Ski @ Appi Kogen – Japan

Japan – one of my most loved countries in the world. For those who have not set foot in Japan, make it one of the destinations to visit in your lifetime. Experience the culture, soak up the nightlife, enjoy food perfection anywhere and anytime. I find the movie Lost in Translation extremely depictive. Today, I will feature my latest ski trip at Appi Kogen.

Where is Appi Kogen?
The Appi Kogen is located in the Appi Highlands in Iwate Prefecture, about 50km north of Morioka. From Tokyo, it’s 2.5hr on the Shinkansen Hayate to Morioka station and an hour’s bus directly to Appi.
appi map

Accommodation at Appi Hotel
The tower rooms are exceptionally large for Japan standards. Fret not about travel toiletries, you will very likely succumb to using those provided by the hotel. Ladies can also check out the vanity room in the Onsen area for a night of product sampling.
ski @ appi kogen hotel accommodation
Plus, be treated to this postcard view from the hotel rooms!
ski @ appi 2.5hrs on Hayate to Morioka from Tokyo

Skiing at Appi
APPI is located in latitude 40°N where world’s famous ski resorts like Austria’s Arlberg and USA’s Aspen are located. As such, it is uncommon to read about the quality snow here, or Appi being labelled as the St Moritz or Aspen of Japan. Best part, ski starts from early Dec and ends early May.
ski @ appi from Dec to May

Appi is significanly larger than the average ski resort in Japan – 282 hectares, 21 terrains and 45.1km of the total runs. It is a perfect place for beginners and intermediate skiiers who are looking to improve their techniques as slopes are mostly groomed, very wide, and less crowded because of its size.
ski @ appi wide slopes and runs good for beginners

Expert skiiers need not feel left out. There are a couple of black pistes from the summit, including light powder runs. Alternatively, enjoy the challenge of the moguls terrains.
ski @ appi Japan mogul terrains

Ski Conditions
Snowfall is adequate even for spring skiing. We enjoyed Appi’s well-known Aspirin snow (light and fine snow flakes) on the 2nd day of our ski trip!
ski @ appi aspirin snow fine snow flakes

Needless to say, there was amazing powder snow the next day, the sun was dazzlingly bright and we whizzed chirpily through the snow covered trees. In case you have the habit of evaluating the animal paw prints as you ride up the chair lifts, the ones in Appi are most likely fox tracks.
ski @ appi groomed runs enjoy skiing with friends

The summit is for all to enjoy
Enjoy the paronomic view as you take the gondola up to the summit. There are 3 black slopes down and the renowned 5.5km long green course which is popular with kids and family.
ski @ appi gondola to the summit

I am not an expert skiier, therefore my guts have limited pictures to only the groomed black run Hayabusa.
ski @ appi hayabusa black slope and yamabato green course

As well as a short video clip!

Dining at Appi
I loved all my meals – they looked good, tasted better, perfection. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Remember to also order an Appi beer!

Japanese restaurant – best meal
ski @ appi japanese cuisine appi beer sake

French restaurant – French cusine with a Japanese touch
ski @ appi french cuisine

Must try – Morioka reimen (cold ramen). Only available in Morioka; so delicious we ordered it at every possible meal.
ski @ appi morioka reimen iwate

Conclusion
Appi Kogen is definitely a resort for skiiers of all age and levels and lives up to its reputation of a powderhound. Enjoy a western and modern facade alongside the traditional and immaculate service. Staff here, including ski instructors, speak relatively good English therefore foreigners need not worry. The ski resort is self-contained and there is nothing much outside / around the ski resort. I would recommend a stay of 3-5 days to truely enjoy all faciliites. And by the way, Appi’s motto is “Don’t worry, be appi!”

For more information on Appi Kogen and ski packages, you can visit http://www.appi.co.jp/foreign_country/english/

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Most Expensive Holiday in the World

At a hefty price tag of £1 million, this is probably the world’s most expensive travel package and a once in a lifetime experience that will remain a dream for the average joe.

