Vietnam 2017

Duration: 1 Month.

Hanoi > Sapa > Cat Ba > Nimh Binh > Phong Nha > Hue > Hoi An > Phu Quoc > Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam; there’s so much to write about, but so little space.

Well, it’s safe to say things didn’t get off to a great start. After being herded onto the tightest sleeper bus like cattle, eaten alive by bed bugs living in the blankets and spending 12 hours stranded in ‘No Man’s Land’, in between the Laos and Vietnam border, we finally arrived in Hanoi… just 32 hours later.

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Having left the sleepy town of Luang Prabang behind, it was refreshing to be back in a bustling city again. And bustling Hanoi certainly was. In fact, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen in your life. It’s like driving down through Sparkhill at rush hour – just ten times worse. Crossing the road was a whole new ball game altogether. There’s three simple steps to getting to the other side alive. 1) count your blessings. 2) hold your breath and 3) just peg it and scream. It seemed to work for the most part. Again, sorry mom!

Next up, we took the bus up north to Sapa. Stunning, but bloody hell it was arctic. We stayed in the cutest homestay, Nha Tra, which felt like the closest thing to home. And, a welcomed change from grubby and packed out hostels. Every night we all sat round the table for dinner, slept in the biggest beds with heated blankets and had an energetic 4-year old constantly begging to play. To top it off, it was the place I woke to find out my beautiful nephew, Charlie James, had been born.

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Another definite highlight of Sapa, without a shadow of a doubt, were the people we met; Alex & Tess from Australia and Kat & James from Canada who we travelled the majority of Vietnam with. It was fab to finally to meet ‘real’ travelling friends – not these ones who live in elephant pants, forget to wash for a week and think they’re the greatest gifts on earth. You stumble across one too many of these creatures.

There’s 5 things I learnt while travelling in our little pack:

1. England has the worst holidays (Canadians get 5 weeks, just saying)
2. Cries De Thabernak in French means ‘fuck sake’ – always came in handy when the Chinese would try and wedge themselves in a queue.
3. Canberra is the capital of Australia
4. Distinguishing between a Canadian and American accent is a lot harder than you think.
5. Asians love to sweep. Eat, sleep, sweep, repeat.

Well, at least I can say I’m going home a little bit wiser.

Right, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes. Another one of my favourite spots in Vietnam has to be Hoi An; the place of lanterns. It was completely different from every other place in Vietnam we’d seen. Every street was decorated colour lanterns, tailor shops and tiny boutiques; It was heaven.

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To wrap things up, I can’t talk about Vietnam without mentioning Ho Chi Minh. The sweatiest, busiest, and quite frankly, the weirdest place I’ve ever been too. We stayed in Ho Chi Minh for Christmas and what a Christmas it was. Christmas Eve consisted of; drinks in one of the city’s most famous sky bars and a boogie at Shaka, a tiny little club we found a few days before. As for Christmas Day? It had a bit of a twist. We swapped Buck’s Fizz for hungover pastries and Peter Kay in bed (…not literally) and traded the age-old turkey dinner for a delicious 6-course Vietnamese meal (followed by a few treats from 7-eleven, of course ).

Overall, Vietnam was incredible for a number of reasons. Its humble people. Its flavoursome food. It’s culture. But most importantly, its quality fakes.

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Laos – The place no-one can pronounce

 

After a very very very long and slow boat from Thailand (3 days, in fact), we finally reached Laos.

Imagine a tiny, little French town slap bang in the middle of Asia – that’s Luang Prabang. Flavoursome food, quaint buildings and the best night markets to date. I think we can safely say Luang Prabang stole a little bit of our hearts.

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It’s near enough impossible to talk about Luang Prabang without giving our favourite (watering hole), Bouang, a special mention. After two months living off Asia food, some western food was well needed. And this spot did the job. The cinnamon pork stew was to die for. It literally melted in your mouth and the mash was next level – even by my standards. Mmm, it’s still making me dribble thinking about it. Again, we did this place to death.

