All Posts By

bucketlistbums

Asia Food Insider Tips

The Best of Vietnam Insider Guide

Vietnam

I recently wrapped up my second visit to Vietnam, one of the most vibrant countries in Southeast Asia. Land of rice fields, lanterns and noodle soup. It was a trip of old favorites and new wonders, and I wanted to share just a few highlights with you lovelies. Happy travels!

Vietnam

Favorite City – Hoi An
This celebrated port city was home to a spectacular Ancient Town, a cluster of 800+ buildings and colorful corridors filled with charming shops, market stalls, restaurants, etc. on the banks of the Thu Bon River. And lit up at night, the place was even more magical! Every evening, I watched as tourists and locals boarded the tiniest boats to set lanterns afloat along the river. By 9 PM the river looked like a painting – a dark waterway aglow with hundreds of flickering yellow lights.

Hoi An

Favorite Pool – Mai Chau Eco Lodge
I had to go off-the-beaten path to find Vietnam’s most epic pool, nestled in the northern countryside. The Mai Chau Ecolodge was a haven of green with its surrounding rice fields, banana trees, swaying palms and limestone peaks. And smack dab in the middle of it all was this sparkling oasis of turquoise with the dreamiest pool views.

Vietnam

Favorite Food – Pho
Pho was my go-to meal at every stop in Vietnam. It was cheap, and it was delicious. I’m a pretty picky eater, so I had a hard time with some of the more exotic Vietnamese cuisine and flavors. Luckily, pho was served almost everywhere – from little street stalls to sit down restaurants.  

Pho

Favorite Rice Fields – Ninh Binh
People always tout Halong Bay as the crown jewel of northern Vietnam, but Ninh Binh remains my favorite. The soaring limestone peaks rising out of the riverbanks looked like something out of a fairytale. One of my favorite adventures was exploring Tam Coc Grotto by private boat on a river that snaked through rice paddies and soaring limestone karsts. And for a topside vantage of the grotto and rice fields, I headed to nearby Mua Cave for the prettiest views in Vietnam.

Vietnam

Favorite Resort – Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai
Hoi An was home to the only Four Seasons property in Vietnam, and it felt a world away from the chaos of Saigon and the bustle of Hanoi. The resort’s picturesque beach setting shocked me into much-needed R&R mode – I saved this for the last leg of my trip. Happily, I spent my days poolside on one of the resort’s luxury loungers sipping on coconuts & passion fruit juice with beach views of swaying palms. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought I was on a remote tropical island.

Vietnam

Favorite Off-the-Beaten Path Adventure – Halong Bay via Bai Tho Mountain
A junk boat tour of Halong Bay is touted as a must by every guide book, but honestly, I’ve done it twice now and it’s a bit … boring. The bay was beautiful, but there was very little to do on the water, and after a few hours of floating, it got a bit old. I love freedom when I travel and I think because this place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s (understandably) very restricted. Tour companies seemed to be the only way to see the bay, and outside of a few overcrowded spots to, there wasn’t much else to do. I preferred my off-the-beaten-path experience at Bai Tho Mountain. It was a tricky trailhead to find in Halong City. And it was also a gnarly climb straight up a mountain. But the soaring view over the epic bay of 1,600 islands was absolutely priceless.

Vietnam

Favorite Historical Sights – Hue
Citadels, temples, tombs and pagodas. Hue had it all, and its central Vietnam location made it the perfect stop while traveling from Saigon to Hanoi. The sights were a bit spread out, so my favorite way to see the Imperial City and its surroundings was on two weels. About $3 a day to rent a bicycle – quite the deal!

Vietnam

Favorite Big City – Hanoi
Hanoi was a sensory overload, but I loved everything about Vietnam’s chaotic capital city. I started my days at Hoan Kiem Lake, an oasis in the heart of the city, and made my way to the Old Quarter and French Quarter on foot where I let the busy streets and little alleys guide me through the shopping, the street food, the scooters, the crowds and the mayhem.

