Tuesday, 17 March 2015

A Month On

In two days I'll have been home for a month, and I have no idea where the time has gone. Considering I don't have a job to pass my time, it's gone very quickly. I have been keeping myself busy with seeing friends, and after 10 days 'holiday' when I first got back I'm now jobhunting. Which is hideous, but needs to be done. At least the UK's job market is stronger than when I left a year ago.

Now I expected to plunge into travelling blues a few days after getting back, once the novelty of the home comforts and British food, and the cold weather, had worn off. But it still hasn't. I still love being able to get up in my own room, throw on my dressing gown and make myself a cup of tea in my favourite mug. (Non-British readers of this blog may laugh at that, but it's a very important ritual).

Even the wind and rain hasn't gotten me down too much. I understand how cold countries work, hot countries confused me. Two showers a day what?

I made a slideshow of my favourite photos from my trip a couple of weeks ago (condensing 15,000 to 177, which I think I should get an award for). That was really nice, to go back and see everywhere I visited and everything I did. Some of it I'd forgotten happened. I guess that's what happens when you cram a lot into a year.

One thing I'm really happy about is that it doesn't feel like a dream. It feels like I never left home, because I've slipped right back into British life, but I know I really did everything.

Now the next adventure is finding myself a job and becoming a real adult. And maybe also shifting the toad-in-the-hole, bangers and mash, and apple crumble with custard weight... 

Friday, 20 February 2015


A year to the day after I left for Rio to start my world trip, and here I am. Back in Birmingham, unpacked and settling back into life.

I'm loving how normal everything is. I got up, put on my dressing gown and made myself a cup of tea in my favourite mug, had my favourite cereal for breakfast, used my laptop, put toilet paper into the toilet and not into a bin, and used my UK number on my phone. All tiny things that mean nothing in real life, but are lovely to come back to after a year.

Yesterday I was very tired, but made it til 9pm, having been picked up at the airport by my mum and brother (complete with a flashy balloon) an had a proper lamb roast dinner followed by apple crumble and custard. It was so good.

I only had four hours' sleep in 42 hours though, so I was a bit delirious by the evening. I woke up at 6.30am this morning and was raring to go.

I haven't quite digested everything I did on my year, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to, but I'm going to try. There's plenty of time for quiet reflection. For now, there's far too much food to eat!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


Back in Bangkok! Back in Bangkok for the third and final time of my trip. I don't even like it that much, I just gravitate here for flights to leave it. 

But anyhow, I'm staying in the same hostel as I did the first two times (Loftel 22). It's exactly the same and they're really nice and it feels like coming back to a home. When it's actually the first stepping stone to going back to real home. 

I just went and got street food (noodle soup) from my favourite vendor round the corner and then had a shower (Luang Prabang was really hot today and Bangkok seems to be forever humid). Tomorrow, which is my last day of the trip, I'm meeting my friend who I met here before for the afternoon and we're going to have dinner before I go to the airport in the evening. 

The last time I was sitting on a bed in this hostel I was with Laura. We were planning our month-long trip around Asia, and now that's over, and so is my year-long trip around the world. 

I'm so conflicted, and one minute I'm so looking forward to being at home, and the next I realise how sad I'll be to leave the travelling lifestyle and settle into a more mundane *normal* routine. But the nice thing is that every traveller I've spoken to gets what I'm feeling right now. Whenever I mention that it's the end of my trip people ask me how I'm feeling about it, and when I say I've been travelling for a year their mouths normally drop open in a rather comical way. Everyone is heading towards this inevitability, and everyone wants to know what it's like. 

One thing is for sure, I'm so glad I finished my trip in Luang Prabang. It's a fantastic place and I hope my life takes me back there one day. All that's left is a day in Bangkok with my friend, and the next day I'll be home in Birmingham. Having tea with my family and drinks with my friends, curries with the old curry gang, and Just Dance sessions with my brother, massive roast dinners, free run of my entire wardrobe, open fires and TV in my dressing gown, and trips around the UK for various long-overdue reunions. 

Am I excited? 

Hell yes I am. 

Sunday, 15 February 2015



It's hitting me like a tonne of bricks, subsiding, and then comes smashing down on me again. 

After not enjoying Vietnam, and finding myself counting the days until I was home, I thought I was just fed up of travelling. But coming to Laos and experiencing the different pace of life here has reignited something within me. 

I love hopping off planes, trains, buses, tuk-tuks and exploring beautiful places, having no responsibilities except for myself, meeting new people and seeing things I've dreamt of for years. 

