Trying out fast travel in the Balkans

In 2013 when I travelled solo across Asia and Oceania I travelled extremely slow. I’d bought into the idea that slow travel was the only real way to travel. The only way to fully immerse yourself in another land and culture. I had a great time and visited many places off the beaten path. I saved a lot of money by travelling slow too because I wasn’t paying for planes, trains or busses every few days.

Looking back I kind of think I wasted a lot of time on that trip. Yes I was exhausted after years of fruitless studying and working but I visited just 10 countries in 10 months. I was so close to so many countries but for some reason I just didn’t go.

Exploring GOT sights in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Thinking back I could have easily caught a cheap flight to China and Korea from Thailand. Flew to Borneo to Malaysia to see the Orangutans and then maybe pop over to Indonesia to relax in Bali. I didn’t even go to Fiji when I was in bloody Australia! A place that I’d dream’t of and fantasised about when planning my big trip.

Even when I lived in Japan I decided to spend most of my time travelling within Japan, except for the disastrous two weeks that I spent in Thailand. I went to a grand total of Zero new countries in over 18 months.

 

Balkans Itinerary

Now that I live in Moscow and get an amazing 2 months off in summer, I decided to try fast travelling for a while. I’d initially decided to travel to 6 new countries in the Balkans but I managed to travel to 7!

Here is my whirlwind itinerary:

Croatia: 3 nights Dubrovnik, 2 nights Split.

Bosnia and Hercegovina: 2 nights Mostar, 2 nights Sarajevo.

Montenegro: 2 nights Budva, 3 nights Kotor, 1 night Ulcinj.

Albania: 2 nights Shkoder, 1 night Tirana.

Kosovo: 2 nights Prizren, 1 night Pristina.

Macedonia: 3 nights in Skopje.

Bulgaria: 2 nights in Sofia.

The gritty streets of Shkoder, Albania

My feelings about fast travel

Firstly I travelled extremely light. I had a carry on sized backpack weighing 8kg which made travelling from place to place easy. It’s a front opening backpack too which makes it easy to open and close fast. I wasn’t sending ages packing like I did when I went travelling with a 20kg backpack in 2013.

I tended to stay on the beaten track more because there’s more transport options. However I feel like 2 nights in most places was sufficient to see the town/city, eat some local food and relax. In most places I did a free walking tour if it was available because I didn’t have time to discover places for myself.

It’s impossible to take an ugly photo in Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Fast travel was quite lonely though. Because I had a limited time in each place I spent most of the time exploring on my own or going on group tours. I didn’t make the type of friendships that made travel in Southeast Asia so special.

I was so tired near the end of the trip. I paid for a night of luxury in a penthouse suite in a boutique hotel with sauna for one night. It was lovely to relax in privicy after spending so long in hostels. I did the same in Ulcinj too, just relaxing on my balcony and watching the handmaids tale.

Something that surprised me was how confused I felt. There are many similarities between the language and culture of the Balkan countries but many differences. I would get confused about where I was sometimes and what language they used. At times I would also forget what country I was in. I’ve never felt this way before and it was quite disorientating. As I said before I usually spend time discovering a countries culture and I just couldn’t do it on this trip.

One benefit to travelling so fast is the amount of things that I saw and experienced in such a short time. It was a great taster for the Balkans and gave me a hint of which countries I’d like to explore more of in the future (Bosnia and Montenegro).

Enjoying a super cheap feast with a travel friend at a restaurant in Prizren, Kosovo.

My thoughts on fast travel

Fast travel was extremely exciting. I realised how adaptable I was and was proud that I navigated so many cities and countries in such a short period of time. Although it was exhausting it was refreshing. In the future I think that 2 weeks of fast travel is enough for me, maybe 3 at a push. I lost a lot of my enthusiasm in Bulgaria and felt like I was just going through the motions rather than truly enjoying my time there.

At Matka canyon in Skopje, Macedonia
Guards in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Do you prefer fast or slow travel? Why? As always I’d love to hear your replies. Remember you can also follow my adventures on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pearlsandpassports

 

 

 

How I discovered my Passion, My 100th Blog post

I was sat on my comfortable corner couch in Liverpool city centre; the 42 inch plasma TV screen that was usually blasting out noise was turned off. Outside I could hear children playing, but I wasn’t paying attention to them. It was my first attempt at meditating. Anything to rid myself of that horrible feeling inside of me. Anything to make me feel normal again.

Little did I know that my first time meditating would change my life.

