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❤️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….🇺🇸

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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!! ❤️

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

#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….

🏮Happiness in Hoi An🏮

So lots of people I’ve met along the way have said “Hoi An is so beautiful.” “You’ll love Hoi An – it’s so pretty.” My goodness were they right. Another torturous night bus dropped us into Hoi An at 7am and we couldn’t check in to our room until mid day – so another morning of sleeping on sun loungers! My hostel, The Sunflower Hotel was a bit of a party hostel which is great when you’re in the mood but God-awful when you’re not! Pay 100,000VND at the bar (the equivalent of £3.40) and it’s as much as you can drink for 2 hours. And believe me – it becomes somewhat of a competition! I don’t think I’ve seen so much carnage in one place! The first night literally disappeared in a blur of cheap beer, terrible music and debating whether or not it would be too indulgent to put a mars bar in the middle of a peanut butter & Nutella bahn mi! 🤷🏽‍♀️ I always did have a sweet tooth but decided to give the mars bar a miss on account of the already impending diabetes from the ladle full of Nutella she had already dumped in! 

The following morning was somewhat of a write off and I woke up minus 1 travel buddy so I headed for my “all you can eat” buffet breakfast. “You’ll lose so much weight when you go travelling” they said. Well I can tell you they lied! Feeling morbidly obese I decided to walk into Hoi An Ancient Town with my new partner in crime! We wandered around the beautiful ancient streets, surrounded by literally thousands of lanterns, one of the many things Hoi An is famous for, and almost being run off the road by tricycles – their drivers shouting “beeeeeeeeppp beeeeeeeeppp” as they go past you as they don’t have horns or bells. It all adds to the charm of the beautiful town. As we strolled along the river and through the night market we decided to hop on a wooden boat for a quick cruise up the river and the chance to release paper lanterns into the river to make all (OK, maybe just one) our wishes come true.  ​

I had fallen in love with this place almost immediately. Such a lovely feel to the place, beautiful architecture, wonderful food, endless tailoring shops and markets, but also sadly rammed with an unfathomably amount of selfie sticks shamelessly attached to Asian tourists of varying origins. Annoying and also somewhat of an obstacle course. So we decided to head back and come back super early in the morning to try to beat the crowds. 

Another obscene buffet breakfast later (on a side note, who knew it was possible to make a perfect omelette with chopsticks?!) Steph and I headed back into town in search of more beautiful things. First stop was to continue my love affair with Vietnamese coffee in a gorgeous coffee shop called CocoBox.  A bit more of a chain than I would normally choose out here but some of the best coffee and views in town.  So much for exploring.  We sat here for hours just watching the world go by, deciding what to do with our next few days and generally just chilling out! 

We strolled through the old town again, I designed and had a bikini made (in less than an hour and for less than £20), we booked a cookery course and a sunset river cruise. I love Hoi An. Our sunset cruise was perfect – a great bunch of people, a somewhat questionable tin roof to sit on, cheap beers and stunning views. What more could you need? We all got on so well we went for a family dinner together afterwards and we’re somewhat proficient in the Vietnamese for “Cheers” by the end of the evening. “Môt. Hai. Ba. Zo!” When you shout it loud enough in a restaurant or bar, you can get into competitions with other tables as to who can be the loudest! We tried – but no one was interested in playing! But thanks Emily & Chris for the tip – I carried that with me from there on in! 🍻

The following morning we embarked on our “Ms Vy’s Cooking Class” – one of the most famous in Hoi An and connected to an excellent and also very famous restaurant, “Morning Glory.” We didn’t eat there but only because we ate so much in the cooking class and tasting sessions. We were given a tour of the local markets, finally finding out what all the weird and wonderful things are that you see but have no idea what they are. Then we headed backwards to the kitchens for some history lessons on the origins of Vietnamese traditional dishes, tasting opportunities for silk worm salad, jellyfish salad, spicy lemongrass frog and my worst nightmare of all, Balut. A boiled, partially developed chicken embryo. So basically half chick, half egg. We’re talking egg yolk, but also feathers, bones and a face. An actual face. The single most stomach churning thing I have ever witnessed in my life. I will try most things and this is a Vietnamese delicacy but just no!! 

Sorry if you’ve just eaten or were about to but this blog is all about the sharing! Our cooking class with Bo, our chef was up next and he was fab. We learned how to make spicy mango salad, Vietnamese BBQ chicken skewers, pork dumplings in vegetable broth and Hoi An Pancakes. The class was excellent and I would highly recommend. I also recommend you don’t eat before as you will be so stuffed when you leave. 

