Hello from a very soggy Sunday morning in Leeds. We are in the middle of “Storm Brian,” which is pretty full on. I’ve been awake since 5am (great Sunday lie in) after waking up from a horrible zombie nightmare. Maybe I need to stop watching The Walking Dead right before we go to sleep…
Parker is delighted that I’m up so early and has pushed my laptop off me and has started giving me a slightly scratchy massage.
When I first started my blog in 2015, I gave myself something fun to do, and also to write about by setting myself 25 challenges to complete before I was 25. I didn’t really complete them all, but it was good fun. You can click the links to read about when I tried lobster, caviar, and meditated for ten days.
Now I’m picking up my blog again, I’ve decided to give myself a new set of challenges. (With no more fishy business – now I’m a veggie)
Although I’ve just turned 27, I’m sticking with 25 challenges (seems like a more manageable number haha)
Here we go, here are my challenges for the year!
1- Visit India
2 – Hike one of the three Yorkshire Peaks
3 – Read “Shantaram”
4 – See live comedy
5 – Watch “Gone With The Wind”
6 – Get a tarot card reading
7 – Take a language class
8 – Donate 200 things to charity
9 – Spend no money for one week
10 – Go to a pilates class
11 – Learn to salsa dance
12 – Play piccolo in an orchestra
13 – Learn to sew and make something wearable
14 – Host a dinner party for my friends
15 – Go plastic free for a week
16 – Try making my own cosmetics
17 – Go Christmas shopping in York
18- Go to Ireland
19- Go to a concert of music from another culture
20- Go vegan for a week
21- Read sixty books in a year
22- Volunteer to help out with a charitable cause
23- Start drawing again
24- Have a car-free week
25- Do yoga every day for thirty days
So there we have it! I’m excited to get going. How nice to have a list of stuff to fall back on when I’m bored.
I’ll keep you posted with how I get on.
P.S. apologies for the photo overload! These are all photos I took on our visit to Harewood House yesterday where I had my mind blown by the dahlias. I am no longer using instagram, so you can expect a lot of photos making there way on here.
Welcome to what is probably the penultimate travel blog entry, because we fly home in nine days!! I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief. Thank you to all of you have stuck with me from the very beginning. I’ve loved having the blog as a diary, and also a way to tell the stories of our trips to my friends and family.
Through the blog I’ve discovered a new love for writing, and as I’m almost a hundred posts in, it seems a shame to throw in the towel now. I’m going to keep the blog going even when I’m at home. Sure, I probably won’t have anything that interesting to write about (except wedding planning… Cough) but I’ve really enjoyed having a new hobby that I can do anywhere (hello international airports) and anytime (hello insomnia!)
So, the past week has been spent having a look around the south of Thailand.
It was really nice to return to Thailand. It’s been the first time we’ve “returned” anywhere on the trip, but it’s a relief to arrive somewhere and understand how it all works, and how to say “hello” and “thank you.”
Unfortunately on the way out of Cambodia I developed tonsillitis. I’d like to take a moment to share with you, and anyone who may or may not have had tonsillitis in the past, one of my favourite ever pieces of journalism: Charlie Brooker on the horrors of tonsillitis.
“It’s worse, far worse, than international terrorism and child abuse combined.”
Although the above quote is a slight over statement, I love to return to this piece every time I get tonsillitis and share it with anyone who doesn’t understand how FUCKING TERRIBLE IT IS.
So our flight to from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Phuket, Thailand wasn’t a fun one for me.
I went hot cold hot cold hot cold and I couldn’t wear my hoodie because it’s currently in quarantine after I slept in it in a bed full of bedbugs in Siem Reap. (But that’s a song I shall sing another day.)
We changed flights in Bangkok where we were delayed, but I was semi conscious so I didn’t really know or care that much about it.
FINALLY we got to Phuket and had some food (an ice cream for me) and fell asleep.
(Above is the only photo I took in Phuket! See, told you I was ill! Haha. Our room was really cool, it felt like we were staying in a church and I had a nice new dress on.)
The next day was a slow plod to an English-speaking pharmacy where I demanded antibiotics and then went back to bed with a nice little spittoon next to me. Special shout out to Thomas Copley (aka Nurse Copley) who is basically a SAINT. I seriously don’t understand how people can travel alone. There have been far to many occasions where I’ve been bedridden on this trip (hello Vietnam!) and I’ve relied on Tom to get food for me otherwise I would have died.
Anyway, nothing was achieved for 48 hours other than walking around the corner to visit that cat cafe. I love cats!!!
Then we moved to another side of Phuket, closer to Kata beach. We found our hostel, and as I got there I saw a little dog sat on the bar stool by reception. As I walked towards it to say hello (“sawadee ka!”) it stuck its paw out and gave me a high five! This was one of the best moments ever as it felt like an achievement to even make it there in my sweaty and delirious state!
The hostel was okay but the bathroom was grim and full of cockroaches so we had to knock loudly on the door and turn the lights on and off a few times before we could enter. (To scare them off into their holes) It was a bit hysterical really but I’ve got to the point where I’ll put up with anything!
We chilled by the beach for two days which was nice, and I began to feel better. What would we do without antibiotics?
After Phuket we went to Koh Phi Phi, which was really nice, more filled with backpackers so we felt a bit more at home and I was beginning to feel more human.
We basically lazed and wandered around for two days. Our hostel was really grim and the toilet was in the shower, but it was okay. We had a crazy thunderstorm one night. The thunder was so loud that it was like someone banging a drum in your chest.
(our lovely toilet in the shower, for your viewing pleasure.)
The next day we went for a very slow plod up to a viewpoint above Ko Phi Phi. To get there, we followed the tsunami evacuation route. It’s good to see that these have all been put into place after the 2004 tragedy.
We had a nice walk. It was very sweaty, but we met some nice kittens and the view was cool. On the way back down the hill, my foot slipped from underneath me and I completely stacked it. My knee was bleeding so badly that it was running all the way down to my ankles but I just laughed because it ALWAYS HAPPENS TO ME. Tom said “you’ve taken to travelling like a duck with bricks in its pockets,” and then a German man shouted at me for wearing the wrong shoes. No rest for the wicked eh?
