A couple of weeks ago, I returned to Bangkok with a friend just days before she was due to fly home. Now I'll happily admit that although I liked Bangkok when I first arrived, it was pretty overwhelming and after three days I was desperate to leave. Looking back, it was a lot to take in and I don't think I made the most of those three days because I just didn't know where to begin! My friend who was travelling with me to Bangkok had actually hated it when she arrived and barely stayed any time at all before booking a flight to Phuket where she met me. So we were both heading back with low expectations, and yet big plans to make sure we both would have the best Bangkok experience possible this time around. We had so many plans of what we wanted to do, see, eat, experience and we were amazed when we actually managed to complete our entire bucket list in just three days! So for those who arrive in Bangkok feeling much like we did the first time, don't worry you're not alone! If you only have the one opportunity to visit this amazing city then make sure you get the most out of it. Check out my Bangkok bucket list for a few ideas on what to pack into a few days:
Visit as many of the temples as possible, make sure you get to Wat Po, the Grand Palace and the Golden Mount - these buildings are so grand it would be a shame to miss them!
Fill your boots with street food - everything is so damn cheap in Bangkok, even by Thailand standards. But make sure you don't scrimp on quality - skip the food on Khao San Road where to be honest the service isn't great and the food is only average because they have such a huge turnover. Instead, check out the side streets and eat where the Thais are eating - usually some plastic chairs set up around a random kitchen set up on the street.
Get a massage, or two, or three... And enjoy some beauty treatments! Bangkok's are the cheapest I have found in the whole of Thailand, we ended up getting massages, manicures and pedicures for just a tenner each. Worth every penny and a nice treat for those traveller feet. Plus getting a foot massage at one of the parlours set up in the street and watching the world go by is an experience in itself.
Eat a bug. Sorry guys, but it's just a rite of passage. I never thought I would do it, but then my friends got me drunk and force fed me worms and crickets - actually they didn't taste too bad. Some other friends went the who,whom and had the scorpion but I definitely wasn't brave enough!
Go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market for all your shopping! The clothes are amazing, the jewellery is stunning, the home stuff is lush.. I could go on all day! Shopping heaven but only open on a Saturday and Sunday - we actually planned our trip around going to the market after hearing great things! Also, the floating market is definitely worth a visit but make sure you get the right one outside of Bangkok.
For knock-off shopping head to the MBK Mall - this place is amazing! I'm not normally one for this kind of thing but if you want trainers, watches, jewellery, clothes or designer fakes - this is the place for you. Plus if you happen to break your camera or your phone like I did, this is the best place to get them replaced or fixed. Seriously, the fourth floor is packed with hundreds of Thais who can do anything to an iPhone for a fiver and in just 20 minutes.
Okay so I'm not asking for judgement or opinions on this one as I'm not really sure how I feel about it myself just yet. But one thing that is on many peoples' Bangkok bucket list is seeing a ping pong show. I don't really agree with the principles of it and the treatment of these women concerns me, but I don't know enough about it to be sure. Anyway, I ended up in one and it was a hell of an experience, particularly when we got dragged into the male version straight after which was decidedly more graphic. I won't say whether you should or shouldn't do this, but I know that many people come to Thailand with it on their to-do lists so it would be wrong not to include it.
What did you think about Bangkok when you first arrived in Thailand? Haven't been - do you fancy a visit after reading this post? Would you add anything else to the bucket list?
I can't actually believe I'm writing a post about this hell-hole. My friend Lily and I travelled up from Koh Tao and decided to break up the journey to Bangkok by stopping off in Hua Hin, which we had read was a place where Thai people went on holiday. We arrived after spending a day on a ferry and bus - the comfiest bus I've ever been on, I hasten to add - and were pretty shocked to see McDonald's, KFC, Burger King and flashing lights everywhere. It was the trashiest looking place I have seen yet in Thailand and was filled with ageing British and German couples and old men looking for young Thai girls. To say we were disappointed was an understatement, but we sucked it up and luckily were ushered into a guest house by a taxi driver we met in the street. I say luckily because usually I wouldn't take any notice of these guys, but we couldn't find the hostel we were after and when we walked into the building the woman was offering us a double room with an ensuite for 300bt a night. We weren't overwhelmed, but it would do for the first night. Discovering a swimming pool on the roof the following night definitely changed our opinion and made us stay for a few more days instead of switching hotels. (I can't remember the name of our place but it was almost opposite a bar called Click)The beach at Hua Hin isn't a stunner. It's big and long and stretches round the bay but it's not good for sunbathing, there's a strong wind that hits the beach making it perfect for windsurfers but less so for relaxing. But the length and the firmness of the sand makes it perfect for an evening run which was something we enjoyed quite a lot - I love running on the beach at home, but it's definitely better when you can jump in a warm sea after and cartwheel the whole way home. We spent our days relaxing by the pool and our nights shopping at the market. Considering how expensive Hua Hin appears because of all the holiday makers, we actually managed to snap up a load of bargains and even a 100bt foot massage at the market. This was also a great place to stock up on the more commercial items like makeup wipes, sun screen, and any other beauty products with Boots and other stores on offer.The restaurants were good but not the best I've seen, street food is a bit lacking here although the market is good for food and particularly for seafood which is prepared right in front of you. Flames shoot up at regular intervals as head chefs cook up lobsters, prawns and huge fish on the grills set up outside the restaurants and the air is filled with the spicy smells of delicious Thai food. We also tried some fabulous duck at a few of the restaurants in the street near our hotel - the first time I had tried duck in Thailand and it was really tasty, with no fat and lots of flavour. I was really impressed with the duck salad and the green duck curry I had, and we also tried some delicious mussels topped with garlic, cheese and Thai herbs. Definitely explore the menus that offer slightly unusual dishes, there's plenty