#3 – Gyeung Lim’s Wedding

The much anticipated THIRD blog post (since the big update) is here! Not particularly surprising it has taken me this long, because I am officially the world’s most terrible blogger ( in terms of frequency that is!). I have actually been writing a lot, but for other people, and I am actually being paid to do it! So all I need to do now is get someone else to write my blog, and then I’ve basically made it is a blogger – I think that’s how it works anyway. The reason I don’t write often is because people each post turn’s into a bloody dissertation that takes me at least four hours to write. Remind me never to attempt a novel, even just for your own self interest, because I WILL force everyone I know to read it!

Apart from writing and teaching, I’ve been pretty busy the last few months, especially now the weather is finally not crap. The sun has been shining, so I’ve been doing a fair bit of hiking and have explored a few of the island’s many beaches. I’ll write a post about my spring adventures soon, but this one will be dedicated to my new friend’s wedding that I attended a couple of weekends ago. Korean weddings are quite different to those in the UK, and I thought you would all find it interesting to learn about the wedding culture here. I would say that there are some things I prefer about both, neither being necessarily better than the other! I’ve been lucky enough to attend three weddings already, which a few of my friends here are pretty jealous about (sorry Emily!). So here’s a summary of my thoughts on the wedding culture here, and a few pictures from Gyeung Lim’s wedding. She met her husband at middle school, 15 years ago, and her husband is her bestest friend!  I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed being part of their special day.

EVERYONE is invited

The number of people invited is probably about triple that of an average UK wedding, and they invite a lot of their friends, plus the parents of the couple invite their friends/family too.  I think it’s a lovely idea to have a huge wedding, but obviously if we did this in the UK, everyone who got married would have to remortgage their house just to afford a simple wedding. But it works here for a few reasons. First of all, every guest that attends gives money rather than gifts. So in theory, your guests pay for your wedding which is a pretty nice idea, and probably better than getting a load of appliances and towels ( my knowledge of wedding gifts in the UK is limited, but I assume this is pretty accurate). Although, it’s possible that the families pay for the wedding – I would have to check this. Either way, some money to spend on your new married life is pretty great too! Secondly, food and drink is a lot less expensive here, but still great! After the ceremony, everyone goes to a village hall for some very traditional Korean dishes, plus some soju and beer.  Soju and beer are so cheap here, with pretty much the same end result (well everyone’s drunk, but not dancing to the Macarena with their tie on Rambo style. They have more class than us, that’s for sure). When I originally wrote this post, I didn’t think that Korean weddings involved a party, but after speaking to Gyeung Lim today, I realised I was mistaken! The day before the wedding, the groom had a big party with family and close friends, and then the bride had a meal and party on the day of the wedding (see below photo!). Also, whilst the majority of guests only come to the meal for a short time, the couples closest friends stay for the whole day AND they have quite the party! I only stayed for bit, hence why I didn’t know the full story before!

This is a photo of the couple’s friends serenading them, which I thought was a lovely touch. I wouldn’t mind my friends doing this for me, but not sure any of them can sing. And even if they could, they wouldn’t tell me for fear of actually having to perform in public. Silly, awkward, British people.


The bride hires her dress, and also wears traditional Korean hanbok

Can you imagine the looks of horror you would get from your loved ones if you said you wanted to hire your wedding dress?! Or am I out of the loop, and everyone does that now? Either way, it makes so much more sense to hire a dress you’ll hopefully only wear once. I guess you could hand it down through the family, but do you really want to force your poor offspring to wear “vintage”. As much as I love my mum, I’ve seen her wedding dress, and whilst it was cool back then and she looked beautiful, I would look like I was going to a fancy dress party if I wore it now. Because Gyeung Lim hired her dresses, she could afford to wear a white (and absolutely stunning) bridal gown, before changing into a traditional Korean dress, called hanbok. All hanbok are gorgeous, but this has to be my favorite and it really suited her. Also, talk about hairspiration – simple but very elegant.



Korean couples take their wedding photos BEFORE the wedding

This isn’t just a Korean thing, it’s quite common throughout Asia to do a professional photo shoot before getting married. This is something I don’t understand, purely because it breaks the tradition of not seeing the bride before the wedding! Maybe I have seen too many movies, but that bit where the groom sees his bride for the first time, and he basically falls in love with her all over again. Sigh. I think this just shows I am not at grips with the reality of love, but still, I look forward to looking like a princess and everyone I know telling me how beautiful I am. Call me an ego maniac if you want, I’m just saying what EVERY girl wants. That said, I am totally renting my dress, because as much as I want to look awesome, I don’t want to bankrupt myself. I really want to know how much a UK wedding costs compared to a Korean wedding, I think the difference would be a shock.

The bride’s mother cooks her an awesome feast

Now, I only found this out because I was spying into the bridal dining room, and even managed a couple of covert snaps. The bride’s mother makes a delicious buffet for the couple, and then the groom feeds the bride some cake, not for eating but for a photo. I guess this is similar to the cake cutting, which Koreans also do but during the ceremony part of the wedding. They have a huge cake, which they don’t even eat! It’s not handed out in napkins for the guests, or maybe it is and I just didn’t get any. I asked my friend, and she said they don’t eat the cake, it’s just for the photo. I am morally against wasting cake, so this was a bit upsetting! To ease my mind, I have told myself that they just ate it after the wedding, or they gave it to the hotel staff as a thank you. If that cake went in the bin, I’m setting up a campaign – Justice for Korean Wedding Cakes. Let’s not allow these cakes to perish any longer, make a stand against cake wastage! Here’s my secret snap I took of the happy couple tucking into their feast, both looking very cute!


Guests dress nicely but modestly – no hats and posh dresses!

