Category Archives: Travel

❤️Amazing Asia❤️       🇵🇭🇻🇳🇱🇦🇹🇭🇲🇲🇰🇭🇸🇬🇲🇾


Six months ago, I set off on my grand adventure after months of planning, too much overtime, probably (definitely) not enough saving and a few set backs along the way. I wasn’t going on this trip to “find myself” or any other vomit-inducing clichés associated with travelling.  I’m 31 years old – I know myself pretty damn well already. I wanted an adventure – like nothing else I had ever done before. I wanted to kiss goodbye to my comfort zone and see what I was really capable of. I wanted to prove to myself (and to everyone else) that I could do this and that actually, sometimes, boring everyday life is far scarier than anything else out there. Now seemed as good a time as any.  True to my original plan, I hopped on my first flight to the Philippines…and there it was. Day one. The ultimate culture shock. I must admit, at first, I thought I had made a terrible mistake.  Stepping out of my hostel on that first night, by myself, I was beyond terrified. Here I was, totally anonymous, totally alone, in a city I knew nothing about. A pretty scary city at that – I still maintain that to this day. I always was one to go straight in at the deep end! But it was also at this exact moment when I realised that when everything seems too overwhelming, you can step out into the big wide world and feel totally free.  Suddenly I had this whole new life to contend with.  Bill Bryson once wrote: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”  The road thing could not have been more true of Ho Chi Minh City where it took me the best part of 10 minutes to get the courage to step out into the road for the first time!!

Although my body may be battered, bruised and probably even broken in a few places, Asia has filled my heart and mended my soul. It has restored my faith in humanity and made me a happier person. It has forced me to rely on myself in ways I never thought I was capable of but it has also taught me how to rely on others whom I never would have otherwise. I have hung out with people aged 17 – 67 from every far flung corner of the world. I have been lucky enough to make incredible new friends for life which not a lot of people can say when you get to this age. I have laughed. I have cried. I have laughed until I cried. I have seen more beauty and wonder than I ever knew the world could hold. I have seen more poverty than temples and waterfalls combined. I have experienced generosity like no other from people who have almost nothing. Asia has taught me never to book return journeys as you just never know who or what is around the next corner. It has forced me to let go of control and allow things to just happen. It has allowed me to follow my heart and not my head.

When people ask me how my trip was, there are just no words to describe it. It was series of individual experiences all rolled into one big adventure which I would otherwise have never had. My trip was stepping over dead rats in the street and sitting on child sized plastic chairs on the pavement eating street food.  It was watching a child run down the street flying his home made kite. My trip was crying myself to sleep because I had missed the birth of my brand new nephew and don’t get to meet him for another 5 whole months. My trip was being knee deep in a rice paddy helping plant rice with local Shan women in Myanmar while they laugh hysterically at our complete incompetence. My trip was full of utterly horrendous bus journeys which were each equally hilarious in their own right. My trip was full of people I will be forever grateful to, whether we hung out for 3 hours or 3 months.

As I sit here writing this on my sun lounger on the beach in Langkawi on what is my final day in Asia, I can’t fathom how I will feel going back to “Western Culture” but I feel like it will be just as big a shock going back as it was coming here. My new found love for Asia is deep-rooted and I cannot wait to come back and explore more new and exciting places, but just for now, our love affair must end.

Things I will miss about Asia:
– The chaos and mayhem of driving in Asia
– The “butt gun”
– The simplicity of life
– The smell of jasmine flowers everywhere
– Frangipanis
– Thai food
– The lack of responsibility that comes with being a “backpacker” and allowing a 5 baht coin to make my decisions for me.
– 7-11 toasties and Dutch Mill chocolate milk
– My travel buddies

Things I will not miss about Asia:
– The ever lingering smell of Durian everywhere you go
– Not being able to flush toilet paper
– Bed bugs
– Squat toilets
– The constant smell of “hot bin juice” in every city

6 months, 8 countries, 15 flights, 3 land border crossings,  5 new seas/oceans swam in, 1 “Thai Tattoo,” 1 new piercing, 2 travel diaries filled, 1 kitten adopted, a few too many accidents, many lifelong friends, infinite amazing memories and zero regrets.

Now, my misadventure continues State-side….🇺🇸

Advertisements

Magical Malaysia 

A quick bus ride over the border and I was in my 8th and final Asian country. Excitement yes, but also tinged with sadness as I was definitely not ready to say goodbye to Asia just yet.  When I first got on my bus in Singapore I was the only person in the bus and I thought I had made a huge mistake. Was I going the wrong way, or to somewhere horrific? The first stop of my Malaysian adventure landed me in the gorgeous little town of Melaka, about 3 hours north west of Singapore.  Turns out the bus filled up very shortly after leaving and I was lucky to be in such a beautiful World Heritage City. My first day in this gorgeous town took me out and about with 2 Dutch girls from my hostel as we wandered around the town.  The walk from our hostel, Ringo’s Foyer, took us along this gorgeous canal and all it’s amazing street art. It’s such a quaint little town – I think I was going to be quite happy here. We strolled through the streets and alleyways and made our way to Dutch Square and The Stadhuys. Dutch Square is known for its terra cotta coloured colonial Dutch buildings and central fountain commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1904. The most prominent building here is The Stadhuys, dating back to 1660 when it was used by the Dutch governors during the British Administration.  It is believed to be the oldest Dutch building in the East.  Who knew there was so much Dutch history outside of Holland! 🤷🏽‍♀️ Dutch Square is also home to a slightly less historic local “delight” – the trishaw.  Each very heavily decorated within their own themes, for a small fortune, these modified bicycles will take you around the town whilst simultaneously deafening you to the sounds of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. 😩 Our walk continued slightly more uphill to the site of St Paul’s Church – originally built in 1521, thus making it the oldest church building in Malaysia and in fact, Southeast Asia as a whole. Well, what’s left of it at least.As we wandered back down the hill from the church, we came across A Famose Fort,  the remains of a Portuguese fort built in the 1500s, claiming Melaka to be an important port connecting Portugal with the Spice Route in China.  It was (unsurprisingly) demolished by the British in 1805 and today, this gate house is all that remains. We tried to go to the local swimming pool for the afternoon but of course it closes during the hottest part of the day, so I consulted Atlas Obscura to find something else to do in the meantime and found myself in the People’s Museum which houses exhibitions on the history and infrastructure of Melaka as well as The Kite Museum and the Beauty Museum. Atlas Obscure certainly lived up to its reputation – it was a very strange museum but it killed the time I needed it to. By the time I was finished, the pool had reopened and the Dutch girls and I spent the afternoon floating about, sunbathing, and sweet talking the “lifeguards” into letting us go off the diving boards. After a long and stressful day (!!) we headed back to the hostel for a rest before our evening bike ride. We wound through the backstreets and beautiful alleyways decorated with amazing street art on our way to watch the sunset at the “floating” Melaka Straits Mosque. Sadly for us, by the time we had got there we had mostly missed the sunset but it was still incredibly beautiful.  We stopped for a delicious curry on the way home for a princely sum of 50p. I love Malaysia!!!

The following day I hopped on another bus to head on up to Kuala Lumpur. 10 ringgit – the equivalent of £1.80. Bargain right? Wrong. Turns out I got dropped off in the middle of no where rather than the central station as I was expecting.  Then had to pay another 30 ringgit to get a train into the city, which was still no where near where I needed to be. Another 30 ringgit in a taxi and I finally arrived at my hostel, even though the taxi driver got horrendously lost. 

Day 2 in KL, 2 girls from my hostel and I decided to head out to the Batu Caves, about half an hour outside of the city. We climbed up the stairs to the top and dropped down into the beautiful limestone caves, only somewhat spoilt by the huge collection of shops they are now constructing inside the cave. It seems a shame but at such a tourist hotspot who can really blame them. We wandered around for a while, fed the monkeys, got robbed by the monkeys and then left, praying I didn’t have rabies! 🤷🏽‍♀️

Day 3 in KL and the girls and I headed into town to wander around China Town and some of the markets. We had a fairly lazy day because we knew we were going out tonight – only nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced.  Today was the day before Kuala Lumpur’s celebration of their 60 Years of Independence. We headed into town for a few drinks and to finally see the Petronas Towers. We headed up to the Sky Bar within the Traders Hotel but they were charging an extornionate amount of money to get in due to the National Holiday. “Never mind” we thought as we got in the lift to leave. Then we noticed on the buttons that one floor below us was a “lounge” so we headed there to try our luck instead. We were greeted with an almost empty room, presumably where they serve breakfast to hotel guests. No entry fee. No crowds. One spectacular view. As we headed back down to street level, we were met with huge crowds of people in the park and a live, open air concert, preparing to see in their Independence Day. As the clock struck midnight, the fireworks began and it was a display like no other.  I have been in the USA for 4th July and London for New Year’s Eve, but these were something else. I’m a huge sucker for fireworks anyway but these were just incredible!! A very fitting tribute to celebrate 60 years. Due to our late night watching the fireworks, we didn’t make it into town the next day until late morning, assuming that there would be lots of parades and celebrations on throughout the day. Wrong. The parade started at 7am and we had missed the entire thing. And our grand plans to see more of the city were also ruined because everything was closed due to the National holiday! Excellent! So KL wasn’t to be, as such, but that did t matter because tomorrow I was flying to Lang Kawi for my final days in Asia and I was in for an absolute treat. 