of different meals on offer here.All of these positives really didn't outweigh the negatives in Hua Hin, but we really made the best of it by going out and partying with the few locals who actually worked there. This did backfire one night when they took us to a Thai club and we were propositioned by some Thai guys who wanted to pay us for a night... Needless to say we left and didn't head back there in a hurry. The one saving grace of our time in the town was when I signed us up to do a morning of Muay Thai boxing training at Thai Boxing Garden, which was absolutely amazing! We headed in early to beat the heat but it was already hot and sweaty in the gym where the Thai boxing trainers were waiting. After a warm-up of skipping, it was straight into the straps on our wrists, the boxing gloves and straight into the moves. We worked hard and got results, the guys showed us all the moves and we definitely impressed them. Heck, I impressed myself after weeks of partying on the islands - half expected I would collapse halfway through! We had so much fun and left pumped and excited - we had hoped to make it to another session the next morning, but unfortunately Lily was ill so we couldn't do it. But I would definitely recommend trying out a session if you get a chance and like to keep fit. It's great fun, a good workout and good value for money depending on where you do it. There are also options to train every day for a week or longer for those staying longer.Overall, my advice would be to both holidaymakers and backpackers - avoid Hua Hin at all costs. We only stayed a few days because we didn't want to spend too much time in Bangkok before Lily's flights and because we had a pool, but if you don't need to break up your journey, just skip it altogether and save yourself from the sight of 60-year-old men with young Thai women. If you do end up there, definitely get away from the strip for an evening by dressing up in your finest and heading to The Hilton where they have a Sky Bar which looks over the whole town and is beautiful all lit up at night. I'll admit the cocktails aren't amazing, but they also aren't too expensive. If you're like me, you'll avoid the sugary concoctions and their sickly sweet taste and stick to champagne cocktails and bellinis instead. A nice treat for a backpacker.
Have you ever travelled to a hell-hole? Tell me about your holidays from hell...
After nearly a week of hard partying on Koh Phanang, it was time to explore further and we'd all heard amazing things about Koh Tao. Koh Tao is kind of like Koh Phanang was around 5-10 years ago, it's the island of the moment, the one every traveller will tell you that you simply MUST go there. That no matter what type of traveller you are, you will surely love it. To an extent, I have to agree that I can't imagine many people going to Koh Tao and finding any serious reasons to hate it. It's a beautiful place full of travellers and holiday makers, but for me it lacked any real culture or Thai feeling. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't disappointed in any way because I had purposefully not gone there looking for that. This just serves as a warning for other travellers to not go with expectations of a real Thai island - go there to party, go there to relax, go there to enjoy the beaches and meet people. I loved my time on the island but you don't go there to experience Thai culture, this is a tiny island with a lot of tourists overpopulating it and if you ask me, it doesn't have long left before it goes the same way as Koh Phi Phi.We arrived by ferry and started trudging up the hill with our bags, desperate to get away from the tuk tuk drivers and hostel touts trying to take our money at the port. We headed towards Sairee Beach which we had heard was home to the best nightspots and beach, we didn't make it very far and snapped up a cheap room for the night at Mr J's. It wasn't great but we made a plan to go straight out minus the bags and find somewhere better for the next day. Three of us bunked in one room and two in the other, but heading out down the beach we decided to move the following morning to SB Cabana which offered three bungalows between five of us, just behind the beach, for just 300bt each across three nights. These were much better and were right in the middle of the main strip which gave us great access to all the best bars and restaurants. On our first night, two of our group stayed in while one got over a cold, but the other three of us decided to head out for dinner and a massage, before we knew it, it was 4am and we were walking back after a lot of cocktails and a lot of fire show limbo - a pretty good start to our time on the island.The next few days passed in a blur of parties and fun with our little gang, I can't fit it all into this post, but one of my highlights had to be the night we all went to the ladyboy show, The Queen's Cabaret, which was hilarious and the best night's entertainment ever. Free entry, but drinks are expensive. It's amazing value and we had a great time singing along to all the songs, the two guys in our group even ended up with a starring role in the show when they were dressed up as ladyboys and took part in the final number. The night didn't stop there and we spent the rest of it partying on the beach with loads of friends we picked up along the way. I'll be honest and say the music wasn't anything incredible and the drinks were average. Although they did sell some pretty tasty buckets that weren't full of red bull which was a revelation for me. But one great thing about the island is how friendly everyone is, something I didn't really find when on Koh Phi Phi, everyone here wants to make friends and party together so you feel really welcome. That alone makes for some amazing nights out.Away from the parties, there's actually lots to do. I didn't do the diving this time because I was told the water was pretty murky and I didn't want to waste my chance but I hope to go back in May. One afternoon, me and one of the guys headed up on a scooter to the viewpoint to check out the island, it was a pretty nerve wracking drive up and really steep, but we made it! Sadly we had chosen a pretty cloudy day so we couldn't appreciate the full beauty of the island, but it was pretty amazing to look out across the bay even if we couldn't see the sunset. Heading down in the dark was a bit hairy but funny, and we were soon down at the beach again. The following day, for our final day as a five-some, we hired a long tail boat, grabbed some beers and snacks, and headed out for a day of swimming, snorkelling and exploring a tiny island called Nang Yuen. It was perfect, the water was crystal clear, the sun was hot, the beer was kept ice cold, and there were loads of fish. Yang Nuen was simply stunning as you can see from the pictures and it was a great hangover cure from the night before. Our final night together was the biggest party yet with lots of buckets, naked fire limbo, splashing around in the sea, dancing and singing at the top of our voices and lots of other hilarious moments. A perfect end to our little gang. After three of the group left, one of the girls and I stayed a few extra days to sunbathe and enjoy the island.
