After chilling in Thailand over Christmas and the New Year, as well as doing a bit of exploring around Kanchanaburi, my visa was coming to an end and I was ready for a new adventure. This time I was heading to Malaysia!

I hadn’t prepared for the trip at all, I was just going to make it up as I went along and hopefully get a volunteering project under my belt as my visa allows me to stay for up to 3 months.

My flight took me into Kuala Lumpur, which I had been to briefly before when I changed flights from London to Bali, though I was determined to get sight of the city itself and to hopefully experience an Asian festival or two whilst here too.

When I arrived at my hostel and handed in my laundry, I went to the nearest train station to find my way to the Petronas Towers, the landmark that appears on the majority of all Malaysian tourist souvenirs. I got advice from the hostel that the best place to see them was from the sky bar at the Traders hotel and as it was a wednesday night, it was also Ladies night so it was free drinks too! I was hardly dressed for a night out in a posh bar but I didn’t let that stop me!

The sight certainly didn’t disappoint!

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The next day, I headed into the colonial district to learn a bit about the history of the city. The buildings I saw were all built after the great flood of which I learned about when I went to see the musical ‘Mud’. It was only after I bought my ticket that I learned that it was an interactive experience. I’m a naturally shy person so I must say, I was a bit worried! And when I saw that there were only 5 people watching the show, I knew that I’d definitely be picked out to take part. It turned out that EVERYONE took part and ‘helped’ the cast put out the ‘fire’ and was a lot of fun.

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The next day was he start of the Thaipusam festival where people fast and walk up to the Buta caves where they would show their devotion by sticking hooks and spears through their bodies! I got there a little too early though so by the time people started arriving at the temple, I was ready to go. I did get to see people with hooks in their backs though. Surprisingly, there was no blood anywhere, which was nice.

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The next day, I was to head over to the Island of Penang and to stay in a little hostel in Georgetown. It is another colonial settlement and has a fort but these days, people seem to visit because of all the street art.

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Today I was starting to feel a little homesick because it was one of my close friend’s 30th birthday and they were having a big party without me. I helped them celebrate from afar instead and raised a glass over dinner.

I’d heard wonderful things about a neighbouring island called Langkawi and so decided to pack my things and grab the first boat in the morning over there. The crossings in the afternoon can be quite rough so the mornings were definitely the best (and busiest!) time to go.  It wasn’t too bad actually!

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I arrived a couple of hours later and asked a taxi driver to take me to the best place where I could find somewhere to stay because I still hadn’t sorted it out! After a little bit of a search around, saw a couple of grim places, I found a place online called ‘Tubotel’ overlooking the sea. A bizarre hotel where you stay in tubes! Quite expensive for what it is but definitely a different experience to a boring hotel room or busy dormitory.

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The next day, I hired a scooter to explore the island. I was a little nervous as I hadn’t ridden one since being in Pai, northern Thailand.   However, I found that the roads were a lot safer and there wasn’t much traffic so it was an absolute pleasure to breeze around the island and I made a mental note of places that I would visit properly over the coming days.

Whilst chatting on Whatsapp over breakfast, I’d somehow managed to convince my friend Sofie to come and join me because she was having a miserable time with the wet weather in Vietnam. I think me sending her pictures of the beach and the cocktails might have had something to do with it but I’m not sure. She was arriving the next day! Quite excited actually because I’d been feeling a bit down and missing my friends. I told her that I wouldn’t go and do anything fun before she arrived so I made myself sunbathe for a few hours after returning from my trip around the island and researching places that we could stay. Sharing a tube at the Tubotel wasn’t an option as they are too claustrophobic for two people.

Sofie finally arrived and seemed very relieved to have made it to warmer climates and to be able to finally put down her bag. Her journey involved delayed and missed flights, extra expense and general hassle. I promised to buy some Prosecco to make her feel better.

The next day, we grabbed a taxi into the town of Cenang so we could hire a couple of scooters and to have lunch. The afternoon was spent relaxing by the pool, watching the sunset and quaffing the Prosecco that we found at the local small supermarket. There are definitely worse ways to spend a day!

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In the north of Langkawi, there is a Sky Bridge that we went to visit by taking the steepest cable car ride I’ve ever seen. It was at this point, I realised just how bad Sofie’s fear of heights was. Bless her. She was shaking and gripping onto a poor innocent passenger that happened to sit next to her. She did really well and even made it out on the bridge without passing out. I loved it though. Maybe I’m just a masochist?

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That evening was once again, spent by the pool with a beer watching the sun set. After a shower, we headed into Cenang to go to a lovely restaurant called the ‘Yellow Bar’ and had the best meal I’d had in a while.  An old favourite from my childhood, chicken and chips! A nice change from Asian food that I’d been eating for the past few months.

We were in need of a new place to stay as our Airbnb booking was coming to an end, so spent the next looking for places we would be comfortable in staying.  After scootering the entire island, we were honest with ourselves and just decided to extend our stay as it was just so lovely having the pool. Sorted!

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The next day, we went in search of a quiet little beach where we could chill for the day.  We tried our best to talk our way into the exclusive beaches but it wasn’t to be.  So we found a lovely spot on a quiet public beach on the north side of the island and we even bumped into a couple that we met at the Sky Bridge! The sand was pure white and there was even someone giving neck and back massages – I felt amazing afterwards and I then bought one of the beers that they were also selling :) That evening, yes you guessed it, spent by the pool and watching the sunset. We chatted until daft o’clock drinking lots of wine. Great laugh.

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After breakfast and sorting out our next adventures and flights online, we scootered over to the Kilim Geopark that we had kept driving past and promising to visit. We went on a boat trip where we saw a bat cave, Eagles dive bombing for fish, a deserted island, a fish farm where they had hunter fish squirting at their prey (a piece of bread).

On the way back, we stopped by a waterfall where there was a family of monkeys that took an interest in us.  How cute!

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The next day, Sofie abandoned me to continue her trip up to Thailand and I stayed an extra couple of nights in Cenang while I prepared for my own trip to Australia! Yes, you guessed it, by chilling by the pool with a cocktail and a new Lonely Planet guide. How tiresome 😉

Thanks for being part of my Malaysian experience Sofie!

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Time for a change of scenery after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and the historical onslaught of emotion and empathy at Kanchanaburi.  Some serious beach time was needed so that I could just relax, read and add some more freckles to my collection.

I’d arranged to join a night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani where I would be able to pick up a bus to take me to Krabi and then another bus to a very special looking place called ‘Dawn of Happiness’ that I had found on Airbnb. It is a bit of a schlep but that is part of the appeal of travelling I suppose! I get to see the sights and hopefully make some more friends whilst on the train. To be honest, I LOVE to travel on night trains. So much better than trying to sleep on buses or flights because you get a proper bed, which is easy to fall asleep in due to the gentle rocking as the train makes its journey.

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Made it at last!

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When I finally arrived at ‘Dawn’ as I started to refer to it later, I met a lovely English couple Paul and Hannah, who were volunteering there from the website ‘Workaway’. I had actually seen this place on there but I’d left it too late to get involved. Ah well. It would be interesting to see how the process works and to get their opinion.

I was shown to my bamboo hut, which was very basic but it had A/C, a fan and was spitting distance to the beach, perfect! I couldn’t believe that there was hardly anyone around – it was high season in Thailand!  Our own private beach, almost!

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My first day was spent swimming, sunbathing and waiting for dinner at 8pm, where you get what you are given, no ordering! Everyone eats at the same time and I sat with Paul and Hannah and chatted about how special the place seemed.  The sunsets were spectacular and sitting in the peace and quiet listening to the sea gently lapping at the shore was therapeutic.

Unfortunately, this is where I became properly ill for the first time in a couple of months.  I like to think it was because I’d found a safe haven for it to happen and I was relaxed but anyway, my temperature was dangerously high overnight and I had picked up a chest infection. I spent a couple of days taking paracetamol and sleeping, which helped.  Although my cough was constant and ended up lasting for a few weeks.

When I was finally a bit better (I ended up having to extend my stay), I sorted out my laundry (at last, you really can’t beat getting fresh clothes) then after dinner, we were all invited to a 40th birthday party next door. The music was great and they even had a family of firespinners, the youngest being about 4 years old!

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We all got a bit merry and on the way back, Simon (another guest from Austria) and I went swimming and that’s when I discovered that there was luminescent algae! To lie in glowing water and looking up at the stars was a pretty special moment and one of the top moments of my trip so far. It was a massive shame that it wasn’t possible to photograph or video our experience.  Any video would probably have been spoiled by my coughing anyway.