‘What do I want from life. ‘What do I want from life’, I repeated softly in my head. Outside I had everything that a young twenty something could want, a city centre apartment, car, great friends, family and a wild social life. I had it all. But something was missing and I desperately needed to find out what it was.

Slowly but surely images started filling my head. In these images I was brave, adventurous even. I wore my hair in a long plait and trekked through jungle and sand dunes. I felt confused. I want to be Lara Croft?

The images kept coming, flashbacks to family holidays, sun and exotic food. Although still confused I started to put the pieces of my imagination back together. Then it hit me.

I want to travel.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

Something so simple. Something most people want. But I wasnt most people. I hadn’t been on holiday for over three years. No one to go with me you see. Was my mind telling me to take a holiday?

The answer was far more serious than that.

I wanted to travel. Not for a week, not for a month but long-term, forever even. I literally went from not wanting a holiday to wanting to give up everything I have to do it long-term.

I lay back in my luxurious couch, exhausted. Who knew meditation could be so tiring? Even though I felt exhausted it was as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I knew what I wanted.

I felt extremely confused though. Now I saw a completely different path in front of me. I felt disoriented and unsure of what to do next, how to take my first step on my new path.

How could I travel alone? People don’t go on holiday alone so they surely don’t go travelling alone? Is it safe for a woman to travel alone? Where would I go?

The one big question I had was replaced by scores of small questions. It was time to get outside for a breath of fresh air. I pulled on a coat over my scruffy house clothes and stepped into the cool March air. As I walked down the familiar streets, my eyes lingered a second longer as I looked at the beautiful old buildings and friendly people of Liverpool. I knew that although I loved Liverpool, soon it would not be my home.

Cupcake and fresh coffee in hand I unravelled my scarf from my burning face and curled up in my usual position on the sofa. Where to start? I had an epiphany but no idea what to do with it.

I grabbed my laptop from the floor and simply typed in ‘Travel’. Hundreds of web pages came up and I spent a good hour looking through the Lonely planet website. Each beautiful photo that I looked at stirred the longing inside of me.

I then realised that I was single and that none of my friends liked travel. Oh dear. My heart started to sink as I realised that I would probably never be able to travel. Quickly I typed in ‘solo female travel’, or something like that, I can’t quite remember. Before me lay pages of pages of blogs. Now before this I’d only read vintage blogs. I knew that travel blogs existed but they never really interested me. I chose one at random and clicked on it.

I looked up from the screen and day had turned into night. My eyes strained as I searched for the light switch and as light flooded the room I was brought back to reality. I had spent hours reading blog posts from many women who were travelling the world solo. The ones that most attracted me were Adventurous Kate and Lauren from Never Ending Footsteps. They were young women just like me who decided to travel long-term. Granted they both dreamed about travel for many years before making it a reality whereas I only started to dream about travel a few hours ago. Reading their blogs gave me hope that I could one day travel solo, just like they did.

The next day as I drove to work I vowed to change my life. It would need a lot of planning, saving and commitment but I could do it!

Within the next few months I pored over Lonely planet guides and travel blogs to get some inspiration and decide where to go. I booked a solo trip to Spain to teach English as a volunteer after reading about it in Bacon is magic. I applied for a sabbatical from work and moved out of my city centre flat and back in with my parents to save money.

Life changed so fast and I received both positive and negative feedback from people. Many people thought it was an amazing idea but many thought I was crazy and running away from life. In hindsight I wasn’t running away from life, I was sprinting at full speed towards life, towards the life I was destined to live.

I write this from my tiny floor sofa in my tiny apartment in rural Japan. Over the last few years my life has changed immeasurably and I can barely recognise the person that I used to be. After my sabbatical I felt the same emptiness and yearning, only this time I knew how to cure it. More travel.

In October 2012 I started this blog. I had to be secretive during my first few blog posts. I’d not yet been granted a sabbatical so I couldn’t vent my true feelings. Since then I’ve written 100 blog posts about my life. About my travels before, during and after my sabbatical and about my subsequent move and career change to live in Japan.

Travel is not the best path for everyone. It may not even be the best path for me in years to come. All I know is that this is my path right now. This is where I need to be right now. In my life I’ve made many sacrifices for travel; love, family, friends, career, and material possessions.

But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m celebrating my 100th blog post by booking a trip to Sapporo in Hokkaido to see the snow festival. I’m travelling solo of course!

boat

When did you realise that travel was your passion? Were you lucky like Adventurous Kate and realised when you were young or unlucky like me and discovered it in your twenties? Do you remember the exact moment you found your passion?