Hanoi

Favorite Hike – Pu Luong
It’s a truly spectacular journey through the mountains to reach this nature reserve situated in northern Vietnam – a two-hour drive from Mai Chau, and then another three hours to Hanoi. The region was filled with rice fields, sugar cane, wooden waterwheels, gushing rivers, epic limestone peaks and 0 tourists. Completely off the map, Pu Luong offered incredible hiking trails, a lovely escape from the pollution and crowds of Vietnam’s larger cities.

Vietnam

Favorite Driver – Loc Nguyen
With two visits under my belt, I’ve decided that private car is the more comfortable way to explore Vietnam. It also offers a lot more freedom in terms of stopping and schedules for all of the long distance travel. I was randomly assigned a driver from a transport company I booked with out of Hanoi, and completely lucked out. I spent nine days with Loc Nguyen, a rockstar driver who didn’t speak any English, but quickly became a dear friend (the power of Google translate and sign language). He joined me on rice field hikes, grotto boat rides and market visits, and I enjoyed several meals with him all over northern Vietnam. I booked him through the Hanoi Transfer Service company.

Vietnam

Shop Our Vietnam Style

 

Europe Food Insider Tips

8 Places to Visit on a Day Trip to Florence

I’d always dreamed of traveling to Italy. The seaside villages, colorful gelato, delicious pasta and sparkling beaches all comprised my perfect European paradise. So when it came time to plan my first visit, I decided I wanted to see, taste and experience as much as I could in two weeks. Instead of slowly moving from one city to the next (my usual style), the plan was to base myself in Tuscany and see lots of places by day trip. Thankfully, Italy’s efficient rail system made all of this very doable. I was amazed at all I squeezed into a few days, and one of my favorite little adventures was a trip to the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance – Florence.

1. Duomo
I took the earliest train from Tuscany and found myself in Firenze by 7 AM. I had a laundry list of sculptures, churches and views I wanted to visit, but more than anything I wanted to see the city’s soaring Duomo. I headed straight away on foot, and was at the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore by 8 AM. It was absolutely breathtaking, especially in the early hours with no crowds and no tourists (the prefect time for photos).


2. Loggia Dei Lanzi
I’d always loved history and old architecture, but artwork and museums had never really been my thing. So as I started my morning wanders through Florence, I was amazed by the effect these Renaissance marvels had on me – particularly the sculptures scattered throughout the city. The garden of marble statues at the Loggia dei Lanzi was one of my favorites, and an easy stroll from the Duomo.

3. Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is at the top of most Florence lists, but with only 10 hours in the city, I couldn’t realistically visit the museum without sacrificing an entire day of sightseeing. So I decided to save the museum for another trip, but still strolled its outdoor gallery of Florentine statues – Macchiavelli, DaVinci, Vespucci, etc. For anyone else without time for the museum, I thought this was a beautiful little taste, and it left me wanting more.


4. Venchi
As I traveled through Italy, I found myself eating sweets and treats at all hours of the day. So I was delighted to find a Venchi chocolate shop, a short walk from the Uffizi Gallery. Gelato, pastries, chocolate – you name it, I tried it all at Venchi.


5. Piazzale Michaelangelo
It took some work to reach one of my favorite views in Italy, but was well worth the effort. From the Uffizi Gallery, I headed across the Arno, and then up to the Piazzale Michaelangelo. I’d found the dreamiest spot to soak in the skyline with the Duomo and Campanile rising up over the picturesque city. The panoramic scenes over Florence were breathtaking. After snapping dozens of photos, I climbed even higher to the Basilica San Miniato al Monte, for yet another magical view of Firenze.

6. Piazza Santo Spirito
I love dining to good vibes, and the Piazza Santo Spirito lined with cafes, restaurants and bars oozed with infectious energy. It was the perfect lunch spot, located on the same side of the Arno as the Piazzale Michaelangelo, and close to my next stop – the Palazzo Pitti. There were plentiful outdoor dining options on the piazza, I went with Trattoria Borgo Antico, scarfing down a large helping of delicious pomodoro spaghetti – my go to lunch dish in Italy.