The next day, nursing a slight hangover, I went on a boat trip with Simon. We snorkelled with Green tiger fish that gave you a proper nibble if you weren’t careful.  We also visited a couple of lovely silky sandy beaches on some of the surrounding islands.  Simon was wearing a hooded outfit to protect him from the sun, bless him.  I decided to risk the heat of the sun with factor 50 and a hat.

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The last night was spent marvelling at the thunder clouds overhead and drawing our night to a close when the rain started, and progressively got to biblical levels during the night. I felt so sorry for Paul and Hannah because they were staying in a room with holes in the roof! It wasn’t much better in mine either as I had to use several containers to catch the water pouring in.  It was certainly an experience.  I had learned that despite the bed not being comfortable, the wifi unpredictable and only cold showers availabe, a place can still hold a special place in my heart.  I’ll definitely be back.  Hopefully it won’t get spoiled by crowds in the meantime.

And so, my time in Thailand came to an end, again! I will definitely be back one day, of that I can be sure. I was picked up by a small bus full of hungover young travellers and was taken to Phuket airport a couple of hours away.  After a silly amount of hours waiting, I eventually boarded my plane and flew to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where I was going to stay for a few days to figure out my next move.  Better get on with swotting up on my next location in my trusty but annoyingly heavy SE Asia Lonely Planet Guide again!

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After spending a wonderful Christmas with my cousin and his family in Rayong, I said my goodbyes and boarded a bus bound for Bangkok.

I must say, I was a little nervous about going to Bangkok, I felt that I was headed towards certain doom or wouldn’t survive a visit without coming out with a huge tattoo on my face or back or something. I needed have worried though, in fact, I found the place quite charming and just what I needed for a few days before heading out to Kanchanaburi, a visit I promised my Dad that I would do.

I enjoyed using the various modes of transport around the city, the Sky Train, Metro, Water taxi and Tourist Express boat, as well as the odd tuk tuk of course.  Really easy to use!

(Pardon my hair below, I was in desperate need of a haircut!)

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My hostel had a very interesting way of advertising itself on the Hostelworld website, people asleep in weird and wonderful places around the hostel. I guess they can’t complain when people actually do it in real life then I suppose! Which they did, regularly, in Reception!

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My days generally consisted of doing some well needed clothes shopping, eating some fabulous sushi and getting a fresh haircut because it was sticking out all over the place. I even went to the IMAX to see the latest Star Wars film in one of the best cinema seats I’ve ever sat in. The seat type was majestically called ‘The Emperor’ and came with a pillow, blanket (which was desperately needed in the extreme aircon) and electric reclining seat and even had a drinks service – it was still cheaper than any of the cinemas I’ve been to in London!

On the first evening, I wanted to get a proper view of the city and found out that the best place to see Bangkok at night was from the Sky Bar at the top of the Banyan Tree hotel called the Moon Bar. So I dusted off my best top and sandals and negotiated a deal with a tuk tuk. It certainly didn’t disappoint! It was just like the film Bladerunner but with better weather, Panoramic views, spotlights shining into the sky and expensive cocktails. Just what I needed but it was a bit of a shame that I wasn’t there with someone to share it with me. Such is the life of the sole traveller!

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The next day I wanted to do something a little different, so I visited the local park for a piece of serenity to help me do some meditation. Nearby, I found that there was a snake farm that was located at the Red Cross immunisation research centre. It was great actually, they had a live show and tell of a lot of the dangerous snakes that you can find in Thailand along with the work that they do to create anti-venom.

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To see Bangkok from a different perspective, I joined a night time cycling tour. The cycling itself was on rickety bikes, flashy lights and wearing hi-viz vests through lots of back streets where we could see people live their lives and making a living through making and selling food or lots of little iron mongers. Some of the paths were way to narrow for cyclists but they took us down anyway, especially through Chinatown! We crossed the river to see the temple and when we stopped to have a break, our guide invited us to try a thousand year old egg.  I politely declined…

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Another highlight was when I visited the Aquarium and found that if you paid a little bit more, you could actually dive into the tank wearing a bubble head and do a ‘sea walk’. This was an incredibly exciting option for me because I can’t scuba dive due to an inner ear problem. The water was freezing to begin with but I had a wet suit on (they gave me a free bikini to wear underneath!) and as I slowly descended down the ladder and the water went above me head, I steadied my panicked breathing and soon got to the bottom. It was great fun waving at everyone through the glass.  The sharks tended to stay away because they didn’t like the bubbles but a huge fish, no idea what type though, kept coming round to see me to say hi.

On my last morning, I decided against getting the early train to Kanchanaburi so had a lie in and chatted with my dorm room mates. To get to Thonburi station, I had to get a river taxi which was good fun, very busy and just plain dangerous because the captain kept driving into the various piers up the river at full speed!

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I finally got to Thonburi station and made myself comfortable with my rucksack on the platform because I had a few hours to wait. I got chatting with an older couple from Holland, who later turned out to be my neighbours at the next guest house and also became my exploration partners around Kanchanaburi the following day.

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That evening, I had some time to myself after unpacking so I went down to the riverside to have a meal and a couple of glasses of wine. There was a bridge there too but I very much doubted that it was the one that my Dad recommended that I go and see. I’ll be seeing that the following day.

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After breakfast, my neighbours Jackie, Joop and I arranged for a taxi to take us around for the day. Our first stop was a waterfall, sounds really nice and peaceful but it wasn’t at all. Climbing up the 7 levels to the top was really tough going in the heat plus my sandals were staying to feel the strain and were starting to come apart completely so I had to tie them closed with some twine I found in the jungle. It would have been worth it if the waterfall was actually there but the dry season had been longer than usual so there was actually nothing to see at the top 3 levels. Apart from a Russian guy in Speedos! It also took a lot longer than we thought it would and were so pleased to get back to the taxi and to find somewhere for a toilet break and lunch.

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The next stop was up to the Hellfire pass and the museum. A very sombre place. I can’t believe some tourists were doing ‘fun selfies’ there! It was getting to 3pm and was VERY HOT. We got there just in time to allow us to walk from the museum down the the pass but not the whole 7k walk, which I was secretly pleased about.

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Hellfire pass, what I can I say? This is just a small part of where the Japanese made Prisoners of World War 2 build a railway through the jungle, something that British engineers had deemed impossible years earlier. 6000 people British, Australian and Dutch POWs died during a 12 month period here through the harsh conditions and lack of decent food, rest and medical treatment. Absolutely horrendous. All we had to do was walk down some steps, take photos and walk back but even then, we were struggling. The heat was unbearable and I could imagine, as they were cutting through the stone and using fire and explosions, it truly was, to what can only be described as hell. This is where my sandals finally gave up the ghost too.

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Our next stop was back towards town but this time to the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. It was packed with tourists but I was really glad to get to see a couple of trains while we were there as they only come over periodically. Again, the POWs were used to build this bridge over a fast and deep river, crazy. It was only used for a couple of years too as it was soon bombed during the war.

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Our last stop that day was to pay our respects to those who paid the ultimate price, the war time cemetary. Here there are the graves of 6000 POWs, British, Dutch and Australian. I was pleased to see that the grounds are kept immaculate.

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That night, I stumbled across a fish and chip shop run by an Engish guy who said that he may have some information for me on the other reason why I was in Kanchanaburi. My birthstone is the blue Sapphire and I have a ring where the stone came from this region.

Unfortunately, it seems that there is no Sapphire industry here anymore, it has all dried up. The chip shop guy thought he knew someone who had a shop but it had actually closed down. Boo.

And finally, my trip to Kanchanaburi has came to its conclusion.  I’ve learned a lot and I hope that the lessons learned here will never be forgotten.  One day I’ll watch the war film ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ with a new sense of respect and understanding.

Time for a trip back to Bangkok before heading down to the south of Thailand to get some beach action!

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I was excited to leave Chiang Mai in Thailand for a number of reasons: doing my first Visa run, flying (love it) but more so for a major change of scenery.  The lonely planet guide reminded me that this previously off limits place is an ‘extraordinary land scattered with gilded pagodas and that it will be a refreshing change to swap the hubbub of modern life for spirituality and lovely locals’. Think Thailand but 20 or 30 years ago.  Couldn’t wait!

