Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

On route to London, we had to make a stop, so we decided to spend a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We arrived in the evening and ate a pretty mediocre meal at a nearby restaurant. The hotel was average – it had two rooms, making it really spacious, and the beds were comfortable. However, the bathroom was a bit grubby and little things like not having breakfast included, and the tax being added onto the quoted price, meant that it could have been better. But still, nothing to complain about too much. There was also a pool, and we took our first dip that night.

We booked a free shuttle service for the next morning at 11.30am, so we had a lazy morning. We arrived in the city centre, and popped in the Pavillon, before walking to find some food. We ate a cheap but quite tasty. We managed to walk to most places that day, and we spent a lot of the afternoon at the Menara Tower. We went to the observation deck, and although it was quite misty outside, it was still cool to walk around. 

We had a pack of activities with the ticket, which included a 6D cinema experience, a F1 driving game, an aquarium, a zoo, and an up-side-down house. The best part of this, aside from being quite fun to do kiddy things, was seeing such a wide variety of fish, and holding parrots! 

Next we walked to the Petronas Towers, though we didn’t go up. We walked around the park, which was really nice. I had expected Kuala Lumpur to be similar to Singapore, having spoken to another couple about it. It wasn’t quite as swish and shiny, and it felt bigger and not quite as easy to get around (but still walkable) but it had a relaxed vibe to it that I liked. We ate in the mall and also had these delicious fruit smoothies! 

We then tried to figure out the trains, which are easy enough… if you can find the station! We eventually got to it but the hotel had given confusing information, so we ended up walking around the wrong station. Eventually we made it back and knew where to go the next day. We had another evening pool session and another late night.

The next morning we started only slightly earlier than before. Maybe I’m getting a bit tired travelling around so much, but it feels like my capacity for long days is lessening, and I woke up with my feet still aching from the previous day’s walking. We got the train to Masjid Jamek with the plan to walk from there to park. Sadly, around the mosque was under construction, so we were unable to get a close look, but it looked more traditional than the ultra-modern architecture of the National Mosque. 

We walked through Merdeka Square, where we stumbled upon what looked like a big rehearsal for a dance routine. My boyfriend was approached by a man who asked him to speak on camera and wish Malaysia a happy 59th Independence Day, telling us that it was oh forefathers who had colonised them. My boyfriend had found this out on the taxi ride from the airport, but I had read up on it previously… To be honest, there’s probably not many countries that the British haven’t colonised, and being faced with it in such an up-front way was a stark reminder, but an important one. I’ve often found that people will address my boyfriend before me, and have even spoken as if I’m not there, saying complimentary things, but nevertheless, in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with. 

My boyfriend was embarrassed by the whole situation, and joked that I would have been better to ask to speak. As someone who performs poetry, I couldn’t help but agree, bug instead I stood there silent, as he introduced both of us to the camera, and I fought back the urge to chime in and force them to do a third take. It felt strange to stand there like a magician’s assistant, for my boyfriend to be addressed as “sir”, and for him to be told things such as “she’s pretty, like a doll”. Culturally, it gets into that sticky situation whereby you’re faced with your white privilege, and when my boyfriend tells the girl complimenting me that’s she very pretty too, something I may be a tad jealous about otherwise, I am glad and wish I had said it myself, but then I’m a bit awkward in those situations. 

We walked on towards the park and got to the Islamic Arts Museum. It was highly rated in my guidebook, and though interesting and informative, it wasn’t as extensive a I expected. The highlight was the photography exhibition upstairs, which included a range of pieces, some that wet visually stunning, some creative and humorous, and others extremely emotive, such as one piece with a family breaking fast at their ruined house on the Northern Gaza Strip, taken by Nidal Alwahidi, which had me choking back tears.

We carried on into the park, but by then we were extremely thirsty and so once we got to the other side, we caught a train to Chinatown, where we ate a cheap meal and spent sometime tasting Chinese tea at a tea shop. We walked through the market streets, and I bought a couple of pairs of loose trousers to replace the two that were ruined over my time travelling. We were pretty tired by that point, so we headed back on the train. 

I had a swim in the pool and read a bit outside; though it wasn’t sunny, it was still warm. I felt a bit awkward because the women covered up when they swam, or sat on the side fully-clothed. Still, I think that would be the same if it was the other way round, if you were covered up whilst others were not. It’s mostly in your head. In the light of the Burkini ban news in France, I think everyone should be able to wear what they want. Though I became paranoid when I noticed the hotel had put up an extra sign about appropriate swimming attire. Though there was a dad who was swinging his trunks in the air and laughing the other night. And the award for most embarrassing dad goes to… 

I used to cover up my thighs with a skirt and never showed my stomach, but I got to the age of about 19 or 20 and went on holiday with friends for the first time and it felt like it would be more strange for me to cover up than it would be for me to just wear what everyone else wore. It was my first time in a bikini. So, for me personally, wearing a bikini is somewhat empowering, even though that might seem silly to others. To me, it reminds me that our bodies are just bodies and not inherently sexual. I love seeing a range of shapes and sizes in bikinis because it really works at dispelling the myth of the whole beach/bikini body thing, and there’s something really humanising about it… I’m not sure that’s the right word, but I’m too tired to think.