Have you been to Koh Tao - what did you think of the island? Have you seen a ladyboy cabaret - did you have as much fun as we did?
This is probably going to be one of the hardest posts I've ever had to write, not because of some deep emotional turmoil, but because Koh Phanang holds some of the best travelling memories for me so far. How are you supposed to express that in words? Yes, it's happened, I've become one of those people who left their heart on the island. I went with high hopes but low expectations to the island, with plans to meet up with a few friends I had met previously in Phuket for the Half Moon Party. I arrived two days early and hadn't booked anywhere to stay, so it was just luck I happened to meet two lovely girls at the pier, Maggie and Steph - we ended up rooming together in a bungalow on the west side of the island and had the best time sunbathing and chilling out. It was really nice to see this side of the island and to realise there was much more to Koh Phanang than most of us realise - this side was more aimed at couples and families on holiday, which meant the beaches were far more untouched and we even managed to find one hidden away in a little cove which was just stunning.After a couple of nights it was time for us to part ways and after a round of goodbyes, I headed over to the other side of the island for a day of shopping in Hadrin with Steph before she moved to the other side of the island for a yoga retreat. After I checked into my new hostel - Baan Thai Backpacker - we headed into Hadrin for a browse round the shops and a peek at the beach. It was actually really lovely considering how touristy that part is, normally I wouldn't really like this kind of area, but it had a kind of charm - especially when I saw the beach! It definitely helped that in the heat of the day, many of the tourists were either still in bed or staying out of the intense heat so it was a lot quieter than I expected. Later in the day I returned to the hostel - which was one of the best hostels I have stayed in! I can't rave about these guys enough, Karen and Tristan are the coolest hostel owners ever and it was great having them join in with the partying and even showing us around. If you're in need of a place to stay, this is the best place for the Half Moon Party and is surrounded by lots of other cool parties, it is a short drive from Hadrin but would also be perfect for the Full Moon Party.I was finally reunited with my little gang and what lots of new recruits - everyone staying at the hostel was amazing. I don't think I've ever met so many friendly and like-minded people in one place, and it was perfect for anyone travelling alone but looking to make friends. That first night a huge group of us partied all night long at the Maya Jungle Party which remains my favourite party of all of them - the music was the best, I love raving in the jungle and we had a great gang that night. After dancing all night, we headed to the beach for a late night swim - perfect end to the first night. The following day, a group of five of us headed out on scooters to explore the island and some waterfalls - it was a perfect hangover cure and we had a great time. Koh Phanang is a good island for exploring on scooters and it's nice to get off the touristy part and explore by yourselves - just don't head down the gravel paths as one of our friends had a bit of a skid.That night was the Half Moon Party and we had the best time getting dressed up in our bright colours, getting our faces painted and of course, slathering each other in UV paint. Our hostel hosted a huge pre-drinking party that was actually even more fun than the Half Moon - it was brilliant having the whole hostel together getting painted up and partying. And one of the fun things about meeting people from different countries has to be learning different rules to the drinking games and getting caught out when you forget. We finally headed to the Half Moon Party (1,000 bt including a bucket) and the next few hours are a bit of a blur of crazy excitement, lots of dancing and buckets. Amazingly our group of five managed to stay together despite the queues to get in, and we ended up raving at one of the stages for what felt like hours. Everyone was in the happiest mood and was just going for it - that's what I love to see, people covered in sweat with UV paint everywhere having the time of their lives. We all had an amazing night and I'm so glad I got to experience Half Moon with these guys.The next day we all felt a teensy bit delicate but after forcing ourselves out for breakfast we decided to head to Hadrin to chill by the beach - it was just what we needed to gather our energies for that night. Before we knew it, a few cocktails by the beach and a bit of browsing the streets suddenly turned into a group tattoo. (Sorry mum and dad, meant to tell you but I forgot!) so now five of us have matching tattoos to remember the week by - don't worry it wasn't entirely random. We all wanted to try bamboo tattoos, well a few of us did, and we kind of peer pressured one guy jerk getting his first tattoo. But it was a fun thing to do and I love my tattoo, it was brilliant to see them do bamboo tattoos, which heal pretty much instantly and don't penetrate the skin as deeply lessening the chance of infection. If I had to have a matching tattoo with anyone, I'm glad it was these guys.That evening we headed to the Ban Tai Afterparty on the beach at around sunset, it was pretty damn beautiful to see the sun setting from the comfort of a hammock with some good music in the background. Each party had a very different atmosphere and different people, this one was much more chilled out with a trancey dance floor inside if you wanted it. We spent the night talking to a lot of randoms, attempting to tightrope walk and dancing our hearts out. It was really nice to party with a change of scenery after two nights in the jungle and we met some real characters at this party including a 74 year old who moved here from Norwich when he retired and goes raving four times a week - what a legend. The next night, after another day on the scooters, we decided to have a night in watching movies and spending some time together as we made plans for Koh Tao - we just couldn't bare to part ways yet so we planned to island hop the very next day.
