In Awe of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka. As my first experience of truly travelling alone I could not have had a better one.

So I arrived at the Colombo airport at 1am completely terrified. Panic started to set it. My flight was delayed so I was arriving even later than normal, would my hostel be open? I had been unsuccessful in my quest for Sri Lankan rupees and had only US dollars and Thai baht in my purse. What if everything was shut at the airport? I was completely alone, in a strange country, with no money, no working phone. I could hear my heart over the sound of the airport announcements as I waited a disturbingly long time for my backpack to arrive.

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The moment I walked through customs and spotted a taxi stand next to an open money exchange place I knew that everything was going to be okay. Things work out as they should do. Always.

Though I spent a mere ten days in Sri Lanka, I already knew I wanted to return. A new found love in my life. I have never found people so warm or so welcoming, everywhere you turn you are with a full cheeky grin and a head wobble.

I had previously been freaked out by other people’s blogs telling you that women don’t travel alone in Sri Lanka, to wear a wedding ring, that people will attempt to feel you up on crowded buses, I could not have felt any safer. Always erring on the side of paranoid I was extremely covered up when I was travelling and aware not to drink alcohol alone.

Highlights of my trip:

  • Taking obligatory photos of my train snaking like a blue ribbon through the mountains, cutting through the rock in a feat of engineering – the only good thing that the British brought about
  • The ticket inspector doubling as a palm reader while I hung my head like a dog out of the window
  • A local guide picking me up and giving me a free, extremely informative, tour of the Temple of the Tooth and insisting on being my friend for the next two days, taking me to (male-only) street food stalls, teaching me to drive a tuktuk, seeing cave paintings for the first time together
  • Purchasing vegetable samosas for a bus journey and being offered the owner’s sons hand in marriage
  • Seeing wild elephants EVERYWHERE you looked, a dream come true for me, I’m still smiling now
  • Being taught to surf in Arugam Bay, falling off, salt water in my eyes and nose and loving every minute of it
  • A 6 hour ridiculously cramped bus journey up to the north, surrounded by locals and a couple of backpackers with Bollywood music videos blasting at high volume as we veer across the countryside
  • Seeing dolphins on a boat trip and an expected guest of a whale shark
  • Actually crying at a family run guest house because everyone was being so welcoming

Tips

Visit the Sigiriya – amazing ancient Lion’s Rock

Go to at least one National Park

Consider visiting the north

Marvel at the number of significant religions – Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian

Spend some time in the Hill Country

Watch the sunset at Galle Face Green

Beware if you visit a bar you will mostly likely be the only female!

Drink as much tea as possible

Eat rice and curry with your bare hands with the locals

East roti at every opportunity

Beware the local beer is strong!

The list goes on and on and I could not recommend this country any more. Wrecked by decades of civil war which officially ended in 2009, travellers are finally able to visit the whole country and I have no doubt that I will be back. Hopefully to live. Watch this space.

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Explore beyond Bangkok…

Here’s a list of my favourite day trips and weekend get aways using Bangkok as a base!

Khao Yai National Park

Head into this jungle wilderness in one of Thailand’s oldest national parks. See wild elephants, monkeys, gibbons, snakes, porcupines, deer and many more while on a Greenleaf tour or rent motorbikes and head into the park yourself! 400 baht national park fee entrance. Camping overnight in the park is an option or stay in nearby Pak Chong. Minivans from Bangkok take about 2 hours.

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Koh Samet

Take a minivan ride to Rayong and jump on a boat to Koh Samet! Gorgeous beaches and lovely sunsets at Ao Prao beach. Go week days to avoid the crowds and be prepared to pay slightly more for accommodation!

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Whale Watching (seasonal Aug-Nov)

Yes just two hours from Bangkok, the enormous Bryde whales can be seen! Entering the Gulf of Thailand to feed on anchovies these gentle giants are incredible! Wildlife Encounters Thailand offer weekly trips for 2500 baht including transfer from Bangkok and lunch on the boat. An amazing day out!