Korean weddings are not a fashion show, and it’s the best thing ever for us girls! Imagine if you didn’t have to buy a new dress, heels, and matching accessories every time you attended a wedding. You could just go in your wardrobe, pick out a nice LBD or a trouser/shirt combo, and you’re all set. Korean wedding guests still look awesome, because most Koreans (the younger ones usually)  dress impeccably every day of their lives. Even when they take out the bins, they look the business! Oh also, I’ll take this opportunity to tell you about Korean couple outfit matching. I think it’s in my top five fave Koreanisms. As I type right now, there’s a couple at the table next to me wearing matching clothes. It’s quite cute but if I had a boyfriend and I did this, my friends would either laugh at me excessively or assume I was doing so ironically. I just couldn’t pull it off, I’ve perfected my cynical persona over the years and it just wouldn’t fly. When I next get the chance, I will post some examples of this couple matching, or you can just search it on Google.

Back to the wedding – here’s a picture of me looking not too shabby without having spent hundreds of pounds in Coast. Although that said, my friend who I went to the wedding with was wearing Coast,  inadvertently ruining my joke! Having a look at the photo now though, my nail game is terrible. Most Korean ladies have perfect manicures or gel nails, all the time. How they afford it, I don’t know!

All the guests arrive early to greet both the bride and groom

This was my favorite part of the day! The bride was in her hotel room, and we all went upstairs to have photos with her and treat her like a princess. This was exactly what I mentioned earlier, the part where everyone showers you with compliments, and I am so happy Gyeung Lim got her moment! It was pretty chaotic but in a good way,  and we all queued up to get a photo with her – this is the closest she will ever get to feeling like Cinderella at Disney World. Forgot to get her autograph though, dammit. And I didn’t take a picture, but I will ask Gyeung Lim if she has the photo that the photographer took and add it soon!

It’s a great place to try traditional Korean dishes

Finally, the food is an experience in itself, and the perfect opportunity to try traditional Korean food. I sat next to an older Korean guy, and he poured me a glass of soju. In Korea, it’s very impolite to say no when offered food or drink, so I accepted his kind offer even though soju is not an afternoon drink in my opinion. Unless you get the flavoured kind, then it’s actually not bad. I quite like the ritual of drinking shots with friends, it’s definitely a form of bonding in my opinion. There’s something quite wonderful about your matching grimaces as you neck that fourth tequila, and the shared knowledge that you will all regret this tomorrow.

You’ve made it to the end! 

So there we have it, my review of Korean wedding culture, plus a lot of unnecessary (but hopefully amusing) commentary too. I was so happy to be invited to Gyeung Lim’s wedding, and it’s just one example of Korean people being so welcoming and inclusive of us expats. Some of the teachers at my school don’t speak to me very much, but this is purely because they lack the confidence to converse in English, and I feel sad that I can’t speak more Korean. I would have a lot more Korean friends here if I did. But the ones I do have are awesome, and I will really miss them when I leave. So thank you Gyeung Lim, for making me feel welcome and included, I wish you and your husband all the happiness in the world!!!!!!

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#1 (and #2!) -Lunar New Year

Seeing as I had spent all my pennies in Australia, I didn’t have many plans for the four day Lunar New Year celebrations. Luckily, I have already made some awesome friends on Jeju and they invited me to go hiking on the East side of the island on the Saturday and Sunday. We were supposed to leave pretty early but as it is so cold and our beds are so lovely and warm, we were all running late. While I was waiting with one of the guys from the hiking crew, we stumbled across a new hotel complex and managed to wangle some free coffee. We were told if we returned later that day we could watch a really awesome ska band called South Carnival for free too! Everyone loves free stuff, so we were game and told them we would definitely return later.

On the Saturday we hiked Olle trail 2 , and the weather was beautiful.  For those of you not familiar with Olle, they are a series of trails that stretch across the entire coast of Jeju. There are 21 routes in total, and this is my first one! We picnicked in the grounds of a temple, and I managed to sneak in a cheeky little nap. Here is a view from the top of one of the oreums we hiked up.

oreum-view

We finished the 10km trail around 4pm, just in time to make our way to the free gig. If you haven’t had a chance to see South Carnival yet and you happen to live in Korea, make sure you do! They are a Brazilian ska band, and they have heaps of energy. It’s very difficult not to want to dance around when they start playing, as my fellow hikers soon discovered. Luckily, no Koreans were injured by one particular persons flying limbs – I won’t mention a name but he knows who he is! Whilst at the gig, we got chatting to a lovely Venezuelan guy and his Korean wife, who have just opened a restaurant in the complex. Their speciality is arepas, which are delicious corn pancakes filled with all sorts of savoury delights. They invited us back for a FREE breakfast the next morning, all 10 of us! The hospitality in Korea never ceases to amaze me, everyone is so generous and kind. A few months ago, a lady my friend knows let us go and pick tangerines from her orchard and sent us home with bags of the things, all for free! And when I was in Seoul with a friend, this man came up to us and gave us free ice creams. I could literally write an entire blog about all the free things I get here, ha ha. Anyway, back to the arepas! If you do find yourself down in Seongsan, make sure to go check out the Arepa Grill, you won’t regret it. Prices start at around 6,500 won – cheap as chips!

After a long day, we retired to our air bnb for the evening, for a night of wine drinking and board games. Tomorrow would be an even longer day, with around 6-7 hours of hiking, so everyone was relatively well behaved and sadly I have no drunken debauchery to report!

We did try to start early on Sunday, but sleep is just the best and we didn’t drag ourselves out until around 10am. The rain really wasn’t helping, but the thought of our free breakfast eventually managed to get us all out of the house. And OMG was it worth it! The arepas were awesome, I had one filled with chicken, avocado and a fried egg with this amazing hot sauce too. It was literally heaven in my mouth! They even made a vegetarian one for Larkin, and she was super pleased as you can see.

larkin.jpg

The couple who run Arepa grill, Elonys and Sophia, are the nicest people ever, and if it wasn’t so far away from my flat I would literally eat there every weekend. Please go fellow Jejuites! Also, there is a super cute puppy that lives on the grounds of the hotel. He is a bit grubby but he is well fed and gets all the cuddles.

puppy

After breakfast, a few of us waited at the start of Olle trail 3 whilst the others dropped the car off at the end of the trail in Pyeosan. Whilst waiting, I noticed something moving out at sea. Having incorrectly identified a seagull as an albatross ( it was huge!) on Saturday, I didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up so I kept quiet until was 100% that it was what I thought it was. But it really was, it was DOLPHINS! We all ran down to the end of the pier for a better look, and there were at least 10 of them. We weren’t quite close enough for a photo, but it really was a special moment. I have been informed that thanks to my ability to get us free food and identify cool animals, I am now invited to future hikes – thank goodness.