That evening we watched a fire show on the beach which was nice.
Next stop: Koh Lanta. We’d heard Koh Lanta was a nice chilled island to visit. We got a tuk tuk to our hotel which was literally just on a road in the middle of nowhere. Because it’s low season, “quiet” means “totally dead.” Also, we had overlooked that we were visiting a Muslim island during Ramadan. Most travellers rent motorbikes or scooters but because we’re both too clumsy (see above) and we’ve seen too many people covered in bandages we’ve decided against using them. This meant that we were in the middle of nowhere for 48 hours. Because it’s rainy season the weather has been pretty pants so we just basically did nothing! I didn’t take a single photo because it was literally just a dirt road in the rain.
Onwards! Krabi! This was one that I was really excited about because we’d booked somewhere faaaaaancy as a treat for Tom’s birthday. By fancy, I mean £50 a night, but it really goes a long way in Thailand! We checked into the Krabi resort, and Tom said “it’s my birthday tomorrow, is it possible to get an upgrade?” And it worked! Amazing. I need to be more assertive. “Britain needs serts!”
We were taken to our suite in a little golf buggy and the novelties didn’t wear off for the next 48 hours. Our room was stunning, and huge, and octagonal. We had a lovely bathroom bigger than many rooms we’ve stayed in with a sunken bath. The resort had two massive pools, all you can eat buffet breakfast…. Oh it was just paradise! I’ve never appreciated luxury so much! Tom’s birthday was great, we just spent the day eating and drinking and lying by the pool ordering drinks and charging them to our room which just felt amazing until we checked out and paid the ransom the next day haha!
(The birthday boy)
I leave you with the above photo to distract from my despair that the next time I write here we will be GOING HOME!!!😭😭😭
Okay time for happy thoughts, here are some things that have made me laugh so far in the Thai islands:
During our time at the Krabi Resort (posh hotel) there was a monkey on the loose who kept emptying the bin at the bottom of the stairs, looting all over the place, and generally causing chaos. The staff laid out a big trap filled with bananas but he wasn’t interested.
Also at the Krabi Resort there was a gigantic lizard who was about four foot long and was doing laps around a little posh moat area, making everyone who spotted him scream. Clearly the animals at the resort didn’t get the memo about it being a swanky place!
When boarding one of the boats between the islands there was a very official man in an official uniform making an official announcement…. By shouting through a traffic cone.
Hello from Phuket! It’s nice to be back here, and the weather is much cooler than when we were last in Thailand in April. It’s rainy season, and I currently have tonsillitis, which isn’t fun, but antibiotics are bloody cheap. Yesterday we bought a set of twenty amoxicillin tablets for me, fifty doxycycline tablets (anti-malarials, which cost £1 per tablet at home) some calpol, and some indigestion tablets for a grand total of SIX QUID.
So, dear reader, please put in any drug requests now! We are three weeks away from home. Speaking of home, will the UK still be standing when we get there? This is the worst political turmoil I’ve experienced in my lifetime. I’m so sad about leaving the EU. I love Europe. Plus the pound has already plummeted in value, which makes future travels more expensive, and I’m dreading another recession.
Anyway, happy thoughts please!
Last week we visited Angkor Archaeological Park, just outside of Siem Reap. I filled my phone with photos so I thought I’d post them all here.
First up: Angkor Wat!
Angkor Wat is the most famous of the many temples in the park. We got up at 3.45am and met our tuk tuk driver, Hip, who took us to Angkor Wat for sunrise. It was breathtaking. Other travellers had warned us that there would be loads of people there….but there wasn’t! A few hundred perhaps, but not the huge crowd I’d imagined. The silhouette of Angkor Wat was really familiar to us having been in Cambodia for a couple of weeks. It was incredible to see it in the flesh and watch the detail slowly appear as the sun rose.
(Above photos are from inside Angkor Wat)
(Made friends with a kitty. I told her she had the coolest house ever and fed her some pizza flavoured Pringles)
(The steps up the big “pineapple” made our hands mega dirty.)
Angkor Wat definitely has the coolest silhouette, but the other temples were way cooler inside!
Next up, Bayan Temple. This place was one of my favourites, it had loads of hidden faces everywhere.
I’m sorry that my photo quality is pretty pants – these were taken on my iPhone and then reduced in resolution so I can upload them easily with crappy wifi. I can’t wait to show you all some decent photos from the big camera when we’re back!
I can’t believe it wasn’t even 7am at this point!
I’m unsure of the name of the next temple. It felt a bit like something from Ancient Greece to me.
It was a muggy day, but it worked out well because it wasn’t too hot.
I really loved the temples that were a bit more rugged and unkept. They reminded me of The Jungle Book and really captured my imagination.
(Statues are often missing heads because it was once believed that they contained gold, and so the temples were sometimes ransacked.)
I firmly believe that the only good thing the Khmer Rouge did was to leave the temples alone. Thank goodness they left them. They’re such a joy to explore as a tourist. Also, they’re free to visit for locals, and we met a local family who told us that they go nearly every weekend for picnics. How cool is that?!
See – I did warn you I took a lot of photos!
We were totally knackered by the time we left, but it was a fabulous day, and one of my favourite sites in South East Asia. I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.
Before I leave you, here’s a list of really mundane inanimate objects I’m excited for when I get home. Always appreciate the small things!
Heinz tomato soup
Pajamas without elastic around the ankles
The correct conditioner for my candy floss hair.
Tea making facilities
Not feeling ill.
That wasn’t meant to be a rant, I just know I’ll have the post-travel Blues so I’m getting myself excited for the small things that I miss a lot.
Our first stop after a suspiciously easy border crossing from Vietnam, was Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived in the evening, and the following day went to learn about Cambodia’s history.
This wasn’t an easy introduction to the country. I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing about the Khmer Rouge, because it isn’t easy to write about and it won’t be easy to read either. However the people of Cambodia want tourists to visit the memorials, and they want the world to know their history, so it only seemed right to get it down in words on my blog.