7. Palazzo Pitti
My last stop was a quick visit to the Palazzo Pitti. The transformed palace offered a full day of Renaissance gems, but with an afternoon train to catch, I skipped the museum and settled for the gorgeous grounds. The gardens were beautiful to wander and channel my inner princess – perfect hedges of green accented by gravel boulevards and bright white statues.

8. Arno
And it wouldn’t have been a proper trip to Florence without a stroll along the Arno. Quiet in the mornings and bustling by midday, the stretch surrounding the Ponte Vecchio offered some of the prettiest views over the famous river. And strolling the bridge felt like a step back in time as I weaved through the crowds of tourists browsing the adorable little jewelry shops. It was a whirlwind daytrip to Florence, but enough of a taste to know that I’ll be back very soon. Ciao, Firenze! ♡

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


Advice Asia Guides

Dame Traveler Shelbi of Bucket List Bums’ Top 10 Bali Favorites

What’s your favorite place to travel to? It’s the question I get asked most often, and my answer is always Bali. From the glowing rice terraces of Tegalalang to the vibrant streets of Ubud, Indonesia’s island gem is the ultimate wanderlust fix – a wondrous fusion of culture, history and natural beauty. I have a laundry list of things I love about Bali, but thought I’d share just a few of my absolute favorites with you lovelies. Enjoy! ♥

1.) Favorite Town: Ubud

Ah, Ubud! They call it the heart of the island for good reason. A cultural haven nestled in central Bali; the place oozes with color, zen and a wonderful chaotic energy. It’s a land of rolling rice terraces, Hindu shrines and charming streets that truly casts a spell over its visitors. I fell in love with the place when I first visited three years ago, and on my most recent trip back, I found myself adoring it even more. I’m not one to repeat travel (there is so much of the world to see), but for Ubud I’d make an exception any day. ♥

2.) Favorite Pool: Ocean Beach Pool at AYANA Resort & Spa

 

If you’re on Instagram, chances are you’ve seen photos of the iconic cliffside pool at the AYANA Resort & Spa, in Jimbaran. I finally had a chance to visit … and yes, it’s as amazing as the photos. Typically, I’m not one to lounge around on holiday, but for the AYANA, I changed my ways. It truly is a pool for the bucket list – a curvaceous infinity wonder overlooking Rock Bar (another must-visit) with killer views of the Indian Ocean for sunbathers and swimmers.

3.) Favorite Rice Terraces: Tegalalang

I’ve traveled to rice terraces in The Philippines, Thailand, Java and Vietnam, and while Tegalalang isn’t the grandest, there’s something truly special about this iconic Bali wonder. It’s a must for anyone visiting Ubud and while I’d normally recommend a morning visit to avoid tourists, Tegalalang shows better later in the day when the greens are more brilliant and the morning shadows have disappeared. Grab a drink amongst the hilltop craft stalls to enjoy the views, and then hike down into the terraces for a bit of adventure.

4.) Favorite Hotel: W Retreat & Spa Bali Seminyak

 

I’ve stayed at more than a dozen properties on Bali – everything from sprawling resorts to tiny boutique villas. With the exception of a couple random duds, Bali is one of my favorite places in the world when it comes to hotel stays. The properties are beautiful; the spaces are unique; the hospitality is first-rate; and the value is generally very good. Tough to pick just one favorite, but I do love the W Retreat & Spa, in Seminyak. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for fun beach vibes, an amazing pool scene, ultra modern rooms and lots of color, nowhere does it better than this world class W property.

5.) Favorite Waterfall: Sekumpul Falls

 

It’s a full day’s adventure to reach Sekumpul from central Bali, but the waterfall’s lush Ferngully setting makes it worth the exhausting pilgrimage. I braved three grueling hours on the road to reach the trailhead, enduring one of the craziest mountainside routes on the island – the gnarly curves, blind turns and nail-biting narrows make the drive alone an adventure. For thrill seekers that survive the journey, it’s a steep (but gorgeous!) climb down into a tropical valley to reach the waterfalls. And because the off-the-beaten-path location scares tourists away, most visitors will have the jungle haven to themselves.

