Feeling Homesick

After a mare of an evening i’m feeling inspired to write this blog. This is about something everyone will struggle with at some point of other whilst being an expat; homesickness. No matter how strong you are, or how natural you find moving abroad, or how much you love it – at some point or other everyone will feel this way, even if just a little bit.

The main thing I have struggled to adjust to is the food. Thailand has a reputation for amazing street food; phad thai, green thai curry, papaya salad, morning glory- I could go on. Now don’t get me wrong, these foods, and more, live up to the amazing reputation! And when you find an amazing street food place that charges you 60 baht (less then £1) for a meal you know your on the money. The issue is finding these places; they are more common along the BTS line but not so much when you venture further out (not farang friendly anyway – you at least need photo references!).

It may sound silly but my current homesickness was triggered by a rubbish evening trying to find some good food: After Rob suggested we get some street food for dinner I agreed to go to a market he discovered near us, despite being super tired, wanting to get in my pj’s and do absolutely nothing. On the bike we got and headed out but it took us a while to find the market and when we did it wasn’t very farang friendly (as I said earlier, you need photo references!). After venturing up the street we decided to head over to Bangkapi market as there’s lots of food markets there too. As we were venturing through the market there were lots of hot pot places (where you are given a broth and you cook & add the ingredients you want) but not what we were looking for (I just wanted a phad thai!). We finally decided on a little street food restaurant along the side of the road, which annoyingly did not serve phad thai – instead I ordered a “mango salad with crispy fish” which sounds nice and relatively normal, I was picturing something along the lines of battered fish. But what turned up was not what I expected; at first all seemed normal. That was until I tried it; after asking for little spice, it was still overpoweringly spicy and what was supposed to be “crispy fish” was actually just dry fish skin. Both the smell and the flavour were so overpowered by the fish it makes me feel sick just thinking about it! Very quickly we decided to ask for the bill (Check bin ka!!!!!). With the staff looking very offended that we hadn’t eaten any (Thais really really love their food) we made a quick escape and swung by Mcdonalds on the way home. This is a good time to add that I am so sick of Mcdonalds! I have eaten more since moving here then I have in my whole life,  and on top of that I have started drinking beer and I seem to live of pizza and rice. I am trying to go to the gym to balance it out, but I cant help but feel sluggish from my rather poor diet at the moment!

The lunches at school are free, so I shouldn’t complain but I cant help but feel that sometimes I’m not eating what they say I’m eating. Every day you have an option of rice, noodle, more rice, soup, some sort of meat (if your lucky it will have vej mixed in) and a very basic salad.. Sometimes it’s surprisingly nice but I cant help but feel that I have probably eaten dog at some point that’s been passed off as ‘pig’ or ‘chicken’ (everything is minced so you would never know). Your better off not thinking about what your eating, but for someone who doesn’t like to eat too much meat and would consider giving up meat its not very easy.

The biggest thing I struggle with is cooking. I love to cook and I miss it! Cooking healthy English food is so hard in Bangkok; the kitchens are small, you usually only have 1 or 2 hobs, no oven, and buying western food is expensive! So all in all it’s a whole lot of expensive faff. Not to mention the fact that it’s hard to find normal western food such as salt & vinegar crisps (anyone who knows me will know I really, really love my crisps), the sausages are made of chicken and they don’t farm beef or lamb in Thailand! They love adding sugar into bread, on top of toast and annoyingly on top of fruit (isn’t is sweet enough!?).

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Thai food and I love living here – generally I am very happy. But after a day at work, when your tired and drained from trying to get 2 year olds to listen to you all day and behave, you just want to get in, put on your pj’s and cook some good comfort food! Sometimes It’s a struggle.

The Laos Visa Run

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A few weeks ago I had to go to Laos for my Visa run. It was my first time travelling alone and I wont lie, I didn’t want to go. I was feeling stressed and anxious over it, and having only just settled into my new job I didn’t really want to take 2 days off. To my surprise though it turned out to be a really good trip! It was nice to get some ‘me’ time as the past few months have been very full on and iv’e not had any time to myself. I met some great people, made new friends and it pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is never a bad thing.

On the way there I booked a 1st class room on a sleeper train. After hopping on (or climbing is more accurate) onto the train I found my cabin. It was much nicer then I had imagined and I ended up having it to myself! The room had a sink, mirror, cupboard and even a TV. Wanting to get the “full experience” on a sleeper train I decided to try the food and walked down through the second class section and into the little restaurant – this was an experience! I think I was the only western person on that whole train and everyone seemed very excited about it; the locals helped me ask for a spoon and fork (ha) and sat with me whilst I ate my pork buns. They were interested in where I was from (everyone loves it when you say your from Manchester) and took photos of me! It was a good chance to practice the little Thai I have picked up and learn a few new words/phrases. On the way back to my cabin I got talking to the steward on my carriage and again, was keen to get a photo with me! He put his hat on me and insisted on taking lots of selfies to show his family.

Me & The Train Steward. 2nd class carriage. Pork buns. 