The second hike was a bit tougher than the first, but it was worthwhile for the views. The best bit of the whole walk was walking across a big sandy beach at the end. Here are the surviving members of the gang,  tired but happy. By surviving, I don’t mean that others perished on the way. They just went home early!

gang

All in all, it was an excellent weekend – great company, food, scenery and banter. I can’t wait for the next hiking adventure, which I am informed will be a girl’s only hike up Hallasan mountain. Not sure we will see any dolphins up there, but hopefully there will be lots of snow still!

 

Return of the blogger.

So after a very long break from writing my blog ( no excuses, I am just a lazy toad) – I am back!!! I am really very sorry that I didn’t write about Vietnam because it was definitely my favourite country. For a very quick overview, the scenery is excellent and so varied, the food is great and there is a huge range of activities and day trips to take part in. My highlights have to be Hoi An, travelling with a lovely couple from Leeds, and the scenery in Phong Nha. Here are a couple of pictures for your enjoyment and as an apology for no posts!

I’ve decided to reinvent my blog as you’ll see from the title change. Instead of writing about each place I go to, I am going to write 500 posts, each one a diary entry for a particular day. They won’t necessarily be consecutive days, just days that were particularly exciting and fun-filled. And also ones where I learnt something, or where everything went wrong. Or even if just something really, really hilarious happened. Who knows, it will be a random mix! I stopped writing my blog partly because I am lazy but also because I felt like it didn’t have enough direction or identity. I think this new idea will help me to focus and hopefully make a good read! It also means I can carry on the blog after I eventually return to the UK ( not for a while yet!).

To catch you up on my current whereabouts, I have now been living in Korea since August, after finishing four wonderful months backpacking around SE Asia. I had to refuel my funds, so I am teaching English at an elementary school.  Well, I’m at least attempting to teach them English – I am not always successful! But more about that in one of my upcoming posts. I live on a tiny beautiful island called Jeju, in a small city called Seogwipo. I am definitely still adjusting to life in the slower lane after living in London for so long, but I am very much enjoying it. The kids are great, as is the food and scenery. I’ve also just returned from a wonderful trip around Australia, visiting family and friends. It was so nice to recharge my batteries and have a small break from Asia, and now I am back and ready to kick the next six month’s butt!!

My next two posts will be a look into my typical weekday and a typical Saturday or Sunday. That way you’ll get a pretty good idea of what my life is like in Korea! I’ve definitely had a bit of trouble adjusting to routine again but I have lots to look forward to and goals to aim towards, as I will be back on the backpacking route in September. I still have a few more Asian countries to tick off before I head home for a bit. I really hope you enjoy reading about my life in Korea for the next few months, it’s not every day you meet someone who lives here! I am also on a mission to improve my eating and fitness, so there will be some posts about that as well. And there will definitely be a post about the awesome food here, its incredible and so so cheap! Perhaps I will still be writing this when I am 80, and I’ll change the title to 5,000 Days of Steph, ha. Anyway, here is a photo of the view from my balcony – not bad ay!

my-view

Cambodia – Siem Reap & Battambang

When I first decided to do this trip, a few people warned me about the food and getting sick a lot. I’ve always thought I had a strong stomach so I wasn’t too worried and happily ate the street food in both Thailand and Laos. Then I arrived in Cambodia and it all went slightly downhill from there! I don’t want to scare people, but I was ill on four separate occasions in Cambodia so it’s not like it was a one off incident. Our first stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap, home of the famous temple complex Angkor Wat. Unfortunately,  I was struck down on the first day of arriving at our crazy party hostel – food poisoning and a lot of wasted people, great combo! I had been really looking forward to partying with my little family, but it was not meant to be and I was in bed for three whole days, poor me. I can’t decide if it was Cambodia making me ill or the suspicious sandwich I had at the bus station in Laos, a friend of mine who had already travelled through SE Asia had warned me about salad! My advice to anyone travelling would actually be to not worry too much and just eat whatever you want, it really is just pot luck if you get sick! There are a couple of things you could do to reduce your chances, such as not drinking too many icy drinks from the street or eating salad but at the end of the day, you could easily go into a western restaurant, have a pizza, and still get ill ( I speak from experience!). Just relax, buy some electrolytes ( and Imodium for bus journeys!) and hope for the best. Side note –  maybe just go a bit easier in Cambodia if you have a sensitive stomach. I would recommend that you don’t eat seafood, have ice unless it’s processed (round with a hole through the middle) and don’t eat salad or fruit with an edible skin. 

One thing you realise when you travel is that discussing sickness in graphic detail is pretty much the norm, even if you only met two days ago. Nothing to be shy about, it happens to the best of us! Anyway, enough of that – for now at least. Once I had recovered, we got our tickets for Angkor Wat, where we would have to arrive at 4am to catch the sunrise. We hoped that it would be good enough to warrant the crack of dawn alarm clock, and thankfully we lucked out. Check this beautifulness out. Stunner!

The colours were spectacular, we were very lucky to have such a clear morning. After the sunrise, we walked round Angkor Wat before the crowds got to crazy. This is going to sound bad, but as much as I love temples, I am not fascinated by them like some people. Don’t get me wrong, Angkor Wat is impressive and the history is very interesting, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t more fascinated by the group of monkeys living in the grounds of the temple complex! There were tiny baby ones, and this one who has totally nailed RBF (resting bitch face for the oldies among my readers!). 


