beach within the Geoforest Park to relax and unwind before heading back via Crocodile Cave, so named due to the rocks resembling a crocodile, not because there are any crocodiles there. It is a natural tunnel that has formed within the limestone that the small tour boats are able to navigate through. On the way back, there is also an option to stop at the floating fish farm for lunch. I do not eat seafood myself, however, this is the ideal lunch spot for seafood lovers and is a good place to stop off for refreshment, use the facilities and sit and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
Kilim Geoforest ParkKilim Geoforest Park Kilim Geoforest ParkKilim Geoforest Park


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Gunung Raya

At 881m above sea level, Gunung Raya is the highest point on the island of Langkawi. If you are feeling fit, then you can hike up to it. Alternatively, it is possible to drive up to the top. The steps up to the peak start at the Thousand Memories Eagle Stairs just off of Jalan Padang Gaong Road and leads up through lush rainforest. Stop and catch a breath while keeping an eye out for birds and monkeys moving through the trees. Once at the top, enjoy breath-taking panoramic views all across the island. There was once a cafe at the top of the mountain, however, this is now closed so ensure to bring sufficient food and water on your hike as there is nowhere on route to get refreshment.

View from Gunung Raya, the highest point in LangkawiView from Gunung Raya, the highest point in Langkawi
Island hopping

There are so many islands surrounding Langkawi and the best way to get around and explore is by boat. Therefore, island hopping is a very popular activity in Langkawi with multiple tour operators offering trips to the various islands within the archipelago. Trips start from the jetty at the southern tip of the island at Pantai Tengah where the majority of the surrounding islands are just a short boat ride away. The island Pulau Dayang Bunting is one of the main islands to visit. It is the second largest island within the archipelago and is said to resemble the silhouette of a reclined pregnant lady from afar. Here you can follow a short trail to the Lake of Pregnant Maiden where you can relax, swim and get refreshments. Next you will be taken to another island where you will have some time to relax on the pristine beaches and take a swim in the ocean. Keep an eye out for those pesky macaques though who are always in search for an easy meal! During the boat trip there is also another opportunity to watch feeding of the majestic white-bellied sea eagles and brahminy kites as they soar overhead and dive down to the water.

Pulau Dayang islandPulau Dayang island

Wildlife

Despite being quite a small island, being so close to mainland Malaysia, there is an abundance of wildlife to see. The birdwatching in particular is amazing and you will see so many colourful and exotic birds wherever you go. In order to see even more birds, we went on a trip with the local tour group Junglewalla. If you aren't familiar with the birds in the area, it is definitely well worth booking a trip with an expert. Our guide was so knowledgeable, superb at spotting birds and knew exactly where to go on the island to find them. We visited a number of different habitats including rainforest, plantations, scrub and wetlands and saw a total of 37 species in just a 4 hour tour. We got some amazing views of all species; particular highlights include crested goshawk, mountain hawk-eagle and a great hornbill landing in a tree right in front of us.

It's not all about the birds on Langkawi though. The island is also rich in insect life with lots of colourful butterflies, plus two species of monkey: the long-tailed macaque and the less common dusky leaf monkey (above).

Great hornbill, Gunung RayaGreat hornbill, Gunung Raya Dusky leaf monkey, Gunung RayaDusky leaf monkey, Gunung Raya Peacock pansy butterflyPeacock pansy butterfly

As you can see, despite the small size of the island, there is plenty to see and do here. We spent just five days on the island which was enough to do everything we wanted but we could easily spend a week or two here to have even more time enjoying the lovely, relaxing atmosphere, beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife! 


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A day trip into Bosnia from Dubrovnik

January 30, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

A great thing about the location of Dubrovnik is that it is so close to several other countries, namely Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina. While you're visiting Dubrovnik, I would certainly recommend a day trip into Bosnia. From where we stayed in Soline, the Ivanica Border Crossing was only a 15 minute drive away. Just don't forget to bring your passport and, if you are hiring a vehicle, make sure the rental car company are aware that you will be entering another country so that you will have all the documentation that you will need at the border crossing (there will be an additional fee for this). While I had read previously that there can be long waits at the border crossing, when we arrived late morning, we went through fairly quickly (under 10 minutes). Alternatively, if you do not have a hire car, it is possible to take the bus from Dubrovnik into Bosnia and there are regular buses that will take you into Mostar, the main place to visit in Bosnia & Herzegovina. 

Mostar

An approximately 2 hour drive from the border crossing, passing by mountains and pleasant countryside, Mostar is a lovely city full of history and most famously known for the iconic UNESCO-designated Old Bridge (Stari Most) that straddles the River Neretva. It was built in 1566 during the Ottoman occupation until it's destruction during the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1993. However, it has since been reconstructed exactly as it was and is probably the most population attraction in Mostar. Walk across and all around the bridge to admire it from different angles. Head down in the afternoon and stand at the bottom of this bridge and watch locals diving off of the bridge into the river below, an old tradition at this city. They create quite a crowd and a lot of noise as they build themselves up for their 24 metre drop down.

