Adventure Local, Support Global

 

The adventure and travel world has done a somersault since the start of 2020. It’s left a lot of us feeling a bit dizzy and pausing to consider where to go from here.

International travel is certainly off the table for some time to contain the spread of Covid-19. Yet, as we’re fortunate enough to see lockdowns start to ease in Canada, a number of us are looking towards how we can responsibly get our adventure fix this summer.

For years we’ve fallen in love with glamorous beaches, forests and mountains on our Instagram feeds that are thousands of miles away. There’s something in the exotic that tantalizes, and has made a number of us forget about the jewels in our own backyards. 

The Covid-19 pandemic presents an important opportunity to search for these backyard gems – the places we can safely go to enjoy the outdoors, support local sites and small businesses in their recovery, and, importantly, not pose a health risk to those around us through being mindful and keeping space.

And yet this is also a time for us, more than ever, to realize just how connected we are to those who live across the world from us. A pandemic is a global issue, and it highlights the many global issues that both impact and unite each and every one of us. We’re talking Covid-19, the climate crisis, gender inequality, and the need for equal access to education for our next generation. 

As we continue to support access to education in Cambodia at Banana Backpacks, it’s more important than ever for us to remember this connectedness and the increased impact the pandemic has had on education in countries like Cambodia where school closures have resulted in challenges to access online learning materials because of internet connectivity, and half of all students are now studying for less than 10 hours a week since the shift to home learning. New types of support are needed to ensure students and families are supported, and our next generation doesn’t suffer from their inability to access education during this challenging period.

This August will mark the launch of our newest campaign, My Backyard Adventure, to highlight places loved by our favourite local adventurers and how our Canadian grown and Cambodia supporting Kiri Collection can help support these adventures. We hope this campaign will help all of the somersaulting adventurers and world travellers out there to learn to love their local, while continuing to support their global world. Today’s global citizen may not travel the world, but they can still help change it for the better.

Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter

Man stands on frozen canyon

Banff National Park is what winter dreams are made of. Nestled in the heart of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, the town of Banff is surrounded by magical mountain views, snowy outdoor activities, and hot springs to warm up in when your fingers and toes get a bit too frosty. Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the snowy season, one trip to Banff is sure to make you fall at least marginally in love with winter. In winter, the quantity of things to do in Banff is nearly limitless and your biggest issue is likely to be finding the time to squeeze them all in!  Here are a few incredible things to do in Banff in winter. 

** Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click one of the links and make a purchase we’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you. Just like the travel backpacks we build, we’re very particular about products and we only recommend products, services, or accommodation we trust and use ourselves.***

Banff town at night

Top things to do in Banff in winter

Icewalk Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is one of Banff’s most famous trails. During the summer months it gets completely overrun with hordes of tourists. This is one of many reasons visiting Johnston Canyon in winter is so incredible. Rent a pair of ice cleats (around $15/day) in Banff (at Banff Adventures) or Canmore (at GearUp), to prevent a nasty slip on the ice (I made the mistake of not having these one year and it made for a dangerous journey) then start your walk on the suspended catwalk cut into the canyon’s cliff. As you work your way up the canyon, you’ll pass snow covered trees and frozen waterfalls. If you’re looking for even more of an adventure, head to Johnston Canyon with a headlamp for one of the night ice walking tours.

Man stands on frozen canyon

Go ice skating on Lake Louise

Lake Louise is incredible any time of year, but there is something especially enchanting about this Banff National Park hot spot when it’s covered in ice and snow. The section of lake nearest to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is cleared daily between December and April, and even lit up in the evenings for night skaters. You can bring a pair of skates from home or rent a pair ($20) at Chateau Ski and Snow. Adding to the magic, is the yearly ice castle built on the rink. Once you’ve gotten your exercise (and your toes, and or fingers, are frozen), head into the Chateau for a warm drink.

Family skates on frozen Lake Louise

Ski Lake Louise, Sunshine, or Norquay

Tourists visiting Banff in winter are more often than not avid skiers. For good reason. The National Park is home to three incredible ski hills within the vicinity of Banff: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village, and Norquay. Each hill has different perks to offer. Norquay offers hourly ski rates (amazing for a quick two hour ski), Sunshine is a family favourite, and Lake Louise is, well world class Lake Louise. These ski resorts continue to get more popular as the years go on, and when you catch a good snow day here, it’s really a good snow day. 

Man skiing with powder

Go tubing at Mount Norquay

While we’re on the topic of Norquay, even if you’re not interested in skiing you won’t want to miss this thrilling adventure. Grab a snow tube, take the magic carpet and spin/slide down one of Mount Norquay’s 8 tubing lanes. It’s a fun and quick activity not far from Banff Townsite. You can find rates for tubing here, starting from $27 CAD for adults in the last hour of the day. 

Cross country ski Two Jack Lake

There are plenty of great trails to go cross country skiing near Banff. You can check in at the visitor center to get the latest trail conditions and recommendations. Two Jack Lake is one of my favourite areas for cross country skiing because it’s close to the townsite and it also gets nice sun rays. You can rent cross country skis in town if you don’t have your own along with you.

