Travel

Da Nang // A Photo Journal

Da Nang Da Nang Da NangDragon Bridge Da Nang Dragon Bridge Da Nang Da Nang Markets Da Nang RiverDa Nang, Da Nang. Another slightly weird one, again mainly due to the weather – it seemed to transform the place into a bit of a ghost town. We were in Da Nang so close to Christmas and I was definitely feeling a bit homesick seeing everybody get ready for the festive season and where I’d expected to be on the beach drinking from a coconut, I was sat watching the rain pour! Unlike Hue I’d definitely go back in sunnier weather as there is a beautiful, vast, sandy beach spread along the coast.

Our hotel was about half way between the beach and the city, we managed to score an upgrade to a better room on the fourteenth floor (#winning!) with spectacular views. Although we probably got the upgrade because we were just about the only guests in the place. There wasn’t heaps to do in the city, there was a small shopping mall and some interesting indoor markets. In the mall every store we went in we were followed round so closely by a member of staff, I guess it’s just normal as they want the sale, but it makes it impossible to shop.

Da Nang has an observation wheel by the river, like a mini London eye, which would be awesome in the sunshine. The dragon bridge is pretty cool too, I just think some nice weather would totally transform the place and really bring the riverfront to life.

Vietnam was definitely the country we’ve had the most stares for our Western faces, walking back along the dragon bridge a couple of girls pulled over their moped to get a picture with us. Pretty surreal, made me feel like some sort of Z-class celeb!

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Travel

Hue // A Photo Journal

Hue Hue Graffiti Hue Vietnam Hue Vietnam Hue Plates Marcus in Hue Hue Market Stall Hue Market Stall Hue GraffitiHue (pronounced ‘Hway’) is a rather strange little city in Vietnam. It’s definitely more similar to the size of a town in England and we didn’t find there was a great deal to do there, although the rather miserable weather probably didn’t help with that very much, some sunshine and blue skies would probably make it much more picturesque. I have nothing really against the place, but I think it’s the one place I wouldn’t bother going back to of those we visited in South East Asia.

We arrived on a sleeper train from Hanoi and stayed for just two nights. We spent most of our time walking around exploring and sightseeing, there were lots of boat trips on offer up the river but the weather was so rubbish we gave those a miss! We discovered a restaurant/ bar called Gecko where we ended up eating both nights, the food was really good there so that was a nice little discovery. I actually forgot to take photos of any of my food there which is so unlike me!

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Travel

A Day at Laos Elephant Sanctuary

Mummy and baby elephantLaos Elephant SanctuaryRiding an elephantRiding an elephant Riding an elephantBathing elephantsBathing elephantsTad Sae WaterfallTad Sae WaterfallOne of the most memorable days of our trip so far has to be the day spent at Elephant Village, an elephant sanctuary about 10km outside of Luang Prabang in Laos. We’d seen lots of elephant riding trips advertised but were a bit cautious about what to book as the elephants aren’t always treated in a very humane way. This is the same for all animal related activities abroad, so it’s always a good idea to do your research and make sure you’re supporting a place that treats their animals well. Marcus found the Elephant Village online after reading amazing reviews on Trip Advisor and we were able to book online too. There were various packages available, but we opted for the one day mahout experience – a ‘mahout’ is the person who trains the elephant.

On the day we were picked up from our hotel at half 8 in the morning by our super friendly tour guide for the day, who’s name I have unfortunately forgotten (sorry!) We were in a small group with just one other couple (also from the UK) and their parents. The elephant sanctuary is set in the most beautiful location right by a river with mountain views.

To begin with our guide gave us a bit of information about the sanctuary, all the elephants there are female elephants (they have a tamer nature) who were rescued from working as loggers where they were forced to work and often abused. One of the elephants I rode later in the day had scars on her head from where she was beaten. We were then given our basic mahout training and learnt some mahout words, we had to try and get the tones right so the elephants would understand us! Then it was time to ride the elephants…

I was pretty nervous to ride them, but it wasn’t as scary as I’d expected. To get up on the elephants neck where you sit to ride it, you give your mahout command and the elephant puts her front right leg up so act as a step to help you up, so cute. I had a mahout sitting on the back of the elephant to help me out with commands, but I think the elephants knew the drill! After riding the elephants we were taken in a boat further down the river to where Maximillion (the first baby elephant to be born in the sanctuary) and his mummy were living. He was so cute and playful.

After a lovely buffet lunch it was time to bathe our elephants, we rode them down to the river where they went in and we could give them a good old scrub. Marcus must be a fantastic elephant groomer as his elephant kept spraying water from her trunk, which is apparently what they do when they’re happy! The mahout on the back of my elephant seemed intent on pouring water all over me as well as the elephant! That was my favourite part of the day, it was such an amazing feeling to be bathing with elephants in such a beautiful, natural surrounding.