In the late 1970s, the Cambodian government was lead by the Khmer Rouge, whose rule eventually lead to a huge genocide. They orchestrated a mass famine, and wanted to create a “peasant nation.” They began by getting rid of educated people (I.e people who might have questioned their ideals) the first victims were scholars, teachers, and even people who wore glasses. The country was isolated, money was banned, religion was banned, and a huge percentage of the population were sent to work in slave labour camps.
Our first stop of the day was the Killing Fields Genocide Memorial. We were given handheld audio guides, which enables you to take a tour silently and at your own pace. The Killing Fields is essentially a mass grave, one of many all over the country. As you walk around, you step over pieces of human bone and clothing that rise through the soil every time it rains.
Cambodian people were brought here by the truck load, lined up at the edge of a huge grave and bludgeoned to death. (The Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste their precious bullets.) The workers would spread chemicals on the bodies to help eliminate the smell and also kill off anyone unlucky enough to survive the blow. I can’t write more. Yet there’s more. There are all the human skulls stacked floor to ceiling, more than you could possibly count, with holes in the top, or completely crushed. There was a killing tree. That makes my blood run cold to even think about it, I’ve got goosebumps all over my legs.
They hung huge speakers in the trees and played deafeningly loud patriotic songs all day, over the whirring of the generators. The audio guide played a sample of the sound, so you can imagine what people heard drowning out the death cries.
Next, we visited the S-21 prison. We didn’t pay extra for the audio guide this time round. I couldn’t face the descriptions of the torture methods. The prison used to be a school. Here, people were held and tortured for up to six months before being sent to their deaths in the fields. The floors still have bloodstains on them and there’s bloody handprints on the walls. It’s a very somber place, and I barely even heard birdsong whilst we were there.
For some reason the Khmer Rouge photographed each victim before they locked them up. In the museum, all the photos are displayed and make for very haunting viewing. I tried to look at every face as an individual, I felt like I owed them that much…but in the end…. There were too many.
Cambodia has broken my heart. This atrocity happened just over ten years before I was born. I almost can’t believe it’s real, yet walking around Cambodia, I’ve hardly seen anybody over the age of fifty, so it must be real, right? One quarter of the population was wiped out. The regime forced marriages that lead to many children (the people my age) being born of unhappy circumstances.
What I’ve taken from that day in Phnom Penh is an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have, and a growing urgency in my mind that I should never take it for granted.
We left Phnom Penh feeling a little bit like different people to the ones who arrived there.
Next stop: Kampot.
We had a nice time in Kampot. We were only there for one night. It’s a small town built on the banks of the river. We had a nice meal by the riverside watching the sunset.
After Kampot we went to Kep, which is by the sea. I always feel excited to be by the sea when we travel. I’ve always loved the ocean, but I think my love has been enhanced recently because the climate is so damn hot, a sea breeze does me the world of good.
I loved Kep! We were taken by tuk tuk miles from the town to our accommodation, which was a little bungalow in the jungle, run by a lovely French couple. We chilled out for two days, frequenting the local sailing club which had stunning views of the sunset over the sea. (And two for one cocktails) we wandered round, and just had a lovely relaxing time.
Then we hopped on the bus to Sihanoukville, our stepping stone to Koh Rong Island. After a night here we were off to island paradise.
We had a wonderful time. It was stunning! So here’s a little ode I wrote to Koh Rong Island (I had absolutely nothing better to do, we didn’t have wifi because the island hadn’t paid their bill and so got cut off by the supplier.)
Here’s to the peacock-coloured ocean drenched in turquoise, green and gold.
Here’s to waiting for it to be pitch black so you can swim amongst the glowing plankton that is so magical and sparkly that it almost feels like you’re swimming through space.
Here’s to sleeping in a bungalow on the beach, cooled only by a fan so you wake up with the sun, drenched in sweat. Here’s to your nighttime curfew being determined by the monstrous moths who come out at night, forcing you to switch off the light and listen to music instead of reading as usual.
Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.
Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.
Here’s to skipping meals because there’s no ATM on the island and we want to eek out the little cash we brought in order to stay as long as possible.
Here’s to stray dogs who dig themselves a hole in the sand under your sun lounger so they can sleep in your shade and company, only huffing occasionally when water drips on them because you went swimming.
Here’s to planning birthday surprises, being eaten alive by mosquitos and waking up to Tom doing a magical salsa dance stood on the bed whilst clapping the bastards to death.
Here’s to the sea that’s as warm and clear as a swimming pool, to cans of yucky cheap beer and getting accidentally sunburnt because the anti-malaria tablets make your skin more sensitive.
Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again.
….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.
That’s a mouthful isn’t it? HCMC is also known as Saigon. I’m scrabbling to stay on top of the blog. We’ve made it this far! So I thought I’d bring you up to date with recent happenings in a more summary kinda way with the help of lots of photos so that it doesn’t drag on too much. We’re heading to Cambodia on the bus tomorrow, and I must admit I’m totally KNACKERED. Over tea this evening, Tom and I decided to calculate how much travel we’ve done in Vietnam…. Drum roll please… Over 24 days we have spent 70 hours on public transport, which is over 11% our time here (that’s including time spent asleep) so I’ve given myself full permission to be exhausted haha. Onwards!
After Hue, we headed to Hoi An, (not to be confused with Hanoi!) which is a beautiful coastal town set upon the river. It’s an ancient trading port and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is really atmospheric and the influence from the trading with China and Japan is still apparent today. It really whisks you back in time, and it ended up being one of my favourite places in Vietnam.
We had a cycle to the beach one day, then the heavens opened and we sheltered in a restaurant (shame.) We explored the old town by day and by night, which I loved. Hoi An is also famous for tailoring and shoe making. Many people get suits made and sent home. Tom and I decided to treat ourselves to a pair of shoes each. Tom got a beautiful pair of leather and suede brown brogues made, and I went for a pair of sandals. What a luxury to have shoes made to measure for my narrow and high-instepped feet, my toes are singing! (They cost £17 which is much less than I’d normally pay for good shoes) Unfortunately I can’t share a pic of Tom’s shoes as he’s posted them home.
(They’re dirty already, fingers crossed that they make it home in one piece! Travelling is mighty hard on the old footwear!)
