T.F.N.? Superannuation? Bank Accounts? What to do when you arrive in Australia on a Work and Holiday visa

So, you’ve made it this far. You’re in Australia, you’ve got a visa to work here but no idea where to begin with getting yourself organised. People keep saying things like “T.F.N.,” “medicare” and “superannuation.” All of a sudden, your dream trip to Australia has become a bureaucratic nightmare. Don’t stress! Getting yourself organised is simple if you know what you’ve got to do and how to do it. No more than a day needs to be spent to get yourself prepared for your new adventure in Australia. Follow our step-by-step guide of what to do when you arrive in Australia on a Work and Holiday visa.

Step One:

Get yourself an Australian phone number.

At first, it may seem stupid to put this as the most important thing to do upon arrival in Australia. However, every form you fill in or application you complete will ask for a phone number. So, before you even think about tackling anything else, head to a phone store and grab a pay as you go sim. Simple.

I can already hear people asking: “well, that’s great, but what company should I go with?” The conventional backpacker wisdom is to go with Telstra. They have the best service in more remote areas (great if you are road tripping) and their prices are competitive. However, there are other options. Vodaphone and Optus may not have such comprehensive coverage but they may be cheaper. So, perhaps just go with Telstra to start off and then shop around at a later date, especially if you are living in a city long term, where every network will have coverage.

Step Two:

Open a bank account.

Again, this is so simple and easy to do. Just walk into the bank of your choosing and ask to open an account. All they will need is a copy of your passport. However, if you don’t open your account in the first six weeks after your arrival in Australia then the matter becomes more complex. So, don’t hang about, get it sorted early!

Remember, you will need an address for your shiny new bank card to be sent to. Most hostels will not have an issue with you using their address. If not, simply have it sent to the local post office for you to collect.

Not sure which bank to choose?

We went with Commonwealth because that’s who everyone we spoke to banked with. So far, we have zero complaints. In truth, every bank is pretty much the same, the only distinguishing factor is the number of ATMs that bank will have. In Australia, you can only withdraw money from your banks’ ATMs without charges. Less prevalent banks may have fewer ATMs in remote areas forcing you to pay added fees (around $2). However, you can always get cash back at the supermarket for free.

My advice, bank with whoever is closest to your hostel. Whether its Commonwealth, ANZ, NAB or another bank.

Step Three:

Apply for your TFN.

Oh god, an acronym. Don’t fret, it stands for Tax File Number. Every employer needs your tax file number in order to pay you properly. Rather than waiting to get a job before applying, get it straight away because it takes ten minutes to apply online. Input a few personal details and your passport number and, voila, you are done. You will then get a letter sent to you with your tax file number on it. Keep this safe, you will need it later.

A better description of what TFN is can be found here.

Step Four:

Set up your Superannuation fund.

Superannuation is the Australian pension scheme. Every employer pays into it on your behalf, and even better, when you leave Australia for good, you can claim your super back (although it is heavily taxed!). While all employers will have a super fund they can put you on automatically, this can become a pain because every employer will set up a new fund and when you go to reclaim your super you are going to be chasing a lot of different accounts. Instead, you can nominate your own superannuation account. For example, Commonwealth bank offered to open a super account for us, I wish we had taken this option because we now have multiple super accounts and we have only been in Australia for two months!

Step Five:

Get your Medicare sorted (if you are eligible).

If you come from one of the lucky countries that have a reciprocal health care agreement with Australia then you are eligible for free/greatly reduced health care while living in Australia. All you need to do is head to the Medicare office and register. You just need to take your passport with you. My advice would be to get this done before you need it (unlike us who waited until we were ill before applying!). You do not want to be sitting in a government office waiting for a card while you have the flu!

Step Six:

Start enjoying yourself.

That’s it! You’ve done all the paper pushing and now you are ready to start working, or better yet, start exploring! After all, it is a Work and Holiday Visa!

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Read more about what we have been up to since we have arrived in  Australia.



