To celebrate our 30th birthdays, a few friends and I recently travelled around South America, heading to Bolivia, Peru (including completing the Inca Trail), and the Galapagos Islands. I'll be posting my top tips and thoughts over the next few weeks: starting today with Bolivia, the land of the classic salt flats that you see in almost every iconic photo ever taken of the country.

Red Planet Tour around Uyuni Bolivia

Getting There

We flew into La Paz (the fifth highest airport in the world!) from Lima on LATAM Airlines, where we stayed for a few days before heading over to Uyuni. Out of all the places that we visited, I would add that La Paz was the most dangerous (and dirty - expect to spend your time dodging dog poo in the street, or failing to do so in my case), so while you can get some great photos looking down into the valley bowl that contains the sprawling city, we didn't spend too long there.

From La Paz, we caught a Bolivian Airlines flight to Uyuni (return flight was approx US$200), which arrives at Uyuni around 9 am. This is great timing for the tours (which usually start around 11 am), giving you enough time to check in at the tour office.

Uyuni, is, frankly, a city that feels like a very small town, with around 10,000 people, and very little to see or do in the city itself. We met other tour members who had flown in the day before who regretted the decision, so the US$200 for the flight in is actually a worthwhile price to pay. Others we know caught a bus, but that takes around 10 hours overnight (on the upside, you can pay for fully reclining chairs, and they even have chargers next to you).

Red Planet

We had originally planned to join the three day tour of Uyuni with Red Planet (US$210), but due to snow at the higher passes, that tour was cancelled and changed to a two day tour (US$150). To our initial disappointment, this meant we missed out on a hot spring and the famous Red Lake and Green Lake...but we later found out that the conditions were in fact quite bad, and that one car had flipped in the middle of the snowstorm, and that the driver had then abandoned his tourist passengers on the road in a blizzard!

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard

Overall, our experience with Red Planet was fairly average, despite it being one of the most expensive and highly rated tour operators in Uyuni. When we arrived at the office, the lady there attempted to charge us more than what they had originally quoted (and more than what they charged the other tourists in our group!), but we had their original quote in an email, and she was forced to (angrily) concede.

While there are reviews on TripAdvisor of Red Planet's tour guides and drivers being too drunk to safely drive their passengers, we were fortunate enough to not encounter this - although my friend claimed she smelled weed on our guide on the second day. Our guide in particular was nothing remarkable - but if you do opt for Red Planet, we highly recommend the half-French guide called Marcos, who is an absolute fountain of knowledge (and has a great sense of humour). On top of that, he was the one who rescued the other tour company's passengers who had been stranded in the blizzard, so he's a hero in our eyes.

Day 1

After paying for our tour, we left the Red Planet office around 11am in a land cruiser. The back of the land cruiser is cramped - anyone who is taller than 5 ft 4 will find it a bit of a struggle to make their legs fit comfortably. To make up for it though, our driver was really cool, enthusiastically urging us to connect our phones to the car stereo system so he could blast our music for us.

The first stop was what is known as the "train graveyard", which is only around 15 minutes away. You'll basically see a lot of abandoned, old-school trains (some of which have been stripped for parts by Bolivian youths), that are reminiscent of the latest Mad Max film.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia train graveyard

To my great surprise, this was actually one of the favourite parts of the tour - there are some great train ruins to explore, and you can get some really cool snaps (particularly if you are willing to climb up onto the train roofs)!

We then moved onto two parts of the salt flats (salar de Uyuni), taking some of the classic "there is no depth perception" photos. Along the way, we also visited a salt mining town (with buildings made out of salt!), with a stop at a salt factory - what appeared to be a barn where salt is processed and then dumped into big pyramids and packaged into bags.