I arrived into Yangon and headed to my slightly more upmarket hostel than of recent days ‘The Pickled Tea’. The building itself was lovely and the surrounding roads were dusty, had lots of locals cooking and selling their wares and the building next to it had been levelled, or had fell down, one or the other.  Unfazed, the map advised me that it was just down the road from the Shwedagon Paya pagoda so I made sure that I was there in time for the sunset as I’d heard that it was spectacular. As I approached, an English speaking guide came up to me and for a small fee, my personal guide made sure that I understood the concept of the Buddist beliefs and the building itself.  You couldn’t help but take brilliant photos as the sun set and if you stand in certain parts, you can see different colours being reflected from the many diamonds, rubies and emeralds at the very top.  Dazzling.

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The next day was a trip into town and to get some Burmese Kyat from the ATM, to book a couple of trips to make the most of my 2 weeks here. With those in the bag, I took a little wander around the local market, took lunch at the Sangri La (posh, I was completely dressed inappropriately with my muddy converse trainers on, but hey, bothered), then headed to the train station to take the circular trip, a 3 hour journey around the countryside.

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On my return, I grabbed a taxi to see the house of the leader Aung San Suu Kyi where she was under house arrest for over 20 years. Not much to see really, just a grey gate.  Speaking to the locals about how things are changing in the country, not much is happening yet but they are excited that things will change in the near future now that they won’t be under military rule.

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Early start the next day, I was picked up at 4.45am for my trip to see the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda Golden Rock. We stopped for breakfast and saw the sunrise at 6.30am and then headed onto a place where we transferred into pick up trucks that could carry about 50 people each.  Spot the Tourist! I was the only one there! Most are locals on a pilgrimage to the rock to pray and make wishes for the future. Quite apt just before Christmas and the end of the year.

Let me just say, the trip up to the rock is INSANE. The drivers were probably going at 100mph up the hill, around the corners and next to cliffs.   Like their lives depended on it, or more likely, to get paid more the quicker you are. Madness. Fun though, if you survive!  I’d have loved to have been able to record it but I was holding on for dear life!

The grafity defying rock itself is very picturesque but ladies are not allowed to go onto the final stage to touch it. Men only I’m afraid! I was respectful and took photos from a distance pretending that I was touching it instead. I believe it is supposed to bring you luck.

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After that, my driver and his sister, took me to see another pagoda and a couple of massive Buddhas before taking me to a place where my coach to Bagan would supposedly pick me up. It was 8pm at night, I was the only tourist around and all I had was a bus ticket and a registration plate number of a coach that would pick me up within the hour, ish.  I think this was the moment that I actually felt like I was properly travelling and not just being a tourist. It felt liberating but also scary.  Finally, my bus arrived, air conned to the hilt and made myself comfortable for the next 8 hours, hoping there would be a toilet break at some point.

After watching and not understanding some kind of Burmese sitcom (a bit like Friends but with more over acting and scenes in temples), we stopped, were all given toothbrushes by an immaculately dressed hostess and had our much needed toilet break.  However, when I got back to where we were dropped off, my bus was disappearing into the distance!  Have you ever had that feeling where your heart just stops or sinks, or both at the same time like I did? I didn’t panic but immediately assessed what I had on me: just my passport and about $20.  Shiiiit. Lesson there to carry a credit card on me at all times there…20 minutes of pacing later, they arrived back.  Turns out, they only went for fuel but my goodness, I nearly had a heart attack! At least it was a false alarm and I learned to be vigilant should anything like that happen again and not be stuck for cash.  My credit card is now safely stashed with my passport so they can save the day or be annoyingly lost together.

Hours of bumpy roads later, I finally arrived into Bagan at 5am, a little early for my 2pm hostel check-in so I accepted the offer of a taxi tour to see the sunrise from one of the many many pagodas (can’t beat a bit of local knowledge!).  It didn’t fail to deliver, it was breathtaking, especially with the hot air balloons drifting into shot too.  I didn’t really expect the climb up the pagoda to be so steep so coming back down was a bit of an adventure.

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My taxi driver was waiting, grinning through his red teeth and spitting the excess of the Betel Nut plant that they all chew out here as a stimulant.  Bit gross actually, especially when they are trying to talk through red teeth and spitting out of the taxi window every 5 minutes.

Check out this link about the stuff…

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31921207

So we went for breakfast, grabbed some toast and he gargled about what to do next.  For a relatively small fee, he said he could take me to see Mount Papo in order to kill some time, I’d be back just in time for check in at my hostel.  Why not?

Off we went, stopping along the way to see some wine being made and also have my face painted like all the local ladies.  It is called ‘Thanaka’, mainly used by most Burmese Ladies and children and protects you from the sun but is also used for make up.  Often in the shape of a leaf or combed across the cheeks:-

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanaka

To get there we had to drive through a dried up river bed and along a long dusty road, past lots of very young children stood on their own begging passing cars.  You can’t help but feel awful about such poverty and my driver said that they were all of the same family and that the parents keep having more children to try and up the odds of gaining money from begging. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only place where begging was rife.    Eventually, we arrived at the base of the mountain, which was surrounded by the usual souvenir shops and cafes you find at the Pagodas and temples.  However, my driver didn’t warn me about the 400 or so steps to the top did he?! Actually, he might have gurgled about it…That said though, what did I expect, with it being a mountain? So despite only having broken sleep on the bus, I tredged up to the top using monkey poo covered steps in bare feet. Lovely. It was a nice view from the top though, makes you appreciate the size of the forests covering Burma and how unspoiled it is in certain areas.

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I didn’t hang around so came back down carefully and tipped one of the guys mopping up the monkey poo. What a job to have. Then headed back with my driver but not before nearly getting attacked by dogs whilst trying to take a decent shot of the mountain from afar.  Fun and games!

I got back, checked into my hostel and admitted to myself that I needed to have a kip for an hour.  The evening was spent watching the lovely sunset by the Ayeyarwaddy River then went for dinner with a French lady from my dorm. I decided to skip the pub quiz downstairs and have an early night. Shattered!

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Another early start, this time not as bad as the others though, 8am. My driver took me on a whirlwind tour of Bagan, taking in about 10 or so pagodas and temples before lunch. I gave up trying to log which one was which and just took pictures that I liked instead of trying to document everywhere I went. Went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch, I helped them correct spellings in their menu and then booked a boat ticket for the next day up to Mandalay.  My driver picked me up again in order to see another few pagodas then to see the sunset. I accidentally ended up having the best seat in the house on a pagoda rammed full of people all cramming in and scrambling to have a good view! Very happy! If tired and tad Pagoda’ed out.

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I was glad to be back at the hostel for a beer and went for pizza with my French friend and also a new dorm member, Sofie from Belgium.  I also learned that night if you peeled back the inside of beer bottle caps, you can win prizes such as the equivalent of 10p, or better still, a free beer or crate!

The next morning, my driver was at my hostel door at 4am, wired to hell on the Began nut as per usual.  Which was fine because we had a bit of a drive to get to my boat before 5am.  I was to catch the boat up to Mandalay, not by road as the songs suggest, that would have been predictable 😉 Breakfast was eggy bread (!) a boiled egg and a banana. As we chugged up the river, I had a couple of beers, wrote some postcards, read a book and also planned my stay in Mandalay.  We arrived about 4pm, no pier, just a plank off the boat and got a motorbike taxi to my hotel. Had a local curry then early to bed, another long day tomorrow.  Must remember to pencil in ‘do nothing’ at some point.

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While I was having breakfast, a gay American guy came over (just in case Mum asks why we aren’t an item!) and asked if I wanted to share a taxi into town.  He seemed very nice and up for an adventure around town so we spent the day together looking at Pagodas, temples, Gold Beating, Royal Palace, the largest book in the world, Monastery and the sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill. He loved doing jump photos in front of places so we had fun doing those. It was too smoggy so couldn’t see much so we didn’t hang around and went back to the hotel to freshen up before going for dinner and a few cocktails.  Great day!

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My hotel sorted out my flight to Heho the next day and I finally had a bit of a lie in, so after lunch my taxi arrived and I had a very short flight of 20 minutes. Checked into my next guest house and met up with Sofie and her German friend Klaus for drinks and dinner.  We were making plans to do all sorts the next day but as it turned out, we were all shattered from running around doing stuff so all wanted a lie in. So instead we met up for lunch, had a massage then some cocktails. Lovely!

The following day, Sofie, Klaus and I then had a day trip to Inle lake which was wonderful. It was another fairly early start but we didn’t mind.  7.30 start is a lie-in these days! We saw lotus weaving, cigar making, silversmith, blacksmith, set some fish free after rescuing them from the cooking pot, bought some trinkets at the market. Great day.  A well deserved Mandalay beer was had at the end.