In the morning I was woken up by a tannoy announcing we would soon be arriving at Nong Khai, a small sleepy station just before the border into Laos. At this station I needed to buy a shuttle train and bus ticket to take me into Vientiane, the shuttle train takes you across Friendship Bridge and into Laos to an even smaller, sleepier station called Thanaleng. At this station you have to go to the immigration desk to get your Laos visa. Thailand have become more strict with visa runs as a lot of backpackers and expats work illegally in Thailand. On my form I stated I would be in Laos for 3 days and then traveling to Cambodia (so it didn’t look like a visa run). They were suspicious of me though when collecting my passport and asked me a lot of questions; Why are you only in Laos for 3 days? Why not longer? What are you doing in Laos? You have friend here? Where are you staying? Why no stay with her? Where are you going next? Where were you before? You like Laos? You been before? Ok! I hope you enjoy Laos and come back again! Bye bye! 

Shuttle Train 

Once through immigration I got the mini bus into town. I got talking to an old Laos local (who know lives in Bangkok) who paid for the mini bus driver, Per, to take me to the Thai Consulate. After dropping everyone else off I was the only one left and Per parked his minibus and told me we had to walk around the corner to the consulate, but, as a female traveling on her own with no phone you can understand why I felt slightly worried… (Where the hell was he taking me? I don’t trust anyone!). Outside the Consulate it was busy with people coming and going and on my way in a man asked for my passport, which in that moment I assumed was to send me to the right place inside. The next thing I know, hes walking off with my passport. I ran after him to the little makeshift tent he had where he started to fill out the visa application form I needed. I quickly realised he was going to charge me for this service but considering I had left all my paperwork and photocopies at home, I didn’t mind too much and 100baht to me is nothing but to him would be a lot. Once this was done Per came inside with me and showed me where to go and waited outside for me. I joined the queue to apply for my visa and after 1 hour I dropped my passport off, was given a ticket number and told to return tomorrow.

After Per dropped me off at my Hostel I was again feeling anxious as this was my first time in a hostel, I booked it because I knew it would force me to meet people and go out, instead of staying in and lounging by the pool! The room itself was nice, there were 12 beds in the room and each bed had a little curtain, a light, hooks and in the room were lockers to store your valuables. As there was no one else in the room I decided to head straight out, even though I was exhausted, I was starving and needed to eat! In Laos there are lots of really nice French cafes and bakeries and just down the road was an amazing French cafe. I ordered a smoothie and a savory crepe with smoked salmon, spinach, cheese and lemon stuffing (it was sooo good!). Following this I wanted to visit the Buddha Park just outside of Vientiane to make the most of my time. I headed to the bus station but struggled to find the right bus stop; eventually I asked a tuk tuk driver who sent me in the right direction and finally I made it onto the bus. Unfortunately, it was 45 minutes of dusty bumpy roads – so much so that it made me feel travel sick (I don’t get travel sick, ever) and I as I was so desperate for a wee I honestly believed I was going to wet myself every time my bum came off the seat driving over a bump in the road. Fortunately, I finally made it; found a toilet and enjoyed a few sweaty hours walking around the park. It was smaller then I had imagined but was so peaceful. I was in awe of the giant and beautiful Buddha statues all dotted around the park. To get back I headed over to the bus stop where I saw 2 young people sat down with an ice cream, deciding to copy them I went and bought one to cool down and then they offered me a seat when we got talking: Bronwynn, who is South African was living in Laos and Moussa who is French was backpacking around Asia. They both took me under their wing and let me tag along with them for the rest of the day! Together we went to visit some temples in Vientiane where we got caught in a huge storm – to escape it we seeked shelter in one of the temple’s. Whilst there we got talking to a man who worked there, asking if we were interested in Buddhism me and Moussa said we were, straight after this Moussa walked off leaving me alone and being recruited into Buddhism! Although I do find it interesting, at the moment i’m not seriously looking at becoming Buddhist but I didn’t want to be rude – so the next thing I know i’m being taken into the worship room and taught how to pray to a Buddha! It was really interesting learning about their beliefs and seeing the Monks working. Moussa was talking to a group of them for ages, and I don’t know what he was saying but they were in stitches! Whilst waiting for the rain to ease off we sat at the top of the stairs of the Temple; as much as I love Bangkok, it’s so crazy and hectic that it made a nice change to stop, take everything in and watch the world go by. It was refreshing to be in a quiet city where the pace of life is slow and tourists are few and far between.

Buddha Park & Temples

The second day I ventured out on my own to the morning market which was an adventure in itself – I went to the wrong market and ended up in KhuaDin Market instead (across the road from the morning market). I really liked this market because it was very, very local; I was the only tourist there so it was really interesting to walk around and it mostly consisted of fabrics with an amazing variety on offer. I accidentally wondered into the meat section of the market which was not very pleasant; the stench was overbearing and people were sleeping on the counters next to the meat, whilst other people were swatting the flies away with large fans; you can only imagine the kind of meat that was on offer! I couldn’t spend much time in there because it smelt so bad and the meat didn’t look too appealing. Following on from this was the fruit section, which, oddly, had an overbearing smell that wasn’t very appealing either. Within this section was all the fruit you could possibly imagine piled high in bundles. When I finally did find the right market I was actually not very impressed by it. They had everything you could think of; fake bags, electrical’s, souvenirs etc but compared to markets I have visited before it was very small and as soon as you look at something, even vaguely, you get harassed and the staff wont leave you alone – this really puts me off and actually stops me from buying stuff, or even looking at anything!