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Australia Working Holiday- Month One.

I can’t believe we are a month into our Australia Working Holiday already! It’s been a whirlwind month that’s for sure. Hence why I haven’t been keeping up to date on the blog, I’ve just been too busy! We started our first month in Australia in Darwin and we are now… still in Darwin. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy. In that month; I have been to Arnhem Land and back, worked in a food truck, in HR and as a waitress. Meanwhile, James has been working at the Darwin Races. But let me rewind to the day we arrived in Australia.

Our overnight flight from Bali landed at 5 a.m. After breezing through a very easy immigration and customs department we were in a cab and on our way to our hostel. So far day one in Australia was going smoothly, too smoothly in fact.

We arrived at the hostel and reception didn’t open until 9 a.m.! It was 5.30 in the morning and we had nowhere to go and no way to call the hostel staff. As inventive and spontaneous backpackers, we decided to head to the beach to watch the sunrise. I thought this was a brilliant plan, except the sun sets on Mindil beach, it doesn’t rise there! Ultimately, we found a park bench where we took it in turns to nap until 9 a.m. when the hostel opened. This wasn’t how we planned our first morning in Darwin to be spent, as hobos sleeping rough!

After settling into Darwin we started fruitlessly looking for jobs. Nobody told us how hard it is to find a job in Darwin. However, after a week I was leaving James to go and work for food and accommodation at a remote safari in Arnhem Land (read all about my experience here). This experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity that will remain a highlight of my time in Australia. Back in Darwin James found employment at the Darwin races. While this wasn’t the ideal situation, we were making ends meet despite being 250 kilometres from each other.

I stayed in Arnhem Land for three incredible weeks, however, I did have to return to Darwin and James eventually. Upon my return, I have managed to find some casual work as a waitress at a fancy gala, as HR at the Darwin Races and as dumpling boiler in a food truck. While none of these jobs has lasted more than a day, it has been enough to see us through until James finishes his work at the races. I’ve also learnt a valuable lesson. I am extremely adaptable and I am capable of pretty much any unskilled job. Furthermore, the challenge of being thrown into these chaotic and new experiences has proved how determined I am to make a success of Australia.

Image of a slat water crocodile which I saw in the first month of our Australia working holiday visa in Australia
Getting up close and personal to the Northern Territories iconic salt water crocs!
Image of Emily with a barrimundi
A land of firsts! The very first fish I caught!

So, after a month that has been nothing at all like I envisioned it. We will be leaving Darwin this week. Our next adventure awaits. We have bought ourselves a car and have work lined up at a Cattle Farm in Alice Springs. I’m sure it won’t be a walk in the park but I can’t wait for the next part of our adventure!

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Working for accommodation, food and tours at Davidsons Safari Arnhem land.

Image of the Billabong at Davidsons safari Arnhem land

Our very first week in Australia was a constant cycle of fruitless job applications and disappointment as we were repeatedly informed there were no jobs in Darwin. (You can read more about our first days in Australia here) So, when I saw an advertisement on Facebook for an all-rounder at a remote resort, I jumped on the phone and called them. The only downside was that it was an unpaid position. I could volunteer for two to three weeks in exchange for food and accommodation. The bonus was that I would be flown to the property and there would be an opportunity to go out on tours and see the area. With nothing left to lose in Darwin, I decided to leave Darwin (and James) and go to Davidsons Safari Arnhem land.

To say I didn’t know what to expect is a vast understatement. Arnhem land is east of Kakadu, around 200 kilometres from Darwin. You need a permit to visit the area. Therefore, no backpackers go there and I was left completely clueless as to what I should expect. Would I hate it? Would I be working with a bunch of wild bush men? I had no idea.

In the end, my wildest dreams could not have come close to the experience I had. It will be hard for any other experience in Australia to come close to what I experienced in Arnhem land. The area has another worldly feel about it. There is a feeling that this place is just special. Seven hundred square kilometres of beautiful scenery, sacred sights and millennia old aboriginal art work. I was simply blown away by Arnhem land.