River Neretva and Karađoz Bey Mosque, MostarRiver Neretva and Karađoz Bey Mosque, Mostar Stari Most (Old Bridge) at MostarStari Most (Old Bridge) at Mostar
Given the history of the city of Mostar, and the very recent war here, there are several museums that you can visit including the War Photo Exhibition, Museum of War and Genocide Victims and Old Bridge Museum. The latter is located at the eastern end of the bridge, where you can go up and get a bird's-eye view of the bridge. There are also several mosques in close proximity that you can visit. A short walk away from the main hustle and bustle at Stari Most is the Crooked bridge, a smaller version of the Old Bridge that crosses the small Radobolja River. This bridge was built as a test model prior to the construction of the more famous Old Bridge.

The city of Mostar is definitely growing in popularity, probably due to the fact that it is so close to Dubrovnik, therefore, expect to see quite a lot of tour groups also visiting. Consequently though, there are plenty of places to stay, eat and shop. The Old Bazaar is the go to place if you enjoy shopping and you can buy a range of items including colourful fabrics, clothing, bags and jewellery at bargain prices, just prepare to haggle a little!


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Blagaj

After visiting Mostar, take a short drive down to the pretty little village of Blagaj, approximately 12km to the south-east of Mostar. At this village, you can view the famous tekija, or monastery, built while the country was under Ottoman rule. It is situated at the base of a cliff face over the Buna river. There is a small car park in the village and the Dervish monastery is just a short walk from here. Daily prayers and services are still undertaken here but it is also open to visitors for a small admission fee if you wish to take a look around yourself. Bear in mind that you would need to remove shoes before entering and ensure that you are suitably covered up. Outside, there a multiple shops and restaurants in the area so take a break and admire the beautiful scenery here before continuing your day in Bosnia and returning back to Dubrovnik.

Blagaj Tekija: Bosnia's Beautiful Monastery Under A CliffBlagaj Tekija: Bosnia's Beautiful Monastery Under A Cliff

Kravice Waterfalls

On your way back to Croatia, it is well worth taking a different route back and stopping by the spectacular Kravice waterfalls, just under an hours drive from Mostar. Situated amongst lush green vegetation with multiple cascades, this has to be one of the most scenic waterfalls I have ever seen. It is approximately 25 metres in height with 20 different falls and multiple viewpoints to admire its natural beauty from all angles. Park at the top and follow the trail down to the base of the falls. Be prepared to get a little damp here as there is a lot of spray right down the bottom. Then work you way back up to the top where I think you get the best overall view of this paradise amongst the forest. It is also possible to swim in the pools here, should you wish and you could easily spend several hours here. Visiting during the spring time is best (we went in June) when the leaves have all just appeared on the trees and there is a good amount of water cascading down the falls. Also, we visited late afternoon when most other tourists had been and gone so we could enjoy lovely unobstructed views of the waterfalls.

Kravice waterfallsKravice waterfalls
Finally, before returning back to Dubrovnik, end your day trip by watching the beautiful sunset over Svitavsko Lake, part of a complex of marshes and wetlands within Hutovo Blato Nature Reserve. This is said to be a haven for birds and I only wish that we had enough hours of the day left to explore this reserve during the day. Will definitely have to return to Bosnia in the future as there is this and so much more still to explore!

Kravice waterfallsKravice waterfalls Nature Park Hutovo Blato, Capljina at sunsetNature Park Hutovo Blato, Capljina at sunset


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Wildlife in and around Dubai

September 03, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Think Dubai is all huge buildings, shopping and elaborate displays of wealth with no wildlife in sight? Think again. There are actually plenty of opportunities to observe a great deal of wildlife if you know where to look. It also provides you with a chance to escape the rest of the tourists that are only visiting the main attractions. 

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Speak to anyone and I bet the majority of tourists aren’t even aware that, just a 10 minute drive from the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, huge numbers of wetland birds, particularly flamingos, flock to this nature reserve during the winter months. It is a spectacular sight to see; a sea of pink with high rise buildings in the background. Just off of the main road into Downtown Dubai, there are two hides where you can look out at these birds: Mangrove Hide and Ras Al Khor Flamingo viewing deck. They are both visitor friendly and have displays providing information on the sanctuary and the birds and other wildlife that inhabit it. You can view flamingos from both hides although we found that the main Flamingo viewing deck provides a slightly closer view of larger groups of these birds. A number of other wetland birds can also be found at Ras Al Khor including great white egret, purple heron, black-winged stilt and curlew as well as birds of prey circling above on the lookout for food.

Flamingos at Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary, DubaiFlamingos at Ras al Khor wildlife sanctuary, Dubai


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Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

Since the majority of the UAE consists of desert and the city of Dubai is largely built on this habitat, why not give the desert a visit. Approximately a 45 minute drive from the city, you can visit the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to see a range of desert wildlife. You need to be with an official guide when you visit the reserve. We went with Platinum Heritage who were excellent and our guide was very knowledgeable, friendly and respectful of the environment. We chose a morning tour which comprised a wildlife safari across the desert and included a short stop at a beautiful man-made lake, created to provide additional habitat to attract birds, before being taken to the stunning and luxurious Al Maha Desert Resort for a delicious breakfast looking out over the desert. All safaris around the reserve are within a very comfortable Range Rover, well-suited for driving over the sand. The vehicles all stick to designated tracks within the protected area so as not disturb and destroy the habitats and you are not allowed to leave the vehicle except at designated spots, also reducing impacts to the environment. You will receive a headscarf at the beginning of the trip which you can keep afterwards. There are several other tour options for you to choose from including night time safaris where you have a chance to observe the unique nocturnal animals that emerge after darkness once temperatures are a bit cooler.

