Travel

Renting a campervan in Iceland

benefits of renting a campervan

Iceland has definitely been a hot destination in 2016. It seemed like everyone was talking about Iceland and posting beautiful photos. After seeing a photo from my friend while she was there, I buckled and immediately booked a flight to head there myself 2 weeks later, in November.

The biggest decision I had to make was whether we were going to rent a car and stay at hotels/guest houses along ring road, or if we should rent a campervan which would act as our transportation and accommodations. After spending a week in a campervan and driving all of Ring road, I can’t imagine seeing Iceland any other way. We rented ours from KuKu campers and were so happy with their customer service and with our van. Here’s my list of pros and cons if you’re trying to decide:

Pro

  • Slightly cheaper (it came to around 300 dollars less to use a campervan, however I did not factor in the cost of the extra gas consumption that a larger vehicle would use. In total we spend about 400 dollars on gas and drove about 2100km. Also keep in mind that we went during the off season so prices would be higher in the summer).
  • Save money on food cost. We found that the average dinner at a restaurant would cost around 30-60 dollars CAD. By buying groceries from Bonus (a budget grocery store) we were able to make meals for our whole trip for under 200 dollars. We also brought a couple of things from home like mac and cheese, oatmeal and granola bars.
  • Don’t need to have a strict agenda. Now this is the BIGGEST benefit in my opinion. This let us look at the temperature when we first landed and we decided to go around Iceland clockwise as the weather up north was slightly nicer than in the south. This also let’s you figure out where you’re more likely to see the Northern lights and adjust your route accordingly. It also let us stay longer in some areas and cut other areas shorter depending on how we liked it.
  • You feel more connected with nature.
  • If you ever needed a mid day nap or you were tired of driving, you could easily hang out in the back of your campervan.
  • Can pretty much be by yourself the whole time. This can be a con depending on your personality but it was a nice break from the chaos of Toronto. We went 6 days without really interacting or seeing anyone. Just us, and beautiful mother nature.
  • We had everything with us at all times so if the weather changed quickly and it started pouring rain, we had our wet gear already with us instead of back at a hotel.
  • Let’s you roll with the flow. The weather in Iceland can be predictable. We got caught up in a bad storm and were able to just camp out for the night rather than being forced to drive to our next accommodations to keep a schedule.

Cons

  • No washroom. But honestly, all the public washrooms we used were super clean and at night you can stay at campsites which have showers and toilets. We were never in a situation where we absolutely needed a washroom and couldn’t find out.
  • In the winter, you could get cold depending on your campervan’s heater. Ours lasted about 8 hours on the battery. There were nights when we were so exhausted that we went to bed at 9pm. Which mean around 5am, the heater would stop running.
  • For inexperienced drivers, a campervan may be more challenging to drive, especially around winding mountains. And if you’re going in the winter, keep in mind that the days are short so much of your driving will be done in the dark. And there streets are not lined with street lights so it’s pitch dark out.
  • On windy evenings, you can really hear the wind on your van and it shakes it a bit so if you’re a light sleeper, this might be an option. I personally loved it and it made me feel like I was camping.
  • You can’t really do laundry. Our boots got really wet one day when we hiked during a storm and had to hold them up to the van’s heater while we were driving to try to dry them out.
  • Hard to charge devices. We had a converter that we plugged into the cigerette lighter of our van which kept our phones charged but if you have a lot of devices, you might find it challenging to keep everything charged.
  • Hard to meet other people.
  • Sometimes it was hard to find an open campsite in the winter. However, many campsites although closed, do leave their gates open so you can still go and park in there but the washrooms were closed.
  • Uses more gas than a regular car. However, ours took diesel so it was a little bit cheaper.

We had originally rented a smaller category B van that was big enough for 2 people, however we were upgraded into a category c van and I can honestly say that it would have been more than enough room for at least 4 adults.

We named our van lil’ Sabastian and after 2 days, we were just absolutely in love with this little guy. He really did feel like home and helped us see so many different parts of Iceland. We loved cooking on the little butane cooker and having a sink was a nice luxury although really not required.

To get a full tour of the inside of our campervan, check out my Youtube video!

Safe travels!

Here’s our map of places you can visit in Iceland


xo Ngoc

Disclosure: I did receive a discount from KuKu campers in exchange for some social media activity. All opinions though are my own.