Lasting impressions of Dubai

Dubai was the first country that I visited on my big RTW trip so understandably it has a special place in my heart.

Dubai is a city of contrasts. Expats drink pints of beer beneath the impressive architecture, women in burkhas obediently follow men wearing the traditional Arabic clothes and head-dress, Westerners prowl the metro wearing smart suits and Indian shopkeepers sell their wares through the thick scent of incense and curry powder. Tall buildings shimmering in the evening sun are juxtaposed against dusty stone buildings with intricate Arabic windows. As dusk descends the call to prayer ripples through the city ending in an intoxicating crescendo as worshipers make their way to the many mosques.
Dubai is a place that you cannot quite ‘place‘.

Trying on a traditional Abaya and Niquab
Trying on a traditional Abaya and Niquab

I love it so much that I want to visit again at the end of my RTW trip!
I love learning about different cultures and religions and I learnt a lot about Islam and Arabic culture in Dubai by visiting the amazing Dubai museum which is housed in the oldest museum in Dubai. The Desert safari has been one of the best experiences of my trip so far! It just felt so exotic and different and it made me long to visit other countries in the Middle East and learn more about the culture.
Dubai is a very ethnically diverse place. Most of the workforce is from India or the Philippines with only 20% Arabic people living in Dubai. Everyone I met was extremely friendly and I felt very safe as a solo female traveller. Even when I was walking around the Indian part of Dubai alone at night I felt safe despite some curious stares and people trying to make conversation.
Women are greatly respected in Dubai and have priority seating on all public transport. As long as you dress appropriately and respect Islamic culture you will be respected by all.
Even to this day I think fondly about my time in Dubai. . I only wish that I hadn’t listened to the scare-mongerers who insisted that it was an unsafe place to travel. I will definitely be back to Dubai and the Middle East and I would recommend it as a destination for solo female travellers looking for exotic Arabic culture in a safe and well-developed place.
I will be back.

Posing with respectfully dessed Japanese tourists.
Posing with respectfully dessed Japanese tourists.

What do you think of when do you think of Dubai? Did you think that it was unsafe for women to travel there or that it was a culture-less metropolis in the desert? Have you visited Dubai or are you considering it for a future trip destination? If so I would love to hear your opinions!

The best thing about living in Japan

For many Japan is a dream travel destination. People love the food, anime, manga, cute girls and unique culture of this beautiful country. The best thing about living in Japan isn’t on this list though. The best thing about living in Japan is…

The amazing feeling of safety

As soon as I stepped off the plane, fizzing with nervous energy, I also felt a weight off my shoulders. Everything seemed so calm and relaxed. On the way to my hostel there was a misunderstanding with where I wanted to go, instead of charging me anyway like many taxi drivers in other countries would, he just wiped the fare.

In Tokyo I spent hours walking around the city feeling perfectly safe. On the Tokyo Metro it was common to see bulging wallets in Tokyoites trousers. People left their phones on tables in restaurants whilst they went to the toilet. There just wasn’t the obsessive bag holding that’s common in other countries. Especially countries where pick pocketing is a problem.

At first I found this feeling of safety perplexing.  After all I travelled solo for ten months and saw my fair share of pick pockets and thieves. Was it a lure to get me to be more lax so I don’t notice is something is stolen? After a while i settled down and started to enjoy this feeling of safety and security.

Carrying cash

I should have guessed that Japan was safe when my employers told me to bring my start-up costs in cash. Cash? In Vietnam I barely carried $20 without worrying and if I did carry $20 it would be stuffed down the side of my bra or in my pacsafe handbag. Now I was being asked to carry thousands of dollars in cash to a new country and just hope that everything will be ok?

Well, yes Everything was alright. At first it felt like such a burden carrying that much cash around but after a while I just forgot about it.

Carry plenty of cash to buy amazing things like Kobe beef, mmmm!
Carry plenty of cash to buy amazing things like Kobe beef, mmmm!

Cash society

Japan is a cash society. Despite being known for its technological advances it’s pretty far behind in many ways! Hardly any stores accept credit cards and the card for my bank can only be used to get money from ATMs, it can’t be used in stores like a debit card in the UK. Cash is king.

ATMs even charge you for getting money out here, this fee changes throughout the day! Most Japanese people withdrawn the majority of their wages on payday and keep it in their purses or at home. Can you imagine this happening back home?