Doing nothing to help the onset of obesity I chilled out the following day, went and had some clothes designed/made by a lovely lady down the road from my hostel, almost got a tattoo (sorry Mum!) but bottled it and booked into another hostel nearer the beach to chill out for a few more days before continuing my journey north. 

My new squad came and collected me from the hostel and it took 2 bikes to cart all my crap out to the beach! A 15 minute drive and we arrive at “Under the Coconut Tree”  – a beautiful complex of bamboo huts in lush surroundings, about 5 minutes walk from An Bang Beach. It was paradise!  

What was meant to be my time to chill out at the beach rapidly descended into chaos on the first night. 2 bottles of rhum and a bottle of vodka later we were swimming totally sans swimwear but completely surrounded by phosphorescence! So beautiful. Thankfully we had left all our stuff back at the hostel so when people started rifling through all our stuff on the beach when we were far enough away to do anything about it –  all we had to do was shout abuse at them because the joke was on them. There was nothing to steal! At what felt like about 3am we walked back to the hostel totally drunk and starving. Thankfully for us we had started drinking super early so it was in fact only 9pm and the kitchen hadn’t shut yet so we all nailed the biggest (and one of the best) burgers I’ve ever had and all passed out.

My one night stay at the beach has now turned into 4. I love this place and never want to leave! My fruit bowl family are ace and this place is so beautiful. The only thing we had to worry about was getting into town for John to get his final suit fitting for this custom made beauty….

The next few days were very lazy indeed – laying on the beach having food and drinks delivered to our sun loungers! I also indulged in an hour long full body Vietnamese massage (foot wash included?) and facial for a princely sum of £6! This is what travelling is all about! 

I spent 10 days in Hoi An in total and happily could have stayed longer. I met some beautiful people who I already have plans to hang out with again in the not too distant future and saw some of my favourite ever things so far in Vietnam! Not only did I make wishes on paper lanterns but friends for life! 💜🧀

Next stop – Hué via the epic Hai Van Pass a la Top Gear Vietnam Special!  🏍

My Perfect Paradise – Port Barton 🌴

I have fallen in love. Not with a person (yet), or a thing, or an idea, but a place. It’s happened before, yes, but never quite like this. Port Barton. On the western coast of Palawan and about 3 hours south of El Nido, I stumbled into this idyllic little town with no idea what to expect, except that everyone I have met along the way said I had to go. I was unceremoniously dumped at the bus station with one night booked in a home stay somewhere and 20kgs of crap to carry with me to find it. And 20kgs of crap is not easy to carry at the best of times, let alone when walking on soft sand, but the legs got a good workout so every cloud! I arrived at my hostel, choosing at this time to ignore how horrific it was, stuck my bikini on and headed back to the beach! 

I swam, I read my book, I lazed around, I had a few drinks, I met some people – it was just what I needed. It’s what I thought this travelling lark was all about but it is in fact a rarity! I loved the peace and quiet it offered after a really crazy few weeks!   We watched the sunset then went for dinner at a local place just one street back from the beach and I’d love to tell you what it was called but I never did find out! All I know is that everyone referred to it as the place with all the flags! 🤷🏽‍♀️ They had the most amazing and ridiculously cheap food. The lomi noodle soup was something else! We made a plan to walk to White Beach the following day and agreed to meet at mid day then headed back to our shoebox hostel for a night of so called sleep in what can only be described as the worlds smallest sauna for 8 people. 🤦🏽‍♀️ There was also no power after midnight so not even a fan to circulate the air. Based on that, I can’t think for the life of me why I agreed to stay there for another 2 nights but I did. Even at £4 a night it seemed extortionatly expensive for what we were actually getting – which was mostly being eaten alive by mosquitos, sweating your tits off all night and very little actual sleep. But I digress – I still maintain this place was paradise. 