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Next day, I met up with Sofie again to go to a Burmese cooking class.  It started going around the market to see all the traders and to pick up what we needed for the day.  We even saw deep fried rat on offer but gladly that wasn’t going to be on the menu.  It was only a small group of us and we all cycled to her house with all of the supplies and watched the lady Mui Mui cook several dishes in her cute little outside kitchen while we made notes, which I hope to decipher at some point in the future.  I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t like Thailand where we all made a dish ourselves but hey, it was great to taste it all.

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Sofie told me about her and Klaus’ terrible excursion to the local vineyard, where the wine there is terrible! The Tripadvisor feedback confirmed it so instead I cycled to a cocktail bar just up the road, also in the middle of nowhere, to watch the sunset. The owner was lovely, he even brought out some nibbles for me to have despite not ordering any. The rum and honey bananas were to die for.  It later transpired that daft arse here forgot her torch so getting back was going to be tricky.  Thankfully I’d already befriended a couple from England and a guy from Philidelphia who promised to escort me back into town so we relaxed and had another beer each.  They flanked me on the way back but the lady at the front must have thought we were doing a spin class and we all struggled to keep up! When I finally caught up with her, sweating, we went to have another couple of beers. Another great day and an appreciation of people helping others in need.  I promise to pass on the favour to someone in need one day.

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I had another flight the following day but this time, heading back to Yangon for the night, where I caught up with Sofie again and had a meal at a French restaurant which was bring your own wine, which we didn’t realise. I suggested to the family to us, who were struggling in opening their wine, to use a shoe, which resulted in me getting a glass! It was well nasty but I was very grateful.

Rather than suffer a meal without alcohol (the horror!), Sofie and I went to the local liquorstore to get some proper red wine which was much better. The owner was very chatty and invited us to play poker with him and his boys after dinner but we politely declined and had one last beer in a bar before saying our goodbyes until potentially in the new year somewhere.

And that is it. My time in Myanmar has come to an end! 2 weeks just flies by when you’re having fun! The people here are wonderfully peaceful, intrigued by visitors and hopeful for the future.  I do hope that Western fashions don’t replace their Longhis too soon and they keep their Culture and outlook intact.

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Another flight back to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a couple of days before heading to Pattaya and meet up with my cousin Stuart and his family where I’ve been kindly invited for Christmas and the New Year. It’ll be nice to take some time out from Travelling, in order to catch up with familiar faces, have that lie in I promised myself, eat, drink and be very merry indeed.

Happy Christmas everyone, hope you have a wonderful time!

xx

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I flew into Chiang Mai from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam with plans to stay for a week at a lively hostel in order to catch the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals.

The Living Room 1 hostel’s host Aree was very warm and friendly on my arrival and introduced me to everyone who were sat in the living room space downstairs. My bed was in the largest dorm room I’d stayed in yet, 14 beds!

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Everyone was very respectful of each other and tried to keep the noise down (for the majority of the time anyway). A few of us went for pizza within an hour of my arrival which was a blessed change from all the noodles and rice that I’d been having in Vietnam.

The next day was spent going around temples and having my first Thai massage (ouch!) with an Irish lady I met on the first night. We then went around the Saturday market to look at all the arts and crafts as well as all the elephant trousers that seem to be worn by everyone around here.

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About half an hour ride in a red truck (taxi), a group of us spent the afternoon of the next day at the ‘Grand Canyon’ quarry which has been filled with water to make it a large swimming pool. I know what you’re thinking, sounds dangerous but it wasn’t at all. It was lovely and warm, lots of bamboo rafts floating around and there was a restaurant too to enable you to have some beers. A few people chose to do some tomb stoning off the highest side of the quarry into the water. Great to watch but sod that (starting to show my age a bit now!).

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The Sunday market was more of the same but also had a lot of food and crowds too. I wasn’t really in the mood so left the group to head back to the hostel when I heard ‘Piiiiiiip!’ being shouted from a bar. I headed inside with no idea who it was when it turned out to be the Scottish couple that I had had a few beers with beside the pool in Mui Ne, Vietnam! I didn’t recognise them because they were wearing clothes haha. I had a couple of beers with them but left them to it because I was up early the next day for my cookery class. I promised to catch up with them again before I or they left Thailand.

Basil cookery school was brilliant. I was picked up at 8am and taken to the local market along with 7 other people from Canada and taught about the various ingredients that we were going to use that day. We were all going to make 7 dishes each and got to choose what we wanted to make. I was a huge fan of the Pad Thai dish I made, definitely going to make it again! Not so much of a fan of the Hot and Sour chicken soup though.  I was so stuffed after eating or sampling all the food at the end of the day.

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That evening I really wanted to catch a Muay Thai boxing match but didn’t really fancy going on my own. That was when I met Lilly from Canada who was just checking into Reception and I roped her into coming along. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would as we were right at the ringside edge! We saw 5 fights – 2 knockouts, 1 was stopped due to a broken shoulder, 1 very ripped guy won on the fifth round and the last match against a guy from the US was obviously thrown so that he would win. Boo.

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Happy Loy Krathong Day! 25th November

Today it was very hot so spent the morning having my breakfast at a cat cafe called Regina, by the river which was going to look a completely different place that evening. There were cats old and young, all looking a little scruffy but fairly happy with their surroundings. It just gave me a pang as I miss having a cat, even though I only had my own, a stray called Marty for 6 months before he succumbed to his illnesses. I’m definitely going to get one when I find out where my next home will be.

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After dinner, I headed over with all the crowds down towards the river, watched the fireworks (little birds flew everywhere!) and bought one of the many offerings that you float down the river and make a wish. The offerings are now made of biodegradable materials because there are just so many of them! They were being sold everywhere and of all kinds of designs. Some were even made of bread and shaped like turtles. Mine was a slice of banana tree trunk with leaves, flowers, small candle and an incense stick. It also had a sparkler in it too but I doubt that bit was as biodegradable as the rest of it.

As the river bank is too high for you to release your own offering, they had built bamboo platforms and you had to pay someone to release it. Not much but I would rather have done it myself to be honest. Ah well.

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As I walked back to my hostel, there was a big street procession of local businesses and groups going to the river to release their own offerings. It went right by my hostel so I was able to get a cheap beer and stand at the side watching it go by. I couldnt help but notice that some of those taking part looked really miserable! I think it must be because they were so young and didn’t appreciate the old customs and traditions so much as the older generations.

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The next day was the Yi Peng Festival but it isn’t until the evening so we had the day to explore. Lilly and I headed out for breakfast and then went to find the place where women ex convicts were given training to become masseuses. We found it and signed up for a 2 hour Thai massage each. The ex-con ladies certainly have to work hard because as soon as our massages finished, their next 2 hour client was there waiting. I wonder what their hands must be like after doing that for the rest of their lives…I’d have loved to have had a conversation with my masseuse before leaving to find out her story. I didn’t want to distract her while she was twisting and pulling my spine!

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There is a rule that you’re not supposed to let your lanterns go off into the sky before 9pm, mainly because it is distracting for aeroplans but pretty much everyone was ignoring it, despite the threat of 3 years in prison!

Lilly and I met up with some friends of hers and we went to see the monks meditate at the Wat Phantao temple amongst loads of candles. It was quite a sight to see and VERY hot due to the crowds and candles.

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We then wandered off to the river again in the hope of actually getting some lanterns. We finally got 2 large and 1 small but lost Lilly’s friends in the crowds. Finding a place to stand and watch the lanterns was not easy as so many nutters were setting off fireworks and we thought we were going to die at one point. Thankfully though, because I’d been to the cat cafe a few days before, I knew a short cut and before we knew it, we had what seemed like the best seat in the house! On a bridge with a view of the majority of lanterns going off from the other bridge. Brilliant. So we made our wishes and floated away our bad thoughts and bad luck then went for a drink, back at the cat cafe! This time we had the littlest one sit on our laps. So lovely.

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Elephant Sanctuary

A couple of days later, I went on a trip to see some elephants at a sanctuary, no riding, just feeding, giving a mud bath and bathing. Couldn’t wait! Nothing can really prepare you for a massive animal standing right in front of you and reaching around you to get at the bananas behind your back. I didn’t expect their trunks to be so warm and so hairy! The 6 month old baby elephant was really unpredictable and didn’t realise his weight so would go after you like a dog would, almost jumping up! I hung around with the oldest ones who would pretty much just stand there and be fed.