Other highlights of Hoi An were a wonderful musical performance including six musicians playing traditional instruments including a bamboo flute. This then ended up being a game of bingo (I’m not sure why) but we didn’t win…. Also I got a manicure and pedicure. What luxury!
I was then struck down with some diabolical food poisoning. (From a cheese sandwich, no less) I was very very sicky, so we had to spend an extra night there… Tom eating out in restaurants on his own, bless him. The staff at our homestay were so lovely to me, and kept popping to our room to check on me whilst Tom was out and about. Fast forward a week later and I’m FINALLY back to normal. Oh well…
We had a lovely ten hour train journey through the day to Nha Trang, which is further down the coast. The train was a nightmare for me, still ill, but I made it!
Nha Trang is a kind of beach resort-like town that is really popular amongst Russian people. This makes it quite surreal because a lot of the writing you see is in Russian, and you have a lot of Russian menus thrust in your face, which makes life even more confusing than normal.
I spent the day in bed recovering whilst Tom took himself to a brew house he found on the beach (I don’t feel too sorry for him, whilst he sent me photos of his pints haha)
The next day I made it to the beach and drank a coconut at the beach bar. Progress! In all honesty, I didn’t see much of Nha Trang, but I did like what I saw. (Apart from when I saw someone spit-roasting an entire crocodile in the street, which didn’t help my disposition.)
Next on the agenda was Da Lat, a town up in the mountains that is cool in climate and popular amongst the Vietnamese as a honeymoon destination. Our hostel was a real gem as they gave us free breakfast and dinner, we met some lovely people and the staff were really nice.
On our first day we walked to the Crazy House, a piece of bonkers architecture designed by a female local architect.
(Above photos are courtesy of google images, as I was still being dopey and forgot to take my phone or camera with me.)
The Crazy House has been a work in progress since 1990, and was really interesting to visit, although it didn’t feel very safe at some points (e.g. When we walked over the roof with a hand rail at knee height) I loved it though. The lonely planet describe it as “imagine Gaudi and Tolkein meeting up and dropping acid together.” Haha.
That evening we went the 100 roofs cafe, a bar by the same architect. This was literally like a maze and it took us a while to find the bar.
(The best bar I’ve ever been to!)
The next day we took a cable car across the valley to visit a monastery, which was wonderful to get a bit of peace, then we just chilled with people from our hostel and Ruby the three week old kitten who I had to try really hard not to kidnap.
We were up early for the bus the next day. I dubiously had my eye on the street butcher across from the hostel whilst I ate my breakfast. I then saw him pick up an entire cow’s head, snap the jaw bone open and then cut the tongue out. My new found vegetarianism is being reinforced by the day at the moment haha!
Ho Chi Minh City
Our final stop in Vietnam is HCMC. After yet another long-ass bus we arrived and found our hostel.
What followed was an interesting night’s sleep with rats running around the floor of our room. GRIM.
The following day we visited the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. These were used in the Vietnam war by the Vietcong so that they could hide from and attack the Americans.
We saw all sorts of horrifically tortuous booby traps created by the Vietnamese. We were then led to a shooting range where you could pay to fire a variety of guns. I wish I’m joking, but I’m not. Seriously. I was just thinking “why the fuck would you want to shoot a gun, here of all places?!” I’ve never heard gunshots before, and they were absolutely deafening and terrifying, and I didn’t like it at all. Then we were shown an American tank, which lots of members of our tour group posed by, smiling for photos and taking selfies.
I just find this whole mentality disturbing, and I was quite upset that people don’t seem to have a concept that they’re posing for a photo with a weapon of war, in a place where thousands died. Anyway. Rant over.
We then got to the entrance of the tunnels. We were told that it was a stretch of 100 metres, and we could get out at intervals of 20m. I’d been warned that they were small, but I wasn’t ready for how small the tunnels actually were! You literally had to shuffle along in a crouch. There were people in front and behind, and it was hot and so small. Panic started to rise in my throat, my breath quickened and my chest tightened and I said “sorry, I need to come out!” And had to go back and get out. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I didn’t even go into the tunnels. I could feel a panic attack coming on and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I’ve realised that I hate small spaces with people in them. I could have managed if it was just me and Tom, but the thought of there being people ahead and behind without being able to get out just…ARGH. The Cu Chi tunnels were an amazing place to visit, and I recommend them to anyone visiting Vietnam.
For the sake of the blog, here’s a description from Tom’s point of view of his trip down the tunnels:
“Claustrophobic, sweaty, dusty and back breaking.”
(My new flutey tute)
On waking in the second morning in the rat hotel I went to the toilet, got locked inside the toilet having made a horrific smell (thanks Vietnamese food) and then had to be broken out by the hotel staff. Mortifying!! To be honest, the hotel wasn’t exactly the best, hence the rodent problem.
(At least there was a gap above the door so I didn’t get Cu Chi tunnel claustrophobic a whilst waiting to be broken out)
I decided we deserved a fancy hotel with a bed that’s comfortable and no rats…. So spent 17 quid for a night in the Dragon Palace. Yay!
Our final day was spent in the war remnants museum, which was filled with some really harrowing images. I had a massive lump in my throat throughout. It’s crazy that the Vietnam war was one of the first that was documented by the media.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed our time in Vietnam. I feel most homesick when I’m poorly, so I did struggle with being ill twice. The country is a true mixed bag of crazy hustle bustle in the cities and beautiful countryside. I’m glad we came here.
Things that have surprised me in Vietnam
1) The bananas are green.
2) The oranges are also green.
3) People like crouching. On the streets of Vietnam, you’ll often see people crouched, smoking a cigarette, or chatting. They do it with their feet flat on the floor. I tried this in our hotel room and fell flat on my arse.
4) No one walks really. Scooters are the given mode of transport with locals driving from shop to shop, parking their bike on the pavement outside. This makes it a pretty tricky place to be a pedestrian.
5) Vietnam is home to possibly the world’s cheapest beer. 9p a glass makes a happy Thomas.
6) The gaps between the cities make for a lot of travel time. It’s easy to see why lots of backpackers choose to travel by motorbike. Having seen so many people covered in bandages however, I decided it’s not for me.
