2016, a year of Travel: Part 1

In 2016 I felt like I barely travelled anywhere. I can only add one new country to my ‘list’ and that is Russia, my new home.

However looking back 2017 was probably one of the most important years of my life. I fell in love, decided that Japan wasn’t the country for me and decided to take a huge risk and move to Moscow, leaving my love behind in Japan. Even though I only travelled to one new country, I travelled to many places in Japan, travelled to Abu Dhabi, explored Dubai in different way and visited the Venice of the north, Saint Petersburg.

February 2016

Sapporo snow festival, Hokkaido, Japan.

Ever since I moved to Japan, the Sapporo snow festival or ‘Yuki Matsuri’ as it’s known in Japan was mentioned nearly every couple of weeks. It seemed like a right of passage for many Japanese and something that nearly everyone wanted to visit. I had a few days off in February and managed to book last-minute flights and a great hostel, despite many people saying that I had no chance of booking a ticket or a hostel and that many places book up months in advance.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I disembarked the plane in Sapporo. I arrived in the middle of a massive blizzard and had never seen so much snow in my life. I found my way to my cozy little hostel where I had a self enclosed bed and set off exploring Sapporo. Hokkaido was surprisingly more relaxed than the mainland. I saw tattoo shops and just felt a lot more relaxed when walking around, like there was less societal expectation.

The snow festival itself was absolutely amazing. There were many giant statues made of snow and smaller statues dotted around the main park in Sapporo. I was surprised to see Russian dolls being sold and Russian food stalls at the festival. I bought a pierozhki and ate it as I wandered around, no inkling at all about what the future would hold.

One of the weirdest things I saw at the festival was a girl band performing next to a statue and middle-aged men singing along to the lyrics and acting like obsessive fans, jumping up in tandem.

Tokyo, Japan

When I lived in Japan I travelled to Tokyo at every given opportunity. The worlds biggest city is also one of the worlds best and I never got bored with its energy and innovation. One day I travelled to Tokyo with some fellow English teachers and we had an amazing day exploring Akihabara, buying used panties from vending machines, visiting a maid cafe and we ended the day with one of the greatest experiences in my life, Robot restaurant in Shinjuku.

April 2016

Kanamara matsuri, The penis festival.

Life in rural Japan is extremely boring, sometimes Japan delivers something extremely quirky and crazy, the penis festival is one. The trains to the festival were paclked like sardines and the streets surrounding the small temple where the parade starts from were also heaving. It was worth beating my way through the crowds when I saw the giant, pink phallus sitting serenely in the middle of the crowd. Later it was joined by an even bigger black phallus and they were paraded through the streets. I touched the phallus, it is a festival of fertility and I certainly want children someday.

The best part of the festival was buying realistic penis and vagina lollipops and shocking the innocent citizens of Japan as we paraded with them through the streets.

Hiroshima and Miyajima, Japan.

Hiroshima was probably my favourite place in Japan next to Tokyo. I absolutely loved it laid back vibe, beautiful wide, tree-lined streets and its abundance of canals. I found it such a romantic city and was blessed with perfect weather during my visit. I visited the harrowing historical sites such as the museum, flame and the dome. I attended a German beer festival and enjoyed one of the most expensive half pints of beer I’ve ever had. I ate the best food of my life and became inexplicably addicted to oysters after trying them grilled in Miyajima, after that I ate oysters at least once a day. I also realised that I had never truly ate okonomiyaki before, the food in Hiroshima was amazing.

Miyajima is an island not far from Hiroshima. I knew it was famous for the burnt orange floating tori gate but I was astounded by the islands natural beauty. It was like paradise and made me a little bit homesick for Thailand. (Is it possible to be homesick for a place other than your birthplace?).

Hiroshima dome

Miyajima oysters

May, 2016

Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo

I attended the biggest and best festival in Japan with a group of amateur photographers. I was not disappointed with my decision. I got some amazing photos because the other photographers kept moving to different vantage points to photograph the parade. I only got a few sly shots of Yakuza (Japanese gangsters) but It was great to see such an enigma in real life. After the Matsuri I ate my favourite Japanese food, okonomiyaki with a group of fellow teachers. I found out that one of them lived in Moscow for a few years…

A birds eye view of the action from Senso-Ji
The body suit of a Yakuza member

 

 

June, 2016

Sendai, Japan

Sendai is a city in Northern Japan, like every big city in Japan it felt completely different to the others. What I loved most about it was it’s proximity to nature. You could literally walk from the skyscrapers in the centre to a quiet river or secluded mountainside in 40 minutes. I think it would be a great city to live. My then boyfriend lived there so I travelled up as frequently as I could to visit him. We ate amazing ramen, visited Sendai zoo (sidenote, don’t visit zoos in Japan, they are extremely sad places) enjoyed walking around the city and attended a few festivals.