We then had lunch in this town (provided by Red Planet), consisting of hot chicken, rice, salad, and chocolate cupcakes.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni salt factory town
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni salt factory town
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni salt factory town

After that, we headed over to Inca Wasy island (otherwise known as Fish Island), which essentially is a coral rock formation with sprawling, giant cacti. You can walk around the trail (which goes uphill and will take about 30 minutes - be prepared to feel the altitude kick in, as most people found it difficult to breathe) with views of what looks like a sea of salt extending to the horizon below.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni inca wasy fish island
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni inca wasy fish island
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni inca wasy fish island

We then continued on to the village of Atulcha to spend the first night in a salt hotel (where literally the entire place is made of salt). Red Planet offers the guests some tea and biscuits, plus a hot dinner. The rooms are very basic and we did not get any hot water (but discovered that was probably because other guests had used it all up, so be sure to get into the shower early!), but each room did have a private bathroom. Keep in mind that it can get bitterly cold at night (and hit below zero degree celsius temperatures) - while the sleeping bags that Red Planet provided weren't bad, you still need warm clothes to be comfortable.

Day 2

The next morning we had breakfast, packed up, and wandered around outside where we met the resident lamma and ridiculously cute vicuña. The latter is a protected animal, as it was previously on the verge of extinction - they have buttery soft, fine hair that is even higher quality than cashmere, and were a favourite for hunters. Both animals are incredibly sweet and friendly - they took a serious interest in my camera, with half my photos being of the noses they poked into my lens.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni atulcha lamma alpaca vicuna
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni atulcha lamma alpaca vicuna

After that, we visited Chiguana, on the south side of Uyuni salt flats, where we explored lava rock formations created thousands of years ago. On the horizon, we could see non-active volcanoes.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni chiguana lava rock formation volcano

After this, we headed to the Andean lagoon to view the pink flamingos, as well as eat lunch (again provided by Red Planet). It's quite windy up here, so again be prepared to wear warm clothing.

Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni andean lagoon flamingo
Red Planet Tour Uyuni Bolivia salt flats salar de uyuni andean lagoon flamingo

The three day tour gives you an extra day visiting the famous Red Lake and Green Lake (so called because of their colours), as well as a visit to the hot spring, but sadly we missed out this time!

Expect the drive back to Uyuni to be a long one - we stopped once more to look at some more lava rock formations, but this was less spectacular than the one we had seen in the morning, so we didn't spend much time there.

We arrived back in Uyuni around 5:00 pm and had dinner with our tour group mates at the famous pizza restaurant called Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza that you can find inside Tonito Hotel - a great way to wrap up our visit!

Conclusion

Overall the experience touring the train graveyard, salt flats, lava rock formations, Fish Island, and the lagoon with Red Planet was not too bad - and certainly appears better than some of the experiences that other tour companies offer. Don't expect too much from the front desk staff or from some of the tour guides, but the scenery that you get on the tour is great (and diverse!).

  1. At the end of the two day tour, most tour companies give you the option to be dropped off in Chile instead, which is great for Australians because apparently you don't need to pay for a visa (US$117) if you enter via land instead of air!
  2. Pack warm clothes because it can get quite cold at night, and sunglasses because the reflection from the salt flats is pretty strong.
  3. If you tour with Red Planet, ask to have Marcos (the half-Frenchman) as your guide.

xx
To follow my safari journey from the beginning, start with our post on Tswalu Kalahari here, then move to our review of Singita Sweni here.

While planning our safari, I agonized over the decision of which lodges and camps to choose; given the financial investment, I was determined to ensure that the hubby and I had a chance to experience the very best South Africa had to offer. Having been blown away by Tswalu, we asked our guide Mike, "What is your favourite place in Africa?" and were thrilled when he told us, "Londolozi". It turned out to be one of those rare occasions when already high expectations are wholly met


Let's face it, sometimes the world seems pretty bizarre. This week we have guest blogger, Evans Lily from SkyWeFly, walking us through the 8 weirdest hotels in the world.

If you are planning on visiting some of the most amazing places in the world, then it is high time you take a look at the strangest hotels on this planet. An experience at a hotel can be more than just a bed and breakfast: unique accommodation can make the experience out of this world. Check out my comprehensive review of the 8 strangest hotels around the world below.

1. Utter Inn (Sweden)

This is a hotel that turns your bedroom into an underwater aquarium. A project by a local artist, Utter Inn is located in the middle of Sweden’s Lake Malaren and consists of a deck and a cabin on a floating platform. The most important part, however, is the aquarium-like bedroom, which is found three meters below the surface, and is only accessible through a steep ladder. Guests who visit the resort often get taken out by boat, and provided with an inflatable canoe, where they are left alone to explore the natural area. 


