Late Bloomers

It was recently National Poetry Day, and a feeling waved over me that has been kept at bay since being in Spain. It has been around a month now, and I can’t remember the last time I was this happy. Aside from the usual stresses that come and go, especially when settling into a new place, I have had no doubt that coming here has been the right decision.

Yet, I still feel a pull back to London, something partly a fear of missing out (FOMO), but also more than that. FOMO has become all the more common since the age of social media. This means that I am seeing so many of my peers in poetry do all these amazing things I wish I was going. To be clear, I am pleased for their success, but I feel a gnawing at me that I have never really given myself a chance to truly reach my potential in writing.

I know that with full dedication, I am capable of doing what others are doing, in carving a space in the poetry world where it is possible to make some sort of living from what you love doing. So, I know that I want to return, to give myself that chance to blossom without having to dedicate so many hours to a full-time job. At twenty-eight, I will be doing this much later than anticipated, but I wouldn’t necessarily be where I am now if I had done anything differently up to this point. And, like I said, I’m happy where I am.


Beautiful Cordoba

The point is, that one of the things that has been infringing on my contentedness is my own habit of comparing myself to others. Especially when others are younger than me. I berate myself for not having that version of success, for not doing what they’re doing. Even when I’m actually doing something completely different, with its own set of goals. I mean, how amazing would it be if, by the end of the year, I could actually speak Spanish. If I could write and perform poems in Spanish. I’m having an experience that may just be for this one year, and so I need to appreciate every moment of it.

I came here to learn Spanish, to make that my priority. I’m going to be having around 8 hours of lessons a week, plus homework, plus living somewhere that I can gradually use it in everyday life. The concierge at my block of flats already told me that I was getting better… after I asked how he was. I’m in the lowest group at A1 level, but I hope that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of Duo Lingo, that I can improve. I’m also obviously working to teach English as a foreign language, and still acquiring a whole lot of skills whilst doing it.

I’m still writing all the usual things – poems, stories, articles… blog posts! Just because I’m not earning money for the writing I’m doing at the moment, doesn’t mean I have to hand back my “writer” badge. So, in the vein of these thoughts, I wrote a poem that I started in the early hours of the morning following National Poetry Day having been busy with things not poetry related. It’s dedicated to all the late bloomers out there. Enjoy.

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No Habla Española: English Woman Living in Spain #2

It’s the end of September when I’m writing this (posting later, because I don’t have the Internet currently) and it’s still around 30-degrees outside. I heard that it was the last weekend for outdoor pools to be open. Where’s Tooting Bec Lido when you need one? It will still be warm enough to swim for at least another month, and I love nothing more than swimming in a ice-cold pool on sunny days, with a book and pretending to be on holiday.

I went in search of a pool, and saw a good one on Google Maps, a twenty-minute walk away. However, I got there and it appeared to be closed. I tried another one, but I saw nothing but tennis court. “¿Donde es la piscina?” I asked the man in the office, pointing at the photo on my phone. He ended up speaking in English, and told me that it was closed, and when I asked if they were all closed, he said yes. I wished I had gone the previous weekend, having had the opportunity when someone I had just met was going.


The closest I came to an outdoor pool.

Instead, after walking over an hour in the heat, a toe starting to blister, I researched a gym I could sign up to. It didn’t have an outdoor pool, but I found one about 2 minutes walk from where I live. If I couldn’t pretend to be on holiday, I could at least challenge myself by trying to get a gym membership and have some exercise that weekend. I used Google Translate to write down some key sentences, and everything I would need to set up a membership.

I rehearsed the first sentence the next morning: “Quiero usar la piscina hoy y estoy interesada en ser membiero.” I didn’t know how accurate it would be, but I memorised that and took the paper with me. I always find that in reality it is much harder to speak even when you do know the words (I once forgot how to say thank you in Portugal when faced with an actual human being). I felt so nervous that I didn’t want to do it. I started to say things to myself to put me off it. Like, I wouldn’t have time to  go the gym, that I wouldn’t be able to afford it because my rent is high and my wage is low, and I prioritise food and a social life. Plus, I bought a yoga mat and have exercise apps, so what more do you need?