Ushiku and Tskuba, Ibaraki, Japan

I moved to Ushiku in March but I waited until the summer to see it’s most famous sight, the Ushiku Daibutsu, the tallest standing buddha in the world. I didn’t think I would be too impressed, after all I’ve travelled to Thailand so many times and seen so many giant buddhas. I was awestruck when I saw it though and felt calm and spiritual.

I went to Tskuba alone on a lonely weekend and ended up attending an international festival. It felt so nice to see other cultures being celebrated and to see people of different races together. During my time in Japan I felt acutely aware of the fact I was different to most people, this day in Tskuba was welcome respite.

The famous Ushiku Daibutsu

 

Part 2 of my year will come soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First impressions of Thailand

Thailand‘Miss Stephanie, Miss Stephanie. Border time. Get off!’.

I woke up from my deep sleep, still tired from the 5am wake up call. Dazed I made my way to the back of the mini bus and heaved my heavy backpack on to my shoulders.

The border was swarming with people selling strong smelling food and drinks in plastic bags, thick smoke filled the air with a cloying scent. I looked around at the various signs dotted around. ‘Penalty of death for drugs’ etc; I felt a pang of panic that someone had slipped something in my bag when I was asleep but I realised that it was highly unlikely.

I got the coveted Thai stamp in my passport and struggled to find my white minibus in the swarms of badly parked white minibuses at the other side. I needn’t have worried because my driver recognised me, after all I was the only lady falang on his bus.

I got a seat at the front of the bus, feeling pleased because I thought it would mean more leg room. As the bus rolled through suburban Thai streets the bus gradually started to fill up and I shared the three front seats with three Thai women. They were only tiny though which made me feel self conscious of my Western bulk.

I was engrossed reading ‘The Beach’ on my kindle when I felt a tap from the guy sat behind. ‘It’s weird isn’t it? The writing looks like hieroglyphics. Don’t worry you will get used to it’. I shared that I had travelled to Sri Lanka and that their writing was also in symbols. The guy told me that this was his third time to Thailand and that he spoke moderate Thai. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old. I felt embarrassed at being such a travel rookie and gazed out of the window for the remainder of the journey.

The floor seemed dry and arid and there was a food stall every couple of feet. A few cows roamed the streets freely, drivers of the many scooters seemed unperturbed. What shocked me the most was large pick up trucks with a roof and benches that sat up to 14 people in the back. ‘What are they?’ I asked the guy. ‘Oh they are songthaews, they have them all over Thailand. You will be getting very accustomed to them in the coming weeks’. I tried to hide the horror in my eyes. They didn’t look safe at all, there must be a safer alternative?

A songtheaw in all of it’s dangerous glory.

The mini bus stopped in an extremely busy place. ‘Miss Stephanie, off now!’ I looked around and couldn’t see the train station anywhere. I told the guy that I paid to get to the train station and his nice demeanor vanished. ‘Train station down street, you get off now, I very busy. Now!!!’. Not wanting to make a scene I got off, heaved my backpack on to my shoulders and set off in the direction of the station.

10 minutes later I reached the station and ordered a sleeper train to Bangkok where I was going to celebrate Songkran with a fellow travel blogger. ‘Next train at 6, here is your ticket, next please’, the ticket guy said. ‘But its 1pm! There must be a train before that? ‘No, that’s only train, next please’.

By now I was feeling quite wound up. When I read about Thailand I heard it was the land of smiles. This seemed to be the land of moodiness. I found a place to store my bag at the station and I felt a weight literally lifted off the shoulders. The helpful assistant even helped me with my bag and smiled at me!

I decided to make the best of a bad situation. I was stuck in Hat Yai for 5 hours so decided to have a look in the shops. I decided to treat myself to a McDonald’s for the first time in two months and ordered a ‘tuna pie’ as a little treat. It was a mix between a dessert and a savoury pie, quite peculiar.

I spent a good hour people watching and I started to understand why they call it the land of smiles. Most Thais seemed very merry, without a care in the world.

My back was akeing so when I heard the cry of ‘You wan massaaage?’ I knew I hat to try one. I had read a lot about Thai massages but noting prepared me for it. I was ushered in to a small room upstairs and sat on a foam mattress on the floor. The lady had the smallest handbag known to mankind, to this day I still wonder what she had inside it.

What came next was basically torture, every joint in my body was cracked. The lady would not relent until she heard that satisfying pop and she would swing me around until she heard it. She stood on my back too with was peculiar and did a kind of assisted forward roll. At the end I paid my 200baht and literally felt no pain in my entire body! It was a miracle!

I was at that moment when I started to love Thailand. A place where no day is the same. Despite the rocky start Thailand became one of my favorite countries in the world and I spent 3.5 months of my trip there!

 

Have you ever travelled to Thailand? What were your first impressions?