I did take some pictures of Angkor Wat too – I really did like the temples but I just like monkeys more! The carvings on the walls were especially beautiful, so detailed and very interesting stories behind them. Also, a super cute picture of my little family!



The showstealer of the day was definitely Ta Prohm, a temple complex where nature has taken over. The authorities have allowed for vines and trees to grow among the ruins, creating something that wouldn’t look out of place in a fantasy film. And it actually was used in a film, albeit a terrible one, Tomb Raider! 


The tree in the bottom picture is a strangler fig for those interested in nature. I find that a lot of people aren’t and appear disinterested when I point out fun wildlife facts, not sure why. Maybe it’s my delivery, David Attenborough doesn’t have this problem. I also saw this gorgeous butterfly, who thought my skirt was a flower!


My impression of Cambodians was that they are warm, friendly and hilarious! But you can also tell that Cambodia is a lot poorer than Thailand and Laos,  as there is a lot more pressure on us travellers to buy buy buy. It was a little bit unbearable at the temples, they seem only interested in making money from you and are actually quite irritating sometimes. However, they are also very helpful and welcoming so I won’t complain too much. They have families to feed, and I would do the same if I had to. I’m already quite persistent and annoying anyway, and I have much less reason to be. 

For our final night in Cambodia, we actually had the pleasure of watching England win a game of football – a miracle! The bar at our hostel was heaving and the atmosphere ( apart from a few token idiots) was great. I didn’t drink due to still feeling a bit ill, and it was amusing as always to watch drunk people interact. Adrian and I left for Battambang the next morning, and due to hangovers the girls decided to stay one more day and catch us up. Mum and Dad get a day off from the pesky kids, at last! We arrived in the heaviest rain I had seen so far on my travels and then went in search of food. My appetite had come back with a vengeance, and was accompanied by my best friend Mr Hangry. Adrian was pretty good at dealing with hangriness and we found this amazing tapas style restaurant called Jaan Bai. We had cous cous salad, satay chicken and these mushroom dumplings that were incredible, despite resulting in third degree burns to my mouth. Caution – don’t order boiling hot dumplings when you are ravenous, it won’t end well. In the evening, we decide to mix it up with an Indian and we both order the thali ( a tray of Indian dishes). It was ginormous and Adrian practically had to roll me home. 

Battambang is a really cute little riverside town, perfect for lazy days and eating too much. We went for a relaxed brunch and then went for a walk along the river, in search of the Riverside Balcony bar. After a few days of no drinking, I was gasping for a cocktail or four. Luckily, it turned out that the owners of this particular bar are a dab hand at cocktails, and pizza! The Mai Tai was actually a Mai Tai, an odd occurrence in SE Asia from my experience. I beat Adrian at pool about five times and then he managed to get one win thanks to the help of a small child who knocked the black in with her elbow. He will deny this, don’t believe him! Here are a couple of pics from our first two days in Battambang. 


It doesn’t look that special, but it has a nice atmosphere and is worth a visit for one or two days. The girls arrived that afternoon, ready for a tuk tuk tour of the countryside the next day, with a lovely Cambodian guy called Seth. He was so keen and showed us a book of all his references – a great idea when there are so many drivers to choose from, Seth had some business sense! He took us around some villages, to a rice paper factory, a crocodile farm ( wish he hadn’t), bamboo train and to see some bats go hunting in the evening. The bamboo train was certainly an experience, but the best part of the tour was just driving round and seeing some of the more rural areas of Cambodia. The train really was just a piece of bamboo on wheels, and as the track is only one way, every time there was something coming the other way, we all had to jump off so they could take our car off the track! Mental. The story behind the bamboo railway is very interesting though – it was supposed to be an actual railway running from Phnom Penh to the Thai border, but it was damaged during the civil war and neglected. That lead to a clever man in Battambang deciding to use a stretch of it as a tourist attraction, and the Bamboo train was born! 


Battambang was a pleasant stop off between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, which was our next stop. The girls decided to head straight to the islands, as they were planning on going to PP to catch their flight to Singapore. That meant it was just the two of us again!

I was slightly apprehensive about going to Phnom Penh, as our main reason to go was to see the Killing Fields and S21 prison – both necessary visits to understand the traumatic history of Cambodia. The next post might be a tough read for some, but I would recommend reading it as I expect most people don’t even realise what happened in Cambodia during the 70s. It was horrific and I still need to think about how best to write about it. To be continued…

Thom Kong Lo Caves & Si Phan Don, Laos

After Vang Vieng, the majority of travellers head to Vientiane and then get the bus to Hanoi in Vietnam, without making time to visit Southern Laos. I really wanted to go to Si Phan Don though (commonly known as the Four Thousand Islands) because of a Ben Fogle programme I watched on Channel 5. I realise that this is scraping the bottom of the television barrel but it was actually an amazing programme about people who quit their hectic lives and move to remote parts of the world. It’s also quite fun watching Fogle trying to be Bear Grylls – Ben, if you want to achieve this maybe leave your bright blue Gant knitwear at home when going squirrel hunting in the remote forests of Alaska! One of the episodes was about an English guy who moved to Si Phan Don and set up life in a small hut, it looked incredible! He helped the local people with building a community centre and it looked like a really peaceful place that should definitely be on my list to visit. 

Before I tell you about Si Phan Don though, it is important to understand that getting there from Northern Laos is not necessarily going to be the most pleasant experience of your life. Laos doesn’t quite have the travel infrastructure of Thailand, which I think adds to its charm and makes it more adventurous, but might also result in some frustration! What I am about to tell you might put you off altogether, but I honestly think it’s worth it as I had the best time on Don Det island ( one of the Four Thousand Islands!). Unless you are a princess who expects a developing country to lay out a red carpet for you wherever you go, then make the journey! I promise you will not be disappointed ( if you are, I am not liable!). 