However, I need to push myself into these situations if I am ever going to learn. Attending Zumba classes on Saturday mornings may mean that I pick up the language a little bit quicker. And that, aside from the beautiful weather, is why I’m here. So, I did it. I managed to say the sentence I had memorised in about five minutes. I mean, after that we had to use Google Translate on the computer in order to communicate, but I was proud that I at least tried. And when he spoke slowly, I was able to understand quite a lot of what he said. Enough to get a membership and know that it was for 3 months and then after that I could choose what to do. Hopefully in 3 months I’ll speak better Spanish.


The pool itself was a whole other challenge. Thankfully there was a man who spoke English in the pool. I started by getting in and bumping into a woman who was swimming. I then didn’t know you had to wear a swimming hat, and had to be given one by the staff and pay afterwards. People also wore Croc-type shoes or flip-flops, which I’m really hoping aren’t obligatory because I don’t want them at all. I also managed to get my key stuck in the locker. A woman helped me speak to the staff, although the manager spoke excellent English. I was in a bit of a flap.

I don’t like to generalise, but the people here in Córdoba are very helpful and friendly. Even though the man who helped me in the pool made a lot of inappropriate comments, or “jokes”, which made me feel very uncomfortable, I think that his intentions were good, and I also saw him speak to some others. I guess people here are more direct than I’m used to in England, and for that there are pros and cons.

I’ve not even been here three weeks, and as easy as it would be to stay inside and speak minimal Spanish, I want to keep challenging myself, so this weekend has been a successful one!

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“She used to run a night.”

When I lived in London I was working full-time, commuting about 3 hours a day, and on top of that I would, like clockwork, do something to do with my creative practise. Increasingly, this felt like I was doing more and more admin (such as things to do with running my night, She Grrrowls) and less actual writing.

Some people may think that since I’ve quit my job and moved to Spain to teach English, that I’m no longer pursuing these creative endeavours. Hell, they may have thought it before, since I was working full-time before, and just changed location. The difference is, I guess, at least I was connected to the world of poetry before; in Córdoba this just won’t be the same, and any poetry is likely to be in Spanish.


However, as Paula Varjack explores in her show, ‘Show Me The Money’, a lot of writers have other means of income. Even if they’re not honest about it. There are many different ways to be a writer and a performer. That said, I’m not planning to stop any of what I’ve been doing. I took a teach and travel break, and now I’m making a change.

Moving to Spain is not something I would have thought about doing seriously until my partner planted the idea of living abroad. I had always wanted to learn Spanish, and it seemed to be a good way to do it. So, after exploring South East Asia, I came here. I also thought that a change of scenery would also be good for my mental health, as well as encouraging me to be more independent.

I couldn’t believe it had been five years since I had been to university, which means five years of living with my parents. That’s why, when I heard the expression “perpetual adolescence”, I thought ‘that’s me!’ At the age of twenty-seven I am now living completely on my own. I’ve already set an oven glove on fire, and cut myself with both a knife, and a pair of scissors.

So, this year I am shifting my priorities. I have decided I want to make a real effort to learn Spanish; that’s my number one priority. However, I have a theory that this focus might help me write more, as it will be what I do with my spare time, for fun. Even my Netflix-time will be a form of studying, and being in South East Asia, I still wrote a lot – both blogs, articles for The Norwich Radical, and poetry.


I’ve been in my new apartment for just over a week at the time of writing, and without WiFi (which may also be an influence) I have prepared lots of blog posts, written some poetry and completed one short story. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, and I’ve been more in tune with when I need to take breaks.

One of my problems is that I also set myself too many goals. This is why I’m trying to focus on learning Spanish as a focus. I see writing as something that will naturally happen, and beyond trying to schedule some time to do it, it’s not something I need to stress out about. However, I do want to keep some other things ticking along. I still want to write journalism, and I still want to keep She Grrrowls going, albeit in a different form.

I’m planning to start up an online zine, where I will feature poems in print, and hopefully videos, and essays, rants, pictures and so on. This way, I can hopefully keep people in the loop about re-launching the event on my return to the UK. I’m also thinking of taking the event to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, inspired by going the previous year, as well as fellow Kid Glove member, Joel Auterson, taking his and Jake Wildhall’s night ‘Boomerang Club’ there this year.