As for the drink? The nightlife in Luang PrAbang is weird one that’s for sure. Imagine a bowling alley. Imagine an archery pitch. Now, imagine a bunch of backpackers trying to get a bullseye and strike half cut. That’s Asia for you

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You can’t visit anywhere in Asia without sniffing out the nearest waterfall. Well, that’s what we seem to do anyway. But, Kuang Si Waterfall blew every other one we’ve visited out of the water (pardon the pun, lol). We ignored the ‘No Entry’ sign, scrambled under barbed wire, over fallen trees and braved it through the slippery slush beneath our feet to the secret waterfall. It was certainly worth the cuts and a few-too-many near death experiences – sorry mom!

After Luang Prabang, we took the uncomfortable journey down south to Vang Vieng. First impressions? Bit of a dump. Bit like Benidorm. The streets were plastered with tacky tourist bars and stalls selling nothing but waterproof bags. Eager to see the Vang Vieng we’d read so much about, we hired a scooter and took to the very, very pot holed streets. The views beyond the booze-ridden streets were well worth the sore bums we felt in the morning.

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Of course, we couldn’t visit Vang Vieng without doing a spot of tubing (…and a bit of drinking). A bar crawl. On a tube. In a river. What could possibly go wrong? Despite a few cuts and being taken out by the current one too many times, it was such a funny experience.

Overall, Laos was a beautiful place and somewhere I’d highly recommend.

 

 

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A slice of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – what an undiscovered gem. Beautiful white sandy beaches, delicious seafood and the friendliest of people.

First up, we visited Colombo – a place I will not be rushing back to any time soon. From its shady streets, to dodgy tuk tuk drivers and a night of robberies in the hostel – Colombo definitely threw everything into the mix. But despite all the mishaps, we met a proper good bunch of people.

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A few days later, we took – and luckily managed to cop a window seat on – the world-famous 7 hour train ride from Kandy to Ella to catch a glimpse of Sri Lanka’s surreal countryside. It was only then that we realised we were going to be in for a real treat. It was only then we realised Sri Lanka was going to be one of our fave places. No train journey will ever match it – ever.

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Ella was without a shadow of a doubt the most stunning place in Sri Lanka. We stayed with the loveliest family – who insisted on providing us feasts for breakfast – up in the mountains overlooking Ella Rock. Honestly, it was a proper ‘pinch me moment’ every morning waking up to such incredible views without a soul knocking around the place.

Here was where had our first taste of real Sri Lankan food – and bloody hell it didn’t disappoint. We found a tiny place called Matey Hut – a literal hut shoved on the side of the road – which had THE tastiest mango and pineapple curry (and hands down the best poppadoms known to man).

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From here, we headed down to the south coast to have a nose at Sri Lanka’s untouched beaches. Our first, and longest stop, was at Mirissa. Mirissa Beach
soon became a place we made home and gave us a chance to be cabbages for a week (… I mean re-energise). It’s cheap bottles of Lion, flavoursome seafood and crazy waves were enough to win us over.

No-one can talk about Mirissa without mentioning THE roti shop – fact. Let’s put it this way, we paid the place a visit near enough twice a day for the whole week it was that good. It was like Starbucks for a coffee addict – the woman knew our order off by heart. The avocado, tomato and cheese one and the banoffee rotis were unreal. What I’d do to have another one right now…

 

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Then there’s Unawatuna – a place which definitely lives up to its name. From its completely unspoilt beaches to its quirky beachside cafes – it was hard not to fall in love with this place. And of course, a fitting place to sink my teeth into some tasty tuna too! God damn, it was good.

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It was also the place where I discovered my newfound love for turtles. We stopped off at Koggala Sea Turtle Rescue Centre where we met a bunch of injured turtles and also managed to grab a hold of 1 month old ones as well.

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So, in a nutshell Sri Lanka was a cracking place and somewhere I’d most certainly return to sometime in the future.

 

 

 

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“There’s no smell like Smelly Dehli” – India 2017

After months of saving, planning and talking the ear off people about my travels, it was finally time to pick up my giant orange backpack (which is slowly killing me already) and start my adventure around South-East Asia – something I’ve been itching to do for as long as I can remember.

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First up to tick off the list was India. Having been so curious to visit India for so long, I knew it had a lot to live up to. I knew it had so many sides I couldn’t wait to discover. Of course, it did far from disappoint. From its delicious food, incredible architecture, and most importantly, the humblest of people you’ll ever meet, I feel it will take an awful lot for any other place I visit after this to match up to it.

