I’m skipping out blogging about my visit to the USA, not because it wasn’t awesome, but because well… I feel a bit behind and want to get on with blogging about the things that are happening now!
I finally arrived back in the UK just over 2 weeks ago! My best friend Rachael collected me from Manchester airport- I genuinely couldn’t wait to get off that plane and was only third in the immigration queue! Seeing her was amazing and I got to spend the day with her in Manchester too which was even better! I also got my birthday presents which is probably why I now own a giant paella pan…
You might be wondering why it wasn’t any of my family picking me up from the airport and that’s because until a week before, with the exception of my brother and grandmother (and uh, all of my friends ), nobody knew I was coming home! It was my Mum’s 50th birthday and I wanted to surprise her. I only told my Dad the week before because a family bereavement necessitated a change of location from one side of the country to the other! My Mum had been working on the assumption that I was coming home on 10th July!!
So, the next day I got a train from Manchester to Market Harborough where I was met by my grandparents and brother! My Mum thought that she and Dad were going out to dinner with my grandparents. She didn’t realise my brother and I were going to be there too. When she and my Dad arrived, my brother and I hid whilst she was told to sit down with her eyes shut and her hands out. We went in, put her hands in hers and then she opened her eyes… it. was. amazing. The sheer look of surprise was brilliant and she was unable to form a coherent sentence for about 5 minutes, she just kept hugging up and making noises. I thus discovered that it is possible to both happy cry and happy laugh at the same time. The perfect bookend to my trip. :)
So my first few days back in the country were perfect- I got to spend lots of time with many of my relatives and my best friend too. And we finally made it back to our home in Devon which has just been wonderful.
But it’s also been really strange. My brain hasn’t quite caught up with the fact I’m HOME! It’s a really odd sensation. I’m not used to the fact that I can pick up my mobile phone and call my friends. I’m not used to having all the food I’ve missed around. Having all my belongings in the same house for the first time in four years is incredibly strange.
Now the travelling has stopped, I also have to face up to the fact that I’m unemployed, fairly poor and moving to a new city in under 8 weeks. It’s both terrifying and exciting and also a little overwhelming.. There’s so much I need to do and organise.
Yet, I know coming home has been the right step. I do miss Korea- living there was an incredible experience that is going to stay with me for the rest of my life. I miss my friends and Korean food and my little apartment and my students. But travelling to all those different countries and now being here has just solidified my decision to move on.
I’m not really sure about the future of this blog. I don’t think I’ll be updating it regularly any more but I think I might update a little about the experience of being home post-travel and post- Korea. Plus, I somehow amassed 400 followers which is both surprising and intriguing!
But for now, the adventures are over. It’s time to rest, relax, catch up with ‘real life’ and move on to the next chapter of my life.
New Zealand was one of the destinations that I was most excited about visiting. The Lord of the Rings films really captured my attention as a teenager and it had been a ‘must-visit’ place since then. I landed there on the 21st May for a two and a half week visit.
I landed in Wellington late one Wednesday night. I spent my first night in a hotel before moving to a hostel in the city centre. The hostel itself wasn’t great- I had to pay for sub-par Wi-Fi and the rooms were tiny but it was in a really great location.
I was able to do a lot of Wellington’s main attractions- I visited Te Papa, new Zealand’s premier museum which was wonderful. I spent 6 hours in there looking at all sorts of exhibits about New Zealand’s geography and history. It was easily one of the best museums I visited on my trip. I also went up Wellington’s famous cable car for views of Wellington Harbour.
I also got to do a Lord of the Rings Set Tour. I was taken by van to various locations in and out of Wellington where various parts of the trilogy were filmed. It was really interesting, because I have very little knowledge of film production and it’s amazing how complex creating Middle Earth was!
I was also able to go to the Weta Cave. Weta was company responsible for all the props, sets and CGI. It’s based in Wellington and it’s possible to visit and take a tour. I did that on my last morning in Wellington which was really cool! They had the best gift shop where I was able to get lots of lovely gifts for my family and friends.
I also met some really nice people on my tours and in my hostel, which was great!
I liked Wellington, but it’s reputation as the ‘smallest capital’ was deserved. It felt sleepy and small and didn’t quite gel with me.
My trip wasn’t particularly long and most of my desired locations were on the North Island. But I felt that I should at least visit the South Island so I took a fairly choppy ferry across the Cook Strait, to Picton a tiny, tiny town on the very top of the South Island. There I stayed in one of the nicest hostels I’ve stayed in- home-made scones were available for breakfast!!
On my first day, I explored the (very small town) and hung out with Patrick, a really nice German guy who was staying in my dorm. We watched some films. Because it was Winter in New Zealand, it also meant the hostel was fairly empty! That night I also met a Canadian girl called Rachel! I’d planned to go on a Wine Tour the next day and she agreed to come with me, as did a French guy called Laurent who was staying in my dorm.
I think the Wine tour was one of my favourite things that I did on the New Zealand trip! A lovely woman called Pam picked us up and drove us all over the Marlborough Wine Region! We visited 6 winerys, stopping for lunch at one. It was a real learning experience for me because even though I like wine, it wasn’t something that I knew a lot about. I never even really knew what kinds of wines I like! This gave me a much better idea which was lovely. (Well, it makes wine shopping easier!) I bought a couple of bottles, which was nice. We also had an amazing lunch at this wonderful restaurant! It was a fairly expensive day but I did really enjoy it. Also, Laurent and Rachel were really great company and it was nice to spend the day with people that I got on with.
Whilst my sojourn to the South Island was clearly far too brief, I did really enjoy it. I definitely feel like if I went back to New Zealand, that’d be the area to explore further!
After a brief stop in Wellington over-night, I headed to Napier, a town on the East Coast of the North Island. This was probably the place that least impressed me and I suspect that the time of year had a lot to do with that. It rained whilst I was there and was generally miserable. The city was also supposed to be renowned for it’s Art Deco architecture, which I actually found incredibly underwhelming! Thankfully, I was only there for a day and ended up with a dorm room all to myself for the two nights that I was there!
This was probably my favourite destination! Rotorua had lots of of things to do and see- it was a fairly sleepy town but I still enjoyed visiting it greatly!
On my first day, I took a long walk through the town. Rotorua is famous for all the geothermal sites in and around the town. Even their public parks have areas of bubbling mud and smoking water! It was really cool! Rotorua is also on a beautiful lake which you can walk around! There is also a spa in the town which you can visit and take a tip in! I went along to get a ticket from the front desk of my hostel at the same time another girl did so hooray, instant friend!! Her name was Erin and she was lovely company! The spa was great though we did meet a man who claimed to have the same Astrological position as Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad…
The next day I headed to my top destination along with a Spanish guy from my hostel named Leo- I went to HOBBITON! And it was awesome! It was slightly over an hour’s drive from Rotorua. We got a guided tour around the whole set which was amazing. After Lord of the Rings finished filming, the set was removed. However, owing to the success of the films, the owners of the farm where filming took place began offering tours. When it came to film The Hobbit Trilogy, the set was rebuilt using permanent materials and Peter Jackson invested, so now the whole site is properly dedicated to visiting tourists! It was really cool. They even rebuilt the Green Dragon where we able to have a free alcoholic beverage!
On my last day in Rotorua, I went to visit a Geothermal site called Wai-o-Tapu! I went with a tiny tour group for 2 other people and it was lovely. We were able to see a geyser go off and explore the large geothermal park for a couple of hours. It was really cool and the amount of geothermal stuff was really impressive. There were different coloured lakes and pools, huge caves and steaming holes. It was really cool!
I ended my trip to New Zealand with a couple of days in Auckland. I spent my first day doing a walking tour through the city which was nice- I liked Auckland a lot. It’s much bigger than Wellington and consequently felt like more was happening. Then the big thing I did was go to Eden Park, Auckland’s main stadium, to see the All Blacks V England! I’m a huge Rugby Union fan (though I support Wales) so seeing the All Blacks on their home turf was a must. My seats were the cheapest but ended up being really decent. I sat next to a couple of really nice guys which made me feel much better about being there by myself. The match itself wasn’t the best game of Rugby I’ve ever seen but the atmosphere was great and it was a really cool experience!
The next day, I slept in a little and then did something quite out of character- I climbed a hill!! Now, I will cheerfully walk any amount of distance when it involves flat land but I tend to baulk at hills. However, Auckland is basically settled on a series of volcanic cones and the tallest is called Mt Eden! So I climbed it, in order to enjoy panoramic views of the city! It was a pretty sweaty effort, but I made it and was quite proud of myself. Hills are really not a part of my regular routine!
And that was my last full day in New Zealand! I really enjoyed my time there- I think it was a big part of my transition back to the Western world! I loved doing all the Lord of the Rings stuff and exploring New Zealand’s stunning countryside! Here’s hoping that I can make it back again in the future!
Destination: Australia. Otherwise known as Aus, Oz, Down Under and Kangaroo Kingdom.
Length of Stay: 13 Days.
First Stop: Melbourne
Why?: Suzanne made me.
Day One: Freezing cold. Purchase jacket and boots. Become BFFs with Jill at the tourist information office. Meet up with Rebecca, friend I made in Chiang Mai. Discover The Big W, the store I will spend most of my time in Australia visiting. Rediscover supermarket shopping. Get excited about sandwiches. Let Rebecca feed me. Sing Disney songs.