I do have a show I want to write (and the idea was Highly Commended by Ideas Tap when I got to the interview stage for the £30,000 fund). But I’m not going to rush the process, especially as I found out from Jack Rooke (another inspiration, with his show ‘Good Grief’) that Soho Theatre have opened up their writing project up to 30-year-olds, and obviously I will be 28 by the time I’m back!

So, the point I’m trying to make, is that I’m not going anywhere (to those people who put thumbs down on my YouTube videos). Obviously, something I need to work on is the fact that I still care what people think…

Anyway, so the plan is to be able to write poems in Spanish… then back to London, where funnily enough, my partner may be moving after all these years of long-distance. Let’s hope he likes it and wants to stay. I will then have enough experience to get some income from teaching English as a foreign language, and run some workshops. I want to apply for funding for She Grrrowls, which I would have to do in June in order to make a swift return after the Fringe! Ideally I can then make my show with Soho Theatre, and generally do more writing, performing and freelance stuff!

So, there you have it. That’s the plan. Working full-time before meant my old five year plan hasn’t really worked out. But as you can probably tell, I’m itching to write a new one, and even more excited about enjoying the process a bit more, trying to be more present in the moment and generally continue living life to the full, through both tears and laughter!


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No Habla Española: English Woman Living in Spain #1

Throughout my life I have felt the influence of my dad being half-Spanish. The food we ate at home was always more Mediterranean than typically British dishes – my parents make fun of me complaining in my late teens that we never ate traditional food, having discovered I loved cottage pie and other such dishes that I hadn’t had in my youth. The only reason we started having Sunday roasts was because of my demands, and even then it comes with a salad.


Note the salad bowl.

My dad made me aware of our heritage, and told me about discrimination his dad faced in coming to England, as well as his own experiences at school, being called a “half-breed” and so on. We took regular holidays in Spain, but the language was something with which we all struggled. The problem was that my Spanish granddad, or abuelito, left the home when my dad was a child, and had never passed on the language. My Gran can speak Spanish, among many other languages, so it’s unfortunate as she too didn’t pass it on.

At school in London, obviously very multicultural, our varied backgrounds were something to be celebrated; I started writing poems about being Hispanic, and this part of my ancestry became a big part of my identity. My parents tried to complain when they put me on the “French side” of the school, and I wanted to learn Spanish so much that I actually cheated on a test so get put up a set, so that I could study both. I switched to Spanish at GCSE level, but I had an English French teacher, and was in a low-set with constant disruption, not to mention that I also got split up from my friend for talking too much, which was completely unlike my behaviour in other lessons.

I didn’t practise enough, and my confidence was low. I had the option to do the Higher paper, but I worried about the difficulty of the speaking exam, so instead I did the Foundation paper, where the most I could get was a C-grade, which I did. Looking back, I wish I’d taken the Higher paper, and gone on to study at A-level. Because when it comes to language learning, you have to put the effort in, and a language is such a good skill to have.


Now I’m in Spain, and whilst part of me hoped that I could simply absorb the language, it hasn’t taken me long to realise that if I really want to speak Spanish, it’s going to be hard work. If that is the reason I came here, I need to make it the number one priority and it needs to be what I spend most of my spare time doing. I’ve been looking up online tips for language learning, and I’m going to put them into action, and I can’t wait to get the internet in my apartment as then I can watch lots of Spanish TV and films, or at least have Spanish subtitles on English-language programmes.

Coming to Córdoba without being able to speak the language. On a night out with some other teachers, I joked about how funny it was that I couldn’t speak Spanish, and how I butcher my own name by Anglicising it, exaggerating this. My name, “Carmina” is a derivative of “Carmen”, and you’re meant to roll the r, but obviously, we don’t do that in the UK. My surname, “Masoliver” is also Catalan, and though technically double-barrelled with “Marlow”, I’ve gone through most of my life thinking it was just the former name, which makes it feel really odd when people cut it off and address me as “Ms Marlow”. Being in Spain and not being able to speak Spanish, whilst having the name “Carmina Masoliver” is just frankly embarrassing, and it makes introducing myself pretty painful.

Being here has made me question this part of my identity. In the UK, I have had some experiencing of “Othering”, simply because of my name, but now it feels like maybe I am “Ms Marlow”, rather than “Ms Masoliver”. Like I should be named “Jo” instead of “Carmina” – the name I strangely wrote in some books as a child in the “This book belongs to…” section. Joanne Marlow. How would I feel about this part of my identity if it wasn’t for my name?