Low risk of theft

Before I came to Japan one of my friends told me that she left her iphone in a club whilst on a night out in Tokyo. Once she remembered where she left it she calmly walked back to the club and her phone was where she left it, safe on the table. Before I came to Japan I found this quite hard to understand. Most countries that I’ve travelled to have had a moderate risk of theft or pickpocketing so I’ve learn’t to be careful over the years.

Since I’ve lived in Japan I’ve got used to leaving my bag at the table in the bar or restaurant when I go to the toilet and lazily leaving my bag open when I’m shopping so I don’t have to keep opening and closing it.

I would never dream of doing this in any other country! When I went to Thailand for my summer vacation I was worried that I’d forgotton how to look after my valubles. Luckily I remembered and didn’t have anything stolen (but I did have many other accidents happen…..).

Thats not to say that theft doesn’t happen here, because it does. I’ve never heard of any incidences of theft since I’ve moved here though and I think that’s unlikely to change.

Tokyo, one of the world's biggest cities but also one of the safest.
Tokyo, one of the world’s biggest cities but also one of the safest.

Japanese men

I find Japanese men very different to Western men. I noticed this in my first few days in Tokyo. Japanese men don’t seem as aggressive and macho as some men can be in the West. Back home it’s common to see men fighting or arguing in the street, sometimes cat calling women. In Japan this rarely happens. Men are masculine but in a subtle, confident way and they don’t seem to feel the need for overt masculinity like some men feel in the West. This means that I can walk past a group of men and feel perfectly safe. In other countries it can sometimes be very scary.

Mens style is also a lot more feminine than Western countries. Most men have a perfectly groomed mop of hair and it’s quite normal for men to carry handbags.

Free hugs from a stylish guy in Shibuya, Tokyo.
Free hugs from a stylish guy in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Teenagers

Oh Japanese teenagers. So different to teenagers back home. Children here have a lot more freedom and so become sensible and independent years before many Western teenagers. Junior high school in Japan is notoriously stressful and time-consuming so you are more likely to see Junior High students wizzing past on their bikes going to their sports club or after school English club. You just don’t see teenagers hanging around on the street.

If I walk past a group of teenagers here they are more likely to smile and say hello than be abusive. They have a lot of respect for Adults and especially teachers who they call ‘Sensei’, (Person born before another).

Once I was riding to basketball club on my bike at night. I saw two teenagers in front blocking the way so I rang the bell just to inform them that I was coming. To my surprise the two teenagers (in school uniform at 8.30pm) stood to the side and bowed deeply in unison whilst saying sorry. I was deeply shocked by this but It demonstrates the deep respect that Japanese teenagers have for others. Can the same be said for many Western teenagers?

A teenager studying in Tokyo
A teenager studying in Tokyo
Safe on the streets of Akihabara at night
Safe on the streets of Akihabara at night

 

All opinions stated in this post are my own, drawn from my experiences in Japan and other countries. I’m well aware that not every Western person reacts the same but I’m just trying to compare the experiences I have over here with experiences I’ve had in other countries. Japan isn’t a perfect utopia and crime does happen, just not as frequently in other countries.

Why I’m scared to go travelling after living in Japan

Travel, it’s something that consumes about 40% of my idle thoughts. Where will I go? What will I visit? Who will I meet?

It’s tiring to be infected with Wanderlust.

I have some travel news, I’m heading to Thailand this month! A country that is forever in my heart after spending 3.5 months there in 2013. It’s a country where I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

It’s a country where I feel at home.

Now you would think I’d be happy to go back to a country I love, but there’s a slight feeling of apprehension that I can’t shake off. I think living in Japan has broke me!

The safety of living in Japan

Japan is an extremely safe country. I sometimes think that living in Japan has softenedme. I now feel like I’m wrapped in cotton wool, I feel safe. Japan is a country where you leave your iPhone on the table when you go to the toilet in a restaurant and a country where men leave wallets hanging out of their back pockets in bustling and metropolitan Tokyo.

Now compare this to South East Asia, yes it’s fairly safe but you do have to keep an eye onyour belongings, especially your bag.  Will I remember how to stay safe and avoid theft or will my guard be down after living in Japan for 4 months?

The street lighting where I live is atrocious but I think nothing of walking home alone in the pitch black at night. I feel perfectly safe here and I’ll often walk along using my iphone, something that I would never do back home in the UK!

The quality of the food in Japan

Every dish in Japan is made with delicacy and care. Food hygiene levels are through the roof in every restaurant and cases of food poisoning are extremely rare. Compare that to South East Asia and you can see what I’m worrying about!