And on Thursday all that will change. 

It will be lovely to see my family, my friends, my home, with all my home comforts that I can't deny I've yearned for at times over the last 12 months. I'm looking forward to that, perhaps more than I realise at this precise moment. But what it means is that my life won't be special anymore. Or not how I've gotten used to it being - constantly on the move, always looking forward to the next spectacular destination. It's been tiring, bewildering, frustrating, and the best year of my life. 

Luang Prabang

Oh I love Luang Prabang! I was praying that the last few days of my trip would be good, after Vietnam turned out to be such a disappointment, and Laos has delivered. 

It's a pity I only have time to just do here, and not travel around Laos more, but I'd heard that LP is the place to be. And I can see why. 

The old city is tiny, sitting comfortably between the mighty Mekong and one of its tributaries, which are crisscrossed by bamboo bridges. It's a traveller's dream, with impressive temples, French cafés and bakeries, a large night market, and Buddhist monks who stroll the cobbled streets beneath the palm trees, all surrounded by forested mountains. It has a really relaxed vibe, and the sun has come out for my last few days of travelling. Gotta work on that tan or no one will believe I've been away! 

The town is small, but there's plenty going on. I just want to drink in the atmosphere wherever I go. When I get to a new city I love to just wander aimlessly and see what's going on. Luang Prabang is a great place to get lost. 

After the pushiness of Vietnamese people I was so happy to find Laotians much more chilled out and polite. When you walk into a shop or pass by a stall they don't immediately jump on you and start pestering. Someone needs to spread the word that this is not a good selling technique for Westerners. 

There's a very popular bar here called Utopia, which is recommended in all the guidebooks, and I went there on my first night with some people I met in the hostel. It has a nice atmosphere, with cushions and low tables right on the riverside. I think I might go there on my last night and have a cocktail, and reflect on the last year. 

Today I took a minivan to Kouang Si waterfalls (35,000 kip + 20,000 entry) and was not expecting them to be as beautiful as they were. From the photos I'd seen it looked very similar to Erawan Falls near Kanchanaburi, Thailand, but the actual tumbling waterfalls were much more stunning here. I was a bit blown away by them. The actual splash pools are prettier at Erawan, but it made for a lovely hike up to the top and back down for lunch and an ice cream. 

I realised as I was hiking back down from the top how happy I've been the past year. There have been lows, of course, but I've loved the freedom of travelling. Luang Prabang is the perfect place for me to chill and just enjoy my last few days. I can't recommend it enough. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015


Sapa is a mountain town nestled right on the Chinese border in the north of Vietnam. It's popular with backpackers and tourists because it's a great setting-off point for treks in the surrounding area that include visits to ethnic minority villages. 

It is an absolutely beautiful place, with views of mountains, waterfalls, steep terraced rice paddies dropping into valleys, and rivers cutting through the landscape. So it's beautiful, when you can see all that. 

In January and February, the cloud level is so low that the whole town is inundated with freezing mist, often for days on end. I knew the weather wasn't going to be good, but I had heard such good things, and don't intend to ever visit Vietnam again, so I decided to just go for it. 

And it was bloody freezing. 3C and cloud so thick that for the first day I was there the furthest I could see in front of me was 10 metres. It was the worst visibility I've ever experienced, and the cold was a bit of a shock to the system. I wondered why I was doing this to myself, when I'm going home to the UK's winter in a week. 

But despite the weather, I did enjoy my time in Sapa. I took the night train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, which took 8.5 hours and cost US$29 for the bottom bunk of a six-person compartment (hard-sleeper). I'd done a hard-sleeper in China and it was perfectly comfortable, but being on the middle bunk then I knew I wanted to be on the bottom. The Vietnamese train wasn't as comfortable as the Chinese, but despite the centimetre thick mattress I slept very well. 

I'd arranged to be picked up by my hostel ($3) so a minivan met me at Lao Cai station and we drive the 45 minutes up to Sapa. It's a very winding road, but the views are incredible. Just as we approached Sapa itself, that's when the clouds closed in and the view was lost. 

I had three full days in Sapa, so on the first day I just wandered around the town and marvelled and how wet my clothes were getting just from walking around. I was really glad I still had my scarf and gloves from New Zealand, because otherwise I'd have been buying a new wardrobe for the three days. 

I met a British girl by an ATM, as you do, and we explored the town together. It's interesting crossing roads when you can only see a few metres in any direction. But thankfully Sapa is relatively quiet, bar the constant squawking of the old minority women who sell their wares and offer you homestays with their families. We ended up in Le Gecko, and I treated myself to some mulled wine, one of my winter favourites back home. The weather called for it. 