It was 1996 when I first visited Bali, and more than two decades later, I am re-visiting the same hotel which I had stayed at as a kid all those years earlier. The Grand Hyatt Bali in Nusa Dua is not the newest or flashiest kid on the block; the phrase "an oldie but a goodie" comes to mind. 

grand hyatt bali hotel resort review

The reception is open-air, with traditional architecture framed with lush green gardens, mature trees and tiered water features, setting the backdrop for a relaxed family holiday.

The second leg of our South African safari saw us reluctantly saying goodbye to the Tswalu Kalahari (if you missed my first post, read it here) and heading north-east to Singita Sweni

Singita Sweni South Africa hotel resort Kruger National Park bedroom

The Singita brand is perhaps the most well-known and highly regarded in African luxury safari accommodation, so we had high expectations. The Lebombo concession is a 33,000 acre private reserve within the Kruger National Park, close to the Mozambique border, and we were immediately struck by the stark contrast in colour of the landscape - the rains marking the end of the dry season and start of the wet season have not come, and browns and purplish grey hues dominate the terrain. 
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, we wanted to share some of our favourite gift ideas for the women in your life (guys, you can thank us later!).

Sudio Earphones and Rimowa Cabin Classic Flight Suitcase make for perfect Valentine's Day gifts

1. For the Business Traveller (aka that annoying person who always seems to be flying everywhere on business class and taking pictures of their champagne at airport lounges)

Top 5 Rooftop Bars in Hong Kong

The weather in Hong Kong couldn't be more perfect for rooftop drinking than right now - during the day, it's sunny but with a gorgeous breeze, and at night, it's balmy enough to crack out the ugly Christmas sweaters.

The crew from The Rooftop Guide have been to more than 500 rooftop bars in the last two years. When they visited Hong Kong, they came across some of the best spots they ever seen in the world. Here are their top five favourite rooftop bars in Hong Kong (and for a full list, check out their website here).


An African safari has been on my wish list for the longest time, but we finally made it! In our two week sojourn in South Africa, our first stop was at Tswalu Kalahari. It is a more unconventional choice for the first time safari goer - most people recommend the Kruger for the big five before appreciating the varied desert-adapted species that call Tswalu home - but I have absolutely no regrets about the way our itinerary unfolded.  

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely

We've been hitting really high temperatures here in Hong Kong this Summer, and I won't lie: I am definitely suffering.

Enter the Ambi Climate: a slick new device that allows me to monitor and adjust the temperature in my home remotely via an app that is available on both iPhones and Androids (well, technically it's my boyfriend's home, because my apartment sadly uses the old school, window type aircons that don't even have remote controls!).

The device's app learns what temperature you prefer in your apartment through your feedback, and by measuring the temperature, humidity and sunlight in your home, it is able to control the aircon to adjust the temperature to your comfort level. It allows you to turn your aircon on and off remotely, change the settings, and set timers - all remotely from your smartphone.

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely

The Ambi Climate just requires you to simply install the app on your smart phone and sync the device to your aircon, place the device within sight of your aircon unit (because it works using an infrared signal), plug it into the power socket, and connect it to your home wifi - and you're ready to roll! On top of this, the design of the device itself is clean and minimalist, so it will fit in nicely with every apartment.

In terms of compatibility, the Ambi Climate generally works with any aircon that has a remote control. We discovered that our aircon model was not listed as an option on the app when we attempted to sync it - but the Ambi Climate support team were outstanding, responding to us within 24 hours and giving us three other aircon model types to test (one of which worked). We were pretty blown away with their customer service, so if you're having any difficulty, then don't hesitate to reach out to them!

The app is very user friendly: after initially setting up an account, I was able to get started straight away, browsing the different modes on offer. Comfort mode gives the Ambi Climate free reign to control my aircon and adjust it to my personalised comfort level. This mode requires one week of you giving it feedback (i.e. too hot/too cold) before it gets a full picture of what you like and dislike, which is a very short time in the bigger scheme of things (I mean, usually it takes a person years to figure out what their boyfriend/girlfriend likes and dislikes!).

