Monday, March 14, 2016

Chasing auroras in Iceland..what an amazing experience!

Chasing auroras has been one of the items in my bucket list since last year. Been waiting for quite a while to finally get this opportunity to fly to Iceland and see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis for myself.

I went solo on this one & met a group of Malaysians there in Reykjavik, under Sedunia Travel's "Iceland Winter Adventure" package for 6D5N. Sedunia offered quite a good deal on the ground package, which includes airport transfer, hotel, transport, entrance fees as well as food (breakfast at hotel, dinner at restaurant/hotel everyday except the last day) at a very reasonable price.

My journey started on 3rd March 2016. I flew with Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to London and from London to Keflavik (Iceland) by British Airways. There's quite a lot of options for flights to Iceland, most of the tour group members came to Iceland via Amsterdam by Icelandair or WOW Airlines too.

Throughout the 6 days trip, I was able to catch the auroras twice. Ohh...I felt so blessed :) First sighting on 6th March 2016 was the best, the auroras danced with strong shades of green & purple. The sky was clear with some stars. We were just standing outside, in the compounds of Stracta Hotel in Hella. The auroras came out around 9pm.

1st sighting of aurora borealis on 6th March 2016 @Stracta Hotel, Hella
The second sighting was on 8th March 2016, just in the outskirts of Reykjavik (apologies, I didn't remember the name of that place). The sky was clear full of stars, but the aurora was not as active as the first sighting. This time the aurora came out quite late, around 10pm. Still enjoyed it nonetheless!

2nd sighting of aurora borealis on 8th March 2016 outside of Reykjavik city
If you're a nature lover, you would definitely loveeeee Iceland :) beautiful waterfalls, glaciers, mountains and the unique black sand beach. Throughout my stay in Iceland, below are the places that I visited:

Reykjavik City Center
Visited The Perlan & enjoyed the beautiful view of Reykjavik city and the Hallgrimskirkja.

Beautiful view of Reykjavik city from The Perlan

Breathtaking...isn't it? :)

One of the unique architectures in Reykjavik - the Hallgrimskirkja
Blue Lagoon
Enjoyed a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon, which is situated in the Reykjanes peninsula, not far from Keflavik International Airport. The water is nice & warm, you can enjoy the white silica mask or the algae face mask which takes yearsss of your face (so they claim :p).

Blue Lagoon

Pingvellir National Park
This park is where the world's oldest parliament met for centuries on the shores of Iceland's largest lake. The panoramic view is breathtaking...

Gullfoss Waterfall
This is one of the magnificent waterfalls in Iceland. It looks perfectly white in winter.

Iceland has a lot of geothermally active areas. The geysir is one of the famous spots for visitors to see the high spouting hot water (Strokkur). Though the geysir is a spectacular view, you'd have to stand the strong stenge of sulphur :p

This is the little geysir
Laugarvatn Fontana
You can experience geothermal bakery first hand and dig up the bread that has been cooked underground here. You get to sample the delicious bread too, served with yummy Icelandic butter!

The geothermal area

That's how the bread looks like & the recipe if you'd like to try
Seljalandsfoss & Skogafoss Waterfall
These waterfalls are where they shot the Gerua song scene in the Hindi movie Dilwale starring Shah Rukh Khan & Kajol :) During spring/summer time, you can walk behind the Seljalandsfoss romantic! Skogafoss waterfall would look spectacular in spring/summer I think, where you can see the rainbow across the waterfall like in the movie. Since it's winter, no re-enactment of Gerua music video scenes by me here..haha.

Seljalandsfoss from a distance

Skogafoss in winter - no rainbow there!
Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
Another spot where the Gerua song from Hindi movie Dilwale was shot :p It was snowing when we were there, saw some sea lions too.


Go wild selfie with my fun & beautiful roomate :)

Black sand beach (Reynisfjara)
Yet another spot where the Gerua song was shot..haha...mad about Dilwale! Reynisfjara truly is a unique beach. Actually, the beach is covered with black pebbles and black sand. The waves are very big, strong & unpredictable. If you visit Reynisfjara, please keep a safe distance from the shore. You may get hit & sucked in by the strong waves.

black pebbles from Reynisfjara
panoramic view of the black sand beach (Reynisfjara)
Visited the Eyjafjallajokull (it's a mouthful to pronounce!) Volcano Visitor Center. In 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull erupted and caused a massive volcano ash pollution in the air which stranded a lot of flights in Europe. Watched a video from the affected family's private collection when the eruption happened & how the farmer family rallied thru and rebuilt their farm after the effect. Salute!