At the end of the day we were taken in a boat down to Tad Sae waterfall, a stunning turquoise waterfall. It was so pretty it was hard to believe it wasn’t manmade.

We had such a fantastic day at the Elephant Village, definitely a memory that will stay with me forever. If you’re planning on visiting elephants in Laos I’d highly recommend it, it may be slightly more expensive than other places but it’s a really good organisation to support.

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Travel

Hanoi // A Photo Journal

Sunset ViewVietnam Street FoodHanoi HousesHanoi Train TracksHanoi Roundabout Hanoi BridgeHanoi Street Seller Hanoi RoundaboutVietnamese Summer Rolls Headlights Bokeh Hanoi RestaurantAfter Laos we were torn between travelling further south in Laos to Vang Vieng, or straight up to Vietnam. We opted for Vietnam as to go to Vang Vieng would mean a 6-7 bus hour journey, only to come back up again a few days later for Vietnam. The other decision we had was how to get to Hanoi in Vietnam, bus (cheap but long) or plane (quick but expensive). I’m usually up for doing the cheaper (aka harder!) option, we’re pretty time rich so that’s never too much of a problem for us. But after reading about the 24 – 37 (!!) hour bus journey from hell I can safely say we were happy to pay the extra to get a 1 hour flight there.

After getting off the plane and hopping in a taxi to our hotel the first thing I noticed was the insane traffic in Vietnam, it’s like no where I’ve ever been. New York / Bangkok / London are now all completely tame in comparison! I actually found it so tiring just walking around Hanoi just because of the lack of footpaths (or rather, they are all used as moped parking) and the crazy traffic.

On our first night in Hanoi we walked about 5 minutes from our hotel to where we found street food DIY BBQs. It cost around £5 for meat, veg, noodles and prawn crackers all ready to cook up and eat. It was so much fun to do and one of our most memorable meals. Definitely look out for those if you’re there. We loved the way of eating in Vietnam, lots of sharing style foods and pretty much everything could be wrapped up in a lettuce leaf and dipped in some sort of peanut-based sauce, healthy & delicious – everyone’s a winner!

We definitely didn’t realise how cold it was going to be in Northern Vietnam in December, so be prepared for lots of pictures of me in my one warm outfit over the Vietnam posts! The colder weather and the first Christmas decorations we’d seen did start to get us in the festive mood. We stayed in Hanoi for three nights, just the right amount of time for this city as there’s not tons to do. We found hotels in Vietnam were the best value for money and all the ones we booked included breakfast which is always a bonus.

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Travel

A Guide To Street Food // SE Asia

& how not to get sick!A Guide To Street Food Street Food Fruit Pad Thai in Banana Leaf Laos Street Food Buffet Hanoi BBQ Hoi An Doughnuts One of my favourite things about travelling is trying all the different foods. Being on a backpackers budget, it’s definitely been all about the street food in SE Asia, so I thought I’d put together a little guide of our experiences with street food.

+ WHERE?
Obviously I haven’t tried street food over the whole of South East Asia (le sigh!) so what I’m sharing in this guide is just from my experiences and the places I have eaten it, which is Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rain Thailand, Luang Prabang in Laos, Hanoi and Hoi An in Vietnam.

In Bangkok you’ll find random streets with a bunch of different street food vendors along them. There’s also street food at the markets. In Chiang Mai you’ll find the stalls all grouped together as part of the daily night markets, the best stalls are within the temple grounds. In Chiang Rai it’s all in the night bazaar with all the stalls around the edge of communal tables. In Laos there are different little street food stalls dotted along the main high street during the day, with one of the side alleys becoming absolutely packed full of street food during the evening. In Hanoi we didn’t find one main street food drag, it seemed to be dotted about the city. In Hoi An the main stalls were across the bridge over the river.

+ HOW MUCH?
Street food is cheap. Like seriously. Most meals we’ve had are around the £1 mark, which in my eyes is an absolute bargain. I don’t even think buying something from the supermarket to eat in your room would be as cheap. Compared to restaurant meals it’s way cheaper. Most of the time you can expect to pay around the same price as your meal for a drink, maybe a little more for a beer.