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So after all of the elephants going to the toilet (Cart horses, be envious!), they all wandered off to the mud pond and lay there to be covered in the mud by us. A few of us stood at the side and threw lumps of mud that stuck on their sides and faces. Really good game! When they had had enough, they all got up an head over to the waterfall to have a shower. We were all given a bowl and a scrubbing brush and got in with them. The baby elephant was happy under the falls and all you could see of him was his trunk! Bless. A little while later, they were all on their way back to the feeding station again for the cycle to start all over again.

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They each eat hundreds of tonnes of food a week so are very expensive animals to look after but it is worth it as the other elephant places are slowly understanding that the tourists don’t have to ride the elephants in order to receive a healthy income. All of these elephants had been rescued from the entertainment industry so were having a happy retirement.  It’s all about the education and hopefully elephant riding will soon become a thing of the past.

That night, I met up with Lilly again and we headed over to see the Chiang Mai Cabaret, which is pretty much a ladyboy show. We headed over early in order to get a decent seat and thought the show was great. Some predictable songs were covered like ‘It’s Raining Men’ and ‘I am what I am’ but the costumes and the dancing was great. The Rihanna tune was quite risque and a guy from the audience ended up with a mouth full of crotch. He didn’t look too upset!

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The following week was up in Pai, 4 hours away but I’ll cover that in another entry :)

I came back to Chiang Mai to spend a few days planning my transport and accomodation for the lead up to Christmas as the wifi was a bit better. Once that was done, I headed up into the jungle to enjoy the zip line and tropical forest rollercoaster. Brilliant.

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I was back just in time for the King’s birthday celebrations and even got free food given to us on the way back from doing yoga.

The rest of my time has been about getting ready for my trip to Myanmar for a couple of weeks before coming back to Thailand for Christmas as I’m spending it with my cousin and his family.  It will be great to see a familiar face and getting stuffed on some turkey! I cannot wait to have a Sunday dinner and the fact that it will be Christmas dinner makes it 1000x better!

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Following my month with the Sivananda Yoga Centre in Ho Chi Minh and Dalat, I really needed to get some relaxation time (get up AFTER 7am), some sun and hopefully a bit of sightseeing. I decided that the best place for me to go was up the coast to a place called Mui Ne and then onto Nha Trang.

So firstly, was Mui Ne, which is about a 4 hour bus ride away from HCMC. I had to ask an English couple that got onto the bus where we were as the bus company was of no help and when we stopped, I thought I still had another hour to go! I had in fact already passed my stop!

I got a motorbike taxi up to my hostel, the Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel and arranged to stay in a dorm for 4 nights. Whilst staying here, I was able to have access to the facilities of a local hotel, which consisted of their lovely pool, bar, restaurant and yoga area! Well chuffed. I spent the afternoon chatting with a Scottish couple, Graeme and Sarah and having a few beers.

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The next day was spent on the beach at Mui Ne, watching people kite surf whilst sunbathing and having a coconut. There are a lot of posh resorts down here that only let you use their sunbeds if you pay a lot of money. I just settled down using my travel towel which was just as good.  One thing though, the sun was STRONG and I could even feel myself cooking with the sea breeze and wearing factor 50 so I gave in after an hour as I’d learned my lesson from Echo Beach.

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The next day I joined a jeep tour to visit the Fairy River and the sand dunes but chose the sunset tour instead of the sunrise one for obvious reasons. Absolutely brilliant! I even hired a quadbike to fly around the White dunes for half an hour and kind of had to get rescued at one point but hey, they did say that we could go anywhere! We then headed over to the Red Dunes to watch the sunset and take some photos.

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The rest of the time was sunbathing and drinking really cheap beer but I won’t bore you with the details 😉

Next was a bus trip up to Nha Trang which took about 6 hours from Mui Ne and as soon as I arrived, I was promptly ripped off by a taxi driver taking me to my hostel. You live and learn I suppose. When I arrived at the New Mojzo hostel, I got such a warm welcome by my other room mates, it made up for the last few hours and I joined them for a beer (Free beer for an hour!) before going next door for some sushi at a discounted rate for being a local resident.

My new room mates and I went up to the local mudbaths and got a discount because there were 6 of us. After lounging around in liquid mud for half an hour, I left them to it while I went for a luxurious massage. Fabulous.

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The next couple of days weren’t so great as I had picked up quite a harsh tummy bug so didn’t leave my hostel apart from to check out the beach for a few minutes and to get some fruit from the market. The Reception staff were really helpful when I discovered that my flight back to HCMC didn’t include any baggage allowance and gave me a huge hug when it was time for me to leave. Great place, very friendly.

I flew back to HCMC for the night before boarding for my flight up to Chiang Mai in Thailand. I’ve decided to leave Vietnam early (I still had a month left on my Visa) in order to catch the wonderful sights of the up and coming lantern festival. Certainly not to be missed!

Vietnam has certainly surprised me with its wide variety of landscapes, the fantastic food and the friendliness of the people, not to mention the dedication of the Sivananda Yogis that I was blessed to spend time with and to learn the benefits of the lifestyle. Other Yoga lessons just aren’t the same!

I may not have been turned into a vegetarian but I’m definitely eating less meat and I most certainly will be back to Vietnam at some point in the future!

Gooooodbyyyeeee Vietnam!

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And so, it appears that I have signed up to stay at the Sivananda Yoga Centre based in Ho Chi Minh City for a month! I think the main drivers behind this decision is that I found that I actually miss the spirituality of Bali but I am also attracted to the challenge of being a vegetarian and sober for a few weeks. It might actually do some good, especially after some of the mad nights out we had at the Saigon Hostel. Pub crawls that made my skin crawl…it was just madness. I’m definitely craving serenity! Oh and to be able to stay in one place for a few weeks too and clean my clothes, that’d be nice 😛

The centre is a lovely little place in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh, over 4 floors and has a lovely roof terrace.  They hold classes for locals and tourists alike but have space for a couple of residents at a time.  They also have a lovely cat called Hara that likes feet, shoes and cuddles.

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I joined the centre just as they were serving up lunch and they sang their appreciation for the meal. I was definitely the tallest person there and feeling a little out of place as I was wearing black, as per usual and all the staff were wearing their uniform of a yellow t-shirt and a pair of white trousers. There was also another resident there, Angel from the Philippines.

Everyone was very friendly and the staff gave me a timetable and showed me my room. The bed was probably the hardest bed I’d ever slept on and they helped me install a mosquito net as the damn things are everywhere here. As I try and fall asleep, the reality kicks in of how hard the next four weeks are going to be, a complete dive out of my comfort zone but I know, it’s going to be good for me in the long run.

Each morning starts with a wakeup bell at 4.30am in time for half an hour of meditation starting at 5am (learning how to ignore the numbness of my legs and the mosquito bites) and then half an hour of chanting until 6am. I would usually then head back to bed for a few hours and then get showered and ready for lunch at 10.30am (!).

The lovely vegetarian Lunch was always cooked by the staff and eaten on a couple of small tables in the front yoga hall. For me, this was one of the biggest challenges because anyone who knows me, knows how much meat is a main staple in my diet. So being confronted with Tofu for the first time was a challenge but I’m pleased to say that it was actually nicer than I thought it would be. I made a mental note to myself to learn some veggie dishes for when I get home. The sitting on the cushions was also a big task in itself too.

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And so, the training began. The Sivanada Yoga centre teaching centres around the following:-

Correct diet (vegetarianism)
Correct exercise
Correct breathing
Correct relaxation
Meditation and positive thinking

After lunch, we would practice Karma Yoga, which is a form of meditation and is the selfless act to help around the yoga centre. It helps clear the mind, ready for meditation. Tasks would generally be sweeping and mopping the floor or cleaning the yoga mats on all 3 floors of the centre. Hot and hard work but very satisfying when you’re done.

On Sunday mornings we would do a silent meditation walk for about half an hour.  Quite relaxing actually.  I should do it more often.

My first yoga session was different to any other yoga session I’ve ever done. It starts with breathing exercises that help clear and balance the mind. Then we exercised the eyes (!) before settling in to do the Sun Salutation and various Asana movements. It’s the same routine every day (twice if you’re keen!) and lasts for an hour and a half. It’s really humid in Ho Chi Minh so each yoga session is hot and sweaty and is like a Bikram session even though it doesn’t mean to be!