Day Two: Disaster- hole in my jeans. Visit seemingly every shop in Melbourne on quest to find jeans that I like, that fit and that won’t be my financial ruin. Make best friends with the staff in Just Jeans. Find jeans that fit in The Big W. Huzzah. Raining. Go to Museum. Feel cultured. Eat at Pie Face. Go to Victoria Market. Do wine tasting with man who has inexplicably been to my home town.
Day Three: Hang out with Rebecca again. Yay. Do self - guided tour of the Laneways discovering lots of cool shops, restaurants and art. Eat cheap Indian food. Take the tram to St Kilda’s beach. Explore the market. Wander along the pier as the sun is going down. Visit Rebecca’s new place. Allow her to feed me again.
Destination Two: Sydney
Why? Because of the Opera House, obvs.
Day Four: Fly to Sydney. Arrive. Get to hostel. Fail at supermarket shopping.
Day Five: Up bright and early! Walk to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Go to the Gallery of New South Wales. Laugh at modern art. Walk through gardens. Wonder why seemingly everyone in Sydney is running in the park in the middle of the day. See Opera House. Have lunch. Join free walking tour all through the CBD. Learn a lot. Have sore feet.
Day Six: Go on self-guided walking tour of The Rocks. Get lost when guided to cross the many-lanes highway leading onto the Harbour Bridge. Spend the afternoon in a coffee shop instead.
Destination Three: Brisbane
Why? Suzanne is there and I like her or something.
Day Seven: Fly to Brisbane. Hug Suzanne. Go to Suzanne’s actual house. Hang out with Suzanne’s parents. Start catching up with Game of Thrones.
Day Eight: Catch the bus to central Brisbane with Suzanne. Wander around the shops. Eat Sausage rolls. Go to the South Bank. Drink Cider. Chat. Explore the market. Drink wine. Eat an expensive dinner. Roll home.
Day Nine: Chill out. Go to the movies and watch Godzilla. Finish catching up with Game of Thrones.
Day Ten: Go to Movie World. Get soaked by water rides. Get frightened of rollercoasters. Get judged by Suzanne for my lack of bravery (deserved). Try to meet Batman. Fail. Eat Churros. Go home. Eat birthday cake and get cards that my Mum arranged to have sent from the UK.
Day Eleven: Birthday. Wake up and discover that being 25 feels no different from being 24. Open cards. Eat cake for breakfast. Go to Art Gallery and Museum. Eat delicious Spanish food for lunch. Skype various relatives in the evening.
Day Twelve: Planning Day. Pop to The Big W to buy long Pyjama bottoms for freezing New Zealand nights. Spend afternoon watching a lot of TV. Get accused by Suzanne of having an unemployed day. Fair judgement. I am absolutely unemployed.
Day Thirteen: Wake Up. Pack. Hate life. Go out for lunch. Eat first Nandos in an unreasonable amount of time. Say Goodbye. Much hugging. Fly to New Zealand.
Conclusion: Nice place. Would visit again. Expensive. Sad lack of Kangaroos and Koalas. Should be everywhere. Pleasing amount of Dairy Milk.
By the time I was finished in Kuala Lumpur, I was pretty much done with Asia. I was just ready to move somewhere new and I was already looking forward to getting to Australia and returning to the western world. However, before that I’d already booked my next destination: the Indonesian Island of Bali.
Bali has been high on my list as a destination for a while. The idea of an Island paradise was deeply appealing. However, before arriving I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic.
I landed late one evening; I had to get a taxi from the airport in the south of the Island to my accommodation in the town of Ubud, over an hour away. I was slightly concerned about being ripped off by Indonesian taxi drivers. The sad fact is is that greater tourism leads to greater exploitation of tourists! Thankfully, I met a very angry Australian man in the queue as I exited the airport. Despite his anger he helped me find a metered taxi to take me to my home stay.
I elected to stay in Ubud, because it had a nicer reputation for backpackers than some of the other towns in Bali. Bali’s proximity to Australia makes it a prime destination and means, much like Spain or Greece in Europe, some parts have become real party destinations. Much as I like a party, I like it to be optional!
I also decided to stay in accommodation alone. I booked 3 nights at a Home Stay. I arrived VERY late in the evening and was greeted by the owners- Nyoman and Nyoman!- a husband and wife team. I then discovered that my private room was in fact a private bungalow! When I awoke the next morning I was able to see just how beautiful the area was. The bungalows were located in the back of their home and were set in stunning gardens. Each bungalow had it’s own little veranda where you could drink tea and where the Nyomans would bring breakfast! There was lots of wildlife around and it was such a calming and relaxing place. I loved it! In fact, after a couple of days I decided that I didn’t want to go anywhere else in Bali and stayed there the whole time!
I also made this decision because of how much I liked Ubud. I went exploring on my first day and was really impressed by the relaxed atmosphere and friendly people. The centre of Ubud does feel fairly touristy but still… sometimes you click with a place and I clicked! I spent my first couple of days there exploring the town. I pampered myself with a manicure, a pedicure and a massage! I also visited Ubud’s famous Monkey Forest! The monkeys have a somewhat fearsome reputation which is actually rather deserved! I did my research beforehand and made sure not to have anything edible upon me and not to carry a water bottle. Not everyone was as savvy and it was fairly amusing to see fully grown men fighting with these tiny monkeys over bottles of water! The monkeys also feel threatened if you smile at them with your teeth; a little girl did this and was chased by a monkey, to the amusement of the adults nearby! And despite my precautions, a monkey still decided to try and get in my bag!
I also went to a traditional fire dance! It took place only 5 minutes from my home stay and it was awesome. It’s a big community event- the music is actually all vocals from a group of 100 men who are also used as props as actors tell a story from the Hindu Epic, the Ramayana. It was beautiful and so engaging. Afterwards a man danced over and around a pile of burning logs with his bare feet! Just incredible!
Another lovely thing that happened was that lovely people moved into the bungalow next door! Mel and Chris, a fab couple from Manchester, arrived, we got chatting and next thing I knew they were inviting me to their veranda for a cup of tea! Hooray for new friends!
On my 3rd day, I decided to do a cookery course, I love cooking and I’d always intended to more cooking whilst I was in Asia but I never got around to it after my cookery course in Vietnam. This tour started with a tour of the traditional morning market in Ubud. The guy leading our tour was very friendly and informative and we got to see lots of different fruits and vegetables and to try some too- snake skin fruit looks bizarrely like garlic yet has the texture of apple!
We were then taken again to the cookery course organiser’s home! The balinese seem to run all of their businesses out of their homes, which I quite like! The course was mainly attended by couple, so I did feel like a bit of a gooseberry at points, but it also meant that I didn’t have to share the cooking with anyone. We were taken through how to prepare coconut oil and 3 sauces integral to Indonesian Cooking; a basic sauce, a peanut sauce and a spicy sauce. We then made chicken satay skewers, fish wrapped in a banana leaf, steamed rice and a kind of green bean salad that was delicious! The course was also just really well put together. The teacher was extremely funny and entertaining and I felt like I learned a lot. It also helps that that Indonesian food is completely delicious; Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian food have been a real highlight of my trip.The food we cooked was wonderful- chicken satay skewers with peanut sauce has easily become one of my favourite foods.
That afternoon I decided to try a facial! I’d never had one before and was kind of intrigued about it. I decided to try a ‘tropical fruit’ kind. Honestly, I felt the whole experience was a bit weird. Having someone rub my face for an hour was a bit odd and the ‘tropical fruit’ did not smell particularly nice! Yeah, I’d definitely pick a massage over a facial!
That evening I went out for dinner with Mel and Chris! There was a restaurant down the the road that was rated as the second best in Ubud so we went to try it. It’s run by a Swiss Charity which is providing training for young Balinese in the kitchens and then uses the profits to provide medical care for families on Bali. The food was delicious and we really enjoyed it!
The next day Mel and Chris came with me on a trip. On the weekend I’d met a taxi driver on the monkey forest road who’d offered to take me on a tour and they offered to come with me. Wayan was our taxi driver and he was lovely. Firstly, he took us to see some rice terraces. They were just beautiful and I love tramping around there. Next we went to a Water temple; despite being templed out after the rest of Asia, Bali is Hindu so the temples were something different. There were loads of ponds, water features and animals. They were so relaxing and beautiful! Next Wayan took us to a coffee plantation. He came with us to tell us all about the plants and fruits they grow there. These are the coffee plantations where the famous ‘poo coffee’ is made! A civet, a kind of cat, eats the shell of the coffee bean and then poops out the bean itself. It’s supposed to make the most delicious coffee in the world. We were allowed to sample that coffee and a whole assortment of different coffees and teas. I’m not a coffee drinker so the apparently brilliant coffee was rather lost on me, but I did love the lemongrass tea!
After the coffee plantation we headed to a restaurant for lunch. Wayan took us to a real indonesian restaurant for chicken satay- I must admit, after the cookery course the day before it felt kind of underwhelming! After that we explored another temple that was kind of hidden which was cool and we went to a black sand beach! Bali is basically a group of volcanoes so lots of the rock there is volcanic, leading to black sand! It was pretty cool to look at though very hot to walk on! We had a lovely day and it was really nice to explore more of the Island. It’s just beautiful a beautiful place, totally fulfilling every idea I had of a tropical paradise!
The next day was my last full day in Bali. I decided to go souvenir shopping. However, drama struck when I was eating lunch and well… tooth drama started necessitating a visit, on my last day in Asia, to a dentist! Much like everything else in Bali, the surgery was in the back of the dentist’s house. Thankfully, the dentist deemed it a non-emergency so I can wait until I get home! Phew!