Fruit & Meat section of KhuaDin Market 

In the afternoon I got picked up by Per and taken to the Thai Consulate where I had to collect my visa and passport. Once there I sat and waited for my number to be called out. After waiting 40 minutes I joined the queue to get my passport where I bumped into an Israeli guy I had met the day before. He was before me in the queue and noticed that lots of people were in front of us who should have been behind us. Asking to see their ticket numbers he quickly realised that they had jumped the queue so he got me and together we jumped in the front, payed our 1000 baht to get our visa and had our passports returned to us.

Monument & the view!

As I had a few hours before I needed to be at the airport Per took me to the top of the Monument to see the view over Vientiane and pointed out different landmarks. It was great talking to Per and learning about his life; He never has a day off and has never visited another country. Every morning he drives to friendship bridge to take people into town and the works as a private taxi the rest of the day and earns his living of this. He was very keen to learn about England and what life is like there and how things are in Bangkok! He was so helpful with getting my visa, showing me where to go and telling me what I needed to do, I would have been a lot harder without him helping me!

gopr1273.jpgMy luxury ride!

This trip has forced me out of my comfort zone and has made me more confident in knowing that I can do things on my own. To my surprise I enjoyed traveling on my own and would happily do it again, it forces you to meet people and work things out on your own – not having anyone else to rely on. Naturally, after moving to Bangkok with Rob I have relied on him a lot and its been easy to shy away from situations and let Rob deal with it instead. It’s a scary thing, moving half way across the world to a country that speaks another language, but I absolutely love it and the adventures that come with it, the new friends you make and the new language i’m learning. I wanted to live in another country to experience these things and I wouldn’t change anything for the world.

 

My life as a Teacher

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I haven’t written for a while now because, to be completely honest, i’m completely shattered! So much has happened since my last post but I’ve simply not had the energy to write anything. Rob and I are both beginning to feel more settled in our jobs after a crazy first week: Our first week was an inset week to ease us into the school year, prep our classrooms and do necessary training. I felt totally in over my head with all of this and had no idea what was expected of me. During ‘classroom’ time I was shown my room and left to it. The internet was down so I couldn’t access any lesson plans or print anything for my room. There were meetings I was late for because I didn’t know they were happening or didn’t know what room they were in and meeting that were cancelled because there was no internet. Throughout the week I found myself hovering about with the other teachers not doing anything, simply because there was nothing we could do! With this being my first time properly teaching I was fretting about not having lesson planned anything and my anxiety was through the roof as well as feeling shattered trying to take everything in. Before starting work I was feeling really settled but after starting it turned everything upside down and I was feeling really home sick. If it wasn’t for Rob I think I would have got the first flight home!

The saving grace of this week though, was the other teachers. There are lots of younger teachers who both Rob and I get on with and they are all very sociable! After our first day everyone went for drinks and from then I knew me and Rob would get on with everyone and be fine! On the Wednesday we found out we could work from home on Thursday so of course, we ended up having a night of drinking! Then on Friday we had a big night out, I’ve quickly learnt that there is never a normal night in Bangkok. At one point about 10 of us were getting moto taxis to the next bar – with 3 on each bike, all having a chat whilst waiting for the lights to change! Then we went to Soi 11, a popular street filled with bars, clubs and, oh yeah – prostitutes, big black African prostitutes (not the usual ladyboys!). Then at 3am ordering some Indian food (i did not feel good the next day!).

My second week of work was the first week “teaching”. I say “teaching” because at the moment my job seems to be more about getting my 2 year old’s stop crying, getting them to sleep and stopping them from wetting themselves. So far, iv’e not done any real teaching! Just getting them to sit nicely in circle time is a challenge.

This is my life right now:

 

However, everyday is a little bit better. I have managed to establish a routine, my TA’s are amazing – they are holding this ship together right now! The children are so so so cute and everyday I see a little improvement in the ones who are struggling to settle in. It’s really hard because they keep talking to me in Thai, asking where there mummy is and I cant explain to them because I don’t speak enough Thai! It has definitely inspired me to learn Thai more though. Next week I plan to start teaching properly, this term is ‘all about me’ so on Monday I’m going to try teaching them about body parts… Lets see how that goes with a room full of screaming children!

…Wish me luck!

Man, my bum looks big! 

Home Sweet Home

 

We’ve been here just over a week now but I can honestly say that it feels a lot longer! Fortunately (despite barely sleeping on the plane) I didn’t seem to suffer any jet lag – just the usual tiredness anyone would get after a long journey and adjusting to the heat! On our second night here I was awoken by what I thought was the BTS train derailing outside our apartment. Turns out it was ‘just’ a thunder storm. I can honestly say that I have never heard or seen a thunder storm like it! But it’s amazing how quickly you adapt as it happens at least once a day/night and now it’s totally normal. What would be a big deal at home has become everyday life! Unfortunately trying to get a taxi in the rain is a near impossible task and the traffic is horrendous, and the public transport becomes incredibly packed – literally like sardines (thank god for air-con!).