So after a couple of weeks of doing this, I was starting to need a change of scenery so I asked if I could try out the other yoga centre up in Dalat. A couple of days later, I was on the night bus (hell on earth if you actually try and sleep and get the bed at the bottom at the back) and arrived just in time for morning meditation. After which, they allowed me to crash in my bed for a few hours and woke me up for lunch. Lovely.

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It was one of the staff member’s birthdays while I was there so we had a lovely meal, sang happy birthday and a really rather nice cake :)

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I only stayed in Dalat for a week but made friends with the other residents Maddi, Ian Claire and Hannah.  I also did a sightseeing tour of the countryside on the back of a motorbike, saw lots of waterfalls and saw the local farms that grow flowers, mushrooms and a silk factory too.

The residents practiced their yoga when there weren’t classes on (there was quite a lot of downtime) and I even managed to do my first headstand!

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Before too long, I was back on the bus to Ho Chi Minh to complete my last week at the Sivanada centre there. I had to go back to the hospital though as my wrist needing acupuncture as it was going numb with all the headstands!

Before I knew it, my Sivananda month was over.  I learned a lot about myself, got a little fitter, was definitely a lot calmer and there are definitely lifestyle changes that I will be making.  I even bought a travel yoga mat for the rest of my trip but not sure if I’ll be able to use it on the hard surfaces of hostel floors…we’ll see.

But first! Mui Ne beach is calling me…

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi

Om Peace, Peace, Peace

x

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The next leg of my journey is to Vietnam to join a small group of people in Hanoi, the capital in the north of the country. I’m excited for a change of scenery from Bali to be honest, even if it means rain and humidity.

So I got there a little late because I missed my connecting flight at Singapore. I wasn’t too concerned though because I guessed it might happen so packed my hand luggage accordingly. So staying in quite a nice hotel, with everything I need and a buffet to die for (was gagging for some sushi that wouldn’t kill me), my flight had been rebooked for the morning and still early to meet the group.

We met in a hotel in the old quarter part of the city and they weren’t kidding, Hanoi LOVES mopeds. They’re everywhere and going in random directions but the system seems to work. Lots of beeping but no crashes, that I saw anyway and no one raising their voices like you often here in London. As I am travelling alone, I get to share my room with another lone traveller Savonne, from Texas. I then met the rest of the group with Su, our tour guide for the duration and we headed out for a meal. A few of us headed out for some beers on ‘beer corner’ and it was PACKED but they still brought out a load of small plastic seats for us to perch in while the cars, mopeds and pedestrians squeezed past us. So much for Health and Safety regulations! Exciting though :)

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It was a little odd meeting up with the group because they had already made friends. They had been travelling together through Thailand and Laos and were continuing together through Cambodia. I was only joining them for the Vietnamese section so finding myself hanging out with the other new members for the majority of the time.

After breakfast, we piled into a bus and took a 3 hour ride to Ha Long Bay where a junk boat was to take us on an overnight trip. In my head I had envisaged an old style boat, you know, the one with the big chinese sails? Sadly not, they aren’t very economic but it was still lovely, the staff and tourguides were nice and the cabin had an ensuite bathroom. Oh and there was a bar so all you need really!

It was absolutely wonderful to sail past all of the limestone islands. The mind boggles on how they are created so will definitely be looking that up when I get a moment.

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A smaller boat was being towed behind us so that we could drop the anchor and then head towards other parts where the bigger boat wouldn’t fit. We headed to a little cove where there was a huge cave. It’s not quite the size of the GIGANTIC cave Son Doong that I would love to visit but its certainly impressive and might address my cave thirst and save me thousands of pounds in visiting costs.

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Later on, a few of us got into canoes (first one in I’ve been in for years) to visit an island that happen to have some monkeys on it and throw some vegetables to them. Causing a jealous hissy fit between 2 of them in the process! That night was karaoke but I was happy to leave the other girls to it as I’m terrible.

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The next day we got to swim in the sea and lie on a small man-made beach which was nice because a lot of the beaches I went to in Bali were made of coral and quite sharp but this was lovely. Especially after climbing up 100 steps (or so) to get to the top of one of these big limestone rocks to take in the view. Hot and sweaty is an understatement.

We then headed back to Hanoi to grab some supplies because that night we were going on a sleeper train toward Hue. I must say, I was quite excited as not slept in a cabin on a train before. I had romantised expectations in my head on what it was going to be like, if I’m honest but I was still happy to see the Cold War era carriages. They certainly loved brown back then :) A porter tried to charge me for carrying my rucksack when he didn’t actually carry it! Jog on mate!

Shortly after setting off and settling down with a cold beer from the trolley, a small electrical fire broke out a couple of cabins down from us and generated quite a bit of frantic activity. Thankfully it was dealt with and we carried on regardless. I couldn’t help but think that if we were in the UK, they would have backed the train up into the station we left and dump us on the platform saying ‘sorry for the inconvenience’.

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12 hours later we pulled into Hue and after dumping our stuff at the hotel, we got a bus to visit the Emporer’s Citadel, a Pagoda, a tomb belonging to some dude (Sorry, after trailing around in the heat, I did’t care at this point so can’t remember his name!) and a place where they make incense sticks. After dinner and beer, I was pleased to crawl into a proper bed for an early night.

The next day, we were back in the bus and drove for 4 hours to the town of Hoi An. I noted that this was in the opposite direction of my beloved San Doong cave but to keep my inner geek happy, it turned out that we went through the longest tunnel in SE Asia, Hai Van – 7km long.

Hoi An is lovely, definitely my favourite part of Vietnam so far. Admittedly it was quite touristy with the souvenir shops and boat tours but what made it so different was the fact that scooters and cars were not allowed between 4 and 9pm. What a difference it makes! You can walk without worry (apart from cyclists) and the restaurants were great. I even got a pair of trousers tailored and have my laundry done for the first time in a while. It’s important to have that little bit of luxury now and again when you’re travelling for long periods of time.

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The next day I was hoping to go to a yoga class and to a vietnamese lesson but they were cancelled so I used the time to go and get my first haircut since for a couple of months. When you’ve got short hair, you’ve kind of got to keep on top of it but I hadn’t seen a decent hairdresser salon in a while.

Lunch was organised by G Adventures at a place run by Streets International ‘Oodles of Noodles’. Its a Planeterra Project which is a part culinary and hospitality school, part full service restaurant. It provides vocational training to youths from underpriveledged backgrounds across Vietnam and providing them with a future. The kids looked so proud to be showing us how to make rice noodles and the different kinds available.

The next day, I’d organised my own tour around Hoi An, on the back of a red Vespa moped – we went around the countryside and went to see a lantern maker, rice cracker maker, counterfeit shoe makers and also the farmers field before ending on the beach with a Mojito. We even had lunch included from Streets International again. Lush. Had dinner with the group again and thought I’d treat myself to a lamb shank, chocolate puddle pudding and a couple of cocktails. Definitely a good day :)

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Waking up with a slight hangover, I emailed Mum and Dad because it was Mum’s birthday and sent her a message for when she woke up. The 7 hour time difference can be a right pain when chatting with folks from home.

We then grabbed an internal flight from Da Nang airport to Ho Chi Minh City where we’d check into our last hotel as a group. The city is just like Hanoi with all the bikes but it’s very built up, there are skyscrapers galore. A few of us went on a cyclo tour where you’re in a trolley thing and the cyclist is behind you. He warned us not to use our mobile phones in public as someone on a bike will just grab it and you’ll never see it again. They took us on a whistle stop tour of the city, seeing sites such as the old Post Office, Notre Dam Church, Market Place and some big old French buildings from when Vietnam was occupied by the French.

When we got back I started to research on where I was going to stay after the tour. All the rich food and cocktails are starting to take its toll so I reckon a bit of time out, some Yoga and vegetarianism for a bit. Unpack and take care of myself. I’ve found a Sivananda Yoga Vedanta centre where you can be a resident and volunteer in return for 2 meals a day and a small fee of £10 a night. Can’t really argue with that as it includes 2 yoga sessions and also meditation. Can’t wait :)

We were picked up by a bus and our tourguide, a Vietnamese War Veteran, and then taken to the Cu Chi tunnels, that were built by the Viet Cong, who fought the South Vietnam army who the US were brought in to help. As the Viet Cong were manned by farmers and people who knew the land and built an amaazing network of tunnels to evade capture and to live and sleep. Our guide Hai (Hi!), had so many stories about his own experiences, losses and also his resulting time (3 years!) at one of the ‘Re-education’ camps, which was basically a concentration camp after his side lost. From what I understand, his side lost because the Viet Cong hid amongst farmers so the US army never knew who the enemy was and eventually killed everything that moved. This involved using Agent Orange which has caused a massive ongoing effect on people trying to live there 30+ years later. Propaganda and false promises made the every day farmer believe the Soviets supporting them and so the support increased. They didn’t stand a chance once the support of the US army was removed.  By all means, correct me if I’m wrong! I’m no historian but I tried to get a better understanding of what happened.