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Koh Lan

Take a boat from Pattaya and head to one of my favourite Bangkok getaways. Cheap accommodation and a host of beautiful white sand beaches. Jump in a songtaew (truck) or motorsi taxi for 20-30 baht and spend the day exploring lesser known beaches and taking in great views of the island!

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Ayutthaya

Head to this ancient temple town, one hour by train or minivan from Bangkok. Rent bicycles cheaply and enjoy cycling around and soaking in the culture. Don’t forget to try my favourite dessert roti sai mai – kinda like a rolled up candyfloss!

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Kanchanaburi

Quite far for a day trip but doable. Two hours by car/minivan or a little longer on the train. Tourists come here to see the bridge over the River Kwai and understand more about the dark history of this area where prisoners of war were held by the Japanese during World War II.

Erawan Waterfall – a stunning, blue coloured waterfall with 9 steps inside Erawan National Park. Around 45 minutes by car from Kanchanaburi, bring a picnic and spend the afternoon swimming in stunning pools, cliff jumping and getting back to nature.

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Hua Hin

One of Bangkok’s nearest beaches and very big for kite surfing. A large stretch of yellow sand beach for hanging out on and a wide range of hotels, accommodation is on offer here. Swimming is not always recommended as there are jellyfish lurking! Cha-am is another beach stop just before Hua Hin. You can take minivans or the train to either place from Bangkok.

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Water Park

On the way to Pattaya there is Splashdown. More of an inflatable obstacle course, it is guaranteed big kid fun for the day!

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Where are your favourite places to go near Bangkok?

Hot Water for Elephants

Riding an elephant on your bucketlist? Re-think your list.

I like to think that any tourist planning to visit South East Asia and interact with animals would do some research into the type of establishment they are participating in and giving money too. Unfortunately the high number of tourists who ride elephants and visit tiger temples in Thailand every year suggests otherwise.

I would love to see tourists taking responsibility for their actions. In the Western world, we are so lucky that we have the money and often the time to travel to places like South East Asia. When I first visited Thailand, I could find only TWO elephant sanctuaries that did not offer rides. Four years later there has been a burst in ‘no riding’ sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and it is thanks to the tourists who drive the demand for this. If there is no demand for elephant riding, then local Thai people will be encouraged to use their elephants in alternative tourist settings such as feeding and bathing with them.

Elephants are not made to carry items on their backs. The metal racks placed upon them during tourist rides does lasting damage and deforms the elephant’s back. Working elephants are subject to cruel and abusive ways of taming them known as ‘the crush’ in which elephants are tied up for days or weeks and violently abused until they will comply with the abusers’ commands. Many elephants are trained from an extremely young age which includes being separated from their mothers. Elephants are often blinded on purpose, as a blind elephant is that much easier to control. Large metal hooks are driven into wounds to force the elephant to turn left and right. The skin around the tusks is often hacked at in order to sell as much of the tusk as possible on the ivory black market.

Ideally these elephants would be rehabilitated and released into the wild. Unfortunately in Thailand this is often not possible, either the elephants rampage local farms or are too dependent on humans. Luckily Thai locals have set up sanctuaries such as Elephant Nature Park and Hug Elephant Sanctuary (two that I’ve personally visited!) to protect them, work with them and boost local tourism using them.

So here’s to the Thais and the tourists, changing the fate of elephants little by little…

 

What are your elephant experiences? Any other ethical places to recommend?

Thailand: 10 things not to miss!

  1. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary. One that rescues and elephants and offers no riding! (Hug Elephant Sanctuary I strongly recommend!)
  2. Go to the jungle – Khao Yao National Park is one of my favourite places!
  3. Party on a beautiful island – Koh Phangnan for full moon or Phi Phi every day of the week!
  4. Go to a Bangkok skybar – Vertigo or Octave are my personal favs!
  5. Go shopping at Chatachak weekend market in Bangkok – get lost and shop cheap!
  6. Temples – once you’ve seen a couple you’ve seen them all but my favourite is Wat Pho in Bangkok
  7. Street Food – need I say more?!
  8. Snorkelling trip – the coral and the fish are equally beautiful and trips are great value for money!
  9. Try diving for the first time! Koh Tao is still one of the cheapest places in the world to learn! Warning: once you start, you can’t stop!
  10.  Go island hopping! With 100s of islands to choose from, enjoy exploring!

