The 21st March 2017 marked exactly one year of travel for me and although it’s now May, meaning this is a little overdue, I still wanted to write this post as sooo much in my life has changed. I want to look back over all the highs, lows, bests and worsts and see just how far I have come.
- 2 continents, 9 countries
- 17 cities
- 50 hostels
- 19 hotels
- 5 guest houses
- 2 apartments
- 16 flights
- 2 trains
- 3 overnight trains
- 44 day buses/coaches
- 2 overnight buses
- 1 motorbike
- 11 boats
Biggest culture shock
Having barely left Europe let alone travelled solo, what I was thinking when I decided India would be my first stop I will never know.
Having said that maybe being thrown in at the deep end was actually a blessing in disguise as it meant I didn’t have the time to start questioning what the hell I was doing I just had to get on with it and adjust quickly to my new life. I think I handled it pretty well all things considering. I landed at 3pm and by the next morning I was out exploring Delhi with a new group of friends. Not bad ey.
Anyway back to India. A cultural and sensory overload. Awaiting you at every corner could be anything from the divine smells of local, authentic food to the strange appearance of cows, it is safe to say that there is never a dull moment. The driving is reckless, the streets are over crowded and you will feel a million miles from home but despite all this if you throw yourself at every opportunity I guarentee you will fall in love with the place.
Sri Lanka. Oh my lord. The whole of Asia was HOT but words do not describe just how hot Sri Lanka was. Even something as simple as getting up to go to the toilet required you to have to sit there for a good 15 minutes, if not more, and decide if it was even worth it and to make it all just a little bit worse I had heat rash on the palms of my hands which made doing anything and everything extremely uncomfortable. On the plus side I got a good tan but yeah Sri Lanka, definitely the hottest.
Most of my trip has fell during summer months but New Zealand did not and with temperatures hovering around 1 degree each day boy was it cold. The worst part though? The Kiwi Experience bus. Every morning we would drag ourselves out of our warm cosy beds and get back on the bus headed to a new destination and every morning without fail the bus would be soooo cold that the seats were damp and the air icy. It also didn’t help that our driver couldn’t turn the heating on as for some strange reason it fogged up the windscreen leaving him unable to see… long story short the cold weather didn’t really bother me when I was out and about but I dreaded getting up every morning and having to get back on that bloody bus!!
I’m gunna have to give this one to Bliss Ubud Spa in Bali. In keeping with traditional Balinese style this beautiful resort is set amongst lush rice paddies and gardens. Our rooms were beautiful and looked right out over the pool. The attention to detail here was insane – from the beautiful patterned doors to the flowers they left out on the stairs each morning, each little touch made it even more special and even more magical.
However, having said all that I think that I should probably mention my favourite hostel as for me wanting to keep costs low, meet other travellers and not be one of the those backpackers who stay in hotels and private rooms the whole time I have stuck to hostels for nearly all of my travels (14 months) bar 3 weeks in Bali where I stayed in hotels with my family and for the months that I was living in Melbourne in my own apartment and I have LOVED every second. Hostels can get such bad reps but if you just take a little bit of time to do some research and weed out the bad ones you can stumble upon some real gems, as I frequently did and still am. One that definitely stands out for me was the Mojzo Dorm in Nha Trang, Vietnam.
The hostel itself is amazing – it is kept so clean and tidy, has a room with a shower and bunk beds for travelers that are waiting to check in or that have checked out and are waiting for onward transport, a beautiful rooftop area looking out over Nha Trang and the most friendly helpful staff you will ever come across. The staff will go above and beyond to help you out and even remember and address you by your name! They have so much info on everything to do in the area which is really helpful and will also arrange onward transport at a really low cost. I literally couldn’t fault our stay here it was perfect! They even found Daniels phone on his bed one day whilst we were out so took it downstairs to put in the safe so that it didn’t get stolen – sounds silly but in dorms you really can’t trust anyone and in asia you wouldn’t even normally trust the staff so knowing that you can trust these guys really goes a long way! Basically if you ever find yourself in Nha Trang head over to Mojzo because I guarentee you will not find better. You have my word.
Until recently I would have answered this as the guesthouse that we stayed at in Luang Prabang, Laos which was pretty dire. However I recently stayed at Secret Garden Backpackers in Sydney and it was appalling. How the hell a hostel in central Sydney that I paid $32 a night for was worse than a tiny concrete cell costing £2 a night in a poverty ridden country I do not know but trust me it was.
One of the best things about travelling has definitely been the food. From dal makhani in India to milk rice in Sri Lanka, from pad thai in Thailand to khmer curry in Cambodia and from nasi goreng in Bali to fergburger in New Zealand I have tried it all.