The highlight of the trip for me, without doubt, was the Arabian Oryx and this was the species that I had most wanted to see in the UAE. Almost hunted to extinction in the 1960s, massive conservation efforts through captive breeding and reintroduction programmes have since saved this species and there are now good numbers in the wild which are protected by law and no longer threatened with extinction. With those great big horns, these are extremely impressive animals and we encountered several herds during our safari including one group that walked straight out in front of our vehicle. In addition, we also spotted multiple sand and mountain gazelles and a number of birds can be seen around the lake and Al Maha Desert Resort where there is more vegetation.

Arabian oryx at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, UAEArabian oryx at Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, UAE

So if you are planning a trip to Dubai and want to get away from the busy city to see some amazing wildlife, you really do not have to travel far. I highly recommend popping across to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary and an excursion to the desert for a unique and unforgettable wildlife experience.


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Visiting Hong Kong - other places to visit if you have more time

May 23, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

If you are able to spend more than just a few days in Hong Kong then there are plenty of other things that you can see and do in addition to the main attractions mentioned in my previous blog post.

Hiking

Although well known for its city, the majority of Hong Kong is actually mountains and forests and therefore offers plenty of opportunities for hiking. One of my favourite trails is the Dragon's Back hiking trail in Shek O. It is very scenic and popular with both tourists and locals. It ascends up through lush green forests and leads you to various viewpoints including the Summit of Shek O peak where you can enjoy stunning panoramic views over Shek O beach and the outlying islands. The trail begins at Shek O Road near To Tei Wan Village. It is moderately difficult with some steep ascents and took us a little over two hours to complete, including time to stop for photographs and admire the views. Bear in mind that there is nowhere to purchase food or water once you start the hike so make sure you bring plenty with you. It can get very hot along the trail in the summer months and a lot of the route is quite exposed with little to no shade.

Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O)Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O)
Of course there are plenty of other country parks and green spaces in Hong Kong where you can hike. Lion's Rock in Lion Rock Country Park for example is another fantastic hiking destination and offers stunning views across the city from this iconic natural formation resembling a lion. To get to the trailhead, get off at Wong Tai Sin MTR station and walk past the Fat Jong Temple before entering the Lion Rock Country Park. It's a relatively short hike (a couple of hours) up to the peak just below 500m high where you can enjoy beautiful panoramic views from the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Other popular hiking trails include Po Toi Country Trail (just off the coast of Stanley, see below), Lantau Trail on Lantau Island (a great place to watch the sunset or sunrise) and Tai Mo Shan in the New Territories (a former volcano and Hong Kong's highest peak where you can observe great views over Kowloon reservoirs and Tsuen Wan).

View from the Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O) towards StanleyView from the Dragon's back hiking trail (Shek O) towards Stanley View from the Dragon's back hiking trail over Shek OView from the Dragon's back hiking trail over Shek O
Markets

If you love to shop and grab a bargain, Mong Kok is the place to go. Here you will find one of the most famous and popular street markets in Hong Kong: Ladies Market. Located on Tung Choi Street just down the road from Mong Kok MTR station, it is a great place to shop for clothes, shoes, bags and  jewellery (although much, if not all, of the items for sale here are fakes). Don’t let that put you off though as the quality is actually pretty good. Since most of the prices here are not fixed, you are welcome to haggle to bring the price down and get yourself the best deal. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, even just visiting here is an interesting experience. As well as the market, there is a large shopping centre if you prefer a less stressful shopping experience.

Another great place to visit for shopping is Stanley Market, a great place to buy souvenirs for a good price. Situated along the waterfront, Stanley Market has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere than Ladies Market and more aimed towards tourists. While it is a relatively small market taking less than an hour to explore, Stanley itself is a lovely seaside town to visit and you could easily spend an afternoon here. There are nice beaches as well as plenty of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. Take a stroll down Blake Pier past Murray House (an iconic landmark built during colonial times) and look out across great views of the beaches and offshore islands. Here you can also catch a ferry to the nearby island of Po Toi. The ferry operates on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays and it takes about 30 minutes to get across.


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Island hopping

Since Hong Kong mostly consists of islands (263 islands in total), you shouldn’t leave until you’ve explored at least some of them. With the exception of Lantau Island that is mentioned in my previous blog post (with the Big Buddha and Po Lin monastery being the major attractions), other islands that are well worth a visit include Lamma Island and Cheng Chau. Lamma Island is particularly popular with tourists and has plenty of hiking trails, temples, restaurants and beaches to visit and you can see several caves that were dug out by the Japanese during the war and used to store munitions. Ferries to these destinations are fairly frequent and you can hop on at Pier 4 in Central, Hong Kong Island. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy wandering around any of the islands or have limited time, you can also just take a boat ride around the islands.

Cheung ChauCheung Chau Hong Kong islandsHong Kong islands
Just 10km south-west of Hong Kong Island, Cheng Chau is smaller in size but becoming increasingly popular. Being a historic fishing village, the waterfront is bustling with fishing boats and market stalls and is a great place to visit if you enjoy seafood. There are a number of walking trails that you can follow that lead you to small temples, numerous rock formations, beautiful beaches and view points. The island is known for pirates and one of the main attractions here is the Cheung Po Tsai Cave where this famous Chinese pirate stored his treasure. Another of his hideouts was at Reclining Rock just south of the cave. Cheung Chau is a lovely, peaceful island and a great place to go if you want to escape the busy city.