So, I convinced Ebru and Veronica that it would be nice to visit Thom Kong Lor cave on the way to Don Det and because they are so lovely and easy going they happily agreed to join me! The first bus was going to be a long journey of around 9 hours to get to the caves. I was expecting a tourist bus but it was a local one, which I was happy with nonetheless. I think the girls would agree that it wasn’t the nicest bus by any means! Halfway into the journey, I was happily reading up on Don Det in my guidebook, when something brown that looked a lot bird poo dripped onto my book! Now I realise a lot of people would be disgusted and angry, but it’s not exactly the bus companies fault that a bird had decided to set up home in its air        conditioning unit! I found it gross but also hilarious, especially when a local Laos man came over to help me and banged on the air con to make sure the unidentified creature moved along to poop on another unsuspecting victim. The bus stopped halfway so we could get some food, and by food I mean Oreos and Pringles. My general rule is don’t eat from roadside cafes in Asia, and I think it is a safe bet! Thailand may be the exception, but in Laos it doesn’t look very appetising and my idea of a bus snack is not dried buffalo skin or fertilised eggs – maybe I am just being a fusspot! We were relieved when our bus finally arrived at the tiny Kong Lo village. The view from our balcony was totally worth the long journey and look how happy Ebru is here to be here. Fit!


The village had only a handful of other tourists and it was perfect – buffalo, rice paddies, mountains and lots of baby farm animals! I literally could have spent all day chasing ducklings around and stroking puppies but that’s because I have the mind of a child most of the time. If you are a grown up, you can just have a beer and watch the sunset! Our guesthouse was lovely and they had chocolate ice cream! We all went to bed very early ready to explore the caves tomorrow.


When we woke up, it was absolutely chucking it down, so we had to wait till the afternoon to go to the cave. When we arrived, a man took us to his row boat and then after a short walk we reached the mouth of the cave and got into a motor boat. The cave was quite impressive, a 7km tunnel under the mountain with lit up stalagmites and stalactites. However, was it worth the 9 hour + journey – sadly not! We were only in the cave for about 2 hours as the guide seemed to be in a hurry. He also didn’t speak English, which  I obviously don’t expect, but it does make tours more interesting. It annoys me when people moan about guides having poor English when they have only paid a measly few dollars. Newsflash – not everyone wants to learn English and not everyone wants to bend over backwards for tourists. You get what you pay for and of course if I paid a lot of money for a cultural tour and the guide didn’t speak English then I would be disappointed. But if they are just a transport service, like they were for the caves, then you just have to hope you get lucky. A lot less people speak English in Laos, as tourism is still a work in progress, and I think this is what makes Laos great! Sometimes it’s fun to muddle your way across a country, especially when most places you visit almost make it too easy and convenient. Here is a pic from the caves, which whilst nice may not be worth it, especially if you plan to go to Vietnam which has much better caves!


 Now I know I just said that bus travel through Laos is exciting and more adventurous than Thailand, but it can also be a pain in the arse and make you doubt anyone who tells you how a long a journey will be.   This is what happened on our onward journey from Thom Kong Lo to Pakse where we would get the bus and boat to Don Det. I would like to point out that a miracle happened this day – I didn’t lose my temper until the very end of the day and even then I did so very quietly with lots of swearing under the breath, teeth grinding and unimpressed glares. Those of you who know me well will appreciate that this is quite an achievement because I have been known to completely lose my shit and be a totally pain in the arse diva! So I expect a few messages of congratulations please 🙂 Here is our day in all its glory and looking back on it, it  was quite amusing!

6.30am – Our lovely guesthouse host had arranged for us to get the bus early that morning. It was hammering down as usual and we had our breakfast whilst he waited to flag down the bus. When a small truck with some benches in the back pulled up, we thought to ourselves that this must be the transport to the bus, which is quite common in Asia. However, we soon realised we were mistaken – this was the bus that would take us to Thakhek and it would take 5.5 hours!!!! The truck was full to bursting with locals, plus some chickens and ducklings – a real local experience but not one I would like to repeat because I lost all feeling in my bum! A bench is not a suitable substitute for an actual seat and it was so bumpy! 

12pm – We arrived at the bus station to get our 7 hour bus to Pakse. The ticket officer told us the bus would arrive at 1pm so we grabbed some snacks and had a rest. This was the smelliest bus station I have ever experienced, thanks to a large basket of unidentifiable ‘snack’ food which I later found out was dried buffalo skin complete with wirey hairs. YUM!! Here it is, if you would like some I will take orders and it should reach you in a few weeks. It’s dried food so it should make it through customs!


3.30pm – So apparently our 1pm bus broke down but this wasn’t information that the ticket office thought was worth sharing. Bus eventually arrives at 3.30pm and it thankfully looks a bit cleaner than the bird poop bus. We are told the bus will arrive at 10.30pm. We are all sceptic of this information thanks to the ‘bus’ we took this morning, and accept that we might never arrive! An hour into the journey, a few ladies get on with whole chickens on sticks and some more fertilised eggs. Surprisingly, we don’t buy anything and accept that dinner will be crisps and Oreos again. The lady next to Veronica shared her dinner with her though which was so sweet, and I met a lovely Vietnamese guy who was visiting family. Not a completely wasted journey (still a bloody long one though). 

12.30am – STILL ON THE BUS!!!! Arghhhhhhhhh. The driver stopped at least 10 times to pick up all sorts of crap and also to have dinner for over an hour! I was seething, but no one else seems that bothered. Apparently, locals don’t care if they arrive 5 hours late. I quietly mumble expletives under my breath every time the bus stops again, approximately every 2 miles. We eventually arrived at 1.30am!! Then to add insult to injury, a lovely tuk tuk driver took us to our hotel, which was was about 1km away and cost us 120,000 kip each which was triple what we paid for for the 10 hour bus trip we had just taken!!!