Snowy road in Banff

Snowshoe Lake Louise

A new fan favourite activity in the Banff area, snowshoeing is a great way to explore and easy for anyone to do. Lake Louise has a number of great snowshoe trails, and you can rent snowshoes for $13 CAD at the base of the ski resort. Alternatively, take one of Lake Louise’s amazing snowshoe tours where you can be led on an incredible interactive walk.

Person snowshoes with dog

Go for afternoon tea at the Banff Springs

The Banff Springs is simply iconic. There is something about this classic grey building covered in snow and surrounded by white-capped trees and mountains that makes it at its most iconic. After admiring the Banff Springs’ snow covered spires, head inside to warm up over afternoon tea as you admire the mountain views out the large glass windows. At $55 CAD, this is not a cheap outing, but it is a really memorable one. 

Banff Springs hotel in winter

Take a dip in the Banff Hot Springs

Almost as iconic as its mountains, the natural hot springs in Banff National Park are not to be missed. These hot springs get busy, especially on weekends. They’re a great place to warm up and soak your aching ski/snowshoe muscles. An adult ticket costs $8.48 CAD. 

People soak in hot springs

Drive the Icefields Parkway

Some of those frosty winter days, you might just feel like staying warm and relaxing after an overload of outdoor winter activities. This is the day to take a drive on one of Canada’s most beautiful roads – the Icefields Parkway. This stretch of highway goes from Lake Louise towards Jasper, snaking through some of the Rocky Mountains most beautiful sections. It’s a nice way to rest your legs and still soak in some of Banff’s most beautiful sites. If you feel ambitious, you can go all the way to the iconic Columbia Icefields

Road in Icefields Parkway during winter

How to get to Banff

The main center closest to Banff is Calgary, where you can access Banff by Calgary’s International Airport (YYC). From here it’s a 1.5 hour drive/bus ride to Banff townsite.

Where to stay in Banff

Depending on your budget, here are some of the top accommodation choices in Banff:

Best budget places to stay in Banff

If you’re looking for an incredible, rustic experience – head to HI Rampart Creek Wilderness Hostel, just past Lake Louise towards Jasper. With a wood-burning sauna, solar powered systems, and access to trails for winter activities right outside the door, this is the perfect place to experience the joys of Banff in the winter. Each cabin has 6 beds and winter rates are around $30 CAD per bed. 

If you want to be in Banff townsite (and close to all of the night action), Same Sun Hostel is the place to be as a backpacker. No spot in Banff is truly budget friendly, and unfortunately the winter months rule out camping. A dorm bed at Same Sun ranges from $40-50 CAD depending on how many beds are in the room. 

Best midrange places to stay in Banff

Irwin’s is a no-frills, perfectly located midrange spot in Banff. If you pick up a deal, you can get a room here for under $100 CAD per night (which is a steal in Banff). 

Airbnb

Airbnbs are a perfect option for those looking for a cozy find at a lower cost. A number of options are available for around $70 CAD per night, like this one

Best upscale places to stay in Banff

Rimrock Resort Hotel or Fairmont Banff Springs

If you’re really looking to treat yourself, head to the two fanciest places in town:  Rimrock Resort Hotel or Fairmont Banff Springs (rooms starting at $400 CAD per night). Both offer iconic views of the mountains. Choose the Rimrock for nicer rooms, but the Banff Springs for a true castle experience.

Solo cabin with snowy mountain behind

What to pack for a trip to Banff in winter

Layers are the name of the game for a trip to Banff, no matter which season you’re visiting in. Here’s everything you need for your trip:

    • Winter jacket
    • Snow pants
    • Toque
    • Mittens
    • Neck tube 
    • Hand warming packs (these come in handy for a day exploring)
    • A versatile day pack, like our Kiri backpack
    • Water bottle and thermos to put a hot drink in while you’re out exploring – you can pack it in Kiri’s Side Hustle Kit for easy access while you’re on the move
    • A set of long underwear to wear under your outer gear 
    • Warm, moisture wicking socks
    • Sunglasses
    • Sunscreen (the sun is intense when it reflects off the snow)
    • Snow boots with good tread
    • A map (paper or digital)
    • A book to curl up with by the fire after a long day outside

Cambodia’s Best Motorbike Trips | 3 Incredible Adventures in the Kingdom of Wonder

Man sits on rock overlooking hills and cloud on Bokor Mountain

With a majority of the country unexplored by travellers, hopping on a motorbike is the perfect way to access the parts of Cambodia many people miss. From hidden temples and green rice fields to incredible smoky sunsets and abandoned hill stations, you won’t want to miss these rides.

Unfortunately a number of Cambodia’s roads are either heavily trafficked or heavily potholed. That said, if you’re willing to go the extra mile, there are three motorbike journeys in the country you should miss only at your own peril.

With the expansion of tourism, it’s easy (and cheap) to rent a motorbike in any of these locations. I’ve always been a lucky passenger on these trips, as I have yet to master the art of riding a bike myself. If you aren’t comfortable renting your own bike and going at it solo, drop me a line in the comments below and I can recommend someone in the area as a driver.