Have you been to Koh Phanang? What was your experience like?
I woke up with a jolt as an alarm went off in the lake hut next door, had I really even been asleep? It felt like just minutes ago the French guy I'd ended up sharing a hut with had been telling me about life as a chiropractor. It took a moment to realise why the alarm was going off and why the heck I was awake when it was pitch black outside and the morning safari was two hours away, but then it all came flooding back. I was up at 5am, along with five others, to paddle out in canoes to watch the sun rise over the jungle. Quickly pulling on my bikini and meeting the others out at the jetty where the canoes lay waiting, some of us pulled on life jackets for a bit of warmth, it was pretty cool out in the jungle at that time. There was joy a single light on around the lake huts, we went by torch light until our eyes accustomed to the stars which lit the beautiful night sky above us.I won't lie, there's something about dark water that kind of freaks me out. I think it's just the not knowing what is beneath you, not having any warning if something comes for you.. Haha silly I know! I've never let it get in the way of doing anything, but I have to admit I hesitated slightly when I saw just how dark it was out there on the lake. I wasn't the only one who had second thoughts for a split second, but we quickly pushed any doubts to one side, and thank god we did! Climbing into the canoes, I was sharing with an Israeli friend, Joav, who was a bit of an all around Indiana Jones, so he happily took on paddling after we realised our badly timed paddling was more likely to tip us over if I joined in. Paddling like a pro, the canoe cut through the calm surface of the water cleanly and we were soon out in the middle of the lake, having left the others far behind in our dust. We waited, floating silently in the water, for the other two canoes to catch up and listened to the deafening silence. It amazed me that the jungle could ever be that quiet. Apparently earlier in the night, Joav and a local had overheard a wild elephant crashing around in the undergrowth, but now it was deathly silent with the birds and monkeys still yet to wake.The others finally steadied themselves and made it out to meet us, we joined the canoes as closely as possible and waited, taking in the whole experience. We floated around, chatting and enjoying the peace of the early morning. Then, shortly after, the sky began to lighten around a mountain to the east of us. The clouds started to form those beautiful patterns, reflecting the first rays of sunlight and the jungle started to come alive. It was beautiful, no words can describe this experience, it left me speechless which is no mean feat. By the time 7am came around the sun was still yet to appear over the mountain, but sadly we had to go back for the morning safari - nonetheless, the sky was beautiful at that time of the morning. It was worth the sheer exhaustion of the late night followed by the early start, the morning safari and a huge uphill hike later that morning.The hike was exhausting but great fun, taking us around the lake we started out at a new point with a national park guide leading the way. It was a fairly uphill climb and some people struggled, so beware of you take this one on, but anyone with a standard level of fitness would be fine. The hike took us to a viewpoint which was lovely, but the cave that followed was far more spectacular. This huge cave was filled with stalagmites and stalactites, vipers lay inside and there were huge parts to climb and explore. We all had a great time there, followed by a walk back to the boat where we ate lunch and swam - even inventing pineapple polo as a new game with the leftover peel from lunch. It was a perfect way to end our time as the A Team and sad goodbyes followed the end of this amazing weekend. A smaller group of us who were staying at the park an extra night met up for drinks and card games that might, which was a lovely way to say goodbye before we all parted ways the following day.Khao Sok was incredible. It was easily one of the most amazing places I have visited in my two-and-a-half months of travelling solo - and believe me I've seen a lot of different parts of Thailand in that time. If you love outdoor activities, hiking, canoeing, caving and the like - you will feel right at home here! There is so much to do and see, and you might even get lucky and meet some pretty amazing people like I did.
Tell me about the places you've travelled to that really stood out in your mind - what made them so special? Have you visited any national parks?