The flight from KL to Lang Kawi was just over an hour and easy as pie. I was greeted at the airport by my driver (note: more flashpacking alert!!!) and driven to my hotel in an extremely flashy BMW. I arrived at the Westin Hotel, checked in and was shown to my princess suite! Never in my life have I stayed anywhere this beautiful and fancy!! I had snacks and wine in my room, handwritten personal notes from the manager, a “bed time menu”, and that view!! Oh that view!! I was in love!! I met the boys for a drink or 2 before we headed over to the St Regis next door for sundowners and dinner.  We sipped gin cocktails and wine out over the water at the stunningly beautiful Kayu Puti. The sunset was beyond spectacular and we were serenaded by a local band playing the Beatles. We headed inside after sunset for the most incredible dinner I may have ever eaten.  Green Pea Salad. Scallops. Duck with Langkawi Black Bee Honey and the most decadent chocolate dessert known to woman! It was beautiful – as were my dates for the evening. The following day after I dragged myself out of my unfathomably comfortable Heavenly Bed, I indulged in more flashpacking behaviour and heavily supplemented my buffet breakfast with champagne. I feel like I was meant to live this life! 😂 We spent the day wandering along the beach collecting shells and lazing by the pool with service on hand….literally. A service button on every sun lounger! 😂We indulged in yet another amazing meal at the gorgeous Balinese inspired Bon Ton Resort. I need to not eat for at least a week after leaving this gorgeous little island. Breakfast on our final day was another feast, venturing back over to the St Regis to sample their breakfast buffet. 4 courses and more champagne for breakfast. I was feeling morbidly obese and yet so happy all at once! We were so lazy we didn’t even walk back to our own hotel, instead opting for the golf buggy instead. My final day in Lang Kawi I spent at the beach after the boys had all flown back to Singapore. This was after all, my final day in Asia. I had to top up my tan as much as possible and actually just take some time to reflect on just how incredibly lucky I have been to have had this adventure, meet some many wonderful people and visit so many beautiful places! Malaysia – you have been magical!! ❤️

 Spoilt in Singapore 👸🏽

I arrived in Singapore after a short flight from Phnom Penh.  I hopped in a taxi from the airport on the assurance that I wouldn’t get ripped off as I have done in every other airport taxi I have ever taken.  Turns out, its illegal for taxi drivers in Singapore to “rip you off” – how very civilized.  After about 20 minutes I arrived at my new palace, courtesy of my Mum’s cousin Nichlas, who has lived in Singapore for the past 13 years.  Although we worked out it had been about 22 years since I last saw him, he was as welcoming and familiar as if it were only yesterday.  My first morning was spent wandering around the local area where they live and being utterly  spoilt with the most incredible food.  That afternoon, we headed down to one of the Singapore skylines most famous landmarks – The Marina Bay Sands and Art Science Museum.    img_6510-2We also took a little stroll past the equally famous “Merlion” of Singapore – a statue of a lions head with body of a fish.  This image in synonymous with Singapore.  The body of the fish representing Singapore’s origin as a fishing village and the head of the lion representing Singapore’s original name, Singapura, meaning “Lion City.”  img_6512-4Our stroll around the bay took us to the exhibition hall at the Marina Bay Sands and the utterly luxurious Epicurean Market Food Festival.”  It was here that I was reunited with one of life’s best people – my Imogen! It’s taken 2 years and for both of us to be on the other side of the world to be able to finally meet up but it was totally worth it!! img_6516-2img_6520-2We stuffed our faces with the most unbelievable food and wine – all of which we were just too excited about to have time to take photos of it before troughing the lot.  The only thing we managed to snap before snaffling was the deep fried Oreos with marshmallow creme.
img_6521-2As if that wasn’t being spoilt enough on my first night, Nichlas treated us to an absolute dream come true…..Singapore Slings at the world famous Raffles Hotel.  A massive bucket list tick for all of us, I think.  img_6536-2.jpg         We were lucky enough to get there just in time for their final night, before closing the hotel down for extensive refurbishment.  After all, it has been a Singapore icon since 1887 when it first opened its doors.  The following morning we ventured to the Indian Quarter for breakfast where I was introduced to Masala Thosai and Masala Tea for the first time – game changer!!  This treat followed me all the way through to Malaysia too.  I’m desperately hoping I can find it when I get home too!! ​


My next adventure would take me to new heights and new places I never anticipated being able to go –  the top of the Marina Bay Sands.  Sadly, the famous infinity pool is limited to hotel guests only, but that didn’t stop me from stomping my way around the viewing deck on the 57th floor, taking in the stunning views of the city and the Gardens by the Bay.  Our afternoon adventure took us a little further afield to the Singapore Botanical Gardens.   We wandered around the beautiful gardens, through tree tunnels and the beyond beautiful Orchid Gardens. Never in my life have I seen so many and such beautiful orchids!! After a truly beautiful day, we went back home and had the most delicious dinner cooked for us by Masturi.  Another day of being completely and utterly spoilt. The following day I ventured into town to meet Imogen & Chris for a spot of shopping and some more sight seeing. What started off with some innocent browsing ended up with the 3 of us becoming the proverbial “bum bag wankers.” It also took us the best part of 2 hours to cross a road because we got lost in the underground shopping mall which was the only way to get to the other side of the road. 🤦🏽‍♀️When we finally made it out of the shopping district at Orchard Road we ventured down the the very cloudy Gardens by the Bay. We had some lunch and a few beers before cheating and getting the lift to the top of the OCBC Sky Walk, a 128 metre long, 22 metre high aeriel walkway in the heart of the Sky Gardens. The views are stunning, even on a cloudy day and it’s amazing to see the man made trees close up and see them flourishing. By night, we watched the Gardens By The Bay Light Show from the Marina Bay Sands. A beautiful display of lights and music across my new favourite skyline. When Friday night rolled around in this wonderful city, I was lucky enough to meet some more family that I never even knew I had – another of my Mum’s cousins  Patrick and his wonderful wife Marilyn.  Nichlas and Mayo spoilt us all again by taking us to an incredible performance of “The Forbidden City” at the Esplanade Theatre. A musical detailing the life of Empress Dowager Cixi – the empress who lead the Chinese government between 1861 & 1908. It was a wonderful show starring the very famous Singaporean singer/actress Kit Chan. Well worth a watch if you ever get the opportunity! As if theatre tickets weren’t enough, we also had tickets the next day for the famous Yayoi Kusama exhibition that was in town. The world famous Japanese artist is known for her psychedelic colours, repetitive patterns and all round mind bending artistic talents. Unsurprisingly, she has been living in an asylum in recent years. Her infiniti rooms are so spectacular but spend too long in one of those and you too would end up in an asylum!! ​​

​​I was yet again lucky enough to be in this amazing city for another of its spectacular shows – The Singapore Night Festival. A stunning display of lights and projections on the already beautiful architecture of this city. Below is the National Gallery which is actually a plain white building. The projections were just mesmerising.  Normally, Singapore’s architecture doesn’t need any help to look incredible. The Sultan Mosque by night reminded me of something straight out of Aladdin! The Peranakan design that you see all throughout the city makes for some of the most Instagram worthy photos you’ll ever see! A truly beautiful city that never disappoints!! It even has a beach!! 😍Singapore has stolen my heart like no other city ever has. True, I was lucky enough to live like a Princess while I was here, but I would still come back in a heartbeat! ❤️

 

(TBT) Trouble in Thailand 🇹🇭

OK – ya’ll are gonna have to bear with me on this one as this is a very backdated blog and I was in Thailand what feels like forever ago.

I remember feeling very sad about leaving Laos as I had enjoyed it way more than I had ever expected to but it was time for our next adventure and country together. We made it across the border, also known as The Friendship Bridge, ourselves in a combination of tuktuks and buses. The feeling of sadness didn’t last long as we were now in Thailand and heading for our first destination Chiang Rai.  You’ll have to excuse my excessively fat left hand – I got stung by something and my rings got stuck.

The views on the bus ride there was so beautiful – sunny blue skies and the fluffiest white cotton candy clouds you have ever seen!! I knew already I was going to love Thailand. After a couple of hours drive through the countryside, we were dropped off at the bus station and walked to our hostel, Mercy Hostel. As soon as we walked in we knew we would be very happy – the biggest comfiest beds we’ve slept in yet, really nice facilities and free cookies!! What more could you ask for from a hostel? We headed out for a wander around the town and to see what we could see and realised that it was our “1 month anniversary” of travelling together. So wine was in order. Wine lead to pasta. Pasta lead to dessert. Dessert lead to food coma! I always knew I had picked the right travel buddy! fullsizerender 7The following day we got an early start and decided to head out to the White Temple which Chiang Rai is famous for. We hopped on a local bus heading in that general direction and hoped for the best. After about 30 minutes the bus stopped at a set of traffic lights on a major junction and the driver started waving and shouting at us like a maniac to get off the bus…so we did – in total confusion, but got off nonetheless. It turns out that the White Temple has quite literally been plonked at the side of a main highway. Not what you would usually expect for a temple – you normally expect peaceful surroundings, beautiful gardens, but then again this Temple was unlike any others I have visited on my travels.  It may well be white in colour, but the overarching theme of the temple seems very dark and like some kind of underworld trying to escape. We wandered around for a short time but all felt very strange about the place. Yes, it was called a temple, but it’s actually more like architectural “pea-cocking” rather than a place of worship.  When the torrential rain hit we decided to call it a day at the temple and head out to the Khun Korn Waterfall, about 40 minutes drive from the temple.  We haggled hard on our tuktuk and somehow made it there in one piece.  After another 40 minutes of walking through the rainforest, we arrived at the waterfall and were lucky enough to be the only people there.  It wasn’t as spectacular as some others I have been lucky enough to see on this trip, but being there alone made it all the more beautiful and peaceful.   After a particularly stressful (!!!) day yesterday, we decided to have a day off to catch up on some life admin (aka laundry) and make some plans for the next few days.  We knew we wanted to go hang out with some elephants at some point in Thailand but were both very against “elephant camps” and so many other places that claim to be “sanctuaries.”  We had researched lots and knew where we didn’t  want to go but we still hadn’t found somewhere we did want to go.  Then we stumbled across Elephant Valley, based in Chiang Rai.  It was a fairly new venture, still in their first year, but working off the back of their other sanctuary in Cambodia which they have had for over 10 years.  This particular sanctuary pride themselves on creating an environment for their rescued elephants which is as natural as possible and where they can be free to do as they please.  This means minimal human contact. The elephants will approach you of their own accord (which is quite a lot when you have a handful of bananas) and especially their naughty juvenile Lulu who was my absolute favourite.  

