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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Swahili Coast: Kenya’s Multicultural Lamu Island

 With a rich precolonial history that blends Bantu, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and Southeast Asian cultures, the Lamu archipelago is a major contrast to the typical Kenyan safari.

  • Lamu Island: A journey into the past
  • The diverse heritage of Lamu Old Town
  • Trip Notes

My grandfather, Bethuel Githere, was one of the earliest African workers for the East African Railways in the 1960s. The railway was the first nationalized transport that carried passengers and goods from Uganda via Nairobi to the coastal port town of Mombasa. Previously, those positions had been reserved for British and Indian laborers stationed in Kenya. It was not until the Africanization program of 1964 that local Bantu Africans were able to get the required training to replace those non-citizens.

It was this personal history that piqued my interest in the Kenyan Coast, and inspired me to venture to the island of Lamu, about 150mi (240km) northeast of Mombasa. Thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island and its ancient architecture remain largely unchanged; in fact, the island has no roads, and the only way to get around is by boat, on foot, or on a donkey.

The island’s colorscapes are warm, and distinctly tropical – stucco walls lined by bright flowers, as though the desert met the sea and the two made a commitment to unite. This charm makes Lamu Island – one of the oldest parts of the Kenyan coast – an ideal alternative to the conventional safari route that many travelers most immediately identify with Kenya.

Lamu Island: A journey into the past

When I arrive at the Manda Airport (the regional airstrip located on neighboring Manda Island) for my weekend sojourn, I am met by the desert heat and my own nostalgia. I remember roaming the narrow, unnamed streets on a previous trip, and being comforted by the profound sense of community which defines the archipelago’s culture – the product of a rich history both dazzled and made heavy by the presence of royalty from the Omani and Yemeni kingdoms dating back to the 16th century.

Though I relish in the opportunity to practice my Swahili – a language born from the coastal mixing of local Bantu languages, Arabic, Hindi, and a touch of Farsi – I am reassured by the fact that most people on the island also speak English fluently. There are two main inhabited locales on the island: Lamu Town itself, which is the historical center of the UNESCO-protected island, and Shela Village. Whereas Lamu Town is home to the bulk of the island’s markets and local trade infrastructure; Shela Village is comprised more of hotels and private residences, which attract the majority of foreign visitors.

     A traditional dhow off the coast of Lamu. Image credit: Getty Images / WLDavies

One of my first outings is a sunset dhow ride. Dhows – large wooden sailing vessels traditional to the Arabian region – decorate the island’s shores, and are one of the most telling artifacts of the diasporic mixing on the island. A ride costs around USD $30, depending on whether you take it alone or share it with other travelers, and lasts two hours. Riding on the dhow, with its large mast and distinct wooden architecture, feels akin to traveling through time – getting a distant view of the dozens of other boats docked by the shore, and weaving through the thick mangroves that border the other islands on the archipelago.

The diverse heritage of Lamu Old Town

    Carved mahogany door in Lamu Old Town. Image credit: Getty Images / tropicalpixinsingapore

My tour guide tells me about a local family who traced their lineage back to a marooned Chinese ship – presumably from 15th century Chinese navigator Zheng He’s merchant expeditions. Not only did they confirm their Chinese ancestry via DNA tests, they’re still in possession of fine ceramic ware from centuries past. In fact, Shanga Island takes its name from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai, in modern-day China.

I was entranced by this tale, mainly because it challenged so many of my own preconceptions of this island as being uncontacted, unconnected land, when in fact, intercultural exchange is precisely what has shaped these islands into being what they are today. Lamu is a rich mix of Bantu, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and Southeast Asian cultures which, through the centuries have blended and molded to form a distinct marvel of an archipelago. Visiting this charming island is a must for all who feel called to explore the rich and interconnected history of the Swahili Coast – and perhaps even discover remnants of their own culture along the way.

Trip Notes

Getting there

Local airlines – Kenya Airways, Jambojet and Fly540 – make the journey by flight from Nairobi in just under an hour (~USD $200 roundtrip).


Lamu has a diverse and compelling range of accommodation offerings on Airbnb, as well as a range of mid- to high-range hotels.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Tips For Visiting The Colosseum In Rome



The Colosseum one of the most popular sights in Rome, and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire world. Here are some useful tips for visiting the Colosseum!