One of my favourite experiences in Thailand so far has definitely been my time spent in a 160 million year old rainforest slap bang in the centre of the country. When my Lonely Planet and a few websites all described Khao Sok as the 'real Jurassic Park' it definitely captured my imagination and conjured up a few images - but nothing prepared me for the real beauty of this completely wild landscape. Coming from the southern islands, it was a complete change of surroundings - from perfect beaches to untamed, lush green forest. It was just what I was in need of, after the bustling, busy time in Phuket Town I was craving some nature and exercise. I was in for a treat, and after a long day spent on a bus with my newfound friend, we pitched up at the road to the national park and were jumped on by the touts trying to sell rooms at their places. In an amazing coincidence, I had planned to stay at Jungle Huts which is recommended by Lonely Planet, the first to approach me was from Jungle Huts and was offering me a treehouse bungalow there for a few hundred less than I had planned to spend - winning!After settling in and taking a walk round the village, it was time for some serious food and a few drinks with a group of German and Swedish people I had met. That night I had the best nights sleep listening to the jungle sounds of crickets, bats and the occasional monkey and woke up ready to take on the rainforest. I actually headed into the park by myself that first day and planned to spend the day exploring by myself, but overhearing two very familiar accents at the entrance was one of the best things that could have happened. I ended up meeting a couple from Suffolk just minutes into my walk and before you knew it we had teamed up together and hiked around 15km through the park over the course of a day, stopping only to swim in waterfalls spread along the jungle path. It was brilliant, just the exercise my body had been craving and great to get off the beaten path a bit. The travellers you meet in Khao Sok are there on purpose and are a different type to those you meet elsewhere, so it was great to find other people who were after the same experience I was.The couple were actually staying at Jungle Huts as well so that evening we met for dinner and planned to take the overnight trip to the man-made lake that stood in the middle of the park. It was the best decision we could have made and we all went to bed really excited for what the next two days would hold - with promises of caving, hiking, swimming and much more! We also met a small group of people who would be in our tour group the next day which was brilliant and the A Team began to take shape. The next morning, we met our group early and set out on our trip with our tour leader, Mr A - a total legend. After a short drive to pick up snacks and out to the lake, we caught a long tail boat across - an amazing journey that showed us the beauty of the landscape with towering cliffs, vast open spaces and dense jungle all sitting alongside each other. It was heaven rushing across the open water like that and the group of 16 were all beyond excited to see where we would be staying that night. The group was a total mixture of ages from late teens to 60's, but we all had a great time together.We arrived at the lake huts which were all sitting on a giant raft that had been built on the water, the whole thing rocked like crazy every time anyone walked on it and we were all a bit nervous about what the walk would be like after a beer or two! After lunch, we set out for a long hike to a cave in the middle of the jungle, it was amazing. After a short ride on the boat, we hiked through jungle, under towering rocks and over fallen trees, to reach the cave, which we then started making our way through by torchlight. It definitely wasn't somewhere you wanted to be if the lights went out with snakes, massive spiders and huge frogs living deep within. There were several parts where we had to wade through rushing water, and one point where we actually had to swim with our torches in our mouths, it was awesome! Just the kind of adventurous stuff we were all craving, and the real lack of health and safety made it even more exciting! We all arrived back at the lake huts and dove straight into the lake, which we were told in some places reached depths of 120m, but never got cold. It was strangely warm at all times, but perfect for swimming!That night was spent eating a delicious dinner of freshly caught and barbecued fish with the A Team, followed by beers and a night safari where we saw monkeys and stargazed from the long tail boat. It was so beautiful and as someone who loves a bit of stargazing, it was gorgeous to get such an amazing open view of the sky where it was so dark, the stars have never looked to clear. We all went to bed happy and prepared to get up early - at 7am for the morning safari although as all group of us planned to be up even earlier for something very special. There was a group of about six of us who bonded pretty quickly and we decided we wanted to get up to watch the sun rise while out on the lake in canoes. It was amazing and I'll tell you more about that in part two of my posts.
Tell me about your favourite travelling experience - which places have really made an impact on you? Have you explored any national parks around the world?
Phuket Town really started to feel like home for me. Why? Why this place in particular? Out of all those beautiful tropical islands? Well it's because this is the first place, and the first time in nearly a month that I had good enough wifi to be able to actually catch up with friends and family from home. It's amazing how quick the time goes here, and with rubbish Internet, I've just kept busy and coped with the odd email to catch people up on what I've been doing. Even sending pictures of what I had been doing to my family had been impossible! Thankfully it had been a busy few weeks and I'm lucky, I'm not the sort of girl who gets homesick. I can honestly say I haven't once pined for home during my time here, but I have missed telling my friends and parents about all the exciting and cool things I've seen and done. I love sharing the experiences with them and it makes things all the more amazing by doing so, I enjoy reliving the experience and excitement through telling them about it.