 

For our first few days we stayed at an Airbnb studio in On Nut, along the BTS line which takes you straight into town. It made a great base for exploring BKK and checking out other apartments to permanently move to! After a few days doing touristy things and getting a feel for BKK we decided it was time to find a permanent apartment. This was a very hot and sweaty day, between walking and catching taxis we ended up looking at about 10 condos in one day. Some were stunning new high rise builds, others not so much… Some were filthy and looked like someone had been squatting there  with dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, photos of the owners on the wall, shoes randomly left on the floor… I could go on! The final place we looked at was a residential part of a hotel complex. We nearly skipped viewing it because we were so hot and bothered but i’m glad we persisted. The location is in a place called Bang Kapi – quite far out of the center but closer to work. Between 10 – 40 minutes to work depending on traffic, 30 minutes – 1 hour drive into the city, or 10 minutes to the Airport link that gets you into town in 10 minutes. Nearby is The Mall (Bangkapi) which hosts a Tesco Lotus, Gourmet Market (our new favourite supermarket), a night market, a department store, cinema etc. The condo itself has a gym and swimming pool and was the biggest apartment we looked at (62m2 – a lot for BKK!) After a big trip to IKEA and a few markets it’s already feeling like a home from home for us. There is a tiny little garden center (more like a plot of land with a few plants dotted around that you can buy) next door so we’ve even started a mini garden on one of our balconies!

 

The food here is amazing, and cheap! Although I must confess that our first meal here was a Mcdonalds (the shame!) but it was 12am, we had only just arrived and didn’t know where to eat at that time. Since then we have been exploring the street food more, including some incredibly spicy food as well as some really tasty food – phad thai, thai curry, papaya salad – all normally between 50 and 100 baht (that’s £1-£2 roughly)! As cheap as it is there isn’t any good street food near our current place (there is street food near us but not sure i would trust it…) so we have been exploring the supermarkets and cooking a little at home. Unfortunately we dont know how to cook much Thai food but we did try and make a Thai curry with freshly made curry paste from Tesco Lotus. This didn’t end well, we used 1/2 teaspoon of curry paste and 2 tins of coconut milk and our mouths were on fire (which caused a serious case of ‘delhi belly’ the next day).

 

After just over a week of being here, we’ve got out apartment and phones sorted and we start our new jobs on Monday. Rob cant wait, I however, am feeling a bit anxious about it but feeling ready to get started and now we are settled it would be nice to start meeting other people and making friends! We just need to get a bank account opened and oh yeah, I still need a work visa! (I’ve been told I will need to get the train into Laos, stay over night and then return the next day with a 60 day visa**. So that’s going to be fun! Maybe?!



 

I am aware I may come across a little negative at times about my experience in BKK but despite the craziness of it all, l love it and can see myself being here a while. I want this blog to reflect an honest experience or mine and Robs time here – my aim isn’t to paint a pretty picture of “what an amazing time we are having” and “see how perfect our lifes are” like so many social media apps do these days – there will be ups and downs, good days and bad days (we’ve had numerous people/taxi drivers trying to scam us already – more on that in another post!) and I want this blog to reflect that. 

 

**you need at least 30 days left on your visa before you can apply for a work one… And I entered the country with a 30 day tourist visa so I’ve not got enough time left on it to apply).

Will I ever stop sweating?

Well, the title sums it up I guess… Bangkok is hot, like, super hot. I know what your thinking – of course it’s hot! Did I not know this before? Well, I did! I just wasn’t quite prepared for it (is anyone though when you’ve lived in England your whole life?). Don’t get my wrong, I do prefer it to the cold and wet country I left behind, but it does have its cons. The humidity makes my hair go wild. I’ve only braved going outside with it down once and I instantly regretted it! Even with anti humidity spray – it does nothing!! (So don’t waste your money on that if your ever thinking of buying it). A 10 minute walk feels like an hour and back to my original point, you sweat! Well, I do anyway. And weirdly, not so much my armpits (the obvious part right!?) but anywhere else on my body you could think of. Mainly, my face. This is the biggest issue for me, I never feel like I look nice in this heat – i’m still trying to figure out how to “look good sweating”. I’ve not worn makeup since i’ve been here because, well, whats the point!. If anyone could share some tips with me or has some miracle cure as to how I can stop this problem please send them my way! (I do get very envious of the locals who don’t sweat a single drop and their hair is silky smooth. ((It’s almost like they were built for the heat!?))

Hong Kong, The Final Part.

On our 3rd day we decided to visit the famous HK park. By this point in the trip I was feeling pretty tired and lazy so I wasn’t pleased that the park was built on a hill (as is most of HK)… However, we stumbled upon an old tower you could climb up, from somewhere I found the motivation to go up and I was not disappointed; framed by the trees, the many impressive skyscrapers and other buildings were shining through. The park also has an Exotic Bird Avery that’s not to be missed. As you walk through the well designed ‘rain forest’ an array of colourful birds fly past you and casually sit on the branch opposite as if greeting you. Just next to the park is the Zoological and Botanical Garden’s, as the oldest park in the territory it is divided in half by a main road; the right side has mostly birds such as Flamingos and Cranes whilst the left side has mammals including Orangutans, Gibbons and even Meerkats! With the vast amount of animals they have it’s basically a free zoo (which I loved!). Following this we hopped onto a Ding Ding tram as a laid back  way of seeing the sights.