**pics to follow – having problems uploading DSC files via Google Mail**

In addition to the tunnels, you could try your hand at shooting a rifle or an AK47 with the cost be the equivalent of $2 per bullet. As much as I wanted to, I decided not to fork out on this occasion.

On the last day, I was supposed to just head off to my next location but I decided to join the group for one last day trip – to the Mekong Delta.

The Mekong Delta, often described as the ‘Ricebowl’ of Vietnam, is a maze of rivers, swamps and islands, home to floating markets, pagodas and villages surrounded by rice paddies. Seemed like a perfect day out to escape the city and to practice some more photography. The only problem I had with the place is that the tourists arrive in droves and are shepherded around the place, handed animals to pose with and encouraged to buy some honey from the bee farm and cocunut sweets that were made locally. I bought both as I thought they would come in handy for the next part of my adventure.

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When we got back, I said my goodbyes to the group and headed on over to my first hostel, VietnamInnSaigon. It was Friday night and as we were given 2 free beers every night, I went up to the bar to mingle and grab some food. It wasn’t long before I was chatting to a couple of friends from Ireland and some Swedes playing a card drinking game. Before long, we were joining the throng on an organised pub crawl. It was just awful, I felt so old and out of place but then again, I never did like the full on bars with huge hoards of people. I made my excuses and left but still didn’t manage to escape the hangover in the morning. First one in a while so pretty much had a duvet day the next day.

It seems that I have definitely secured a residency position at the local yoga Ashram! It starts in a few days and is pure vegetarianism and alcohol free for a whole month! Ooer. I prompty took myself out for a steak and and a beer to prepare myself and then an early night as it is a 4.30am start every day.

I was determined to do some sightseeing today so after a lie-in, I wandered down towards the market where I met ‘Dun’ on his motorbike. At first I was suspicious but his knowledge of Saigon was second to none, his english perfect and had a book of handwritten references from people like me. Before I knew it, I had a helmet put on my head and I was on the back of his motorbike and he took me to the market. I had a late breakfast and then we were going around town looking at all the skyscrapers, the Ho Chi Minh statue and museum, a pagoda temple and then onto the famous War Remnants museum, which was actually quite upsetting. There was quite a lot of relics outside, such as a US Huey helicopter but inside, it was mainly photographs showing the horrific nature of the conflict. Worst of all were all the pictures of the effects of agent orange. The deformities are truly awful of the children that were born in and around 1977. Dun then took me to a place to have lunch and a beer before taking me onto see another buddhist temple where I had the honour of seeing buddhist monks chanting.

**pics to follow – having trouble uploading DSC files via Google Drive**

That night, I went out for some drinks with my room mates but it wasn’t a crazy late one because of my start at the Yoga Ashram in the morning. Probably a good thing because my room mate staggered in at 5am! I’d have hated to have wandered up to the Ashram stinking of booze lol.

I’m glad to be putting myself where I can look after myself and be of assistance. It will be fascinating seeing the ceremonies and traditions taking place, even partaking myself. I hoping to come out a changed woman :)

Namaste!

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It was a bit odd being in the taxi on my own having left Corinna at Denpasar airport. Scary but exciting to be starting my solo travelling adventure! All sorts of questions were running through my head as I closed my eyes so as to not see the crazy driving decisions the taxi driver was making…

Why do people keep saying that it is a brave thing to do? (probably the taxi drivers)
Were there monsters out there in the big bad world?
Shall I grab some beers for tonight?
I wonder what my next accommodation will be like in Klungkung
Had I made the right decision? (Hell yes)

Eventually we found my hotel in the middle of nowhere, thanks to Google maps on my phone. Lots of rooms surrounding a rather large indoor pool and run by a family that cooked me dinner. I did want to go for a swim but it was freezing and I had to have an early night as my taxi to take me to Padang Bai was picking me up early in the morning. Gili Islands tomorrow! Hurrah!

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Catching the boat at Padang Bai was organised chaos but thankfully the boat company came to pick me up from the hotel so I didn’t have to worry about finding the right office to get my ticket. The boat was quite good actually, they gave you some water and a donut and forced us to listen to various Celine Dion songs and Chicago’s ‘Glory of Love’. After enquiring about the music via Google Translate, I was told that the Captain was a fan and found it relaxing :) I liked that you could sit on the top of the boat while it slammed into the waves. I didn’t stay up there long as I knew I’d get horribly sunburned. An hour later, we arrived at Gili Trewangan and disembarked into the surf and once again through the power of Google Maps, I found my next pad ‘Angel Cottages’.

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My room wasn’t as luxurious as I’d hoped unfortunately but it did have a 4 poster bed. No hot water or shampoos and the generator packed in so there was no electricity or air conditioning! The staff were lovely though and promised to have it fixed while I was out exploring the island.

I hired a crappy orange bike and headed around to the quiet side and had a coconut while I watched the sunset. Absolutely beautiful. The only thing that spoiled it was the music. I’m a fan of Bob Marley but they played the same 2 songs on repeat. I left after the 7th time and then went for dinner. Gili T is quite a busy touristy place with lots of horse and carts trotting around (they didn’t look very happy tbh so I avoided riding one). Great for people watching mind you so I had a glass of expensive wine and just watched the world go by.

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Thankfully the electricity was back on when I got back and then went to sleep to ony discover in the morning that their mosquito nets were only token gestures. Covered in bites when I woke up so I dug out my own net for the rest of my stay. Quite claustrophic but I’d rather that than more bites.

Happy Birthday to meeee! Had breakfast on the beach and then went Geocaching to find the only cache logged on the island up the hill. I then had a disastrous session snorkelling. The sea was too far out and the coral was hard to walk on wearing flippers plus being on my own made it quite scary. I had a word with myself and went back before I scratched myself further on the coral. That evening, I had dinner watching the sunset at Paradise Sunset bar (it certainly was) and when I got back to my room, the guys at the reception surprised me with a birthday cake and sang to me. Bless them! Quite possibly the weirdest cake I’ve ever had but the sentiment was absolutely lovely. I then showered and took a ride into town again and found that there was an outside showing of Ninja Turtles! A perfect end to my birthday :)

The next day I decided to head over to one of the other islands, Gili Air as I’d heard that it was much quieter and very relaxing. I just had a wander, sunbathed on a fairly empty beach (by comparison) and had lunch before getting the boat back. I even had a hot stone massage but I vowed to never do that again after being on the beach because it ended up being like a scrub because of all the sand on my body.

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The next day I caught the boat back to Bali and got a free transfer back to my next and last hotel in Bali. I chose a place that was fairly close to the airport in Denpasar and not go anywhere so I could just relax by the pool and sunbathe. I also thought that it would have great Wifi so that I could update my blog easily. Sadly that wasn’t the case hence just doing it now, almost 3 weeks later. I did manage to catch some colour for the first time in my life though!

While I was in Denpasar, I went to vist the museum of Bali which answered a few of my questions, such as Q. why are all the temples covered in black and white gingham clothes? A. To represent good and evil and another, Q. Why are there Swastikas everywhere in Bali? A. They are actually a sacred symbol in Hinduism and Buddhaism for reincarnation, happiness and new creation. Often used to accompany the dead on their journey in other worlds. So not, what I was thinking about!

I then went onto a 3D art studio where you posed next to huge pictures to make you look like you were part of the scene. I had way too much fun that is acceptable for an adult on their own actually but would have been better if someone was with me. When I got back to my hotel, I started to feel a bit run down so I spent the afternoon in bed and watched films. I didn’t sleep a wink because I had a temperature so called the doctor out in the morning who gave me some antibiotics.