From the moment I flew over Mount Borraidale, I knew the landscape would be stunning. The landscape is formed by rugged escarpments, flood plains, billabongs and creeks. However, once you have your feet back on the ground you are surrounded by nature’s finest. The wildlife is awe inspiring, especially the crocodiles. And there are plenty of crocs to be seen!

Image of Davidsons safari Arnhem land from the sky

There is nothing more intimidating than sitting in a tin boat five metres from a four-metre salt water crocodile. But, where else in the world can you see these ancient beings in their natural environment. These certainly aren’t the Adelaide rivers’ jumping crocodiles. This is real eco-tourism. Nothing is done to encourage unnatural behaviours. The wildlife is wild.

While the gigantic reptilians are infamous for their size, the bird life at Arnhem land is overpowering in its diversity. I’m not a twitcher and have never had any interest in birds before but even I became engrossed. From the giant Jabiru to the tiny Jakana, the species of bird in this region is incredible. Even in the short time I was there I was captivated by the sight of white bellied sea eagles swooping across the sky with a cat fish in its claws. Flocks of whistling ducks and magpie geese swarm the skies as you sat on the billabong enjoying one of many glorious sunsets. Arnhem land is ethereal in its beauty.

But the beauty of Arnhem land is not limited to the scenery and nature. I majored in History at university, so getting the chance to see ancient art work was simply incredible. Being able to observe art that was thousands and thousands of years old had my inner nerd weeping with happiness. My mind was boggled over the age of the pieces I was viewing. When someone turns around and tells you you’re looking at a piece of art that is 50,000 years old it’s beyond comprehension.

Part of the charm of Arnhem land is how untouched it remains. Due to the risk of damaging the art nothing is dated. This leads to intense speculation about the age of pieces and the more you learn the more you speculate. Could that be 1,000 years old or 10,000 years old? Does that depict a story, a myth or simply dinner? This speculation is all part of the fun.
The beauty of the aboriginal culture is on every rock face. People for generation upon generation have expressed their lives on the rocks of Arnhem land and I feel privileged to have witnessed this beauty.

Image of a depiction of a boat

To see these amazing sights, I worked for 4-6 hours a day either in housekeeping or food and beverage. Contrary to the bad press about the treatment of backpackers, I wasn’t treated like a slave. The other staff were great people who had all once been backpackers themselves. This position was a backpacker’s dream. Clean and comfy accommodation and great food. The stuff I can’t afford to buy!

I took a risk in leaving Darwin with no real knowledge of my destination but it paid off. I got a chance to see the ‘real’ Australia. These aren’t the famous sights of the Eastern seaboard but Arnhem land fast became one of my favourite places in the world. Where else can you wake to the noise of nothing but whistling kites? Look out the window at a glorious sunrise before going to view some of Australia’s most valuable art sights. This experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Nusa Lembongan- Our best and worst dives

Image from our dive with manta rays in nusa lembongan

Nusa Lembongan is a small island just off the coast of Sanur, Bali. It has the perfect combination of tourism and traditional Indonesian life. No high rise hotels have popped up (yet), instead, there is a multitude of smaller family run guest houses that have 5 to 10 rooms. This island has some of the most breath-taking scenery of anywhere I have been. Vibrant blue water crashes onto sheer cliff faces creating an intense scene. Nevertheless, the whole reason we visited  Bali was to dive with manta rays in Nusa Lembongan.

Nusa Lembongan has a reputation for world class diving. It is one place where you can see Manta Rays on a daily basis. However, it also has a reputation for strong currents and, very occasionally, dangerous diving conditions. James and I went diving three times in and around Nusa Lembongan. We did a total of six dives and these dives made up the best and worst dives of our trip.

Image of nusa Lembongan coast line
Even if you don’t dive Nusa Lembongan is beautiful!

The Best dive of our lives.