Once she left to get her bus I met up with an American guy I met in Hoi An and we went for dinner and a drink (I may have had another mulled wine) before I went back to rest up for my day trek the following day. 

The trek was really cool, but extremely muddy. A couple of our group slipped over, and spent the rest of the day a beautiful shade of clay brown. For the first half of the trek, as we made our way down the mountain, we were helped along by a group of Black Hmong women (one of the local tribes), who held our hands when it was slippy and told us where to walk. I was suspicious of this, because nobody does anything for free in Vietnam, and sure enough when we reached their village for lunch they pulled out their handicrafts and bracelets, and pestered us to buy. I point blank refused because I didn't want anything they were selling and because I felt like I was being emotionally blackmailed into buying something. It was hideously awkward, but the women had made it awkward. We didn't ask for their help. After a good 25 minutes of hassling me they finally gave up. It's often easier just to buy something to make them go away, but I was so fed up of Vietnam and its people by this point I stuck to my guns. I felt like a douche, I'm not going to lie, but I stuck to my principles. 

The good thing about the trek is that we went down below the clouds so we could actually see our surroundings. Although it was still misty, the rice fields cut into the mountainsides were a stunning sight. I do recommend a trip up to Sapa for that, even if the weather is awful. 

After the trek I met two Dutch women I'd met on my Halong Bay cruise, and afterwards went out for dinner (and mulled wine, obviously) with some of the guys from my hostel in Hoi An, plus someone I'd met in Sapa. That afternoon the clouds lifted for about ten minutes and I was actually able to see how nice Sapa is as a town, and some of the mountains in the distance. It must be stunning to be there in summer. 

I spent my last day there chilling in cafés, reading and staring out at the swirling mist. Then it was time to get the minibus to Lao Cai, have dinner, and watch Chicken Run on my iPod on the sleeper train back to Hanoi. All told, Sapa ain't half bad, even in winter. 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Halong Bay

My boat trip on Halong Bay was easily a highlight of Vietnam. Being one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, you know it's going to be impressive, but who you're with on the tour can be hit and miss. Luckily I met some really cool people. I was the only one travelling alone, so thank god there were people I got on with. Plus I got a private cabin to myself. Always a bonus. 

I knew the weather wasn't going to be perfect. While the majority of SE Asia enjoys a warm, dry season from December to February, northern Vietnam throws its toys out of the pram and shrouds itself in chilly mist. So I was hoping for dry weather, even if the limestone peaks would be covered in fog. And I got it! It was chilly on the boat, particularly at night, but overall comfortable weather. 

I didn't mind the mist. I came to the conclusion that it would be nicer in the sun, but the mystique that the mist gave the mountains, that loomed out at you as you approach, was pretty special as well. Waking up to that view was incredible, even if there was no sunrise to speak of. 

On the first day we left Hanoi and drove the four hours to Halong City where we transferred to the boat. We had lunch onboard and then visited Surprising Cave. I won't spoil the surprise, but don't get your hopes up too much. Apparently this cave is better than the other option, Dragon Cave. It was beautiful, and it was lit up with different colours. There's a nice view from a gap in the top of the cave too. 

There was then the option to go kayaking, or to sit on the boat for 45 minutes. Wooo. 

There was a really random pre-dinner 'party' that we were all called to, at 5.59pm sharp. They played intense techno music and had the disco ball flashing, and promptly turned them off for dinner at 7pm. Post-dinner there was karaoke (with nothing newer than Like A Virgin) and people dispersed to the 'sundeck' to chill for the evening. 

The following morning we visited a pearl farm, which was interesting to a point, but of course was mainly a shop for tourists. We are in 'Nam after all. 

As with all tours, you find people who paid varying prices for exactly the same thing. I met people who'd paid as little as US$85 for the same two-day one-night trip as I paid $110 for. But I didn't shop around, and for the ease of it just booked of through my hostel. Partly because of 'it's the end of my trip I can't be bothered anymore' laziness, and partly due to knowing I could trust the hostel's endorsements because I'd read positive reviews online. Whether that was worth the $25 commission they took, I'm not thinking about. You can of course find trips a lot cheaper than that, but how safe the boats are you don't know. There are stories of deaths from sinking vessels on the traveller grapevine. 

As with a lot of experiences travelling solo, you can be in an incredible place, but what makes it is the people you meet. And that's why I'm so in love with travelling alone.