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A few days later I asked my driver to take me to the Turtle Conservation and Education centre but he misheard me and took me to Turtle Island, the very place that I wanted to avoid. An absolutely horrendous place. It was a rip off to get a boat there and then the place was full of turtles, birds and reptiles being manhandled by tourists and the staff encouraging it. I pointed to a sign that said ‘Do not touch the animals, treat them with respect’ and asked a member of staff why it was happening. He shrugged so I just left, got the boat back and left a damning review on TripAdvisor. I found out over lunch that I had actually been taken to the wrong place so I asked my driver to take me there. I’m so glad I did. It was wonderful and I had a personal guide that showed me where the rescued eggs were placed for hatching. I even got to hold a new born very carefully. So cute! The place is run by donations so I sponsored a month old baby turtle on behalf of my nephew Dexter and niece Matilda and my guide took me on the back of his scooter to release little Fluffy. Awww

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And so, my month long stay in Bali has finally come to an end. My next stop is a quick stopover in Singapore (missed my connecting flight by 3 minutes) and then onto Hanoi in Vietnam! Excited about the change of scenery and pace of life and joining up with a group from G Adventures.

I’ll be sure to upload some Bali pictures as soon as I can :)

Goodbye Bali, you’ve certainly set the bar quite high for the rest of my adventures!

Namaste

xx

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It was with great sorrow that we had to leave the safety of the retreat in Ubud but we weren’t going far! Our free ride took us up the road to a little ‘Luxury villa’ that I found on Airbnb.

When we arrived, we couldn’t find the host David anywhere but after basically wandering around an unknown (and unlocked) house, we found him. Mr Creepy himself.

“Oh hiiiii, you just caught me as I was about to meditate” and let his eyes wander over our bodies and keep eye contact just a little too long for comfort. *shudder* come to think of it, I hope I didn’t mention the name of this travel blog to him!

“I’m here all by myself since me and my girlfriend split up (I’M SINGLE!!) but I’m going out with another ex tomorrow night (WOMEN STILL FIND ME ATTRACTIVE!). In fact, I’m going to a pool party tonight, do you want to come? (I WANT TO SEE YOU SEMI NAKED!)”

Corinna and I exchanged glances ‘Er no, you’re alright, we’re a bit tired’. We weren’t sure whether the fact we’d just come from complete serenity into this place had made him seem weird or what. All we knew was the last place we wanted to be was at a party with a load of strangers, especially him.

The rest of our time there, he walked around with his top off and on our last day he even crooned whilst playing his guitar. Corinna was listening and bopping to her own music at the time and I think he thought she liked his music. Bless him.

So anyway! Our time there was basically, staying in a pool house, next to the really large pool and sunbathing. David demonstrated the dangerous looking slide that went from his roof. Even he looked a bit scared using it as it was new. Didn’t bother, just in case my travel insurance didn’t cover it.

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So while David went off to his pool party, we wandered down the road to see what restaurants were around and decided on a little bamboo place next to a rice paddy across the road from our villa. We even befriended a dog along the way (which happened a lot in Bali as there as so many poor strays). It turned out, according to Trip Advisor, it was in the top 10 restaurants for the whole of Bali! It was very nice too. We left before I was eaten alive by the mozzies and had some spectacularly nasty white wine before heading to bed.

The next day was a day of chilling by the pool, downloading photos and playing with David’s cats Sabre and Dabre. I booked a firefly tour to do that evening which included dinner so more chilling and plenty of vodka lemonades and swimming. Brilliant.

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The Firefly tour was $90 and organised by a couple called Made and Amni. There were only us 2 on the tour and they took us to a fabulous restaurant called ‘Sawah Indah’, really nicely lit up at night and we had our own table under a little roof and sat on some cushions. We chatted to the owner Deka while we waited for dinner. Crispy Duck (again). We were then driven to the other side of Ubud and pulled up next to a ricefield because they had spotted some fireflies! Woo!

Nothing really prepared me for how small they are! Imagine a baked bean that lights up at one end. Aww. We caught a couple and put them into a lantern type trap and held it up. Some fireflies the far side signalled back and a male started flying towards us. Made said that it is always the Males that move around to the females. ‘A bit like speed dating then?’ I asked.

We went to another few fields but didn’t see many more, mainly because their habitat is being taken away from them. What ricefields they do settle it, often get burned after the crops have been harvested, all the others are being developed on to make more guest villas. Made and Amni are very vocal with the authorities on how the fireflies can be saved and encouraged to breed but it is a work in progress.

The next day was our last day in Ubud and we summarised some feedback on how the villa could be improved (he asked for the feedback btw!) because he hadnt hosted before and it showed. So some tips on cleaning and home comforts (not the single life), we escaped and used David’s driver to take us to our next stop, far away in time, Echo Beach.

The place that we stayed at ‘Echo Beach Resort’ really was luxurious by comparison, it had fancy bath robes and flip flops, 3 balconies, a proper non minging kitchen without wildlife and a communal pool! It was a short walk away from the beach and had a nearly restaurant called the Green Terrace, that sold decent wine that on offer too so we visted there a little more often than we would have normally 😉 they had great music too, Reggae versions of commercial tunes. Well I enjoyed it anyway. Dinner was at a nice pizza place up the road but we ordered one each, which was way too much. The live band was playing the kind of Blues that my Dad likes and when they asked us where we were from, they played Robbie Williams for us. As you do.

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The next day, Breakfast was funny to order as the Reception guy didn’t speak English so lots of pointing to pictures and interpretive dance. I think I remember mimicking a hen laying an egg at one point! Eggs on toast basically but the bread is so sweet and the butter had and ingredient called ‘butter flavour’ but tasted of ice cream. Ha, the cheesecake we had later on in they day actually tasted of cheese. Yoghurt tastes of cheese too. I’m just avoiding Dairy and bread altogether over here as it’s just not the same and is probably going to do me some favours anyway.

Corinna and I headed on down to the beach and did some extreme sunbathing. I mean extreme because it was a bit of a guessing game as to how far in the waves were going to come in. We opted to hire some loungers as they appeared to be placed strategically and had bar service, which we thought could come in handy, naturally. Another stray dog came to say hello and made camp under Corinna’s lounger. Turns out the bar has misjudged the placement by about 3 feet so when a wave came in and went under our loungers and the poor dog got a fright, banged his head and ran off. Bless. So so many abandoned stray dogs around in Bali but thankfully there are charities looking out for them and giving them medical treatment when needed. You just don’t encourage them by feeding them. Hard not to.

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So after a couple of hours, we left to find some lunch and found that we had seriously misjudged the strength of the sun. Ouch. Even with factor 50 put on several times. Ouch.

Despite us both being in a bit of pain, Corinna very kindly took me out for my birthday dinner to a local place called Manngo. Lovely surf and turf and even a couple of free drinks once we got chatting to the waiter and told him why we were there. Turns out, he used to live in London and even went clubbing at the same place we go to in Brixton, 414. Class. And off we went to the other place for some Cheesy cheese cake.

It was starting to become a habit of ours, watching the sun go down…

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The next day was a slightly different affair altogether. Corinna wanted to head into Seminyak to do some shopping for some souvenirs so we grabbed a taxi. As soon as we stepped out of the taxi, we were handed some scratch cards by a hotel tout. Ooh we won! Who’d have thought it?! They promised no sale required, we just had to go to the hotel to listen to a 60 minute demo and then claim our prize of a week in one of their hotels. I know what you’re thinking, I usually do too but on this occasion, after we’d questioned him, thought why not, it’s only an hour. So en route, the guy told us that we had to pretend that we were a couple! Considering we both have the same surname (Corinna still has her maiden name on her passport), we know each other very well and me with my short hair, they didn’t even question it. I thought it was hilarious! Thankfully though, they had triple booked themselves so we didn’t need to stay for the demo and we were pretty much on our way immediately to where they picked us up and with a free week in either Bali, Thailand or Germany! :)

The next day was when Corinna was going to abandon me to go back to the UK. Booooo! It’s a bit weird knowing you have an afternoon flight so you can’t really relax during the day. We’d arranged for a driver to take us, drop Corinna off at the airport and to continue and take me to a place near to Padang Bai.

I’d never been on a holiday longer than a weekend away with a friend before, let along such a special friend as Corinna. Our time together will always be remembered fondly and hopefully her and her husband Dan may be able to join me again somewhere before my travelling expedition comes to an end (if it ever does!)

“The only thing that helps me pass the time away
Is knowing I’ll be back at Echo Beach some day”

And so…Take care Corinna, it has been absolutely amazing and an honour to experience the last couple of weeks with you.  Onto our next adventures!

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Manggo Warung Restaurant – Jl, Munduk Catu, 8x Canggu, Bali

Firefly tours (also also laughing classes!) – www.baliedutours.com

Sawah Indah Restaurant – www.sawahindah.com

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