After a long day at the sanctuary, we hopped on a bus to our next destination, Chiang Mai.  On our first day, we decided to treat ourselves to a Thai massage, at the very famous vocational training centre in Chaing Mai, where women from the local prison are trained to become masseurs so that they can be easily employed after their release.  We paid 400 Thai baht each (about 10 quid) for a 2 hour full body Thai massage.  It has to be said it was without a doubt the best massage I have ever had – and to top it all off, she french braided my hair for me afterwards so i didn’t even need to do my own hair to go out that night!!  Bonus!!That evening we headed out into town to explore the nights markets a bit and check out the again, very famous “Lady-Boy Cabaret.”  It has to be said that whilst it was entertaining, it was an absolute car crash of a production.  Costumes falling off, people falling over or off the stage, forgetting their lyrics.  But like i said – it was entertaining.  Although also somewhat off putting when you can be “out-girled” by a boy in a dress.  Check out the dude here…..on the right…..in the pink.  Yes, that’s a boy.   img_7461
Despite our best of intentions to get an early night, it ended up with us spending most of the night drinking Laos Dark Beer in a jazz cafe and then stopping off at Tacos Bell on the way home for a small snack.  We slept in really late the following day, but determined not to waste our time here, we dragged ourselves out of bed for our next adventure….Sticky Waterfall.  We hired bikes as it was a good hours drive away and we had our off line maps downloaded so we would know how to get there.  What we couldn’t control was the absolute torrential rain downpour on the freeway and the fact that MapsMe is the worst app ever created!! Even with my rather attractive plastic poncho on, I was still absolutely saturated.  We carried on going and the sun came out, just in time for me to hit a massive bump in the road and watch my ray bans go sailing out of the cup holder of my bike and smashing onto the road!!  Winning!!  But at least I didn’t have the gimpy helmet this time…….
After a good hour or so of driving we finally made it to our destination – Sticky Waterfall, or Bua Thong Waterfall to give it it’s official name.  It is nicknamed so because the rock formations are covered in calcium deposits that make the rock almost like pumice stone.  This means that despite the rushing water, you can quite easily climb this waterfall right from the very bottoms, all the way to the top without slipping. Barefoot or with shoes on – it is almost (note almost) impossible to slip on these rocks.  They feel like they are literally gripping onto your feet.  Its quite a surreal experience.  We spent a good hour or so playing around in and climbing the waterfall before realising it would soon be getting dark and we still had to get home.  And what an adventure that would turnout to be, no thanks to MapsMe.  Ceri, standby for one of your favourite travelling stories coming right up….😂img_3724-3
So we left the waterfall, with a marginally better idea of how to get back to the city, but we had MapsMe as a back up anyway.  When we got nearer the city, MapsMe took us on a small detour which it called a “shortcut.”  Before we knew it, it was dark and this godforsaken app had taken us into a building site under a freeway.  Great.  I was very much over being on the bike now – I was cold and wet and tired and just wanted to go home.  Having spoken to the guy on site, he assured us that if we went the way the map was telling us, we would be able to get out the other side of the the underpass and onto the road we needed.  Trouble was, what was between us and the other side of the underpass was a good 30 metres of thick, wet and very deep mud.  Me being me (as per usual) though “F*ck it – I don’t care anymore – I just want to go home” so I started up my bike and went hell for leather through the mud thinking if i didn’t stop i would get a clear path through and wait for the others at the other side.  How wrong could I be?  So while Ceri is almost completely incapacitated and can barely breathe from laughing at me so much, I am now stuck knee deep in this mud and cannot go anywhere.  Also not helped by the fact that i was laughing hysterically and trying to move my bike out at the same time.  Tommy, the American guy who unfortunately for him had joined us for the day was less than impressed and kept shouting at me like a Dad which only served to make us laugh more.  The nice man from the building site came traipsing over to try and help me and when he grabbed the back of my bike to move it, I instinctively grabbed the handlebars and therefore the accelerator, completely showering him from head to toe in mud.   Ceri is almost dead at this point and I’m still being told off by Dad!!  After a good 15 minutes of trying to move my bike, we eventually made it through to the other side unscathed.  What we found when we got to the other side was that the exit was completely blocked by scaffolding, and even if we could get through it, it would mean driving on the wrong side of the road, into 3 lanes of oncoming traffic, just to get off at the side road where we needed to turn off.  So back through the mud we went!!  Absolute nightmare.  We eventually made it out in one piece and decided to stop off somewhere on the way home to get some food.  We stopped at Cowboy Hat Lady and had pork and rice for dinner.  When Ceri sat down in the light, I pointed out that she had mud on her face, unbeknownst to me that it was me who put it there in the first place.  All in the name of adventure!🙄
The following day, we set off for our next destination, Pai.  It was fair to say that i was dreading the journey as someone who suffers from travel sickness. The road between Chaing Mai and Pai is about 150km but it famous for its 762 bends in the road.  Hairpin bends, winding mountain roads, crazy steep hills.  The drive was fairly awful, but Ceri and I watched the Little Mermaid to take the edge off.  We finally arrived in one piece and checked into our lovely hostel, Common Grounds.  A short walk from the centre of town, we had everything we needed and pretty ace room mates. We settled for an early night the first night to re-set then we would begin our adventures in this little hippie town tomorrow.  img_3729
We headed out around lunch time to pick up our bikes for the next couple of days as there is so much to see around this little town.  Our first stop would be the Hot Springs, about 30 minutes drive out of town.  The roads there were much the same as the roads from Chiang Mai and it had been raining so we were trying to take it easy.  It was not particularly pleasant driving conditions and my bike was “a bit dodgy” even on the straight roads but we powered through.  That was until I hit a patch of mud at the bottom of the hill just by the entrance to the hot springs.  With everyone else in front of me, no one saw me come flying off my bike as the back wheel skidded and came out from under me.  I took quite a tumble and my bike ended up upside down in the rain water ditch at the side of the road.  I had scraped up my knee, ankle, foot and hand and fairly sure I may have broken a couple of ribs as it was pretty hard to breathe (for a good 6 weeks – Sorry Mum! 🙄)  I had tried to pick up my bike myself but had no luck.  I had paid the insurance waiver on it so couldn’t have cared less if I left it in the ditch at the side of the road, but a few minutes later a lovely local man came to my rescue and picked up my bike for me.  This is when the American boys came back for me to see if I was OK.  Somehow, I managed to get back on my bike (even though I was loathed to) and carry on riding to the Hot Springs.  I had earned my very first “Thai Tattoo.”  I suspect warm river water was not the best things for all my open cuts but I had driven all the way out there so I wasn’t about to miss out now.  
After a couple of hours at the hot springs and a quick visit to another waterfall, we headed back to our hostel to get some dinner and head out for well earned drinks that evening.  It got very messy very quickly and ended up with another new (unwanted) piercing for Ceri and a blinding hangover for each of us!! I think we were going to like Pai.  The following morning, sore all over and generally feeling like death we headed out with our room mates to get breakfast. I needed an epic hangover cure and what I found was “Big’s Little Cafe” on the main street in Pai. The man was an actual hero – home made sausage, bacon, hash browns, eggs, baked beans…it was an actual life saver – for an hour or so at best. Then we all hit a wall and had to go home to bed again! Late in the afternoon we decided to give life another go and hopped back on the bikes again (I know – I must be mad!!) and headed out to the White Buddha and Pai Canyon. The view from the top of the mountain over Pai was just beautiful but we decided to head over to Pai Canyon for sunset. Although a bit cloudy it was so beautiful – even when being eaten alive by sand flies as I waited for Ceri to come back from her mountaineering adventure! I tried to go out for drinks again that night but couldn’t face it and was still sore all over so I headed home for a quiet night in. True to form, our final night in Pai was another messy one – but here is us looking pretty before it all went wrong! Again. 😂The following afternoon, we headed back to Chiang Mai and checked into our new hostel, Brick House Hostel. We went out in town that night to the renowned Zoe in Yellow. Yet another messy night under our belts! 🤦🏽‍♀️ 

The following day we headed out of the city to the Thai Farm Cooking School, a beautiful organic farm located about 30 minutes from the city and completely self sufficient.  All the meals we cooked were using ingredients grown at the farm.  We spent the day learning how to make tom yum soup, pad Thai, red Thai curry, chicken and Thai basil and bananas in coconut milk. Apart from the hangover it was an amazing day and I can’t wait to fret back in a proper kitchen to cook it all again!! To finish off our final day with the American boys, we all headed out to the Muay Thai Boxing that night for a “bit of culture.” We went to the ticket office and before we knew it we were thrown in the back of a tuktuk and sent off across town to god only knows where.  After about half an hour we arrived at a local boxing ring and made our way in.  Now I’m not a huge fan of boxing so it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but we did see to TKOs and some pretty bad ass women’s boxing! The following day we hopped on a night bus to Kalasin, in the North East of Thailand where Ceri had been living and working before we met. We spent 2 days hanging out with all her friends, eating and drinking so much good food and planning more adventures.  My life was changed here by Honey Toast…❤️.

After 2 wonderful days in Kalasin we finally headed on down to Bangkok, our final stop before we called half time on Thailand to head to Myanmar.  We checked into Bodega Hostel and we’re lucky enough to meet up with our favourite Israeli girls again!! Ceri and I spent the day wandering around the vast Chatachuk Weekend Market before getting dolled up for the evening and heading to the Lebua Sky Bar with Dayna & Jordan. We had an absolutely beautiful evening taking in the stunning Bangkok night skyline with an obscenely expensive bottle of wine. But hey, YOLO right? Can’t wait for Israel 2K18 ladies! 😉 

Our time in Thailand had come to a temporary end while we headed to Myanmar for more adventures and to celebrate Ceri’s birthday. Myanmar blog is already up and running for those of you that haven’t already seen it, if you want to that is! 

Cambodia, Cats, Candles & Cake! 

So I’ve left behind my beloved travel buddy. It was actually like, the worst break up ever. Both of us stood outside the hostel crying while the taxi driver looked on thinking we should probably both be sectioned!! I know you’ll probably cry reading this but seriously, THANK YOU Ceri for being the best travel buddy ever!! As you said before – you made the good times beyond amazing, you made the “shit” times bearable and often absolutely hilarious and you are one of my most favourite humans ever!! I know Australia was a #bigstep for you but (and I hate to say I told you so) you’ve got it nailed already and I’m so proud of you! Can’t wait to come and visit you! 💕

* * *

I picked up my new travel buddy Katrina, who I met in Pai at the bus station and our Cambodian adventure started with a surprisingly easy and fairly uneventful border crossing at Poi Pet. I have heard so many horror stories that I was geared up for an argument (well, ish…) with any of the officials over random extra payments for this or that but I handed over my $30 and that was that! Not even a funny or witty story to insert here – it really was as simple as that! Marginally disappointing I know! I didn’t even get to say “well this’ll be a good story for the blog.” 😑 We eventually arrived into Siem Reap and were given a “free” tuktuk to our hostel, Siem Reap Pub Hostel. Should have guessed by the name what type of place it would be and should have learned from 5 months in Asia that no tuktuk ride is free. We ended up committing ourselves to a sunrise tour of Angkor Wat with our slightly overbearing driver who refused to take no for an answer. At least we wouldn’t have to deal with him for another whole day. Rather than hanging around for too long at our hostel, despite the pool, we headed out to the night market and to have a wander around Pub Street. I thought I’d had enough of night markets but the one in Siem Reap was beautiful and I wanted to buy EVERYTHING. I resisted on the promise of “I’ll come back tomorrow” and hoped I would have my sensible head on by then and wouldn’t buy every single item I laid my eyes on!

The following morning was a 4am wake up call to get out to Angkor Wat for sunrise. Surprisingly, as promised, our tuktuk driver was waiting outside our hostel for us and off we went to buy our tickets and find our spot at one of the most famous temples in the world. The ticket queues were substantial considering the time but we had plenty of time and our driver seemed to be in no hurry. After parting with $37 for the one day ticket we headed back out in the road, because of course, why would the ticket office be anywhere near the entrance? We were dropped off and vaguely shown in the direction of Angkor Wat by our driver who it turned out was not going to be our “guide” for the day as promised but just our somewhat abnoxious driver. We were told by many people that this morning was the best weather they had seen in the past 2 weeks so we were super lucky. That said, it was still pretty cloudy so the sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. In fact, I’m sad to say I was particularly underwhelmed by Angkor Wat in general. I may well be the only person that had ever said that but it just didn’t live up to my expectations and I had, after all, been spoilt by Myanmar.  That said, it was still very beautiful and we enjoyed exploring the temples for the morning. I even got a blessing from a monk inside Angkor Wat and hope that my red bracelet continues to bring me good fortune as Lord knows I need it on this trip! 😂

After a few hours wandering around Angkor Wat we grabbed a quick bite and some much needed coffee before finding our driver who was less than impressed with us.  He lectured us on how he had been waiting for over an hour us to take us to breakfast. He was even more cross with us when we told him we had already eaten and so stormed off in a strop. Too tired to care or argue, we got in the back of the tuktuk and asked him to take us to Bayon Temple, as we had paid him to do. He no longer liked us so no longer spoke to us! Not awkward at all. When we arrived at Bayon I had got the reaction I had been hoping for. I was completely blown away by its beauty and detail – it really was like something out of a sci-fi movie. I don’t know what has happened to my brain as I can’t quite seem to find the words to describe it – but here is a picture for you to make up your own mind. 

