Caught The Travel Bug!!

Caught The Travel Bug!!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my recent blogs travelling around South East Asia. So when did it all begin? You wouldn’t have thought that this shy little Welsh girl who grew up on a farm in Wales would have ended up travelling the world!! It all started after  i’d just turned 18 and in the summer of 1991 I was waiting for my A level results with my predicted grades to go to Cardiff University. Anyway I didn’t end up get the grades I needed so it was decision time – do I resit my exams or go to the local technology college? I ended up back at the local technology college with all the girls who dropped out of school at 16. It didn’t seem fair as I’d stayed on an extra 2 years and worked hard and ended up in the same place as these girls. I had been stubborn to not go back to see my headmaster for some advice but I did eventually and he managed to get me a place at Anglia Polytechnic University at Chelmsford in Essex. I hadn’t been to London on my own before but off I went on the train from Swansea to Paddington very excited to go on my big adventure. I arrived in London and it seemed so big and suddenly I felt scared and my first reaction was to find the next train back to Swansea . Then something stopped me in my tracks and I thought ‘I CAN DO THIS!!’ I started asking the underground staff how to get to Liverpool street as all the station names were foreign to me...
Loving Island Life!!

Loving Island Life!!

Laos has definitely surprised me and there’s me thinking i’d be spending just a week here to pass through to get back to Thailand but it’s an amazing country with lots to see and do. My journey continues south in Laos and the first stop is a town called Pakse and in all honesty it was a base for a couple of days but nothing exciting there. I booked a couple of nights  but the first morning I woke up there was a powercut which isn’t uncommon in Laos so I decided there was no point staying there so I jumped on  a tuk tuk with the locals and travelled 1 hour south to a town called Champasak.  This place definitely had more character so thanking Universe for the intervention. I spent a few days here and it was a great place to sit staring at the Mekong river watching the monsoon thunder storms. I love the energy of rain and different here as it’s still warm compared to the UK but doesn’t last as long. While I was here I visited Wat Phu whch was an old Khmer Hindu temple with amazing views from the top. It was a great place to spend exploring the ruins for a few hours enjoy the peacefulness of the place and not crowded with tourists which was good.   It was now the last push to head right to the bottom of Laos where the 3500 km Mekong river ends in an area called Si Phan Don or 4000 islands and a great place to chill for a week or so. I stayed in...
Land Of A Million Elephants

Land Of A Million Elephants

Vietnam had been fantastic and now it was time to prepare for my 22 bus journey to Laos but at least it was a sleeper bus so hopefully will arrive feeling rested. I left Hanoi in Vietnam at 5pm and we got taken in a mini bus to meet the sleeper bus. The bus was a recliner seat but nevertheless very comfortable and i’d stocked up on snacks incase it was a sleepless night. The bus stopped a couple of times for food and toilet breaks but otherwise I stayed asleep until we arrived at the border at 6am. The first stage was to get stamped out of Vietnam but the border didn’t open until 7am so the queues of vehicles and people was starting to build up. It was a simple process to get stamped out of Vietnam and then a 10 min walk and we arrived at the Laos border. It was a straight forward process to fill out the forms and pay the visa fee and it was funny how they charged an extra $2 as it was the weekend for overtime!! Once everyone had their visas sorted we made our way to Vientiane, the capital of Laos and arrived 8 hours later around 4pm. I spent a few days in the city even though it felt more like a town as it was so small. It was filled with French bakeries and trees lined with frangipani tress with monks wandering around the streets. Laos is known as ‘the land of the million elephants’ as the elephant symbolizes the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang and is sacred to the Lao people, who believe...
All Aboard For Halong Bay !!

All Aboard For Halong Bay !!

As I continue my journey north to Hanoi I was in love with Vietnam and definitely a place I could spend a lot longer. I love travelling by train and even though it’s a bit more expensive than the bus I feel it’s more comfortable and you see a lot more. The train line in Vietnam is called the ‘Reunification Express’ as it resumed service on December 31st 1976  following the time when the country was divided to north and south during the war. The picture below is the part of the line between Danang and Hue and follows the South China sea climbing up through the cliffs and jungle with fantastic views of the coast. This part of the line is called the Hai Van Pass which means Sea Cloud Pass and I loved every minute of it. I tried to do most of my train journeys during the day as I loved sitting watching the world go by taking in the scenery. This to me was part of my travels and not just a way of getting from a to b. The journey from Hue to Hanoi was the longest part at 14 hours so decided to experience the sleeper train as part of my adventure. I booked a soft bed which wasn’t very soft so wouldn’t like to imagine what the hard bed was like!! There were 4 beds in by cabin and all the locals were friendly even though they couldn’t speak English but smiles and sharing my pringles got me some smiles back!! I read about scams all the time and only had good experiences on my travels so far. I arrive in Hanoi at...
Spirit Of The Mountains