No matter if you’re a serious history buff or a Gladiator fan – you can’t miss a visit to the Colosseum on a trip to Rome. I was super excited to see the Colosseum when we were in Rome for the first time, but visiting this historic landmark can be a bit overwhelming.

To ensure that you get the most out of your visit to the Colosseum and to avoid any disappointment, it pays off to plan your visit well in advance.

In this article I’ll be sharing my best tips for how to visit the Colosseum, how to buy tickets, and other things that you should know based on my experience traveling in Italy.

Rome Colosseum Travel Guide

The Colosseum is a famous Roman amphitheater that was built between 72 and 80 AD. The three-tired theater is the largest amphitheater ever built, and the largest (still standing) amphitheater in the entire world.

It is the largest ancient structure to have survived: It stands 157 feet (48 meters) tall and measures 620 by 513 feet (189 by 156 meters). The Colosseum was built to hold more than 50,000 spectators.

Roman theaters were generally built in the same way: circular or oval open-air structures with raised seating. They were used for popular events such as gladiator fights, chariot races, animal slayings and executions.

There are around 230 amphitheaters that were built during the Roman Empire, however, none compare to the Colosseum, which is unique in its style and grandeur. Because it was built by the Flavian Emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian, it is also known as the “Flavian Amphitheater”.

The Roman theater has three stacked arcades: the lowest one built in Doric style, the middle arcade built in Ionic style, and the highest one in Corinthian style. It was built in this way to reflect the civilization that created it.

Even though the Colosseum has been severely damaged by earthquakes, visitors can still experience most of the structure that ancient Romans saw when they entered the Colosseum to watch a gladiator fight or spectacle.

How To Get To The Colosseum

The Colosseum is located right in the center of Rome, and the entrance is near the Arch of Constantine.

The nearest metro station is “Colosseo” on the B Line – it is right across the street from the Colosseum, about a 3-minute walk to the entrance.

If you are taking the metro from Termini, take the metro that is going to Laurentina. It’s a 3-minute train ride, or two short stops.

If you have a Rome Hop On Hop Off Bus Ticket, they also stop at the Colosseum. (Hop On Hop Off bus tickets are included in both the Rome and the Vatican Pass).

How To Visit The Colosseum

There are a different ways to see the Colosseum. You can simply see it from the outside (which is free), or you can book a ticket to go inside.

If you want to go inside, you have the option to book tickets for different areas of the Colosseum.

Furthermore, you can choose to visit the Colosseum independently, or join a guided tour.

How Much Does Visiting The Colosseum Cost?

The general admission ticket to the Colosseum is €18 (€16 + €2 online booking fee) and also includes the Roman Forum and the Palatine. With this ticket, you’ll be able to visit the first and second levels of the Colosseum, including three overlooks, however, NOT the arena level or the hypogeum, the underground area of the Colosseum. (You need to book a guided tour to visit these restricted areas – see below for more details.)

Discounted Tickets: European Union citizens between the age of 18 and 25 only pay €4 (€4 + €2 online booking fee) to visit the Colosseum. However, you must show an ID at the entrance verifying the right to a reduced ticket.

Children / People With Disabilities: Children under 18 and disabled people (plus one family member / helper) don’t have to pay to visit the Colosseum.

Full Experience Tickets: Include entrance to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine as well as the S.U.P.E.R. sites (the Palatine Museum, Neronian Cryptoporticus, House of Augustus, House of Livia and Temple of Romulus) AND a tour in English are €32 (discounted: €12) plus the €2 booking fee per ticket. This ticket option includes access to the arena level and an accompanied visit to the underground, but it does NOT include Level 3 of the Colosseum. “Full Experience Tickets” are valid for 48 hours from the first use.

If you are buying a ticket that includes a guide through the official Colosseum website, be careful when selecting the ticket option: the English version of the website is unfortunately not very well translated and can be a bit confusing. You don’t want to accidentally book an Italian tour.

Skip-The-Line Tickets

If you are pressed for time or simply don’t want to waste time waiting in line, I recommend spending a few more dollars on the Skip-The-Line Ticket (around €22). Just be aware that you must book this ticket with an allocated starting time, and tickets usually sell out, so book your ticket well in advance. Skip-the-line tickets are not sold through the official Colosseum website, but are available through GetYourGuide.