The Khmer temple, which is believed to date back to the 12th Century is full of carved stone faces, multiple levels and walkways and plenty of history. This really was the highlight of the day for me, despite everyone telling me the best way yet to come – Ta Phrom, AKA the Tomb Raider Temple. We stopped and had a wander around Angkor Thom before leaving. 

After another silent tuktuk ride with our driver still behaving like a 12 year-old, we arrived at Ta Phrom and it was like literally arriving in a film set. There were hoards of people crammed into the place, cameras and selfie sticks being swung around in every direction and constantly being barged into by inconsiderate (Chinese) tourists. Why take 1 selfie when you can take 827389492648593? Although the temple was beautiful and spectacular in the way in which it had been taken over my Mother Nature, the experience was somewhat spoilt by the sheer volume of people.  I say this not to discourage people from visiting, because it truly is spectacular, but just don’t expect the place to be quiet, even at stupid o’clock in the morning.

By the time we managed to find our way out of the Tomb Raider Temple we were both pretty exhausted and over it so decided we would ask to be taken home. Luckily for us our driver was still being an arrogant git and so announced when we arrived back at the tuktuk that our day was over and he would now be taking us home. Even had the cheek to ask us for petrol money! For once in my life I held my tongue, got in and went home without argument. It pained me! 😂 We spent the rest of our afternoon lazing around the pool and eating more delicious gelato because well, we just couldn’t help ourselves.  We also had to decide where we would be heading on our next adventure, but not being too keen on making grown up decisions we resorted to a 5 baht coin, now known as The Decision Making Coin. It’s fair to say it served us well and the first decision it made was that our next stop would be Battambang, tomorrow morning. We arrived and checked into our dorm room which was hotter than actual hell. Despite the 2 pathetic fans on the ceiling, it was still about 10 degrees hotter inside than outside! We decided to head out for dinner in the hope that it would cool down while we were out! We had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant called HOC Cafe which supports a local orphanage called Hope of Children. Although fairly cheap, the food was absolutely delicious and we were absolutely stuffed!! The honey chicken was absolutely divine!! On our way home we stopped to watch a group of locals playing bowls on the street corner. Although we had no idea what they were saying (probably something along the lines of “Why are these 2 weird white girls watching us?”) they were quite happy for us to watch and take a few photos while they played. The people of Cambodia are far friendlier than I was lead to believe – always smiling, friendly and helpful, the exception being our tuktuk driver at the Angkor Temples. The following morning we set off on our next Cambodian adventure – the famous Bamboo Train. Our lovely driver picked us up in our carriage for the day and headed out, but not before stopping to see his family home and meet his family along the way. We arrived at the “station” in O Dambong to await our train carriage for this unique journey through to O Sra Lav. Our carriage was a battered old bamboo platform that was literally laying in the bushes at the side of the track until they decided it should probably be used.  It was picked up out of the hedge and dropped onto a pair of wheels and the only thing that held the 2 together was the rubber belt that looped around the rear axel and through the very questionable old motorbike engine.  

​Thankfully the broken bamboo platform had cushions else there was no way we were getting on it! Safety first!! 🙄 For $5 each, we clattered through the countryside on the old, warped and very disjointed tracks for about 30 minutes to O Sra Lav where we were met by the most fierce sales people of all time – small children. I got off the train determined I would buy nothing. I got back on the train with 8 bracelets. 🤦🏽‍♀️ ​

​After a lovely morning in the glorious sunshine, we headed back into town for some lunch and Air Con. We would be heading back out later in the afternoon with our lovely driver to the Killing Caves and the famous bat cave. After the worlds sweetest and most fattening coffee ever, we hopped back in our tuktuk and headed out to the Killing Caves – a chilling prelude to what we would encounter in the coming days. Our driver stopped along the way in case we wanted a snack but we politely declined……We were also lucky enough to encounter this little guy on the way – seeing him play like this made my heart so happy!! ​

​ We decided to walk up the mountain for a bit of exercise and once there we were met with a fairly graphic depiction of the type of torture that took place here. People were tortured and brutally murdered, their bodies tossed into the cave under the rule of the Khmer Rouge – all as recently as 1970. Such horror surrounded by such beauty just doesn’t seem right – the views from the top were just stunning. As we descended into the cave itself we found a large glass case full of just some of the bones that have since been recovered from this cave.  A gruesome reminder of just how unrelenting the Khmer Rouge were during their time in power. 

The cave has now been turned into a temple with a reclining Buddha in the hope of bringing some peace and tranquility to the area. We finished off our Battambang adventure day with a nice cold beer at sunset, at the mouth of the famous bat cave, where at dusk, somewhere between 6 & 7 million bats come out to feed.  For 2 whole hours there is a constant stream of tiny bats flying out of the cave – it really is a sight to see! ​

​Our Battambang adventure had come to an end – tomorrow we would be heading to our next destination Phnom Penh, which we were equally excited and nervous about. We arrived at our beautiful hostel, Billabong Hostel and we spent the afternoon lounging around our pool! We had our first visit to Mad Monkey that night and ended up in some grotty night club where I was at least 10 years older than everyone else in there! I should have learned my lesson with Mad Monkey that night but no such luck! After dragging our asses home at 4am we had a few hours sleep before getting up for one of my worst days I’ve had since I left home.

Today was the day we were visiting the S21 Museum and the Killing Fields. I was only vaguely aware of the history surrounding these places but had heard the stories along my travels and it’s fair to say I was dreading it. People have since asked me if I would “recommend” visiting these places but that’s a question I cannot answer. It’s not the type of place you would recommend as such – it has to be a decision that you make for yourself as to whether or not you want to (or are mentally prepared to) gain the true understanding of the atrocities that took place in these two places and across Cambodia. The S21 Museum, also known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was once a high school but during the Khmer Rouge Regime was turned into a secret torture prison, housing as many as 20,000 prisoners between 1975 and 1979. All but 7 prisoners were tortured and executed here for what was essentially no reason at all. They were executed for being professionals – doctors, scientists, teachers, executed for being related to any one of the above mentioned, executed for wearing glasses. The list was endless and unrelenting. Entire families were wiped out based on the belief that they were “educated” and therefore a threat to the Khmer Rouge and their ideaologies. You walk around the museum listening to an audio tour and your own thoughts. Take your headphones off and there is an eerie silence throughout. A mark of respect perhaps…or silence from utter shock and devastation at what went on here. Prisoners were kept in tiny makeshift brick cells with no fresh air, very little day light, no food or water and in complete silence. They were systematically tortured into giving information that they knew nothing about. If they cried out during torture, they were tortured more. As they neared death, they were given the most basic and crude “medical attention” for the sole purpose of being kept alive to be tortured further. These stories broke me. They shatter your faith in humanity. How can one human do this to another – let alone thousands? It’s something I just cannot fathom! Hearing the court transcripts from the murder trial of Kerry Hamill, a Kiwi sailor who was captured off the coast of Cambodia in 1978, reduced me to tears. I was done – my heart couldn’t take any more. Whilst being tortured into a confession for something he knew nothing about, he used false (very famous) names to send secret messages to his family, letting them know he loved them. I left that place in bits but I knew it would only get worse this afternoon. A short distance outside of the city we arrived at the Killing Fields.  Again – complete silence. An instantly noticeable uneasy feeling to the whole place and it has to be said, a fairly unpleasant smell. Even if you knew nothing about this place or even its name, you would know good things did not happen here. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this…but if we don’t learn about these things when we have the chance, we will never know how to change the future. The audio tour takes you around the various parts, showing the site of the truck stop where victims were dropped off, where they were interrogated and eventually the mass graves where thousands upon thousands were bludgeoned to death and thrown into the dirt. They weren’t shot – because that would be quick, relatively painless, cost too much money and the sound of gunfire would attract unwanted attention. Instead their skulls were smashed with whatever weapon was available at the time. Possibly the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching place was the “Killing Tree” where babies and small children would be swung by their feet and their heads smashed into the tree then tossed into the nearest mass grave. Again, just to add to the pain this would be done in front of their mothers. This place is so full of horrors you just can’t imagine. The graves, which are all fenced off, are covered in thousands upon thousands of colourful bracelets – left by visitors and tourists as a mark of respect. Bracelets hang from the bark of the Killing Tree which still remains standing – despite all it was “responsible” for.The final stop on this horrific tour was the memorial constructed to honour all those killed here. The stupa contains over 5000 human skulls, each with visible injuries showing how that person died. Whilst I fully appreciate the need to remember and honour all the victims, displaying their skulls did not seem like the way to do it – in my opinion at least. I understand that death is treated very differently in Asia to the rest of the world but it is still difficult to see.