A week in the Azores – Ponta delgada

Before booking my flight to Ponta Delgada in the Azores, I had never even heard of these islands. Within a couple hours of landing, I quickly fell in love with everything it had to offer.

I’m constantly raving about how wonderful the island is and how I would recommend it as a destination for all ages. Downtown has a wonderful European charm about it, some of the more rural areas have this old world farm feel, the little neighborhoods scattered around the island have this wonderful small town feel and then then the cherry on top is that surrounded by oceans, the greenest fields, and the freshest air.

ocean views in the azoresDowntown ponta delgada

img_0109-copysmalll

Friends are always asking for suggestions on what to do there so I thought I’d share it here on my blog.

Rent a car

The public transportation on this island is infrequent and does not always run on schedule. You can go end to end of this island in 3 hours and there are so many beautiful look out points that you really want a car to be able to experience it all. We found that renting a car from the city was cheaper than renting from the airport. If you are visiting during high season, you may want to book a car ahead of time as we weren’t able to rent a car until our second day because every place was sold out. We also found that we were able to get some better prices by booking online rather than in person. Hopefully you can drive standard as an automatic car will run you about twice as much.

The cars are pretty small and are great on gas. We used about a tank and a half for the while time we were there. And we were out driving in the car every single day.

We rented from flor do Norte Rent-a-car and it was 173 euros total for 8 days.

Phone: 296 287 209 | Mobile: 966 506 551 / 963 827 567

rent car azores

Look at how adorable our little car is! We only had to fill up once and we drove everywhere for a whole week.

Rent a scooter!

Although the idea of zipping through the island on a scooter sounded like so much fun, we didn’t end up renting one as the weather was very unpredictable and there wasn’t a lot of room on the scooter for all the snacks we would bring and we couldn’t lock up our stuff.

Activities

Tea plantations

Since the boyfriend and I are both tea lovers, we spent a day visiting both tea plantations and learning about how they harvest their teas using traditional methods. These plantations are absolutely beautiful so even if you’re not a tea drinker, I’d still recommend visiting.

There are two on the island:

Cha Gorreana and Cha porto formosa

visiting tea plantations in the azores

Nordeste Canyoning

Dionisio Cardoso from Azores Adventure islands was amazing and we ended up booking most of our activities through him. I’m a big wimp when it comes to heights but once I repelled down the first waterfall, I quickly fell in love. It’s exhilarating without giving you that falling feeling in your stomach. The only part of this tour that you should be aware about is that there are a few little cliff jumps ranging from 3 meters to 9 meters. The 9 meter jump was terrifying and although I’m proud of myself for doing it, I will never voluntarily do it again.

Canyoning in the Azores10339375_10100893305381877_3594041231280472684_o

Kayaking

Kayaking was a good work out but also very relaxing at the same time. We chose to kayak in Sete Cidades though Azores Adventure islands as well. The ride there was very scenic and went by super fast. We ended up kayaking on a pretty windy day so we really had to use some muscle to get to where we wanted to be.

Kayaking in the Azores

10498498_10100893279234277_2521581633781898364_o

imgp0663small

Surfing

If you already know how to surf, you can rent boards from some shops right on the beach for fairly cheap. If you don’t know how to surf, you can also book lessons with the surf shops. I think we paid about 50 euros for Brian’s lesson. The waves can vary a lot from day to day so it’s a good idea to email one of the surf shops to ask them how the waves are if they recommend surfing in the north or south of the island that day based on your experience level.

Surfing in the Azores
Islet of Vila Franca do Campo
This is a cute little island off the coast of Sao miguel that you can get to by boat. It’s a nice place to swim and relax for a couple of hours. Make sure you check the boat schedules though. The first time we tried to go, we found out that the boats were not running that day.

ponta delgada island
Hot springs

Sao Miguel has several natural geothermal hot springs. We went to Poça da Dona Beija and it was beautiful and relaxing. Entrance is pretty cheap at only 4 euros per person.

Natural pools

All around the island, you can find these really neat natural pools where rocks have closed off an area of the ocean so you have a calm body of water to swim in for free. Since it is ocean water though, be prepared for pretty cold water. Even in June, the water was absolutely freezing.