The moment you realise that travel has changed you forever

 

Tonight I realised just how much long term travel has changed me.
I was in the fitness boxing class at my gym, I asked a girl who was a similar height to me if she wanted to be my partner. She said yes then asked me in a really condescending manner if I had done boxing before. I replied that I had in this fitness class. She then said that she was a kickboxer and may hit too hard, I simply said ‘just don’t hit as hard then’…
As soon as we started the class I could sense the animosity between us. She barely looked at me and angrily brushed past me. I decided to carry on with the boxing class though thinking that this may just be her personality. I’ve been told myself that I take a while to ‘warm up’ to new people.

Then the boxing started, It’s only a fitness boxing at a local gym for fun and it’s not competative in the slightest. I was first to hit her pads, instead of recieving the impact (I was only hitting it lightly) she was pushing the pad back at me with double the force that I was giving. It was hurting my hands.

Then it was her turn to hit my pads, she was hitting them with full force and I could actually feel the stitches on the pads straining. She then told me off and told me to match the force and called the instructor over saying that she wanted to pad with him!

I’m moderatly fit at the moment so I can’t think why she felt such animosity towards me. Did she think that I was fat or unfit because of my appearance? Either way she was on an ego trip with very negative vibes that I did not want to be part of.

I politely said ‘maybe it’s best if I go and you pair with the instructor’. I just couldn’t handle her negative vibes anymore. The instructor tried to convince me to stay but I just calmly grabbed my things and walked out.

When I was in the gym downstairs I saw a girl who walked out of the class at the start because it was too physical. She didn’t seem so enthusiastic on the exercise bike so I plucked up the courage to ask her if she wanted a little boxing session because I had my own pads and gloves.

What could have been a very negative experience turned in to a very postive experience, I taught her what I knew of boxing and we had fun practicing different punches with each other. I found out that she was originally from Sri Lanka so I talked a bit about my time there and she read my numbers and said I was very chatty because I was a nine!

Pre travel Steph would have stuck out the boxing class even though it was making her miserable. Even if she did pluck up the courage to leave she would be feeling angry and frustrated, not calm like I felt. She would have certainly never have asked a stranger to box with her!

It just goes to show you that the effects of travel are evident in everyday, mundane life. Travel has taught me so much and to have much more respect for myself and others. To care less about what people think of me.

Travel really is the only thing you can buy which makes you richer.

Having fun with my French friends!
Having fun with my French friends!

 

Do you think travel has changed you? If so do you have any examples?

July travel plans: I’m heading to Tuscany, Italy!

If you follow me on Facebook you will already know this exciting news.

 

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I originally intended to travel to somewhere in Eastern Europe after being captivated by Poland’s culture, history and friendly people.  When searching on the Ryanair website I suddenly had an urge to go to Italy. Visions of an Eat, Pray Love kind of holiday filled my mind so I decided to book a return flight to Pisa without knowing much about the region.

I figured that Rome would be full of tourists and that Tuscany will be a little quieter at this time of year (I may be proved wrong…).

The more I researched about the region the more excited I got about my trip. So here are my travel plans for the week.

3 days in Pisa with a day-trip to Lucca. I’ve always been fascinated by the leaning tower and have been recommended to visit the small town of Lucca by a good friend who has travelled in the region.

4 days in Florence with a daytrip to Siena. I’ve always wanted to visit Florence, I love small cities where you can walk everywhere and it seems full of culture. I decided to stay in a campsite on the hills which is a ten minute walk from the centre of the city. I’m staying in a ‘tent-dorm’ which will certainly be a new experience. It will be well worth it though when I wake up to views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside! I also can’t wait to see my favorite piece of art in person; Botticelli’s Venus in the Uffizi!

Siena is a small Medieval town in southern Tuscany, I’m fascinated by medieval architecture and I am going to try to take some beautiful photos on my DSLR.

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Apart from the beautiful scenery and culture I can’t wait to eat delicious Italian food, drink Italian wine and try and blend in with the stylish Italians despite packing only carry on luggage!

 

I miss long term travel but for the time being small holidays are satisfying my wanderlust. I’m so lucky that I live in Europe and have so many different countries just a short flight away!

 

Have you ever travelled to Tuscany? If so do you have any travel tips for me?

 

 

The first 24 Hours after returning Home

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while but for some reason I’ve been putting it off. Maybe because after the initial 24 hours my thoughts and feelings changed so often that really I did not know what I was thinking. Travel really does change you and coming home is a shock to the system in many ways, both good and bad.

dubai editedtext

 

My last plane ride felt very different to every other flight on my big trip around the world. Instead of feeling butterflies and anticipation because I was arriving in a brand new place, having to adapt and learn the local ways I felt nervous and excited because I was going back to ‘normal’ life.

I was going home.