Here, my dark curly hair means nothing. The people here kiss on both cheeks, and although something I have grown up with my paternal side of the family, nothing makes me feel so uncomfortable and foreign. I want so badly to be able to just try to speak, but most experiences start with “No habla Español”. And if they don’t speak English, I have only been able to muster words like “dos días” with hand gestures (I moved here two days ago), and “¿donde es… grande? and pointing at the bin (where is the large bin I put rubbish in?).

So, feeling this way, the only thing I can do is really try my best to learn this year, to immerse myself in the language in every way I can. My biggest obstacle will be my confidence. Even when I know what I’m saying, I speak too quietly and slowly to be understood. For example, I said “Tengo una bolsa” but the person didn’t hear, and instead of getting louder, I got quieter, until I retorted to English. I also live alone, so I will have to try extra hard than those with Spanish flatmates. That said, I’m sure my Gran won’t take much convincing to help me practise with her over Skype! If I can just learn to string a few sentences together beyond “hola” and “gracias”.

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Patience and Dealing with Uncertainty

When I attended CBT, one of the biggest revelations that emerged was that I have great difficulty dealing with uncertainty. This makes me incredibly impatient with myself, and other people. This is exacerbated when there’s a problem. Anxiety affects people differently – some people put things off, but, for me, I feel that I can get rid of that anxious feeling if I can deal with it as soon as possible. To the extent that, even if it is not possible, I will try to make it possible. The same goes for when things don’t go as planned; it’s like forcing a jigsaw piece into the wrong place, and it never does work.

Dealing with uncertainty means you have to accept that something is out of your control. I’m currently undergoing a learning process as to how to actually do this. Accepting we can’t control something does not mean stewing and constantly thinking about whatever it is, and doing things surrounding the matter. What I think it means, is taking a step back, and occupying yourself with something different.


As I write this I’m currently waiting for a number of balls to get rolling. Or rather, dominos, as they are all linked together. My patience is being tested since moving to Spain. The first test was finding a place to live. In my head, I had about a week, had booked a hostel, and imagined having viewings every day, and simply selecting which one I liked best. I remember it being quite simple at university in Norwich. However, the reality didn’t quite match up to my expectations, which is one of the main points about uncertainty – your mind tries to manage the uncertainty by creating these imaginary scenarios, none of which are really helpful.

I managed to arrange one viewing, but I didn’t know what to say to the agent when I came out. What I learnt from this was how important aesthetics are to my wellbeing, and I tended to much prefer the more modern spaces, with light rooms and bright colours. After finding out that the next day was a public holiday and I couldn’t go to any viewings, I spent the rest of the evening trying to arrange them for the next day.


¿Habla usted inglés? This was not Norwich, it was Córdoba. I couldn’t speak Spanish, and after a negative answer, I translated a few key sentences through Google for the next attempt. The person on the other end of the phone understood me… but I didn’t understand their answers. Both conversations resulted in them hanging up on me. After just one successful conversation with someone needing to call back because they were driving, I gave up, and they didn’t call back.

I spent the next morning continuing my search online, and then walked around the city with one of the other new teachers. The day after I had the idea of texting instead of calling, as well as getting some help from my place of work. In the end, I managed to find the perfect place through the agent I’d first met. However, when I was unable to get enough money out for that evening’s contract signing, I was upset and frustrated. I wanted to do it immediately, but it was impossible. I was up late that night on the phone to Barclays to try to retrieve the PIN for a card I didn’t usually use, to make sure I would have the whole amount needed the next day. This was a waste of time, as I then easily got my mum to find it for me at home.

So I was able to get the money the next morning and moved in that afternoon. Having a base now is helping with the next set of challenges. I still have to wait for an NIE number, which I need to be able to open a bank account, which I need to be able to set up the Internet. I also need to wait for my timetable before I can really start looking at course books or planning any lessons. I have no choice but to wait. Obviously, my impatience isn’t solved overnight. However, I’m trying to make the most of the free time I will be wishing I had in a week’s time, especially currently being without the distraction of Wi-Fi.