Anyway, we had a meal at a great find called The Bad Boss, which actually has a punching bag and is supposedly a place where workers can let of steam. The food was great and the dark hot chocolate was delicious! We actually plan to go there again tomorrow before our flight, and I’ll see if I can get up early enough to fit in one last swim in my bikini! 

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Indonesia Part Two: Lombok and the Gili Islands

Thankfully Lombok didn’t rain at all during our trip – it was meant to be the dry season in Indonesia after all, hence why I timed it for the end. We were based in Sengiggi in order to go to the port in Bangsal and go to the Gili islands, storing our luggage at the hotel. The place wasn’t that great (the bathrooms weren’t very clean), but it had a pool and was literally across the road from the beach. 

The sea here was probably one of the best of the trip – calm, clear water and nice sandy shores. So, we spent that afternoon swimming and relaxing in the sun before having a very disappointing meal, where there was also a power cut. Some people had reserved a big table there – I can’t imagine why! 

The next day we went on a shuttle to the port that I had arranged, and booked a return with the same company. To be fair, it mostly went smoothly, but they have a really bad first impression that day. We arrived near the port where their office was, only to be told to wait about an hour until 10.15am, when the boat would leave. It was coming up to 10am when we were escorted to a horse-and-cart and asked to pay an extra 50k. We refused and we caught up with another couple who had done the same. We arrived and the boat was leaving, completely overloaded with people. We were going to Gili Meno, and after an hour of waiting with no information, I went to find out what was going on and because Gili Meno is quieter, we had to wait for more people to come to fill the boat, which could take until 4pm when the last boat leaves. After lots of back-and-forth discussions with other tourists and a guy who claimed to work there, my boyfriend had the idea of buying all the remaining tickets. Sadly, others didn’t pay him back enough of the money he paid, as we had agreed at that point we would pay 50k each, when actually it was only 20k each to buy the remaining tickets. However, with less people and coming up to midday, I began to fear for my life as the boat travelled to Gili Meno, completely open, life-jackets impossible to reach. Most people seemed calm, but the girl next to me was also worried, and we laughed that we had made it on arrival.

We were really hungry again, but it seemed things were against us as after checking-in, the place we sat down at ended up forgetting our order, so we didn’t eat until around 3pm. The place we were staying looked nice, but the bathroom was totally exposed, so anyone could see you on the toilet. That evening I was also irritated that the DVD player was impossible to get to work. Anyway, it had seemed things were looking up when we were swimming in the beautiful, crystal-blue waters of the island. 

However, it wasn’t long before I ended up stepping on a sea urchin. My boyfriend picked part of it out, but I didn’t realise that I had 3 pricks and it was agonising. I had shook him as he snorkelled, and I was thankful I did, because it’s not like me to ask for help so urgently in these situations, but you never know what lurks in the sea! A couple of local people said the traditional remedy was to kill the venom by hitting it with coral. They said that way it won’t hurt at night, and that if you didn’t do that you would not sleep that night. I don’t know how true that was, and my boyfriend also kindly hacked at my feet with some tweezers and I seem to be okay. I’ll ask my doctor about it, but it was probably lucky I didn’t have the Internet at that time because sometimes you need it surgically removed, and it can present long-term health problems. I really hope it’s okay and I’m feeling fortunate that it was only three pricks, when others have had lots more.

I spent the rest of the day reading in the sun, whilst my boyfriend snorkelled. I took another dip because it was too tempting, and also had another swim before the boat in the morning. That evening set the tone for the rest of the Gilis and Lombok – beautiful sunsets and good food. 

Although the water looks lovely, not all of it is good for swimming. When we arrived at Gili Air, we swam on a stretch of water that was shallow and could be painful when standing or walking due to the coral. We ended up spending most of the afternoon walking around the island, and eventually found a cheaper place to stay for our second night, which happened to be right outside our accommodation for that night. We swam in the pool while we had it, enjoyed some sunset dining, and watched a film called “About Time” on the DVD player, which worked but sadly went very jumpy at the end, when we looked, we saw lots of the discs had scratches and stains, almost as if they had been used as coasters rather than for entertainment.

The next day I squeezed in a morning pool session after breakfast, then checked into the new place. It was about three times cheaper, but literally just a room and balcony, with a toilet across the street. That said, it was the only place directly on the beach. That day we headed to Scallywags, as that was where I read the best part of the beach was for swimming, and it was also the most congregated. 

I finished my book, and went for a walk, finding only old books that didn’t appeal to me, or were too big for me to carry. I went back and got a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It turns out I’m familiar with a lot of the stories in it, but it also made me think that I should have read it before Shakespeare. For example, Titus Andronicus takes segments of it directly, and yet I couldn’t know that context without reading it. 

I spent the day in and out of the water, and we ate after watching the sunset from our balcony. We returned to Sengiggi the next day and did more of the same, as well as making use of the pool there. We had another full day between the beach and pool, and had a couple of good meals there, including one with live music, where I drank some local beer. On the last night, my boyfriend bought us some wooden pendant necklaces with geckos, or “mosquito killers” as the guy selling them said. It was a nice souvenir, considering they are something that has been with us throughout our time in SE Asia.