7) Families live together. Many generations of one family live under one roof in Vietnam, which is lovely. The Vietnamese are very social and many choose to spend the evenings sat on stools in the street. This makes me want to strive to spend less time in front of the TV when we get home!
8) There are over 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam today. I really enjoyed meeting some of the Black Hmong tribe whilst we were in Sapa. It was a lovely experience.
Hello dearest reader! We are currently sat in our hostel room in Da Lat, sheltering from a rainstorm. Once again, I’m playing catch up on the blog… One day I’ll be up to date! Imagine that!
After beautiful Halong Bay, we were off on the bus to Nimh Bin. After about six hours, our bus stopped in apparently the middle of nowhere. It was pitch black outside and completely tipping it down. We asked the driver if it was the final stop, to which he nodded and so we jumped off into ankle deep water.
After consulting Tom’s phone we discovered we were in a small town called Tam Coc, miles away from our original destination (and pre-booked hostel) in Nimh Bin. Once again, the travel gods were smiling at us and we managed to cancel our hostel without getting charged and stayed in the hotel next to the bus stop! That was a relief. We ate in the restaurant opposite whilst we watched everyone running around in the rain. We weren’t expecting rainy season whilst in Vietnam, but most days it chucks it down for a couple of hours. In a way this is a good thing, because it clears out the stifling heat!
After some rest, we woke up the next day and realised we were in such beautiful surroundings. The landscape was filled with huge natural stone blocks similar to the ones in Halong Bay, and it was also quite jungly.
We went downstairs for some breakfast (which was grim) and as I was poking down some kind of cremated egg, a woman on a bicycle pulled up and started screaming and pointing. We were like “what.” (My coffee hadn’t kicked in at this point.) After a whole chorus of people started shouting in Vietnamese we finally noticed the large snake that was in the bush by our table. I was like “do you reckon it’s dangerous?” Tom said “yep!” One of the staff came over with a big stick and poked the snake which leapt a few foot in the air and out of the bush towards our table. Tom jumped on his chair and I started running around the restaurant like a headless chicken. And thus, breakfast was over. Nothing like a brush with death to start your day!
We hired some bicycles from the hotel and went to look for some caves. The cycle was nice because it was flat and it’s nowhere near as hot as Thailand. So, no death threats for Tom this time!
The cave was a bit disconcerting as we just walked around on our own. We were the only ones there, and I couldn’t help but picture that scene in The Descent when the cave collapses. Anyway, we made it out alive and headed up 520 steps to a view point over the river. It was hard work, but worth it as the view was amazing. We could see people enjoying a row on the river, so decided to do that the following day.
The boat trip was incredible because the woman rowing the boat used her feet to row which I just found absolutely fascinating! The landscape was stunning, and we had a really nice time.
Weirdly there were all these paparazzi men taking photos of us which we got bullied into buying. (Silly me for imagining you can do ANYTHING in Vietnam without being bloody hassled to death.) oh well, the result is a hilarious photo to put on the fridge. We look so unimpressed!!
After a few hours of waiting around and rinsing the hotel’s wifi, we got a taxi to the train station. Our taxi man was the smiliest man I’ve ever met, and spent the whole journey offering us pineapple. We arrived at the train station, and boarded the sleeper train with much trepidation on my part.
We found our carriage, slid open the door to find a family of four on the bottom two bunks and the top two bunks clear for me and Tom. After trying to silently shove my backpack under the bottom bunk I faced the challenge of getting onto the top bunk without the help from a ladder. The bunk was at chin height, and those of you who know me will understand that I’m very athletically challenged. I didn’t dare put my foot on the bunk below as it was full of people, so in order to get on to my bed I had to get my foot above my head – think John cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks with Tom pushing my bum upwards. Utterly ridiculous. Luckily the family were asleep so no one saw the display. I lay there trying not to be sick (damn motion sickness to hell!!) and praying I didn’t need the toilet in the night.
The carriage was okay, very basic, and the sheets weren’t at all clean…. But I value my own life enough to avoid taking the sleeper bus in Vietnam. After a few minutes, the door opened and a guard came in, and gestured for Tom to follow him. I sat and waited for about ten minutes thinking “what the hell is going on?!”
It turns out, Tom was taken into a “posh” carriage, the guard closed the door behind them and patted the bed for Tom to sit down on the bunk opposite. The guard then asked if Tom would like this carriage for fifty dollars. Tom said “it’s very nice but no thank you!” And quickly exited. As he was leaving he saw a rat coming out of the air conditioning vent. I found all this out as Tom and I communicated through texts on our phones as we didn’t want to make any noise. Modern technology eh?
The night was.. Ok. I had about two hours sleep because the train constantly stopped and started all night. I and was lying awake when the guard came at 7am to tell us it was our stop. Phew! For some reason we were super early, so our designated taxi hadn’t arrived. We were pushed into buying some coffee which arrived in the fucking DIRTIEST glass I’ve ever seen whilst some bloke tried to convince us to book a tour with him. I felt like punching him in the head, not only because he was annoying, but I was also very sleep deprived and it wasn’t even 8am, so I definitely didn’t appreciate the sales pitch. Luckily we managed to get in touch with the hotel so they came to pick us up before I committed GBH.
Our hotel was sent from heaven. They gave us cold fresh mango juice and let us into the room hours early, which had two double beds in it. I was so happy! We spent the day chilling out and then walked around the city of Hue (pronounced hway.) we booked a tour for the following day.
Our tour took us to the demilitarised zone which was the no fire zone between north and south Vietnam. We visited the Khe Sanh American military base which is now a war museum. There were lots of remnants from the war including bunkers, helicopters, planes and bombs.
And in the afternoon the Vinh Moc tunnels. The villagers of Vinh Moc built the tunnel system and hid below ground for six years. The tunnel is essentially a series of long corridors with rooms coming off. The “family rooms” are scarcely big enough for two adults to lie down in. There was a maternity room where seventeen children were born. The tunnels have been widened for tourists, but they’re still incredibly small, I was constantly bashing my head and had to walk doubled over on many occasions. Also it was SO hot down there. I thought it’d be cool. It was a really humbling place to visit. It was so dark. I can’t begin to imagine living my daily life in a place like that. I left feeling incredibly lucky.