Diving with Manta Rays in Nusa Lembongan.

I’ll start with the best dive: Manta Point. This dive site is a cleaning station for Manta Rays. These majestic creatures grow to 3 metres but still glide effortlessly through the water. The chance to see these beauties was too good to turn down. So, after a 45 minute, very bumpy, boat ride to the site we rolled over the side of the boat. Before we had even descended our dive master was saying look down there is a manta. Even from the surface, my first encounter with a Manta Ray was simply incredible. I cannot explain how unbelievable these creatures are.

And, once we had descended the experience only got better. My initial expectations were blown away. We saw more than twenty manta rays. They were swimming next to you, above you and in front of you. Just when I thought I had seen everything, the mantas started doing their dance. Swirling around and around in a pair. I genuinely thought I would cry with happiness. Being that close to such an awe-inspiring creature that is demonstrating a beautiful natural behaviour is a spectacular feeling.

Image from our dive with manta rays in nusa lembongan

The Worst.

Earlier I said that Nusa Lembongan is known for strong currents, well, James and I experienced this first hand. Crystal Bay is a dive site paired with Manta Point, it is known for little or no currents, great coral and diverse marine life. In fact, we dove here twice and our first experience was spectacular. We saw turtles, octopus, scorpion fish, moray eels and much more. However, when we dove here a second time the story was a lot different.

As we back rolled into freezing cold water (23 degrees) we all gasped in surprise and got excited because cold water means a chance of seeing mola mola. However, within minutes of descending, we were caught in a strong current. We had no choice but to all hold onto a rock and hope the current passed in a couple of minutes. It didn’t. We slowly ascended to a shallower depth hoping the current would be less there. Again, no such luck. Ultimately, after 20 minutes of fighting the current to no avail, our dive master decided enough was enough and we surfaced. During this dive, I realised just how powerful water is and despite being a good swimmer there was no way you can fight that kind of power. Scary.

What did we see on this dive? Nothing. Apparently, we were just super unlucky. While this dive wasn’t enjoyable, in fact, it was downright scary, it was an experience I will definitely remember.

The Other Dives.

Apart from the manta dive, Nusa Lembongan’s diving is famous for one more reason: drift diving. Jump in and just go with the flow. Literally. You get yourself in a flat position and fly through the water like Superman. No kicking required. Which is the kind of lazy sport I like. In the northern dive sites there is untouched coral, turtles and so much more to see. We had never been drift diving before and this was a cool experience. I would highly recommend diving in the north in Nusa Lembongan.

Find out about our experience getting PADI certified.

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I’m ashamed to admit it, but, I loved Kuta

Have you ever been ashamed of loving a destination?

Travel has become a little bit of a status symbol: the more insta perfect a place, the better it is. The more remote a destination the cooler you become among the backpacking community. But recently we visited a tourist mecca, one of those places which have a reputation for being seedy, dirty and full of drunks. I expected to loathe it, but instead, I kind of liked it. And, do you know what? I am ashamed to admit I liked it there. Stupid, huh?

The place I’m talking about: Kuta, Bali. Whenever you talk to someone about Bali the first thing they say is “don’t go to Kuta” or “Kuta isn’t really Bali.” So, as I have travelled around Bali, I find myself agreeing that Kuta isn’t nice and it is worth avoiding. But, in reality, I had a couple of really good days there, and so, I am questioning: why? Why am I ashamed to admit I had a good time there?! Why should I have to follow the crowds’ opinions? I should say loud and proud: “I liked Kuta!”

Check out our pics of Kuta on instagram.

Image of a Kuta sunset, dashing all our preconceptions of Kuta being ugly
A gorgeous sunset on Kuta beach

Preconceptions of Kuta.

Don’t get me wrong, I had my preconceptions of what Kuta would be like. In fact, we originally only booked two nights to recover from a 17 hour layover in KL. The idea was we would spend a day hanging out around the pool to relax before exploring more off the beaten track locations. However, after a morning exploring we decided we wanted to extend by a night: Kuta was not what we were expecting.