The next morning we left for Kuala Lumpur – our last stop before home.

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Indonesia Part One: Bali

Like Laos, landing in Bali smelt of incense, but neither were quite what I expected. We arrived late at night and the taxi whizzed past big bars and large ornamental structures lit up in the night’s darkness. We were greeted by a bed with an elephant towel design and petals scattered around it. We had a pool with fountains, and a garden view, and the next morning we explored the grounds. Our host told us that every family has a temple, and she explained the function of various parts, stating that traditionally the home is small and the temple makes up most of the living area, whether used for ceremonies or everyday tasks such as getting rice.

It rained most of our first day, and on the long way round to the monkey forest, we stopped to eat and got a platter of twelve bite-size traditional Balinese dishes. We didn’t know it then, but that was our first try of Tempe. Once the rain had lessened, we carried on our way, and eventually it stopped, and the clouds cleared to make way for a glorious sun. 

Monkey Forest is a sacred place, with temples not open to the public. You could buy bananas to feed the monkeys, which my boyfriend did (and they went away very quickly – those cheeky monkeys!) It could be scary when they ran after each other and fought, as well as seeing them climb on people, but thankfully I was able to just watch from a safe distance. The forest is worth going just to look at the greenery and waterfalls. It was definitely the major selling point for Ubud, which was a lot busier than I expected. The traffic was unmoving at certain points, and I had the displeasure of having an American man yell at me to watch where I was going, when in fact I had seen him and he had not seen me cross the road in front of him. I’d also had an immigration officer on a power trip patronise me when I wanted to double check the visa exemption was correct as I had checked and there was different information available for Indonesia, and one source said a visa was needed and cost $20. That was thankfully incorrect, meaning we saved money, but the interaction left a sour taste in my mouth.

That night we spent at least an hour looking for Pondok Bambu, and I was thankful to get there on time as I had the wrong start time from the Internet, which was proving ever-more ill-informed. I used to go to the Little Angel Puppet Theatre with my Gran in London, and I wanted to see a shadow puppet show in Bali, and to show my boyfriend one. Sadly, it didn’t measure up. The music and atmosphere was good, but the place was quite dirty and amateur, with the puppets not fully placed down. I didn’t know quite what to make of the mixture of languages, but it’s likely there were better shows in Ubud.

The next day I had booked the Bali Silent Retreat, and we were up early for the taxi, which arrived around 8.30am. After breakfast there, we went on a rice terrace walk. This part wasn’t silent, and I wished we had water with us because it was about 3 hours long, but it felt like a good start to the day. We had lunch, then soon after was the yoga and meditation programme. I enjoyed this part, but was quite embarrassed that I felt asleep during the first half hour of meditation and when I say up, I saw that I was the last one. To be honest, when we had to promise to ourselves that we went going to fall asleep, I didn’t trust myself. I really didn’t want to sleep though as it always makes me feel sick! 

I had read a bit of the Grimms Tales, but later that afternoon I started “An Abundance of Katherines” after doing a labyrinth walking meditation. I ended up buying it to pick up when I get home after reading it for hours. I felt like me reading was a bit of a cheat as it meant I wasn’t really meditation, but after eating again I read all afternoon into the sunset, where I moved from the indoor sofas to the outdoor hammock, then stared at the stars until I got too cold. We were picked up at 8pm and I had never felt so relaxed and at peace.

The next day we were told there was a mass cremation and as we approached, there were hundreds of people gathered. Most tourists were wearing sarongs, and so we were ripped off a bit buying one each; I didn’t mind if it meant showing respect as it was a cremation after all. There were already smaller parts burning, but one of the royal family had died, and for that there was a grand ceremony with marching and lots of drumming. It was very drawn out, and I left my boyfriend there to make our booking at the silver workshop.

Though he came soon after, it was a shame he didn’t stay on longer as he wasn’t as impressed by the silver workshop. I left happy with my crescent moon ring, where I engraved the word “gratitude” into it, which I think will serve to be a useful reminder in future. Being away I’ve very much felt still with myself, and it hasn’t felt transformative or given me whatever grand thing you’re meant to feel when travelling. I didn’t come here to “find myself”. I know myself pretty well already. But it has given me a wealth of experiences, and lots of time to think and reflect. Away from pressures I’ve put on myself, I now write this whilst missing a poetry night I was very much looking forward to attending and reading at in Kuala Lumpur. So, not much has changed there. I’m still putting these expectations on myself and others and left feeling disappointed when they’re not met.

That night I ended up seeing a Kecak Fire and Trance show alone. I thought it was incredible. It turned out I already knew the story as I’d been reading lots of myths and legends prior to going away. But understanding the story didn’t matter as it was just amazing to hear the sounds along with the visuals of the dancing. It was something that couldn’t be captured, though I tried in photographs. Something about it was really powerful and meditative, though at the same time I laughed with another tourist as we both failed to time a photograph. It was perhaps an hour and a half long, but unlike other shows I’ve seen, it didn’t feel long at all and something about watching it was quite healing, and I didn’t get to go to a healer, so that was as close as I was going to get. 