As you can imagine, I wanted that day to over and to get moving to Don Det ASAP, which thankfully we were able to do at 10 am the next day. We were nervous getting on the bus that morning, wondering if it really would only take 4 hours or maybe 4 weeks. But it only took 4 – we had made it!!!!! And it was totally worth all the hassle, the Four Thousand Islands are beautiful – see below! The village of Don Det is quite small and is a mixture of bungalows, guesthouses, small farms and chilled cafes. The Mekong river is split into many smaller branches by the islands, and it looks stunning at sunset. I managed to capture this picture which is by far my favourite snap of my entire trip.

Due to the slightly traumatising journey, we chilled out that evening and booked a full day kayaking tour around the islands for the next day. It was a fantastic day, complete with capsizing, dolphins, a new addition to our little travel family and of course lots of beautiful scenery. Now, I could take full responsibility for capsizing the kayak but I think that would be unfair to Veronica who definitely played a part in us crashing into the reed beds and falling into the Mekong! We luckily managed to not drown or lose any stuff – even my awesome farmer hat survived! I mostly blame our kayaking guide, who kept giving us the wrong directions to steer and then had the cheek to ask us if we enjoyed our Mekong shower! We were very glad to reach calmer waters, and were rewarded for our efforts with some sightings of the rare Irrawaddy river dolphins, of which there are only 100 left in the wild. I felt very privileged to see them! 


As well as making friends with dolphins, we also met Adrian and we let him hang out with us for the next few days because he was all alone….only kidding! We happily welcomed him into our little group and spent the next few days with him chilling out in Don Det. We then kidnapped him and forced him to come with us to Cambodia, poor guy! Here he is being much better at kayaking than me, front of the boat (I.e. He is still in the kayak!) Also, a picture of me at the waterfalls with my homegirls. My awesome Jungle Book T shirt is from Primani in case you were wondering!


 Whilst I really enjoyed Laos, I was very much ready to see what Cambodia had to offer. Laos was great for countryside, meeting amazing people, baby animals and the most incredible waterfall in Luang Prabang! However, I t wasn’t so great for food or transport options, and the beer was not my fave! All in all, I would recommend Luang Prabang and Si Phan Don. I’ve also heard there are some amazing waterfalls in Pakse and that Laos is awesome for motorbike travel. You probably need around 3 weeks to really see and do everything properly. The girls were also glad to leave Laos, it had left them feeling very tired indeed! Apologies ladies, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made to make sure my blog is entertaining for my many adoring fans 🙂 Next, a post on Siem Reap/ Angkor Watt and the wonderful riverside town, Battambang! 

Luang Prabang & Vang Vieng, Laos

I had a feeling that when I started this blog, I would be crap at updating it – and I was right! It is impossible for me to write about every few days so I’m going to try and condense it a bit and get up to date as quickly as possible. I have so much to share with everyone, two wonderful countries in a month! 

The usual route to get from the Thai border to Luang Prabang is to take a slow boat that takes two days. I had to think about whether I wanted to do this, as although the views were meant to be spectacular it would also mean 48 hours on a fairly unsafe and uncomfortable boat that I heard many horror stories about. Lots of people said it was a really fun way to get to Laos, and that I would meet lots of people. I could also just meet people when I got to Laos and also be there a day earlier! I decided to rebel against the backpacker tradition and just get the bus which would only take 9 hours. I’m really glad I did because the views going over the mountains were stunning and I met two lovely German girls, Ebru and Veronica, who would soon become my travelling buddies for 6 weeks!!! Proof you don’t need to take a long ass boat journey to bond with people, but saying that if you have a lot of time the boat is a good option as you get to see more of the Mekong and stay in a little village. Also, the roads are very narrow and windy and at one point we had to overtake 10 huge lorries – whilst going round hairpin bends! I was thankful that I had a limited view of what was going on and beautiful countryside to distract me! 

As soon as I entered Laos, I immediately noticed a difference in attitude between Thai and Laos people. The Lao are much more easy going and a bit more reserved. Whilst at first they seem not to be interested to interact with foreigners, if you smile first they will smile back! I didn’t get hassled by people trying to sell things or tuk tuk drivers either, which was a nice change. Some travellers have mentioned to me that in Laos you get less customer service but I don’t think that is true at all. I just think they are a bit more relaxed, but they will happily help when asked. It is quite annoying when travellers expect certain things, without considering the cultural differences.  When did travellers become so spoilt, do we really expect every single person in a country we are visiting to smile and welcome us lovingly?! Also, it baffles me when backpackers write reviews such as ‘the accommodation was basic, the lockers were small and the free breakfast wasn’t that great’ – for rooms that they paid 4 dollars for!!!!! 4 dollars wouldn’t even get you a cardboard box in England, reality check people! 

I seem to be having at least one rant per post but I can’t help but make observations!  Anyway, back to the point of this post – Luang Prabang! It is a really pleasant town which I sadly did not get to explore as much, as I only spent two days there. I would have liked to explored more on a bicycle but I did get to see a few of the highlights. First, the view from Phu Si hill which was beautiful – very lucky with the sunset colours! I met some amazing people in Luang Prabang who Ebru, Veronica and I then travelled to Vang Vieng with. They definitely added to the experience, all of them comedians in their own right! I will share some very sexy photos of them later on in the post! 


Due to the French influence, Luang Prabang also has a lot of bakeries. After 3 weeks of mostly noodles and rice, I was desperate for some bread so I was in heaven. Cakes, French bread and avocado sandwiches kept me going for two days. Plus, the night markets here are great and you can get an all you can eat buffet for about 2 dollars. 

The highlight of Luang Prabang (and maybe even the whole of Laos) was the Kuang Si waterfalls. I have never seen water that turquoise, it was truly magical and made even more spectacular by the stunning nature surrounding it. I was lucky enough to go with some adventurous people who ignore signs that say ‘Do Not Enter’ and I am so happy that we did! We were rewarded with a infinity pool overlooking the lower waterfall pools and a cave under a waterfall. As most of you know, I am not usually lost for words but there is a first time for everything. Truly incredible and anyone who visits Laos should not miss this! This photo is the closest I could get to capturing its beauty!