After months of eating food so clean it could be certified sterile i’ll be eating food in places with a considerably lower level of food hygiene. Now I’ve always had a very strong stomach but I feel like after months of Japans extremely high hygiene levels, any bacteria in my gut has been killed off and I’ll fall victim to dreaded food poisoning. I hope not!

thai1

Clean streets in Japan

Nearly every blog post you read about Japan mentions the clean streets. It’s true, the streets here are extremely clean and it’s very rare to see rubbish on the pavement. There’s very few public bins but people just keep hold of the rubbish until they get home (and then recycle and even clean the rubbish but that’s a whole different blog post….).

What I love about Banglok is the vibrancy, the life. I actually like the fact that it’s a bit dirty. I’m just scared that I’ll suffer from a bit of culture shock at the thought of smelling pudrid garbage and seeing rats meander across the street…

Japan’s super toilets

Not every toilet in Japan is a super-duper robotic bidet machine but every toilet is usually clean and tidy, even the hated old style squat toilets. I don’t think I’ve ever faced the sight of an empty toilet roll holder in a toilet here or had to deal with a pile of discarded, used toilet roll at the side of the toilet. There’s public toilets everywhere here too which is great! In Izakayas you will usually find sanitary towels, cotton buds and even floss in the toilet, completely complimentary to use.

The toilets in Thailand are ok, well comapred to some of the sights that I’ve seen in Vietnam and Laos… Once again I’m just worried that I’ll accidentally flush the toilet paper or suffer from shock when I see the levels of cleanliness!

Japanese customer service

I was so shocked the first time I walked in 7-11, went to the counter to buy some gyoza and when the store assistant handed me the money she gave me a deep bow. I had read that bowing was common in Japan but not to the extent that store assistants would bow!

Japanese customer service is second to none. It’s attentive but not annoying like many waiters can be in the UK, asking if the ‘food is good’ as soon as you stuff the first bite of food into your mouth. At first Japanese service is overwhelming but after a while its quite comforting, it’s such a nice feeling to be respected when you are just going about your daily life.

I’m afraid that I will be bowing when I recieve money in Thailand and just stand there waiting for the assistant to bow. I’m scared I may throw the odd ‘sumimasen’ or ‘arigatou gozaimasu’ in too instead of Thai.

The reality is, I just can’t wait!

Despite all these minor worries i’m soooo excited for Thailand! I love nearly everything about Thailand and it will be good to take a break from the sometimes constricting and always confusing Japanese society! I’ll just have to keep my wits about me and remember the skills that I built up when I was taking my sabbatical in 2013.

The next time you see me I’ll have no bones left in my body after hours of painful yet amazing Thai massage. I’ll also be a pecuilar shade of orange after eating far too much mango sticky rice!

Thailand, I’m coming home!

soi

 

 

 

 

A day out at Ueno Zoo, Tokyo

 

 

couple

With a city as big and sprawling as Tokyo it’s surprisingly hard to decide what sightseeing to do first! After a few days exploring quirky Akihabara, bustling Shibuya and historic Asusksa it was time for something different. My hostel was not far from Ueno; an area with a large park filled to the brim with beautiful sakura, museums and even a zoo! I wrongly deduced that a zoo in central Tokyo would be small enough to see in an hour or two.

I was wrong!

The zoo was vast and filled with all types of animals, both native and exotic. It was hard to believe that entrance to the zoo was just 600yen ($5/£3.40). Similar zoos in the UK cost £20 at least!

Pandas

Pandas are the biggest draw to the zoo and are conveniently located right at the entrance. I had to battle through throngs of schoolkids and selfie sticks to get a good view of the pandas but it was worth it. They are so cute, they just look like oversized teddy bears! One of the pandas was knawing through bamboo and the other was napping in the Tokyo sun.

panda

panda panda2

pandaselfie

Animals

The zoo had exibits of all of the creatures you would expect to see in a zoo such as lions, tigers, bears…. (Oh my!) I loved walking around hearing cries of ‘kawaaaiiii!’ from every child in the zoo. The polar bear was especially fascinating to watch, the way it swam through the water then leaped on to the land. The sealions were mischevious and seemed intent on scaring every Japanese child that peeked at them. They would appear out of no-where and were met with screams from the children!

polarbear

Monkey mountain

In one of the main areas of the zoo was a large enclosure like a mountain. It was fascinating to see how a troop of monkeys interact. Some were busy guarding, some fighting and a cheeky monkey was having a quick swig of some water from a tap!

monkeys monkey

Conditions

I normally vow not to go zoos in Asia because many countries are notorious for lack of animal welfare. Unfortunately Ueno zoo could be added to the list. Understandably the enclosures are small (It’s built on one of the most expensive bits of real estate in Tokyo) but some of the animals looked downright miserable and some visibly crazy; pacing across the enclosure relentlessly. The smell from some enclosures was horrendous too and couldn’t be blamed on hot weather. This can’t be said for the majority of animals but the larger animals were in enclosures that were far too small. It does make it easier to actually see the animals though.