It takes a lifetime to heal old wounds, and we keep getting new ones, but still we carry on. Just like these never-ending mosquito bites…

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Singapore was our first stay in a non-private room. It was a capsule hotel called “Bunc Hostel”, and I’m pretty sure it said we would have privacy screens, but in reality it was just like any other hostel, except we had a double bed, our storage was within the bed, and it was very neat and clean. There was something I liked about it though – things like the zines that lined the common room walls, and just the general aesthetics of the place. Plus, they gave you a device that was basically like a phone to help you navigate the city. As we were only there for one day in total, it was really useful! 

That first night we went out locally, in Little India, and had a range of dishes we hadn’t tried before at a really cheap price. We made our way to destination:ink at Blu Jaz, where an amazing international network of poets arranged for me to read some poems at. Beforehand, we stopped off at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali. 

We arrived at a part of town where I felt completely at home at – one of the things that made me feel I could live there. I was second on, which meant I could sit back and relax to enjoy the show afterwards. I shared two new pieces and it felt good to be on stage again. It was fascinating to hear everyone read. Firstly, the poetry was all amazing, and incredibly varied. There was music too and each one deserved to be big, because they were all so talented. Secondly, it was interesting to hear the range of English accents, as well as the use of Singlish. I even bought a Singlish dictionary and hope that maybe I can write a poem inspired by it. I met a poet who had been in London for four years, who I had crossed paths with, as well as someone who is coming to study in London – just as I am leaving!

The next day was the only full day we had, so we bought a tourist travel pass and walked around Little India and Chinatown. There were incredibly colourful buildings, a mixture of different languages, street art, and places of worship. And we managed to get a cheap meal at a place in Chinatown – soy sauce, noodles and some of the best chicken I’ve had in ages, straight of the rotisserie. 

We tried to get to the Botanic Gardens and failed because my guidebook is a couple of years outdated and it didn’t say there was a stop right outside it, and the stop we came off was too long a walk and we couldn’t figure out a bus route. So we decided to view a bit of Singapore from a bus, once I had found one that went towards Sentosa. Being us, we got off at the wrong stop, but got some cool views from a boat port area. They asked for S$10 for a bottle of water; we asked for tap water instead. 

We managed to get to the right area after a bit of a walk, and then ride over to the beach. With no swimwear on, and not much time, we soaked up the views and some afternoon sun. We stopped off and saw a kind of fake Merlion that you could climb inside, before heading back to the mainland. 

The next stop was Marina Bay Sands, which was a grand building that joined three large towers, and led us to Gardens by the Bay. We walked around and looked at the impressive “sci-fi” trees, which were all lit up. We watched a bit of the light show they had there, but quickly dashed back to the water and light show that was on the other side of the big building. This show was really spectacular.

We ate at the food court, determined we would get up early to discover more of Singapore. Thankfully, we did get up and at some point I also realised there is a “Botanic Gardens” stop, so we went there first and it was such a lovely way to spend the early morning. Already warm, there was a nice freshness to the air that you don’t get in other places in SE Asia. The population isn’t too high, so everything felt more spacious, rather than the crowded London I know. Like my friend had said, this was one place I could see myself living. It has all the Western comforts you get used to, but the cultural landscape is amazing, the poetry scene is alive and kicking, and we didn’t even touch upon the art galleries and museums.

The morning of our flight, we saw a few pieces of art after a quick detour from the official Merloin. The figure, spurting out water, made an amazing scene of Singapore’s high-rise buildings. We felt glad that we had made the most of the morning instead of having a lay-in. All that walking meant my feet ached a lot – and at the airport, we found just what we needed, which was a device where you put your legs in this massage device and, it was so good it almost felt like real fingers using reflexology. We were sad to leave, but had hope that we would return for longer one day.

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Lao – Vang Vieng

My main attraction to Vang Vieng was for tubing down the river, having seen my friend do it on her travels. I didn’t quite get that it was meant as a party destination, and with a non-drinking boyfriend, that wasn’t really what I came there for – hoping for more nature than anything else. As I write this, I’m on my final night, sitting on the balcony of a private room, looking across at mountains and trees, the flow of the river Nam Song below. 

The first night we got here, we decided to cancel the Organic Farm once we found it wasn’t central. It had said it was central online, so I felt a bit cheated, and having spent seven hours on winding roads, albeit with fantastic views, we just crashed at the first place we saw. I booked Chillao Youth Hostel as it seemed like fun and the breakfast looked great. However, I was then kept up by horror stories from my friend and people online about this hostel – people drinking whisky at 10am, peeing and vomiting up the walls and in showers, as well as staff stealing from someone’s private room. That I night I was kept up by drunk people from Gary’s Irish Pub, but more so my own anxieties about what could happen at the hostel. I made a swift decision at midnight to cancel and then try to get our booking at the Organic Farm.
The next morning, we get a tuktuk there as soon as we woke up. We were tempted by the balcony and the swings at. The bottom, but regret not picking the cleaner and air-conditioned room. It also had twin beds, and sharing one fan has not been fun. I feel pretty silly for staying near the river too, as my blood type (negative O) means I’m more prone to bites, and being in a country that is high risk for malaria and dengue fever adds another layer of anxiety to being covered by these horrible sores. There were also holes in the mosquito nets, and the bathroom had little protection from insects getting in, meaning lots of ants were everywhere. We had a nice breakfast (which I was shocked wasn’t included at all, considering the price of the place) but it took a whole day for it to be removed – ants were everywhere!