The Eyjafjallajokull Visitor Center

Eyjafjallajokull in the background

Some tips that I would like to share:

1. If you're buying separate airline tickets like me (flights are non-connecting), upon arrival of the 1st flight you need to go through immigration and take your luggage then check-in (or just drop baggage if you've already checked in online) and then go thru immigration & security checks at the airport again for the next flight. Bear in mind that your flights may be arriving/departing from different terminals. Please allow yourself enough time to go thru all these processes, especially if you're transitting at big airports such as London Heathrow. Doing some research beforehand about the airport helps too, speeds up things as you already have an idea which way to go and how to get from one point to another within the airport.

2. Iceland uses Icelandic Krona as the currency. You won't get this currency in Malaysia, so you'll have to exchange it either at the Keflavik International Airport in Iceland or in London/Amsterdam depends on where you're coming from duing the transit. You can bring either euro, british pound or USD to exchange to Krona.

3. Things are quite pricey in Iceland, so make sure you have enough money or bring your credit card with you for larger amount purchases. Food, drinks & souvenirs are expensive too. To give you an idea of how expensive it is, one bottle of mineral water (500ml) would cost you ISK300+ which is roughly RM10+. If you're having lunch/dinner at restaurants, it could easily cost you RM200-RM300 per meal! And a fridge magnet would also cost you around ISK890 to ISK1190 per piece, that's at least RM30!

4. As Muslim travellers, I'm pretty sure most of you are quite concerned about Halal food options. It's not easy to find them in Iceland, I survived only on seafood when dining at restaurants. For lunch breaks, I brought the ever trusted Brahim's packed Nasi Goreng as well as Nasi Lemak. Must save cost whenever/wherever possible..hehe.

5. People of Iceland can speak English well, so no communication woes there :)

6. If you're travelling by yourself in Iceland (not taking a full tour package like I did), you have options of taking day trips or tours provided by local operators in Iceland such as Reykjavik Excursions ( They offer a lot of day trips such as tour to Ice Tunnel, Blue Lagoon, whale watching, chasing the northern lights, etc. You can ask for help from most hotel receptions to make the arrangements for you, the hotel receptions in Iceland are very friendly (from my personal experience), they can even advice you on aurora activity readings too! so that you'll know which days are good for hunting auroras.

7. If you wish to soak yourself in the most wonderful geothermal hotspring @Blue Lagoon, please make sure you make a reservation before going. Blue Lagoon is a very famous destination in Iceland and sometimes you may not get in just by "walk-in" as they might be fully booked. Blue Lagoon is not far from the Keflavik International Airport, some people like to make a detour there before catching a flight home. If you're planning to do this, please make sure you have buffered enough time to get to the airport and check-ins.

8. When travelling in Iceland, always be prepared for sudden weather changes. It can be sunny at one time and raining or snowing suddenly. Like the Icelanders say, when you're in Iceland..if you don't like the weather, wait for 5 minutes..haha. that's how sudden the weather can change there.

9. When travelling in Iceland, please make sure you wear comfortable and waterproof hiking or walking shoes epecially during winter season and you should wear crampons on your shoes as the icy walk paths can be very slippery. The crampons will provide better grip for you to walk on ice.

10. If your main goal of visiting Iceland is to see the aurora borealis, you will need to monitor the aurora activity and keep an eye on the Kp value which indicates acitivity of the aurora. To learn more about monitoring the aurora activity, you can use this website: Make sure you set your cameras to proper manual settings to photograph the aurora & use a tripod for stability. You can refer to the below example of camera settings as guideline (courtesy of the Northern Lights Centre in Reykjavik) :

After 6 wonderful days in Iceland, I went home with a heavy heart but filled with so much joy and blissfulness. I shall forever dream about the beautiful auroras :)

Special thanks goes to my roomie Aisyah for being such a fun travelling partner, Mr & Mrs Tan Check Hong for being like our parents throughout the trip, we're honored to have known such well travelled couple like yourselves and thank you for taking care of us like your daughters. And thanks to Kak Yatie, Mr & Mrs Ho, Wai Yee (our Tour Leader), Gulla (our Icelandic guide) and all the members of the tour group for making it such a fun experience for me. I really enjoyed getting to know all of you & may our paths cross again some day.