The following day we headed back into town for breakfast at Besaga Beach Cottages – £2.50 for pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and fresh fruit. Just the way to start off a hard day at the beach! 😌  After meeting the others, we set off for what was meant to be a 40 minute walk through them palm tree forest to White Beach. But of course that would be too easy! We went the wrong way and ended up walking along the road instead of the short cut. It was mid day, meltingly hot and waaaaayy further to walk this way. Thankfully my Irish knight in shining armour drove past on his bike so I hopped on the back with Debbie ’cause I couldn’t be bothered to walk anymore. Arriving at White Beach was like nothing I could have ever imagined. I know for a lot of people a beach is just a beach, and I have seen a lot of beautiful beaches over the last few weeks. But the beach always has and always will be my happy place. Generally any beach anywhere but this beach stole my heart.  Quiet. Empty (save for a handful of people). The most crystal clear, flat calm, turquoise water you have ever seen. Pristine white sand lined perfectly with palm trees and woven hammocks. It doesn’t get better than this…..and then Irish turns up with coconuts and, like a caveman, rips them open so we can have fresh coconut water and a snack. 😍 We lazed away the afternoon with a few beers and watched the sunset! Patrick, our new friend, had agreed to come back after sunset in his boat to pick us up and take us back to Port Barton! The boat dropped us off and we decided in meeting for dinner at Gorgonzola, an amazing pizza place in town! We ate more pizza than was probably necessary and generally had a great night with great company! The next day I was due to do another island hopping tour but I already knew I didn’t want to – I needed to get back to that beach. 

I headed back to Gorgonzola for breakfast (eggs and avocado on toast – never been so happy!!)  with a few girls from my hostel and decided to try again on the shortcut walk to White Beach. Success. 40 minutes through the palm tree forest with a little dog to guide us the entire way. He led us all through the forest, along Coconut Beach on the way, over the rocks and when we got to White Beach he curled up in the shade under my hammock and spent the whole day with us. Another day in paradise doing not a great deal! This is definitely what I signed up for! 🙋🏽 Sadly though, tonight would be my last night as I had to travel down to Puerto Princesa tomorrow to get my flight to Cebu. That said – what a last night it was.  We went for dinner again at the flag place and then went and met the boys back at their hostel for a few drinks on their balcony. It turned into a massive showdown between man and giant beetle. Despite the boys best attempts – the beetles won, flying at your face and generally scaring the shit out of everyone! After a few drinks we headed down to the beach as we had heard rumours of phosphorescence. We were not disappointed. We spent the best part of 2 hours paddling around in the sea in the middle of the night, all being utterly amazed by the glowing plankton. I’ve never seen it before and despite my best efforts to video it, all I got was a pitch black video of me splashing around going “woooooowwwww!” 😂 We were also treated to some pretty incredible night skies and more shooting stars than I have ever seen in my life. It’s kind of hard to put into words just how amazing this night was but everyone I was with felt exactly the same. It’s one of those nights that I will never ever forget and I feel so lucky to have been in that exact place at that exact time. It’s moment like this that are exactly why I wanted to take this trip. It makes me so grateful for every person and every thing I have in my life – I just wish all my favourites could have been there with me to see it! 💕

Paradise in Palawan

So I’ve been a little off the grid for the past week or so be it due to the fact I have been on a boat cruising the the Bacuit Archipeligo in Northern Palawan, staying in a hostel with no electricity except for between 6pm and midnight or the simple fact that numb nuts dropped her phone in the sea on day one of said island hopping adventures! 🤦🏽‍♀️ Thankfully I’m in Asia so bucket loads of rice are on hand and I’m, for the most part, back online….ish. A 5 day digital detox is really quite liberating! The only reason I got so excited about being able to share pictures is because I want everyone to see what I have seen and realise just how stunningly beautiful these islands are! I have been so spoilt this past week! 

I left Manila to fly south to Coron with the much criticised Cebu Pacific airline. They were actually great – no delays, no issues so can’t be too annoyed at paying £40 odd for my flight including 20kg of luggage which is already tortuous to carry around every where I go! I would legitimately have been happy if they had lost it! 😂 I arrived in Coron and had that horrific “Inbetweeners” movie moment of pulling up outside a shockingly shit looking hostel and being told this was where I was staying. Note to self – when booking hostels, check google earth before agreeing that it seems like a really great price for a private room. For the next 2 nights I now lived in what I can only describe as a swamp/rubbish dump/entirely unsafe- looking paper house on stilts.  The hostel itself, RB Transient, turned out to be fine in the grand scheme of things but the walk to get to it was what made me want to cry every time I had to do it. I was also less of a fan of the giant cockroach that had taken up residence on the wall. Give me Lucky the flea riddled cat any day! (Update – Lucky now has her flea collar!) 