But less about the accommodation, and more about the place. At worst it felt like it could be anywhere that they’ve stuck a bunch of tourist activities on, and at best it was a haven of relaxation and fresh air. It’s been eventful… which is why we needed a but of a beak this afternoon. The first day we went back into the town, and by the time we got round to doing that, we ate lunch before doing anything but walk around the area. Initially just wanting a snack, I got a cookie and drink from the bakery, which was really good. We ate far too many times at a place called ‘Arena’ – we could have had cheaper meals, but this one tasted so good, especially the chicken satay, spring rolls and Pad Thai. 

We hired bikes afterwards, once I realised I had a photocopy of my passport that one place took – you need it as a despot to do basically anything, but I’d read that it was dodgy to do this, so wanted to avoid it… plus, we had forgotten our passports and Organic Farm is a 45minute walk, which we had just travelled for the purpose of hiring bikes. Anyway, it was the first time I had ridden a bicycle since I was at least eleven years old, so about 15/16 years ago! It’s true what they say… I was able to do it all right, though my bum ached (and still does). Even in the rain I loved it. I felt like a child again, getting wet and not caring. In this rain, you would also see Lao children playing, naked in the street. In fact, on our journey down there were a few kids slipping and sliding in the rain. We dried off and changed before heading out again. Luckily, the rain stopped, but we tried to go to the waterfall and failed to make it before we had to return the bikes, but it was worth it for the scenery alone.

The next morning we went tubing. I got a little scared at times as I seemed to go down a lot faster than my boyfriend, and I guess I was just afraid of the unexpected – if I did it again, and if there were more people doing it, then I’d have enjoyed every minute. Some parts were like Rapids, but once you realised it wasn’t a waterfall you were hearing, those bits were the most fun. We followed the very small crowd of people from bar to bar, and the second one was the best – drinking Beerlao from a hammock and chatting to others was great fun. It was easy to see how you could spend the whole day there. But we spent about 4-5 hours doing it before we saw the sign indicating the end. There were two cows chilling where we were meant to get out, so we got out a little later beside the kayaks.

That afternoon we got a motorbike and just rode through the mountains for hours. It was like Cat Ba, so beautiful and hard to capture with cameras. It would be have been perfect, but there was a moment where I fell off the bike, thankfully it was still and I was just trying to get back on. I rolled down a hill, and by this point I ached a lot anyway, so the sunset was a little tainted by this, as well as having to rush back to drop the bike back in time. We ate at a place near the river which would have been nice to chill out at, but since moving to Organic Farm, we couldn’t risk staying too late. The night before we had walked 45 minutes, which wouldn’t haven’t been so bad in the cool night air, but the only light we had was from passing vehicles. A tuktuk back cost about 50k, which is around £5, so basically £1 a minute! 

Anyway, it was a great drive with amazing views, and I took this photo which really captures of the lively things I’ve found in Laos – family life, cute children and, in this case, paternal love.

Today has been tiring and stressful, but at the same time had its good points, having had new experiences. We rented a buggy out for off-road travel, but we hadn’t considered the rain would make it very muddy and had no protection whatsoever. I’m now praying my phone still works after my not-so-clever boyfriend sped into a muddy puddle just after telling me to take a photograph of the surroundings… I didn’t have much fun after that, especially as I was then bombarded by muddy puddles, and later on drier muddy ground, I had big chucks of mud flung at me. Needless to say, I was horribly muddy, and then when we stopped off the crawl into a cave, I could only half enjoy it, just wanting to be back on dry ground. The wheel of the buggy had no mud-guard, so I had it worse than my boyfriend, who drove us around, and the smell of petrol was a bit concerning, to say the least. That said, I also took the wheel for a bit and  it was really fun, just a shame the mud ruined things. On the way back we were held up by a funeral procession, and eventually after stopping behind it for a long time, had to go through the crowd, which was really embarrassing! It was interesting to see that a lot of women were dressed in white, there were monks leading the way, and a white casket was decorated with elaborate designs and carried on its own transport. Others followed behind on foot in multicoloured clothes. There and back we had to cross two bridges, one of which was extremely rickety and we worried about making it over! 

As I’ve said, it’s been eventful, and there are maybe some things I’ve missed out. For instance, at one point, my boyfriend nearly stepped on a snake when we were getting into our accommodation, and a massive spider fell on me at dinner once. We will probably have a wander around the farm here, and then get an early night for our return to Luang Prabang. 

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Lao PDR – Luang Prabang

Arriving in Luang Prabang, we shared a taxi with a couple of guys, who we ended up bumping into a couple more times in this small city. We checked into the guesthouse and went out to get some food, eating at a restaurant beside the night market, before going to bed.