My motto is que sera sera, what will be will be. I initially planned to be home after a year, after all I managed to get a career break and I had a job to go back to, a luxury not many returning travellers have. I guess along the way I wished for something amazing to happen to me, for my life to change irrevocably. To fall in love with a person or a place, for my heart to tell me to stay in one particular place, for something extraordinary to happen.

Unfortunately for me this did not happen. I actually felt ready to go home.

My last flight to Manchester actually arrived early. I was surrounded by English people in the terminal and I didn’t realise how much I missed the English accent and the way we interact with each other. I had been away for ten months and was about to meet my parents again. Although we had kept in touch via skype when I’d been away I still felt like I didn’t know what to expect, will it be the same as before?

Throughout my trip I had been waiting for this moment, the moment I walk through the arrivals gate, drop my bags and run towards my screaming parents. As I took the tentative steps out of the arrivals gate I looked around and my parents were no-where to be seen. All around me families and friends were being reunited, tears were shed and hugs were given.

I had missed my moment.

I decided to sit down on my heavy backpack for one last time and just soak in the atmosphere. This was home. This was normality. It felt easy yet alien at the same time. In the back of my mind I was glad that I visited ‘Western’ countries at the end of my trip. Suffering from reverse culture shock would have made coming home unbearable.

They finally walked through the doors, looking the same as when I left them. I don’t know what I was expecting. They didn’t see me and walked right past me so I crept up behind them and surprised them. The feeling of love was overwhelming, it was so nice to see my parents after ten months of new people. Everything felt familiar and almost too easy from that moment on-wards.

In the car on the way home I watched the changing scenery go by, surprisingly parts of the journey reminded me of places that I had seen on my travels, a leafy roundabout in Australia or factories in Malaysia. I had to remind myself that I was now back at home, not on the road.

 

I had always thought that moving back in with my parents after all this time would be weird but it was the most natural thing in the world. It was nice to sit in familiar, comfy surroundings and feel completely at home, something that is rarely encountered on the road. After sometimes experiencing loneliness on the road,  it was so nice to have people to talk to all the time, people who understand me and know me.

After flying for over 30 hours in the past 4 days I was mentally and physically exhausted. I went to bed to try and sleep but my mind was in overdrive. I couldn’t stop thinking about the past, present and future. I was in a new cycle of my life and I couldn’t focus. I stayed up the rest of the day and ate loads of salad, I was craving it after weeks of unhealthy eating in New Zealand. I watched TV and was very happy just doing nothing. Not having to think about anything, plan anything, everything just felt easy!

I was overwhelmed by the amount of possessions that I owned, despite selling or giving away most of my possessions before I went travelling. For 10 months I had owned just what could fit on my back, now I had a room full of pretty shoes, dresses, handbags and makeup and I wanted to try them again right now! Probably my favorite part of coming back home was ‘going shopping’ in my room, finding outfits and possessions that I had longed forgotten about. It felt amazing when I wore my first vintage dress again. I felt more like ‘me’.

I had expected to be inundated with invitations from friends but that was not the case. People get on with their own lives when you are away. When you get back you have to fit in to their lives again. It’s crazy to think that life goes on without you.

After a few days I did meet my friends, other family members visted me and I started to feel more settled. What surprised me most was how little people wanted to talk about my trip. I had kept everyone updated about my whereabouts on Facebook but I still thought that people would love to hear my travel stories, about the time I lived with that crazy ex monk, when I rode an elephant or even the time I jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet. Nope, no-one wanted to know anything.

I guess if you have never experienced long term travel you can’t be expected to understand what it’s like. Maybe people are not interested, maybe they can’t understand what it’s like or maybe they are jealous that they won’t take the plunge and travel.

I will never know. All I knew was that I would never be the same person that first stepped on the plane to Dubai.

Travel has changed me and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life.

 

 

How did you feel when you came back from a long trip away? Did you find it hard adjusting to ‘real’ life or did you find it really easy? Did your friends and family react how you thought they would?

 

 

Nine Months of Travel: Summary and review

koala

My ninth month of travel was mostly spent in Australia, I place I have mixed feelings about. I don’t think that I ever really got over my reverse culture shock whilst I was there.

 

 

After a few days in the chilled out town of Coolangatta which is right on the border of New South Wales, it was time to head to the cool alternative town of Nimbin!

 

 

If only travel was as easy as that! When I arrived in Byron Bay, fully expecting there to be transport to Nimbin I was told that there was only ONE bus a day travelling to Nimbin and that I was an hour too late!

Initially I panicked, big time. I had arranged to stay in Nimbin because there was no accommodation in Byron Bay due to it being a busy weekend. I started thinking rationally about how I could sleep on the streets that night and how I would hide my valuables when a helpful woman at the information centre interrupted my train of thought and handed me a list of hostels in Byron bay.

I rang about 6 hostels, saddened to hear that there was no room at the inn, then I found one! I was so happy I accepted the bed without even enquiring how much it was. Luckily it was the cheapest hostel bed that I payed for in Australia.