I then decided to treat myself to a really nice massage- one that cosr $12 rather than $6! It was so worth the extra money. It was so much better than any of the other massages I’d had in Asia! After a final dinner of chicken satay well… I think it’s safe to say that my Asian journey was over. I flew to Australia the next day!
I loved living and travelling in Asia. It’s such an incredibly beautiful and diverse place with so much to see and do. It’s so rich in culture and history. I’m so glad that I ended my journey in Bali which combined so much of what I enjoyed about Asia- wonderful people, delicious food, beautiful scenery. I’m so glad that just as I was getting ready to move on, I went to a place that reminded me of all the things I’d enjoyed about Asia. I really fell for Bali.
However, I think 2 and a half months was plenty of time to be travelling there! I was more than ready to head back to the western world!
Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur: Big City Travel
After Myanmar, Bangkok was a fairly comforting destination. It was my 3rd visit, I stayed at the same brilliant hostel and being somewhere developed was a lovely sensation. After the fairly disappointing food in Myanmar, I was also pleased to have western food options again. Pizza was my first meal upon my return to Bangkok!
I was only in Bangkok for a couple of days and I decided to take things fairly easy. On the Sunday I headed further north in the city in order to visit Chakuchat Weekend Market again. I wandered around for a couple of hours getting completely lost and having a wonderful time. I had some amazing noodles for lunch and picked up a few souvenirs before spending the evening on skype. I was able to catch up with my friend Iain and with my lovely BFF Rachael. It was so nice to speak to them both and it started to make me very excited for coming home in a couple of months!
On the Monday, I decided to have a complete non-travel day. I headed to MBK, the huge shopping centre and went to the cinema to see Captain America. Going to the cinema in Thailand was actually really interesting because you stand for the King’s anthem before the film. The film was pretty decent too- mainly it was nice to do something regular. I wrapped it up with Indian food and a very relaxing evening!
The next morning I headed to Don Mueang airport for my flight to Kuala Lumpur. I must admit, I find Air Asia to be a significantly nicer budget airline than the ones in Europe and my flights are usually quite pleasant. However, KL’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal was a bit gloomy. They are in the process of opening up a new Terminal so Immigration was barely staff meaning it took an hour to get through.
I’d been a bit concerned about making my way to my hostel by myself but I found a bus/shuttle service that was able to take me relatively cheaply. My hostel was in Bukit Bintang, a very central area. I wasn’t very impressed with it to be honest. It was opposite a giant shopping mall which had huge advertising screens which played music all day and night. The staff weren’t amazing either. But the location really was very good.
The next morning, I decided to climb the famous Petronas Twin Towers. I walked there with a couple of nice guys I’d met at breakfast at my hostel and got there to find zero tickets left for any of the times I could have gone. Bugger. Instead, the two guys and I went to the Aquarium which was very cool indeed. My home town has a fairly well-known Aquarium but it was totally pants compared to this one. There were all kinds of giant turtle, a shark tunnel, otters and piranhas! It was really cool!
I then went for a wander around the Suria KLCC mall and had lunch before meeting up with my friend Dominica! We met on the blogging platform Livejournal and she’s lived in KL for 5 years. We met up and had a delicious oreo milkshake at a shop in the mall. She had also managed to get me free entry to a Comedy Club opening she was going to! Traversing the city during rush hour was pretty interesting too! We got the subway and then took the bus- it took us 2 and a half hours in total!
I must admit that live stand-up isn’t something I’ve had much experience with but this was definitely a lot of fun. There were comedians from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, India and the US. Some of the more Malaysian directed humour went a bit over my head but a lot of it was very funny. It was also a really interesting way to observe a different country’s culture, via the things people found funny. It was a very cool experience and I was really glad that Dom had time to take me along!
The next day I did a lot more touristy things. I headed to Chinatown in the morning. The lonely planet had recommended it highly but I found it underwhelming- it was essentially a sunglasses and handbag street market!
However, I then did find Central Market which was a lot cooler, selling lots of interesting things from all over Indonesia! I found that much more intriguing and fun to look around and even had lunch there! It was right by the National Mosque too so I was able to look around there. I also walked straight through the middle of a Labour Day march. Thankfully it was vey peaceful!
I then headed to Menara KL Tower. This is KL’s actual viewing tower which gives you views of Petronas Towers. The views were really cool and after that I felt towered out so saw no real need to go up Petronas as well!
I had one more morning in KL. I used that to do some shopping for things I needed and have a little wander around. I really liked KL- it was very western- and I’m glad I went but I think Bangkok is a more interesting city. I was very glad to go to the Comedy club though. It was a very different experience!
When I set off travelling, I hadn’t even entertained the possibility of visiting Myanmar. I know people who’ve been and a friend from Korea is living there but Myanmar is only just opening up to tourists and the idea of visiting by myself seemed very intimidating. However, as I progressed through my journey I met more and more people who had been and felt emboldened to go. When I was first in Bangkok I arranged my visa and booked my flights. After Songkran in Chiang Mai, I flew to Bangkok for one night and then flew into Yangon the following morning.
For those of you who don’t know, Myanmar has had a very turblent recent history. A former British colony, it gained independence in 1948. However, a Military Junta ruled the country from 1963 until 2011 when power was theoretically relinquished to a civilian Government. Under the Junta, many political dissidents were imprisoned and many more human rights violated. The most famous political dissisdent is Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League of Democracy (NLD). Myanmar faced heavy sanctions suring those years and the NLD actively discouraged tourism. This has lead to a country that is yet to really westernise and to which tourism is still a relatively new industry. Myanmar has 300,000 tourists a year, verses Thailand’s 14 million.
The name of the country is fairly controversial too. Burma was the name of the country under the British and Myanmar is what the country has always been called by locals. However, the name was officially changed by the Junta so Aung San Suu Kyi and many western governments prefer to call the country Burma. After meeting locals on my trip and asking their opinion, I have decided to write it as Myanmar, whilst using Burmese to describe the culture, food and people.
And this was the background to my trip when I arrived very early one morning in Yangon. I got a ridiculously early flight from Bangkok so I arrived at around 8am which felt a little bizarre. I stepped out of the airport to be greeted by taxi drivers wearing traditional Burmese clothes- the longyi, a kind of sarong worn by men and women. I got into this man’s little car- and in Myanmar they drive right-hand drive cars on the right! - and set off. I was treated to a Burmese radio station playing an Abba Megamix. Somehow, wherever I go ‘Dancing Queen’ follows.
I got to my hostel and was quickly checked in and was able to get a couple of hours sleep. However, it was becoming increasingly apparent that not all was good in the health department. I’d gone and got myself a cold, now doubt aided by spending 3 days soaking wet during Songkran in Thailand. I spent the day relaxing and feeling a bit sorry for myself. I decided that I would go out and explore a little at around 4pm. My hostel was very close to Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most famous temple and it was also the last day of Thingyan, Myanmar’s own lunar new year. I left my hostel and walked directly into crowds of people, all who were staring at me like I’d grown 3 heads. Now these people were mostly curious and friendly but it was honestly the only time on this trip that I felt truly overwhelmed. Myanmar was immediately so different from any other SE Asian country that I think it’s safe to say that I was suffering a little bit from culture shock.
Back in my dorm that night, I met a girl called Jacklyn and we went for dinner together. We also met a Burmese man who’d spent the past 14 years living in Texas. He was so helpful and lovely that I did feel a bit better afterwards.
The next day, I kind of thought that I might take it easy since my cold was still kind of bad. However, a distracting conversation with a man from France over breakfast meant that Jacklyn’s plans were delayed and meant I could join her since I was feeling a little better. We went for a trip on Yangon’s circle line. It’s an old train line that runs all the way in and around Yangon. Tickets were less than a dollar each for a 3 hour round trip. I must admit, this was one of my favourite experiences in Myanmar. It was less the scenery and much more the people watching that I loved. There was a family with 3 young children on board that I just loved watching. They clearly just had so much affection for each other.
That evening, Jacklyn and I wandered around Yangon’s downtown. It had a big market that wad quite interesting to look around. We ended up having dinner there too. Now its time for me to confess- I really wasn’t a fan of Burmese food. I found either ridiculously spicy or fairly bland. It may just have been me since I met many people who enjoyed it, but it was easily my least favourite cuisine that I’ve tried in SE Asia.
The next day was more relaxed. I popped into town, sharing a cab with a German girl called Lena, and bought a bus ticket to head to Bagan the next day. I then headed out for lunch with Jacklyn before heading to Shwedagon Pagoda in the evening.
The Pagoda itself is huge, a huge complex and is a site that is key to Burmese buddhism. I arrived and started to look around before being approached by an older man. He spoke wonderful English and offered to tour me around the Pagoda. I hadn’t done a tour at any other Palace or temple I had been to but decided to do so this time. It was a wonderful decision. The man was so friendly, helpful and insightful. He walked me around the whole Pagoda, explaining to me the significance of the different areas and answering any questions I had. He introduced me to some young nuns and took me to the ‘Friday Corner’. In Burmese buddhism, the day of the week on which you are born is very important. I poured water over Buddha three times, a statue representing Venus 3 times and left a full cup of water for Buddha. He also said some prayers for me and showed me how to make wishes. He was also an amateur photographer and helped me to take some really lovely pictures. Also, at the top of the Pagoda, large gems are placed such as a big ruby, a big emerald and a big diamond. He showed me the correct places to stand so I could see their colours in the light of the setting sun.