Global Geopark

Located in the north-east and east New Territories, make sure to visit the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark to view the fascinating natural rock formations and learn about the geology of Hong Kong and past volcanic eruptions which led to the creation of these unique landforms. Start off by visiting the Volcano Discovery Centre along the waterfront in Sai Kung where you can join boat tours that will take you to visit the various geosites in the region. The most popular area that you must see if you go is High Island where you can observe the amazing hexagonal volcanic columns along the coast as well as other unusual rock formations. Sharp Island is also worth a visit and is covered by rocks formed from magma from the volcanic eruption over 140 million years ago. 

Wildlife

Hong Kong Wetland Park

Red-whiskered bulbul, Black River Gorges National Park, MauritiusRed-whiskered bulbul, Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius Spotted Narrow-mouthed Frog in Hong Kong Wetland ParkSpotted Narrow-mouthed Frog in Hong Kong Wetland Park
If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day in the search for wildlife then Hong Kong Wetland Park is the place to go. Located in Tin Shui Wai, New Territories, it is easily accessible by public transport with a bus stop and train station located just outside the entrance. There are numerous bird hides dotted around the park where you sit, relax and observe the wetland birds. A total of 273 species of bird have been recorded here to date. It is best visited in the winter when large numbers of overwintering birds are present however there is still plenty of wildlife to see all year round. In the damp areas below the boardwalks you will see numerous small crabs, frogs and mudskippers at the water's edge while butterflies and dragonflies whizz around above. Watch out for the huge orb weaver spiders overhead; these spiders spin huge golden webs high up across the paths and the females of the species are very large and hard to miss.

MudskippersMudskippers Golden Orb Weaver spiderGolden Orb Weaver spider
Macaque monkeys

Macaque monkeys are common at Kam Sham Country Park and both Rhesus and long-tailed macaque species can be found here. These are very well-adapted to living in this habitat and numbers continue to increase with approximately 2000 individuals currently living in Hong Kong. While fun to watch them in the wild, they can sometimes be overly friendly around people. This is because people feed them which making the monkeys aggressive and unafraid of humans, frequently attempting to grab bags in the hope of snatching some food. It is now against the law to feed these monkeys and you can be fined if you are caught doing so. Therefore, when you visit, be sure not to bring any food with you or keep it well out of sight and enjoy watching the macaques natural behaviours.

Macaque at Kam Shan Country Park, Hong KongMacaque at Kam Shan Country Park, Hong Kong
Dolphin watching 

Surrounded by so much water, of course Hong Kong is a great place to see dolphins, and not just any dolphins, but the resident pink dolphins! Known as the Chinese white or Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, these animals start off grey and spotty when younger and gradually become shades of pink when they grow older. Join a boat tour to witness these amazing cetaceans in the wild. We went with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch who provided us with an unforgettable experience of these beautiful animals. The guide collected us from Tsim Sha Tsui before taking us to Tung Chung to begin our boat trip. It lasted for about 3 hours, sufficient time for us to get fantastic sightings of these wonderful pink dolphins. Tours tend to run every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and you can join anytime of the year as the dolphins can be sighted all year round. Dolphins are generally seen on pretty much every trip, however, if you are unfortunate enough not to see them, you are able to book onto another trip free of charge.

Indopacific humpback dolphinsIndopacific humpback dolphins
As you can see, despite the small size of Hong Kong, you can easily find something for everyone. Whether you enjoy hiking, shopping, sightseeing or wildlife watching, you will find great places to visit during your trip to Hong Kong. Have a fantastic time!


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Visiting Hong Kong - the main sights and activities

April 25, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Travelling around Hong Kong is extremely convenient. With an excellent public transport system, there is no need to consider hiring a car but instead, choose from a variety of local transport options including bus, tram, train (MTR) and taxi. The MTR is particularly convenient and comfortable (all carriages are air conditioned), rapidly covering great distances across Hong Kong. Whichever form of transport you use, it's very useful to have an Octopus card if you are planning on spending a bit of time travelling in Hong Kong. Very similar to the Oyster card in London, you can quickly and efficiently scan your card while using public transport (and can also be used in shops). With most of the main sights being relatively close together, you can really see a lot in a short space of time!

Victoria Peak looking down over Hong KongVictoria Peak looking down over Hong Kong

Victoria Peak

The top sight to see while you are visiting Hong Kong has got to be Victoria Peak. At 552m above sea level, it is the highest point on Hong Kong island and, on the Sky Terrace, you can enjoy fantastic 360 degree panoramic views of Hong Kong, Kowloon Bay, Victoria Harbour and the surrounding islands. While you can get to the Peak via taxi or bus, the best way to travel to the top is by the Peak Tram; one of the oldest funicular railways in the world, providing visitors with a fun ride to the top while offering excellent views. 

I would recommend heading up Victoria Peak in the late afternoon to enjoy both day and night time views. Look out over the iconic buildings of Hong Kong such as the International Commerce Centre (ICC), International Finance Centre (IFC), HSBC building, Central Plaza and the Bank of China Tower. While you're up there, there a number of shops and restaurants to go to as well as a small Madame Tussauds. Here you will find many familiar famous faces alongside big stars from Hong Kong and China. Outside, you will also find various walking trails where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in tropical forest surrounded by wildlife while enjoying views of Hong Kong at different view points.