What’s Included In Your Colosseum Ticket

The General Admission Ticket includes the Colosseum (without access to the arena), the Roman Forum archeological area, the Imperial Forums and the Palatine. It also includes admission to temporary exhibitions at these sights.

The ticket is valid for 24 hours, so you don’t have to visit all three sites in the same day. You can decide in which order you visit the sites included in the ticket. The 24 hours start when you access the first monument.

Note: If you buy the ticket online, it is not necessary to print it out, you can simply show it on your smartphone upon arrival at the Colosseum.

What’s Not Included in the Colosseum Ticket

The general admission ticket to the Colosseum doesn’t include access to the arena, the underground area and Level 3 of the Colosseum. To visit these areas, you need to book a special ticket or a guided tour (see below for more details).

How Long Does It Take To Visit?

You need to plan in at least one hour to visit the Colosseum, and if you want to visit the other sights included in the Colosseum ticket, plan in at least one hour for those, too. If you want to take in each monument in more detail, you’ll need about 2 hours for each site. Both the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum are larger, more spread-out areas.

As for distances between the sights: The Palatine is a five-minute walk from the Colosseum, the Roman Forum is also less than five minutes away and the Imperial Fora is about 10 minutes from the Colosseum. If you’re pressed for time, it is possible to visit all three sites in half a day, but ideally, you’ll want to plan in 6 hours for all three sites.

Guided Tours Of The Colosseum

If you have more time and really want to understand the Colosseum, I highly recommend taking a guided tour. There is little signage throughout all the monuments included in the Colosseum ticket, which means that you will have little understanding of what you are looking at unless you are listening to a podcast about the sights, or you are using a guidebook.

Visit The Colosseum For Free?

On the first Sunday of every month, the Colosseum can be visited for free. This includes all sites that are usually included in the Colosseum tickets: The Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine.

Be Warned: The sites included in the free ticket tend to get very crowded when they can be visited for free. If you are on a tight budget and would like to take advantage of the Free First Sunday, I recommend arriving as early as possible.

Colosseum Opening Hours

The Colosseum is open seven days a week, and it opens 9am year-round.
Closing times differ, depending on the time of year:

  • 2 January – 28 February: 9 – 4.30pm
  • 1 – 26 March: 9am – 5.30pm
  • 27 March – 31 August: 9am – 7.15pm
  • 1 – 30 September: 9am – 7pm
  • 1 – 30 October: 9am – 6.30pm
  • 31 October – 31 December: 9am – 4.30pm

Note: Final admission is one hour before closing time.
Colosseum Closed: The Colosseum open year-round, with the exception of two days: Christmas Day (25th December) and New Year’s Day (1st January).

More Tips For Visiting The Colosseum

  • Large backpacks or suitcases are not allowed. Security is tight, and all bags are screened by a metal detector at the entrance. A medium-sized daypack is ok. Glass bottles and alcohol are not permitted.
  • Water fountains can be found in several places inside the Colosseum, which is very useful during the hotter months. Bring your reusable water bottle!
  • If you’re only visiting the outside, look for the water fountain near the Colosseo metro station.
  • If you visit during the summer months, you’ll need to pack a sunhat / visor or an umbrella. You’ll find yourself exposed to the sun a lot. Apply sunscreen before your visit.
  • I recommend wearing sturdy, comfortable shoes for your visit to the Colosseum. The surfaces are uneven, and if you visit the other sights included in your ticket: you’ll walk on ancient Roman cobbles and uneven surfaces Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
  • If you are fascinated by the Gladiator myth and culture, you can train to be a gladiator on your visit to Rome. The Gruppo Storico Romano and Gladiator School offers 2-hour gladiator training courses and will teach you more about the gladiator games, weapons and history.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

5 tourist destinations in Vietnam more beautiful than paradise!

 As a developing country located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Vietnam possesses numerous strengths for tourism development. In fact, apart from exploring new and exotic destinations beyond its borders, many wanderers still choose to discover and check-in at various domestic tourist attractions in Vietnam. Not only do they seek out new and trendy "Instagrammable" spots, but travelers also have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the glorious history of the nation and witness its breathtaking natural landscapes.