Ponta da Ferraria
Ponta da Ferraria is on the western tip of Sao Miguel. There’s also a nice natural swimming pool here that’s warmed by a hot spring. Although you’ll want to go here when the tide is low or it’s not too windy because the waves can be pretty aggressive especially for a beginner swimmer. The place is also covered in dark lava rocks and is a great place to hang out and relax for a couple of hours.

Food

Seafood, and beef are ridiculously good on this island. For a well-priced steak, I’d highly recommend Galago. The restaurant was full of locals when I went and almost every single table had a steak on it so you know it’s good!

They also had these delicious limpets! I had never heard of these before eating them. They were kind of like chewy mussels.

For fresh seafood, check out cholera. It’s right on the water and offers a spectacular view. And the menu changes depending on what the catch of the day is.

Volcano stew

In Furnas, you can get a their speciality meal, cozido das Furnas, cooked using steam from the volcano!  They throw a bunch of meat and veggies in a pot and leave it in the hole for 5-6 hours.
This is actually a serving for one person! The server kept insisting that we order a two person serving bc he didn’t think we’d have enough food. WHO EATS THIS MUCH?!

Accommodations

Although there are lots of hotels to stay at, I would highly recommend checking out airbnb. You can get a really fantastic place for fairly cheap comparatively.

We opted to stay with a really nice couple and their kid. Their hospitality was top notch. We woke up every morning to a full breakfast that included fresh breads, home made jams, different cheeses and fruits, juices, milk, coffee, eggs.

airbnb

I don’t think you can go wrong with whatever neighborhood you choose to stay in. Every inch of this island was really lovely and all the locals I met were so friendly and warm. The one thing you may want to consider though when choosing where to stay is that some tours include a pick up and drop off but only in certain neighborhoods. This could save you money on a car rental if you plan on doing a lot of full day tours.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary – Chiang Mai, Thailand

elephantJungleSanctuarycover
I’m notorious for not planning anything when I travel but the one thing that I did spend time researching and reading about before my trip were these elephant parks all around south east Asia. I’m always a bit iffy about going to places with animals for pure human enjoyment. I had heard about the mistreatment of elephants and tigers in Thailand so had initially decided not to visit one until I heard about these ethical rescue centres.

After a lot of research, I had decided that Elephant nature park and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary both had good reputations for treating their elephants with care and respect.

I ended up booking a full day tour at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and had an amazing experience. They have a no-ride policy and their elephants are free to roam around without chains and are not held in cages and are not disciplined using bull hooks. The elephants don’t put on shows or entertain the guests. I’d describe the day more like the elephants were just hanging out and we got to experience the day with them.

The full day started with a pick up from my hostel at 8am. We rode in a songthaew which is a typical mode of transportation in Thailand. It’s essentially a pick up truck that’s been altered to carry a bunch people in the back.

The ride to the sanctuary took a little over an hour and a half. The driver’s drive pretty fast and the roads get pretty bumpy especially driving up the mountain so you’ll have to hold on tight.

When we first get there, we learned a little bit about the village and why elephant riding is very discouraged. We learned a little bit about the elephants that live in that village and then we made some little elephant snacks that were full of vitamins.

12916916_652351271587560_5809017482082812383_o

11906812_652350811587606_7608624508342256112_o (1)

We then carried the elephant snacks and the bags up bananas up to where the elephants were hanging out.

12967987_652353641587323_3235812428016957728_o

They gobbled up the food really quickly and then we followed them as they walked through the jungle for a bit.

The elephants decided to stop at this mud pit and spent a good 20 minutes just rolling around in the mud. Except for the gramma elephant. She wasn’t too interested in the mud. Instead she walked off and hung out near some dried bamboo plants and kept on feasting.

After taking a few pictures of the elephants, we left them for a bit to go have some lunch.

After lunch, we changed in to our bathing suits and got ready to have a mud bath.

12973430_652356721587015_1526707416211807966_o 12473960_652360914919929_2029358566919985074_o

After the mud bath, we headed over to the river to wash off the mud. Again only 3 of the elephants wanted to go in the water while the other one kept playing in the mud off to the side by itself.

12970890_652365284919492_5507973500014952859_o 12901528_652365428252811_9160435364719743209_o copy

All in all in was an incredible day, made even more enjoyable by our amazing guide, Robert! image1-2

If you want a closer look of my day, check out my gopro video!