We’re coming towards the end of our trip (NOOOOOO) with only seven weeks left until we fly from Bangkok to Gatwick. I’ve recently become reflective and I was thinking about the things I’ve learnt and decided to write a post about it before I’m sat at home on the sofa and I’ve forgotten everything. So here it is… Eleven lessons I’ve learnt whilst travelling.
1) Trust people
99% of people are kind and helpful. As I’m writing this, nothing bad has happened to us, so TOUCH WOOD… But we’ve had so many situations where people have been like “You’re going to Hiroshima? You’re on the wrong train! Get off quick!”
There was that time where we hitch-hiked in New Zealand and we’ve stayed in people’s houses we’ve never met before. When somebody says “I need to take your passport down to road to get your boat ticket,” just give them the passport!
2) At the same time, be sensible and look after yourself
It’s important to look after your valuables, keep your wits about you and if you end up wandering around somewhere dodgy-looking at 3am, just get a taxi!
3) If someone invites you to do something, say yes
When someone I’ve just met asks me “do you want to play a drinking game?” Or “would you like to have dinner with me and my family?” My inner introvert panics at the thought of an impeding awkward situation and my instinct is always to make some kind of excuse. But I’ve learnt that you should always say yes, and good experiences always come out of it.
You’ll meet some amazing people who are equally as poor as you, and you’ll end up having a Box/chicken party It’s cheap!
4) You’ll have crazy highs and a couple of crazy lows
Sometimes travelling feels like you’re in a happy musical. (No really, I literally twirled around and cried with happiness in New York and screamed when we saw the Hollywood sign.) And to balance life out, you’ll spend a few hours crying on the toilet because you’re so ill, and you’ll scream “what am I doing with my life??!!” in torrential downpour wondering why you’ve found yourself at the top of a slippy ladder in a pear tree.
5) A smile goes a long way
There are places in the world where you’ll get hassled a lot. When it’s hot and you’ve got your backpack on it’s easy to get your feathers ruffled and want to yell “bugger off, I’ve been walking for half an hour and I can’t find my hostel!!!!!!” But I’ve learnt that to smile and say “no thank you” is the best way around it, and you won’t feel as stressed.
5) Living out of a bag gives you perspective about things
I’ve never been particularly materialistic and I’ve always preferred a good book over shoes, but living out of a 65litre rucksack for ten months gives you a good perspective on the stuff you don’t need. It took me a month or so to relearn what my face looks like without make up, but think I’m actually happier with less stuff. I feel calmer and less cluttered. Okay, so I totally didn’t have a meltdown when my favourite dress got a stain on it…. But yeah. Less is more when it comes to backpacking. Oh, and Kindles are one of the BEST things in the entire world. (That’s a sentence I never thought I’d say)
6) You’ll also get perspective on stress an it’s effect on the body
Of all the places I’ve been, the ones with the fastest pace of life and visibly stressed people are America, Japan, and the good old United Kingdom. I honestly think we all work far too hard to save money for holidays and stuff we don’t need so we can forget about the rubbish climate. (Massive generalisation…I know. Maybe I’m just a summer person.)
When we’d been travelling for around a month, I felt the muscles in my jaw loosening. My eczema that I’ve had nearly all my life has completely disappeared and those paralysing migraines I get about once every six weeks? Well guess how many I’ve had in eight months?… One.
I’m not writing this to make anyone jealous, but as a reminder to my future self that stress is terrible for me, and I need to work on staying chilled. When I’ve figured out how to do that one I’ll let you know!
7) Travelling will change you in ways you don’t expect
Those of you who know me will know that I’m fairly easy-going but I am also a big worrier. I’m a little bit more relaxed now, mainly about travel situations. For example, I no longer check my passport a million times before boarding a plane. And if someone doesn’t give me my change straight away, I can just wait, knowing they’ll get it to me. I’m a more patient now, and less easily flustered.
8) But mostly, you’ll stay the same.
I have chronic insomnia. I thought travelling would cure me, and dorm rooms would be a kind of therapy and I’d come home with the ability to sleep anywhere. Well, the truth is I still can’t sleep anywhere! I thoroughly believe there is a special place in hell reserved for people who snore and have sex in dorm rooms. Dorm rooms are my own kind of personal hell actually. One of the main things I miss about home is that I can get up and roam the house and play with my cats and make a cup of tea at anytime any hour of the night. Plus there’s always a comfy spot for me to go with my book. Whilst we’ve been away I’ve done a lot of reading on the toilet in the early hours so that I don’t wake Tom up!
9) Always go with your gut
If a person, or a situation gives you a bad feeling in your tummy, or if you find your trying to talk yourself into doing something… DON’T DO IT.
10) You will adapt to anything
When we arrived in Asia there weren’t any knives and forks. I’d used chopsticks before but found them fiddly and they made me eat incredibly slowly. Fast forward a week and I finished a plate of food and say “Oh! I didn’t even think about the chopsticks!” When we first went to Japan, the whole nude bathing thing terrified me. A week later I was strolling around naked happy as Larry.
After saying goodbye to beautiful Sapa, we were back on the jolly old sleeper bus to Hanoi.
Vietnam’s capital was a bit more bearable on our return, but at the same time, I’ve realised I’m definitely a fresh air, minimal noise and walkable pavement kind of person!
We visited the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, which was definitely one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to write too much about it here, but if you’re interested, be sure to ask me haha!
That evening we found the infamous beer Hoi corner. The general rule is, the closer your bum gets to the floor (I.e the smaller the stool) the cheaper the beer is. We were on 15p a glass.
The following day was Tom’s turn to be ill. I swear that place is cursed. I wasn’t feeling great either. Luckily we had a nice hotel room and a tv complete with the Shaun the Sheep movie to keep me company (very Vietnamese) whilst Tom was being sick. Christ! We sound like a right pair don’t we! We truly deserve eachother haha. Having written off Hanoi we booked a tour to visit Halong Bay the following day.