What to Pack in your Backpack!

You’ve got your backpack, your camera and a head full of ideas. But where to start?
So in the months running up to the first Big Adventure in Asia I spent my time adding pictures to my Pinterest, googling, researching and generally panicking that I wasn’t organised enough. The family got a bit sick of it. I got a bit sick of it. Then I got there and I realised there was no need to panic about anything…
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I changed. I chilled out. I slotted into the slower pace of life in South East Asia and it was amazing!
While you’re at home, the travels seems big, bad, scary and incredibly disorganised and chaotic no matter what you do. You think about it constantly because you’re excited and nervous. And then you get on the plane and launch yourself into the Unknown.

 You realise that you just take things as they come, you live for the moment, and the only thing you need to think about in the future is whether your visa is going to run out while you are in the middle of the jungle!

These are my travel tips for South-East Asia – I spent ages trawling through blogs looking for any good advice on what to pack for my adventure – Asia style.

BACKPACK – no matter how much you think a suitcase with wheels is easier….IT IS NOT. South East Asian cities have uneven pavements, dirty streets and sidewalks that are choccablock with stalls. Trying to get a suitcase down them is tough work! Island boats are not designed for suitcases and nor are tiny island sand-filled paths!

Clothing
All your obvious beachwear and summer wear. I took bikinis, strap tops, denim shorts, light summery dresses. 
Few nice dresses – because you can’t wear elephant trousers all the time.
Cover Upssarongs, long scarves, anything to cover your shoulders during the MANY temple viewings that you will experience!
Palazzos/maxi skirt –  you can rarely get away with at home (unless you live in Liverpool) but are perfect for temples, cathedrals and strict Muslim countries!
Chinos – preferably Khaki coloured so you look the part on those jungle treks! DON’T think about doing it in shorts – one word – Leeches.
Leggings- warmth on those cold A/C journeys/airports
Hoody 
Footwear
Obviously flipflops – don’t wear any that look to nice and leave them on a beach – they will get stolen and you will have to go home in mens size 12 havaianas that are the only ones left! (seen it done)
walking boots – jungles, mountains, national parks – you need some!
pretty sandals – for those posh bars you might swan around to in KL, Dubai, Bangkok
Tom-style pumps – my Primark ones lasted the duration of the trip, ideal for wearing on rocks in the sea, white water rafting etc
Accessories/Extras
Jewellery – NOTHING expensive or that it would ruin your trip to lose! studs, few big earrings to look glam on dressier nights, purchase of fake Tiffancy’s bracelt = essential when out there
Hair bands, kirby grips, anything to keep long hair off your sweaty neck in hot humid temperatures!
Towel – Invest in a tiny travel towel that dries quickly. You will have to throw it away because of the smell by end of trip!
Sarong instead of a beach towel – lighter, dries fast and doesn’t trail heavy sticky sand around after you leave the beach!
PJs– shorts and t-shirt PJs – no sleeping naked in dorm rooms!
Small ZIPPED bag to wear across the shoulder- you don’t wanna end up with one of those people who get their bags stolen
Dry bag– great for monsoon seasons, boat trips, desert island swimming…
Toiletries
Make up – I took my basics (mascara, eyeliner) and only ever used my tinted mosturiser, which has an SPF in it and stopped me having that slightly red glow after too much time in the sun! Embrace the natural look, when you have a tan that good, you don’t need it!
Deodorant – take a large one, then once out there only buy MENS. Most womens’ deodorants that I could find had ‘whitening’ in it. Ditto for mosturisers too.
After sun– Expensive at home but expensive out there as well. Well worth it to keep your tan going for as long as possible
Tiny bars of soap – any hostels/hotels that you stay in…STEAL the small bars of soap. you will be grateful later in the trip!
Hand Wash Gel – small tube, very useful for doing small hand washing when needed
Washing Line– best thing my friend bought for me before I went – one long line of twisted string with hooks either end VERY USEFUL!
DEET- Get 50% and 100% (off Amazon) don’t wear near plastics, wear in Malaria areas. You cannot find stronger than 15% once in Asia!
Toothbrush/toothpaste – GUM for when all else fails and you end up without sinks in off the beaten track areas of Indonesia!
BABY WIPES– in capitals because sooo useful! For removing make-up/sun cream/sweat/dirt etc, cleaning bags,
Alcohol hand gel – For times when you just want your hands to feel clean in otherwise filthy surroundings
Suntan Cream– SPF 30 at least, (both with tanneable skin we burnt with SPF20). Thailand is not Spain!
First Aid Kit – after-bite for stings – once out there buy Golden Cup balm – local cure for insect bites!, plasters, antiseptic cream, diarrhoea tablets (and lots!), painkillers, the Pill etc, nail scissors, string (you never know)
Nail Varnish – for TOES only. Your hand nails will chip instantly as you find yourself doing activities every day that you never thought you would do. Not worth the drama. TIP: it’s how you tell a holidaymaker from a backpacker on the Thai islands – check out their nails!
Tampons – not as easy to find in some parts of South East Asia. Big cities like Bangkok is not a problem. We have a Boots!
Extras
Passport
Insurance Details (just in case)
Camera
Gopro
Selfie stick – you may laugh but you’ll thank me when you get amazing photos!
Small purse
International driving licence is required in places like Taiwan
Tablet/Smart phone –  email home/research next place you are heading!
Alarm clock–  we took one just in case of emergency, very useful for alarm clock if not…
alarm clock – for all those 6am starts. Trust me, you will never see the sunrise once you get back home!
Sleeping bag liner – great for when your accommodation feels less than clean!
Eye Mask
Ear Plugs
Music and headphones
Mini speakers – for parties in the bedroom!