Well, I hope you guys enjoyed reading my experience in Iceland and find the tips useful. If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to leave me a message in the comments section or email me at :)

I'm also on Instagram, feel free to follow me @ainie_saufi (my IG is private, do request to follow ya). Til the next journey, take care everyone!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The best solo trip so far! Holland & Paris (April 26th - May 3rd 2014)


I just came back from the most exciting solo trip to Holland (Netherlands) and Paris. I must say....I LOVE HOLLAND!! It is such a beautiful country, rich with nature, culture & heritage. Dutch people - very friendly, which is awesome! :)

The inspiration for this trip was to see Keukenhof again! I visited Keukenhof for the 1st time last year (2013) but was left with a bit of let-down because I didn't get to see all the lovely tulips outside and they were not in full bloom yet at the time I went (winter ended late for last year, so not many tulips were blooming outside). So, this year..I went again..and had better luck, Alhamdulillah :)

For those who don't know, Keukenhof is a spring garden (which opens only during spring time, from March til May - exact dates may vary from one year to another). This magnificent spring garden is in Lisse, about 30-40 mins outside of Amsterdam. Keukenhof is famous for the wonderful tulips, every year millions of people will come to see the hundreds (or probably thousands?) variety of tulips planted there. If you ever plan to come to Holland in spring, you MUST NOT miss to visit Keukenhof..okay?

You might ask, "How do I get to Keukenhof from Amsterdam?" Ahh...this is a good question. Since Keukenhof is not accessible by local train/public have 2 options:
  1. Drive yourself there.
  2. Go by Keukenhof bus (which departs from several locations in Amsterdam city centre).
I took the 2nd option. You can purchase the entry + bus ticket online before visiting Keukenhof. This is a much more efficient way as you can skip the lines/avoid wasting time queuing to buy ticket at the garden itself.
Tickets can be purchased from:
  1. direct from Keukenhof website: or 
  2. local tour agent like "Tours & Tickets" -
If you buy directly from Keukenhof website, price is cheaper for the entry+bus ticket. If you buy from local tour agent, the price is a bit more expensive as they will normally add-on some optional tours together with it..such as visiting the flowerfields on top of visiting Keukenhof, etc. So, at the end of day...depends on what you want to see/experience and your budget of course ;)

Here is a lovely view of Keukenhof, definitely felt like I was in flower heaven!

A bed of pink tulips @ Keukenhof - heavenly!

Okay, now back to the rest of the trip. On the day I arrived to Amsterdam (April 26th), there was celebration for King's Day, the Dutch call it Koningsdag. The streets of Amsterdam was filled with people wearing orange everything! shirts, headband, hats, etc. On this special day, the Dutch get to setup flea markets and they party all out!

If you're a fan of art, you will love Amsterdam. There's many museums here. I personally love the Van Gogh Museum, the queue to go in is long (even with fast lane tics) but it was so worth it. Visited the Rijksmuseum too, but it was not as great as Van Gogh's. Ticket to each of these museums is 15euro, which was bought from Tours & Tickets office at Damrak.

With the famous "Sunflowers" @ Van Gogh Museum

Getting around Amsterdam city is quite easy, you can either go by foot or take the tram. I choose to go everywhere within the city on foot, this way I could see and experience the city more.

I guess you may have few questions (like the ones below) in mind...had a friend who asked me the, I hope the below info helps if you want to make a journey to Amsterdam/Holland:

  1. Is it easy to navigate around Amsterdam? - Definitely yes! with the help of Google map of course...hehe. I go everywhere with help of Google map.
  2. Is it easy to find halal food there? - Yes, there's quite a number of shops that sell halal food. You can google for the list of restaurants and find it using Google map. There's also one vegetarian shop, which sells the most delicious falafel. You should try it! The shop is called "Maoz Vegetarian" and it's located at Damrak 40. Next to it is a shop which sells french fries, very famous..lots of people queuing to buy. Oh ya, I must warn you that some of these halal shops...the food price is a bit on the high side, would probably want to bring some Maggi mee or instant noodles from home in case budget burst! hehe :P 
    The yummilicious falafel @ Maoz Vegetarian
  3. Should I buy a local simcard? - If you're gonna stay for more than 2-3 days, I think it would be better to buy a local simcard which provides data/internet services. You're gonna need this if you plan to use Google map to get around. It is much cheaper than using data roaming. I bought a "Lebara mobile" simcard at the Amsterdam Schiphol airport (there is a booth there selling the simcards for tourists), the simcard costed me 20euro..with 1GB data.
  4. Where do I buy tickets to enter the tourist attraction places? - You can either buy it at the ticket counters of those tourist attraction places (which may not be the best option if you hate long queues) or buy from local agents like Tours & Tickets, or from your hotel (some hotels do sell the tickets) or you can opt for a "Holland Pass" or "I Amsterdam" card, which would be of more value if you plan to visit few major tourist attractions. For "Holland Pass" & "I Amsterdam" card, you can just google it and go directly to their websites to learn more about it & purchase.
  5. Where is the best place to stay? - Find a hotel, which is near to public transport such as train stations. This way, your life would be much easier in getting around and you can save cost for transport to & from airport. I chose a hotel (WestCord City Centre Amsterdam), which was about 600 metres from the Amsterdam Centraal train station. From the airport I took the train to get to hotel, it only cost me 4.50euro.
  6. How are the people there, do they speak/understand English well? - Oh yes! Most of the Dutch people can speak English well and they're friendly too! I got many good suggestions on going around Amsterdam from the locals (especially from the friendly front desk staff at the hotel) & they helped me find my way around.
  7. How is the weather in Amsterdam? - Well, the weather was a bit tricky when I was there. Visited during spring but it was raining quite frequently (almost daily). So, my advise to you is...please check the weather forecast of your time of visit. You may find a small umbrella to come in handy for an unexpected "shower" during your trip...hehe. A water-resistant jacket with a hoodie would be useful too (especially for guys, if you don't want to carry umbrellas).
  8. Where or what other places should I visit in Holland? - If you can, do take the excursion trips to Zaanse Schaans (to see the windmills) and the country-side...and if you have kids, take them to Madurodam...there's a great miniature garden there.
Trip to Amsterdam feels incomplete if you don't take a stroll along the canals
Okay, those are some of the things I could think of for now. Do leave me a comment if you have any questions, I'll try to answer if I know it :)