After a truly horrific day I really had nothing left in me but to go home and lay either by the pool or in my bed. Tomorrow was a new day and the start of our island adventures to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. The decision making coin had been flipped and we would be heading to Koh Rong Samloem first – the smaller if the 2 islands. The decision making coin also decided that we would be staying at Mad Monkey. 😑 A bus, a tuktuk, another bus, a ridiculously bumpy but really fun ferry and a long boat later, we arrived on Koh Rong Samloem.  We checked into our bamboo hut named “Teak” which vegan Katrina initially thought was called Steak! 😂 The only thing to do next was head out to the bar, chill out and watch the sunset. We even managed a little swim out to the hammocks in the water but we didn’t want to expend too much energy so we lay there for ages! A nice chilled out dinner, a few drinks and hanging out with some new people and a pretty ace fire show on the beach.  A late night dip in the phosphorescence was the perfect end to a pretty ace day! Shame it wasn’t to be continued. God damn effing bed bugs AGAIN! Place was riddled with them! By now you all know my thoughts and feelings on bed bugs so I won’t bore you again with the details. I spent that night sleeping on a bean bag on the floor of the bar. 😑 Day 2 on Koh Rong S was a total write off due to bed bug induced rage and severe lack of sleep. I spent the day lazing around in the sea hammocks, eating, drinking and snoozing where and when I could. The decision making coin had a lot to answer for! We were reassured by the staff that the issue would be resolved for this evening so we should have a restful nights sleep. That was not to be. After a thoroughly entertaining evening spent completely spanking the Aussie boys at cards we tried to go to bed again only to discover the bed bugs still firmly in place. Yet another nights sleep on the floor of the bar. I could not wait to get to get of this damn island!! So with 10kgs of laundry between us, we got back on our long boat to head back to the main bay to get the ferry back to Koh Rong. We sat and waiting in the restaurant,as we were told, and watched the boats come and go – all of which we were told were not our boats. Time was ticking on and when we went to ask someone different what time our ferry would be here we were told we had missed the last one and there was only one final boat for the day – the inter-island supply ferry. The Cambodian Islands had been one big car crash for us so far!! When the supply ferry eventually arrived we hurled our bags on board and got on wanting nothing more than to just get to our “nice bungalow” and chill out for the evening. Again – it was not to be. 2 and a half hours on this bloody ferry – stopping off at every resort and jetty it could find – delivering everything under the sun from beer to cement. All that said, I’m grateful we did get on this particular supply ferry as this was where we met Pudding – our tiny little ginger kitten that had somehow became separated from her mother and found her way onto this dilapidated old ferry. She was so tiny and so skinny and jumped straight in my lap and curled up and went to sleep. Now as most of you know I’m not a huge cat lover – but how could anyone not fall in love with this tiny little ginger soul. She was so content with us and happily climbed between Katrina and I for the entire ferry trip.
When we came to disembark, we knew we couldn’t leave her! So I carried her down from the top deck and asked the boats captain if the kitten belonged to him. He vehemently shook his head. When I asked if I could keep her he looked delighted. So just like that, we came to adopt Pudding, our Cambodian kitten. She was very comfortable when she moved into our “nice bungalow” with us – even though the bungalow was less than nice. More of a mouldy old shack with very questionable safety or stability but it would do for now – especially as we turned out to spend very little time there. While I stayed home to make sure Pudding settled in (and didn’t run away through one of the many holes in our walls) Katrina went out to source some cat food for her. What she got was a tin of tuna – spoilt already!! She snaffled down a quarter of a tin without even coming up for air – she was clearly starving!! As soon as she was full she jumped up on top of my backpack and curled up and went to sleep! Shame the same could not be said for us. Tonight was birthday eve for me and I wanted a nice early night so that I could fully enjoy my entire day tomorrow. Alas – at 10pm I was forced out of my pyjamas and out the door to the “All Night Police Beach Party.” No – it was not a work do – the beach is called Police Beach and it has a very questionable open air “night club” there which had an all nighter every Saturday! We had a few drinks along the main beach and I was coerced into spinning the dreaded wheel at one of the bars. Pay $1 – spin the wheel and claim either your free drink/s or forfeit! Now we all know my luck….especially on this trip!! Reluctantly (and without paying – hey, it’s now my birthday!!) I span the wheel and of course…it lands on “Hurricane.” A delicious cocktail I hear you say? NO! They take you outside to the beach, make you do a shot, then you have to spin round 5 times on the spot. The bar man then throws a pint of water in your face and then slaps you. Now whilst I’m all for a laugh – I’m definitely not up for getting assaulted…on my birthday! One of the Irish boys took one for the team and did my hurricane for me…call it a birthday gift! After many more birthday drinks we eventually made it (somehow) to the beach party. We had THE BEST night covered in face paint and glitter, dancing and drinking the night away. Before we knew it the sun was starting to come up so we headed down to the sea to watch. With a beer in hand, glitter on my face (and everywhere else for that matter) and a heart so full, on my birthday I watched the sun rise whilst dancing in the rain. Also on FaceTime to Stevie & Matt Weldon but the less said about that the better! 😂😂 We had an epic night which meant we slept the day away entirely – but I was kind of OK with that – it was totally worth it!!

When we eventually made it out of our bungalow again after many hours of saying “we should get up now” and “do they have Uber Eats here?” We got a very late lunch and before we knew it we were back in the same bar as last night – playing in an extensive Beer Pong Competition. It was long, got very boring very quickly and to be quite frank, we were terrible. I have seemingly lost my skill, developed 3 years ago on Fraser Island playing cocktail pong!  Needing to be relatively sensible tonight and to get home for the cat, we called it an early ish night and headed home. Tomorrow we would be going to our next and final Cambodian destination, Kampot. Another ferry, another bus and another tuktuk, all with Pudding in tow, we arrived at Arcadia, a small hostel famous in Kampot for its fairly extensive yet very questionable “water park.” After blagging our way in with a little help from the Aussie boys, we spent our time doing things like this:​​

​Yes – that is me, sailing through the air like a rag doll after being jumped by 2 fairly hefty Irish rugby players. Feels like something of a metaphor about my life but we shan’t go into that now. After 1 night and a morning of fun we moved to a different hostel in town called Karma Traders, where we hoped that they would adopt Pudding and she could have a happy home. Sadly it was not to be as they already had a number of cats living there. Pudding would be staying with us for a little longer.

Our final day in Cambodia we spent buzzing around in our hired scooters, up round the winding mountain roads and out to watch the sunset at the stunningly beautiful salt flats. As if the sunset wasn’t beautiful enough, to see it reflected in the mirror like water was something really special! An absolute treat for our final Cambodian adventure. 

PS. If you would like to help us bring Pudding home, please read our/her story here:

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bring-pudding-home

🇲🇲 My Oh Myanmar! 🇲🇲

After much deliberation, much procrastination, not very much planning and definitely not very much organisation, we managed to book last minute flights to Myanmar. Before this trip, I knew I wanted to go but had only ever met one person who had been before so I was going in a bit blind but, like everything else on this trip, I was just going to hope for the best. I have met a lot of people along the way who have been recently and said it was one of their favourite places so I simply couldn’t miss it. We sorted our online Visa’s for 50USD – the first curve ball. It was way more expensive than I had anticipated but isn’t it always? We managed to get our return flights from Bangkok for around £60 so we clawed some money back there. The flight is only an hour from Bangkok – easy! We arrived in Yangon in the evening and headed straight to our hostel, Little Monkey Hostel, in downtown Yangon. Our taxi driver from the airport was ace – he taught us all of our basics for speaking Burmese. It’s not an easy language to pick up and the notes I wrote in my phone to help me remember it all, on reflection, are hilarious. I’m convinced I am terrible at it because whenever I attempt to say anything they just laugh! We settled into our hostel and got an early night so we could make the most of our time here. Bad start. Bed bugs. Again. Despite the sleeping tablet I had taken I got woken up by them and when I got out of my bed I could literally see them crawling. Absolutely vile. There was no one around to do anything about it so I sat in a chair outside the room for a good 3 hours trying not to shred off my skin until someone came back to the reception. They moved us rooms and called in pest control however subsequent research suggests this may not be the last time this happens in Myanmar – deep joy! 😒

Our first day we spent getting a feel for the area and visiting the Bogyoke Aung Sang Market. The architecture is beautiful – French colonial inspired buildings with ornate balconies, bright colours and lots of hustle and bustle. The first morning I watched an old lady on her 4th floor balcony ringing a bell attached to a long string. I then watched the street vendor below spring into action preparing food which was then attached to the long string in a bag and the lady hoisted up her breakfast. The ultimate delivery service for street food. The market was unlike any others I have visited on this trip. Never have I seen so much gold and gems in all my life. It would seem Myanmar is pretty rich in jade, rubies and gold. Every shape, size, colour! I’m told that a lot of the jade in China is actually from Myanmar – not China as we are all lead to believe. Another thing it is rich in is bettel – a somewhat less desirable item, for me anyway. The incessant “hawking” and spitting on the street makes me die inside a little each time I see/hear it and the streets are splattered red everywhere you look. I saw it in the Philippines where the mountain guides used it to give them an energy “boost” but it seems to be a lot more common here and is seemingly very addictive and also bad for you. I found out the hard way what goes into it. 🤦🏽‍♀️ Whilst walking home from the market I stopped to watch a lady rolling the leaves. From what I could gather the leaf was spread with a white paste – lime paste, then a sprinkling of spices (cardamom or cloves), chewing tobacco, a bettel nut and a luminous green looking drop of peppermint oil. It’s then all rolled up into a little parcel. Then she handed it to me. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked and didn’t want to seem rude since she had gone to the trouble of making it…..so I put it in my mouth. First fail. I tried to chew. Second fail. A group of locals sat in a truck nearby thought this was hilarious! The nut was literally impossible to chew but as I bit through the leaf all the other contents spilled out into my mouth in a particularly unpleasant manner. The taste wasn’t actually that offensive but I was trying so hard not to gag and also didn’t want to be spitting a gob full of slop into the street. So I did my best to thank the lady and walked off, trying not to be sick, until I could find somewhere to spit this stuff. I’m aware that it seriously stains your teeth bright red and as you probably know I’m a little precious about my teeth so I needed to get this stuff out ASAP! A skip. Classy as ever. Not an experience I care to repeat, even out of politeness!​ ​

​That evening we decided to venture to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda for sunset. We missed the sunset due to the unbelievable traffic in this city but that didn’t deter us. The pagoda was every bit as spectacular as I had hoped. 105 metres tall, covered from top to bottom in gold, crowned with a 74 carat diamond and housing 8 hairs from the 4th Buddha. It is said to be the most sacred Buddhist stupa in all of Myanmar and dates back to between the 6th & 10th Century.  The following day we decided to make our way to The Golden Rock and “keep it local” by getting only local transportation and not a taxi for $100. We cheated the first bit by getting a taxi to the bus station and it was truly terrifying when we arrived. As we pulled into the vast bus station, we were literally surrounded by men trying to sell us bus tickets.  It was like something out of the Walking Dead – men with what looked like blood stained teeth (from the bettel) clawing away at the car shouting and yelling!  We were the only white people to be seen and they were literally grabbing hold of the car as we drove past. We were so scared to get out but when we eventually did we had no trouble at all getting a bus ticket to where we needed to go. A couple of hours on a relatively decent bus and we arrived in the small town of Kinpun and we were directed to a truck station over the road for our lift up to the top of the mountain. We had intended on walking up but the bus took so long to get there that we just didn’t have time so truck stop it was. Nothing could have prepared us for what was to come. 45 of us were crammed into the back of a pick up truck with small wooden benches. There was barely room to move or even breathe and it was pouring with rain. 45 minutes of pouring rain, ridiculously winding roads, people spitting bettel and throwing up in bags, we arrived at the top, paid out fee to get to the pagoda and carried on walking to the top. Complete cloud cover! Couldn’t see a thing. Wonderful. We had just spent near on 7 hours getting here and couldn’t see a bastard thing! Luckily for us, someone was looking out for us and for about 10 minutes, the sun came out and burned away all the clouds and we had a tiny window with some incredible views! Legend has it that the Golden Rock is held in its precarious position by a single strand of Buddha’s hair, having been brought to its current location by a boat, which itself turned to stone and remains nearby, now known at the Kyaukthaban Pagoda, meaning Stone Boat Stupa.After all the effort we went to to get here we had very little time before we had to get the terror truck back down the hill to get our bus back to Yangon. It worked out much cheaper getting local public transport but for the amount of time I almost wish we had just got a taxi!! Our final day in Yangon we paid a visit to the National Museum. On our walk there we got absolutely drenched in the monsoon rains and also a tidal wave from a passing bus. I had to physically wring out my trousers and bra! 🤦🏽‍♀️ Needless to say the walk around the air conditioned museum was a little chilly and it was very difficult to understand what everything was because there was nothing in English. Our final Yangon stop was a quick visit to the Chauk-Htat-Gyi Reclining Buddha. We headed back to our terrifying bus station again to head up north to our next destination, Ngapali Beach. 