We needed energy for the next day, which was a little too busy for such a relaxed place as Lao. We were in a great location for walking, and we did a lot of it! Starting at the Ethnology Museum, I was in luck to find the featured exhibition was focused on women, and I was told by a member of staff that the women work harder than the men – seemingly a general global predicament that women find themselves wanting to take advantage of new opportunities to progress themselves, but are also expected to do the majority of caregiving etc. I bought a hand-stitched ornament from their shop.

We walked to the Mekong river and wandered the streets. We eventually made it round to the Royal Palace Museum, and this was filled with such overwhelming wealth, as my boyfriend would say – it’s hard to put into words. We spent most of the day looking at some of the thirty-three temples Luang Prabang has to offer. All the streets were very neat and pretty, and it certainly didn’t feel like one of the poorest countries in the world at this point. Prices were higher than we were used to in Vietnam, but obviously a lot cheaper than in Western countries, and we afforded to eat in two very nice restaurants that day.

That evening we barely took a break and went to see a traditional Lao dance show at the theatre within the Royal Palace complex. I was so happy to see some arts, but it has made me think a lot about the privilege of the arts in a way I hadn’t considered before. To me, life has little meaning without the arts. Here, most people’s lives are a struggle, and can’t access art in the same way I am used to. On one hand, you can see from the traditional crafts such as the stitching and dying of fabrics, that art and creation are integral to our being as humans. On the other hand, there is a limitation to this, where traditional art forms perhaps struggle to find their place in modern society. There must be a balance between the two. 

Before I digress even further, I’ll continue to say that we went up to the Phu Si temple at night as my boyfriend had arranged to meet someone – we were late, and alas they were not there. Maybe we will visit again at sunset, or sunrise if we are ever able to get up so early! There were moths everywhere and my phone torch was dying, so we were down pretty fast! 

The next day was more chilled out. We booked a minivan to the Kuang Si falls, and booked our next trip for the following day to Vang Vieng. The walk started slow an steady, and we got to see bears that had been rescued.

The climb right to the top of the waterfall was a challenge. As I went up, I wondered why I was putting myself through it, how on trips with school, Woodcraft and family holidays I had moaned as a child about these things, and here I was putting myself through the same torture. I suppose it was the same thing that meant later that day, I did 50 lengths of the pool to relax. It was nice, but spoilt by some dude who decided to talk to me when funnily enough I wasn’t swimming to attract attention, and it couldn’t compare to the freezing cold water that pooled naturally at the waterfall. I wished we had more time to swim there in the sunshine.

That afternoon and evening we ate street food – crepes, fruit drinks, rice boxes and spring rolls. Laos has not disappointed on that front… Other than the meal we got with our bus ride today! We spent the evening at the night market and picked up a few souvenirs, one of which was a necklace made from aluminium from old bombs. One of the most important things to remember is that this country was bombed by the US more times than every country combined in the Second World War. The US have spent less money helping to clear the undetonated bombs than they did putting them there, and there are still 100 people who are injured or killed by these bombs each year, a lot of these people being children. I wanted to get this as a reminder, as well as to carry a message of peace.

Today we made the 7-8 hour trip (not 4 as advertised) to Vang Vieng from Luang Prabang. I was worried about the bags being on top at first, but an older French man made sure they had been secured as much as possible. The roads winded through the mountains, and although I’m sure it made everyone a little sick, the views we saw at various toilet stops were incredible. I’d never seen such cloud surrounding mountains like that. 

We’re having a bit of trouble with where to stay now, but hopefully we will figure things out. I’m just hoping the rain won’t be too bad, so we can still enjoy ourselves, having waited so long to travel whilst working. Tonight we ate a great meal and tomorrow we might even get to have a Full English breakfast, or else some lovely baked goods.

For now, my anxiety is building to the sound of Bohemian Rhapsody from Gary’s Irish Bar, as the rain pours down and I’m still learning how to deal with uncertainty, and throwing myself into it all.

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Da Nang

The first night in Da Nang and I enjoyed the locals on the beach in the evening. I wore my bikini, but didn’t end up swimming at that time. My boyfriend took a walk whilst I read my book, laying on my beach towel as the sun went down. By sunset, I started to worry about him and walked off to find him, though I said I’d stay in the same place. It was a silly idea and after half an hour, I’d reached the end and not found him, so turned back. I was worried I wouldn’t found my way, but luckily followed my mind map, which he always says he can do, and I picked the right route back to the hostel. It was dark and I was still wearing my sunglasses when I got back, but he wasn’t at the hostel and my glasses and contacts were locked in the bedroom. Thankfully, he arrived about give minutes later and we went out to eat at a disappointing Korean restaurant nearby.

The next day wasn’t without its drama due to our hostel messing us around a bit, but aside from that, things were looking up. We started off the day on a bit of a sour note, or rather as stinging one. Headed to swim in the beach after a nice breakfast, we saw tons of jellyfish. And although these seemed to be harmless, the water was reminiscent of that of the Phi Phi islands, and once again I was stung by sea-lice. After a couple dips I couldn’t take it anymore. 