I have done a lot of walking, and a lot of shopping for things I needed in my flat, as well as a lengthy exploration of supermarket shelves. But I have also written a short story, a poem, and a couple of articles. I have played Adventure Time Card Wars, and completed puzzles in a puzzle book. I have been reading books, magazines, and my Spanish phrase book. I have even meditated. I tried watching TV, but my Spanish isn’t up to that level. And lastly, I’ve been cooking again, which I haven’t done on a regular basis since university (and I graduated in 2011).

So far, I’ve been distracting myself from thinking about my fear of everything I’m uncertain about, and it’s been working. It also helps to reflect back on what I learnt from the previous few months travelling and working in Vietnam. I’ll being working mornings and evenings, with a big break in the afternoon. In Vietnam, like many language schools, it was similar deal. What I learnt was actually how adaptable I am, so knowing this about myself now has challenged preconceived notions of myself, and also means I can reassure myself that I will find my routine, but that there is no rush to do so. Meanwhile, I’ll try to enjoy a slower pace, and ease myself into what is a big change in terms of both job and country.

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Kuala Lumpur #Top5

  1. The Bad Boss

So, we weren’t in Malaysia long enough to be able to give a proper account, so here are just a few things I enjoyed whilst in Kuala Lumpur, where we stopped for a couple of nights before flying back to the UK. The Bad Boss was the best restaurant we went to, and we only tried it the night before we left. It also had the funny concept of having a bad boss and needing to let off steam, including gloves and punch bag.


  1. Fresh Smoothies

Smoothies can be hit and miss in Asia. I remember them being so good in Thailand, but in other countries they sometimes add milk. When it’s a nice sour drink like pineapple or lemon, that’s not what I want! But there was a smoothie place in a mall and it was soooo good!



There’s a lot of high-rise buildings, and a few places to view the landscape. It was a bit murky on our visit, but we went up the observation tower, and did some fun little extras that were included, like going to a mini-zoo where we held parrots, which was cool.


  1. Parks

In between the mass of buildings, there are some nice park areas to walk around, and they give Kuala Lumpur a nice relaxed vibe. There was one park that was really big and worth exploring more, but we got dehydrated and hungry!


  1. Markets

When we got hungry, we also went to a cool tea shop and found out all about different teas and tried some out. I did a bit of shopping in the markets in Chinatown and replaced two pairs of comfy trousers that had got really holey on my travels!

Tips: I would say that the main thing would be to get out of Kuala Lumpur, and go for more time to explore the rest of Malaysia as my friend did this from Thailand and it looked like it had some glorious beaches.


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Indonesia #Top5

  1. Silver workshop Ubud

When people show pictures of their travels, they’re most likely all smiles and never show just how varied the experience can be. Yes, I laughed, but I also cried, got stressed out, got scared. It’s life, just somewhere else. It’s not perfect. And damn, those clear turquoise waters look perfect, but they are also not always perfect… more on that later. The silver workshop I attended in Ubud, Bali, was a personal highlight because it encapsulated a time that wasn’t always easy, but I wanted to appreciate every moment. I made a moon crescent ring, which reminded me of the sky in Thailand, and engraved the word “gratitude” as a reminder to myself. For me, it’s a symbol of strength and shows me how I can be resilient and that my positive attitude towards life will always see me through.


  1. Cremation ceremonies, Ubud

In Ubud, despite the shocking amounts of tourists, you do get to learn about the culture simply from being there. We were in a homestay, and we were told all about it by the family, who told us how they build a temple and that every household has the same tradition, including a place for drying and storing rice. We were also told about the cremation ceremonies, and there was a large one when we were there as one of the members of the royal family has recently passed away. Sadly, it clashed with my booking for the silver workshop and I didn’t manage to shake my refusal to be purposefully late for something. However, of what I saw of the ceremony, it was more of a celebration of life, with hundreds of people gathering, a parade with lots of music, and lots of decoration.


  1. Silent Meditation Retreat, Ubud

I went here for a day, and it wasn’t completely silent, but it made me feel so refreshed and relaxed. It reminded me of what someone had recently said about bringing these elements into your daily life, and that you don’t always need to go on holiday to do the things you enjoy doing on holiday – such as swimming, reading and lying down! So, no swimming here, but we started with a rice terrace walk, where we were guided through the surrounding nature. The day was then filled with eating truly wholesome food, yoga and meditation, and reading on sofas and hammocks, ending with some star-staring.