That was my last evening in Yangon and it was a wonderful experience. I’m so glad that I allowed this man to show me around. It greatly enhanced the experience and taught me a lot about Burmese Buddhism and culture. The tour guide and I also had similar senses of humour so we had a lot of fun. Definitely a memory to treasure.
The next morning, I was up bright and early to get my bus to Bagan. An 11 hour bus journey was promised. It turned out that I was the only foreigner on the bus and it was fairly empty so I was able to curl up and sleep for most of the journey. The journey only took 9 hours and then arrived in Bagan, temple heartland of Myanmar.
I was feeling pretty sick of people by this point so I decided to treat myself to a hotel room. This was the best decision as I didn’t realise just how much I needed some alone time. I’m pretty introverted by nature and it’s true that travelling has required me to be much more outgoing than I’d ever be regularly. It wasn’t until I was by myself that I realised just how exhausted I was by that. Not in a bad way- I’ve loved so many of the people I’ve met on my trip- but down time was necessary. And I got that because I spent the grand total of one day out of three cycling around Bagan looking at temples. It was a combination of factors- I was tired from socialising, I was bored of looking at temples and it was ridiculously hot- 45c! In that temperature, the idea of a day lounging by my hotel swimming pool was so much more appealing. I have no regrets about it because I know that I left Bagan happier in mind and body for having had some downtime. I also met the loveliest restaurant owner called Win Tun who ran a restaurant named after the British pub chain, Weatherspoons! He was the sweetest man and I had some really interesting conversations with him. He’d spent time living in Bristol, a city not too far from my home town, flying Hot Air Balloons!
After Bagan, I headed to Mandalay and at the bus stop, who should I bumped in to but Lena, a girl I had briefly met at my hostel in Yangon. When we got to Mandalay, she came with me to my hostel and ended up staying there too! That evening, we decided to be productive. (Which is pretty impressive when it’s 45c outside…) and we went to the top of Mandalay Hill. Most of Mandalay was very flat so the Hill gave very impressive views of the surrounding areas. Theoretically. It was kind of hazy and the view was from yet another temple. However, I’m glad I went and I enjoyed the walk down which took us 45 minutes and took is through the creepiest temple ever seen! It was dark and full of bats which was pretty scary seeing as it was getting dark outside.
We made it to the bottom and decided to try and head back to our area, which was a little out of the downtown area. Our only option seemed to be however, Moto Taxis. After all my experiences in SE Asia, I still really hate them. They don’t feel safe to me, as a passenger but I gamely agreed to get on. The journey wasn’t particularly fun but we made it back. I felt a little shakey afterwards but Lena and I headed to find food, having not eaten since breakfast. However, it appears that adrenaline rushes on a mostly empty stomach don’t agree with me because I then felt nauseated and faint and ended up making my way back to the hostel to lie down. Smooth and winning as always!
Thankfully, Lena still seemed to like me and we spent the next day together! We got up relatively early and headed to the Royal Palace. As Royal palaces go, it was fairly underwhelming. Myanmar is in such a rush to be open and appealing to tourists that it really isn’t taking the time to make sure that it’s national sites are preserved, restored and presented properly (Which has earned the Burmese Government a rebuke from UNESCO). A lot of the Royal palace was a rebuild from after the Second World War and they’ve used corrugated iron on a lot of the roofs. It could be very impressive but… not yet.
We then walked up to a famous monastary- it used to be part of the Royal Palace but a King died within it. Afraid of his ghost, they dismantled it and moved it outside the Palace complex. This saved it, as it was the only part of the original palace to survive the bombing of the Second World War. We reached a temple before that though, which was very large and apparently a site for National events. We finally made it to the monastary and had huge groups of Burmese tourists filing past us staring snd saying Hello. The monastary was pretty impressive as the whole thing was carved from teak. Lena and I weren’t impressed however, that a whole section of the inner sanctum was off-limits to women!!
After this, feeling somewhat hot and bothered we headed to a cafe recommended by Lonely Planet which had air - conditioning and a pleasing variety of food. We relaxed there for a good while before heading back to our hostel for a chilled out afternoon. I must admit, our hostel was lovely. It was a family run home stay and the staff were lovely.
Two more girls had arrived in our room, Julie, a Canadian woman, and another German girl whose name escapes me. (For good reason, as you’ll see). We ended up going out to dinner together to a Chinese place nearby. Now, I have met many, many people whilst travelling. There’s been people I haven’t quite clicked with, inconsiderate dorm mates etc but this was my first experience of actively disliking someone I spent time with. We arrived at this restaurant for this girl to start saying to the owner ‘Vegetarian! Vegetarian! ‘. He looked a bit confused and bought a tray of vegetables for her to look at, at which she pulled a face. Despite wanting vegetarian food apparently she didn’t like any of those vegetables! She managed to explain that she wanted fried rice and the three of us ordered. Our food arrived and well… her facial expressions went through several shades of disgust. In Myanmar, saving face is a big part of their culture. Someone being so clearly displeased with their meal was clearly kind of embarrassing for the owners and I was really embarrassed to be with someone behaving like that. Thankfully, after playing with her food for 10 minutes she declared that she felt ‘ill’ and the left the three of us to finish our perfectly lovely meal in peace. I think the owner got that we weren’t very impressed either and bought us a palm sugar juice each! It just goes to show that not everyone you meet travelling is particularly nice or someone you’ll get on with!
Then the next morning there was time for a quick breakfast before heading to Mandalay airport with Lena! It was a fairly odd airport actually as the dealt with each flight individually, only opening up check-in very an hour and a half before the flight.
And well, that was Myanmar. How do I feel about it now? I must admit, it was definitely an interesting experience but I don’t know as I’d hurry back. I didn’t find travelling there as enjoyable as I’ve found other countries, though I did have some wonderful and unique experiences. There’s no denying that the people are lovely to observe but I felt that the touristy things to do weren’t dissimilar from the rest of Asia. Myanmar’s charm lies in its lack of development and if you’re interested in seeing SE Asia in that way, I’d definitely recommend it. However, it was a challenge in some respects because tourism is still working itself out there. I’d definitely be interested to visit again in 10 or 20 years to observe what changes there have been. I have no regrets about visiting and obviously you’re never going to love every single place you encounter but I felt thaf I explored it enough to be satisfied.
And that’s the nature of travel. Sometimes you’re done and ready to move on and other times you won’t want to leave
Thailand Part Two: Chiang Mai
When you travel, it’s fairly obvious that not everywhere you go will fulfil your expectations. For me, Chiang Mai subverted, inverted and totally failed to fulfil any idea about both what I would do there and how I would feel about the city, in both good and bad ways. I decided to head to Chiang Mai for the Thai Celebration of Songkran. This is Thai New Year and it was supposed to be a travel highlight.
I made my way to Chiang Mai via bus. I would have preferred to take the train but because of Songkran the trains were full. The bus took eleven hours and was actually quite comfortable considering that it was an 11 hour trip.
I got off the bus and into a Tuk-Tuk to take me to my hostel when we drove passed a woman sat on the side of the road next to her moped. The Tuk-Tuk driver stopped and it became apparent that she’d crashed. I had a whole bunch of tissues and wipes in my bag so I went to investigate. The Tuk-Tuk driver called the Emergency services and I tried to clean the woman up a little. She’d kind of crashed on her chin which was bleeding profusely so I was trying to encourage her to put pressure on it with a tissue, which was hard when she was in shock and you know, a weird white woman was trying to held her stop bleeding. I must admit, I felt a lot less squeamish than I would even a year ago. I suppose boundaries are broken down when you’ve had a kid have a nose bleed in your hand. Hooray, teaching?
I made it to my hostel and well… back story. My best friend, Rachael, lived in Student Housing whilst she studied. She stayed in the same room for 3 years, but her flatmates changed every year. In her final year, 5 Chinese Students were assigned to her flat. 5 Chinese Students and Rachael. Obviously they all spoke Mandarin to each other, wrote notes to each other in Mandarin and I don’t think Rach will mind me saying that she found it quite an isolating experience. My hostel in Chiang Mai gave me a bit of a taste of what my best friend went through! Everyone in my dorm was Chinese and for the first time on my travels, I found myself in a dorm situation where I had no one to talk to. One girl did try and when I tried to explain that I was born in Hong Kong, she seemed to think that I had a baby and looked horrified when I said I was unmarried. Not my best attempt at cross cultural communication!
I had a slow day the next day (I’d like to say there was a good reason, but I’d finally found a way to stream Series 2 of My Mad Fat Diary and lay in bed watching that) but went for a bit of exploring. I must admit, my first impressions of Chiang Mai weren’t particularly positive. After the buzz of Bangkok, it had a lack of atmosphere and even compared to Siem Reap, there seemed a notable absence of people. I decided to try and find a cinema to see if I could watch Captain America but then it was dubbed. This was probably my first really ‘grumpy’ travelling day. I guess it was the first time I had felt particularly alone and I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the feeling. However, I was determined to make the best of it and went exploring.
I eventually found the Night Market which I actually really liked. It sold lots of lovely things and had lots of delicious street food. Pad Thai for 40 Baht? Yes Please! Having found that and explored a bit more I felt better. I went back to my hostel and started researching all the things I wanted to do. Elephant Parks, Cookery Courses, Temples… I started to plan.