In the evening we went out for food, but having not planned anywhere to go we ended up having Korean food, really, really spicy Korean food! To cool our mouths down we went to Ophelia bar (which took us ages to find because we couldn’t get used to the fact everything is built up, and not just on the ground level!). The bar is themed around a peacock and as you head through the curtains into the bar your greeted by girls dressed in traditional Chinese dresses posing on extravagant chairs, beds and swings (I did wonder if we had walked into a brothel…). Being a cocktail bar they pride themselves on unusual cocktails, and they didn’t fail; I ordered a rum and coke cocktail that also contained charcoal.. And glitter, hmm.

Our penultimate day was a busy one! We didn’t get out until lunch time so we decided to head straight to McDonalds to try a ‘Create Your Taste’ burger. It was good, so good; I ordered 2 different cheeses and 3 different sauces with caramelized onions and lettuce. When it came out the chips were served in a little deep fat fryer tin, very gourmet! Once we were full and feeling a little sick we headed over to the Nan Lian Japanese garden and Chi Lin Nunnary for a walk. The area was so beautiful and peaceful with the stunning temples and serene gardens. After a lot of debate we decided to go to The Peak, and i’m so glad we did. I thought the view from our apartment was amazing but this was even better! You cant beat it, the view made me fall in love with HK. Whilst at the peak we had an audio guide informing us about the surrounding areas where we learnt about an intriguing place full of fish, bird and flower markets called Mong Kok. Despite it getting late we decided to head over there. The fish market is a small area where nearly every shop has their fish all bagged up ready to go hung on display out the front. In between some of these shops were pet shops selling expensive breeds of puppies and cute little kittens all locked up in small glass cages in the windows. It was so hard to see this, some of the dogs looked so sad, bored and frustrated, as you can only imagine (would it be possible to buy them all and bring them home?). As we walked past one shop they had a huge 80 year old turtle (that I wasn’t allowed to take a photo of… Seems pretty dodgy?); I get the impression this is the area where you can buy any pet imaginable, legal or not. Leading on from this was the flower market, a similar set up as before but with millions of flowers, i’ve never seen so many! Towards the end of the road you follow the chirps of the birds to find the famous bird market. A much smaller area then compared to the other markets but filled with thousands of exotic looking birds, some caged and some perching freely on top of their cages. Mong Kok is such a fascinating area, one that I feel really captures the spirit of Hong Kong (maybe not the pets in glass cages though..). Continuing our busy day (by this time it was 9pm, I should probably mention..) we went for a trip up the Mid Level Escalators, the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world. Unfortunately we only managed about 100 meters but the entire escalator lasts 800 meters and is a series of 20 escalators and 3 moving walkways. A community has since been built around the area as it’s so popular, with many different bars and restaurants making it a a good night out!

On the final day our flight wasn’t till late so we decided to go to Disneyland. As it’s one of the smaller ones it meant we were able to watch 3 shows (which were all amazing) and see the parade. I felt like such a big kid queuing up for an hour just to see Micky & Minnie Mouse (Rob wasn’t impressed, but I thought it was worth the wait!) and relieving my childhood as I went on my favorite Dumbo ride. In fact I spent most of the day on kids rides as I’m such a big wimp and hate roller coasters. Twice i’ve been to Disneyland Paris and both times i’ve been too scared to go on Space Mountain, but after Rob tested it out for me and reassured me it wasn’t that bad. I finally went on it – twice in a row! (And then felt really sick). This brought us to the end of our trip as it was time to catch a taxi to the airport (Boo!).

 



Looking Back

Iv’e had the most amazing time visiting Cambodia and Hong Kong. They are both places I would happily visit again and still have so much more to offer. Before we left I felt excited, nervous and even a little scared with no idea what to expect having never visited this part of the world. As we traveled from the airport to our first hotel in Cambodia I was shocked and amazed by the hectic scene around me. I developed heat rash, mild heat stroke and an addiction to Starbucks (has anyone tried a pomegranate Mocha?!!!). What really surprised me though is how quickly you become acclimatized and adapt to where you are, before long, everything seems normal – then when you return home everything feels, odd. And you suffer serious post holiday blues! But the best way to get over this? Start planning your next trip!

 

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xXx

 

 

Hong Kong, Part 1.

img_9069Welcome to Hong Kong. The place where your never more then 10 feet away from a Starbucks, McDonald’s or a 7-Eleven, and everyone loves a selfie – really loves a selfie!

 

I haven’t had much time to write a blog as I was so busy trying to fit everything in whilst in HK! Now I’m back at home feeling super jet lagged and suffering the post holiday blues. I have to say that HK is my favorite city so far. It has the perfect blend of traditional Chinese culture whilst still being a modern city with a beautiful skyline, never ending skyscrapers and amazing shopping (Ahhh the shopping – I think Hong Kong has turned me into a shopping addict). We stayed in an apartment through Airbnb, on the top floor with a private rooftop garden overlooking the harbour. The view was out of this world, especially watching the sun set and seeing the skyscrapers light up as it slowly turned to night.