Some birds were fed by staff leaving dead rats ect on tree trunks. Although this is natural I can imagine the screams of horror from children in the UK if the same happened at UK zoos!

rat

Safety enclosures

‘Only in Japan’ is a phrase thats banded about and it’s absolutely true. Some things that work in Japan would never work in other countries. I’ve never been to a zoo where a small child could easily walk up to a full grown hippo or where there’s just a small ledge separating you from the bear pit. If this zoo was in the UK children would be maimed everyweek, running into animals cages, swimming with hippos. In Japan people seem to follow the rules and use their common sense. Just as it should be.

The bear enclosure was one of the best experiences of my life. Just a small partition of glass separates part of the enclosure from the public. I was lucky to see a bear playing right up against the glass. It was amazing to see a bear so close up, literally inches away from me.

bear

 

bearball

elephant tokyoueno

Is it worth a visit?

Yes, absolutely. Although conditions are not perfect it’s a pleasant zoo with a good variety of animals. Things are done differently in Asia. Entrance is cheap and food and drink are available cheaply throughout the zoo. It’s perfect to while away a morning or afternoon whist exploring the other museums in Ueno.

bird

Have you ever been to a zoo in Asia? How did it compare to Ueno zoo? 

 

Ask Stephanie Anything: 6 Cheap things to do in Singapore

 

featured image singapore

I get many emails from readers asking advice about where to stay and what to do in destinations that I’ve visited. Just email me at stephanie@pearlsandpassports.com if you have a question and I will answer it.

My question today was recieved from Caroline, a grad student who will be working in Singapore for the summer. How exciting!

”Hi Stephanie!

I just happened across your blog… I haven’t had time to search through it yet, but I was wondering if you might have some quick advice for me. I’m a grad student and I’ll be working at NUS in Singapore for a month this summer… do you have any tips for either really neat (and affordable) things to do in the city, or cool day trips from Singapore?

Thanks so much!

Caroline”

Singapore has an unjust reputation for being an expensive city. I believe that cities can be as expensive or as affordable as you want them to be. Dubai is one of my favourite cities in the world and I visited it on a very limited budget and had a great time!

Unlike Dubai space is at a premium on the small city state of Singapore. Most people live in high rise buildings above shops and restaurants. Despite this there are many things you can do for free or very cheaply in Singapore.

1) Visit the Botanical gardens.

Despite being so built up, Singapore has beautiful and vastt botanical gardens with beautiful flowers from different parts of the world. I found it hard to stay here for long due to the heat and humidity of Singapore but it is a great way to spend a few hours of the day. I especially loved the Orchid garden with the replication rainforest.

Bring a picnic and enjoy the greenery, you will appreciate it after working in the city!

botanicalsing

 

wat

2) Buy a pass for the Museums and Art galleries.

In most museums in Singapore you can buy a three day pass for all of the museums and art galleries for just $20! This is a real bargain and a great way to escape the heat and learn more about the fascinating history of Singapore! Be sure to attend the tours of the larger museums and art galleries, they are probably the most informative tours that I have ever had the pleasure of taking. Explore the smaller quirkier museums too like the philatetic museum, (Thats a stamp museum for us non- geeks).

artsing musingapore peranakan

 

3) Explore Chinatown.

People say that the best food in Singapore can be found in Chinatown, it’s an area buzzing with life. So many sights and sounds to behold. Pull up a chair on one of the tables in the centre of the narrow streets and taste the most authentic Chinese food outside of China.

There’s also a stall owned by a German selling bratwurst in Chinatown! I love the cultural diversity of Singapore.

4) Visit Sentosa.

Sentosa is a small island off Singapore that is easily reached by cable car from Singapore, (Be aware that the queues can get very long near the end of the day!). Sentosa is famed for it’s theme parks but it is also boasts a long white sandy beach and 70% of it is lush rainforest filled with wildlife. You will feel like you are a million miles from Singapore!