Back in February, we spent a week in Phuket with my parents. While it was nice to see them, I hated Phuket. I specifically hated Patong. It was dirty, overpriced and the seediest place I’ve ever been. No one wants to have their boyfriend propositioned by a hooker while their dad is there! I expected Kuta to be Patong 2.0. Conversely, I had a great time in Kuta.

Why did I end up liking Kuta?

Kuta had some charm that Patong was severely lacking. In amongst the Starbucks’ and tourist tat shops, there was still local places. Yes, Kuta is overly commercialised but we still managed to find the nicest local run warung to eat at. It is still the best food I have had in Bali! It is small gems like this that made Kuta likeable.

Surfing is another reason we loved Kuta. Kuta is one of the best places to learn to surf. Small waves make the perfect conditions. So, James and I had our very first surf lesson in Kuta. It was a blast: I even managed to stand a few times! This experience is just another reason to love Kuta. Who doesn’t want to believe they are a cool surfer chick, even just for one day?

And finally, cheap spas. Spas are one of the reasons Bali is famous and I had a fabulous massage in Kuta. A lovely Balinese lady made my body feel like heaven and this treatment made me fall in love with Kuta even more. The chance to just relax and have a couple of days relaxing. Enjoying ourselves in a 3 star hotel, instead of a hostel, was bliss. The touristic side of Kuta means there are tonnes of great value accommodation options.

Image of emily by the hotel pool
Just chilling by the pool

Overall, I had an amazing time in Kuta. Did I expect to? No. But sometimes a place surprises you and for me, that place was Kuta. So, here I am saying proudly: I liked Kuta. And there is nothing wrong with that!

Have you ever visited a place you loved but you’re ashamed to admit you loved it? Leave a comment below.



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I certainly had preconceptions of Kuta but in the end I really liked it there!

Know before you go: Taiwan

Is Taiwan easy to travel?

Heck, yes, Taiwan is one the easiest places to travel around. There is an abundance of public transport options and tourist information is in every city. You could not wish for an easy destination to get around. Imagine China but with the infrastructure and social customs of Japan: that’s Taiwan. Clean, efficient and brimming with culture. I loved Taiwan! However, there are some things I wish I had known before my arrival, so I have decided to impart my knowledge to you.

taipei 101 is the number one thing to do in Taipei
Taiwan is simply incredible!

Get Yourself an Easy Card.

The clue is in the name with this one. What does the easy card do? It makes travel in Taiwan easier, duh. The easy card works like London’s Oyster card, only it’s better. You can use it for so much more, a bit like the Octopus card in Hong Kong. It is accepted across Taiwan, not just in Taipei and you can use it in shops, as well as, transportation. It is convenient and you save 20% on all metro journeys: it is worth the 100 dollar (£2.50)  investment.

Accommodation is more expensive at the weekend.

Taiwan is a small country, you can get from one end to the other in a couple of hours on the bullet train. The outcome of this is that domestic tourism is big business. Many Taiwanese people go away for the weekend and as basic economics dictates, if demand goes up so does price. Expect to pay more for accommodation at the weekend. However, there is a perk to Taiwanese tourism, you get to meet some great locals in hostels at the weekends!

Outside Taipei English is not well spoken.

Once you leave the capital you may struggle to communicate if you don’t speak Mandarin. Some places will offer an English menu. If not, take a look at what the locals are eating and choose that option. They’ve picked it for a reason. We even found that hotels did not have English speaking staff. Google translate will become your best friend! However, before you panic read my next point.

The people in Taiwan are lovely.

Taiwanese people are not the most outgoing bunch. They are quite reserved and generally won’t come over to say hello. But don’t let this fool you into believing they aren’t friendly, if you make the effort people will chat to you for ages but you need to make the first step. In addition, if you need help the people in Taiwan will go above and beyond to help you out, even if they don’t speak a word of English. In Taichung, we only managed to find our guest through the kindness of a local lady who walked us all the way to the door. Her English was limited to ‘hello.’