+ WHAT IS THERE?
In Bangkok it was all about the noodle soup. Duck noodle soup. Pork noodle soup. Chicken foot noodle soup. You name it, they’ll put it in a bowl of noodle soup. It’s yummy, filling and pretty healthy. Although after a week in Bangkok eating not much but noodle soup for dinner I did start to get a little tired of it. In Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai we found a lot more on offer, Pad Thai (always a winner!), fried noodles, fried rice and lots of barbecued meats. Chiang Mai was my favourite place for street food, I think I tried something new every night and some nights had tapas style dinners wandering around getting bits here and there from different stalls. Mango and sticky rice (the most awesome dessert known to man kind!) was also easy to come by here.

Luang Prabang was the home of the street food buffet where you can fill up a plate of food for 15,000 kip (£1) and they fry it up for you. It was predominantly vegetarian food, so handy for the vegetarians always complaining they can’t get a good variety of food! In general street food portion sizes are fairly modest, but with the buffet style it was easy for your eyes to be bigger than your belly and go a bit overboard, not always a positive if you’re eating buffet style for a whole week!

In Hanoi the only street food we had was a BBQ style which I saw a few of around the city. It cost us around £5 and you’re given a ton of meat, noodles and veg to cook up yourself on a little BBQ. It tastes amazing and is really fun to do, but have some wet wipes handy as it can get a little messy! In Hoi An the main street food on offer was sweet treats, different varieties of fried doughnuts and pancakes. Not too healthy and seriously addictive!

Most places also have stalls selling ready to eat fruit, perfect for a healthy dessert, especially if you’ve had a meat stick too many.

+ WON’T I GET SICK?!
I think street food has a bad rap for giving people food poisoning, especially in places like Asia where they might not have the same food hygiene standards as we do in the UK. *Touch wood* we have both been fine after 3 months of street food! But here’s some tips..

Make sure it’s hot // One of the main ways people get food poisoning is by eating food that’s not cooked properly or sat around being lukewarm for ages. As long as your food’s properly cooked through you should be fine, even if it’s had the odd fly crawling around on it -which is pretty common in Asia! So boiling hot noodle soups and fried / barbecued foods are pretty perfect. If the stall doesn’t look like it has somewhere to re-fry the noodles on offer just ask if it’s hot, and if it’s not avoid it.

Obviously fruit won’t be cooked, so just look out for fruit that’s either wrapped up or inside a counter. Some of the fruit stalls I saw were absolutely teeming with flies!

Keep it clean // Before we came away our nurse told us a common way of getting food poisoning abroad is not from the actual food but from the dirty cutlery / plates it’s served with. So if there’s disposable cutlery on offer (usually chopsticks in Asia) opt for that. There’s not much you can do about the plate once the food’s dished up, but you can give your cutlery a quick wipe before you use it. Also using a hand sanitiser before you eat, especially if it’s finger food.

Common sense // A lot of people say to avoid the ice and salads as they may be made with tap water which isn’t good for drinking here. The majority of places we’ve eaten have been fine, the vendors know that tap water here isn’t for drinking. But if you’re a little uncertain it’s always better to give it a miss.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to street food in SE Asia, I’ve certainly enjoyed doing my research for it!

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Luang Prabang // A Photo Journal Pt. 2

Laos BreakfastLuang Prabang Bamboo Bridge Exploring Luang Prabang Luang Prabang Temple Dried ChilliesLaos Street Food Mekong River Selfie Luang Prabang Luang Prabang NightLaos Noodles Palm Tree SunsetI didn’t know this before we visited, but Laos has strong French influences which you can see in some of the architecture, but also in the food. So, rather unexpectedly Luang Prabang is a great place to enjoy a croissant & baguette! There’s quite a few French bakeries and cafes in Luang Prabang, although slightly more expensive than the Asian cuisine on offer they’re by no means expensive and definitely worth it if you’re missing good bread.

There’s a couple of bamboo footbridges in Luang Prabang which both go across the Nam Khan river, you have to pay to get across but it’s not much at all, less than £1 if I remember rightly. And you should totally do it purely for the ‘how are these thin bits of wood holding us up?!’ experience.

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Travel

Luang Prabang // A Photo Journal Pt. 1

Luang PrabangLuang PrabangLuang PrabangMekong RiverLaos Cocktails Laos Cocktails Laos CocktailsMekong River Boats Laos Street Food Laos Street FoodMekong River After our two-day slow boat trip to Luang Prabang in Laos we were relieved to be back on dry land without the chugging of a diesel engine ringing in our ears. Luang Prabang was the first place we hadn’t booked somewhere to stay, so we hopped in the back of a tuk tuk with some other backpackers from the boat and they drove us into town. All the streets off the main road that head down towards the Mekong River are lined with guesthouses, so there’s plenty to choose from and certainly no need to pre-book if you’re not too fussy. We found a nice little guesthouse a couple of minutes walk from the night market where we spent 3 nights before moving to another place for 3 nights then to Apple Guesthouse for our final night in Laos which was by far our favourite place. We only booked a couple of nights at one time, so just moved on when they couldn’t put us up anymore!