We went back to the hotel, then had some lunch at a nearby street food restaurant, which was half the price and much better than the Korean place. We walked to a temple we had passed in the taxi, and then went to a roof-top pool I’d had found online. A la Carte (aka A la Fart, as it was renamed) wouldn’t let us use the pool, even though I read a review saying it was open to the public. Instead, we went to Diamond Sea, where we stayed until sunset. It was 115k and included free towels and a drink each. I spent the afternoon swimming and reading, finally feeling like I was on holiday after the intensity of teaching. 

I’d just finished my last day of teaching and we had a celebration dinner, with lots of drinks and music playing. It was great to mark the ending with a gathering of so many members of staff. A few of us then ended the night with a cocktail. 

That night in De Nang, I had a beer and some chips as we watched the sun set from the bar of the hotel. We then got changed for dinner and headed to the dragon bridge in a taxi. Away from the beach, but next to the river, Da Nang proved to be the perfect location for the few days leave I had, so picturesque, with plenty to do. We ate seafood at a street food restaurant on a side road, which was full of flavour, and were welcomed by a big party of locals, who gave us beer – my boyfriend forced to down his despite not even drinking alcohol! We then went on Segways, which was really fun. We had tried it before and I was better at it, and although my boyfriend picked it up this time, I was probably still a bit better… before I crashed into a table and chairs! It seems to have really taken off in Vietnam, which makes me wonder why is not as big in the UK. That said, people do have a lot of accidents with it; but surely not more than things like ice skating and rollerblading?

Anyway, the next day we went to the Lady Buddha, and explored the temple grounds. It was amazing to see the statue up close after having seen it from the other side, on the beach. We asked the taxi to drop us on the beach, then went into another temple, which was incredibly colourful and had a very positive atmosphere. We were even invited to eat by a big group of women. The kindness of some of the Vietnamese people like this is overwhelming, especially when you can’t speak the language – all you can communicate in are smiles.

We walked from the beach back to our hostel, which was a lot longer than I had estimated! We decided to go to another roof-top pool we had seen from the previous hotel. It was called Golden Sea hotel, and perhaps because they had two building sites either side of it (and I did get plaster blown onto me whilst there), we were let in for free. We bought a drink and enjoyed what was, for the most part, our own private pool and DJ. It looked directly onto the sea, as the pool was right on the edge of the roof. 

After getting changed, we got some food by the beach, and I got a local beer to drink on the beach, whilst my boyfriend had an evening dip. We also looked at the luminous creatures that glowed in the dark water, which was cool. Then, before heading back, we stumbled upon live music as part of a X-factor-style contest, which I think must have been the same competition I saw advertised at the cinema. One woman sang “Dancing Queen” by Abba, which amazed me as I had put it as my “favourite song” on the hostel’s information slips we filled in on arrival. I do like the song, but I wouldn’t normally have put it as my favourite song, so I was excited by this coincidence. 

We turned in for the night after an ice cream, and headed back to Haiphong the next day. I enjoyed a last cinema trip with one of my school friends to see the new Bourne film, which I was surprised to really enjoy, and didn’t fall to sleep despite my 6am rise. My boyfriend and I got an Indian takeaway and then joined a few of our new friends for one last passion fruit juice at or local, Happy Family. It was nice to have a goodbye, but so many people I didn’t get so say a proper goodbye to, but then I tend to prefer to slip out with a see-you-later.

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Cat Ba and Hanoi

The last couple of weekends I’ve been back to places rather than go to new ones. We went to Cat Ba, our favourite place in Vietnam (so far). The journey there was a lot choppier than previous journeys, and frankly it was scary! I thought I was going to throw up, but thankfully that feeling passed after a bit of time on solid ground. 

We did a similar thing to before where we rode a motorbike through the island. This time we also stumbled upon a place called “Cat Ba Green”. It was very pretty, but the animals there were kept in cages far too small, especially the monkeys. After dinner, we rested and then went on a late-night ride again. We sang as we whizzed through the island, and this made it feel even better! 

The next day we went to the beach and spent the whole day being swallowed by waves, and being burnt in the sea. I had bought a book recently from a store in Vincom (Haiphong) and spent some time under the big shades, but the sky was so clear that even factor 50 was not enough to protect us.

The book, by the way, is ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I’ve only read ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Murakami, but I loved it and I’m really enjoying this one. I bought it the same day as I discovered the BBQ places, which are great! I’ve also recently eaten at a Korean restaurant, which I had been wanting to do. I get a bit bored with the Vietnamese food in Haiphong, but it’s good finding new places to eat.

We also just came back from Hanoi, which is a great place to find a wider variety of food. Of course, it meant we also got some western food in the form of spaghetti bolognese, and beef burgers. It was great being back in Hanoi, and part of me wants to go again whilst I still have the chance, but I also kind of want a more chilled out weekend. 

The first day in Hanoi we wandered around the streets, and visited lots of little art galleries, including L’institut Francais de Hanoi. We bought some clothes, and my boyfriend got a really cool top from a place called Ginkgo, which I ended up writing about for the Norwich Radical because it seems like a really amazing clothing company! 

We stumbled upon the National History Museum, which just enough time to visit one building that detailed what happened during the war with the US. It was really shocking, especially considering how recent it was, finding out the way Vietnamese people were chained up, killed with guillotines, and dead bodies dragged along by cars. The tail-end of a bomb was displayed, and made the reality of it all the more terrifying.