6.) Favorite Temple: Gunung Kawi Sebatu

 

For tourists looking to learn a bit about Hindu culture, Bali offers a wealth of temples and shrines that welcome visits from foreigners. With so many “puras” to choose from, I thought it worth mentioning my personal favorite – Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu. A short drive from Ubud and just north of Tegalalang, the tropical utopia is a cultural wonderland. Bring your Balinese sarong and explore the colorful blur of holy spring water pools that dot the complex … and even climb into thwe clear water to find yourself surrounded by koi fish, lotus and floating lily pads.

7.) Favorite Beach: Suluban Beach

 

Suluban is not your typical island beach. Forget the powder sand, turquoise swirls and swaying palms …. this mysterious natural wonder sits hidden in the rocks on the southern tip of the island, near Uluwatu. A surfer’s refuge, thrill seekers access the beach via a steep stone staircase that cuts into cliffs and leads to a pathway surrounded by massive rock formations that resemble a watery cave. Continue through the rocks where the path opens up to the beach and you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a secret gateway to the Indian Ocean privy only to surfers in the know.

8.) Favorite Weekend Getaway: Gili Air, Gili Islands

 

Most tourists arrive in Bali expecting calm turquoise waters (à la Bora Bora), only to be disappointed with the beaches of Seminyak, Kuta and Nusa Dua. Luckily, that tropical island fix is just a two-hour fast boat transfer away. The Gili Islands are a set of three idyllic gems off Bali’s east coast enroute to Lombok, and an easy weekend trip from Bali. There are no overwater bungalows (the islands are geared toward budget travelers), but The Gilis certainly offer a nice change for anyone looking for white sandy beaches, turquoise water and world class diving.

9.) Favorite Eats: Sari Organik, Uud

 

Nothing beats the good vibes and rice paddy setting of Sari Organik’s open-air restaurant, in Ubud. Nab one of the coveted tables right above the fields for the most dreamy lunchtime views and choose from a menu loaded with fresh goods. My go-to meal is hand-squeezed orange juice, a fruit smoothie and one of their fresh salads (produce picked right from their garden).

10.) Favorite Driver: Made Dana

 

With two visits under my belt, I’ve learned that a private driver is the best way to explore Bali, and move from one part of the island to another. In Europe and the Americas, a private driver is outside of most travel budgets, but in Bali it’s very affordable. For all my transport needs, I hire Made Dana, who I always recommend to anyone traveling to Bali. He knows the island like the back of his hand, and he is the kindest soul. And whether I stay in South Bali, Central Bali or want to visit somewhere up north like Jituluwih, Made will make it happen. Here are his details (just e-mail him before your trip to book him), danamybali@yahoo.com, +6281338248445.

 

 

Europe Guides Insider Tips Photography

The Best of Croatia: Insider Guide

Croatia is a magical place. From walled medieval cities to the sparkling Dalmatian coastline, Eastern Europe’s crown jewel is the epitome of wanderlust – a perfect mix of history, adventure and natural beauty. I’ve traveled all over the globe for Bucket List Bums, and Croatia is one of the few places I would return to. It really does cast a spell, and I wanted to share a few favorites from my travels through the vibrant country. Enjoy, lovelies! ♥

General_Croatia
Favorite City – Dubrovnik

It’s tough to pick a favorite city in Croatia – everywhere I visited was so special! But Dubrovnik was particularly epic to me. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, I fell in love with the sweeping walled city that so many have fondly come to know as “King’s Landing.” I tucked my map away in Dubrovnik, and let myself get lost in the picturesque maze of streets, plazas and alleyways dotted with churches, markets, fountains and the most adorable doorways.

A little secret for anyone traveling to Dubrovnik during high season: hit the streets at sunrise every morning. I loved the energy of the summer crowds, but I cherished my two hours alone with the city in the early hours. Mornings were my only chance to have the marble wonderland to myself, and experience a bit of quiet with the city still asleep.

Dubrovnik_Croatia

Favorite Beach – Banje Beach, Dubrovnik

While in Dubrovnik, I left the city walls behind and strolled south where I spent an afternoon soaking in the sun on Banje Beach. The location was incredible. I perched myself high atop the turquoise gem, overlooking picturesque Croatian scenes of the dazzling Dalmatian coast, and epic views of the walled city. Typically, I like empty stretches of sand, but the good vibes and contagious energy of this crowded paradise were irresistible.