Next, we headed to Vang Vieng for some tubing and partying! The hostel we stayed in gives everyone half a bottle of whiskey every night for free, so as you can imagine it was quite popular with young people. I’m not sure how much I trust spirits in SE Asia, you never know if they have got the proof right – what you think is 30% could be 70%! We went on a mini bar crawl and then to a ‘jungle’ party which sadly was just in a garden not the actual Laos jungle. Still, great to go to a bar outside and there were lots of fairy lights and good music.  This was to be my first very bad hangover on my trip, and I was expected to drink again for tubing the next day. I just don’t have the stamina for drinking anymore, is that normal at 27?!
We left for tubing the next day around lunch time and I was prepared for a crazy day of drinking. It was a really fun day, mainly because it was spent with awesome people and we had such a laugh. The scenery is breathtaking, reminding me a lot of Jurassic Park (tried to make a GoPro video with theme tune but couldn’t remember it!). Don’t go tubing on your own, it’s only fun if you have a good group really. The Vang Vieng tubing scene has quietened down a lot in the last few years and for a good reason. A few years ago, the riverbank was home to lots of bars offering travellers both alcohol and various drugs. There were also rope swings and places to jump into the rapids, which coupled with intoxication is obviously a disaster waiting to happen. Sadly, disasters did happen and a few young travellers ( a number of whom were British) died. Luckily, the authorities in Vang Vieng reacted to this and have since put a number of restrictions on the tubing. Now, there are only two bars and no drugs on offer – but we still saw some very silly people absolutely trashed trying to enter the river after the first bar. If we hadn’t been there they might of drowned but luckily Holly persuaded them to get a tuk tuk. I’m totally up for a few drinks but what is the point of going travelling and spending your entire trip out of your tiny mind! You’ll just end up going home with fuzzy memories and a bad headache. I admit that I have had a few big nights out in my time, but some people here do it every day and I just don’t understand. SE Asia is beautiful and there is so much to do other than getting trollied. Also, alcohol is cheap here but you can still easily end up doubling your budget. I’m not sure if I have a good point or I am just old and boring now! Think probably a mixture. 

After Vang Vieng, E&V and I said goodbye to our new friends as they were going on to Vietnam and Cambodia. All the goodbyes are making me very emotional, but at least I still have my lovely German girls for company! Here are some silly pictures from tubing, the GoPro catches people at their most sexy!!!! 

Day 21 & 22 – Chiang Mai (again!)

As soon as I had the idea about going to SE Asia, one of the things that I was most excited about was interacting with elephants. They are the most beautiful gentle creatures and for me, to even just stroke one briefly would be amazing! I am completely against any sort of tourism involving elephants though, and it is quite difficult to find somewhere to visit them where they are genuinely happy and free ( as free as possible that is, most are too traumatised or domesticated to be released into the wild again). I had a hunt around on the net and found Elephant Nature Park, which is a sanctuary for elephants that have been rescued from trekking, circuses etc. They have a large area of land to roam free and the activities for the tour (feeding, bathing etc) are completely dictated by the elephants behaviour ie if the elephants want to leave the river they can and they are not held by their caregivers. I hoped that it was as good and ethical as it sounded on the website!

I was picked up at 8am and on the bus we were shown the most horrific video about the lives of the elephants before they were rescued. The worst by far was learning that some elephants are forced to create ‘paintings’ using a sharp nail that is prodded repeatedly behind their ear in a certain pattern so they know where to paint. The video described how the mahouts (elephant trainers) break the elephants soul with torture so that they obey all of their commands. It was really horrific to see and I was quite upset by the time we arrived, but still looking forward to seeing some recovering elephants. It really was as good as the website claimed it to be – the elephants were never restrained, they showed genuine affection towards their caregivers and the herd and they genuinely were allowed to walk away from feeding and bathing time once they were fed up! It was incredible to touch their skin and look into their eyes, I felt like if I could visit for a few days I would be able to build a special bond with them. It is amazing that these creatures have suffered at the hands of humans but they are able to forgive once they have been shown some kindness and love, which it is very clear they are given at Elephant Nature Park. The caregivers and volunteers work extremely hard to repair the elephants’ souls and make sure the rest of their lives are happy.  Please please go! Here are some pictures of me getting up close and personal with these beauties.


As a small side note, whilst I was at the park there was a minor celebrity also visiting – Lee Ryan from Blue! The world really is very tiny!!!! I am glad it wasn’t someone I really admire or I may have embarrassed myself in front of the elephants, ha! 

 For my last day in Thailand, we decided to go to the canyon for swimming and sunbathing. This meant another go at some scootering (that’s a word right?!) but this time in a fairly busy city! I was terrified but I didn’t want to miss out on a fun day so I decided to man up and go. Luckily, there are a lot of signs in Chiang Mai that say ‘share the road’ and incredibly people actually do! Everyone drives quite slowly and watch out for scooter traffic, so as long as you don’t do anything to stupid, use your indicator and don’t slam on your front brake, it’s a breeze! The journey did involve going on the highway but luckily the roads are very wide so I felt safe – mostly! Much better than sitting on the back and having zero control over the driving or decisions. The canyon was great fun and a good opportunity to test my GoPro underwater!!

My trip through Thailand was amazing and so varied – big cities, tiny rural towns, national parks, islands and jungle. I will definitely be coming back soon as there is still so much more to see and do. I really want to go to Koh Tao to dive and also spend a bit more time exploring Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is definitely a city I could imagine living, it has a really nice atmosphere and it would be easy to escape to Pai at the weekend! 