Seriously, the people in Taiwan are just the nicest, don’t worry about language barriers or getting lost because someone will be along to help you out no matter what. You couldn’t wish to meet a more contentious nation.

Tourist Information

Taiwan has a great tourist infrastructure including tourist shuttles and every large town has a tourist information centre where a lovely (English speaking) member of staff can tell you everything you need to know about your current location, your next destination or even where to get a good meal!

Pack a rain coat!

The weather in Taiwan is unpredictable to say the least. One day its 34 degrees and brilliant sunshine. The next there is a torrential thunderstorm. Be prepared for every eventuality and if it looks like it might rain then expect it to pour! A rain coat and an umbrella are essentials. We invested in high quality North Face rain jackets and these have withstood even the most torrential rainstorm.

You’re going to love Taiwan.

Trust me on this one: you will fall in love with Taiwan. The food is delicious and plentiful. The people are kind and generous. The country is overflowing with stunning scenery. Taiwan is a gem of the Far East and anyone planning a trip there has so much to be excited about!

Is Taiwan easy to travel? Know before you go: Taiwan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to know more about Taiwan’s awesome capital, Taipei?

Goodbye Asia, Hello Australia.

After nine months in Asia, it is time to say goodbye. the is going to be a heartfelt goodbye. This continent has stolen my heart in a way I never expected. There are wonders here that are beyond anything in my wildest dreams. From unforgettable sacred sun rises at Angkor Wat and Bagan, to world class diving in the Philippines and Bali this experience has been the best of my life.

While I don’t want to leave Asia, another place is calling my name. Australia. Australia, a destination that has always seemed so far from home and such an implausible destination for a holiday. I feel that the only way to fully explore such a diverse country is to live and work there. And so, James and I are leaving Asia to embark on our next big adventure. A working holiday visa in Oz. To be honest I am more apprehensive about going to Australia than I was when we left for Asia. So many worries cross my mind on a daily basis! Will we find work? What route should we take? Will I be eaten by a crocodile? Or a shark? And my biggest fear: if we can’t find work when do we book a ticket home? Despite these concerns, I am so excited to head to Australia.

In my mind, Australia invokes images of epic beaches, great expanses of the outback, dangerous animals and some of the most iconic tourist destinations in the world. Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Great Barrier Reef, Aires Rock and so much more. Just thinking about the endless possibilities excites. As you are reading this James and I will be on route to Darwin in the Northern Territory to begin the next step of our nomadic life.

So, thanks Asia for the best nine months EVER, but, Australia here we come!

Here is just some of the best moments from our first nine months on the road:

Image of Emily feeding an elephant at the elephant sanctuary
Visiting the Elephant Jungle sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Image of James scuba diving
Getting PADI certified in Malaysia

Find out about our PADI course, here.

image of a train crossing the nine arch bridge in ella
The incredible journey from Kandy to Ella

You can read more about Sri Lanka, here.

Image of the Marina Bay in SIngapore
Exploring wonderful Singapore
Image of the sunrise at Bagan with pagodas in the foreground and hot air balloons in the sky.
And, of course, the incredible sunrises in Bagan.

After nine months in Asia we are leaving to embark on our next big adventure a working holiday visa in Australia

What’s the one thing we can’t travel without?

Travelling long term means long flights and even longer bus journeys. As a backpacker, it is not uncommon for you to spend 24 hours on a bus or stuck in an airport during a layover. The monotony of simply sitting staring out a window, watching the world go by can become extremely tedious. During these times, there is one thing that keeps James and me sane: music. When you’ve spent 10 hours on a minibus, tearing around mountain roads then you need to stick some headphones in and listen to some tunes. Listening to music while travelling is essential for my mental well being while I am on the road.