  1. Sengiggi and Gili Islands

We used Sengiggi as a base for going to the Gili Islands, and although there wasn’t much there, the sparkly sea was really nice to swim in, and there was hardly anyone there. One morning we were literally the only people in the water. We went to Gili Meno and Gili Air. It would have been nice to spend longer on Gili Meno, and it was nice, but the water was very shallow where we were, with lots of coral, and then I stepped on a sea urchin just to make life a bit more difficult! Thankfully it wasn’t anything major, so we took local advice to bash it with coral and, hopefully, I shouldn’t have any long-term issues from it. Gili Air we walked around the whole of, and it certainly is a luxury to be somewhere with no motorised transport. The food here was also incredible – with ate a lot of Gaddo Gaddo, which is basically a vegetarian dish with lots of satay sauce!


  1. Dance, Ubud

I saw a shadow puppet show, but it was the dancing that stole the show in Ubud! If we were there longer, I would want to see more. Again, the story was hard to follow simply through dance, but it was a similar one (I’d actually just been reading myths and legends before I went away). The kecak and fire trance dance was really hypnotising and a truly unique experience, with the sounds of men’s voices creating the music, and the main dance, plus the trance dance that involved moving in the fire’s embers.


Tips: The main issue we had was getting to the Gili Islands. We were told we would be on the 10.15am boat, and had actually got up quite early, only to be made to wait for ages, conned into spending more money on a horse and cart, which we didn’t use because we got up and walked for five minutes instead. We then watched the completely packed boat go away, before one of the staff we booked with gave us the boat ticket. We had no information, and after an hour of waiting I found out it was possible we would need to wait until 4pm, when the last boat would leave, to see if the boat fills up. Long story short, we ended up leaving another hour later, only because my boyfriend figured out the best option was to pay the rest of the money to get the remaining tickets. Because it was so late in the day, this meant that the waves were worse and again I feared for my life as it felt as if the boat would tip, but thankfully we made it! The rest of the boat experiences were more positive and less rocky.

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Singapore #Top 5

  1. Poetry night

While it may not be the number one for everyone, as a poet, getting to read some new poems at a night in another country was an incredible highlight. It was just like any other night, but so surreal to think I was in Singapore. It was such a contrast to come to a country where you just slot in, and people don’t hold you on a pedestal. Everyone was so talented, and the content and perspective of the people there was so interesting, not to mention the range of different accents and the use of Singlish. I loved the area that it was in, and it made me feel I could live there, but I just don’t know what I would do there as English is an official language there. It’s nights like this that give you a real sense of the place, so I would recommend it to everyone.


  1. Gardens by the Bay

Singapore is clean and immaculately designed, including its gardens. We saw the sunset as these gardens lit up. There was a lightshow with the “supertrees”, but nearby there was also a light and water show to music, and that was pretty spectacular to see. The thing about Singapore is that there is also a relaxed vibe to it. The transport can get a bit crowded at times, but nothing compared to the over-crowding in London, where I’m from, and there aren’t nearly as many people in terms of the ratio to space, so just that feeling of it being more spacious makes you feel good when strolling around.


  1. Botanic Gardens

We went here on the morning of our flight, getting up at 6am in order to make the most of the little time we had in Singapore. Yet again, another aspect of Singapore that made me imagine living there. It was so peaceful and beautiful to walk around, sit and talk, and there were a few runners about too.


  1. Sestona Beach

What more could you ask for with a city but it having a beach? Whilst I didn’t get to swim in it, we had fun walking around the island and looking from the viewpoint there. There’s also a theme park there, which we didn’t go to. We tried to spend as little money as possible, because, unlike the rest of South East Asia, it is more expensive due to being richer and more Westernised. There’s plenty of entertainment we didn’t explore such as the different zoos (without cages).


  1. Chinatown and Little India

In between the shiny parts of Singapore are Chinatown and Little India. We ate in these parts a couple of times, as well as in a mall food court. The Indian food we had on the first night was so different and flavoursome, and completely vegetarian. The dish in Chinatown was super simple: noodles, soy and chicken, but – oh my god – I had not had chicken like that in months because it was a lot of breast meat from a rotisserie and cooked to perfection. It was also cool to walk around in these areas, which could be really colourful, and you could also come across different places of worship, which had sections cornered off for worship, as well as some sarongs to borrow to cover up.