Day 1 in Coron I decided to do an island hopping tour which would take me to the famous Kayangan Lake (allegedly the cleanest lake in Asia) Twin Lagoon, Coral Gardens, Siete Pecados, Atwayan Beach, Smith Beach and Hidden Lagoon. The snorkelling at the Coral Gardens was some of the best I have ever seen. So colourful and full of fish! And I saw Nemo! Perfect way to start the day!  We cruised around some more on our bangkha before mooring up alongside a rickety old wooden walkway clinging precariously to the jagged cliffs.  We off loaded and embarked on a short but surprisingly tough trek almost directly up and over the cliffs.  There below us was the glimmer of turquoise green through the trees – Kayangan Lake. Dubbed the cleanest lake in Asia and perfect for a swim after a hike in the Philippine sun! Crystal clear waters, jagged limestone cliffs, bamboo rafts. Sadly just a few too many tourists for my liking but unavoidable! Also no photos to share as I left my phone on the boat! If only I was always that sensible! 😑 

My second day in Coron I clearly decided I had not had enough sun (or had had too much and wasn’t thinking straight) and decided to walk to the top of Mount Tapyas. 700 odd steps to the top which I now find out is only 190m above sea level. Let me tell you, in 35 degree heat and flip flops it felt like 10 times that! And I didn’t even have my Fitbit on! What a waste. The view from the top, however was far from a waste. Despite a storm threatening all afternoon, I made it to the top before the rain and it really was beautiful. I was also a fan of Coron’s attempt at their own Hollywood sign! 

At 5pm I had to head to the TAO Office in town for the briefing before my 5-day boat trip to El Nido left in the morning. I sat down at the table with the others and knew I had made the right decision in booking this trip. A rum cocktail appeared in front of me as if by magic. 🙌🏼 We were briefed and preordered our booze for the week which proved to be way more stressful than it needed to be! First world problems! 

At 8am the next morning we arrived at the Port Authority to start our 220km, 5 day, 4 night cruise through paradise to El Nido on their custom built TAO Bangkha boat.  I literally couldn’t have dreamt how amazing this 5 days would be! We cruised around islands, we snorkelled, we ate, we swam, we kayaked, we ate some more, we drank (a lot), we laughed, we celebrated an engagement, we ate and drank even more. We were quite literally in paradise. Our on board chef “Magic Mike” cooked us breakfast, lunch and dinner every day along with copious amounts of snacks and iced tea. The food was a combination of “Filipino Power” also known as rice and fresh caught jack fish & sweet lips (or whatever other fish they could catch or buy from local fisherman) pumpkin & coconut curry and cucumber salads. On one day we caught a tuna fishing off the back of the boat and within less than 10 minutes we had the freshest tuna sashimi you could possible ever hope to eat.  Each night we were lead to an incredible TAO base camp where we slept in beautifully hand crafted “tuka huts” on the beach. Whilst we washed away the days stresses with a refreshingly cold bucket shower, the TAO Lost Boys were setting up our beds and mosquito nets for us. 5* luxury beach accommodation just does not get better than this if you ask me. This is an island we stopped off at on the day my phone first came out of the rice again. Just to give you an idea of the type of paradise I’m talking about. 😍

I fell in love with each island we visited – each time thinking there was no way the TAO Lost Boys would be able to better it the next night – and each night we were treated to an island base camp more beautiful than the last! On our 3rd night we stayed at the TAO main base camp. It is actually mainland Palawan but inaccessible by road and so secluded you just wouldn’t know. This is also the location of their TAO farm, where they grow all their own organic produce which is used for all our meals. They have pigs, ducks, chickens, an organic vegetable garden, their own rice paddy, palm trees with hundreds of coconuts. This place is entirely self sufficient. But not only this this, they make products to sell also! Hand pressed virgin coconut oil, coconut and lemon grass shampoo and soap, clothes, jewellery. This place and this company are just so incredible there are no words. A travel company yes, but so much more than that. Their TAO Foundation builds school for local communities. They provide education regarding sustainable fishing and farming techniques. They offered humanitarian support following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 – providing over 150 fishing boats to replace those lost in the storm, food and building materials. They encourage local children to keep the beaches clean with the promise of a new pair of slippers (flipflops). They provide jobs for the family members of the Tao Lost Boys sewing the bed sheets and pillow cases, massage therapy and sewing the TAO uniforms. I can vouch for how amazing the massages are – I had 2! I could go on for days about how amazing Tao are but instead I shall just urge you to book a flight and come and experience it for yourself! 

After 5 days we arrived in El Nido and desperate for anything that wasn’t fish or rice, we arranged to met for dinner at Trattoria Altrove in the town to treat ourselves to pizza. Never in my life has pizza and wine felt like such a luxury. The following day was spent by the beach recovering before getting the bus to Port Barton – but she has a special place in my heart so will get her very own blog post! 💚