The next day we went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. After seeing the embalmed body in a casket, surrounded by guards, I felt a strange sense of regret. The whole process leading up to the experience was stressful, as I stupidly hadn’t worn appropriate clothes and was forced to put another set of clothes over the top of my dress, and the bag deposit system was a mess. It meant we worried about getting our bag back and didn’t see anything else. The fact that we had then only see Ho Chi Minh’s body like that felt disingenuous. I felt like it should be somewhere that people go to pay their respects, rather than what it was – a tourist attraction, of which I was regrettably a part. If I did go again, I would like to see the rest of the complex, visiting the museum, as well as going to another museum a bit out of the way.

Instead, we spent the rest of the day walking through streets, parks and lakes. We met a Vietnamese couple whilst stopping in Lenin Park for an ice-cream. They were so excited to speak to us, and again I felt the familiar sense of undeserving, aware of my many privileges. They were both university students, yet they had never been to the beach, and one couldn’t swim. These were things that we had the luxury of doing every weekend we chose. 

At times Vietnam feels very much the same as home, and at others it feels so far removed.

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 Lựng Xanh

This weekend was a relaxing one. It started off a bit tricky in terms of getting to the correct bus stop, but despite the traffic, it took an hour and a half by bus as predicted by Google. We are at the first place we saw – it was an overpriced but edible beef fried rice.

We took at taxi to Lựng Xanh waterfall. We walked beside the gushing waters, following its pathway upwards. We got to a place where locals were playing in the waterfall, and we joined them, sitting amongst big boulders, redirecting the water’s path over our legs. 

We continued the walk, incredible mountains surrounding us like we have experienced much of the time in Vietnam. We can back round to the start, where we had seen two pools of water filtered from the waterfall, which continue further down. We hired a hoop and decided to skip the temple and spend the rest of the day swimming. 

We were invited to share pomelo and spicy salt with a group of family and friends, who then took selfies with us, as did a big group of visitors earlier. We tried to call a taxi, but needed help and the park attendant helped us. We managed to get dropped back to a bus stop and ended up on a bus that cost us 100k each instead of the 27k we paid on the way there. But it was either that or maybe not get back!

The next day we swam more at the hotel pool we go to sometimes. We ate somewhere nearby, which was nice. I’ve been working hard the last few days, but even at a local eatery we were able to try frog and it was actually delicious. The legs were the best part and it does actually taste pretty similar to chicken!

We’re now planning on going back to Cat Ba and Hanoi over the next couple of weeks. Then we’ll have four days to go away and we don’t know whether to go to Sapa and have two days there (due to having to go on an overnight bus) or to go to somewhere in the south by plane in order to make the most of the time. Any tips would be great as we’ll be going elsewhere afterwards.

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Halong Bay

For the five year anniversary of being with my partner, we decided to go to Halong Bay. We had a relatively early start and got a taxi to Lac Long bus station, and the journey took about an hour an a half from there. We took a taxi to our hotel and managed to check in around midday. The weather was forecast to be thunderstorms, but we were relatively lucky with some light rain and overcast. Being Vietnam in July, it was still hot. 

We headed for the beach, and it was packed with Vietnamese people, who we heard were at the start of their holiday period. We walked down the beach to find somewhere less crowded and swam in the water. It wasn’t a clear blue, but it felt so good. The temperature was ideal, cooling us from the humidity and heat, and it felt so smooth to swim in. It was so relaxing to float on the surface as the waves gently moved you, the mountainous landscape surrounding you. The sand was also so easy to walk on that we questioned whether it was real or not.

We went back to the hotel to shower an change, and ended up at a seafood place. The next day we went on a boat tour. We set off at 7am and boarded the boat an hour or so later and it felt like an age until we finally got moving. The first place we visited was the most incredible cave I’ve seen. We walked through twists and turns, water dripping into pools of water, lit up by multi-coloured lights. It was really impressed. Things don’t ever seem smooth sailing with us. Our boat slowed down so much that it stopped. Another boat came beside ours and we were asked to board it. Just us two. Another couple took our place and it turned out that we were on the boat for the six-hour tour and we were meant to be on the four-hour tour as we had booked too late.

The final stop was to kayak. I had been a bit nervous, as I always worried about being in control of a boat and thought they could tip into the water easily. However, it was easier than I expected and I ended up really enjoying it. It felt like I had conquered a fear somewhat, and all whilst going through different caves into lagoon-type areas. It felt so good, even as my arms got tired, to rest and float there, before picking up the oars again. 

The last stop was passing by the “fighting cocks” rocks. On one hand, I was ready to go back, but on the other, it would have been great to stop on an island to swim and eat. We got a taxi after another great seafood dish, then took a bus back to Haiphong city, arriving tired and a little sunburnt from not wearing protection under the clouds. We ended the night on a takeaway from Indian Kitchen.

After work tonight, myself and some other teachers, and one of the TAs, went to the local street food spot and had some beer and a bbq. I don’t like pork much, but it tasted good, and though I didn’t like the beef, I loved the squid, and we had some noodles with it too. Just one month left in Vietnam now and so I’m starting to plan the next lot of travels!

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