5) Explore Little India.

Before I flew to Singapore I spent six weeks in beautiful Sri Lanka. Initially the craziness of Sri Lanka left me feeling a little unsettled but I eventually got used to the different pace of life. When I arrived in Singapore I almost experienced another bout of culture shock, it was so different to Sri Lanka. Singapore is very urban, clean and organised and nearly every Singaporean has a smartphone and a snazzy wardrobe. It’s a million miles away from exotic Sri Lanka,

As soon as I got off the metro at Little India I felt right at home again. The streets were filled with familiar sights such as women dashing around in colourful saris and the smell of incense and curry around every street corner. The crowds of people in Little India were chaotic compared to the organised metros of Singapores CBD.

little India is the perfect place to experience Indian culture. There’s a surprise on every corner be it a Hindu temple or markets selling scores of Saris. There’s no shortage of amazing curry houses and cooling lassis either! I got my second henna hand tattoo in Little India for the cheap price of $5!

littleindia sari temple

 

 

 

6) Go on a free walking tour.

Singapore is such a beautiful city full of amazing architecture juxtaposed against temples and hawker centres. I went on a free walking tour in Singapore where the guides are Singaporean students. It was invaluable to help me orient myself in the vast metropolis and I got some cool local tips too!  I ended up near the famous Bugis street and ate dinner in one of the best Hawker centres in town for just $4.

Who says that Singapore is expensive?

 

 

 

 

Have you visited Singapore before? If so did you find it affordable like me or more expensive? Do you have any more tips on cheap things to see and do?

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

Ten Months of Travel: Summary and Review, Part One

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My tenth and final month of travel was spent in beautiful New Zealand. After feeling thoroughly underwhelmed by Australia, a country I had initially dreamed of emigrating to I had no idea what to expect of Australia’s quiet neighbor. I had nothing to worry about, I soon fell in love with the natural beauty and laid back lifestyle. The food was amazing and the people were genuinely friendly with a similar sense of humour as the British.

It was just what I needed.

The first week was spent visiting family who I had never actually met before! Initially I was nervous about sopending time with someone who I’ve never met before but after a week I didn’t want to leave. My Dad’s cousin was absolutely lovely and made me feel very welcome. I also got all of the inside gossip about what New Zealand is REALLY like!

 

 

The beautiful Coromandel

I went for a weekend away to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsular with my cousin’s workmates, (Who were all midwives…). Apart from hearing far too many gory stories about childbirth I had an amazing weekend. I visited a winery and vineyard, saw a pod of killer whales just ten metres from the beach and even got a proposal from a Kiwi boy who didn’t want me to leave New Zealand!

Was it a sign? Am I meant to live in New Zealand?

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Look at that beautiful food and wine!

I discovered that the world is a very small place when an acquaintance messaged me on Facebook to tell me that her best friend was in New Zealand, alone and wanted someone to travel with! Could the timing have been any more perfect?! Her best friend actually went the same school as me and it was so nice to travel with someone with the same accent, who knew the same people and places that I grew up with.

My initial plan was to rent a car and drive across New Zealand, my friend Ashley had actually booked to travel on the Kiwi Experience bus, a sort of semi organised tour. I decided to join her and had a very easy, fast paced month of travel where I met some amazing people and did many things that I would only do once in my life!

 

All aboard the Kiwi bus! I’m rocking head to toe grey…

The first stop on the Kiwi Experience bus was the Bay of Islands in the North. Most people stayed here for a few days but we decided to stay just one night. I enjoyed getting to know other travellers on the Kiwi experience bus and took a ferry to the cutest little island Russell where I saw a manta ray in the clear blue waters of the marina!

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Auckland tower

The next stop was Auckland, I stayed there in the suburbs for the week I spent with my family but I never actually had chance to explore the actual city. My friend took a few of us on a whistle stop tour of the city and I ate one of the most delicious burgers of my life.

We travelled up to the Coromandel Peninsular to the amazing hot water beach, it really does have to be seen to be believed, like many of the crazy geo-thermal wonders of New Zealand. We dug our own hot spa on the beach, such a surreal experience.

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Helping to dig the thermal spa on hot water beach!

In Waitomo I got to see glow worms! It’s hard to believe that the actual ‘glowing’ part of the worm is it’s faeces! As we travelled down the country to Rotorua we visited the amazing Hobbiton. I’m a big Lord Of the Rings and The Hobbit fan so I was in my element posing near the cute Hobbit Houses. I really was in my element!