Tips: Get a travel-card for your time there, which allows you to travel through the whole city and save money. You simply hand it back at the airport station to get your deposit back. I also had an out of date map, which told me the incorrect stations, so make sure to double check the nearest station online. Our hostel, Bunc Hostel, was great because they gave you a smart device that meant you could use maps and the internet on the go. You just have to return it undamaged at the end of your stay!


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Laos #Top5

  1. Outdoor activities, Vang Vieng

It seems that most people come to Vang Vieng to get ridiculously drunk or do sports activities, and in some cases, both. Being that my partner doesn’t drink and I’m not very interested in travelling half-way across the world just to drink lots, we found that Vang Vieng was all about adventure. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in over a decade, and I enjoyed it so much that I carried on through the tropical rain, until I had to stop because my eyes stung and I couldn’t see anymore. We also rented a buggy, which probably would have been fun, but it was extremely muddy and I was not a happy bunny when it got on my phone. A big highlight for me was tubing. I wish I’d done it twice as I was a bit scared of what was coming the first time – especially with the sound of rapids sounding like waterfall! It was nice to stop off and have a lemonade or a beer and then continue down the river. We also went on a motorbike and this revealed the main reason for the 7-8 hours journey from Luang Prabang: the scenery. Like Cat Ba, riding on the bike through the landscape is all you really need to have a good time when the surroundings are so beautiful.


  1. Waterfall, Luang Prabang

Just a half-hour ride away from the centre of Luang Prabang is a waterfall. You will hear many drivers trying to tempt you to go, and it was well worth it. We rose to the challenge of climbing to the top, clutching onto braches so not to fall, as it got incredibly steep and was quite slippery. We then walked back down and rewarded ourselves with a swim in the last pool. You had to navigate the slippery rocks, trying not to be pushed down by the force of the water, and on top of that, it was freezing cold. It was refreshing though and, after some time, it warmed up. At the entrance there was also a small bear sanctuary, and so it was nice to see a couple of bears play-fighting together.


  1. Night Markets, Luang Prabang

I did a lot of shopping at this market, but it also had a lot of great street food and some lovely fruit smoothies too. One of my favourite purchases were key-rings and jewellery made from old bombs that the US had dropped on Laos. Before thinking about going to South East Asia, I knew so little about these countries, and Laos was probably the one I knew least about. I was shocked to find out that the US dropped more bombs on Laos, than the collective total in WWII. This is something still affecting people today, with the danger of undetonated bombs, but these pieces of jewellery were creating a message of peace from this horrible history. It’s also worth going to the Ethnology museum to find out more about the culture, and support the local communities by buying some of their products. I spent the most money here on shopping, but as the poorest country of all we visited, I felt like it was worth it.


  1. Traditional Theatre, Luang Prabang

Although there had been a lot of stunning temples and architecture, I felt deprived of the performing arts. It was difficult to interpret, and quite lengthy, but it was also fascinating to see traditional day at the Royal Theatre in Luang Prabang. You were presented with the story to help you understand the dance, and piece bits together as you watched. As the performers took their bow, you could see the sweat dripping from their faces once their masks were removed, and their chests moving from heavy breathing – they worked so hard at putting on the show; I felt lucky to catch it.


  1. Food

Like everywhere we went, one of the things I loved to do most was to eat. Unlike some of the other countries, like Thailand and Vietnam, I had never been to a Lao restaurant. Some of it was similar to Thai food, but they also had unique dishes, and one night I took a risk and had some traditional sausage with sticky rice that you then dip into spicy sauce. It was delicious.


Tips: Be aware that there are very long distances between places. We had ten days, so only ended up in two places. We would have needed a bit more to fit in three, but really could have done the two in just eight days. The routes were winding the whole way, and the return to Luang Prabang was particularly dangerous, and I feared for my life as it speeded and overtook vehicles on a cliff edge, with oncoming traffic you couldn’t see because the cloud was so low down (all this during the pouring rain too). You will feel sick, whether you usually do or not. It says it takes four hours, but it takes at least 6 or 7, if not 8. And if you go on the buggies, don’t take your valuables out of waterproof covers until you are outside the buggy in case your driver does what my boyfriend did, and be aware that they may not have mud-guards on the wheels, so wear waterproofs and some sort of eye-protection. Then you might enjoy it despite mud being splattered at you. And I wished I hadn’t worried so much about the tubing, because it’s pretty safe as long as you don’t drink too much, and you pay attention to where the end comes up.