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Our first stop was Dehli; a place I’d heard so much, but knew so little about. I’ll never forget my first impressions of Dehli – the smell. Bloody hell it was smelly. I mean EXTREMELY smelly. Like, imagine the worst smell you’ve ever smelt, times it by ten, and you’re not even close to smelly Dehli. Piles of rubbish (along with whatever else) was left to fester and swelter in the sun on every street corner. It was chaotic – even more chaotic than the bullring at Christmas. Yeah I know, hard to picture it. More often than not, you’d find yourself squeezing into the smallest (…and smelliest) space to make way for the odd cow carrying carts through the skinniest of streets. This was when it hit me. This is India.

 

 

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Madhogarh village, without a shadow of a doubt, was my favourite spot – and a refreshing break from the bustling city. We stayed in Fort Madhogarh – a converted 400 year old fort – overlooking a stunning backdrop. But the highlight of Madhogarh was definitely meeting the village people. Little children running from every corner to pose for a picture, the most beautifully dressed people inviting us into their homes and watching the crafts people going about their daily routine. I’ve never seen so many people, despite having nothing, so happy. It was an incredible experience.

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Another place I loved in India was Udaipur. After watching the sunset on the lake, we went to a traditional Rajasthani dance show – and what a show it was. Picture this, a tiny, 71 year old woman dressed up to the nines in the sparkliest sari and jewellery covering every inch of her body. Got it? Ok. Now picture the same woman balancing 8 ceramic pots on her head while dancing on shards of glass – she was a machine.

Looking back, there’s so much of India I still want to see. Well, I guess it’s another excuse to come back. So, until next time India

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Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Over the Garden Fence Review

Seamless. The word that sums up Haylo Theatre’s ‘Over the Garden Fence’ in one.

Take all your perceptions of Dementia – ‘the disease that makes you go barmy, loopy and eccentric’ – and swipe them under the carpet. Actually no, screw that. Pick them up and lob them out the window as far as you can possibly throw them. That’s exactly what Haylo Theatre did.

A story about memories, family and friendships, the play is nothing short of a beautiful masterpiece. Stunningly written, flawlessly performed and without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of my Edinburgh Fringe experience.

Putting a spin on things, the incredibly talented duo told the journey of Dementia as though it was a library. Likening our minds to a fragile library where all of our memories, beliefs and emotions are stored as books. Some yellow, some missing pages and some slightly tattered, but all in a place where only we know where we put them.

 

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Set up in a tiny studio, just off Infirmary Street, the performance was an incredibly intimate experience. Only arms length away from the performers and with nothing but a small coffee table and a couple of make-shift garden fences, it felt as though I was part of the performance and the play was about my life. And how true that was.

Striking a chord with every emotion, the performance pulled on each and every heart string and stirred feelings I didn’t even know I had. From tears of laughter at Hayley’s remarkable ability to nail every single punchline – the dog and the diet was my favourite one – but don’t worry, I won’t spoil it for you. To then a stream, in fact scrap that a flood, of tears of happiness as many of my own personal memories were uprooted.

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After losing my Grandad Jim, the ‘Big Fella’ as we always used to call him, a couple of years ago to the disease, Dementia is a subject which lies extremely close to my heart. The nattering neighbours, the hopeless social workers and the fungal toe infection, they were all things my family had experienced all too often.

Not quite knowing what to expect, I wasn’t sure whether ‘Dementia’ and everything that came with it was something I’d rather forget – as ironic as that sounds. How wrong I was. In fact, it completely changed how I felt.

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Written with so much thought, many of the lines stayed with me long after the show, with one in particular.

The opening line, ‘What if the things we remember are more real than the things we see’, so perfectly told by ‘Annabelle’ played by the talented Hayley Riley has stayed with me long after Saturday’s performance.

Watching the show, my Grandad’s cheeky smile, his gentlemen ways and his belly-laughing stories felt more real than ever. The moment Louise Evans, who simultaneously played Grandma and Grandad, re-enacted the first time they met sent shivers down my spine and filled me with tears for the rest of the performance. Her ability to swap and change from one character to another was not only commendable but utterly faultless.