I stayed the night in Byron bay, made some great friends and went on a fun night out. I was on a high and really enjoying New South Wales. The next day I got the bus to Nimbin,  but all was not what it seemed…

 

 

 

The bus to Nimbin is sold as a kind of hippy bus. Basically people go to Nimbin for the day to gawp at aging hippies, buy a few space cakes then hop back on the bus to civilised Byron Bay. I wanted to explore deeper than that and I ended up staying 2 nights in Nimbin (Sleeping in a teepee!) and 1 night in nearby Jiggy staying with a guy called ‘Dave Cannabis’ and riding ‘Hippy horses’. I had the true Nimbin experience!

 

 

 

In hindsight I should have stayed in Nimbin for longer, I loved the laid back attitude of the town and the beauty of it’s natural surroundings. There’s nothing nicer than falling asleep to the sound of wallabies, exotic birds and badicoots outside!

But no, the adventurer in me wanted to see more of this massive country so after a few more days in Brron bay I spent 2 nights in Coffs harbour. One of the most boring places in the world. The beach was beautiful and I enjoyed some delicious fish and chips there but the whole town was very residential and ‘vanilla’. Not my cup of tea.

 

Coffs harbour. This is the best bit about the town.

 

Bellingen was supposedly another alternative town like Nimbin and I was very excited to visit. If alternative means middle class ladies who lunch dressed in hippy pants this is the town for you. It was not an alternative town by any means. It was very chilled out and a nice place to spend a few days though. I will never tire of seeing ‘old’ heritage buildings that were built in 1921 though!

 

 

 

 

It was time to get back on the Greyhound bus and head to Port Maquarie, a place I chose to go because I found a flyer for a hostel that had floral bedding, a swimming pool and free WIFI! Did I mention the FREE WIFI?!

When I got there I was told that there was no free breakfast and WIFI like the leaflet promised. The bedding was a manly gemoetric style too. Noooo! Port Maquarie was another ‘vanilla’ town. Probably a nice place to live but a boring place to visit.

I’d had enough of small town living and needed to spend time in a metropolitan city, boy did Sydney deliver!

Sydney ended up being one of my favorite cities of all time. I stayed in a quirky train carriage right on the tracks of central station and I set my alarm for 7am everyday because there was so much to see and do. I loved how historical Sydney is, something that the rest of Australia lacks.

 

 

 

 

 

I spent my days wandering around the city, exploring every museum and art gallery within walking distance, sipping Lindt hot chocolate and attending every free walking tour available.

I was in love!

 

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In love with a city in Australia? I could barely believe it! It felt good though so I extended my stay for 5 more days.

Melbourne. Oh Melbourne. It’s the city I had highest hopes for in the world and the city that disappointing me a bit. I absolutely loved the city but it was not the ‘alternative city’ that people had been promising me. No one dressed individual or arty like I was expecting, just ‘charity shop chic’ and I was the most ‘vintage girl’ around apart from a beautiful 50’s girl in an alternative shop.

It was quirky but nothing like what I had expected. I don’t think the freezing cold temperatures helped either. I had to buy tights, cardigans and a skirt because it was so cold and rainy. The cold and rain also limited what I could do.

I loved the quirky laneways in Melbourne and the diverse little districts like St Kilda, Fitzroy and Brunswick. Melbourne is also home to one of the  best museums in Australia: Melbourne museum and the most useless museum in the world: The Hellenic museum (Greeks settled in Melbourne. The end).

 

The South Bank at night.

The street art is very cool though!

 

Australia tired me out mentally and physically. It was not what I had been expecting and in a way that was quite liberating.

Part of me was expecting to fall in love with Australia, I thought I would love the sun, nature and the laid back lifestyle. I found out that it just wasn’t for me and that was ok.

I still think that you are either an Asia lover or and Australia lover.

I’m certainly an Asia lover!

 

Which one are you?

You can keep up to date with my adventures by following my Facebook page. I update it daily and it’s an easy way to contact me.

https://www.facebook.com/PearlsandPassports

 

Choosing happiness: I’m coming home!

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As I write this i’m sat in a library in New Brighton near Christchurch in New Zealand. As I look outside the window I can  see waves crashing on a beautiful pristine beach and see the sunlight reflecting off the azure water.

It’s hard to believe that nearly ten months has passed since I started my semi RTW trip to Asia and Oceania.

As I sit here I’m trying to make sense of my feelings. I am so excited to go home. To see my friends and family and celebrate Christmas with my loved ones will be the perfect end to my trip. Unsurprisingly I am also starting to mourn my freedom, before my trip has ended.

This past ten months has gone so fast and yet so slow. I have done so many things that are out of character and developed as a person more than I can ever imagine.