This is where our story twists a little because I actually did none of those things. The Elephant Park was full and well… the rest was an accident.
As I mentioned earlier, I headed to Chiang Mai to celebrate Songkran, Thai New Year. April is Thailand’s hottest month so a large part of Songkran involves having water thrown at you. I was sure involvement would be optional. Boy, was I wrong.
I went out the next morning, with my backpack planning to look at temples. I walked for about 20 minutes before I got hit first and well, next thing I knew I was buying a water gun in the shape of a dragon and hitting the streets. All around the moat in Chiang Mai, people were having a huge mass waterfight. Even though I was by myself, I still had a load of fun. The water serves a spiritual purpose too, it’s supposed to wash you clean for the year ahead. I found that a lot of older Thai women in particularly poured water over my shoulders in particular for actual spiritual cleansing.
In the afternoon, I headed back to my hostel for a break and then headed out again. Earlier in the day I’d been further away from my hostel, but this time I stayed closer to it. Whilst I was throwing water at people, I spotted a girl stood by herself, and frustrated with communicating with Chinese peoople convinced that I was an unwed single mother, figured I’d say Hi. She was a very lovely American called Rebecca and she was hanging out with two Swedish guys called Erik and Henrich. They invited me to join them and after this, my time in Chiang Mai improved immensely.
We went exploring and found a huge stage run by Air Asia where they were pumping out water and music. It was really cool and lots of fun. We then decided to get some drinks and ended up drinking some ‘delicious’ local Whiskey called Hong Thong and Chang, Thailand’s Main Beer. I just chatted to other people I met and had a great time.
In the evening, we went to a Jazz Bar together along with Alida, another of Rebecca’s Swedish friends, and a girl called Charlotte who arrived in my dorm and was also British! The music was this African troupe (not quite jazz) but they were pretty cool. After that, admittedly I was a little drunk, and Rebecca, Erik, Alida and I went exploring. (Isn’t it great how these things seem so sensible when you’re under the influence?) We found this huge party area and I vaguely remember Rebecca climbing some lighting poles. And I remember buying a Kinder Bueno and I remember… uhhh… That’s it. Hooray?
The next day I felt a little delicate but Charlotte and I eventually got sorted and headed into town, aiming to find the others and to get breakfast. We found breakfast (if Pasta can count as breakfast) and we found giant water guns that cost 500 baht (10 GBP) but I eventually lost Charlotte. I spent a good hour wandering around the moat, getting drenched, trying to find someone I recognised. Eventually, I was walking along a bridge when some girl started shooting water in my face. It was Alida, alongside Colby another of Rebecca’s friends, and I eventually found the group! We had a good afternoon, hanging out by a stage. I’m pretty sure this is the afternoon we waited for 2 hours for a band to play that Rebecca assured us would be ‘Epic’. I don’t know if it was quite that but we had quite a lot of fun hanging around. I also kept bumping into a German guy called Frodo who I found endlessly amusing. I suspect the fact that he was German and called Frodo was a big part of that!
We had a more relaxed evening and the next day, had an awesome time! We kind of set up a base outside a restaurant. Lots of people had been throwing Ice Water at us, to great affect! We discovered old thai guys roaming the streets selling the ice and we bought a block for 70 Baht! It was awesome and I had loads of fun. That was probably my favourite part of of The World’s Biggest Water Fight that in Chiang Mai at Songkran!
That evening we decided to have a big night and go to a foam party! Rebecca was kind enough to buy us a bottle of rice vodka called ‘Red Cock’ which was as pleasant as it sounded and well…. there was foam. I got drenched, for the umpteenth time that weekend, there was far too much Chang consumed (I’ve since learned that the percentage isn’t regulated in Chang and the beer you are drinking can be anything from 5% to 13% which explains a lot) and I did have a really awesome time. Lots of my recollections are fairly hazy but I’m pretty sure that I got home about 2, where I then proceeded to drunkenly fall off the bunk bed as I tried to climb to the top bunk. Good times.
And well, that’s pretty much the extent of my wild, hedonistic Songkran in Chiang Mai! It wasn’t at all what I expected it to be, but it was great and I have a lot of very awesome memories and cool stories from it! Wandering around Chiang Mai with my ridiculous water gun was amazing, I met a bunch of cool people and well… I did nothing cultural. I saw no elephants, no temples and I’m still woefully ignorant on how to make Pad Thai. But I did get to experience a Thai Festival in full swing, which was great. I think from now on I’ll be doing a lot less partying but still, it was awesome. I think I’m going to remember Songkran in Thailand for a very long time. And as for the cultural stuff- well I guess a return visit to Thailand will be on the cards!
Thailand Part One: Bangkok
After Cambodia, I headed to South East Asia’s most well-known and well-visited country: Thailand.
Friends and family have been to Thailand before but it had honestly never been high on my list. However, skipping it would have been ridiculous so I headed straight to Bangkok. I must admit, I wasn’t particularly excited. Lots of people told me not to stay there more than a couple of days but I was actually pleasantly surprised.
After the relative poverty and lack of development in Cambodia, Bangkok was a complete contrast. High rises, metro systems, western brands abound there and I must admit, it was a pleasant change to find myself in a place where getting the things you needed was simple. Thai people are friendly, there is street food everywhere and despite cockroaches on the street, Bangkok kind of got under my skin a bit, in a really good way!
I was also very happy to discover on my arrival that my friend Stacey from Korea had also just arrived in Bangkok so on my first full day we went to Chatuchak Weekend Market! Spending time with Stacey was such a pleasure- not to devalue any of the friendships I’ve made on the road, but it was nice not to be working to get to know someone. Whilst I’ve met some incredible people, it can feel repetative regurgitating your life story for the nth time and it made a change not to have to do that!
The market itself was incredible- a sprawling mass of shops and stalls selling everything from clothes to cookware to wood carvings. It was huge and it was very easy to get lost. It was an awesome experience though, easily the best market I’ve been to in Asia thus far! We also went for a wander around the MBK centre, a huge shopping centre/market which is insanely huge. It was fun just to look around and eat delicious Thai food!
The next day I spent the morning applying for my Myanmar Visa and then I hit the tourist trail and took a boat along the river to get to the Royal Palace. It was a beautiful way to see the city and a cheap way to travel too!
The Royal Palace was very impressive. They have a gorgeous temple there called ‘The Temple of the Emerald Buddha’. Buddha himself isn’t that impressive, and he’s made of jade, but the outside was incredible. This huge building is decorated with tiny coloured mirror tiles which create this beautiful glitter affect. It was unlike any other building I have ever seen and it was just stunning.
There were lots of other beautifully decorated buildings too and whilst wandering around them, I came upon a Korean family with 2 kids, Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed hearing Korean. Whilst I’m far from fluent, I have enough of an understanding that it makes a difference. The little boy was complaining about the heat (mid-30s) and started shouting ’ 엄마’ (Muuuuuuuum!). I can’t describe it, but it was such a typical way for a Korean kid to start whining that the whole family started laughing and so did I! I saw the Grandma looking a bit confused so I told her in Korean that he was very cute. For one moment she just smiled and then the penny dropped and she exclaimed (in Korean) ‘She speaks Korean!!!!’. We had a very brief conversation where she asked me how much Korean I spoke and said it was nice to meet me. It really made me smile.
That evening, I allowed Stacey to take me to a wine bar! (Stacey and I honed our wine drinking skills in Ulsan!) We went to more of an expat area, which was much more developed and expensive but it was really nice. I also had some Fruit Cider for the first time in years which was delicious. We spent a lot of money but again, it was nice to do something normal with someone I’d normally do that kind of thing with!
However, it wasn’t late night because I had to be up early the next day to head to Kanchanburi, location of The Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway. I went with a tour group and there was only one other solo backpacker type on the trip so we hung out, which was really cool. Our first stop was the War Graves. I’ve been to War Graves before but I made a slightly.. unwise decision to read a book about the Cambodian Genocide whilst on the bus so I was feeling fairly emotional by the time we arrived. Wandering through these graves and reading the messages on their graves, seeing the flowers and the pictures people had left… well, I was a bit of a wreck!
After this we headed to the JEATH War Museum. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a History snob, but I think it was a really poor Museum. It was poorly presented, it was run down and didn’t really teach me a lot about the Death Railway or the circumstances around it. Note: shoving old objects in a building doesn’t make it a museum.
However, next we went for a walk along the Bridge Over The River Kwai itself. My Mum visited the bridge in 1990 and never walked across the bridge so I thought I should make my way across, just for her! It was a cool experience but I did get very freaked out when a train came across the bridge as I was standing on it! There were plenty of places to stand out of its way but it was still pretty freaky!
After this we were taken to go on the Railway itself! I must admit, I really enjoy train journeys so I thought it was fun even though the circumstances around its creation were pretty dire (thousands of Prisoners of War were forced to build the railway by the Japanese during the Second World War). After that it was lunch and then we ended the day at a Waterfall! The waterfall was stunning and had a very small lagoon which was full of Thai families. Being sadly aware of my propensity towards clumsiness, I decided just to watch but it was a really beautiful spot!
I was able to get back to Bangkok in good time so Stacey and I had dinner and watched Game of Thrones. The next day I had a quieter day, simply doing some things I needed to do and relaxing and just wandering around my neighbourhood. Stacey and I wandered around Patpong Market (and got offered many a Ping Pong show) and had dinner!