Victoria Peak looking down over Hong Kong at nightVictoria Peak looking down over Hong Kong at night


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Lantau Island - the Big Buddha

Head over to Tung Chung and grab a cable car up to Ngong Ping to see one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. Alternatively, you can get the bus over if you're not a fan of heights or, you can even hike it if you have more time and are fit and able. The cable car will take you up over lush green mountains giving great views of the islands, Hong Kong airport and Tung Chung Bay. At the top you will arrive at the lovely little village of Ngong Ping where there are a number of shops, restaurants and cafes. After a short 10 minute walk, you will reach the monasteries and, the main attraction, the Tian Tan Buddha statue (the big Buddha). Situated at the top of 268 steps, it sits at about 34 metres high and is said to look down upon the people of Hong Kong. It is free to visit but there is a charge if you would like to go inside to see the exhibits (tickets for this can be purchased at the bottom of the steps so make sure you get them before you make it all the way up to the top)! When you reach the top, you can wander all the way around the Buddha and enjoy fantastic panoramic views of the island and South China Sea.

Big Buddha, Lantau IslandBig Buddha, Lantau Island
At the bottom of the Buddha, you can visit the Po Lin Monastery, one of Hong Kong's most important places of worship for Buddhism. Here you can observe elaborate decorations and various statues of the Buddha, light incense and pay your respects or leave offerings to the Buddha. The Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas is quite impressive and exactly what its name suggests. During your visit, you may also see a number of monks within the grounds who regularly attend this working temple.
Lantau IslandLantau Island Monastery, Lantau IslandMonastery, Lantau Island
Victoria Harbour & the Star Ferry

Heading down to Victoria Harbour and taking the star ferry between Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui really is a must when you visit Hong Kong. This old ferry line has been running since 1888 and, while being very popular with tourists, it is still used as a means of transport for commuters travelling between the mainland and Hong Kong Island. It offers great views of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island and its widely recognised buildings. From Wan Chai after just an approximately 10 minute crossing, you will arrive at Tsim Sha Tsui where you can walk the Avenue of Stars along the waterfront, very similar to the Hollywood walk of fame in Los Angeles, but for Chinese stars. Celebrities featured here include famous martial artists and movie stars such as: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. While you're over this side of the water, it is worth popping into the Hong Kong Space Museum if you have the time. Also, if you go on a Wednesday, there is free entry into the museum. It is very interesting and informative with numerous interactive displays and there are also a couple of exhibition halls and a planetarium in addition to the main museum.

Victoria Harbour, Hong KongVictoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Wait around until the evening to watch the city light up before witnessing the spectacular Symphony of Lights display. This light show has taken place every night at 8pm since 2004 and been named the world's largest permanent light and sound show by the Guinness World Records with 42 buildings participating in the show. I highly recommend doing this while enjoying a beer at the INK taproom where you can enjoy the light, refreshing locally brewed beer: Gweilo.

On the other side of the harbour at Wan Chai, you can visit the Wan Chai street market selling a range of items such as clothes and jewellery, electronics, fruit and veg and fresh seafood. Visiting the street markets certainly makes for a much more interesting experience than shopping at a mall. While the majority of products tend to be fake rather than the real deal, you will find that the quality is often pretty good, at least for those prices. For example, we found football shirts being sold for about a £1 each! However, Wan Chai is just a short walk from Causeway Bay which is another great place for shopping and has several malls if you don't fancy shopping in the market.

Victoria Harbour, Hong KongVictoria Harbour, Hong Kong
These places are probably the minimum that you should visit if you are staying in Hong Kong for a few days. However, if you are able to stay for longer, despite the small size of the place, there are plenty of other things to do here and you will certainly find something for everyone so you would be sure to have a fantastic stay here. Keep an eye out for my next blog post which will provide further details and ideas of other things you can see and do in Hong Kong.


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Visiting Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, Madagascar

March 20, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

If you're travelling on the RN7 between Isalo National Park and Toliara, do make sure you make time to stop at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park. It is a small park and only takes about an hour or so to get around but is well worth the visit and a great way to break up the journey. Being located on the RN7, it is also very accessible; just pull over on the side of the road by the sign and a guide will greet you and show you around. However, most visitors don't actually realise that it's there and drive on by, missing the fantastic flora and fauna here.

Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park is composed of three separate areas and split into two halves either side of the road. It represents a transition between the great limestone massifs of Isalo Natinonal Park and the dry spiny forest to the south. Compared to some of the other more well-known national parks in the country, it is fairly quiet and we hardly saw any other tourists during our visit.

Verreaux's sifaka at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, MadagascarVerreaux's sifaka at Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park, Madagascar Oustalets's chameleon, MadagascarOustalets's chameleon, Madagascar
This national park is probably one of the best places to see the Verreaux's sifaka or white lemur and several groups live here. Having visited this place twice now, I was lucky enough to see these lemurs both times. They appear quite chilled and used to human presence, happily going about their daily business of leaping through trees, munching on leaves and sleeping on branches. In addition, a number of nocturnal lemur species can be found at Zombitse, such as the Hubbard's sportive lemur. Although nocturnal, it can frequently be seen resting within tree hollows during the daytime.

Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park separated into two halves by the RN7Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park separated into two halves by the RN7 Hubbard's sportive lemur, Zombitse-Vohibasia National ParkHubbard's sportive lemur, Zombitse-Vohibasia National Park


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You are also likely to encounter a range of other wildlife during your visit here. It is a brilliant place for birdwatching as nearly half of the country's endemic birds can be found here and you can observe some rarities here including Appert's greenbul (which can only be found in this place and nowhere else in the word), Coquerel's coua, white-browed owl, black parrot and blue vanga . If you are planning on coming here for the birds though, make sure you head out early (between 6am and 9am is best) to give yourself the best chance of seeing the birds when they are most active, before it gets too hot. If you are planning an early start, there is accommodation nearby; Zombitse Ecolodge is just 7km down the road and the only place to stay in the vicinity of the park.

Look out for the huge Oustalet's chameleon, one of the largest species of chameleon in the world, but also very tricky to see due to their impressive camouflage. There are also numerous standing's day gecko dotted around the park; the park sign seems to be a favoured location so look out for these colourful lizards as you walk past. The flora is also fascinating and there are some massive baobab trees, some of which are around 600 years old.

Standing's day gecko at zombitse-vohibasia national park, MadagascarStanding's day gecko at zombitse-vohibasia national park, Madagascar


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South-west Madagascar - Toliara and its surroundings including the spiny forest

March 09, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

If you are in search of sun, sea and sand during your Madagascar road trip, make sure you make some time to head down to the south-west of the country where the RN7 comes to an end. Here you will find beautiful palm-fringed beaches, small fishing villages as well as the unique desert habitat known as the spiny forest that has formed as a result of heat and drought, creating a dry, dense jungle of spines, thorns and trees with swollen trunks, adapted to survive in this extreme environment.

Arboretum d'Antsokay

Probably the top attraction in the area, this botanical garden was established by a Swiss botanist in 1980 and is a great place to visit and learn about the spiny forest of Madagascar and its flora and fauna. It contains a collection of approximately 900 species of plant native to the area, of which most are endemic (about 95%). The grounds are very well-maintained and you have the option to wander around by yourself or take a guided tour. I would recommend a guided tour to make the most of your visit here. The guides are very knowledgeable and speak good English; they will introduce you to many species of plant found in the spiny forest such as baobabs, succulents, EuphorbiaPachypodium and the botanical family Didiereaceae (octopus trees) which can only be found in this region of Madagascar. We learnt about the various plants special adaptations and medicinal properties as well as which plants to avoid due to their toxins. In amongst the thickets you can spot a number of animals including green-capped coua dashing through the undergrowth, warty chameleons camouflaged within the scrub, Madagascar cockroaches, snakes and the iguana-like Merrem's Madagascar swift basking in the sun. There is also a small museum collection at the end where you can see rocks, fossils and even a full size elephant bird egg, reconstructed from many small egg fragments found in the local area. Just outside the arboretum is a small gift shop with locally-produced crafts as well as a nice little restaurant.

Reniala Reserve, Ifaty, MadagascarReniala Reserve, Ifaty, Madagascar Warty chameleon at  Arboretum d'Antsokay, Tulear, MadagascarWarty chameleon at Arboretum d'Antsokay, Tulear, Madagascar

The arboretum also run regular night walks where you can observe a number of nocturnal species associated with the spiny forest. Chat to a member of staff in the ticket office in advance to check the times and meeting point for these (we met outside the restaurant there since the ticket office closes in the evening). On the night walk, we hadn't even entered the arboretum yet when we saw our first brown mouse lemur darting through the trees above the entrance, and that was shortly after our guide said that they are quite rare and we probably wouldn't see one so we felt very lucky! This was followed by a variety of other wildlife including warty chameleons perched in the bushes, numerous fat-headed geckos and Madagascar cockroaches.

Spiny forest at night, MadagascarSpiny forest at night, Madagascar Mouse lemur in the spiny forest of MadagascarMouse lemur in the spiny forest of Madagascar


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Ifaty

Head about 27km north of Toliara to reach the small resort of Ifaty, a great place for snorkelling and bird watching. Reserve Reniala, a small protected area of spiny forest just a 10 minute drive from the centre of the town, is the ideal place in the area for birdwatchers to go, particularly if you are hoping to tick some rare endemics off your list. The sub-desert mesite and long-tailed ground-roller are the most sought after species in the spiny forest, being found nowhere else in the world but here. Other species you are likely to see here include crested drongo, Madagascar bee-eater, souimanga sunbird, red-capped coua, Archibold’s newtonia, Thamnornis warbler, Madagascar hoopoe and various vangas. It's best to visit first thing in the morning when birds are most active (and before it becomes too hot). Just make sure you arrange with a guide the day before to ensure the reserve is open when you arrive and someone is available to take you around. There are also tortoises near the Reniala Reserve; Village des Tortues helps protect and conserve the endangered endemic spider and radiated tortoises. Here you can take a guided tour and learn all about these rare species and their conservation, worth a visit if you are in the area.

Radiated tortoises at Village des Tortues, Ifaty, MadagascarRadiated tortoises at Village des Tortues, Ifaty, Madagascar Sub-desert mesite at Reniala Reserve, Ifaty, MadagascarSub-desert mesite at Reniala Reserve, Ifaty, Madagascar

Water activities

With a long stretch of coastline at Toliara, there are plenty of opportunities to undertake activities in and around the sea. In particular, from Ifaty you can go out snorkeling and scuba diving at the large coral reef just off the coast. This reef stretches a huge distance of over 450km along the south-west coast of the country and is the fifth largest coral reef in the world.