Spirit Of The Mountains

Iv’e always loved the sunshine but the weather is Vietnam is very hot at the moment so it was nice to escape the heat for a while to the cooler climates of the mountains in Dalat. Unfortunately there is no train up to the mountains but a very scenic bus trip and 4 hours later I arrived. Dalat is referred to as the honeymoon capital as it’s a quaint town with lots of flowers everywhere. Dalat I felt was off the tourist trail and met some amazing people and really got to know the locals. I went on an amazing cable car ride to a local monastery and lake and spent the afternoon wandering around and just enjoy being in nature. It was a great place to get out of the hustle and bustle of the towns and cities and do some walking meditation in the peaceful countryside. The train in Vietnam only runs north to south along the coast and Dalat doesn’t have a train journey for long distances but it does have a 30 min trin trip to the nearby village of Ma Trai. This was a nice adventure and got to experience life in a rural village while visiting the Linh Phuong Pagoda.   This was really a glimpse of village life and nice to come back and relax at the Dalat Train villa & café where they’d turned a train carriage into a café. My favourite meal here was the ‘Dalat Pizza’ which used rice paper as a base and then topped with onion, garlic, chillies & cheese….yummy !! The best thing was I sat with the family...
Let The Train Take The Strain

Let The Train Take The Strain

Arriving in Ho Chi Minh city was a bit of a shock after a quiet night in the homestay in the village. I stayed in District 1 which is the backpacker area which has a great buzz full of bars trying to entice you in with happy hour and restaurants for Vietnamese food. I loved the buzz for a few days with the madness of the motorbikes and no real system for crossing the road. I was definitely getting my quota of exercise with my sprints across the road which was most definitely needed after all the wonderful food and Saigon beer!! I had a lovely few days in the city and my train was booked and the next stop would be Nha Trang further up the coast. There are lots of transport options within Vietnam with flights being reasonable and buses but my preference is always the train. I’m not someone who see’s travelling as a chore but part of the adventure. I booked a soft seat as it was a long journey and it was mostly local people on the train but they had the blinds down to sleep  so I missed a lot of the amazing scenery. I stood inbetween the carriages for the last part of the journey and gave my seat to a local guy who had been standing most of the way. It was funny as a few of the locals came to see if I was ok because they thought he’d taken my seat and I was forced to stand!!  The communication was limited but with my smiling face and thumbs up they realised I was ok....
Adventures Through The Mekong Delta

Adventures Through The Mekong Delta

I spent 3 amazing weeks travelling around Cambodia so now it was time to head to Vietnam. I decided I wanted to travel by boat down the Mekong river and then stumbled upon a 2 night/3 day tour which sounded like a great deal. I’m not usually a fan of tours and always sceptical there’ll be some hidden extras but this time I worked out the price of the boat only and the boat plus accommodation and tour so I was sold. The picture below shows my route Phnom Penh – Chau Doc – Can Tho – Vinh Long – Ho Chi Minh city!! There’s something really relaxing about the water for me and I can sit on a boat for hours so sailing down the Mekong river was the perfect way to spend a Saturday morning. We sailed for around 4 hours and then goat to the border with Vietnam so the boat had to dock and then a quick scramble up the river bank to a little office to get our passport checked and get stamped out of Cambodia. We then had to change to a speed boat and 100 m further down the river we had to get our passports and visa checked to get stamped into Vietnam so all pretty straight forward and definitely easier than land border crossings!! Another 2 hours we arrived at Chau Doc at the border and time for lunch watching local boats on the river until I was getting picked up by bus. The tour guide gave me a piece of paper with something written in Vietnamese and told to give it to the...
Live Like A Cambodian !!

Live Like A Cambodian !!

It was time for me to leave Siem Reap and travel by bus to the French colonial town of Battambang where  was picked up by a tuk tuk and taken to the village to stay in a homestay. The family were so welcoming and showed me to my room that would be my home for the next couple of days It was a fantastic wooden huts on stilts on the riverbank and a great way to experience the slower pace of life. I found the homestay on booking.com and a previous review said it would be a good way to experience Cambodian life first hand. The price to stay also included meals which was great as it was quite a way from the town. On my first evening I sat with the family and had traditional soup, meat and rice and great to find out about their way of life. The following morning I was woken up by the Muslim prayer call followed by some drumming at the local temple. We walked to the village and had a traditional breakfast of noodle soup washed down with some jasmine tea. Today I decided I would go on the famous bamboo train which was great fun and felt like a roller coaster through the countryside. You sit on the bamboo slats so thank god for cushions !! It was amazing that when the trains passed each other they had to manually take them off the track and put them back on after the other train passed!! The train was like a rollercoaster through the countryside and was a lot of fun...
The Magic Of Angkor Wat