Our first day we had to go shopping as I hadn’t packed anything warm enough and Rob seemed to have lost half of his clothes during our trip… First we ventured to Central and then to Causeway Bay (which feels like the Oxford Street of HK), any shop you need – it’s here, they have so many shopping malls and they are all insanely big! (Maybe a little too big??). Next we ventured to the famous Ladies Market which goes on and on and on and on, it has so much stuff – after getting only half way through we were shopped out (Rob is a great bargainer though, somehow he can get something down from 160 hkd (£16) to 40 hkd (£4) so thanks to him we had a lot of bargains!). 

For New Years we decided to head out for some Dim Sum. We were sat at a table with a little old Hong Kongese man who kept shooing and waving us away the whole time, for some reason I got the impression he didn’t want us there… Anyway, the food was good and we had a nice time! Later we headed back to our apartment for some drinks whilst watching the fireworks over Victoria Harbour, before heading out to Lan Kwai Fang for more drinks (one of HK’s most popular area’s to go out with over 90 bars). This was a complete fail; when we arrived the roads were closed and we had to queue for half an hour among hundreds of people to get into the area. When we were in we walked up the main street to see what was going on and when we got to the end we weren’t allowed back down. The area was being strictly controlled by the police and we were expected to queue up again to get back in. Forget that! I still wasn’t feeling great so we decided to head back home instead. We later found out that in 1993, 20 people were killed among the crowds as thousands of people headed to the area just after the New Year fireworks – so that’s why it’s now controlled.

Being hang over free on New Years day (that’s a first) we decided to head over to Lantau Island to visit the Tian Tan Buddha statue. To get there you have to get on a cable cart that has the most amazing views of the forests and coast as it glides over the steepest mountains. The Buddha itself is the largest in the world and positioned at the top of a loooot of steps which we were too lazy to walk up,  so we just admired it from below. Later in the evening we went for some more Dim Sum at the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world, One Dim Sum. We had to wait for an hour to get a table (which we expected, so it was fine) but being completely honest, I was a little disappointed… Or maybe just a little Dim Sum’d out? I’d heard great things about it and with a Michelin Star I had high hopes, but I just felt it was a little.. Bland. Failing this we then decided to venture over to the Temple Street night market. It’s pretty similar to the Ladies market with the hustle and bustle but with a slightly different variety of stuff on offer. Again, we did more shopping and Rob did more bargaining; The King of Bargaining. 

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A little piece of paradise.. And Christmas!

I haven’t posted a blog for a while as unfortunately I’ve not been very well – the anti-malarial’s haven’t been agreeing with me; I’ve had really bad heartburn meaning I’ve been struggling to eat and drink anything and then I ate/drank something dodgy, was probably exhausted and had a little bit of heat stroke which all lead to me being really ill for a few days. So over the course of a week I’ve been trying to take it easy!

Despite this, our trip to Koh Rong Samloem was amazing. I think it’s the most beautiful place I have ever been too; crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, miles of dense jungle and stunning views.

Christmas Eve was spent trekking through the jungle to reach an abandoned light house. A local Khmer man’s based himself there and you have to pay him $1 to go up. After a steep climb up an old, rusting metal ladder we were rewarded with the breathtaking views, the island was highlighted by the strong sun and clear blue skies, you could see for miles over the horizon. Surrounding the lighthouse were old army tanks, covered in a khaki green sheet with signs saying ‘no photos’ (interesting how they are all conveniently pointing out of the island, as it they are literally ready for an attack, hmm…). The afternoon was followed by a long siesta (my god I love a siesta) and jumping off the pier watching the sunset over the jungle. In the evening we went for drinks with an Irish couple we befriended, Jenny and Kyle. We headed to a bar where the drinks were strong (and also very expensive – as is everything else on the island). Just before midnight we headed over to the ‘Jungle Rave’  which sounded really cool, it wasn’t. There were a few locals there and a handful of tourists who were off their face raving on their own, like a scene from the Inbetweeners movie. Soon after midnight we headed back to the previous bar, and before we knew it, it was 3am and we were stumbling down the beach to our places. This led to a pretty bad hangover and a very lazy Christmas day.

For boxing day we decided to take a half day boat tour and our first stop was snorkeling. I’ve never been before so I was a little nervous getting into the water and it took a while for me to get the hang of it. But once I did it was incredible; the water was crystal clear and you could see miles of coral with exotic fish swimming around you and lots of scary Sea Urchins staring at you as swam over them. After this we went to a local fishing village, M’Pei Bay. The contrast between where we were staying and this fishing village were vast; our beach was full of expensive resorts built just for tourists, with swings and hammocks dotted along the beach and flowing mojitos, creating your own paradise bubble; then your hit by reality as you enter the fishing village; its self-sufficient with no help from the government. They build their own houses, supply their own electricity, water and have their own village chief. As a sleepy fishing village it only became popular in 2005, since then, only 20% of the locals are still fisherman as there’s now more money in tourism as its becoming a hot spot to ‘get off the beaten path’. Our final stop was swimming with plankton (which was the highlight of my time on the island). With the conditions just right, complete darkness was needed. One by one we jumped into the water, and as you swam around, these tiny little specks lit up like stars illuminating your body in the water. It was like a scene from Avatar, it really was out of this world.