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Rotorura is a small town that smells like eggs because of geothermal activity. Right next to the hostel that we were staying at there were bubbling pools of mud and water that were only surrounded by fences the year before. The Te Puia geothermal reserve was where I saw a geyser erupt and ate an egg that was cooked in a geothermal pool.

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Te Puia

Then we travelled to Taupo, a place I was dying to go to and secretly dreading because I would have to jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. Luckily I didn’t wimp out and skydiving was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Even to this day I still can’t believe that I had the guts to willingly jump out of a plane! In the evening I went on a relaxing cruise on Lake Taupo and wore my skydiving T shirt with pride! I wanted to hike the Tongariro crossing but unfortunately it was closed due to bad weather. I was still buzzing after skydiving so I had a well needed chill day in the hostel.

 

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Feeling on top of the world after jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet!

River Valley was a peculiar stop. It’s not really on the tourist trail and it’s basically a lodge in a secluded location. Most people went white water rafting but I used the time wisely and had a nap. I was finding this fast paced travel really enjoyable but also really hard. I was used to travelling at my own pace and staying in each place for a minimum of 3 days, here I was lucky if we stayed somewhere for 24 hours! It was good not having to book or research anything and to have a ready made group of friends for a month!

My last stop on the North island was the surprising little city of Wellington. It lived up to it’s name of ‘Windy Wellington’ but was a charming and beautiful little city. One day we took the cable car to the  botanic gardens at the top of the hill which had fantastic views of the Sea and the city. I also had a much needed Chinese massage for only $20. It’s a place where I could see myself living in the future.

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Have you ever travelled to New Zealand? If so did you find it very different to Australia? Have you ever travelled on the Kiwi Experience bus?

 

 

Coping with reverse culture shock in Australia

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I was always a little skeptical of reverse culture shock. I experienced slight culture shock when I arrived in Sri Lanka, a crazy country for my first visit to Asia but I never thought that I would experience culture shock when going to a Western country like Australia!

Why was I feeling like this?

I was excited to arrive in Australia, Asia had been my home for over 7 months but the constant bartering and language barriers can make travelling there tiring. I was looking forward to travelling in a country with set prices where everyone spoke English!

As soon as the plane landed and I traipsed through security it hit me that I was not in Asia anymore. The extreme price of things first shocked me. It cost $20 to get from the airport to the city centre. That would have bought a bus ticket to a place miles away in Asia.

I was certainly not in Asia anymore!

As I looked out of the bus window the landscape of buildings and shops looked so familiar that I half expected to see sights and people from home.

I was really confused.

I felt like I was back home but everything was different. I told myself to get a grip and checked in to the hostel. As I chose my bed in the darkness and tried to find my wash bag in the dark I unexpectedly collapsed in a heap and started to cry.

Being in such familiar surroundings made me extremely homesick.

I longed to be back home and questioned my reasons for coming to Australia. It seemed so similar to the UK that in the back of my mind I wondered why I had bothered to come to the other side of the world to a place that reminded me of home.

I felt so alone.

The next morning I decided to explore the city and try to see the city in a more positive light! I hadn’t even left the hostel and already I was harboring negative thoughts about the city. I had to give it a chance.

 

 

 

 

At first I felt quite disorientated, It was such a peculiar feeling. Little things that you don’t even think about perplexed me. Waiting to cross the road was a new phenomenon and I started to feel impatient. All around me were people dressed normally and I started to feel scruffy in my travel clothes.

I headed in to a pub for lunch and was startled to hear words in English. I had got used to the sing song hum of a foreign language in the background and hearing all of these English speaking voices was sensory overload.

Despite enjoying my first few days in Brisbane I spent most days fighting back tears. I felt like booking a ticket back to Thailand, a place where I knew and understood.  I felt guilty for not appreciating this beautiful city. I was used to the lack of rules and order and sensible Australia was certainly a culture shock. I got asked ID in a pub and the tears streamed down my face as I walked away. I had not been asked for ID in over 7 months. In Asia it’s normal to see children riding motorbikes to school so they certainly don’t bother asking for ID. I felt confused and ashamed at how I was thinking and reacting.

Luckily I got used to Australia after about a week when I went to Noosa. The small town suited me better and I started to appreciate the uniqueness of Australia and the laid back lifestyle.

 

Have you ever experienced culture shock or reverse culture shock? If so was it expected or unexpected like mine?