We were up early and went to the travel agent, then got on the mini bus to the small boat, which was the wrong boat then onto the right boat and then onto the big boat where we were to spend our day. We’d booked the “cocktail cruise” because it was cheap, and covered a lot of Halong Bay. The boat was really grotty but we were with some nice people. We lazed around as we cruised the bay. The day was overcast but it was really beautiful!
Halong Bay has always been what I see in my head when I think “Vietnam” so I was really chuffed to see it. After a few hours we stopped and went canoeing. This involved canoeing through a few caves which were absolutely beautiful and then ending in a lagoon full of jellyfish, which was a little bit scary.
Later on in the day we had a swimming spot and we both jumped off the top of the boat which was lovely. We finally arrived at Cat Ong island, where we were due to stay the night. In head I’d pictured a big island with a town, where we’d be staying in a hotel. In fact, it was a tiny desert island.
(Our beach bungalow)
It was amazing! We were lead to our rooms, and somehow, everyone except four of us were put into a ten man dorm. Tom and I were taken to our bungalow with two other Brits. They then decided they’d rather be in the dorm so we had the place to ourselves! I was so happy! I hate dorm rooms so it was a massive treat.
The evening was spent eating, drinking, and being frivolous. Fabulous.
The next day, Tom and I had decided to go trekking in the Cat Ba National Park. We were the only members of our group who had our big bags with us (as we didn’t want to go back to Hanoi) which made jumping onto a tiny boat in the choppy sea pretty terrifying, but we made it without getting wet. We got the boat to Cat Ba island where we then drove up to the mountains for a very sweaty walk through the forests and up a hill to the view point. I have never sweated so much in my life. We both looked like we’d been fully dressed in the shower. But it was so worth it! The view was stunning.
I’m still getting used to Vietnam’s mix of madness in the cities and stunning natural beauty in the countryside.
I’m so sorry for the radio silence here on the blog. I seem to be getting more and more behind with the blog due to lack of wifi… Plus we’ve been doing a lot this past week!
So we took a horribly bouncy flight through a thunderstorm from Luang Prabang, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. Luckily it was only an hour in duration.
Tom had pre-booked us an airport transfer to our hotel, and we were delighted to be met by a man holding a sign with our names on. We were then led to an enormous mini van with air conditioning and we had the whole thing to ourselves. Bloody luxury compared to what we’re used to!
(The above photo is a celebration of being millionaires once again. Tom’s holding about sixty quid haha)
The hotel was fine, apart from the worlds smallest bathroom. We had to stand over the toilet to have a shower and then exit the bathroom to dry ourselves because there simply wasn’t enough room haha! We ventured out into the craziness of Hanoi. I have never seen so many people in the tiny streets. Entire families were sat on miniature stools on the pavements. There were scooters EVERYWHERE and they don’t necessarily stay on the correct side of the road. Or on the road. Quite often they’ll drive onto the pavement and cut you up, giving you a dirty look!
We found a sandwich shop, ate a bit and went to bed.
Apologies in advance for being a bit moany about Hanoi. I didn’t like it. I was very ill and feeling pretty shit, so sorry I’m not more upbeat about it.
The next day we got up and ventured out for some food. I was feeling like death thanks to the anti-malaria tablets. I had excruciating stomach cramps and no appetite whatsoever and had barely eaten over the previous few days. Plus I’ve been having totally bonkers dreams and night terrors where I can’t breath and panic, so I’m knackered too. Stepping outside was a massive assault on the senses. Smells of people cooking God knows what, traffic everywhere, no giveway system just
TOOOOOOOT and go! Crossing the road was near damn impossible as the traffic is constant. You just have to find a small gap and run.
We couldn’t find anywhere to eat for ages, and I was feeling exhausted and frustrated. We eventually found a sandwich shop and ordered two of the “specials.” As we sat to wait for the food on miniature stools inches from the pavement, we saw a woman across the road wearing shorts and wellies, crouched over a huge fish she had laid on some plastic on the pavement and she then proceeded to hack into pieces, blood spurting everywhere and running all over the floor. The sandwich arrived. Turns out the “special” was lumps of unidentifiable fatty meat on top of some grim tasting pate. I ate one mouthful, looked at the fish woman and nearly threw up. I’m steadily going off meat!
(Here’s Tom modelling a mini stool for your viewing pleasure)
We then plodded to the prison. This took ages with the whole pedestrian nightmare thing. At on point, we checked both ways several times when crossing and suddenly a scooter appeared out of nowhere and Tom walked right into it. The driver nearly toppled over and Tom received a nasty bruise to the shin. I started getting more and more jumpy….
The prison was a really interesting place to visit. It was built by the French colonialists and used to imprison anyone who opposed their regime. The conditions were absolutely horrific. During the American war, the Vietnamese used it to hold the American POWs and they were treated really well. The Americans even referred to it as the “Hanoi Hilton.” I’m glad we went, but in all honesty, I spent most of the time on the toilet haha.
(This is how the Vietnamese prisoners were held. Shocking isn’t it?!)
We then walked to the lake. I was really tired and we flopped down on a bench where we were hounded by some local students who wanted to practise their English. I was more than happy to chat to them, but more and more groups kept turning up and in the end we were stuck there for TWO HOURS before we could politely excuse ourselves and stagger back to the hotel.
On the way back I was terrified after Tom got hit, and I personally nearly got hit by a scooter on about five separate occasions until I cried and had a complete meltdown. I’m not good when I’m ill and stressed! We went back to the hotel and spent a few hours bonding with the toilet whilst Tom went to buy me a sandwich. God I love him. Plus it was a cheese sandwich this time.
The next day we got up very early for our trip to Sapa. I was eager to leave Hanoi behind, plus the photos of Sapa I’ve seen looked stunningly beautiful. We waited in the hotel lobby for an hour before someone came to “pick us up.” What this meant was a bloke on a scooter drove ahead of us, shouting directions, whilst we traipsed behind with our backpacks. Not exactly the pick up I was imagining! Eventually we got to the bus, and discovered it was in fact one of the infamous Vietnamese “sleeper buses.”
I have no idea why it was a sleeper bus because it was the daytime but oh well. We got a bunk each. I hate bunkbeds. However, being horizontal on a bus is oddly soporific so I spent most of the six hour journey unconscious.