The following morning we returned to the mainland and headed to Otres beach. Upon arriving at the hotel you would be excused for thinking we had arrived in North Korea, the apartment was dingy, dark, felt like a prison, and I was really ill (I have genuinely never experienced anything so bad before). Poor Rob had to look after me for the 3 days we were there and I didn’t leave the room. From what Rob tells me It’s a really cool place where a lot of backpackers settle. There’s loads of cool bars, restaurants and always some sort of event happening. The sunset on the beach is stunning as you watch the sun slowly dip into the water. The main reason we came to Otres was for a half day horse riding tour and to swim with the horses after. There was no way I was going to be able to do this and I was absolutely gutted. However, I had to focus on getting better for our long journey to Hong Kong!

I’m going to miss this beautiful country and the beautiful people of Cambodia, Iv’e experienced and seen things I couldn’t imagine and it’s taught me a lot. But now it’s time to move onto Hong Kong. Lets see what they have in store! 

The Elephant Trek

To get to Sen Monorom, we departed on a minibus which seemed to double up as a delivery service delivering both live chickens and parcels alike. After 6 hours of speeding, cruising over to the wrong side of the road & overtaking on blind corners we finally made it to the sleepy town of Sen Monorom.

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The start of our jungle trek involved riding in the back of a truck with 6 other people, up and down the steepest hills you could imagine, full speed just to get to the base (we went with the Mondulkiri Project). Upon arrival we were greeted by our tour guide and given a talk about the company; as a charity they hire the land of the Banong tribe people to stop them from logging (Cambodia has one of the highest logging problems in the world). Instead, by providing tourist treks through the jungle they provide the locals with jobs so there’s no longer a need to log. They hire and buy the elephants from the Banong people who keep them for spiritual reasons but unfortunately don’t look after them very well and other elephants are bought from tourist companies who use them for elephant tours (especially in Angkor Wat); this can cause their backs to break and they are often not fed properly to keep them week so they don’t fight back. It’s a sad truth that when used in this business their life expectancy dramatically drops to a couple of years. In Cambodia there are only 250 – 500 elephants left, mostly because the Khmer Rouge killed a lot of them. Whilst being kept in this sanctuary they are allowed to roam freely and are never treated badly. They are domestic elephants with good temperaments which means you are able to feed and wash them in the water. As we trekked down a steep hill into the jungle, arms filled with bananas we spotted our first elephant stomping towards us waiting for us to feed her! It was an incredible sight, as one by one, each elephant appeared and you could get so close to them, it was an amazing sight, to be so close to these peaceful yet powerful animals.

That night, we were based in a hut with the most beautiful view overlooking the jungle. For dinner we were given bamboo soup & rice (if your wondering, it tastes like grass…) and played card games with our new tour guide, Mr Grim. Mr Grim is from the Bunong tribe and speaks Bunong (they have their own language!),  Khmer & English. He leads tours a few times a week across the jungle, as well as being a master of the bamboo (he is amazing at weaving baskets, making furniture & even cups, all out of bamboo!) as well as running a small farm where they grow and sell fruit. By 19:30 it was time to go to bed in our hammocks (they really love their hammocks). They don’t stay up watching TV or playing on their phones, its a weird feeling, but kind of liberating to be free of those distractions, something I should probably welcome more… Time will tell… (When does Celebrity BB start again?)

In the morning we were up early for day 2 of our jungle trek. Before departing, we were casually looking out at the view when we saw a monkey swing from the top of the trees. A few minutes later we saw another 2! It was such a rare and beautiful sight, monkeys aren’t often seen in the Jungle because people hunt them to sell to tourists as food. After 3 hours of trekking up steep ascents through farms and jungle we finally reached our first waterfall! It was like a small piece of paradise where we swam and jumped into the water. A short walk away we reached our second waterfall; after a steep and slippery climb to the bottom we were rewarded with the most beautiful sight – no photo could do it justice! Our third and final waterfall was not as big but equally impressive as you walked behind it and peered into the bat caves. A short walk later we came across another, small but wide waterfall which little did I know, we were going to be crossing! With one slow, careful step at a time trying to find each rock in the water I let out a sigh of relief as we finally made it to the other side. From there we had another long and steep ascent until we reached one of the Banong villages! It was like walking into another world; as we walked through the dusty red road, we passed a few thatched roof huts (this is how the Banong people used to live before the Khmer people started moving there and building modern, stone houses). With pigs, cows, dogs and cats roaming about the road a child, probably about 10, zoomed past on a motorbike with 2 even younger children on the back! We finally reached Mr Grim’s house and met some of his family before traveling back to our lodge!

Our final day in Sen Monorom was a chilled one (we needed it!). We caught up on much needed cake, internet, TV, phones, pizza I could go on.. (I’m only joking, we didn’t fall back into the habit that quickly… It took another day…) Our accommodation is called ‘Nature Lodge’ but it’s more like ‘Nature in my Lodge’, we’ve had to share our room with a lizard, 2 very scary spiders and a bird hiding somewhere in the room (all yet to pay their fair share!). Despite this, the accommodation is beautiful, the sky turns pink as the sun goes down and there’s no light pollution so at night you can see more stars than I’ve ever seen before.