This region is also particularly good for whale watching during their migration through the Mozambique channel. Plan your visit between mid-June to September to observe this amazing natural spectacle. We enjoyed fantastic views of humpback whales slapping their pectoral fins, lobtailing and were even lucky enough to watch one breach right in front of our boat! As if that wasn't enough excitement, we even spotted a brief glimpse of Risso's dolphins passing by.

The sunsets are also very beautiful off the coast of southern Madagascar so be sure to stick around to watch the sun set over the Mozambique channel.

Sunset at TulearSunset at Tulear Humpback whales off the coast of Ifaty, MadagascarHumpback whales off the coast of Ifaty, Madagascar
Ifaty beachIfaty beach Malagasy sunset with local fishermenMalagasy sunset with local fishermen

Mangroves

Head south of Ifaty to observe yet another interesting and unique habitat; the mangroves. These habitats are predominantly found in tropical regions of the world and are able to survive in highly saline conditions, being located in the coastal intertidal zone. This ecosystem plays a very important role; they protect shorelines from waves, currents and storms and minimise the effects of erosion by stabilising coastlines as well as having the ability to store huge amounts of carbon. In addition, these trees and shrubs provide a habitat for many species and here you will have another opportunity to observe a range of wildlife including wetland birds, crabs and the unusual mudskippers. These fish have evolved the ability to survive both in the water and on land with well-developed pectoral fins that act as legs for moving or skipping on land and even means that they are able to climb onto low branches of trees. Visit the Honko Community-Based Mangrove Reserve, just 15km north of Toliara and take a wander along the boardwalk with a knowledgeable guide and learn all about this fascinating habitat while helping the local community and contributing to mangrove conservation projects.
MudskippersMudskippers

With plenty of restaurants, hotels and activities about, south-west Madagascar is well set up for tourists. We stayed in a lovely Air BnB villa - Villa Claire, located just 15km south of Toliara at the end of a dirt track so you will need a 4x4 to get to it. However, it is well worth the journey; the stunning villa is clean and spacious with a large infinity pool, fantastic grounds comprising many plants typical of the spiny forest as well as direct access to the beach. Also, the hosts are very friendly and helpful and have a very cute cat and dog who are just as friendly. I would highly recommend staying here! 

I hope you have a very relaxing stay in southern Madagascar!


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Visiting Isalo National Park, Madagascar

February 03, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Not only does Madagascar have fantastic wildlife, it also has some spectacular landscapes. The rugged massif of Isalo National Park is particularly stunning and has scenery rivalling that of south-west USA. This geological formation dating back to Jurassic times consists of rugged mountains and canyons that are constantly being eroded by the wind and rain. Although principally visited for its scenery, this National Park is also home to 3 species of lemur as well as various endemic birds, reptiles and flora. There are few hotels in the area; I would highly recommend staying at Isalo Rock Lodge. Although slightly more pricey than the majority of hotels in Madagascar, it is very good value compared to other similar luxury hotels in other countries of the world and it is well worth the money. Set within the beautiful sandstone of Isalo, you can enjoy fantastic, unobstructed views of the mountains from your own room. In addition, there are several short walking trails that you can do from the hotel which lead you to a natural pool as well as great view points where you can watch the sunset.

Isalo National ParkIsalo National Park

Isalo National Park

The park office can be found in the village of Ranohira. We had a little bit of trouble finding it at first since it is not well signposted. If you are travelling south along the RN7 towards Isalo, just after you enter Ranohira, the road will bend to the left; keep going straight instead of following the road left and you will see the Zebu Grill restaurant (a nice place to stop for lunch with a mix of Malagasy and international dishes). If you continue on past the restaurant then past the police station, you will find the park office on the right hand side of the road. Here you can book your tour and guide for visiting the National Park.

It is recommended to begin your hike in the morning (we started at 7:30am) since due to the high temperatures, so that the majority of your walk is complete before the hottest part of the day. The trail head is quite far from the park office in Ranohira so you can either drive up to it yourself or hire a driver from the park office to take you. Alternatively, it is possible to walk this, however, it is not recommended as it is quite far with not a lot to see and you are better off spending more time in the National Park instead. There are a number of tours that you can choose from, varying in length and difficulty. We chose a 6 hour tour to allow us to spend a full day observing the natural beauty of Isalo National Park. Our route led us up the rocks, across plains before walking along the ridge at the edge of the park that looks out at across vast arid landscapes before beginning our descent down into the canyon, all the while enjoying incredible views. At about midday we reached the campsite to have a Malagasy lunch of grilled zebu, rice, vegetables and locally grown fruit (pineapple and bananas), all the while being constantly distracted by the wildlife that surrounded us. The hike after lunch consisted of a short walk through a canyon, along a stream towards the Piscine Naturelle, a beautiful natural pool formed in amongst a little oasis. Here you can take a swim and cool off and relax after your hike before leaving the National Park.

Ridge at Isalo National ParkRidge at Isalo National Park Down through the canyons at Isalo National ParkDown through the canyons at Isalo National Park


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Our guide was excellent and very knowledgeable on the park's history, local traditions and cultures as well as the flora and fauna. It is a very cultural place and local tribes consider it to be sacred, using the rock faces and canyons as traditional burial sites and you may see several tombs during your visit. Your guide should also make you aware of the beliefs and 'fady' (cultural taboos) of the tribes to ensure tourists do not unintentionally cause offence while visiting the park; for example, it is fady to point using your fingers. Instead you should gesture with your whole hand.