After spending 6 awesome days in Holland, I then took the train from Amsterdam (Amsterdam Centraal) to Paris (Gare Du Nord). Journey takes about 3.5 hours on Thalys hi-speed train.

I spent only 2 days (more like 1.5 days) in Paris. Spent it to just go around the Musee Du Louvre & Palais Royal area..and did a lil' bit of shopping at Galleries LaFayette. I already went to Eiffel Tower last year, so..skipped it on this short trip to Paris..hehe.

Outdoor @ Musee Du Louvre
Halal food is also quite easy to find/get in Paris. You can just google it & use Google map to find the shop (same way I did when I was in Amsterdam). I also find that using public transport in Paris (Metro) is quite easy. Just bought single journey tickets to go to places, since I didn't want to go to so many places. If you plan to go to several places in a day, then probably worth to buy the daily ticket (costs about 10 euro). Single journey ticket costs 1.70euro.

If you know French, please speak French while you're in Paris. I had a bit of poor experience in Paris at some shops...I was told by friends (after the fact) that French people don't like English-speaking people...sigh!

If you ask me which country I like better, I would definitely say Holland! haha..simply because the Dutch are friendlier, more relaxed (even by the way they dress) and they have such a beautiful country :)

Btw, I loved Cafe Le Nemours...which is just outside Palais Royal..had a cuppa coffee and did a bit of people-watching...feeling Angelina Jolie as my friend would say was cool ;)

Having a cuppa coffee @ Cafe Le Nemours

After having such a great time in Holland...and a short stop in Paris, it was finally time to go home. Left Paris on Saturday, May 3rd...on Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380..oh yeah, got to fly on the ginormous airplane!! Wished that I could get a nice seat on the upper deck though...that would've been vanilla ice-cream on top of a brownie...hehe

OK, that's all for now. Until the next trip....! :)

p/s: While solo journeys are thrilling, I dream that one day I will meet someone who will accompany me on my journeys and make it even more the quote from #MHjourneys.."We're all travellers looking to make that great trip with someone" *wink*

Friday, June 7, 2013

Europe Trip: Switzerland (9-10 April 2013)

The 2nd country we visited was Switzerland.

Journey (by bus) from Paris to Geneva, Switzerland took around 8-9 hours. On the long drive, we had a few stops at beautiful places to take pictures.

Our first stop was still in France, a place called Beaune which is famous for good quality French wine. Vineyards are a plenty in this region. We also had our lunch here. For the non-Muslim group members, they enjoyed wine-tasting and bought some for the trip and to be brought back for family. The city of Beaune is pretty quiet, not much people there but the view is very nice and tranquil..

City of Beaune...very tranquil
@ Beaune with tour mate, Ummi
When we reached Geneva, we had a quick city tour to see the majestic United Nations (UN) headquarters building, the heaquarters of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Jardin Anglais which is famous for it's large & beautiful flower clock. We also went to see the "Broken Chair". It depicts a giant chair with a broken leg and stands across the street from the Palace of Nations, in Geneva. It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.

The Broken Chair
On 2nd day in Switzerland, we went to the Glacier 3000 in the Swiss Alps. It really was a wonderful experience even though the weather was very cold (when I was there, it was -8 degrees celsius) and one should never miss to go to the Swiss Alps (be it Glacier 3000, Mt. Titlis or Mt. Jungfrau)..the view is magnificent!