I have battled a tropical disease on my own, resisting the lure of comfort and home and instead choosing freedom and travel. I have faced my fears, experiencedbeing groped and scammed,  talked to people from all around the world, experienced intense loneliness and reverse culture shock and seen extreme poverty and disability.

I am a changed person.

The one thing that I want when I get back is to be happy, life is too short to waste doing things that you don’t love. I want to wake up every morning and literally seize the day! I’m excited to see how the new me acts in the ‘real world’.

I will do everything in my power to be happy in life. I have changed and my life back at home will inevitably change too.

I never want to be unhappy ever again.

In the future I’m going to choose happiness, everyday.

 

You can keep up to date with my adventures by following my Facebook page. I update it daily and it’s an easy way to contact me.

https://www.facebook.com/PearlsandPassports

 

 

 

Seven months of Travel: Summary and Review

kohrong

My Seventh month of travel was a very different month for me, I travelled very fast compared to normal but it was one of my best months yet!

My month kicked of in the gritty seaside resort Sihanoukville. Despite looking worn out Sihanoukville has a hidden charm. It’s extremely cheap and you could easily live off $5 a day if you budgeted very hard!

I stayed at Utopia, little did I know that It’s known as the scuzziest place in Sihanoukville. You can get dorms for as little as $1 a night if you don’t mind sleeping on a mat on the floor in a line with other people. I opted for the ‘deluxe’ dorm that had air com and a private bathroom. I think it’s called the deluxe dorm because it’s the only one without bedbugs though….

The nightlife in Sihanoukville is amazing! You can get free drinks from most bars, cheap beer and ‘buckets’ for as little as $1! (They are cut open Sprite bottles instead of actual buckets though). They also sell laughing gas, something that I had never seen before. I loved my nights in ‘Snooky’ but there wasn’t much to do in the day.

One day I took a ferry to Koh Rong where a French child projectile vomited all over himself. This was quite a scary sight, not dissimilar to the exorcist. Luckily as soon as I stepped off the ferry all my worries went away.

Koh Rong was my idea of paradise!

A handful of bars, guesthouses and restaurants are dotted along the pristine beach. The sand is white and so fine it looks like talc. I spent three very content days and nights in Koh Rong.

My Cambodian visa was running out so I took the overnight bus to Bangkok. As always the bus ride was very eventful and I was spooned by an Asian man and nearly fainted at the border because I was suffering from severe food poisoning. No one helped me even though I made it clear that I was struggling. Traveling solo makes you realise that no one really cares about you and you have to be strong and look after yourself.

Bangkok was heaven after months in poorer Asian countries. I spent my days buying a whole new travel wardrobe and drooling at all of the beautiful makeup and toiletries that I could buy! I was also in heaven thanks to my beloved 7-Eleven! I went on a day trip to the floating markets, the bridge over the river Kwai and I also visited tiger temple where I got to stroke actual tigers!

It was then time to experience the Thai islands, something that I had been looking forward to for all of my trip! My first island was Koh Samui, despite being quite touristy and full of couples and families I had a fantastic time thanks to meeting a great group of friends! The nightlife in Koh Samui is legendary!

Drinking buckets on a night out in Koh Samui

I travelled to Koh Tao with a group of friends that I met in Koh Samui. I fell in love with the island instantly, it’s so chilled out. The town area is small and pedestrianised. I spent the first few days eating delicious food (They sold Spanish omelette! yay) and relaxing on the pristine beach.

On September the 9th it was my birthday! I normally hate my birthday, It’s a day of reflection for me and I hate getting older. Luckily I have so much to be thankful for at this time in my life. I spent the day sunbathing in my new bikini, I had a massage and enjoyed Mexican food and cocktails in the evening!

Life is good!

It was then time to face my fears and complete my PADI qualification! I’m normally such a wimp when it comes to the sea but I challenged myself, faced my fears and gained my PADI open water certificate! I will write more about scuba diving in a future blog post.

It was then time to head to Koh Phangan and tick the full moon party off my bucket list! I spent my time there in a 40 bed dorm and once again met some lovely friends. It was amazing to see the population of the town swell as the full moon party neared. The pre parties really put me in the mood for the main night, the full moon party!

The actual full moon party could not be more different to how I celebrated the last full moon. At the last full moon I was at the retreat and spent the evening chanting around a fire and throwing rice in to it. This month I was partying in neon on the beach with over 20,000 other people! There were skipping ropes of fire, ‘death slides’ and loads of crazy sights to behold. The pre parties were such good fun too. The mood was amazing and watching the sunrise was one of the most beautiful moments in my life.

 

 

I rounded up my seventh month of travel by taking a night boat, bus and ferry to the beautiful island of Koh Phi Phi where I got to tick another item off my bucket list!, I will tell you more about my time there in my next monthly round up!