What’s the deal?
The ultimate journey will last for 2 years and cover 150 countries and 962 World Heritage locations including Mexico’s ancient city of Monte Alban, India’s sensational Taj Mahal, Jordon’s symbol the Petra, Cambodia’s exotic Angkor temples, Spain’s Moorish Alhambra, Egypt’s Great Pyramids, China’s enchanting Forbidden City, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Iran’s Pasargadae, Libya’s Leptis Magna and Peru’s Machu Picchu sitting 8.000 ft above sea level.
world heritage Monte Alban Taj Mahal Petra Angkor Moorish Alhambra Egypt Pyramids Forbidden City Great Barrier Reef Pasargadae Leptis Magna Machu Picchu

Travel In style with business class as a minimum standard and luxurious hotel stays including Barbados’ Sandy Lane, Paris’ Hotel George V, New York’s The Plaza, Mumbai’s The Taj Mahal Palace, Venice’s Cipriani Hotel and Moscow’s The Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Barbados Sandy Lane Paris Hotel George V NY The Plaza Taj Mahal Venice Cipriani Moscow Ritz Carlton

Bonus
You can bring a partner for free

For the record, one Chinese student and an Italian businessman have already signed up to embark on this 2 year adventure. Yes, you’ve remembered right. The cost is £1 million!!

Watch this space in 2 years’ time for more updates!

For more information, visit http://www.veryfirstto.com

Love @ First Sight – Paris Top 5 Attractions

As cliche as it may sound, Paris is definitely one of the most romantic cities in the world. There’s just something special in the air that makes you fall in love with this place instantly. Even simple things like their passion for baguettes, and how almost every Parisian is spotted taking away a fresh roll of baguette in the mornings, really, just brings a smile to your face. Here are 5 visually stunning attractions that will melt your heart further. And more importantly, directions on how to get to them.

#1 – Eiffel Tower (how to pronounce: I fa tower)
Paris Eiffel Tower 7 Wonders Icon in France
The iconic Parisian landmark was built by Gustave Eiffel and completed in 1889. 324m (1,063 ft) tall, 3 levels, 1665 steps, this baby is one of the most visited monuments in the world. You could admire it from day to night, and night to day, and somehow still desire to swing by each time you visit Paris. No visit is complete without the Eiffel Tower.

Nearest Metro Station:
Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel on line RER C

#2 – Notre Dame Cathedral (French for “Our Lady of Paris”)
Paris Notre Dame Cathedral Must See Travel France Stained Glass Church
A magnificent gothic masterpiece by Maurice de Sully. Completed in 1345, this cathedral has an amazing collection of sculptures, paintings and stained glass rose windows. The Notre Dame is 130m long, 48m wide, 35m high and the rose windows have a diameter of 10m. Climb 387 steps to reach the top to view its most famous bell and gargoyles in close quarters. Spread your wings and enjoy the spectacular view across Paris.

Nearest Metro Station:
St-Michel Notre Dame on line RER B / C

#3 – Arc de Triomphe (how to pronounce: ark de triumph ff)
Paris Arc de Triomphe Monuments Sculptures Reliefs Bird's eye view
The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Warsis and is decorated with scenes from French military victories. Names of the great French Generals are inscribed on it and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath the Arc to commemorate all those who died unidentified in war. The majestic monument stands 50m in height, 45m wide and 22m deep. Climb 40 steps after an elevator ride to reach the top for a breathtaking picture. Word of advice, please use the underpass instead of attempting to cross the traffic circle!

Nearest Metro Station:
Charles de Gaulle-Etoile on line RER A

#4 – Champs-Elysées (how to pronounce: sean zay lee zay)
Paris Champs-Elysées Shopping Street Cafes Food Romantic
Champs-Elysées is probably the most famous, expensive and mis-pronounced street (by tourists) in Paris. The avenue runs for 1.91 km from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle and is lined with lovely greenery as well as various cafes, clubs, theatres and luxury shops such as LV’s flagship store. A fantastic spot to rest those feet and people watch, doesn’t hurt that Parisians are generally good looking and love their casual chic fashion sense. Don’t forget to drop by Ladurée to pick up one of the world’s finest macaron.