Now, it’s time to motorbike Cambodia!

Girl wearing backpack looks out at sunset in Mondulkiri

Motorbike Cambodia's Hidden Temples

Siem Reap Town to Beng Mealea, Siem Reap Province

Distance: ~140km roundtrip

This full day temple outing is worth the layer of dust you’ll end up covered in. You’ll be rewarded with solo adventuring at some of Angkor Wat’s most incredible outlying hidden temples. Leaving the tourist mania of Siem Reap town, you’ll soon be surrounded by the real charm of Siem Reap province. Pass by tiny roadside towns selling fresh fruit, admire the green rice fields stretching as far as the eye can see, and take in the country’s signature red dusty roads. 
 

Start your day of adventuring early in the morning to avoid the midday heat. First up on the temple tour is tiny Banteay Ampil, 35km east of Siem Reap town. When I visited in 2018, the only road access was a tiny dirt single track that was often too muddy/washed out to use in the rainy season. I know there were plans to build a larger road in this area so it may be a different journey to get there when you visit. Ask a local in the area before you rent a motorbike and head out here. 

Once you arrive, you should have tiny Banteay Ampil to yourself. This temple is located outside of the Angkor Wat complex and apart from a few boards propped haphazardly to hold up stray stones, the temple is beautifully unrestored. The trees entangling the crumbling stones are incredible. It’s easily my favourite temple in Cambodia for these reasons.

Banteay Ampil

Carry on from Banteay Ampil another 30km in the direction of Beng Mealea. You’ll past rice fields and school children biking the dirt roads to get to class. Beng Mealea is where your big exploration off the bike continues. If you avoid the big tour buses, you’ll usually only see a handful of other people at this temple and you can largely explore it in solitude. It can take around 2-3 hours if you allow yourself to get lost in Beng Mealea’s beautiful dark corridors. Watch out for snakes!

It used to cost just $5 to visit Beng Mealea, however as of 2020 the temple is now included in the regular Angkor Wat admission fee and you will need a full pass. Check out this site before you visit for the latest information on tickets.

Hop on your bike for the long road home, making sure to stop for a coconut and some mangosteens or rambutans at one of the roadside markets to keep your sugar levels up for your motorbike ride home. 

Renting a bike: Expect to pay $10 for a basic bike or more for a dirt bike rental in Siem Reap town. 

Lady walks along path in hidden temples of Siem Reap

Sunset Hills Motorbike Ride

Sen Monorom to Andong Sne, Mondulkiri Province

Distance: 40km roundtrip

Winding through Cambodia’s wild eastern province of Mondulkiri, the 20km road from capital Sen Monorom to Andong Sne is freshly paved, largely devoid of traffic, and, simply put, stunning. You’ll pass by pine forests and hills that turn golden as the sun sets. It’s nothing short of magical, but this road is also bittersweet.

It used to have far more forest coverage than it does today. In spite of the fact that the majority of Mondulkiri province is designated as protected area, illegal logging in the area is strikingly evident. It’s part of what makes this drive so powerful. It’s a reminder of the fragility of our planet and our responsibility to do better as humans. 

Take a pit stop at “Build Love” Hill for a sunset view, and then carry on back to Sen Monorom town for dinner. It’s not a long day on the bike, but it’s a beautiful sunset ride.

Mondulkiri road at sunset

For the more adventurous, add on a trip to Bousra Waterfall earlier in the day (80km roundtrip from Sen Monorom). This road was under construction when I visited and made for a bumpy ride. I would easily say it was still worth it to see the stunning waterfalls waiting there.

Renting a bike: You can rent a motorbike in town for around 5-7 USD per day.

Tales from the Banana Trail

Cambodia's Misty Mountain Motorbike Ride

Bokor Mountain, Kampot Province

Distance: 80-100km roundtrip

If you’re craving an escape from Cambodia’s heat, Bokor is your dream motorbike destination. Base yourself in the relaxed haven of Kampot town and rent a motorbike to head to Bokor Mountain for the day. Once you enter the park, a recently repaved road awaits and it makes for a lovely snaking drive up to the top of the mountain surrounded by trees on either side. Once you get above the clouds, you’ll see a large Buddha which makes for a good pit stop to stretch those driving legs. 

Man sits on rock overlooking hills and cloud on Bokor Mountain

Carrying onwards, you’ll pass swan paddle boats on the mountain’s lake, a seemingly out of place casino, and an old church. If you’re into ghost stories and time travel, stop at the old hill station for a quaint high tea experience in the often deserted old building. Alternatively, bring a picnic from one of the great restaurants in Kampot, and stop at Popokvil Waterfall to eat your lunch at the waterfall (which is at its most impressive during rainy season).

Head back down the winding road into Kampot town for a dinner at one of the town’s amazing restaurants.

Renting a bike: A full day costs $5-7 USD at any guesthouse in Kampot. 

Man sits on waterfall near Kampot, Cambodia