Side note: Always do your transport research before leaving.

Our bus to Ngapali Beach was relatively painless although chucking it down with rain again as seems to be norm now every time we have to get off a bus in the middle of the night!! We got to our very questionable hotel which equated to a double bed crammed into a shoebox sized room made of paper. The weather for the whole time we were there was pretty awful so we didn’t get much time at the beach. Although it was beautiful, it was also incredibly spoilt by the sheer amount of litter which is so typical of so many places in Asia. The artwork from the tiny crabs on the beach definitely helped make up for it though! Our bus journey away from the beach to Bagan was somewhat less simple. We had failed to research enough beforehand to realise that the easiest way to get from Ngapali to Bagan is to go back via Yangon. Epic fail. Determined not to retrace our steps and waste time we went local again. It started off with a minivan for 5 hours which was fine. Then we boarded the death bus at Pyay for the remaining 12 hours of our journey. “Wow – that must have been a long way” I hear you say. Negative. It was about 167 miles in total and took us 17 hours. 12 of which we were sat on wooden benches with our feet on giant bags of crops. The driver looked to be about 12 (at best) and was completely off his face on bettel. The most alarming thing was watching him pray before we set off. I definitely felt like I should have been praying too – to anyone who would listen! What followed was a the longest, most painful and uncomfortable journey ever! More hawking and spitting, more bettel, more throwing up in bags, more winding mountain roads, more middle of the night stop offs, more horrific squat toilet stops and again being unceremoniously dumped in the middle of nowhere (allegedly a “bus station”) in the middle of the night by ourselves! When we finally made it to our hotel it was like we had hit the absolute jackpot. Something I have dearly missed since the day I left home. The holy grail of hotel rooms. A bath!!! Never in my life have I been more excited for a bath!! Even if it was sized for hobbits. My alarm went off at 4:15am and we were both so excited we leapt out of bed to get ready. We collected our E-bikes and headed out to find a good spot to watch the sunrise! We headed to one particular temple that we had in mind, Law Ka Ou Shuang, and when we got there we found it was closed and all locked up! Not only that but there was the most horrific noise coming from inside. Dogs fighting. We backed off to leave only to realise we were being followed by one of the dogs, who was carrying a very tiny, now very dead kitten in its mouth! It was so sad! On looking back we realised they had killed another tiny kitten inside. We were traumatised! Not such a great start but nothing was going to ruin our day, also Ceri’s birthday! We headed across the road to the next nearest Pagoda and climbed up the steep brick steps to the top. There was a little ledge you could just about sit on to watch the sun rise over the incredible planes. It was beyond spectacular. No hot air balloons as it is out of season here now but still one of the most stunning places I have ever seen. We sat for at least an hour just watching and listening while the rest of the world woke up. Once the sun was up we set out on our days mission to visit as many pagodas as we could manage. We didn’t get far. In fact, we got about 200 yards to the Shwesandaw Pagoda. We climbed up its steep steps and again, the view from the top was incredible. A lot of the larger pagodas, this one included, are currently covered in bamboo scaffolding. This is for restoration work to be carried out in many of the temples following a 6.9 Richter scale earthquake back in 2016! It’s actually amazing how well these pagodas have faired, considering some of them date back to the 11th century. There was once 10,000 pagodas in Bagan and surrounding areas. Now, some 2000 remain but it certainly looks more. They are literally everywhere. Some tiny, hidden behind trees or bushes and other so grand they can be seen from miles away. There are also a few brilliant white temples, one of which we visited near the Kyat Kan Monastery.  I spoke to a monk for ages at this particular white temple and he told me that once upon a time, all the temples were white, and that as they have aged, the lime stone plaster has been worn away, leaving behind the red bricks you see on most of the pagodas today. Apparently less than 10 white temples remain. This one appeared to have been recently renovated so it was practically pristine and stood out so brilliantly against the blue sky. It sort of reminded me of Santorini – not that I’ve been, but it’s high up the bucket list! Whilst at the Shwesandaw Pagoda, we met a lovely local kid named Zar Zar. He spoke to us for a while to practise his English and showed us into a nearby pagoda which had a huge reclining Buddha – something which we totally would have missed otherwise. What started off as a quick exchange of “Hello, where are you from?” resulted in a whole crib sheet of handwritten Burmese phrases, our faces being painted with the locally produced sunscreen and an invitation for lunch tomorrow with his family. I love this country!! We carried on about our day, driving through the countryside, finding pagodas and temples and even stumbled across a “weather spoons” where we stopped for lunch of a traditional pickled tea leaf salad. Full up from lunch we headed back to our hotel for a quick afternoon nap, ready to head out again for sunset. We drove out to the Hsin Phyu Shin Monastic Complex for sunset and we were lucky enough to have the whole roof terrace to ourselves. It took us a while to find it – E-Bikes and sandy roads are not the best combination and the hidden staircase was somewhat treacherous but it was definitely worth it. Despite being absolutely shattered from our 4am wake up call, our first day in Bagan was a success. Our second Bagan sunrise we watched from Maha Gudi Temple – we were escorted there by a local as we clearly looked very lost trying to get where we actually wanted to go. Again, the view was spectacular, although this time there were a lot more (very talkative) tourists which sort of spoilt it a little. And there is always one person that takes up half the viewing platform with their flipping camera tripod! We headed straight back to our hotel after sunrise this morning as we had a very important lunch date with Zar Zar and his family. We met him at the Shwesandaw Pagoda at 11am as promised. He had been there since sunrise selling postcards to make money for his family. He hopped on the back of Ceri’s bike and we drove the short distance to his home, a small but very beautiful bamboo house on stilts with a small shop front outside. We were given the warmest welcome by his parents who insisted we called them Mama and Papa – our Bagan family. We were treated to an enormous bowl of rice, chicken, noodles, peanuts, cucumber and hot Chinese tea. It was absolutely delicious, even if there was enough to feed a small army! Mama applied thanaka, a natural local sunscreen made from tree bark mixed with water. We were shown family photos, taught about meditating, shown how Papa makes his bamboo pots and given gifts beyond what we could ever imagine. They were truly one of the most wonderful families I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. If you ever go to Bagan, please let me know as I would love for you to meet them and takes gifts for them from me! On top of all that, we were invited back for dinner that evening. We spent the afternoon riding around again with Zar Zar in tow and watched the sunset at South Guni Temple. The sunset was infinitely better tonight than it was last night and we had a beautiful spot for it. I also got the chance to hang out with my favourite, incredibly fierce and stunningly beautiful souvenir saleswoman! For 17 years old she was amazingly talented at sales pitches and sweet talking people into buy what she had on offer. If I had been “on holiday” I would have bought every single thing she had!! Dinner was another mammoth feast followed by a quite frankly unbelievably strong massage from Mama. Who knew such a tiny woman could be like the Hulk when it comes to a massage. I felt broken after a few minutes! We left for our hotel full of food and full of gifts again and a promise to return again tomorrow morning for one final visit before we left. Our final sunrise was somewhat less successful than the others. Ceri’s back tyre all but came off on the way so we abandoned the bike at the side of the road and she hopped on my bike so we could carry on to our chosen temple. We got to the temple and despite it being recommended to us for a good sunrise, it just wasn’t high enough to be able to see over the trees, even after our (probably illegal) Spidey climbing adventure! We missed sunrise and then had to wait for the bike to be fixed. The mechanic turned up with some glue, elastic bands, scissors and plastic string. I sat and watched him poke elastic bands and plastic string into the puncture with a pair of scissors, seemingly ignoring the fact that they entire tyre was off the wheel. He then proceeded to glue the tyre back in place before pumping it up again and hoping for the best! Thank god we only had this bike for half a day as that thing was lethal. We had totally missed sunrise at this point so we headed on to pick up Zar Zar again and go and visit some more temples! We managed Bulethi Temple, Htilominlo Temple, Alodawpye Temple (which on the face of it looked to be one of the oldest & most beautiful we had seen but photos were banned) and the Sulemani Temple all before lunchtime. We loved ragging those little E-bikes through the fields and wanted so badly to stay longer but our 3 weeks in Myanmar just isn’t enough and time was pressing us to move onto our next destination, Mandalay. We dropped off Zar Zar and said our goodbyes but he and his Father insisted on escorting us home, so they drove with us back to our hotel where we got our bus. The bus to Mandalay was a relatively painless 6 hours and we got dropped off right outside our hotel – Venus Hotel. Another questionable hotel but after the last few days we were so knackered we didn’t care! On our first day we got bike taxi’s out to Mandalay Hill and agreed we would climb rather than drive to the top! Yet again I got the shit helmet which when I took it off and placed it on the bike seat, rolled off and straight under the wheels of a bus and literally exploded! The taxi driver was not happy but I was just glad my head wasn’t in it!!! We started our climb up to the top of the hill in the ridiculous heat and each time we thought we were at the top, there were yet more stairs! The signs kept saying “Summit – This Way” when what they should have said was “LOL – you’re not even close yet!!” 😩 After considerably longer than we anticipated we reached the top and the views over the Ayrewaddy River were worth the climb but after a lot of travelling over the past few days we were exhausted. We started the walk back down and decided to visit Kuthodaw Pagoda. A series of 1774 individual white pagodas, each containing 1 marble slab engraved with the teachings of Buddha, thus making it the largest book in the world. I do love a good book! 😍Day 2 in Mandalay turned out to be pretty intense. We met a guy in the street (yes, it is as dodgy as it sounds) named Win Win who offered to take us on a tour of the city on his bike for the day. For some reason, we agreed to go along for the day, 3 up on a bike to go and see the sights.  It was a great day and we ticked loads off the list – Mahamuni Buddha Temple: seeing the 1200 monks collecting their meal for the day at the Mahaganhayon Monastery:  Lay Htat Gyi, built by King Nyaung Yan in A.D 963:  Daw Gyap Pagoda Complex:  Tawagu Pagoda:  U Min Thonze Cave Pagoda in Sagaing comprising of 45 Buddha images in a crescent-shaped colonnade carved into the hillsideand finishing off our day wandering across the world famous U Bein Bridge, the longest and oldest teak wood bridge in the world: We arrived back at our hostel at around 6pm with very numb bums and generally pretty knackered from being crushed on a bike all day! Anyone would think the sensible thing to do is get a good night sleep and start again tomorrow on the next adventure. Nope – not us! We set our alarms for 2am so that we could get up and walk to Mandalay Train Station to get our 4am train to Hsipaw. Wandering the streets of Mandalay at 3am with your backpacks on is probably not all that advisable. We boarded our train in plenty of time and got comfy in our upper class carriage. We decided to splash out on this train journey and go for upper class as we would be on the train for a good 12 hours! We spent all of 3500kyats each on our tickets which equates to less than £2. If only all epic train journeys were this cheap! Our train left the station at 4am on the dot and we gently chugged out of Mandalay with the trains horn screaming every few seconds! We carved our way through the beautiful countryside being somewhat flung around by the extremely rocky journey. We made a few stops along the way, got lunch delivered through the window at Pyin Oo Lwin and made our way to the journey highlight, the Goktiek Viaduct. I had tried my hardest to smile sweetly at the driver and see if I could get a ride up front but a load of locals had already beaten me to it so I had to stay out. When we arrived in Hsipaw we had the luxury of a free transfer to our hotel, Mr Charles Hotel. From here we would pick up the first of our 2 treks. We left early in the morning walking directly from our hostel out through the rice paddies, vegetable farms, fields and villages. This particular trek was mostly uphill on the first day then back down again on the second day. Our lunch stop after a pretty tough climb gave us the most beautiful views. As we sat admiring the view and eating tea leaf salad, a local kid came absolutely flying down the hill on his motorbike, skidded into a fairly dangerous U-turn and came back up the hill whilst all the other locals laughed hysterically. It turns out he had no brakes on his bike and this was the only way he could actually stop his bike when going down hill. After 8 hours and 20km we finally arrived at our beautiful home-stay for the night in a fairly large, remote village.  We had bucket showers then set off around to the village to meet some of the locals.  We had a delicious dinner, a few beers and a really lovely evening, all in preparation for another day of trekking tomorrow.  We set off early on a mostly downhill trek back to Hsipaw.  We picked up a few stragglers along the way but no one minded – i wanted to take him home with us.  We finished up at the beautiful Nam Hu Nwe Waterfall where we had lunch of sticky noodle soup  and what are essentially pork scratchings.  I was not put off my lunch, despite being nominated to climb the waterfall for the sole purpose of taking a “full monty” photo of the boys.  Sorry ladies – it was a Polaroid so i have no evidence of it, unless of course the boys decide to share!  We got back to our hostel with enough time for a quick shower before hopping on a bus to Kalaw – our next trekking destination.  We arrived in Kalaw at 2am yet again in the pouring rain and got totally ripped off by a taxi driver to our hotel.  We checked in and went straight to bed with every intention of getting up in the morning to start our second 2 day trek.  When our alarms went off at 7:30, Ceri and I both rolled over, took one look at eachother and went back to sleep.  Trekking could wait for another day!  We eventually got up and ventured out for lunch, following the ever terrible “MapsMe.”  Thanks to that shockingly shite app, we ended up accidentally wandering into a bloody Army barracks.  Only us.  As we tried to make our retreat a very nice Army man came out, thankfully he was laughing at us.  We apologised and told him we were leaving, having got lost on our way to lunch.  He told us he knew a shortcut and before we knew it we were climbing through a hedge onto a back road and on to the restaurant.  Probably the worlds least secure Army base i have ever encountered.  We had a delicious lunch at New Simple Life restaurant – I would high recommend, even if it is Western food.  The following morning we set of on our second trek with Uncle Sam’s Treks from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Another 2 days. Another 35km.  Although this one was meant to be flat and relatively easy.  They lied.  It was not flat.  Not even close.  It was just Ceri and I on this trek with our lovely guide Zan.  We were admittedly a little disappointed at first as we wouldn’t get to meet any fun people but actually it turned out to be amazing.  We wandered through rice paddies, vegetable fields and villages, only this time, because there was only 2 of us, we could get stuck in.  We met a lovely old lady with her grand daughter, harvesting mountain rice in the fields.  We got invovled and helped her to harvest the rice plants, clean them all up and pack them into bundles, ready for planting in the rice paddies where they would stay for the next 4 months.  She was 60 years old and absolutely beautiful in her traditional Shan headdress.  Although she spoke no English and we spoke no Burmese, we had a wonderful experience with her – even if she did have to re-do all the cleaning and bundling we had attempted to do.  We carried on walking and came across another group of women, this time knee deep in a paddy field.  They waved and laughed with us as we walked past and gestured for us to come and help them.  They thought it was beyond hilarious that we actually did go an help.  Trousers rolled up, Ceri and I both jumped into the rice paddy game to give it a go.  they can plant a row of 10 rice plants in just a few seconds.  “Easy” we thought.  Wrong. The speed and precision with which they plant rice was impossible to replicate and yet again, they had to redo all the rows we had attempted to plant because there was either not enough rice or it was planted too close together, or too far apart.  I think i shall strike “rice farmer” off my resume.  We carried on walking until we encountered a very aggressive cow who was determined not to let us pass.  This meant we had to climb the rice paddy walls to get away from him and this is where it all went wrong.  I fell off a wall face first into a tomato field, which for anyone who knows me knows that is my worst nightmare.  I bloody hate tomatoes.  Ceri fell off a paddy wall into the actual paddy field and was absolutely soaked.  At first i had a real sense of humour failure but then we literally could not stop laughing.  Poor Zan must have thought we were insane.  We eventually arrived at our home-stay after many detours, had a very public bucket shower and the most delicious dinner, cooked for us by our very own master chef – Zan.  Our dinner consisted of chicken curry, cucumber salad (the most delicious i have ever eaten), okra, stir fried kale, green beans and chips!! Yes – chips – like, actual chip shop chips!  We were so happy!!  As we finished dinner and sat back to relax, we both looked up at the sky and had the same reaction at exactly the same time.  I’m starting to think we are morphing into the same person.  The stars were some of the most incredible I have ever seen.  They even rivalled Port Barton.  As we stepped towards the trees to get away from the lights of the house, we were treated to stars of a different kind – glow worms.  Tiny little green flashing lights floating around in the trees like real life fairies.  It was magic.  I was so content going to bed that night, despite the fact that i was sleeping less than 10 feet away from a 1 tonne buffalo and 2 cows which stank to high heaven.  Yes, we were sleeping in a barn, but I literally didn’t care!  We had another early start in the morning to be at the boat station in time for our rice across Inle Lake.  More rice paddies, more incredible mountain views, more beautiful local people, learning to blow bubbles from the stem of a jojoba plant, seeing a beautiful little water snake in one of the rice paddies and the re-introduction of our favourite game – “Guess the Card.”  Ceri nailed it.  That’s 1 all now! ​