And well, that was Bangkok! It totally challenged any preconcieved ideas I had about it. I loved the contrast of the Thai world and the western world. I thought it was an awesome place to stay, well worth more than a couple of days. I think it helped that I stayed at one of the nicest hostels ever. Smile Society off Silom Road was so nice and in such an awesome location. In fact, I enjoyed Bangkok so much I am heading back this weekend for a couple of extra days!
Coming soon: Songkran in Chiang Mai!
Korean Ferry Disaster
I’m thinking very much about Korea and my Korean friends, colleagues and students right now.
This is hitting very close to home. I hope they find more survivors. This is so tragic.
Hello blog fans! Sorry for the lack of updates over the past couple of weeks but I have simply been busy having a wonderful time! However, I finally have a ‘nothing day’ and a little time to update you all on my adventures in Cambodia.
I was a bit worried about travelling from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh but I needn’t have worried. I travelled with Mekong Express Bus company and was generally impressed. The border crossing was well handled and the visa on arrival was very easy to obtain. The trip took about 7 hours in total and I was glad to get off the bus at the end! I then headed to my hostel which was lovely.
A lot of the tourist restaurants and bar are by the river in Phnom Penh so I headed there for dinner. It was there that I came across my first problem- street kids.. Cambodia is significantly poorer than anywhere else I have ever visited and that means that there are a lot of children either begging or selling stuff. I was aware before I arrived that buying things from these children is generally not recommended but I found it harder than I thought. It’s a lot easier to refuse an adult, but refusing a child felt rather callous at first even though I was aware that’s why they are required to sell and that by refusing them I was actually helping.
The next day, having made friends with a girl called Sorell in my hostel, I headed off to the National Museum and the Royal Palace. What we hadn’t banked on however, was just how insanely warm Cambodia is at the moment. We managed the museum and then stopped for a 2 hour break before attempting the Palace where we didn’t last long either because, hot.
The next day Sorell, a girl we met in our hostel called Charmel and a girl I met in Ho Chi Minh called Lauren and I organised a Tuk-Tuk to take us out of the city to The Killing Fields. For those of you who don’t know between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia was run by the Khmer Rouge who wanted to create a pure communist peasant society. They made all Cambodians leave the cities and join communes where they were forced to farm whilst given barely any food. At the same time, they rounded up anyone who went against the regime and killed them- approximately 2 million people, out of a population of 7 million, were killed in just under 4 years. The places where they did this were called The Killing Fields. There are over 300 of them in Cambodia but the most famous of these is outside Phnom Penh and is Cheoung Ek.
It’s quite a way out of the city and required a long Tuk-Tuk drive there. Once there we were given a headset each and invited to walk around the site. Through the recordings we listened to, we were able to learn a lot about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. There were mass graves and trees were babies were murdered. We listened to the accounts of survivors and when we looked at the ground we could still see scraps of cloth on the floor, remnants of the victims clothes. It was an incredibly moving and affecting place. To know that such horror took place there was awful- it juxtaposed very much with the actually very beautiful location. There were lots of trees, a lake and there were birds singing. Under any other circumstances it would have been lovely. I think the most affecting thing was just how recent it was. Anyone aged 35 or over in Cambodia lived through this. That’s so many of the people you see around you.
The walk around the Fields ends at a Stupa, where the bones of thousands of victims are housed. It was quite errie but it was lovely to see what has been done to remember the victims.
After this we had a much needed lunch and then we headed to Tuol Sleng, a genocide museum in the city. Tuol Sleng used to be a High School, but under the Khmer Rouge it was turned into a Prison, where political dissidents were kept and tortured before being sent to The Killing Fields to be killed. The Prison was awful- the Khmer Rouge kept good records so many photos and documents exist about the people who were kept there. There are displays of all these photographs which are very moving. Some of the people they killed were children and they often murdered whole families which was awful. There were these tiny cells for prisoners and there were even blood stains on the floor.
When the prison was liberated by the Vietnamese in 1979, only 7 prisoners were alive and now all but 2 of them are dead. As we were waiting by the exit, one of the survivors was sat there with a display of his books. He didn’t speak any English but meeting him was incredibly special. What really got me as well is that he is 84, the same age as my Grandpa. He signed a book for me and allowed my friend Lauren and I to have our photo taken with him. It felt like a really special moment.
That night us four girls went out drinking with a couple of Tuk-Tuk drivers that we had met. This was an… interesting experience certainly but we’re pretty sure we were only invited to pay for their drinks! They were nice company and it was another story to add to the ‘When I was travelling…’ collection!
The next morning, I was up bright and early to get a bus to Sihanoukville, a beach resort on the South Coast of Cambodia. My friend Lauren had also decided to come with me and to meet me there later in the day! The bus ride was not the best but it was simple. I then got a tuk-Tuk to the beach where I was staying, which was more out of the way. I’d booked myself a beach hut. I’d had visions of myself in Paradise but my beach hut was not particularly impressive. It wasn’t dirty but it was run by two guys who didn’t care at all.
Lauren and I ended up spending most of our time at other places along the beach. I’d like to say we did a lot but we sat on the beach and walked on the beach and I got quite burned. It was a lovely couple of days, totally relaxing. We did go into town at one point, where I had a one hour massage but otherwise I sat on the beach and loved it. I didn’t love being covered in sand quite as much but it was lovely not to worry about doing too much or going anywhere!
We headed back to Phnom Penh for a night after that, where I think were were glad to remove the grime from ourselves! Then the next morning we were up bright and early on our way to Siem Reap! The bus ride there took a long time because the highway between the two cities is under construction! But we made it. At this point, Lauren and I split up because my hostel didn’t have enough room for her. However, we met to explore Siem Reap later in the day.
Siem Reap is really a city that exists by feeding off all the visitors to Angkor Wat, but it is rather nice despite that. There are a lot of restaurants, markets and street food and it was generally lovely. I really enjoyed it!
The next day was more relaxed but the evening Lauren and I arranged for a Tuk-Tuk driver to take us to Angkor Wat to Sunset! Sadly we arrived too late for a really good view but it was pretty cool regardless! It was however, incredibly warm. As it’s a temple you have to dress respectfully. I have no problem with this but there is a lot to be said for a pair of shorts and a vest top when it comes to keeping cool! The sunset was really nice though and we were then able to head back to Siem Reap for dinner!
That night I had the worst night’s sleep I have had since I started travelling- sharing a dorm comes with a risk but nothing is worse than sharing with a snorer. A guy in my dorm got drunk and whilst he’d snored a little the night before, this turned him into a TRAIN. An actual train. He was so loud it echoed. I got hardly any sleep and then I had to get up at 4.40am to go for sunrise! I was not best pleased.
Lauren and I got to Angkor Wat for about 5.30. It was still very dark but there were loads of people watching- clearly this is the thing to do in Cambodia! What really surprised Lauren and I though was the number of people who had dressed inappropriately! There were so many people in vests and short shorts! Cambodians are very polite so they will never really chastise you about your clothes but they definitely don’t appreciate it! Sunrise was incredibly beautiful and looked very striking with the Wat in the foreground. After we watched the sunrise we went and explored all around the temple for a good hour before meeting up again and having breakfast! Then we headed to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom was extremely impressive but in much worse condition than Angkor Wat- a guide informed me that the Khmer Rouge did a lot of the damage. We generally then walked around the complex before heading to another temple where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed! And then by 12, we were done and I headed back to the hostel for a much needed nap! That evening, Lauren and I had dinner and went to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at what the cambodians called a ‘personal cinema’ but what to anyone who has been in Korea is a DVD Room! That was our last night together which was sad- Lauren waw an awesome travel companion and I really enjoyed spending time with her! The next day I went shopping in the markets and basically wandered around. I spent a lot of time with an older Australian lady called Lyn who was lovely! We had lunch and dinner together along with a Dutch girl called Lisbeth. Overall, I really enjoyed Cambodia. Despite the horrors in their recent History, Cambodians are some of the loveliest people I have met, friendly, open and welcoming. Learning about their wonderful country was a privelege and I’d definitely go back- the idea of a volunteering experience there is something I’d love to do in the future. And now I’m in Thailand. An update on my adventures here: coming soon
Q: Hey there, I just finished applying to EPIK and was wondering if you are still employed with them and how the experience was? Both teaching and being in Korea. :)
Thanks for your message. I am no longer employed with EPIK but the experience was pretty good. I loved being in Korea and I enjoyed teaching but started to stagnate towards the end (I was there for 2 and a half years). No regrets, it was a great part of my life.
Vietnam Part Three: Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City
After three weeks, tonight is my last in Vietnam. It’s been an incredible experience and it seems like a fitting time to write an update about my last few stops here.
After I left Cat Ba Island, I spent an afternoon in Hanoi and then I did something I had never done before: I caught a sleeper train. I’d booked a soft sleeper, upper bearth. I was ‘assisted’ to the train by a man who I thought was just being helpful but it turned out he wanted 50,000 dong to help me. It took ages to get rid of him since he was being fairly obnoxious! I was staying in a cabin with 2 Germans and a Belgian woman which was fine but the issue was that after my motorbike accident, I had clearly really hurt my foot. It had swollen to what can only be described as elephantine proportions. Climbing up to my bunk was not pleasant.
Once I got settled on the train however, the sleeper experience was not so bad. I got about 7 hours sleep which was pretty good considering! The one thing that really put me off though was despite our sheets being clean at Hanoi, if anyone got off the train, people who got on then had to sleep in their sheets! Pretty gross!