Nearest Metro Station:
Charles de Gaulle-Etoile on line RER A

#5 – Musée du Louvre (how to pronounce: ​myze de luf)
Paris Musée du Louvre Attraction Mona Lisa Art Museum
Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century, 60,600 square metres, the most visited museum in the world, and of course, a glimpse of the all famous Mona Lisa masterpiece amongst a sea of people (regardless the day). Featured in the movie Da Vinci Code, the glass pyramid architecture literally blows your mind away. How on earth, I.M Pei, did you build something so perfect and so beautiful?! Ingenious. And by the way, rumour has it that Angelina, which is just around the corner, has the best hot chocolate in the world!

Nearest Metro Station:
Louvre Rivoli and Palais Royal Musée du Louvre on line 1

Useful links
Paris Metro Interactive map http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/carteidf.php
Ladurée http://www.laduree.com/
Angelina http://www.angelina-paris.fr/

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Best beach in Asia – Cua Dai, Vietnam

Cua Dai beach has been touted as the best beach in Asia and voted as the one of the best beaches in Asia by millions of travellers through polls conducted by travel guides such as tripadvisor. I welcome a beach holiday anytime and I’m always excited to uncover what the hype is all about!

Where is Cua Dai beach?
Cua Dai beach is in Vietnam and along the coastlines between Hanoi and HCM. The beach faces the South China Sea and is about 4km to the north-east of Hoi An Town. Although blessed with a tropical climate, the best time to visit is from January to May (temperature ~ 20-30s and low rainfall), while May to August is the hottest and September to January is the rainy season.
Hoi An Cua Dai Vietnam map

How to get to Cua Dai beach / Hoi An?
The easiest way to Hoi An is to fly into Da Nang Airport. Da Nang is easily connected through HCM or Hanoi and the transit itself can be an adventure as flight delays are pretty common, as well as language being a barrier. It is therefore advisable to book connecting/direct flights with the same carrier such as Vietnamair, Jetstar or Singapore Silkair. It takes 25-30 mins by taxi to get to Hoi An from Da Nang Airport and one way will cost about USD 25-30.

Welcome to Cua Dai beach
Be greeted by the amazingly clean, beautiful and unspoilt beach upon your arrival.
Hoi An sun soak on Cua Dai beach blue skies clear sea and white sands

Cua Dai beach stretches on for 3km and is extremely peaceful and uncrowded.
Hoi An fishing boats circular baskets on Cua Dai beach

Say hello to relaxing and bye bye to touters.
Hoi An Cua Dai Da Nang Vietname fishing boat

Do take care when swimming in the sea as the currents can be strong. Guess that also explains for the eroding beach at the tip and lack of water sports in this area.
Hoi An Cui Dai beach China Sea clear waters waves

Where can you stay?
Hoi An Boutique An Boutique is an amazingly peaceful and lusciously green luxurious beach front resort.
Hoi An Boutique Hoi An Hotel Beach Resort Spa

The best bit? An exclusive private beach decked with chairs that are nicely spaced out.
Hoi An holiday and relaxing in Vienam Cua Dai beach

The bonus? A free shuttle service that brings you back and forth to Hoi An town throughout the day. This equates to about USD5 savings each way (that can easily buy you 5 cans of beer at the local supermarket)!

Hoi An Town
Stroll down the ancient city, which is also a UNESCO heritage site, and enjoy the well preserved buildings with a unique blend of local and foreign influences. Hoi an, in general, is laid back and locals are remarkably warm and hospitable. Take time to tailor some clothes and shop the handicraft; fret not about exorbitant shopping quotations. There are plenty of restaurants and pubs for you to periodically rest those tired feet. Enjoy the most delicious vietnamese spring rolls at Morning Glory.
Hoi An Ancient City UNESCO Heritage Centre Vietnam

All about the money
Prices are usually quoted in VND although your friendly shop owners will be happy to convert to USD for payment. Credit cards are not widely used and mostly accepted only in restaurants.

Getting around
Taxi is the best option to get from one place to another fast. Most taxis are on meters – look out for the bigger taxi chains Mai Linh (white and green taxi) and Faifoo (yellow taxi) which is accompanied by a smartly dressed chauffeur (white shirt and matching taxi colour tie). Alternatively, rent a bicycle to explore the town.