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Throughout the performance, I felt as as though my own Grandad was standing right in front telling me the stories all over again. But, this time even more crisp and certainly even more funnier. The story in the play of burnt turkey at Christmas reminded me of my favourite story; the donkey and the newsagent. The time my Grandad ‘borrowed’ a donkey from the field and placed it inside the corner shop to distract the newsagent, while he leant over the counter to swipe a packet of cigarettes. He always liked to miss out the bits that happened after that.

That story always reminded me that he never forgot. He just always picked his ‘favourite book off the shelf’ every time I went to see him. He didn’t waste his time trying to prove to me he could ‘remember the Prime Minister’s address’ as the play perfectly put. Instead, he spent every single time telling me I’d put on weight and that my face had ‘filled out a lot more since last time’ (that’s made me chuckle). I loved his honesty, however brutal it may have sounded at the time.

Weirdly or weirdly not, the play gave me closure. It made me realise something I guess I couldn’t understand at the time as he was slowly affected by the ‘disease’. It’s not a disease and it’s not something we should be scared of. Yes, sometimes he forgot the time and he forgot that he had already eaten his bread and butter pudding and couldn’t have another one (all tactics to get a second helping if you ask me). But as the play beautifully showed, these memories are irrelevant, he had much more funnier memories that took up more space.

Overall, the play which was executed so well didn’t leave a dry eye in the house – and rightly so. Ending with a standing ovation, the play was an incredible experience and a credit to Hayley and Louise who absolutely outdone themselves.

 

Photo Credits: @emilyalicephotography

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2017 – Seven ways to a happier self in 2017

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                                                                             – CK illustration

Scrolling through Facebook – like I do every morning – I stumbled across an article which really hit the nail on the head. It put things into perspective… something I’m shit at. It was basically a kick up the arse to say slow down and take a breather – you’re only 22. I’m guilty for going a hundred miles an hour and never making time to stop and take it all in. I can never sit still and hope things fall into place. I guess what I’m trying to say is I never trust fate. To me, fate is only something you can make. But, I suppose that’s not always right. I’m so scared about the future and then I realise what’s the point – life isn’t meant to be meticulously planned out from start to finish. I suppose there wouldn’t be any fun be without spontaneity. So, before I go off on a massive tangent and bore you all to death, here’s a few of the things/mini goals I hope to achieve by the end of 2017.

  1. Blog more

Blogging is one of life’s little outlets. It’s where I feel I can write about absolutely anything. The triumphs, the shit situations and everything in between. But, I feel I’ve neglected it lately. They say a problem shared is always a problem halved – so I guess it has health benefits too.  I’m determined to talk about things a lot more and give my input on the little (or big) things that crop up in life. I’m not talking political bullshit, we hear enough of that as it is. So, be prepared to see a lot more of me.

2. ‘Try’ to be a bit more organised

In with the new and out with the old, I decided to welcome in 2017 with a well-needed clear out. If you know me well, you know how much I love to hoard. So, as I’m starting a new job on Monday, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to bin all the baggage and get everything organised. For the first time in my life, my shoes and wardrobe are freakishly organised. But it’s still early days so we’ll see how long that lasts for. It’s weird how much better it makes you feel.

3. Don’t be a cookie cutter

While reading through a recent Vogue edition, Alex Shulman used a phrase which has stuck with me ever since. Funnily enough, it has nothing to do with food. She talked about how important it is to be inspired rather than to be a copy. No-one wants to get lost in the crowd and nobody wants to follow other people’s dreams – I certainly don’t. I feel as though it is very easy for our generation to be pressured into becoming cookie cutters. There is this constant pressure to follow the old-fashioned way and be in a relationship, have a steady career and be a homeowner by a certain age. That’s definitely not me. I’m completely content with being single – I’m still figuring out what I want myself, I can’t be doing it for someone else aswell at the minute. I’m far from ready to settle down. The sheer thought of settling down scares me because I feel like I have so much to do and get out of my system first. As for a career, I don’t think I’ll ever know until the dream hits me in the face.

4. Stop putting so much pressure on myself

I’m my own worst enemy. I criticise everything I do and always try to do better. It’s a very annoying trait to have. During the mega clear-out, I came across an old school report – it was so weird. My tutor wrote “Be happy, keep working hard (but don’t be too hard on yourself)”. Some things never change. I’m determined to let things pan out for themselves instead of forcing them. Jobs, friendships and paths.