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Vietnam #Top5

  1. Cat Ba Island

I went here twice, and both times were amazing in their own way. The best part about Cat Ba island was that the roads aren’t busy, and you can drive through on a moped so easily (though not me, unfortunately I was useless and had to go on the bank of my boyfriend’s bike). It gave me an unbelievable sense of freedom and relaxation. We did it for so long that my bum hurt a lot afterwards. It also has an amazing walk to mountain-top views, as well as various caves, animals, and – of course – three beaches. The waves were pretty big when we were there, but the water was otherwise nice. It just meant you would go under a few times.


  1. Da Nang

Although this was another place that seemed to be infested with sea-lice, as well as an incredible amount of jellyfish, it was well worth the visit (once we’d found some nice roof-top pools). I really enjoyed the food here, from the fried rice to the spicy squid. It was also very pretty, with sights such as the dragon bridge, and it was fun, as you could also have a go on a segeway nearby. We also went to see the Lady Buddha, which was a fantastic temple site, but also provided wide views of the coast. On the walk back, we were invited to eat with a group of Vietnamese women at another wonderfully colourful temple. So, as well as the usual tourist attractions, you’re bound to have experiences like this that show you the generosity of humanity.


  1. Ninh Binh

You can’t do much in Ninh Binh without transport; we had a taxi service the first day, but I would say that a moped is the best way to get about. The highlight of this area, which is more of a base for areas just outside Ninh Binh, was the row boat through the caves. It was incredibly serene, and was amazing to go through these caves and think that you’re actually under a mountain, which you were also surrounded by in the beautiful landscape. There was also a modern temple that spanned an extremely large area, and it was really interesting because, whilst it seemed a lot of the older temples tried to replicate the Buddha image, here it seemed to deliberately have differences in each one, whether subtle or obvious. Each statue was filled with character and more women were also featured.


  1. Hanoi

There is so much to see in Hanoi, and whilst most of it is very busy, there are quieter parts. I have to admit, as I was living there, I did use my visits to eat some Western food, but the Vietnamese food was also very good, including the chicken (which was not so good where I was based, in Haiphong). The massive lakes and beautiful parks were lovely to walk through, there were some good shops where I got souvenirs and clothes (I already wrote a whole feature on the Gingko brand) and the art galleries and museums are enough to keep you coming back for more.


  1. Living

Haiphong isn’t somewhere you would go as a tourist, other than to get to Halong Bay and Cat Ba island. The worst thing about living there is that being a “farang” (foreigner) you stand out a lot, and as someone who is self-conscious anyway, it is really disconcerting to constantly be looked at, and it does become a challenge to always be greeted “hello” by strangers, especially when walking alone, especially when some men also turn a friendly thing into a cat-call. That said, despite these difficulties, I will look back on my time in Haiphong with fondness. Despite the rats, the ant-trails, and the humidity. I enjoyed my time teaching there – the students were (mostly) a pleasure to work with, and I got into a routine with the schedule. There were some nice lakes to walk around, lots of places to eat great street food (satay pancakes will be missed) and a cinema, which I frequented regularly. I didn’t have a chicken and supermarket food was expensive, so I got to eat out every night – living the dream indeed.


Tips: There are also some scams in Vietnam, but different ones to those in Thailand. Here are some of the ones we found:

  1. In Hanoi, women will put their baskets of food on your shoulder and ask you take photos. They will then want to charge you for this.
  2. In Ninh Binh, the people rowing the boat will go to a boat with different snacks, and they will suggest you buy something for them. They will then also ask for a tip despite the fact you have paid way too much money, and they will simply sell back the refreshments you bought specifically for them to consume, which I had read before we got scammed.
  3. My boyfriend was stopped by a shoe repairer, and he agreed to have them buffed, but then the man proceeded to resole the shoes and refused to tell him how much it would cost as he was doing it, and ended up being quite rude. He had a knife in his hand to cut the sole, so it was a potentially scary situation.
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