I have found myself at street stalls, night markets, restaurants and rooftop bars, each one providig a completely unique experience.
My favourite though? It has to be Thailands very own Pad Thai. It was my go to dish in Thailand and one that I never got bored of. Every single dish I tried had its own delicious flavour, from my first one at a little restaurant in the backstreets of Bangkok to the hustling bustling night markets of the north and then back down to the tropical eastern islands every dish has provided a completely unique burst of flavours.
My second time in Bangkok saw me try a scorpion. It was very crunchy, very bitty and tasted a little like rubbery chicken. YUM.
Visiting the Killing Fields and S21 prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia was extremely eye opening. We spent the day learning about the atrocities that took place only 40 years ago when the Khmer Rouge Regime led by Pol Pot carried out the genoicde of nearly 3 million people (out of a total of 8 million). It was heartbreaking listening the stories of the people and families who were the victims to this regime. Knowing that something this horrific happened so recently really was shocking.
This is impossible to choose as I have loved every single second of my trip and everyone always laughs about the fact that that I call everything my ‘favourite’ but honestly it all is! However, if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to choose I would have to pick the one thing sitting right at the top of my bucket list – visiting the elephant sanctuary.
It is something that I have wanted to do for what feels like forever so when I finally had the chance to go to one in Chiang Mai, Thailand it was like a dream come true. It was the most incredible day and I had a smile plastered to my face for days – even just thinking about it now still gives me butterfly’s.
If you didn’t see my post all about it and all the incredible photos that I took then follow the link below! 🙂
Closest near death experience
Without a doubt in my mind this definitely has to be getting lost in the jungle in Thailand. Everybody’s first reaction when I tell this story is to laugh but I guarentee if any one of you had been there at the time, laughing would be the last thing you would do. We were so scared, scared of not being found, not being able to get out before dark, making one wrong move and slipping down the side of the mountain, becoming so dehydrated that we couldn’t carry on and scared that no one even knew we had gone therefore no one would even think it odd if we weren’t back that night. It was terrifying. Luckily we made it out okay and all was well but yeah definitely my closest near death experience.
Best sunrise / sunset
Ahhhhhh. I am such a sucker for a good sunrise/sunset which makes choosing my favourite near to impossible, but I will.
Not the most impressive sunset that I have ever witnessed but it was my first sunset of my whole trip. It was my second night away from home, me and two others headed up to the rooftop for a few beers, the sun had just set leaving behind that after glow of colour and in that exact moment every doubt and every uncertainty that I had just faded away. It was right then that I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do and that was the best feeling ever.
Just a few of the other sunrises/sunsets that I have been lucky enough to see
Where to begin? I have been lucky enough to visit some of the best beaches in the world so this is quite a hard one.
Here are my top 3:
1. Lake McKenzie – Fraser Island, Australia
2. Jungle Beach – Galle, Sri Lanka
3. Eastern beaches of Gili Trawangan, Indonesia
The 26 hour bus journey from Laos to Vietnam. Stuck in the boot of a coach on a grubby old bed was definitely a low point in my life and as if the journey wasn’t bad enough we were dropped off at a random house at 4am and told to walk for 20 minutes past pigs and dogs roaming free until we reached the laos/vietnam border.
Sharing the experience
I have been so lucky that some of my closest friends and family have all flown out to various countries to see me and join in the adventure. From Lauren first flying out to Thailand, to Mum and everyone coming to Bali and then most recently when Sophie and Soraya flew all the way here to Australia. We have made some incredible memories and certainly have a few stories to tell! I have loved having every single one of you out here with me as it has made my journey all the more special.
If you can say that you have been to Asia and have not been conned then consider yourself the luckiest person alive. It happens to travellers all the time from the little things like paying more than you should to being sold tickets that don’t even exist – Asia is home to it all. I think I have been pretty lucky and managed to avoid any major cons but there was one incident where something happened and it really sticks out for me.
It was my second time in Bangkok and my best friend Lauren had flown out to meet me for a few weeks. Being my second time in Bangkok I was feeling more confident and more open to embracing any spontaneous opportunities that arose. We had headed out into the city to explore a few of the temples and at the first one, Wat Pho, we realised we had forgotten to bring anything to cover our shoulders. Whilst standing outside debating what to do (we didn’t want to have to go back to the hostel) a guy in police uniform came over and started chatting to us. He told us that if we were to come back in the afternoon the temple would give us something to cover our shoulders with free of charge. Quite happy with this we were about to leave when he suggested that he could write down a few places for us to visit to pass the time.
He wrote us a list consisting of The Golden Mount, The Black Bhudda and at the bottom the name of a travel shop. Not thinking anything of it as we had been telling him about our plans to go island hopping I thought he was just being nice and thought he was doing us a favour. Not wanting to be rude I thought to myself ‘it’s ok we just won’t go to the travel shop, I will cross it off the list’.