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app
The red line shows the temperature level and the white line shows humidity level in our living room.
Other modes include temperature mode, which chooses the best aircon setting to maintain the target temperature that you have selected (very useful for saving on energy consumption so the aircon isn't constantly blasting away even after the apartment has cooled down); and away mode, which only turns your aircon on when it is needed to maintain the climate thresholds that you have inputted (very useful for when you are on vacation but want to reduce the humidity levels in your apartment on occasion). Finally, manual mode is essentially the same as your aircon remote control, allowing you to adjust the temperature manually.

On top of all this, the app tracks your aircon usage, giving you a useful graph on how long you have been running the aircon over the last week (so you can have an idea of what your next electricity bill is going to look like!) and what the temperature and humidity has been, both inside the apartment and outside.

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app
Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app
Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app

One of the best things, in my opinion, about the Ambi Climate is that it gives you serious control over your aircon. My boyfriend and I love being able to turn the aircon on about 5 minutes before we arrive home, so that we come back to a cool and comfortable apartment. On top of this, you can always monitor the temperature and humidity in the apartment remotely, so if my dog is sitting at home and I notice it is 38 degrees (yes, it happened once or twice!), I can turn on the aircon for her from my office desk.

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app

Just remember that you must ensure that the device is within sight (and within 2-4 metres) of your aircon. One time, something fell down in front of the device and this blocked the signal - so be sure you put it somewhere where there will be no chance of interference. 

One other tip: we discovered was that our aircon (a Hitachi) is designed to beep whenever a setting is changed. This means that if the Ambi Climate decides to adjust the settings (as it would in comfort and temperature mode), then your aircon has a chance of beeping every time it does this (including throughout the night). In this case, make sure you switch to manual mode - the aircon will remain at whatever temperature you set it at, without the beeping. Note that this is simply an issue with our aircon: if your aircon doesn't beep when settings are changed, you won't have any problems with this.

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app

In summary, I highly recommend the Ambi Climate for its ability to allow you to remotely control your aircon when you're out of the apartment. The comfort setting is exciting - having a device that actually learns what your preferences are is BIG news, in my books. While the device does take time to get to know you (we found that for the first week, it would not drop the temperature down to our desired level as quickly as we liked), it gets better very quickly as it learns how cold we want our apartment (in our case, like a freezer!). While there may be some brand-new, high tech aircons that offer long-distance remote control, these are often expensive and also require extra costs to install in Hong Kong (as the installers insist on having bamboo platforms set up outside your apartment - which cost a fortune!). As a result, the Ambi Climate is an excellent, cost-effective alternative.

The Ambi Climate can be purchased for US$179 online and is also available at 20 retail locations in Hong Kong, including Dream Team, DG Lifestyle Store, Life Digital and AV Life. Ambi Labs will also be exhibiting at the Hong Kong Computer & Communications Festival from 19 – 22 August 2016. A preview of the second edition Ambi Climate, a premium redesign due out later this year, is currently on display at Lane Crawford IFC as part of their showcase "Tech brands that improve the way we live."

Review of the Ambi Climate, a device that allows you to control your aircon remotely app

xx Carmen

PS. This review was sponsored - but that has no impact on our journalistic integrity. To find out more, read our Disclaimer Alert policy here.
We had the pleasure of being invited to stay for one night at the newly opened Attitude on Granville in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, a boutique hotel inspired by Hong Kong's lively atmosphere in the 1970s and 1980s.

Attitude on Granville Tsim Sha Tsui Hong Kong boutique hotel review

I got off a plane on Monday evening, having spent around 16 hours travelling from Colorado to Los Angeles, and back over to Hong Kong (with an additional six hours waiting around in airports). So it was an incredible pleasure to find a gorgeous bouquet of white roses waiting for me when I returned to the office yesterday, courtesy of Gift Flowers Hong Kong.

Gift Flowers Hong Kong white roses review round flower box

Top Travel Items This Summer IPSA Cleansing Foam & IPSA Metabolizer Sensitive Emulsion review

I'm about to head off on a work and wine trip (yes, that's totally a thing), hitting up London, France and Spain - and I thought I'd share the four things that I'll be travelling with this Summer.

PS. It's giveaway time - check out our free giveaway at the bottom of this post!