So you can imagine my excitement, when with the seven hour time difference, I finally managed to get get hold of my best friends from home on FaceTime after attempting for several days in a row. It's so difficult when I am seven hours ahead, I means I either try to contact when they are at work, or I have to wait until after a night out, when it is the early hours of the morning for me and all I want is to go to bed and get away from the mosquitoes. Plus with my phone out of action, it's even harder to reach them quickly, thank god I brought my iPad along with me - it's been a saviour! So after spending a few hours FaceTiming my two best friends in the world, it was amazing to relive every step of my trip with them from the beginning. They've been reading, but it's not the same and I was excited to tell them about all the bits I haven't blogged about as well as all the temples, people and food.The following night, I finally managed to get hold of my parents after trying constantly for weeks with no success - it was so good to see them and to share my trip with them. It was also good to reassure them that I am okay, I am coping and having a great time, because you know how parents worry. Even better, it was good to hear about what they had been doing, just stuff like work and going to the cinema, hearings out the snow and what my grandad had been doing... To realise that normal life is still going on back at home, everyone is still living their lives - it's so easy to feel like life at home has just stopped because you're so far apart from it all. But it's so nice to know that everyone is well and happy, it becomes all the more important to you when you're around 10,000 miles away, those connections are all the more important for both sides, and you realise how precious some of those relationships really are.
It's like when you go away to university and it really makes or breaks friendships - suddenly having to put in the time and effort to nurture the relationship is something that you either want to put the time I to or you don't. If you don't, that relationship is fucked, pardon my French. Friendship and love is a two way thing, without both sides putting in their all, you can't expect it to be a success. When I went to university, I found this great, finally there was a filter on my friendships and the ones that were less good for my life ended up dropping away naturally, while the ones that were steadfast and true ended up blossoming into full blown friendships that I know will last for life. I'm talking about the girls who will stand beside me in bridesmaid dresses at my wedding, the guys who will laugh and hit festivals with me until we're in nursing homes, I'm talking about the ones who love you know matter what.
Distance is a great tool for telling which relationships are worth it, which people are as crazy about you as you are about them, and it can be the best thing for you to get space sometimes to realise quite how much you value those in your life. Every single day I have several moments where a new friend reminds me of someone from back home who means the world to me, every day I see and experience amazing things that I immediately want to share with you guys back at home and that is why I love this blog - because I can share with so many of you exactly what I'm thinking, feeling and experiencing. FaceTime means just as much, because it means maintaining all those friendships and loves on a more personal note, telling all those deepest darkest thoughts and knowing that even if things go wrong, I have an army of people back home rooting for me. Thanks guys.
What does it mean to you to have contact with home while away travelling? How do you keep in contact with your loved ones while away?
I hate goodbyes. I'm writing this just after saying goodbye to two people who have been a huge part of my travels, one in particular has become like a sister to me despite just spending a few weeks together. When travelling, especially solo, you quickly form these intensely close friendships after experiencing so many amazing things together, and before you know it, you've not actually been alone for weeks. So when the time comes to actually part ways, I won't lie, it feels really shit. Like a piece of your heart has gone with them and suddenly you have to get used to being alone on the road again. Now being alone is actually quite rare when you're travelling, it's so easy to meet people that it almost becomes difficult to get five minutes by yourself, and if, like me, you've spent several weeks travelling with groups - it is a bit of a shock to the system to head out on your own again.
Don't get me wrong, travelling solo is still the best way in my mind. I feel you get so much more out of the whole experience by challenging yourself, and it is definitely the best way to meet people because you are forced to if you ever want any kind of human contact! But that doesn't mean it gets any easier when the time comes, and it always does, to say goodbye to the friends you make. I think the hard part is knowing that it will be a long time until you are reunited, if you ever are at all. I've met people from all over the world and unfortunately I just know that for many of us, our paths will never cross again. In some ways that is good, it means we can keep the memory of our perfect meeting pristine in the time and place it happened, rather than trying to reignite the feelings and excitement we felt first time around. Who knows if some of these friendships would survive outside the initial rush of Thailand?For some, it is just the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, and distance will never stand in the way. I know people who have later gone travelling again and used it as an opportunity to visit their travel friends at their homes across Europe, America, Australia or even Asia. What better excuse to catch up and visit than starting a whole new adventure travelling across the globe? It's quite amazing really, considering how short a time you spend with some people how big an impression they can make upon you - that they can leave such a hole when you part ways. If you're like me, the kind of person who throws themselves into everything with all their heart and soul, then you'll feel it even more when you have to say goodbye. The rule has always been the harder you go, the bigger the comedown afterwards. But if I wasn't the kind of person to throw myself off the highest diving board, I wouldn't make the friends I make and I would have had half the experiences I have had.
So yes the goodbyes are horrible. No they don't get any better. Yes there will be tears at some point. But that's okay, it's okay to feel a bit sad and rubbish sometimes, if you didn't you obviously didn't care that much in the first place. It doesn't mean you are ungrateful for travelling or anything like that, it just means you have a heart and everyone has down days. When you're travelling for as long as I am, it would be ridiculous to feel 100% ecstatic every single day, and no one would believe you anyway. So embrace the sadness for a little while, then get up and get on with it, get yourself out there and meet a whole load of awesome new people and do some awesome new things. They won't ever replace the people who are home, but they can sure as hell give it a good go!
How do you cope with goodbyes? Any top tips for solo travellers who are forced to part ways with new friends?