In conclusion month seven was one of my easiest months of travel. I made amazing friends which really does enhance the travel experience. I spent the month doing what I like to do best, partying and lazing on the beach. I also spent most of the month in my favorite Asian country, Thailand. It’s so easy to travel here and the food is amazing!

Next month I will be leaving my beloved Asia and heading to a whole new continent, AUSTRALIA! I’m kind of scared and apprehensive about leaving Asia, it’s been my home for seven months after all!

Total countries visited=2, Cambodia and Thailand

New travel wardrobes bought= 1, I replaced nearly every item of clothing during a crazy shopping spree in Bangkok! I had actually forgotten how to shop believe it or not…

Number of times I was spooned by an Asian man on a night bus= 1, on the night bus from Sihanoukville to Bangkok.

Modes of transport= Night bus from Sihanoukville to Bangkok then a variety of buses and ferrys as I island hopped.

Night ferry’s taken= 1, from Koh Phagnan to Surathani. We had to sleep on tiny thin mattresses lined up on each side of the boat (It actually reminded me of the dorms in Utopia…). The guy next to me actually put his leg over me as I was sleeping…

Number of buckets imbibed= 13, I had a very fun time on the islands, the hostel owner even gave us one free because it was his birthday!

Bucket list item ticked off= 2, to attend the full moon party and visit the beautiful Maya bay in Koh Phi Phi.

Lessons I have Learned= Have fun and enjoy the friends you make on your travels whilst you can. You never know when you will meet a group of like minded people again.

Number of 7-Eleven toasties consumed= 36

Number of 7-Eleven iced lattes imbibed= 10, I had to give them up because they started giving me heart palpitations, so tasty though!

 

 

 

Five months of travel: Summary and Review

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After a few days of pampering, strolling along the Mekong and eating delicious baguettes, my Vietnamese Visa was finally ready (It was my most expensive Visa so far at a cost of $60 from the Vietnamese consulate in Luang Prabang!!) so it was time for me to leave the safe, clean confines of Luang Prabang and head in the the unknown.

Vietnam.

The ‘night’ bus took over 26 hours to reach Hanoi. It was certainly an experience that I will never forget!

In the space of one night I slept next to a grand total of 3 Laotians and a child. Once I woke up in the middle of the night to find that a man was asleep next to me, not the smiley Lao woman who offered me some black tea before I went asleep. I promptly told him to move to another bed with a man in, and he did!

It pays to be a little bit cheeky once in a while, especially when you are a solo female traveller.

Hanoi was such an intoxicating city. I travelled with an Australian guy who I met on the bus for the first few days and I fell in love with Hanoi’s modernity and culture.

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Having fun in one of Hanoi’s museums

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The crazy traffic of Hanoi

I visited nearly all of the museums in the city, soaking in the history and culture of this proud country. I even rode across the streets of Hanoi on the back of a motorbike one day.

That was certainly an experience that I will never forget!

 

I discovered a completely different side to the city once my travel companion left for the North. I found that as a solo female I was fine pickings for various scams. Then the notorious ‘groping incident’ occurred which decreased my confidence in travel completely.

Was I strong enough to travel in Vietnam alone, I wondered. Then I realised that if I can recover from Dengue alone I can certainly travel Vietnam alone!

The trip to Halong bay was an amazing three days. I felt so lucky to be seeing one of the great natural wonders of the world. Cat Ba island was absolutely beautiful too.

halong

 

 

Hue was a great city for me to gain back my travel confidence. It was so relaxing compared to Hanoi and I spent my evenings eating Seafood by the river or having drinks with locals.

 

 

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A temple in beautiful Hue

In Hoi An I partied far too much and enjoyed wandering the quaint streets in the old town. I was lucky enough to see the monthly ‘festival of light’ and I even bought myself a traditional conical hat! I had some clothes tailor made and ate the greatest Vietnamese food that I had ever tasted.

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Standard Communist propoganda

I then headed to Nha Trang, the Russian Benidorm of Vietnam. Despite being very Western and full of high rises, I had the times of my travels in Vietnam here because I met up with a big group of lovely people. It was so nice to be travelling in a group!

Saigon which is one of the busiest cities in Asia was my last port of call in Vietnam. Here I learn’t so much about the Vietnam war in the war museum and visited the Cu Chi tunnels that the Viet Cong used to help them in the war.

Despite being a wimp and worrying about getting stuck I actually made it down an actual Viet Cong sized tunnel! It was such a buzz.

 

tunnel

After drinking too much Bia Hoi I was ready to make my way to the seventh country of my travels…..

Cambodia!

Another crazy month of travel. I didn’t have the best experiences in Vietnam when I was travelling solo. When I was travelling in a group I absolutely loved it. I would return and visit rural villages to see what the ‘real’ Vietnamese culture is like.

Total countries visited=3,  Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia

Number of times I was groped= Just the once in Hanoi….