​After about 15km, we stopped at a rest stop for a snack and some green tea.  There was a group of Burmese lads sat next to us who appeared to be in some sort of band.  They had a guitar and an incredible collection of voices between them.  One of the “band members” was an ex professional footballer for Myanmar and another a local tattoo artist.  It was so nice to sit and listen to them sing while the torrential rain drifted towards us. ​

​ We had to sacrifice the last leg of our trek in the name of safety as the rain had made the tracks too dangerous, so we paid 1000kyats each and piled into the back of a pick up truck to take us down the rest of the mountain.  We had a delicious lunch and then hopped in our small wooden boat to take us almost the entire length (South to North) of the exceptionally beautiful Inle Lake.    We checked into our hostel, Ostello Bello and headed out to a highly recommended spot for dinner – Innlay Hut.  The owner is Eminem’s biggest fan (bigger fan than Stan.)  The walls are decorated with Eminem related pictures and quotes, his music blares out across the restaurant and the owner tries his hardest to emulate him in every way.  The curry they serve is also incredible which is a double bonus!!  Our final full day in Myanmar we hopped back in a boat for a tour of Inle Lake and some of its offerings.  We didnt get as far as we hoped, but we were able to see local cigar making, longyis being made on a loom, scarves being made from lotus fibres.  I really wanted to buy you one Toria, being that it was made from lotus flowers, but at 190USD for a tiny scarf it was a bit out of my price range.  You got another present though so all is not lost.  The reason the lotus items are so expensive is because the fibres have to be harvested by hand.  One lady sits with the stems, cutting them into inch long pieces.  As she pulls the pieces apart, the fibres stretch out between the 2 pieces and she rolls this fibre into a fine twine.  She then rolls this together onto a long spindle which is then used to weave the fabric together.  ​

​The final piece is not even all that pretty, somewhat resembling burlap cloth.  During our ride home across the lake we were able to see the famous Inle Lake fishermen and their unique way of fishing.  They paddle the boat oars with their feet, whilst standing up and tending to the nets with their hands.  I wouldn’t even be able to stand up on the back of one of those boats, let alone on one foot, paddling with the other and fishing with my hands.  It really is a sight to see.

Sadly for us, Inle Lake was our final stop on our Burmese adventure and what an adventure it has been.  We have been blessed with so many incredible experiences and memories and I’m so glad we got to visit this beautiful country before it becomes too “touristy” and spoilt.  The Burmese people are some of the most kind, beautiful and generous people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with and if anyone is thinking about going to Myanmar, please please do.  It has been an absolute gem in my grand adventure.

#bigstep

Disclaimer: After spending approximately six days on and off writing this latest (and very far behind) blog post, my delightful phone decided to erase the entire thing about 5 minutes before I was ready to publish it.  I think it was my best one yet so I’m really disappointed but here is my attempt at re-writing it! Hope you enjoy – sorry if it’s lazy! I’m over it….

•    •    •

So the time had finally come for me to leave Hoi An and continue my trip north, flying solo again.  My next stop along the way was Hué and there is only one way to get from Hoi An to Hué properly and that is by motorbike.  Given my dramatically increased tendency for stupid accidents on this trip (and lack of ability to actually ride a motorbike), I decided against hiring my own bike to ride on a long, winding, remote mountain road by myself.  This is where I met Tué, my easy rider and all round legend.  He picked me up from my hostel and simply laughed at my enormous backpack.  I was worried for a split second that it wouldn’t fit on the bike with me as well, then I remembered that the Vietnamese have an unfathomable ability to cram obscene amounts of people and things onto 1 motorbike.  We left Hoi An early in the morning and made for our first stop along the way just outside Da Nang – Marble Mountain.    A beautiful mountain with lots of temples and caves and even more steps.  It is surrounded by shops selling huge marble statues although I’m told the marble is actually imported from China.