Conclusion
Cua Dai beach is a perfect alternative for those seeking a tranquil retreat and a change from the more commercialised beaches in Indonesia and Thailand. Definitely worthy of its crown as one of the best beaches in Asia (if not the best). A perfect weekend getaway if you are based in Asia, and a lovely stopover for travellers embarking on a longer Asia escapade. Sun-soak all day, get lost in time, enjoy the sounds of the sea waves and pamper yourself at the spa. Super love this place and recommend at least a 3-4 day stay to truly enjoy the beach as well as Hoi An Town. I guess I’m already missing the place as I write.

Book your tickets and accommodation now!
Vietnamair http://www.vietnamairlines.com
SilkAir http://www.silkair.com
Jetstar http://www.jetstar.com

Low rates @ agoda.com
worldwide asia hotels agoda

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Blown Away – Iceland Top 5 Attractions

Words alone does this country no justice to convey the visual treats and mind boggling experiences. Indeed, seeing is believing. Here are my top 5 picks and directions / co-ordinates to get there.

#1 – Geysir Hot Springs
Iceland top attractions geysir hot spring strokkur lil geysir mud pots erupts golden circle
Iceland is home to some of the greatest geysers in the world due to its high rate of volcanic activity. Be entranced by the Strokkur which erupts every 5 mins and spouts hot water up to 20m high! There are also more than 40 other little hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles nearby.

Here’s the big blast that sent everyone screaming! Wish I had an umbrella.

How to get to Geysir Hot Springs
Take road no. 1 from Reykjavík. Just before you arrive at Selfoss take exit to road no. 35 to Geysir. Geysir is about 60 km from that exit.
GPS: N64°18.591 W20°18.057

#2 – Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Iceland top attractions jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice bergs skaftafell
This natural wonder evolved into a lagoon after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean (also the movie set for James Bond, Tomb Raider and Batman!). While most ice bergs in the lagoon are majestic and incredibility blue, explore those by the shore and be surprised to find some exceptionally clear ice bergs. Plus, if you are lucky, you might just spot a seal!

How to get to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Take road no. 1 from Vík direction Höfn. About 57 km east of Skaftafell you will find the Glacier Lagoon by road no.1
GPS: N64°02.904 W16°10.774

#3 – Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Iceland top attractions seljalandsfoss famous waterfall selfoss
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. What sets it apart from all it’s Icelandic buddies is that you can actually walk behind this magnificent 60m high picturesque waterfall. Did you know that Seljalandsfoss was also featured in the Amazing Race 6!

How to get to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Take road no. 1 from Selfoss heading towards Vík. After about 22 km from Hvolsvöllur, take the exit to road no. 249 to Þórsmörk and travel about 0.5km. You will see Seljalandsfoss from road no. 1
GPS: N63°36.966 W19°59.572

#4 – Lake Myvatn
Iceland top attractions  myvatn lake winter geysir bread
It is almost surreal how a humongous body of immensely blue water and in the midst of vast, barren and almost uninhabited land, alongside the area’s strong sulphuric pungent smell, can captivate one’s heart. A must try in this area is the Geysir bread which is slow baked underground by natural geothermal heat, even in Winter!

How to get to Lake Myvatn
Take road no. 1 from Akureyri heading towards Mývatn and Egilsstaðir. Mývatn is by road no. 1 about 98 km from Akureyri
GPS: N65°38.681 W16°54.902

#5 – Myvatn Nature Baths
Iceland top attractions myvatn nature bath blue lagoon
This, in winter, is absolute heaven. Relax those muscles as you soak yourself in the 40°C natural pool of geothermal water based in the middle of a lava field. Those staying within the Golden Circle could visit the Blue Lagoon instead, although do take note that the Blue Lagoon is more commercialized and crowded, as such the overall experience will be different.

How to get to Myvatn Nature Baths
Take road no. 1 from Reykjahlid heading towards Egilsstadir. After 3km, exit right by the sign “Jardbodin” and follow the road to Myvatn Naturebaths.
GPS: N65°37.500 W16°50.520

For more information on Myvatn Nature Baths visit http://www.jardbodin.is/en

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Sun Soak @ Tenerife – Canary Islands Spain

Beach escapades are always a treat – the sun, the sea and the pure indulgence of doing nothing! This time, we checked out one of the more popular (if not most popular) beaches at Tenerife, Playa de Las Américas, widely known for their beautiful stretches of golden sand beaches.