So that’s Thailand done and now on to Laos – although I am actually sat writing this in Cambodia because I am TERRIBLE at keeping a blog! Luckily I am also writing a diary so I can remember all the good bits, but I really could do with a personal assistant to help me with blog maintenance – and also perhaps my laundry! I’ll see if I can find a fellow traveller out here who has drank all their money and needs a job, shouldn’t be too hard! 

Day 19 & 20 – Pai

As we arrived so late in Pai, the only logical option for the evening was a few gin and tonics and to check out the nightlife. It seems we were late to the party though and most people in the only late bar (Boom bar I think it was called) were already either wasted or very “happy”. I lost at beer pong to some Canadian frat boys, apart from that it was a fairly uneventful evening and I was back in the dorm around 2am. Unfortunately, my dorm was playing host to the King of all the snorers. It was like listening to seven pneumatic drills, then made worse by a very drunk Australian guy who was trying to video said snorer. Oh the joy of shared dorms, snorers, drunkards and farters – my faves! 

So after a fairly rubbish nights sleep, I went to find the Chiang Mai crew and see what the plan was for the day. They all wanted to rent scooters and explore the area, but I’ve never driven one (and I don’t have a driving licence!) Also, most travellers don’t actually realise it is illegal for tourists without an International driving licence to ride a scooter in Thailand! But everyone does it anyway, and some of the injuries I have seen are horrific. The boys invited me to ride on the back, but being the sensible one I wasn’t willing to put my life in the hands of a 20 year old male who has the need for speed. I spoke to the really lovely bartender at my hostel, who told me about a local guy who gives lessons to beginners. He was fed up of seeing young tourists with cuts and bruises after skidding round corners and crashing into signs etc. His name was Allan and he made me feel very safe on the bike and was full of praise which helped to build my confidence. Now I know that riding a scooter isn’t rocket science and I have fairly good balance thanks to lots of rode biking, but he taught me a few things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. Like how you shouldn’t use your front brake, only back brake. That’s why so many people go over the top or skid on rocks. After 45 minutes, he declared me safe to go on the road and I went to rent my very first scooter! Here she is, isn’t she pretty!


 I decided to do a fairly easy loop that took me to the hot springs resort a short way up the mountains around Pai. I felt totally free as I navigated the windy roads, it was such a great feeling! I would never have been able to walk it or even cycle, so sometimes a scooter or motorbike really is the only way in South East Asia.

The resort was ghostly quiet, I pretty much had the pool to myself – heaven! I swam and then went in the excruciatingly hot hot springs – only lasted five minutes! Then I went to watch the sunset at the Temple on the hill, the Buddha statue is very impressive (see below):


In the evening, I decided I wanted a more sophisticated scene so I went to Edible Jazz for music and mojitos.  The vibe was very chilled and the band were excellent. She had a very peculiar but awesome voice, a bit like Amy Winehouse but with a Thai accent! 

I was very sad to leave Pai the next morning, I wish I had a bit longer to stay and chill out here. There really isn’t that much to do, but the atmosphere is very relaxing and it’s easy to make new friends there. If you are planning on heading to Chiang Mai, definitely visit Pai, it’s totally worth it. I also had the best meal there at Na’s kitchen – incredible green curry!  Unfortunately, I had to leave but for a very good reason – tomorrow is elephant nature park day! I will be spending all day with some rescue elephants, it’s going to be incredible! I really want an elephant for a best friend, I hope I make a good first impression. Sleeping tonight will be a challenge!

Day 16 to 18 – Chiang Mai

Greg and I arrived in Chiang Mai in the evening and I could tell straight away that I was going to like it a lot more than Bangkok. The old city is surrounded by a moat and then on the outside there are lots of nice places to stay, eat and drink! We arrived at our hostel and Greg was very excited that we were finally somewhere with other travellers, so proceeded to bounce around the hostel introducing himself to everyone! We were invited to watch some Muay Thai, and although I was absolutely exhausted and starving I decided to be social and go along. Whilst it was great to meet some new people, the Muay Thai itself was awful – it was basically a fake fight to entertain tourists but it didn’t even achieve that. On top of that, I hadn’t eaten for 10 hours so the hanger soon kicked in but luckily there were no serious casualties except for a huge plate of fries and a pizza. I’ve mostly avoided western food because it is extremely expensive but this was an emergency! 

I decided to have an early night so that I could go out and explore the city. I found a really cute cafe called Into the Woods (it was very well themed and the coffee/breakfast was great!) where I could have a couple of hours relaxation and then headed to a beautiful temple in the middle of the old city. The best bit about the temple was these little plaques that had Buddhist sayings on, I’ve chosen my favourite ones below. The second one should read “Today is better than two tomorrows”. And also a lovely picture of another temple! I need to start taking some pictures with people in I think! 

Although I am on a fairly tight budget, I figured it would be rude not to support some local shops and treated myself to a couple of things! It was so nice to have a day to myself, even though I have loved everyone I have met so far. Sometimes you just need a quiet moment to take in your surroundings, I actually got a little bit emotional walking round the temples on my own. It suddenly just hit me again that I had quit my job and was living my dream of travelling! If anyone else is contemplating travelling alone, just do it – it will honestly be the best decision of your life. 

A few hours outside of Chiang Mai there is a small town called Pai where lots of travellers go to relax and also to party a bit. I really wanted to go with a few people and in the end managed to round up about 8 and we all got the bus together. It was my first scary bus ride, lots of winding roads up a mountain and our driver liked to overtake on corners! I thought to myself that we actually might die but apparently it’s quite a normal way to drive on these roads. I was so pleased when we finally arrived in Pai, and then even more so when we found a hostel that had loads of dogs and cats – and a bar with cheap gin and tonics! 

The next post about Pai will follow tomorrow as I am SO far behind. I thought I would have tonnes of time to blog and I was also planning on reading a book a week. So far I have read about half book in a month! I also want to do a special post to mark my one month in Asia!!! I want to share some travelling secrets/horrible truths and also clarify some myths about travel/Asia. Sharing is caring after all!