Travel Reading List!

So I am a MASSIVE bookworm and devour books by the day. I have compiled a list of my loved books as well as books about countries I’ve visited. Please comment and add your favourites!

Sri Lanka

Mosquito – Roma Tearne

When Memory Dies – Ambalavaner Sivanandan

Anil’s Ghost – Michael Ondaatje

Powerful fictional stories all based on real events that occurred during Sri Lanka’s civil war

India

Shantaram – Gregory David Robert (first book I read and decided I needed to visit India!)

Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

Holy Cow – Sarah Macdonald

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling

A Passage to India – E.M.Forster

The Far Pavilions – M.M.Kaye

Shadow of the Moon – M.M.Kaye

Adventure Stories

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe

The Moonstone and The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Travel

Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

The Beach – Alex Garland

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

History

First They Killed My Father – Loung Ang (Cambodia)

The Quiet American – Graham Greene (Vietnam)

House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende (South America)

The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank (WW2)

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (WW2)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe (US)

The Island – Victoria Hislop (Crete – Greece)

Old Classics

Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

The Forsyte Saga – John Galsworthy

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tender is the Night – F Scott Fitzgerald

The Beautiful and Damned – F Scott Fitzgerald

Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

The Ultimate Bucketlist for Asia

More of a List for Living than a bucketlist, this is to never be completed, to be ever-growing and inspiring me for the next adventure!

  • Dive with sharks
  • Travel India
  • See the Taj Mahal
  • Sleep in the desert
  • See orangutans
  • Dive with hammerhead sharks
  • Visit Borneo
  • Go to ALL the Thai islands
  • Go to China
  • See pandas in the wild
  • See wild elephants
  • Dive the Great Barrier Reef
  • Go hangliding off a mountain
  • Get better at surfing
  • Improve my Thai!
  • Learn to read a different script
  • Do a divemaster
  • Go to New York
  • Live in different countries around the world
  • Live in an exotic country
  • Keep a decent year round tan
  • Volunteer
  • Spend months travelling and diving the Philippines
  • Do a liveaboard dive boat
  • Visit South Africa and go on safari
  • Go to the Carribean
  • Visit Brazil
  • See Iguaza falls
  • Live by the sea
  • Teach abroad
  • Visit Cuba
  • Work a ski season in the Alps
  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Get the top teaching qualification
  • Learn to salsa dance

 

What else is on yours?

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Tales and Tips!

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