Where is Tenerife?
Tenerife is one of the seven and largest Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. The Spanish island is blessed with sunshine all year round and famous for its lovely beaches throughout the island. Although there is no best time of the year to visit, the busiest times are usually December to February and May to October.
t map

How to get to Playa de Las Américas
There are two airports in Tenerife – Tenerife South Airport (Reina Sofia) and Tenerife North Airport. Most of the nicer beaches are closer to Tenerife South. It takes about 20 mins and €25 (one way) by taxi from the South airport to Playa de Las Américas.
tenerife airport canary islands spain beach getaway

Welcome to Playa de Las Américas
Playa de Las Américas is on the south coast of Tenerife and has six beaches of which three are man-made golden sand beaches with imported sand from Africa and the other three are natural black volcanic sand beaches. I particularly love the mushroom straw huts, and how neatly they are dotted all over the beach. This is definitely not a common sight outside of Asia. The icing on the cake? Playa de Las Américas is also reputed for being the hotspot to party on the island.
tenerife playa de las americas in canary islands best top beach getaway

The waters at Playa de Las Américas are relatively calm and there are plenty of activities for people of all ages. Jet skiing, wind surfing, banana boating, sailing, diving, parasailing, fishing, dolphin watching and even water themed parks, Siam Park and Aqualand, which are popular with the children.
tenerife golden sand white beaches top vacation calm waters

Explore the beaches to the left and the right of the main beach. The beaches stretch on for several kilometers so it can easily take 1-2 hours to stroll from end to end. It may not seem obvious but the sun rays in Tenerife can be quite potent. Remember to apply sun-block and keep hydrated. You will find that there is no lack of drink kioks on the beaches. Alternatively, pop into one of the many cafes and pubs along the stretch to rest your feet or laze by the bars.
tenerife travel top best beach destination playa de las americas gold white sandy beaches canary islands

The more adventurous may want to hike in Mt Teide – the volcano which is the tallest mountain in Spain. Otherwise, just eye-joy it from almost any part of the island (like us).
tenerife canary island endless golden sand beaches mt teide volcano hike

tenerife natural black volcanic sand beaches vacation atlantic ocean

The beaches are packed up and emptied by 5pm as tourists retreat to their hotels for a short rest before they head out for the night.
tenerife sunset playa de las americas best beach in canary island

The walking street
The walking street is lazy in the day, and comes alive at night. Nightlife resolves around the Veronicas Strip, Starco Commercial Centre and the Patch where there are plenty of bars, restaurants and night clubs to choose from. Clubs open till 3-5am and the range of drinks is comprehensive, if not slightly more creative.
tenerife veronicas strip starco commercial centre patch playa de las americas

What to eat
Seafood is fresh and cooking techniques are mostly simple. Do try the black ink squid and local wrinkly potatos, Papas Arrugadas, that are covered in salt and served ready unpeeled. Also enjoy authentic paellas on this island. Meals are often served with the Canarian sauce dips, Mojo, which usually come in a set of 2 or 3. Each sauce has a different texture and taste (garlic, coriander, paprika?) and these dips are an absolute delight with almost anything.
tenerife food papas arrugadas canarian sauce mojo beach travel vacation

All about the money
The island uses Euros. Credit cards are widely accepted although most require the credit card chip and pin. Food and drinks are not exactly cheap at Tenerife, particularly at Playa de Las Américas since it is relatively commercialised. Expect to pay British pub prices at minimum. It is also common practice to leave a 10% tip.

Conclusion
Tenerife is a hidden gem in the Atlantic sea, mostly undeveloped except for the touristy areas and is probably more well known in the European and British space. While it might not be worth a trip all the way from the rest of the other world, the tropical weather, stunning golden sand beaches and sparkling clear blue sea puts it in the list of beautiful beaches to visit. The beaches at Playa de Las Américas are perfect for those seeking a laid back and fun-filled vacation as the area is nicely built up with cafes, pubs and activities for anyone of all ages to enjoy from day to night. Tenerife will make a rocking weekend getaway and can suit an extended beach vacation for travellers who intend to further explore the island.