1. IPSA Cleansing Foam & IPSA Metabolizer Sensitive Emulsion

I only recently discovered the skincare brand, IPSA, which produces a range of products specifically formulated for sensitive skin. The IPSA Cleansing Foam (HK$240) is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, with wormwood extract to sooth easily irritated skin. It is initially applied almost like a clay mask (so expect to look like you smothered white clay on your skin), but the product dries clear after less than a minute. Much like the Dead Sea clay mask I adore, this cleansing foam leaves your skin feeling like you've peeled back an old layer of skin, leaving behind a fresh, new and vibrant glow. Surprisingly, unlike the clay mask I usually use, the IPSA Cleansing Foam never makes my skin feel tight or stings afterwards - probably due to the hyaluronic acid and acetyl barrier protection that stops moisture from being lost.

The IPSA Metabolizer Sensitive (HK$520) is surprisingly lightweight, and is perfect for the Summer heat that leaves most of us with our moisturiser and makeup melting down our faces. With white nettle extract, the skin elasticity is strengthened without requiring a thick or heavy product, and acts as the perfect barrier to Hong Kong's crazy indoor aircon temperatures and outdoor pollution.

IPSA Cleansing Foam & IPSA Metabolizer Sensitive Emulsion review

2. INRRSTYL's SVELTE Pants (in new Summer colours!)

We're not going to lie. We are a huge fan of INNRSTYL. We've raved before about their SVELTE work pants here, and their sneakers and trainers here, but they continued to blow us away with their grey SVELTE work pants - the perfect colour for a busy office professional to wear during the Summer! At only HK$442 each (and for those who are adventurous, they are also available in blue, burgandy, khaki, and orange - as well as the black we reviewed earlier), these are the perfect pants to wear onto the plane (so comfortable!!) when you know you need to head straight to the office or a meeting after you land.

INNRSTYL Svelte Grey Dress Work Pants review


3. Brainwavz Audio HM2 Foldable Headphones

I've always been crazy jealous of people with cool looking headphones, especially on airplanes. They look like they don't have a care in the world - and with those headphones drowning out a lot of the external sound, they probably don't!

For those who are looking for an affordable option, Brainwavz offers the HM2 Foldable Headphones for only US$49.50. The headphones are foldable (as the name suggests), and fits snuggly into an accompanying carry case. With adjustable cup lengths (I use the shortest possible one) and a lightweight frame, this is easy to carry around - and indeed, I like to go for a run with them on, and I'm able to use the volume slider control to easily adjust the volume of my music as I run.

Brainwavz HM2 Foldable Headphones review earphones
Brainwavz HM2 Foldable Headphones review earphones
Brainwavz HM2 Foldable Headphones review earphones

4. Beverly Hills Formula Toothpaste

I was really distressed lately when I discovered that my teeth haven't been in the best shape, so I'm going to be taking good care of them this holiday (I mean, when I'm not busy drinking enamel-staining red wine in the vineyards of Bordeaux). I then came across Beverly Hills toothpaste: a brand that has roots in the oh-so-glamorous Beverly Hills (hello, 90210 anyone?), but manufactured in Ireland.


The toothpaste uses premium ingredients and spring water to produce toothpaste that offers customers safe and affordable teeth-whitening, all from the comfort of their own home. They have a HUGE range of different types of toothpaste to suit different people: ranging from Perfect White Gold (which has actual anti-bacterial gold particles in it!), Perfect White Black (with activated charcoal in it, which traps chemicals and prevents their absorption, resulting in fewer stains, eliminating bacteria that causes bad breath), Perfect White Black Sensitive (for those with sensitive teeth), and Perfect White (with a dissolving Pentasodium Triphosphate agent that prevents food particles from settling on the teeth).

What has impressed me most about Beverly Hills Formula Toothpaste is that the brand has done its homework and actually tested its products against other brands. You can see from the chart below (provided by the company) that its products have been ranked over 60% effective in stain removal - which for at-home dental care is very high (usually you'd expect to see these figures for professional stain removal clinics) - and above their competitors.
These products are available at Watsons in Hong Kong - but we are also giving away one box of Perfect White Black Sensitive and one box of Total Protection Whitening to one of our readers for free. All you need to do is like our page on Facebook - we'll pick a winner on 31 August and ship it to you internationally for free!

xx Carmen

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