Therefore, during this vacation period, instead of venturing to foreign lands, why not appreciate the beauty of Vietnam's native nature and its people? Embark on a journey to explore the most stunning tourist destinations that Vietnam has to offer.

1. Mù Cang Chải - Yên Bái Despite being located about 300km away from Hanoi, Mù Cang Chải in Yên Bái province continues to mesmerize travel enthusiasts. It stands out as one of the most captivating destinations for those seeking to explore the beauty of the Northwest region in Vietnam.

Not only does it attract domestic tourists, but its "golden terraced fields" also allure numerous wanderers from around the globe.


2. Pù Luông - Thanh Hóa

As you travel south from the Northwest region, a visit to Pù Luông in Thanh Hóa province is a must. If you think that Vietnam's scenic landscapes are limited to terraced fields resembling those in the Northwest, you are in for a surprise! Pù Luông boasts its own unique beauty, offering a much wider variety of picturesque vistas. Make sure to book your flight to Thanh Hóa in advance to take advantage of great travel deals.


3. Tràng An - Ninh Bình

Among the hidden cultural and historical treasures in Vietnam, Tràng An in Ninh Bình province holds a distinguished position. This remarkable site was recognized by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 2014.

Tràng An brings together architectural wonders that are deeply intertwined with the glorious past of the ancient capital of Hoa Lư. It is nestled amidst majestic limestone mountains and meandering rivers, creating a surreal and enchanting landscape.

If you are a cultural or spiritual enthusiast, several notable structures within Tràng An, such as Trần Temple, Tứ Trụ Temple, and Suối Tiên Temple, will leave you in awe.




4. Huế

Huế, renowned for its well-preserved ancient imperial city, offers more than just historical splendor. The city boasts numerous famous landmarks and attractions that are not to be missed. This is why flights to Huế are highly sought after.

Among these attractions, Vọng Cảnh Hill and Thiên An Hill, located near the city center, provide breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. While Vọng Cảnh Hill impresses with its expansive vistas of majestic mountains and rivers, Thiên An Hill offers a tranquil ambiance with its dreamy pathways through the pine forest.



After capturing picturesque moments on Thiên An Hill, take a moment to explore Hồ Thuỷ Tiên, an enchanting lake located nearby. This lake houses a captivating dragon head structure, now covered in moss, creating a truly mystical scene.

In addition to its architectural wonders, Huế is also home to magnificent ancient pagodas, such as Thiền Lâm Pagoda, which showcases resplendent Nam Tông architecture, and Thiên Mụ Pagoda, with its iconic seven-story octagonal tower rising against the backdrop of the serene river.

Beyond these renowned sites, passionate travelers have also discovered new and exciting places to visit in Huế, such as Lập An lagoon, Rú Chá forest, and the solitary tree in Hà Cảng village.

5. Hội An - Đà Nẵng It is almost unimaginable to visit Vietnam without exploring Đà Nẵng, and a trip to Đà Nẵng would be incomplete without a visit to Hội An.

This charming coastal town is brimming with poetic charm that surpasses many other destinations in Vietnam. With its low, yellow-glowing two-story houses, blooming paper lanterns adorning the streets, and the gentle flow of the Hoài River traversing the town, Hội An creates a truly enchanting atmosphere.

Simply booking a flight to Đà Nẵng will allow you to embark on an exploration of this beautiful city. From there, you can conveniently travel by bus, taxi, or motorbike to Hội An in just an hour.




During the day, Hội An is bustling with tourists. You can visit the famous Faifo Coffee, where you can enjoy the stunning view of Hội An from its rooftop.
Alternatively, pay a visit to Sunday in Hội An, where you can admire its exquisite interior and capture amazing "Instagrammable" photos right at its entrance. Don't forget to explore the iconic Tam Quan Bà Mụ Pagoda and pose in front of the grand relief sculpture at its entrance.
As the night falls, Hội An becomes even more vibrant. You can engage in traditional Bai Choi card games by the river, stroll along the lantern-lit streets, cross the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge, or partake in the floating lantern ceremony, releasing wishes on the river. All these activities promise a truly memorable and exciting experience!