Banje_Beach_Croatia

Favorite Bar – Buza Bar, Dubrovnik

A drink at cliffside Buza Bar is a MUST for anyone visiting Dubrovnik. Built up the rocks along the city walls, the vibrant bar is the perfect spot to chill out after a long day of sightseeing. Nab a table, order a few beers and watch (or partake!) as the adventurous cliff jumpers plunge into the crashing waves below.

Buza_Bar_Croatia_16

Favorite Island – Hvar

Rarely would I recommend traveling somewhere during high season, but summer in Hvar oozes with an irresistible energy fused by the warm weather, beautiful people and lively bars. From 7 AM to 7 PM, the rocky coastline is dotted with sunbathers along waters so pristine that I could jump in just about anywhere (and I did!).

Hvar Town itself is a medieval little wonder. I braved the summer heat and let myself get lost in the maze of cobbled alleyways and side streets lined with restaurant corridors, tiny shops and wine bars. While I loved the energy, it was best to explore in the early morning when I had the streets to myself for a few hours.

Hvar_Croatia

Favorite Daytrip – Proizd Island

Croatia’s Adriatic coast was a wealth of island gems and glistening beaches. And in the months leading up to our travels, I made it my mission to find the country’s prettiest, off-the-beaten-path paradise. I must have sifted through hundreds of island photos, and read dozens of articles, before coming across Proizd, a little Croatian wonder located just off the Vela Luka tip of Korcula.

From Old Town Korcula, I rented a car for the day, and drove across the island to the west end’s sleepy Vela Luka waterfront where I caught the first water taxi over to Proizd. The 40-minute journey was cold and bumpy, but all that discomfort melted away when I disembarked in Proizd’s warm, idyllic paradise ringed with the clearest turquoise shallows.

Proizd_Croatia

Favorite Eats – Gelato

Croatia was a blur of tasty eats. Seafood and Italian restaurants lined the streets, and the aroma of fresh cooked mussels, sea bass and John Dory guided me through every city. But when I think back to Croatia, it’s gelato that pops into my mind. Ice cream is my favorite treat when we travel, and I was eating it two to three times a day in Croatia. Make note to do the same!

Gelatto_Croatia

Favorite Natural Wonder – Plitvice Lakes

It was 10 years ago that I’d first seen a photo of Croatia, a little country in Eastern Europe that sounded vaguely familiar, but I knew little about. The imagery depicted more than a dozen cascading white waterfalls feeding into tiered pools of vibrant turquoise, in what looked like a mythical forest of lush greenery. At first, I thought it was a painting – somewhere too magical to actually exist, like the setting of a JRR Tolkien novel. But the caption swore it to be a real place … Plitvice Lakes National Park, in Croatia.

I arrived to find Plitvice just as epic as the photos I had seen. It rained during my visit, creating a dreamy wonderland of lush greenery as I hiked from lake to lake and waterfall to waterfall. Crowds were non-existent at 7 AM when the park opened, so I recommend an early start.

Plitvice_Croatia

Favorite Adventure – Adriatic Sea Caves

There are several sea caves hidden throughout the Mediterranean, but Croatia’s Blue Grotto and Monk Seal Cave are two of my favorites. Hidden in the rocks of Bisevo, the Blue Grotto is reachable by little rowboats that fit through the tiniest of openings in the island cliffs. As we floated in, I was in awe of the dark cavern lit by a surreal blue glow, and crystal clear water dotted with silvery rocks just below the surface.

Monk Seal Cave was another little gem. The tiny cave was hardly visible from our boat, and we could only get into the mouth via an underwater swim. I jumped from the boat, and in choppy waters, took a deep breath diving down and then up into the sea cavern’s interior that radiated with a brilliant turquoise glow.

For travelers staying on Hvar, daytrips to both caves can be booked on the island’s waterfront with a local guide or tour company.

Adriatic_Caves_Croatia

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Top