Okay so you remember that time I wrote about smear tests? This is going to be a little bit like that... Probably one for the girls and a bit much for the boys to cope with - just warning you now. So Dad, if you're reading this, you can give this post a miss. Periods. Pretty bloody inconvenient aren't they? It was never something me really thought about before coming away, but I certainly wish I had now so I could have been more prepared. This is something no one warned me about and something I had never read about, but I know I'm not the only female traveller to be caught out unexpectedly. I've met several women on the road who have been only too quick to tell me about the horrors they have faced using Thai toilets when they just want a nice clean toilet with loo roll on hand. When you're packing to come away, it's just not something that really crosses your mind because as Westerners, we are so used to having sanitary products on sale in every shop with clean dashing toilets everywhere, and those super hygienic disposal buns for anything that won't flush. But what happens when it's not all so convenient?
Surfing the crimson wave, or riding the cotton pony, never seems to come at a good time and it's far more annoying when you're going on holiday and you just want to be looking fabulous in a bikini instead of bloated and like a beached whale with spots the size of maltesers. Painting a beautiful picture here aren't I? To be honest, I've never been one of those girls who has been that bothered by periods, they're an inconvenience but I just get on with it. If I know I'm going away on holiday or something, I will use my contraceptive pill to control when I have a period, so I can time it for a week later or even a month later. Good old microgynon! But what happens when you're going travelling for a year? Well it's one thing to run two packs of pills together, but a years worth isn't quite so good for you I'd imagine, so how do you cope with having a period in Thailand and what do you need to know?
Toilet tissue has to go in the bin (in most places) and so do all tampons and sanitary products - that means when you change your tampon, it is left wrapped in a bit of tissue in the bin. Seems pretty gross to a westerner, but it's either that or the whole bathroom with be flooded with whatever else is down there!
Go prepared. Much of Thailand doesn't sell a fantastic selection of sanitary products, so don't walk into a 7/11 and expect to find all your favourite brands. You will want to make sure you have a good supply of tampons in particular as I haven't actually seen them on sale anywhere yet - Thai women apparently use sanitary towels instead as tampons are considered unclean. Pack as many as you can! I met some girls who were having them posted out to them from mum.
The sanitary towels are nothing compared to the slim fit ones at home - while slim, they often seem to come with huge wings. Not quite as discreet and comfortable as the ones from back home, but they do the job when you're desperate and run out of supplies. Just be sure to stock up when you see them on sale as you often won't find them in shops in some more remote places. I think some of the Thai women must be shoving a rolled up newspaper up there instead!
Things like wet wipes and anti bacterial gel are really helpful when you want to make sure you have clean hands and a clean body in slightly less clean places. As a backpacker, you quickly lower your standards of cleanliness to fit with the place around you, and when you add in limited clothes and underwear in your bag, sometimes you just want to feel fresh - these can make all the difference.
If you have quite heavy periods, it might be worth seeing your doctor before you go and seeing if they can put you on a contraceptive pill that will help to lighten them and to make you more comfortable when travelling - but this is totally a matter of personal choice. I've met girls who have the injection, the implant, the coil and a range of other methods for dealing with periods while on the road.
Don't let it scare or stop you! Having a period in Thailand is really not that bad and it is certainly no excuse to lock yourself in a dark room and cry. It doesn't have to stop you from doing anything, I still hiked, swam, sunbathed and explored plenty of places and it didn't stop me enjoying myself. Just make sure you don't push yourself too hard, if you have bad period pains then give yourself some painkillers and take care of yourself. It's okay to have a lazy day when you're feeling rubbish, or to head to the city when you're too bloated to feel comfortable in a bikini. That's the beauty of backpacking, it's so flexible and will fit around how you feel.
Okay that's all my period advice for today - girls I hope it helped you. Guys, well done if you made it to the end of this post.
If anyone has any questions, I'm always at the end of a comment, so leave one below and I'll always get back to you. Or why not share your period horror stories from your travels?
I've always been a very confident person, anyone who knows me will tell you that, but travelling has brought out a confidence I never knew I had within me. People talk about travelling changing them, particularly solo travelling, they say it makes you more relaxed, more flexible, more open to experiences. I don't agree that it changes you, I think it actually just brings out the true version of yourself - the one that was hiding behind layers of stress and hard work before. While backpacking you are finally free of the rat race, of the pressures of work and society, you can finally be the person you always wanted to be, but never thought you could. It sounds silly and I'm sure those who haven't done it feel like I'm getting all emosh about travelling, but the ones who have experienced it are nodding vigorously at the screen.
I've met so many people who have spoken of the exact same feeling - that feeling of a sudden strength and confidence, that undeniable capability. So where does it come from? Well the fact that so many are heading out on these enormous trips by themselves, carrying their life in a bag and visiting all kinds of places alone, relying completely and totally on themselves is no small thing. It is a huge life-altering experience, particularly if, like me, you've never done anything like this before. I've already learnt so much by relying totally on myself to get from A to B, and then on to C, I've had to find my way home from the middle of nowhere by trying to communicate with those who don't speak English, I've had to look after myself when I'm sick. But I've done it all and done it well.