5. Stop panicking and enjoy my 20s

I’ve learnt the worst thing to do is let time slip through your fingers. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Spending three years away for Uni proved that. Before you say it, no I’m not talking about Carpe Diem – that phrase literally makes my skin crawl. I’m just going to enjoy the fuck ups and appreciate the surprises. My hair might be turning grey ( I know, shit ain’t it) but I’m not ready to take on the role of a fully fledged, responsible adult just yet. There’s plenty of time for that later.

6. Travel more

Whether it be  hundreds of miles across the globe to Asia, weekend trips to Europe, or even a quick trip up to Manchester – I want to travel much more. I have no ties and I know I need to use it to my advantage. After learning so much about myself in America, I want to learn even more. I can do it, I just need to confidence to tell myself I can do it.

7. Be happy by learning not to give a fuck

Simple as that. Do what makes me happy. Stop trying to make other people happy.

I hope 2017 is a fabulous year for everyone.

The Mad Grad

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2016 – The Rollercoaster Year

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Sat with a half eaten box of Celebrations to my left (leaving behind Mars and MilkyWay, of course) and a sharing bag of ‘Cool Original’ Doritos to my right, I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on the past year. Everyone take a deep breath.

2016, what a year it’s been. We’ve lost our some of the world’s greatest legends; Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Victoria Wood, and as sadly revealed on Christmas Day, George Michael. Just when we thought it could get any worse, Trump managed to worm his way into The White House and Britain chose Brexit. Gordon Bennett, let’s hope next year perks up a bit. Big news aside, I have had my fair share of ups and downs this year. In fact, it’s been an absolute rollercoaster year. Think Alton Tower’s Oblivion. You think everything is going fine and then all of a sudden.. BAM… a drop appears out of nowhere.

So, here’s a few of the highlights and low-lights of 2016.

Swings and Roundabouts.

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I landed myself the job I’d been waiting a long time for. I’d found a team of people I loved working with (Even you Carps) and was finally doing something I loved, writing. But, eight months and three consecutive front pages down the line, things took a nasty turn. News broke. Yet, this time it was a story I hoped I would never have to write about. Dreaded redundancy. Absolute devastation. After the odd tear (Ok slight exaggeration), I brushed myself off and tried to see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to grab with both hands. Despite a few wrong turns, I received a number of job offers – it was a nice feeling. After following my heart instead of my head, I decided to snap up the job I knew I’d love going to every single day. In fact, I actually CAN’T WAIT to start. I have a good feeling about it. I have the feeling I’m doing something right – and that rarely happens. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is opportunities crop up for a reason

Hamburg

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Visiting the most beautiful city in the world is definitely a highlight of the year. Every single city should take a leaf out of Hamburg’s book. It receives top marks in every single area. I have never been so in love with a city in all my life; its culture, fashion and stunning buildings. I’d nearly go as far as saying it’s the prettiest city I’ve laid my eyes on – and I’ve seen a fair few. You’ll never step foot in a British-spin-off-german-market ever again i once you’ve experienced the real thing – believe me. You all know I’m a bit of a fashion freak (Ok, a slight understatement), so seeing stumbling across Neuer Wall was an absolute dream come true. Miles of designer shops, stunning shoes and beautiful bags – Gahhhhhh. There’s something a bit ‘jaffa-cake-like’ about Hamburg. Hang on, let me explain. It’s the place you could never get bored of and you always want to go back for more.

Dot2Dot festival

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Bloody hell what an event that was. Me and cider fell out after that night. But Dot2Dot festival is by far one the best music festivals I have ever been to – and it was only 12 quid. We all know I know a bargain when I see one. Drinking tinnies while stumbling across Manchester’s beautiful streets and watching unsigned bands in grungy underground venues – there’s very little not to love.

Bonobo Live.

Seeing Bonobo live in Shoreditch is definitely also a highlight of the year. The warehouse venue, the atmosphere and the company – everything about it was on the money. Stealing the spotlight with a lengthy set, the electronic DJ was everything I imagined (.. and more). Listening to Cirrus on Spotify is pretty special, but believe me hearing it ‘live’ was on a completely different level. Seeing him again is definitely on my tick list… but perhaps I’ll reconsider my shoe choice next time.

Anyways, here’s to 2017 – the year I hope will be full of good health and happiness.

The Mad Grad 

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