The Magic Of Angkor Wat

Well I finally made it through the border to Cambodia and getting the e-visa in advance was definitely easier and I didn’t have to deal with the constant approach of people asking me for visa. I’d read a lot of about scams with the visa at the border so after my experience with the online visa it was a case of once bitten, twice shy !! After 8 hours travelling I arrived in Siem Reap which is the home of the famous Angkor Wat temple & of course the famous ‘pub street.’ I got settled into my hotel and decided on a day to relax before sightseeing and planed to do the sunrise tour so had a quick check of the weather to see which day looked best. It was a 4.30am pick up from the hotel in a tuk tuk to get to the place where you buy the tickets, the excitement was definitely building to see the wonder of Angkor Wat!! Angkor Wat is located between the Tonle Sap lake and Kulen mountains and contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khemr Empire. After the fall of the Khmer Empire the temples were abandoned but have now been restored and has millions of visitors each year. It’s also one of the ancient seven wonders of the world and has been on my bucket list for a long time. There were a lot of people there for sunrise but not too crowded and the energy was amazing while we eagerly awaited the sunrise….it was amazing and definitely worth the early start. I walked around the temple and then got...
Time to ditch the excess baggage!!

Time to ditch the excess baggage!!

I loved my time in Bangkok but now it was time to move on & head to Cambodia. I felt very organised with my online visa until I realised i’d applied through a scam website and it cost me almost double the price of $70!! I typed into google ‘Cambodia visa’ and a nice official site came up so I entered my details, paid by paypal and didn’t think anything more about it expecting it to be through in a few days. I woke up the following morning with an uneasy feeling about the visa and decided to check my inbox to realise i’d not received a confirmation e mail, only the paypal confirmation which was an e mail address for an Indian visa company!! Alarm bells started ringing and I disputed the payment with paypal and sent a lovely message to the e mail address provided to give them two options – to return the money or I would report them for fraud!! To my surprise the money was refunded within 1 hour so I was very pleased about that. I then applied through the correct website and received my online visa within 2 days so I was ready to go & lesson learnt…hopefully!! I was now ready to leave the hostel and so much for travelling light as I had to repack and leave two carrier bags of clothes at the hostel…they have a free luggage store for up to 2 months and it worked well as i’d be returning there at the end of my trip. How many of you have thought you’re travelling light to then realise you’ve done it...
Bright lights of Bangkok!!

Bright lights of Bangkok!!

Well after months of planning  I started my journey in a very hot and humid Bangkok but despite that i’m very happy to be here. I decided on Bangkok as a central point to base my travels and even though I had a loose plan of countries to visit (Cambodia – Vietnam – Laos) I was going to follow my intuition and go with the flow…great if you’re not on a time limit. I make my way to a fantastic hostel HI Sukhamvit recommended by Geraldine aka Backpacker Granny (www.backpackergranny.com). I met her at Hostal Plaza (www.hostalplazasanpedro.com) in Spain last year and she’s an inspiration to anyone thinking there’s an age limit to backpacking and is an inspiration to me. I don’t know about you but i’ve never been one of those people to rush around and see all the sights and tick them off my list. I like to relax and immerse my self in the culture getting to know the local people and of course the fantastic food from the street markets. When I was talking to a friend about this she gasped in horror, ”You can’t eat from the street stalls..you might get food poisoning?” Plant that seed in your mind and you probably will !! The food is freshly cooked and delicious and so cheap, you can have a plate of food for a euro !! Great news if you’re travelling on a budget !!   I’ve been doing some work since I’ve been here as its so hot during the day and cooler to head out in the evening. It’s great that I work a lot online as I can work from anywhere and just need internet and...
Wherever I lay my backpack…that’s my home!!

Wherever I lay my backpack…that’s my home!!

You might remember the song by Paul Young, ”Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home,” except for me it’s my backpack!! The song reminds of my nomadic lifestyle for the past year which I’ve embraced and loving!! I’ve always been a nomad and love travelling but the in the last year there was a big change in my personal life leaving me uncertain about which way to go. I’d spent 12 years living in the Middle East but made the move to Spain 2 year ago to build a new life. I loved Spain and and met some great people and cultivated some wonderful friendships thanks to the social and networking group Costa Women set up by Ali Meehan (http://www.costawomen.ning.com). I love the lifestyle, food , culture and of course the sunshine!! Things had changed for me in a big way and I had decisions to make about where to live and settle or did I?? While I was deciding what to do I rented a room at Hostal Plaza in San Pedro (www.hostalplazasanpedro.com) on a monthly basis until I found an appartment. I’d spent a lot f time staying at the hostal over the past couple of years and it’s become home from home and it’s such a funky place with all the artwork.  Six months later I was still there as i’d decided there was no point renting an apartment as I had decided to go travelling. Gary, Karen and the boys (Richard & Michael) have become great friends of mine and I felt really settled at the hostal and found it hard to leave. People found it hard to believe I could...