Swiss Alps

We took a ride on this @Glacier 3000

Enjoying the view in cable car going up to Glacier 3000

Next, we went to Interlaken...a beautiful and peaceful town. We then spent the night in Bern.

View of the mountains from Interlaken

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Europe Trip: France (7-8 April 2013)


My journey in France started with arrival at Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport. Journey from Singapore to Paris took 13 hours on Singapore Airlines' Airbus A380.

We arrived in Paris on 7 April 2013 at 7.20am and the weather was -1 degress celsius...hopped on a bus & headed straight to the city for Paris city tour.

We started with the River Seine cruise to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Paris. River Seine lies 15km across Paris city center and we can find a total of 37 bridges along the 15km. Some of the bridges are very beautiful. We can also see the Eiffel Tower and many other historical buildings like the Notre Dame Cathedral during the cruise.

Seine River Cruise
Notre Dame Cathedral
After the cruise, we took a walk thru the Jardins (gardens) towards Eiffel Tower and took photos while enjoying the cool spring breeze and found some cherry blossoms too!

The walk to Eiffel tower

Ahaaa...found cherry blossom tree in Paris!
We then proceed to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant called Jade of the Fountain. Lunch there was good. 
Our lunch on 1st day in Paris
After a good lunch, we continued journey to outskirt of Paris to see the Versaille Palace. We spent the afternoon touring the old palace which was built by King Louis the 14th. We had a local tour guide named Ghee who shared with us the palace history. This palace was very famous for it's history of King Louis who lived a lavish life while his subjects live in poverty.

Versaille Palace

We then headed back to the city to check-in at our hotel. We stayed 2 nights at the Mercure Ivry by the River Seine.

In the evening, we had a quick outing to see and experience Paris and see Eiffel Tower at night..thanks to our nice Tour Manager, Alice and the most sporting driver..Munir. Ah, I must tell you that every 10pm, the Eiffel tower will have a sort of  brief "light show" where for about 5-10 minutes the Eiffel tower will be illuminated (blinking lights). It's the most beautiful & amazing sight :)

Eiffel Tower illuminated..blinking lights!

So many people came to enjoy the view of Eiffel Tower at night!
After enjoying the night out in Paris, we went back to the hotel to have our rest and ready for the next day.

On the 2nd day, we started our day early to queue up to buy ticket and go up the 2nd level of Eiffel Tower. Very important note people: if you want to go to Eiffel Tower, especially during peak season (in Spring & Summer) cannot pre-purchase/book your tickets. You need to go there early to queue up to buy tickets and also queue again to go up the tower. There are 2 ways of going up the tower - by stairs & by elevator. Please buy tickets to go up by elevator. Also, if you want to go to the summit (top) of Eiffel, needs different ticket if I'm not mistaken.

OK, back to the story...view from 2nd level Eiffel magnificent. You'll get a panoramic view of Paris which is breathtaking. Now I understand why people want to go there so's an experience of a life time :)

Panoramic view of Paris city

The view from up here is breathtaking!
After enjoying the view in cold weather for about 1 hour (haha..sejuk kauuu), we headed to Galeries La Fayette fo shopping! On the way there, we had photo stops at Arc De Triomphe, Place de la Concorde and passed by Champs Elysees.

Arc de Triomphe

With my roomie, Dayah @ Arc de Triomphe

The biggest LV boutique @ Champs Elysees Avenue

The rest of the afternoon was spent shopping....OMG, shopping in Paris (at Galeries La Fayette) is sooooo tempting, with lots of designer handbags, perfumes, clothing, etc. The best thing is...we can get tax refund! Please take note: To be entitled for the tax rebate, you need to spend at least 175 Euro at the shop in 1 receipt. After purchasing you item(s), be sure to get the tax rebate/refund form from the shop. After finish all your shopping, go to the tax counter there at La Fayette...there will be somebody who can help you organize all your receipts & forms. Please keep you tax refund form to claim the refund at the airport. There are 2 options for the refund - cash or credit card. If you choose cash refund, the rate will be less...which is 10% as compared to refund to credit card, which will be 12% (plus, refund to credit card has shorter queue compared to cash refund queue at the airport).

Galeries La Fayette...the best place to shop!

Shopping done...we headed back to the hotel, packed our stuff and had a good night's rest as the next day, we had a long journey to Geneva (Switzerland).

Photos for tour in France is available here. For friends who are connected with me via Facebook, you can check out the photos in the "Europe Trip: France" album too :)