For more information, you can visit the Canary Islands Official Tourism Boar http://www.turismodecanarias.com/canary-islands-spain/

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Iceland Winter Self Drive – Survived!

Iceland, often described as the land of fire and ice, is truly magical, unforgettable and unpredictable. Talk about extremes, this country will leave you more mind boggled than you can ever imagine. I would consider the winter self drive experience one of the most extreme (and crazy) adventures I have ever embarked on. If you are planning for a winter drive in the northern hemisphere, read on to see what you are in for.

Always check the road conditions
The weather in Iceland changes faster than a chameleon changes its colour. Sudden impassable roads, countersteering 40m/s winds to 5m/s, poor visibility to bright blue skies, amazing. It is imperative to check the road conditions and plan well before you set off at any point, for your own safety and to avoid any disruptions in your travel plans. See a list of very handy websites below.

Route of advancement
It can’t get any simpler. There is only one main road, aka Route 1 or the Ring Road, which connects the whole of Iceland. Most of the major attractions are along the main road, if not a slight detour away.
a. map2

I: Reykjavík to D: Vik (approx 300km / 4hrs)
Enjoy the stress free drive while you can. Roads are relatively wide, well path and sufficiently lit as this stretch, also known as the Golden Circle, is highly commercialized and concentrated with most of the island’s popular tourist attractions such as the Þingvellir National Park (B), Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geyser (C). Roads become more remote as you head away from the city, but that’s also when all the fun begins!
Iceland self drive Reykjavik to Vik golden circle road conditions

Iceland self drive Reykjavik to Vik narrow roads

D: Vik to E: Höfn (approx 270km / 3hrs)
If you enjoy driving, you will absolutely love the scenic stretch along the south coast. We were lucky to have good weather, and it felt almost as though we were on top gear, testing a supercar, roof down, burning desire to floor the engine as we zipped along the bends of absolutely remote and endless roads whilst taking in the mystical landscape of mountains, waterfalls, icelandic sheeps and horses, nature in all shapes, colours and form. It was truely a moment.
Iceland self drive Vik to Hofn mystical landscape

Look out for the all famous unpronounceable and extremely majestic volcano that led to international airspace chaos. Nested so innocently on the luscious green meadows against the clear blue skies with Mýrdalsjökull ice caps in the backdrop, you will be compelled to stop even if you didn’t realize it was Eyjafjallajökull.
Iceland self drive Vik to Hofn eyjafjallajokull volcano myrdalsjokull ice caps attraction

E: Höfn to F: Egilsstaðir (approx 185km / 3hrs)
The East Fjords is the turning point of intensity – transit from the green lowlands into the darkside of a largely infertile terrain of highland moors and coastal gravel deserts. There are lots of intricate roads and converging lanes, especially the river crossings, so do make it a point to decipher all the new road signs that come your way.
Iceland self drive Hofn to Egilsstaoir empty roads terrain tunnels mountains meadows

Who would have thought that landscape could change so drastically. Apart from the icelandic sheeps and horses, the greens became gravel, blue skies became grey, roads became more icy, very narrow and extremely bendy as we entered deeper into the Eastern zone. It was certainly intimidating to drive through the towering mountains and scary to drive for miles without passing any cars…
Iceland self drive Hofn to Egilsstaoir East Fjords coastal gravel roads

Iceland self drive Hofn to Egilsstaoir winter driving conditions

Driving soon became absolutely nerve wreaking as we had zero experience with such extreme road conditions. Sweaty palms, thumping hearts, you name it, we had it. Stay very focus to remain on track to avoid an overturn (apparently quite common, and we personally witnessed one along the way). It almost felt as though we were on a James Bond adventure.
Iceland self drive Hofn to Egilsstaoir winter road conditions snow rent a 4WD

Here’s a short clip of the evil roads conditions

F: Egilsstaðir to G: Mývatn (approx 170km / 2hrs)
Driving conditions remained harsh. We made sure to set out earlier than planned.
Iceland self drive Egilsstaoir to Myvatn lake driving conditions

Skirting around the clift edges of the extremely bendy and icy North East coast.
Iceland self drive Egilsstaoir to Myvatn icy North East Coast drive along the narrow and bendy roads

The visibility was so bad at certain points that we had to take a leap of faith to rely purely on the GPS to prepare us for any bends ahead. It was crazy. Absolutely crazy. And very dangerous.
Iceland self drive Egilsstaoir to Myvatn poor visibility winter road conditions blizzard

Here’s another clip of the road conditions while crossing the mountains and how erratic the weather can be, plus, what it feels like to cross paths with another vehicle!