A photo of Mr Grim, bamboo birds he made & his daughter holding the family cat

To get into town you have to hire a taxi, only here, the taxi’s are in the form of motorbikes, so on we got, with no helmets, up winding, dusty dirt tracks. (That was my first experience on a motorbike, and maybe the last…) We visited the number 2 (out of 3) rated restaurant on Trip Advisor. When there we bumped into Sen Monorom’s most famous part time expat Mr Lee (there’s only 1 expat) who helped to set up the Mondulkiri Project (he was our tour guide on day 1) and had lunch together. A few hours later he pulled up on the side of the road where he offered us 2 beers and a soursop fruit (google it) which tasted liked champagne!

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Culture shock moment: When a women working at the Mondulkiri Project had a bad tooth so instead of going to the dentist (the company provide all their staff with western medicine and treatment) she knocked her tooth out on a tree…

The Killing Fields (by Robert Davenport)

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I’ve not written this blog as Rob insisted he wrote this one as a special guest blogger! We spent a few days in Phnom Penh, doing the usual touristy stuff; the Palace & the Silver Pagoda, National Museum of Cambodia and the markets. But the main reason people visit Phnom Penh isn’t for the great food or the even crazier atmosphere (when compared to Siem Reap) but for S-21 & the Killing Fields.


You politely decline the offer of “tuk-tuk sir?”. A young child enthusiastically waves your way and as if with one last breath screams… “hellooooo”. The sound of crickets throughout the day routinely sounded out by a storm of biblical proportions. The inability of two adults unable to cross the scooter filled roads without the help of a Phnom Penh local…You’ve finally arrived.

Welcome to Cambodia!

Or to steal a slogan from the tshirts on every street corner

     I 💗 Cambodia.

In a city full of smiles, warm welcomes and genuine gratitude it is hard to imagine the atrocities that ripped through this city and country only a few decades ago. For any visitors to S-21 & The Killing Fields you’d fully understand a sense of bitterness, built up anger and remorse for humankind, but not for the Khmer people. The rebuilding of Cambodia started in January 1979 and 37 years later it’s been a privilege to visit.

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Upon entering S-21 your innocence and naivety start to unravel before your eyes with each step you take; the barbed wire surrounding anything above 6 feet, the wooden structure with hooks high above for a rope fixing, the clean circular holes in the brickwork and the faded red stained cell floors. How can such evil have been thought of, never mind undertaken by one communist loving individual and his not so merry men. The tour of the torture camp is chilling and thought provoking through the personal stories shared in the audio sets. As you walk through each of the four buildings, you’re able to hear the accounts of different prisoners captured throughout the regimes. The captured consisting of mostly academics and professionals; teachers, doctors and nurses and anyone who the Khmer Rouge deemed useful; mechanics, engineers and artists. These professions saving them, for a while longer, from their inevitable fate. The stories speak of forced confessions leading to unthinkable torture. This in an attempt to cleanse the population for the ultimate goal of a self-sufficient and utopia country. S-21 manages to find the perfect blend of educating visitors to the atrocity whilst also acting a place of homage for anyone directly affected by the Khmer Rouge regime. Throughout the tour you hear the accounts of two men captured, their cells are now lit by a single dim bulb from above, you hear harrowing tales of their lost children and wives. Towards the ends of the tour you pass a large monument containing tens of thousands of names having endured a similar fate to the personal stories heard. You take shelter under a tree from the burning sun to reflect on terror experienced here and gaze upon the many butterflies with a sense of hope. Then, just by the exit you spot two elderly gentlemen, hunched over with crowds around them. Your emotions peak with hope. You realise the captured men referenced within the tour lived to tell their tale to this day. In the very four walls where they lived their nightmare to thousands of tourists with a new found love of Cambodia in their heart.

After learning of the terror inflicted in S-21 you then undertake part 2 of the day in the chilling area of The Killing Fields. During a thirty minute tuk-tuk ride between the two places you are allowed to escape your thoughts of S-21 for a few seconds at a time to laugh at the driver dodging the craters in the road and watch in amazement at the five people on one motorbike. Although the latter has now become a daily occurrence, six people would be worthy of a second glance now. The entrance to The Killing Fields creeps up quickly on you and before you know it you’re retracing the footsteps of millions of tourists paying respect to the innocent men, women and children initially tortured and then brought here for their final breaths. The tour is as poignant and touching as S-21 whilst remembering the lost throughout. The tour will take you through the various areas used by the regime and the audio sets provide additional stories and information on the area. Throughout the tour you will see pieces of clothing and fabric that have risen up through the earth and an indication of the mass graves surrounding you within the area. This chilling thought is a continuing theme throughout with the glass cases containing bone and teeth extracts filling several areas of the grounds. Towards the end of the tour your final stop will see you visiting the memorial, a 25 foot high structure containing a large glass structure with the skulls of all innocent found within this area. A tiny fraction of the total killed by the Khmer Rouge.

“We can move on, but can never forget” Huo Meng

(survivor – a man we had the privilege to meet)