Ring-tailed lemur at Isalo National ParkRing-tailed lemur at Isalo National Park Ring-tailed lemurs at Isalo National Park, MadagascarRing-tailed lemurs at Isalo National Park, Madagascar

Wildlife

There is much wildlife to be seen at Isalo National Park. The campsite is particularly good for seeing the cheeky ring-tailed lemurs who appear quite tame and used to humans. You are not supposed to feed these animals and must be very careful with your food as they can be very sneaky and will steal food at any opportunity if you are not paying attention! We were also lucky enough to see a Verreaux's sifaka (otherwise known as the white or dancing lemur) in the trees above the camp. In addition, you will encounter a number of endemic plants that are adapted for living in this hot, dry environment such as the elephant's foot plant Pachypodium, palms, aloes and desert rose. A number of birds can also be observed at the National Park including Madagascar cuckoo-roller, Madagascar hoopoe, Madagascar buttonquail and Madagascar scops owl. However, the highlight for many birdwatchers is the locally endemic Benson's rock thrush (below); this subspecies can only be found in Isalo National Park.

Benson's rock thrush at Isalo National Park, MadagascarBenson's rock thrush at Isalo National Park, Madagascar

Window of Isalo

End your day at Isalo National Park by visiting the window of Isalo (La Fenêtre de l'Isalo) at sunset. This place is surprisingly busy (not sure where all these tourists appear from?!) so make sure to get there early to get a good spot to watch the sun set through the natural rock formation. Taking photos can be a little tricky, however, due to the number of people jostling to get the perfect shot of the sunset. I personally found the front of the rock and the surrounding scenery much prettier with the gorgeous sunset glow on the rocks and fewer people in the way. If you don't get chance to visit the window of Isalo or don't manage to get good views of the sunset here, not to worry as wherever you are in Isalo National Park, you are bound to witness stunning sunsets and are sure to have a fantastic time visiting this amazing place!

Window of IsaloWindow of Isalo Sunset glow at Isalo National Park, MadadgascarSunset glow at Isalo National Park, Madadgascar
La Fenêtre de l'Isalo, MadagascarLa Fenêtre de l'Isalo, Madagascar


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Visiting Anja Community Reserve, Ambalavao, Madagascar

December 06, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

No trip to Madagascar is complete without seeing the cheeky ring-tailed lemurs, and Anja Community Reserve is probably one of the best places in the country to see them. It is a small reserve just off of the RN7, south of the town of Ambalavao, with several circuits to choose from ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The reserve is run by local people who recognise that wildlife is important to them and without such special wildlife, there would be no tourists bringing money into the already poor country. Great efforts have been made to conserve species here and promote a more sustainable living through ecotourism. Now, the reserve possesses an abundance of wildlife and is currently home to about 400 ring-tailed lemurs. In fact, there are now so many lemurs here that they are hoping to plant more even trees to expand the reserve further!
Ring-tailed lemurs at Anja community reserveRing-tailed lemurs at Anja community reserve Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarAnja Community Reserve, Madagascar

When we visited, we encountered several groups of ring-tailed lemurs including a large group of mums with their babies, some of which were carrying twins. The lemurs here are so used to people visiting Anja, so it is a great opportunity to get up close to them and take some good photos. Although bear in mind that you are not allowed to feed them here, so keep hold of your snacks (they will steal food from you, given the chance)! In addition to the ring-tailed lemurs, you are also bound to see a number of other species including birds, snakes and chameleons. Our guide and spotter pointed out several chameleons, such as this beautiful Oustalet's chameleon below, as well as striped Madagascar garter snake, grey-headed lovebirds and the impressively colourful rainbow milkweed grasshopper.


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Oustalets chameleon, Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarOustalets chameleon, Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar Rainbow milkweed grasshopper, Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarRainbow milkweed grasshopper, Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar

However, Anja is not just about the wildlife, the landscapes here are absolutely stunning and during your hike you will have the chance to take in amazing panoramic views of the region. To make the hike even more interesting, there is a bit of scrabbling over rocks involved (including abseiling down a steep rock face) but it is well worth it for the fantastic views. You will also see numerous tombs within the mountains that have been used by local Betsileo tribes over hundreds of years as part of the local tradition.
Mother and baby ring-tailed lemurs at Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarMother and baby ring-tailed lemurs at Anja Community Reserve, Madagascar
The nearest town of Ambalavao has a good selection of hotels to stay in. I would highly recommend the nearby Betsileo Country Lodge, a small hotel with cosy little bungalows offering stunning views across the mountains and rice fields. It is just a 5 minute drive from Anja Community Reserve. They also serve great food here, all of which is locally sourced, making it a good lunch-stop if you are only passing by.

Do not forget to pop into Anja Community Reserve while on your travels around Madagascar. It is really worthwhile, not only for the fantastic encounters with wild ring-tailed lemurs and beautiful scenery, but you would really be helping out the local community who are passionate about the country's wildlife and are keen to conserve and protect it for future generations to enjoy. It is a great example of how humans and nature can happily co-exist.

Anja Community Reserve, MadagascarAnja Community Reserve, Madagascar


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