G: Mývatn to H: Varmahlíð (approx 200km / 2.5hrs)
I am not sure how fear and desire can co-exist. We feared the weather and the road conditions, yet we desired to explore more. The beauty of the west region is just nature in its rawest form. There is just something magical about Iceland that keeps you so passionate.
Iceland self drive Myvatn to Varmahlio mountainous driving conditions

Driving remained stressful. In addition to the mountainous drive and wind shear factor, snow was excessive and more roads became completely impassable as the day progressed. Nevertheless, the landscape remained ever so breathtaking. Despite the frostbites, I had to get down to take a picture!
Iceland self drive Myvatn to Varmahlio winter road conditions impassible roads excessive snow

It was truely spectacular to see meanders, lakes and waterfalls exist under extreme sub zero conditions, makes you seriously wonder what kind of geothermal activity exists below grounds.
Iceland self drive Myvatn to Varmahlio lakes rivers geothermal activity snow

And as we continued on, we came pass a magnificent towering suspension bridge, right in the midst of vast and barren land. Completely surreal.
Iceland self drive Myvatn to Varmahlio suspension bridge vast barren land converging lane

H: Varmahlíð to I: Reykjavík (approx 300km / 3.5hrs)
The blizzard was catching up with us from the East. Driving conditions remain tough and we made sure to set out even earlier for our last leg and skipped all the attractions along the way. Our objective was simple. We wanted to get back to Reykjavík in one piece, and before the sun sets.
Iceland self drive Akureyri to Reykjavik harsh winter road conditions

Finally, normal roads – road conditions that the layman are more familiar with. It kinda felt like we were back from outter space. Travel in style through the impressive state of art tunnel that runs below sea level to cross back to Reykjavík.
Iceland self drive Akureyri to Reykjavik underground tunnel GPS

Near death experience
Like what most travellers experience, we got stuck. Our tires got trapped in the thick and fresh snow while climbing midway up an extremely narrow and bendy 45 degree mountainous track on the way to Egilsstaðir. It was a very frightening near death experience – there was no soul in sight within miles, no street lamps in place, and darkness was falling. Our minds went seriously wild – survival instincts kicked in – blankets? Water?? Wild boars???

Remember the emergency hotline 112
Our only saving grace was reception. We dialled the Icelandic emergency line 112 to seek rescue, and until this day, we remain grateful to the local volunteers of 112 who gallantly made their way to us so quickly. These good samaritans are extremely skilled people who help purely out of a kind heart in their free time and do not get paid or expect anything in return. They back tracked our drive and dropped us at a safety point where they then re-programmed our GPS for a safer alternate route to Egilsstaðir. Please avoid driving at night if you can. This is the detour that we took, and it was absolutely horrifying – we had no idea what was beyond the side skirts. Yes, ignorance is bliss.

Conclusion
The best way to enjoy Iceland is definitely by self driving around the island. It gives you the flexibility to indulge in the picturesque and evolving landscape and to uncover the hidden gems in the vast and remote lands beyond Reykjavík. Be marvelled at how the landscape changes within every few hours of drive. But beware, and be prepared, that driving by itself can be an extreme adventure, particularly during winter, and more so for those who are unfamiliar with rough winter road conditions. It is extremely vital, and for your own safety, that you rent a 4X4 should you intend to drive during Winter. I recommend at least 7 days for a comfortable drive around the island. Once completed, buy yourself a memorabilia that states “I survived Iceland”. Most importantly, please donate generously if you come across any 112 fund raisers.

Very handy websites
Icelandic Road conditions and weather: http://www.vegagerdin.is/
Icelandic Met Office: http://en.vedur.is/
112 Emergency Team: http://www.112.is/

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