We arrived in Sapa and had a bit of a walk to our hotel. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The entire town was being dug up, with huge abandoned holes in the pavement everywhere, and enormous trucks filled with gravel creating a dust storm in their wake. It felt like we were in a war zone! We felt really disappointed, but it turns out we were just in the grotty end of town, and Sapa itself is really lovely.
The hotel was great, we booked a trip to the Bac Ha market the following day, and had a walk down to the rice paddies. Beautiful.
The next day was another early start and we took a two hour mini bus ride to the small town of Bac Ha. The market is only there on Sundays. It was full of locals and we got a tour round which was really interesting. Again, the food section was alarming, with unidentifiable offal and stews. The meat section was a “hold your breath” job. I’m so glad Tom told me to put my walking boots on because at one point we had to jump over a big stream of blood.
There was a really harrowing bit where dehydrated puppies were being sold and they were just so sad and some of them were shoved in tiny cages whilst they whined. I wanted to buy every single one. Live pigs were being rammed into plastic bags whilst they squealed until they found a small hole where there snouts could stick out and they just breathed silently, resigned to their fate. Sometimes it’s really difficult not to be upset. But I was upset. I am upset!! I felt really helpless.
There was nothing I could do. I have to remind myself that I’m here to observe and to learn about how people live. I’m a meat eater, so I have no place to get on my high horse about animal rights because God knows what the animals I’ve eaten have been through. I saw a photo on the outside of restaurant with a dead turtle on top of a salad with his shell all cracked open, and it made me SO sad. And a photo of a goat curled up, eyes closed with some grapes shoved in its mouth. But then I just think, why am I sad about this turtle, and this goat, but not about that chicken that I ate for lunch. Well, it turns out I am sad about that chicken too. I don’t want to eat meat anymore. There. Writing that made me cry.
Wow. Sorry. I’ve just had an epiphany.
I think of this blog as my diary. I’m sorry if that was a bit personal, and perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but it’s just how I feel at the moment and I want to be honest.
Moving on…. For the rest of the trip we explored the market, saw the border to China, and enjoyed the view of the rice paddies.
The next day was another early start. We were off trekking through the rice paddies. A load of the local women, members of the Black Hmong tribe came along for the walk. It was really interesting to ask them questions and learn about their way of life. I loved imagining myself as one of them. I’d have been married aged 16-18, I’d live with my husbands family, all generations under one roof, and I’d have a few sprogs by now! The children in this part of the world grow up so quickly. You’ll see five year olds carrying their baby siblings on their backs, and babies feeding themselves rice.
I’ll let the photos do the talking. Sapa is a truly breath-takingly beautiful place!
For the next section of our trip we’d decided to take a slow boat down the Mekong river from Hauy Xai to Luang Prabang. It was to take two days, with a stop over night in Pak Bang.
We’d been recommend by Luke to pay a bit extra to take a luxury boat. The cheap local boats can get very overcrowded. We looked into the luxury boats but none were running due to it being low season. So, local boat it is then! We ended up having a really great time! Our boat was a good mix of backpackers and locals, and we were with David, Daria and Anita from the Gibbon Experience. We got chatting with lots of people, drank beers until the bar was dry and enjoyed the scenery. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
Eight hours on a slow boat is a really great way to travel! No motion sickness, you can walk around a bit, plus it was such a stunning journey. Also, it cost 20 quid each, for sixteen hours of travel! We arrived at the half way point, Pak Bang, and were shoved in the back of a truck and taken to a hostel by some locals. It was half the price of what we usually pay (tenner a night) but I must say….. It was absolutely grim. I took one look at the bathroom and said “no thank you!” And walked back out. We were then taken to somewhere really nice, so we had a good night! We enjoyed good food, more beer then conked out.
The following day on the boat was much of the same. We arrived in Luang Prabang at around 6pm and went to find our guest house.
That evening we met our gibbon/slow boat buddies at a bar called Utopia, which is all outdoors and on the banks of the Mekong. It had loads of mats on the floor so you can be horizontal whilst you drink – definitely my kind of place.
We spent five nights in Luang Prabang because we loved it so much! It was similar to Ubud in Bali… Really chilled and hippie! What I love about travelling is when you find somewhere you really like so you just stay. Here’s a few good memories:
– silly nights spent in Utopia. Being kicked out at 11.30pm and then being bundled into tuk tuks and taken off to the bowling alley with people riding on the roofs and hanging on the back (I was safely inside mum) … Due to the communist government there’s a 12pm curfew in Laos, but the local policeman runs the bowling alley which stays open and is full with drunk backpackers until 2.30pm. I’m crap at bowling but doing it pissed makes it much more enjoyable.
– the best icecream I’ve ever had. Coconut icecream from heaven.
– discovering we had really posh tv channels so avoided the midday heat by lying in the air conditioning and watching The Walking Dead. (Ive reached the point where this doesn’t make me feel guilty at all.)
– a really cool book shop filled with art, where I bought a beautiful tile painted with Buddhas face, made by a local artist. Upstairs they had a cinema room where we spent two evenings watching films.
– the best waterfalls I have EVER seen. Blue water. Stunning.
(Swimming in an infinity pool is on my bucket list. I found the natural version – swimming on the edge of a waterfall. Tick!)
– walking the streets of Luang Prabang and bumping into people you know from the boat. It gave me a sense of familiarity that made me feel like I was back home in Kendal.
– helping a local shake mangoes from a tree with a big stick.
– meeting a survivor of the 2006 Thai Boxing Day tsunami. Out of 120 people in his village, he was one of four survivors. I couldn’t stop thinking about him for days and days and days.
– walking up a lot of steps to visit the temple and watch the sunset. Got fleeced by a “monk” and couldn’t see the sunset for the people. HA
– wandering around hungover and seeing Anita and Patrick and then joining them on a very slow food crawl from cafe to cafe with more friends joining as they bumped into us.
– hot and killer walks to and from the Vietnamese Embassy to get our visas sorted.
We left Laos with heavy hearts. Although we didn’t get to see all of the country, what we did see was beautiful, and we made some wonderful new friends. Until next time!