After an hour or so wandering around the mountain top and clambering through a few caves, we got back on the wrong side of the road to drive out of Da Nang as today just so happened to be the day half the road was closed for an Iron Man Race.  I was hot on the back of a motorbike yet these people were voluntarily running, biking and swimming in this ridiculous heat.  I became a one woman cheerleading squad on the back of the bike, shouting out for people as we drove past.  They must have thought I was completely bonkers!

Our next stop was a tiny temple on the beach, built in on an old fishing boat.  It is customary for the fishermen to come here each morning to pray and make offerings before heading out on the water for the day.  It was really beautiful and quite quirky too! 

 We left behind the temple to embark on the part of this journey that I was most excited about – The Hái Vân Pass. Made famous by the Top Gear Vietnam Special, this incredible stretch of road is one not to be missed.  Although relatively short compared to what I was expecting, the views and the road itself did not disappoint. Steep hills, hairpin bends and views to die for, literally and metaphorically if you’re not careful. Each time we stopped and locals would ask where I  was from, their response would be “Ahh – Top Gear!” 

Once we made it safely out of the Hái Vân Pass, Tué drove us to a beautiful lagoon with a perfect strip of sand against a mountain backdrop! Tué insisted on a selfie with “his queen” as he had been referring to me as all day!! I could get used to this! 😂 

Picture taking complete, out next stop was lunch – a local variation of Pho – which set me back all of 85p for both of us! 

We carried on our journey through a small fishing village and my chariot dropped me right to the door of my new hostel, The Lantern House Hotel in the ancient city of Hué. I wrote off the rest of the evening in preparation for adventures tomorrow at the now infamous “abandoned water park.” 

Shortly after (a really delicious) lunch I hopped on a bike and headed out to the waterpark.  I ended up getting ever so slightly lost and going in a side entrance but it actually worked in my favour as I managed to get in without having to pay! The water park is sat on the outskirts of town and around a beautiful lake.  It was somewhat eerie walking around the place as there were very few people there save for a bride and her photographer having wedding pictures taken and a few locals! The main attraction is the water dragon, out in the middle of the lake, housing a viewing platform at the top in the dragons mouth and an aquarium underneath. The aquarium has been smashed to pieces and now resembles what can only be described as a room full of broken coffins – it looks so creepy as it was so dark in there even though you can’t see it in the picture.  The only bits of glass that remained in tact was the aquarium tunnel where the fish would obviously swim over the top of you. In tact even though someone has clearly tried very hard to smash it as it is full of bullet holes!! 

Next we found the water slides and the kids pool – surrounded by a now entirely black lazy river rumoured to have crocodiles in it but we didn’t see any… The slides were somewhat questionable but I hoped for the best as I walked all the way down them anyway! 

Suitably creeped out, I headed back into town and treated myself to some of the best Mexican food I have had! Random but totally worth it! 

The following day (OK, afternoon) I dedicated to culture and headed over to the Imperial City, on the banks of The Perfume River.  It was the former imperial city of Vietnam and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I left that afternoon in the bus to Phong Na for some caving adventures! I got off the bus around 11pm and got straight into bed in my clothes to avoid being that dorm room douchebag as everyone else was already asleep! I had grand plans to do absolutely nothing tomorrow apart from chill out and make some plans for the following days! 

Whilst sat having breakfast I bumped into some people I had met back in Nha Trang and they were heading out to Phong Nha Caves in a boat. FOMO kicked in and within 20 minutes I was showered and ready to go.  We cruised down the river and into the cave itself and after about 30 mins we were kicked out of the boat to have a wander round. It was very beautiful but had absolutely nothing on tomorrows adventure! 

The following day we headed out into the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park to check out the infamous Paradise Cave & Dark Cave. 

Paradise Cave was our first stop after a steep climb up some 300 odd steps. The cave is named so not only because it is so beautiful but because of the constant cool air that comes from it – like natures air conditioning and just what you need after that climb. Sadly I have no photos on my phone from inside the cave but suffice to say it was very beautiful. Our next stop for the day was Dark Cave. The name is as it says on the tin. Very dark, a lot less pretty and full of mud – which is great one one thing – mud baths! We kitted up and ziplined over the lake to get to the cave entrance. A short swim and a fairly dangerous climb over some rocks we arrived at the mud bath! One of the strangest and best experiences ever. As you step down into the water, your feet sink into the mud a good 12 inches and as soon as you let your body weight go, the water floats you up as if you were in the Dead Sea – and you have zero control over it! My new cave companion Ceri & I made sculptures in the walls and got suitably covered from head to toe in mud! On our way out of the cave, we slid down a mud slide and into the “clean” water to rinse off! We then had a kayak to get us back to the water park on the lake where we could zipline into the lake and various other things! 

After a good bucket shower we had a few runs and headed back to our hostel as I was leaving tonight! Ceri and I went for some delicious pizzas and beer before my night bus to Tam Coc.  I was dropped off by the bus at 4am in middle of nowhere and had to find my way to my hostel with no real idea where I was going as it was pitch dark, and i am still lugging round my excessively large backpack.  I walked down a long dark path to my hostel and arrived to find the owner sleeping outside awaiting my arrival.  I dived into bed as I had every intention of getting up at early to do the boat tour I had specifically come to do.  When my alarm went off at 8am, I was met with torrential rain.  Realising today was now a total write off, I switched off my alarm and allowed myself the day to do nothing.  Cabin fever soon set in so I ventured out to buy bus tickets for the morning and realised I lived in actual paradise. 

A lot of hostels in Vietnam offer a “Family Dinner” and although it was expensive I decided to get on board.  For 100,000VND i had more food than I could ever possibly eat and the owner kept insisting on us drinking his entire supply of “happy water” – AKA rice wine.  That stuff has a kick.  Feeling more drunk that I should be i took myself off to bed where i had a fight with the stupid woman in my room who refused to have the air con on despite the fact it was 12038345 degrees in there.  She slept with the remote under her pillow.  I wanted to punch her in her sleep but I resisted….

I left Tam Coc at 6am to head to our next island destination, Cat Ba, a small-ish island near Ha Long Bay.   We were on the bus for a couple of hours when we pulled over to the side of the road, each handed an envelope from the lady bus conductor and told to get off the bus.  We were in the middle of no where with no idea what was going on. I opened the envelop to discover it was full of cash and no explanation. Before I had time to question it further, a local bus pulled alongside us and we were unceremoniously dragged aboard the moving bus with our bags. The local bus drove us into Haiphong with several very near miss crashes where we were again dumped outside a cafe and told to wait for the next bus. No idea of how long or what bus it would be so we just had to wing it.  After multiple coffees, a bus pulled up and we got on hoping for the best. A ferry and another bus later we arrived in Cat Ba and checked into our hostel where we had treated ourselves to a private room with a queen size bed each. We changed and headed out for our first night in Cat Ba – little did we know what we were in for.  I had my first glass of wine in as long as I can remember at the Oasis Bar and then we moved onto to drinking rounds of 10 beers at a time 5,000VND each with the Canadian boys – who still have a lot to answer for….!  The first night ended in a lost pair of flip flops, lectures on littering in the sea (where said flip flops ended up), 1 failed skinny dipping attempt (because we couldn’t find the sea), a new Apple Music subscription thanks to my stolen fingerprint and a #bigstep.

The following morning I woke up with a blinding hangover and a missing pack of Oreos…  Ceri & I had a much needed beach day,  when we eventually found the beach about 15 minutes walk away from our hostel and no more than 5 minutes away from where we gave up looking last night.   Still failing to adult.  Lucky for us the beach was beautiful and pretty much empty.  For a lazy day at the beach it was eventful – Ceri punched a jellyfish and I shouted at a perv who was taking photos of Ceri on the beach.   We also tried unsuccessfully to rescue a dying frog we found.  After all that hard work, we walked back to our hostel to shower and reward ourselves with some more 5,000 VND beers.  The night ended in much the same state as the night before, only this time I was wearing my Hoi An special jumpsuit so required extensive assistance every time I needed a wee – less that ideal when ordering rounds of 10 drinks at a time…. 

Day 3 in Cat Ba was a total write off.  Lucky for us it was pouring with rain so we didn’t feel too guilty about staying in bed for most of the day, apart from venturing out once to eat carbonara.  A day indoors served us well as we had a long day the next day for our Ha Long Bay adventure.

We were picked up early in the morning and taken to our boat – The Red Coral.  We spent the morning cruising through Lan Ha Bay and stopped off in a quiet bay where we were turfed out in our kayaks to go exploring.  We kayaked around the bay, though the cave and out on the “open” ocean.  It was really beautiful and the views were incredible.  After lunch, Ceri and I spent an age jumping off the side of the boat whilst everyone else wandered around on the tiny beaches nearby.  Seems I have lost my ability for the perfect swan dive, but I’ll keep working on it.  We cruised around Ha Long Bay for the afternoon and visited the floating villages.  Our final stop for the day was Monkey Island, which as the name would suggest, has monkeys living there, although they appear to be horribly abused by ignorant tourists forcing them to drink beer out of cans and goodness only knows what else.  We did a spectacularly dangerous hike up to the highest point of the island  and the views were totally worth it.  Thankfully, no one died.  After another long day, we decided to treat ourselves the only way we know how – with our final night out in Cat Ba.  We ate, we drank, we got asked to be TV extras and said our final goodbyes to Oasis Bar.  Their takings will be significantly down now that both us and the Canadians have left.  Next stop – Hanoi

Another bus – ferry – bus combination and we arrived at our hostel in Hanoi – Downtown Vietnam Backpacker Hostel.  Probably one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in yet.  We ventured out for a coffee and ended up bumping into the Canadians (again) and going to get terrible and expensive massages together.  What followed was a surprisingly tame night, especially where this hostel is concerned.  I did, however, get another piercing, on a whim.  Sorry Mum!!

Our first day in Hanoi consisted of a slight detour to the Sheraton to collect my long awaited debit card and then trying to be cultural by going to the Hoa Lo Prison – known historically to be one of the biggest and highest security prisons in Indo-China. It was terrifying to walk through the cells and see where the prisoners were held, and also how they escaped through the sewage tunnels. 

History and culture done for the day, we headed back to the hostel for one of the infamous nights out….or in as it was for the most part. Covered in UV paint and glow stick necklaces we went hard on the happy hour espresso martinis and in true Johnson style we danced on the hostel bar.  This came in extra handy when the barman shouted “The floor is lava!!!” as we were already safe!  After being kicked out of the hostel, we ventured about 50 yards down the road to a club and things got messy in there too.  My Havaiannas broke (again) and I had to be carried home to the hostel because it was dirty outside and the floors were being cleaned inside. 

I woke up in the morning to find that Ceri had got married too – and I didn’t even get invited!!  #Bigstep without me Ceri – I’m disappointed!!

We did some life admin on our final day in Vietnam as we were both super sad to be leaving! We had our final Pho, changed up our money and generally mourned our soon-to-be loss of Vietnam.  We were also exceptionally sad about the fact we had a 23 hour bus ride to Laos ahead of us….