I cannot even recall the number of times I’ve needed a reprieve from the constant beeping of Asian drivers. Or even worse, the inane comedy shows they play on the bus which includes canned laughter and awful sound effects. It is at these times that having a great playlist can see you through. Whether its old bangers or the latest hits, good music is medicine for the soul. It soothes me at times when my stress levels are through the roof or cheers me up in an occasional blue moment. Music is so important to us while we travel.

Listening to music while travelling is essential for us and this quote shows why

One of the downsides of travelling is that you become disconnected with the music world back home. In Asia, only the really big tunes make it onto the radio. Everywhere you go you can hear either Despacito or Ed Sheeran, those are the only choices. Therefore, all those other great songs you hear on the radio at home are lost to us. That’s why we use a music streaming service like Amazon Music Unlimited. With a choice of 40 million songs, you will never be lacking a good tune to listen to. With the ability to stream all the latest and greatest hits, ad free of course, this is the best way to stay up to date with all the best music while on the road!

 

The one thing we cannot travel with out is music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to read about more about our travels then why not check out our posts on the Philippines, Taiwan or Malaysia.

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through these links I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.*

Cycling Around Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan.

“The 29km bike path encircling Sun Moon Lake affords uplifting views of the lake and the hill. The 5.7 km Shueishe to Xiangshan section of the route starts at Zhongxing Parking Lot and ends at Boji Mountain with vistas of Hanbi Peninsula and the Qinglong Mountain Range along the way. The section is suitable for all ages and offers abundant opportunities to rest.” This section from the Taiwan Lonely Planet Guide convinced me to embark on a 29km bike ride around the Sun Moon Lake. Unfortunately, what they fail to point out is that the other 23.3 kilometres are mountainous! My legs were jelly when I finally got back to town after the hardest bike ride of my life, and I used to embark on a form of torture called spin class before I went backpacking!

The flat 5.7 kilometres are bliss: perfectly paved paths, flat as a pancake and have vistas that will stun you into silence. There aren’t many bike rides that will beat this for ease and beauty. Would I recommend cycling this route? Yes, anyone can do it, your 90 year old Nan could probably cycle this route. Nevertheless, this perfect cycle path was the very last part of our bike ride, when we got to this incredible pathway we had already been cycling for 4 hours. Let me rewind to the beginning of our cycle.

When we rented a bike in town the lady in the shop asked us did we want the bike with 21 gears because we were doing the full loop. Naively we didn’t realise this was a clue as to how steep this route was going to be. Stupid, I know. Armed with our bikes and helmets off we went. Within ten minutes of leaving town, we hit the first hill. And that was how the route continued. Up, up, up. By the time we stopped for a drink at a café in the cable car ticket centre our legs were shaking from exertion. During our stop, I kept thinking well that must be all the up. Boy, was I wrong.

We continued ascending to the Cihen Pagoda. At this point, we were pushing the bikes up the really, really steep hills and cycling the less steep ones. The other cyclists on the route? Dressed in lycra, wearing cleats and on sleek bikes. Me? I was wearing Havaianas and denim shorts. To say we were unprepared for how strenuous this route is would be the understatement of the year.

Then a miracle happened. You know how people say: “what goes up must come down”? Well, it’s true. After the drudgery of cycling uphill for over an hour, we were soon whizzing down winding mountain roads. It was exhilarating. When you are flying around the bends you can appreciate the beauty of these roads. And the views? Simply breathtaking. Just look at the pictures:

Image of a view you get if you cycle around Sun Moon Lake
Just one of the many amazing views!

View you get if you cycle sun moon lake

Would I recommend cycling around the Sun and Moon Lake?

I’m of two minds on whether I should recommend this route to others. Despite my rant about how exhausting this was, I had a blast. The challenge was part of the fun and when we finally arrived back in town I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Would I have felt this way if I had only cycled the ‘easy’ 5.7km? I honestly don’t think so. So, my recommendation would be this. If you like a challenge, if you are reasonably fit or if you are simply crazy like us then, yes, go for it. Cycle the full route around the lake and enjoy the feeling of the wind through your hair.