Modes of transport= 26 hour nightbus from hell and many more nightbuses travelling down the long coast of Vietnam.

Lessons I have Learned= Always look after yourself when you are travelling solo. Sometimes you may have to be rude to people to ensure that you are safe. Always think quickly and avoid taxis in Hanoi when travelling solo.

Number of Massages= Just 2 massages this month. I did spend the day at a mud spa in Nha Trang though.

Number of conical hats bought= 1

Number of bikes stolen= 1 in Hoi An, I had to arrive on the scene with a policeman to get it back….

Number of times I rode on the back of a motorbike= At least ten times (sorry Mum)

Have any of you visted Vietnam? If so what did you think of it? Do you think travelling solo or in a group affects your experiences in this intoxicating country?

Pearls of Wisdom: How to cope with loneliness when travelling long term

loneliness

As I write this I’ve been traveling for nearly four months and they have been the best four months of my life.

Travel is such an intense experience and one which you have little control over. You never know who you will meet or whether you will even like a place. You just have to go with the flow and be open to new experiences!

The hardest thing that I’ve had to come to terms with whilst being on the road is sporadic loneliness.

Loneliness strikes when you least expect it. You can be living it up with your brand new friends at a midnight beach party one night and stood at the bar alone the next.

I liken travel to being on a rollercoaster, there will sometimes be intense highs and the next minute there can be an intense low. When travelling you need to take the rough with the smooth.

Don’t get me wrong sometimes it feels good to be alone. As I write this now I’m actively seeking some ‘alone time’ after a few weeks of travelling with some really great people through Laos!

The worst feeling is when you feel alone and you just don’t know how to fix it.

 

After dengue fever I kind of started to be a semi recluse. I couldn’t bear the thought of dorm rooms and their lack of privacy. Instead I holed myself up in private rooms in Chiang Mai and enjoyed having an appetite again and living in a vibrant city with Western amenities. Although I was happy I sometimes felt lonely.

I lost my social mojo.

When I was back to my full health I went on a jungle trek and I met some amazing people. It was then that I vowed never to feel lonely again but to do something about it.

Come on I’m travelling the world on my own, the least I can do is go up to some strangers in a bar and strike up conversation!

So here are my tips for combating loneliness whilst on the road.

Embrace loneliness

Sometimes it’s nice to be alone. In this world people seem to avoid doing things on their own because they fear that they will be lonely. I find that time alone gives me time to grow, be myself and analyse the amazing things that are happening in my life.

When you are alone you can do exactly what you want to do and don’t have to consider anyone else. If you want a massage get a massage. If you want a beer in the middle of the day go ahead!

There’s a reason why many people choose to travel solo; because it gives them the ultimate freedom in life. To do what they want, when they want.

Skype Home

I always find that when I feel lonely I want to talk to people who know me. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for the same old traveller talk of ‘where are you from?’ and ‘where are you going?’.

Keeping in touch with friends and family is easier than ever now. It also puts everything in perspective. While they are at home you are free to live the life you want. Tell them all about your adventures and hear all of the gossip from home.

Book on a group tour

I’ve met some really great people on group tours. They tend to be people with a similar interest to you and you will always end up talking to everyone. I met some amazing people when I went trekking in the jungles of Northern Thailand, on a desert safari in Dubai and when I took the slow boat to Laos. If you don’t ‘click’ with anyone on the tour, don’t worry! At least you have been on an exciting new adventure!

Change location

Sometimes all that’s needed is a swift change in location. Sometimes you just don’t enjoy being in a particular city or town because of the people or atmosphere. I didn’t enjoy being in Kuala Lumpor in Malaysia so I moved on as soon as I could.

Some places have friendly locals and some locals are more cold. Just spend time where you are happy and where you feel comfortable. You won’t like every place that you travel to and that’s normal.

Move to a hostel

Hostels are very social places. Place twelve strangers in the same bedroom and you are bound to talk! Hostels also tend to attract younger travellers and some even organise group activities and bar crawls so that it’s easy to make friends!

I stayed in an amazing hostel in Melaka, Malaysia. Each night they held ‘dinner club’ where anyone staying at the hostel had dinner together in a budget friendly local restaurant. It was a great way to meet new people and the hostel had a really inclusive, homely feel. Other hostels should take note!

Follow your passion

Or do anything that you love doing! Naturally you will have a lot of free time on the road when you are not travelling with others. Use this time to do the things that you enjoy to do or build a better life for yourself in the long run.

Read an inspiring book, explore the jungle, go for a bike ride, volunteer at a local school, talk to the locals, exercise, meditate, Write a book or blog. Just do whatever makes you happy!

 

 

Hopefully you will find some of these tips useful. Whenever you feel lonely on the road remember that it is never for long. If you act friendly and social people will naturally be drawn to you!

Have you ever felt lonely on the road? If so what did you do to combat the loneliness?