I got to Hue by mid-morning and made it to my hostel. I met a nice American family whilst I waited for my room to become available and they gave me a really interesting book to read about The Vietnam War. After that I elected to not do much. My foot clearly was not happy and in need of rest. I did that for the next couple of days, just really leaving for dinner and lunch. It wasn’t very exciting but I know that it’s what I needed. It did mean that I stayed in Hue for one more day than I played but I felt this was the better course of action.
The plus side of my second day in Hue is that my friend from Hanoi arrived. Manuel is a very lovely German and he was great company for the next couple of days. On the Saturday we went and explored The Citadel which was really interesting. Hue is the old capital of Vietnam and thus had a royal Citaedel at it’s heart for housing the Emperor and his family and attendants. It was badly damaged during the Vietnam war and then after the war was essentially left to decay as it was seen by the ruling party as a sign of a feudal past. They have however, decided to restore it which is great. It’s a very mixed environment with lots of ruins and some restored parts. Also, it was the sight of a Battle during the war and you can even see Bullet Holes, which was somewhat eerie!
The next day Manuel and I decided to do our own things so I went off on a city tour, ostensibly to see the tombs of former Emperors. The first two tombs I went to were magnificent and well worth the visit. I was also surrounded by Chinese tourists taking my picture. Being tall and ‘beautiful’ has it’s perks apparently! However, after that I found the day a bit disappointing. Despite paying for the tour we also had to pay for entrance fees and it got expensive quickly. My favourite part was getting up close and personal with some Water Buffalo taking a bath by where our boat docked! It was lovely!
The next day I caught my bus to Hoi An. Despite it being a day-time bus and only four hours long we were still put on a sleeper bus. Even for that long I found it fairly uncomfortable and decided to avoid buses here as much as possible! I got to Hoi An and my foot was playing up again. I got off the bus and decided to walk to my hostel onIy to be accosted by a woman who promised me a free ride to my hostel if I went to her tailor shop in the morning. It sounded like a good deal to me so me and my two back packs got on her bike and off we went!
I got to my hostel and decided to take it easy. However, I went outside and bumped straight into an Irish Guy I’d had a brief chat with on Cat Ba Island! Hooray for a dinner friend. We headed to the Old Town for dinner which was lovely and the area was so beautiful. It’s by a river full of old boats and all lit up by lanterns. Simply lovely. However, my other first impression was that it was a lot more expensive than the other places I had visited.
The next morning, my phone also decided to break so I went out to find somewhere to fix it only to bump into the lady from the day before. She took me to a shop to get i fixed (For free!) and then to her tailor shop. I’d been strugggling to find shorts I liked so I ended up getting 2 pairs of those made…and a pair of trousers… and 4 dresses! Oops! It was a lot of fun picking everything out though!
That afternoon I just relaxed, my foot and I, because it was all swollen again. Thankfully a guy in my dorm has a proper support/compression bandage. Using it immediately improved the situation!
The next day I decided to abandon my bed of pain and to go exploring. Walking through Hoi An Old town during the day was just beautiful- it was also my first proper sunny day which I loved! It was awesome. I also had a manicure which was lots of fun. In the afternoon, I went for my first fitting for my clothes which was fun!
The following morning I went for my final fitting which took a lot longer than expected but in the afternoon I hired a bike and cycled to the beach. This was my favourite part of my visit to Hoi An (and I really liked Hoi An). The people were waving at me along the way and the scenery was beautiful. Endless rice paddies! And the beach was beautiful too and there I had the most delicious fried rice! I also met a couple from Edinburgh- they were older, maybe in their 50s, but so friendly and willing to talk to me. They even let me sit on the beach with them and share their chips!
Friday morning I was up bright and early to go to a cookery course- I love cooking so I plan to do a course in every SE Asian country! The course was really interesting. It started with an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese breakfast and then I was taken on a tour of the market by the staff there, just me and one other guy. Learning about Vietnamese ingredients was really interesting and they all seem really passionate about their food. Back at the restaurant, we got on with the cooking. We started with a Cabbage Soup with Shrimp Mousse parcels and then made a traditional Hoi An pancake- just delicious! Then we made Marinaded Chicken Skewers to go with a Green Mango Salad. It was out of this world! It was very assisted though so I’d like some more opportunities to do some more independent cookery courses.
In the afternoon, the weather took a turn for the worse so I didn’t do much. Really, despite how much I like Hoi An, I spent too much time there. I could have used a day less. And I have to speed up a little in my travels. I want to leave room to be flexible but 5 nights in one place is just a bit much usually.
Saturday afternoon I caught my flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh. I was a bit cross when I arrived and no one was waiting for me like I’d asked my hostel. However, my anger abated when I arrived to the warmest welcome I’d received in Vietnam. The hostel is family run and so nice. They provided me with Ice Tea and a banana on arrival and my room is lovely. They’ve been nothing but helpful since I arrived. I’m very impressed, mostly.
Yesterday in Ho Chi Minh, I visited the Independence Palace which was interesting. It’s been left in near perfect condition since it was taken over in 1975 and it’s a bit of a time warp. However there were loads of tour groups which I hated. Definitely annoying.
In the afternoon, I went to the War Remnants Museum, which was both interesting and moving. There’s no denying that the Vietnam war has left an indelible impression on the people of Vietnam, both mentally and physically. Even today, people still suffer from the effects of Agent Orange, leading to mental and physical impairments. The pictures were really shocking and gave me a lot to think about.
Today however, I decided to have a relaxing day. I went to the cinema to see ‘Divergent’ and had a foot massage and pedicure which was extremely relaxing.
And well… that’s Vietnam. I’ve loved it- the people, the food, the places. It has definitely got more under my skin than I anticipated. Also, I’ve learned a lot about travelling and learned some important lessons about how to better organise the rest of my trip.
I’m on my way to Phnom Penh tomorrow and then on to Sihanoukville on Friday to spent a few days lying on the beach doing nothing. I’m excited to explore Cambodia and all it has to offer. Right now, I’m loving travelling. It’s wonderful.
Vietnam Part Two: Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island
Sunday morning dawned bright and early and Kal and I grabbed a lift with a tourist bus to Halong City! The journey was fine, if somewhat cramped. Sadly that was also the day it decided to stop raining in Hanoi! Typical!
We made it to Halong City and to our hotel. I must admit, whilst our hotel was cheap I wasn’t overly impressed. It just looked really tired and dingy and the woman on the front desk wasn’t the friendliest. She tried to charge us $30 for a ferry ticket to Cat Ba Island, a huge inflation of the regular price!
Halong City was fairly underwhelming too. There were some beautiful views but the city lacked a lot to recommend itself. It was poorly laid out and there wasn’t a lot to do. We spent most of our time sat in coffee shops and relaxing. I’m glad we only spent one night there.
The next day we headed to Cat Ba Island, the biggest and only inhabited Island in Halong Bay, which was easier said than done! There was no direct ferry from Halong Bay so we had two options- hitch a ride on a tourist boat or get a ferry from a tiny port several miles away. We headed to the tourist wharf in the morning and immediately started running in to touts. One offered us a ride for the lovely cost of 1 million dong (roughly $50!!). We eventually found a guy selling tickets for $10- he promised we’d be dropped in Cat Ba Town with a bus ready to collect us. It was much more reasonable though it still felt slightly shady to us. We waited in a cafe for 4 hours before we finally joined our tour group which arrived for Hanoi.
The boat trip itself was an experience. None of the boats in Halong Bay seemed that great and ours was fairly worn down too. Despite living in Korea, I am still finding dealing with the wild lack of health and safety here somewhat difficult. To get onto the boat there was a tiny gangplank resting on the boat and two Vietnamese men to hold us!
Sailing through the bay was lovely and quite peaceful. We eventually started to see more and more- at one point the boat stopped at a Cave but I didn’t get off the boat because the system of getting off seemed distinctly unsafe to me!! However, after that the views got better and were simply lovely. Kal and I also made a new friend, Varvara, a Russian girl studying in Hong Kong, who was also staying in our hostel. We got off the boat together at a floating village- a lot of people did Kayaking but we elected to be rowed around in a Bamboo boat by a local which was awesome. It was a great way to view the bay and it was simply beautiful.
After that we sailed for Cat Ba and were unceremoniously dumped at a random port on the north of the Island, nowhere near Cat Ba Town. There were three people waiting at the Bus stop, Diego from Spain and Karen and Ivy from Hong Kong! We ended up having a bus stop party and having a great time for an hour until a whole load of other people and a bus arrived to drive us to Cat Ba Town. The first bus we were put on was far too small so we were then moved to a bigger bus. Then, half-way to town the bus broke down! We sat on a dark bus for 20 minutes before a new bus arrived and we finally made it to our hostel, where Diego also stayed! The four of us made an awesome group.
That evening, we found a little restaurant near our Hostel which we became very loyal too. Also down the road was a totally empty night club blasting out music at an incredibly high volume! But our first impressions of Cat Ba were good.
The next morning we took a slightly more relaxed approach and had a lazy breakfast. With some persuasion, we then decided to hire motorbikes. Anyone who knows me from knows that I’m not really a risky person- things involving risks aren’t my style. But I decided to give it a whirl. I got on the bike and my first thoughts were pretty positive. My accelerating was bad but I was able to persuade the guys to let me drive and off we went all across Cat Ba! I must admit that I really got into it and was having an awesome time! It was really freeing and fun!