Conversely, if you just want a gentle bike ride then this isn’t for you. Take the easier option and enjoy the short route. There is an around the lake bus you can take which will shuttle you along the road we took and you can still experience the delights of the Sun Moon Lake.

Image of sun moon lake with James and Emily in the foreground
James and I consoling each other as we realised the end was near!

Visiting Sun Moon Lake.

To get to the Sun Moon Lake you need to take a bus from Taichung city (2 hours). Once you are in town there is a tourist information centre who will answer any questions you may have. DO NOT rent a bike from the company they recommend. We were quoted 500 dollars for the day and ended up paying 200 dollars for a better quality bike just down the road. If you are visiting at the weekend expect bigger crowds and more expensive accommodation. But if you are cycling the full loop you will avoid most other people as you are one of the only people crazy enough to do the entire circuit.

No matter how you choose to explore the Sun Moon Lake, you are sure to be overwhelmed by its beauty.

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

What to know more about beautiful places in Taiwan, check out our post about Taroko Gorge.

My love-hate relationship with Lonely Planet.


Times are changing. Twenty years ago, a backpacker embarked on a trip armed only with his Lonely Planet Guide and no other knowledge. Now days it is much easier to find information, the internet has revolutionised travel and travel planning. A simple google will bring up hundreds of results on any given topics. You don’t have to flick through the latest edition of ‘South-East Asia on a Shoestring’ to find recommendations, you can consult TripAdvisor or any number of blogs. So, is the Lonely Planet Guide outdated?

Image of travel map to demonstrate is the lonely planet guide outdated
Travel planning is never easy.

Let me start by saying I have downloaded the kindle edition of the Lonely Planet Guide for every destination we have visited so far. (If having an ebook version isn’t sticking with the times then I don’t know what is). In part, this is only because it is included on Kindle Unlimited and I don’t have to pay £15 a pop. So, it follows that I have found them useful to some extent. I love the fact they are downloadable because having to carry around 14 separate paperbacks would become tiresome and a huge waste of resources. Downloads are more environmentally friendly and that’s always a pro. Having that guide on my phone as a go-to guide is always useful, especially when you don’t have wifi to get online and check TripAdvisor.

Even if you are not an ebook lover then I still believe Lonely Planet has a place in planning your trip. If you are on a short break you don’t want it to be ruined by not knowning where to eat or what to visit. So, a trusty guidebook is always useful. And, if you are on an extended trip then there are opportunities to swap guides on the road. Whether you find a fellow traveller willing to trade or a hostel with a book swap. Lonely Planet Guides take some of the stress out of travelling.

However, on some occasions I have despaired at my loyal Lonely Planet Guide. The questions “why on earth has it recommended this?” and “Why isn’t this in the Lonely Planet Guide?” are regular questions I ask myself. Do I find Lonely Planet to be the definitive bible on all things travel? No. Sometimes, I find their descriptions to be downright ludicrous. If ever there was a company that only saw half full cups then Lonely Planet is it. It is okay to say somewhere is a bit boring or ugly. Travellers are looking for honesty and that’s why blogs are great because they offer that.

Considering these pet peeves I have with Lonely Planet, I still find that little guide book to be an incredibly useful resource. On a number of occasions it has saved my butt. Sitting on a plane and realising you have no idea how to get to the city center, with no wifi you are a bit stuck. So, in these instances Lonely Plant becomes a life saver. And no online resource can replicate that.

Lonely Planet will live to see another day. Blogs aren’t going to replace Lonely Planet Guides instead they are an accompaniment. I will often use both methods when researching a trip or destination. I’ve already downloaded the Bali and Lombok edition in preparation. Will I read it cover to cover? No. Is it still useful? Hell, yes. After all, proper preparation prevents poor performance. No one wants a bad trip and a trusty Lonely Planet Guide will stop any unwanted troubles during your next adventure!

Planning your next trip?

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