The guy then called over a tuk tuk and got the driver to agree to take us to the list of temples for 100 bhat. If you have been to Thailand you will know that this is cheap. Still this didn’t ring alarm bells as I genuinely thought he was just a kind man wanting to help out a few tourists.
The tuk tuk driver took us to the temples as planned but at our last one the Black Bhudda we were approached by a guy who we thought was just there to pray and got chatting to him. He took some photos for us and was telling us all about his kids and family. He seemed like such a lovely guy. He asked where we were headed next and we told him back to Wat Pho as we didn’t want to go to the travel shop. He started to tell us all about another travel shop that he knew of that was better and did really cheap deals. He went over to our driver and told him not to take us to the original one but to the one he knew of instead. I did start to think ‘hmm this is a bit odd’ so when we left I asked our driver to take us back to Wat Pho and not the travel shop. He wouldn’t listen and insisted that we go and if we weren’t interested in buying anything then he would take us back. We agreed. We went into the shop and were greeted by one of the agents. As we did actually need to book transport down to the islands we decided to find out what kind of prices they were offering. It was far more expensive than what the shops back on Koh San were offering.
We politely said no thank you and tried to leave but the guy kept talking and talking and kept trying to sell us whole holiday packages. We kept insisting that this was not something we were going to buy and in the end he flipped out at us and started swearing at us telling us to get the hell out of his shop. A bit scared we ran back out to the tuk tuk who finally agreed to take us back to Wat Pho.
It was only recently whilst reading another travel blog that I found out the whole thing was a scam that each and every person we encountered was in on. Turns out the guy in the police uniform was just a con artist, the lovely ‘local’ we met at the Black Bhudda had been placed there waiting for tourists to arrive and of course the tuk tuk driver was involved too.
What upset me most about this was that I genuinely believed that by taking the time to stop and chat to a few locals we ended up having a really fun spontaneous afternoon along with a story to tell. Wanting to be more trusting this time I had believed that these were kind people trying to help us out and show us around their country. My first time in Bangkok I was so suspicious of everyone and everything so this time I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to put some trust in the people and really embrace every opportunity.
Reading this you are probably thinking it was so obvious that we were being conned but not one of us even considered it a possibility – they were so so clever about how they did it. Nothing bad happened, no money was lost and we were not hurt but it’s just sad that a small minority are willing to take advantage as most Thai people are so welcoming and friendly.
Challenges and achievements
1. Diving – I absolutley love the water but something that never appealed to me was diving, for what reason I don’t know, but when I found myself on Koh Tao (the worlds cheapest place to learn to dive) I decided to take the plunge and rise to the challenge. It ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made and not only did I complete my open water qualification I loved it that much that I went one step further and am now a qualified advanced diver.
I have racked up 17 dives in 3 different countries at some spectacular spots such as the Great Barrier Reef, Gili T and shipwrecks in both Thailand and Bali. I have swam with turtles, sharks and stingrays just to name a few. Diving has opened up a whole new world for me and one that I intend to keep exploring.
2. Climbing Mt Batur – stood at 1,717m tall the climb up the side of this active volcano is not for the faint hearted. Not quite realising what we were getting ourselves into we eagerly (well some of us) signed ourselves up and got an early night (we were going to need way more than that). From the minute we stepped out of the mini bus it was a steep uphill incline right until we reached the summit. It pushed us to the limit both physically and mentally but we all made it to the top in time for sunrise and were rewarded with the most incredible views.
3. Farmwork – possibly the most physically challenging thing that I have ever done. I used to moan about getting out of bed at 7am back when I was working in Melbourne… well now it’s 4.30am. Sun, rain, frost or thunder I work through it all and weekends here? Yeah they don’t exist but despite all this I am absolutley loving it.
Right now I am living just outside of a town called Stanthorpe in QLD Australia, working on a strawberry farm so that I can complete my 88 days regional work making me eligible for a second year visa. In just a few weeks time the season here ends so I will transfer to my company’s second strawberry farm on the Sunshine Coast and continue to work and save until the end of July when my visa runs out.
This is when things for me get exciting again. Not wanting to end my trip quite yet I plan to head back to one of my favourite places in the world – Asia. I will spend a couple of months backpacking through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and am even toying with the idea of heading back to India, the place where it all began before heading home to dear old England.
Its funny how so much has changed in just a year. Last March I couldn’t wait to leave home – I was so bored, I craved spontaneity and adventure, I didn’t even know if I would come back but now? Although I have no intentions to stop travelling I do know that England is the only place I could ever call home.