We drove to the National Park where the others decided to do a trek to the top of a mountain. I wasn’t really wearing good shoes so I decided to rest at the National Park entrance for a couple of hours- I ended up having a really interesting conversation with the guy who sold tickets so I don’t feel like it was time wasted at all!
After the others came back we decided to visit the ‘Hospital Cave’. This is a cave on Cat Ba that was used as a Hospital by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. It wasn’t a proper museum as such- our guide was the son of a man who had lived there for 6 years during and after the war. It was a really good experience and very interesting! Ho Chi Minh even made a speech there!
After this we drove back to town and well… this is when things got very interesting for me. We stopped at a corner in Cat Ba town to discuss our next move. I went to move off, accelerated too hard, hit a puddle, skidded and crashed in probably the busiest intersection in town.
To their credit, the 30 people or so who saw all came to help and see if I was okay. I was able to stand and ascertained that nothing was broken but I was badly scratched, banged and bruised (and I’ve sprained my ankle). We took the bikes back and I headed back to the hostel to deal with my injuries and nurse my wounded pride! I spent some time feeling sorry for myself- I’d had SUCH a great day and then my clumsy self went and ruined it at the end of the day! But I’m still really proud of myself for trying something new and doing something fairly out of character. Riding a bike was really fun and I may well do it again… perhaps after some lessons next time however! And I really am fine. My foot is still a little swollen and I’m bruised all over my legs but I’m looking after myself, taking it easy and doing okay!
We were able to have a lovely final dinner together in Cat Ba! The next morning Varvara and I headed back to Hanoi and Kal went to Ninh Binh whilst Diego stayed for one more day! It was a great trip and except for the crash, I really, really enjoyed it. Varvara and I then spent the afternoon in Hanoi before I caught my night train to Hue (more on than in my next entry) where I now am. I’ve spent the last two days resting my ankle but I should be up for moving around more tomorrow.
And that’s Vietnam so far. I’m really having a great time so far and have way too many travel stories! I hope it continues this way!
Vietnam Part One: Hanoi
I arrived in Hanoi just over a week ago and my first 24 hours were certainly a big learning curve! I arrived and submitted my Visa paperwork which was thankfully approved quite quickly. I’d been doing a lot of reading on the net about how often taxis will scam you so I arranged to be picked up from the airport with my hostel: I must admit, a sign saying ‘Hannah Rogers’ was pretty exciting!
The taxi was less of a taxi and more of some guy’s car and then we off, whizzing our way to Hanoi. Being somewhere brand new was pretty overwhelming at first: everything looked incredibly different and the huge number of mopeds on the road was incredible! I’d seen a few strange things on them in Korea but it was nothing, nothing like Vietnam. I saw two women on a bike with a baby proped up inbetween them!
I made it to my hostel and that’s where I started to get uneasy. The lady behind the desk was very nice but told me that I was unable to stay in a dorm room because two boys in there were very sick. She told me I should stay in a single room for 1 night for $14. It being my first night and feeling somewhat intimidated, I said yes. I then went upstairs and did some googling and found that my hostel had removed any mention of having dorm availability from their website. It was probably the most intimidating night though because I was all by myself in a brand new place. I managed to go out for dinner and then headed back.
My first impression was of the traffic; I always took a fairly dim view of Korean traffic but I promise you, next to Vietnamese driving, it is orderly and respectful! Here your car horns are a way of life, mopeds dodge and duck everywhere! My guidebook had recommended crossing the road slowly, letting all the traffic swerve around you and this was in fact the best policy thought it certainly took some getting used to!
The next morning I headed downstairs, had breakfast and was then informed that I would need to stay in a single room again that night because the boys would be sick for 2 or 3 days!! This is when I began to get super uncomfortable- I understand that they wanted to keep my business but I wasn’t happy that I was being lied to. They then informed me that my room was booked for that evening and I’d have to move to their friend’s hostel for $11 a night! This is when I decided I needed to leave. I asked for some hostel recommendations on tumblr and facebook and then started searching myself- I found a hostel just around the corner from my original hostel and booked myself in for 5 nights. I packed my bag and went downstairs- I was very polite and simply told them that I was going to stay with a friend in their hostel.
I walked for 10 minutes and arrived at my new hostel. I was shown to an all-female dorm and immediately felt better. They confirmed that 5 nights was fine, they were clean and in a good location and generally helpful. I also had a locker and was able to lock up all my belongings which I hadn’t been able to at my first hostel. That afternoon I went for a brief walk to Hoan Kiem Lake, a huge landmark in the tourist district of Hanoi. I wasn’t quite feeling up to a lot of sightseeing after all the drama so I headed back to the hostel.
People started arriving in my dorm and I met a great bunch of girls- 4 Germans: Steffi, Anna, Vera and Sophie! They were so friendly and welcoming, I felt more relaxed than I had in Vietnam up until that point. They invited me to drink beer with them on the roof of our hostel and invited me along to dinner. A Canadian Girl, a German Guy and a Norwegian Guy came along too. It was so festive and made me feel so much happier about being on my own in a strange new city.
I had a fairly relaxing morning the next day- the other girls headed off to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. They came back around lunchtime so I joined them for the afternoon. We decided to go and look for the Women’s Museum, via a delicious Sushi restaurant! And looked we did- and could we find it? No. I suspect our hostel has it misprinted on the map they gave us! We did however find a delicious coffee shop and very much enjoyed our time there. We headed back to the hostel to relax! That evening another guy in the hostel called Derrik took us to a delicious ‘Hole-in-the-wall’ place for dinner! It was 35,000 dong (1 pound!!) for a HUGE plate of delicious Vietnamese food! I definitely felt way more comfortable and happy then. Despite my natural introversion, I think with travelling meeting people is a good way to share experiences and feel connected to others whilst away from home.
The next morning Anna, Steffi, and Sophie left so I ended up spending the day with Vera! Sadly, this is the day the weather turned bad and sadly most of my first week was spent dealing with mist and drizzle. We went to the train station where I bought my train ticket for Hue and she bought her’s for China! (She teaches English there!). We had a really nice morning and in the afternoon, the German guy, Manuel, came with us. We had delicious cheap Pizza for lunch and then headed off to Hoan Kiem Lake again.
In the centre of the Lake, there is a temple (Ngon Soc Temple) which was kind of cool and had amazing views. They also has a giant embalmed tortoise which was kind of creepy! After this was tried to find the ‘Memorial House’ which is apparently a traditional Vietnamese house but we couldn’t find it which was disappointing. Instead we visited Bac Ma Temple which is a small temple in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It was small but it was interesting to see the things people were offering- beer and choco pies among other things!!
We got back to the hostel and met a new person in our dorm, Kal, a woman from Australia. Manuel was off to Sapa that evening so after free beer, Kal, Vera and I headed out for dinner and had 3 delicious courses! It was a great evening because it was Vera’s last night in Hanoi and Kal’s first so it felt very symbollic! After dinner I had to say goodbye to Vera which was really sad- she was my first proper ‘travelling friend’ and she took great care of me!
However, the next morning Kal and I got up bright and early to go and pay a visit to Ho Chi Minh! After he died in 1969, the Vietnamese had him embalmed and he is kept in a special mausoleum here in Hanoi. Walking there took a good hour. Before we could go inside all our bags were scanned and anybody wearing inappropriate clothing was turned away! (I passed both. Phew!). The mausoluem itself was pretty imposing, this huge dark building. We joined a queue to go inside and filed slowly and silently in, past guards in shiny white suits. Ho Chi Minh’s corpse is in a glass case in a dimly lit room, with four honour guards around him. He honestly just looks like a wax figure.
The whole experience felt pretty mad to be honest. All these guards and the huge buildings- I’d never experienced anything like that before. I think I’ve found it surprising just how much he is still respected and remembered by the Vietnamese; I’ve seen several houses and hostels with a picture of him on the wall!
We got kind of lost trying to get out of the mausoleum so we ended up seeing the outside of the Presidential Residence too, which was quite a cool building. But afterwards Kal and I were tired and retired cheerfully to a coffee shop before continuing our journey, this time to the Temple of Literature.
I was fairly unimpressed by the temples from the day before but this one more than made up for it. It was huge and gorgeous, with beautiful buildings and gardens. We probably spent an hour there, exploring.
After this we walked all the way back to the Lake which was some distance. We ended up having lunch in a restaurant overlooking the lake which provided us with some gorgeous views!
Whilst we were sat there I mentioned to Kal that it looked like a Halong Bay trip I’d been trying to organise had fallen through and she invited me to join her. She was leaving the next day, one day earlier than I had planned to. I decided to throw caution to the wind, to scrap my plans and to join her the next day! This was fairly spontanaeous for me!
We then went for an amble around the lake and headed back to the hostel to organise things for the next day. After that we decided to take the opportunity to go to Hanoi’s Night Market which is only held on the weekend. I was able to buy a smaller backpack for my trip to Halong Bay. The street food was okay but not particularly exciting. So I’m still on my hunt for a market with decent street food!
And that pretty much rounds up my adventures in Hanoi. Despite a rocky start, I was really quite fond of the city by the end. My second hostel was lovely and I really enjoyed the hustle and the bustle of the city. It was a very different place and I didn’t even do half of what I wanted to do- I skipped all four museums on my list. I definitely feel like with Hanoi my travelling has started properly. It’s taught me a lot about meeting people on the road (which I actually really like) and I feel much more prepared for my future adventures!