Luang Prabang is a tiny little town, the main event is the night market which opens around 5pm each night and the main street is absolutely jam packed with market stalls. Plenty of elephant trousers and souvenirs available here! They also have some amazing buffet style street food where you fill a plate for 15,000 kip (£1!) and the lady will fry it up for you. Awesome food and an absolute bargain. Luang Prabang sits between the Mekong River and the Nam Khan, so there’s some pretty spectacular views.

Unfortunately I spent half of our time in Luang Prabang in bed ill after having a reaction to the malaria tablets we had to take. Luckily that was after the most amazing day at an elephant sanctuary which Marcus booked for us, post on that coming very soon!

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Beauty, Travel

The Essentials // Travel Beauty Tools

Travel Beauty ToolsEven though I’m somehow doing a round the World trip with just a hand-luggage sized backpack (say what?!) I still wanted to bring all my beauty bumf along with me, I just had to be clever about the tools I chose – are they travel sized and do they multi-task?!

I’ve picked out my essential travel beauty tools that should be in every travelette’s backpack.

+ Bourjois Magic Nail Polish Remover
I was sceptical of these little pots after the similar spongy pots is the 90s that totally didn’t remove nail polish, however this little pot of polish remover from Bourjois really does the job. Maybe not in the 1 second that it claims, but it’s quick and easy to remove nail varnish. For me nail polish is my travel luxury, so nail polish remover is pretty essential and this little pot saves me space as it means I don’t need to carry cotton wool pads.

+ Real Techniques Buffing Brush
I really haven’t been wearing make up much in SE Asia as it pretty much melts off your face within 0.5 seconds, but for the times I do this Real Techniques is the only face brush I’ve bought away with me as it’s the ultimate multi-tasker. It applies foundation beautifully and I then wipe off excess moisturiser with a tissue before using it to apply powder and bronzer. I find softly pressing the bristles between my fingers to make it narrower makes it the perfect size for a contour brush. I think this brush is only available as part of the Real Techniques Core Collection set.

+ Boots Nail Scissors
These don’t need much explanation! I tend to opt for a nail file for my nails, but scissors are always so handy to have in your backpack.

+ Tweezerman Mini Tweezers
Tweezerman make the best tweezers ever! At home I use the bigger version of these, but this travel-sized version is smaller and comes in a little tube to protect them when they’re getting thrown about in your bag. Aside from the obvious tweezers are an essential for some first-aid tasks such as plucking out sea urchin spikes as Marcus experienced in Malta!

+ No.7 Lash & Brow Brush
Usually I just use the brow brush on the end of my eyebrow pencil, but since I didn’t bring any pencil make up products away with me (thought it would save the hassle of a sharpener!) I wanted to pick up a brow brush as I groom my brows even when I don’t bother with make up. This has a brow brush on end and a lash brush at the other which fold into the brush so it doesn’t get damaged when you’re not using it which also makes it super tiny. I’ve never used a lash brush before but it separates your lashes really nicely before applying mascara.

Will any of these be making it into your travel cosmetics kit?

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Travel

The two-day very very slow boat to Laos

Slow Boat to Laos Slow Boat to Laos Pakbeng Slow Boat to Laos Pakbeng Slow Boat to Laos Slow Boat to Laos Slow Boat to Laos Mekong RiverAfter Chiang Rai it was goodbye Thailand, and hello Laos!

To get across the border and into Laos we’d decided to take the two day slow boat from Thailand all the way to Luang Prabang in Laos. We booked this as a package trip with So Good Travel in Chiang Rai, who I mentioned in my previous post really weren’t so good! It was 1500 Baht each (£30) which included transport from our hotel in Chiang Rai all the way to Luang Prabang. Pretty much all the travel agents in Chiang Rai had a similar package on offer.

We got up bright and early ready to be picked up by our minibus between 6-6:30am, it finally arrived at 7am with us dreaming of that extra hour we could have had in bed. We might have been able to take a nap on the coach if our driver wasn’t driving like he was in the Grand Prix – Marcus even saw him pray before we wen’t round one of the bends!