That is where the confidence comes from, that silent assuredness that I can cope with anything that is thrown at me, that no matter when happens or where I end up, I will manage to find a welcoming hostel, a bar and a good meal. That I can cope with the paperwork - arranging visas and flights on the road, making sure I have permits for national parks and all the rest. It's that knowledge that despite the language barrier, you can communicate your needs and wants to others successfully, that you can get where you need to be and you will be okay. It's that confidence that when you're walking the streets you are not constantly going to be a target of thieves, rapists and all the rest, that people actually just want to meet you and talk to you, unlike what everyone else said before you left!What raises you higher every single day is meeting new people, being that person who puts themselves out there repeatedly, just waiting to see if a new friendship will form or if you will be knocked back. It's so easy when you're in a cosy bubble of friends and family back home who have all known your forever to not realise your value or your worth. But constantly meeting new people, telling them your stories and about your life and seeing their eyes light up, you realise that actually strangers think you're pretty awesome and they want to be friends with you. That actually there are people outside your bubble, from across the globe, who can have so much in common with you. Like when you meet someone and within a day you know you'll be friends for life, like you've been waiting your whole life to meet the other part of yourself. That's the travel soulmate.
All of these things, and so many more, help boost you up as a person and make you realise how amazing you are, and that's why travellers come back with that glow. That glow of self confidence and self assurance, the one the non-travellers can't quite place but put it down to a tan and a happy holiday. It's more than that, it's knowing who you are and who you want to, and can, be. At home it is so easy to be caught up in everyday life, but removing yourself from that busy, stressful environment really helps fast track you to becoming that confident and fabulous human being that takes time to grow. So if you're heading out on a solo trip somewhere, remember to embrace this feeling and to feel proud when you get it, it means you've grown as a person and realised how awesome you really are!
Do you know the feeling I'm talking about? How has travelling changed you as a person? Or has it had no effect on you? Tell me about your experiences - whether a year-long solo trip or a weekend away with friends.
My final post on my time in Phuket is one about a particularly amazing experience that I was lucky to survive. I decided one evening to wake up early the next morning and hike up to the highest point of Phuket Town, Khao Rang, after a friend who worked in the hostel recommended I check out the sunrise. It sounded magical and I couldn't resist the opportunity to watch Phuket spring into life from the grounds of a temple high in the hills. For me, sunsets are beautiful and special in their own way, but best when shared with someone special, or a group who mean a lot to you. The sunrise is different, it is a moment for solitude and peace, a moment for silence to take in the world around you. As I said in previous posts, Phuket was a time for me to explore on my own, because one important thing to remember about travelling by yourself,mis that you're very rarely completely by yourself. It can be nice to get out on your own and be totally independent again, and this was my chance to do something alone.I woke up at 5.30am and quickly pulled on my trainers and grabbed my bag. Walking down the street you could see it had barely wound down from the bustling market that filled it each night, and yet fresh stall holders were already setting up and taking deliveries. Still dark, the road was bathed in soft light from the street lamps and the cars and bikes driving past - it's never quiet in Thailand. I made my way along the street, following my vague map and directions. At the crossroads I turned right and started the walk uphill, passing stalls and shops opening up. Finally I reached the end of the main roads and started to climb the hill alongside a small Thai woman who was on her way to another temple for morning prayers. Despite not speaking a word of English she seemed eager to chat and find out more about me, it was a lovely start. Thanks to a big of sign language and wishful thinking we managed to have a bit of a chat before parting ways.Not long after, I genuinely thought I was going to die. Okay, I'm being a bit melodramatic but seriously guys, no one warned me about the snarling dogs that would chase me along the street, or the monkeys that were eyeing up my bag and clearly thought I had food. Needless to say, I legged it. I love dogs, and I know some people say the dogs here just want to be loved and petted, but sorry I don't agree. Most dogs in Thailand just want affection and love, but these ones were psycho and were defending their territory. Natural instincts I guess, but when you have snarling dogs running at you in a dark road where there is no one else, it definitely doesn't make you want to pet them. I would have preferred a tranquilliser gun. Luckily I made it away with no bites or injuries, just the shakes. But when I reached the top of the hill and made my way to the temple, I heard more bloody dogs!I ended up having to leg it across the temple and up the stairs to jump over a locked gate just to escape the little buggers. But it was worth it, especially when I realised I was the only person at the temple - even the monks hadn't arrived yet. It took me about 20 minutes to reach the temple and by this point the sky was starting to turn pink, I sat down on the top steps of the temple to watch the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Complete silence apart from the birds, it was perfect. I don't think my words can really do it all justice, but hopefully my photos will. It was just one of those amazing moments in life you wish you could share with others, but you know it wouldn't have been the same with other people there. After the sun had started to rise over the trees, the monks arrived - one was very surprised to see me already on the steps of a temple he obviously thought was locked up. But he did well not to break his vow of silence. Another greeted me with milk and cake, and was keen to chat with me about the temple, my travels and life at home. It was an amazing start to the morning, and after sitting in on morning prayers, I made my way down to the town - using a different road to avoid the crazy dogs.
Tell me about your solo travel experiences - have you ever visited a temple at dawn? Or do you prefer sunset? How do you cope with being alone in situations like this?