When we got to the Thai / Laos border we all got off the minibus and herded through the border, first getting on to one coach, then off to sort out visas then finally on a tuk tuk which drove us to the slow boat. But not without a random half hour stop at a shack in the middle of nowhere for absolutely no reason other than for them to sell us overpriced sandwiches or to charge us 10 Baht for a wee. No thank you. They’ll tell you there isn’t any food on the boat. There is. Just pot noodles, crisps etc but it’s food! Anyway, that 30 minute pit stop is what really messed up the rest of the journey for us as we were the last group to arrive at the slow boat the only seats left for us were in the engine room, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It actually doesn’t look too bad in the top photo, but we were crammed in with tiny windows and barely any air. When they turned on the diesel engine, we could barely hear each other speak. Once the journey began, people in the airy main section of the boat decided the back of the boat would be the smoking area so it basically smelt like we were sitting in a diesel filled ashtray. Nice.

Just under 6 hours later (it seriously felt like a full 24 hours had passed) we arrived at our stop for the night, Pakbeng. It’s a strange little place. When you get off the boat you’ll get taxi drivers and guesthouse reps in your face right away, we walked a few minutes out of the chaos and up a hill which was lined with guesthouses. We imagined they’d all be pretty similar and opted for a bright green building to be our home for the night. It was cheap and we got what we paid for. Plus a free spider.

The next morning we were up early again, ready to get to the boat early and get good seats, and we did just that! Walking down to the boat there were lots of little food stalls and we bought some yummy muffins for breakfast and a couple for later in the day. The misty morning views of the Mekong were stunning. The second day of the boat journey was a 7 hour trip, so we were very glad not to be sat in the engine room and thoroughly enjoyed every second watching the Mekong go by and feeling the wind in our hair. I even managed to get a snap of this cute little dude going for a swim with his sisters!

Although we had a pretty bad first day on the slow boat that was down to our useless tour operator and we’d both get the slow boat again if we were doing the same journey. The slow boats are privately owned, so the drivers want to pack them as much as they can; more people = more money! Just make sure you get there nice and early both days for a good seat.

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Travel

Travelling as a Couple // A Survival Guide

Travelling as a coupleWithout wanting to sound like one of those cutesy, makes you wanna throw up in your mouth kind of couples, when Marcus and I decided to spend 6 months together on a round the World trip I knew living out of each other’s pockets for 4382.91 hours was never going to be a problem. I’m actually so glad we decided to do this trip together; at the low points I don’t know how I would have coped without him, and I’m so glad he’s been there for the highs too so we can share some of the most awesome memories!

Travelling can be pretty stressful at times though, putting strains on even the best of relationships. I thought I’d put together a little survival guide for anyone planning on travelling with their other half, or even travelling with a friend. And if you’re travelling alone, well kudos to you!

+ Take a test drive
Marcus & I spent one and a half years living together in a tiny studio apartment in London followed by a year living in his old bedroom at his parents house just before we came away. If this isn’t a good test drive for if we can spend a solid 6 months together, I don’t know what is! If you’ve never lived with your other half and you’re planning on long-term travelling together I’d recommend living together for a month or so before you book anything, even if it means moving in with the in-laws for a few weeks. You need to know that you can put up with each other!

+ Compromise
I think this is the most important point of all. No matter what issues crop up, talking about it and compromising is almost always the answer. For example, Marcus isn’t the hugest fan of spending the whole day sunbathing at the beach (which I could happily do for weeks on end!) so if we’re staying by the beach for a few days, we’ll maybe spend one full day at the beach to keep me happy, plus a few walks on the beach, accompanied by days exploring or spent by the pool for Marcus. This way we’re both happy!

+ Enjoy the silence
When you’re spending every second of every day together there’s always going to be some dry points in the conversation and my advice is just to enjoy these and don’t try and force conversation. We’re not the type of couple to sit at dinner on our phones (especially since I don’t have one anymore *cries*) but if we don’t have much to chat about we’ll both sit there people watching which inevitably leads to conversation anyway.

+ Alone time
Even when you’re living out of two backpacks and one hotel room, there’s always a way to find some alone time. I think this is especially important if one of you is having a bit of a stressful day so you have time to unwind alone and don’t take it out on the other person. This doesn’t necessarily mean going out for a day of sightseeing without your other half (I’d actually never do that!) but maybe a couple of hours on the balcony reading a book or a few laps in the hotel pool if you’re staying somewhere fancy enough to have one!

+ Share the responsibilities
Most of the time when you’re on the road the only tasks you really have to do is a bit of planning for the week or so ahead, well unless you’re one of those super organised couples that has all your travel plans arranged and printed in an A4 ringbinder before you’ve even got on the plane. For the rest of us, every few days are spent planning the next part of the adventure, from sightseeing days to booking transport and hotels. In general I’m pretty organised and happy to take on this role, but if it’s ever stressing me out Marcus is always there to takeover and make sure things get sorted. Oh and don’t forget to ask if you need help, men aren’t mind readers you know!

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