Sunday, 25 July 2010

DO remember it as the best time of your life

Rain, beans on toast and the Post Office lady telling me in no uncertain terms that no I may not borrow some I have to buy my own sellotape.... oh yes, I’m back in Blighty and 5 months of travelling has finally come to an end. It’s been fascinating, intoxicating, both hilarious and saddening, calming and exhilarating.... and by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see, done things I never thought I could do and found a smile in places I’d never thought to look. I’ve come face to face with an elephant, danced with ladyboys and been carried across mountains by a tribal granny. Asia truly is an amazing place and it’s filled with some of the most interesting, bright and open people I’ve ever met.

If you’ve ever thought of going somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere you’ve never been before.... do it. I can guarantee you will never regret it. There’s a whole world out there- and life’s too short.

Thanks for reading everyone- I’ll keep blogging about any new adventures that come my way and post the links on here as soon as they’re up and running so make sure to check back every now and again.

Bye for now,

Katie xxx

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

DO eat your way around Penang

Everything you hear is true- the food here is weird, wonderful and dangerously, belt-buckle-poppingly LUSH.

Just spent an entire, fabulous afternoon stuffing everything under the sun into my face in little India. In just two hours I've munched tandoori chicken samosas, fried yellow bean cakes, Putu Mayam (steamed noodles with grated coconut and palm sugar- which, by the way, are the best thing EVER), and sweet Indian pulled tea. Add that to the local Chinese buffet I had for lunch, traditional Islamic dried fruits for an afternoon snack and the dim sum we are planning to have for dinner in just over an hour and you've got yourself one fat mama. Fat, but happy. I bet Father Christmas has his summer holidays here.

DON'T get sucked into diving on Koh Tao

Unless you want to spend 800 quid in a week (oh yes, I nearly fainted when I realized) and potentially never leave.

Be aware: scuba diving is far, FAR more awesome than you probably think it is, and if you'd like to keep it that way and have some sort of a stab at a normal career/ house/ family then I suggest you stay well away.

Take yours truly for example- only came for an Open Water course, ended up emptying my bank account, getting certified all the way up to Rescue Diver in less than two weeks and am already planning on coming back to train and work as a Divemaster for the next 6 months.

Make a sensible risk assessment and make it now.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

DON'T have your boob fall out in a foreigners' Muay Thai match infront of a hundred strong audience composed almost entirely of pervy British men

Bad times for her. At least she won.

Somehow I don't think the judge's eye was on her uppercuts though.

DO learn some skills in Chiang Mai

If you're feeling like a bit of a culture vulture then this is the place to be. You can learn anything from yoga to muay thai here if you've got the baht. I for one am now both a master chef and a professional masseuse, and I've got the handwritten certificates to prove it.

If you do fancy getting your Ramsay on then I would recommend Pad Thai cookery school, because Meow, the lady who runs it, is an absolute riot. Some of her gems for the day included:

"Can use any mushrooms.... magic mushrooms good for party, everybody can fly"

"Boys wash you hands, no want chilli willy"

and, the ultimate classic:

"Think of you lover.... pound it like an M16 machine gun"

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

DON'T get the minibus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

I do realise that this blog is getting populated with stories about horrific bus journeys but feeling like you are going to die on public transport is a surprisingly regular occurrence out here.

Now, I'm not one for spooking easily but you haven't known fear until you've torn round dusty mountain roads with no barriers at 60mph in 5th gear. I swear I spent the entire 6 hours hyperventilating and clinging on to my headrest. We nearly crashed twice and at narrowly missed ploughing into a cockerel at one point. Oh and yelling at the driver doesn't help, in case you were wondering.

To top it all off, the retards at the front had their windows open so the aircon didn't work. The added worry that sliding around on our own bum sweat was going to topple the bus just brought a whole new dimension of terror to the experience.

I suggest getting the big bus and just praying your driver isn't a kamikaze lunatic- knowing Laotian vehicles its top speed is probably 10mph anyway and at least you'll have a few breakdowns to gather your nerves.

Friday, 21 May 2010

DO prepare yourself for Vang Vieng

Oh, Vang Vieng, home of the infamous tubing (or 'TUUUUUBIIIINNG' yelled with your tongue hanging out of your mouth like a St. Bernard and both hands clasped in rock signs, if you want to be totally accurate)- where the sole daytime activity is floating down a river on a rubber tube being lassoed into rickety bars and plied with buckets and shots of whiskey so strong it will make your eyes water.

The whole thing is just a mish-mash of horrible ideas made immeasurably worse by throwing complete drunkards into the equation. Rope swings over water so shallow you can see the rocks, for example, suddenly seem like the best idea EVER after a few buckets, until you see someone surface with a nose bleed. There's also the infamous Death Slide, on which it is well known that more than one person has broken their neck but people still go hurtling down with their eyes closed in a backwards Superman. To top it all off, there is the gentle evening pastime of Fire Limbo, which people attempt when they're so pissed their breath could catch fire. Matt is a shining example of such sensibleness, enduring burns in places one should never catch fire just for the title of 'Limbo King' and a crown that looked like a hotdog scrawled across his back in permanent marker.

Some of the weaker ones just get sucked into it and can't escape- they only came for a two day holiday and you see them trailing around three months later, still rocking a disco wig with condoms stuck in it looking like they haven't slept since they were born.

By the end of our own week, two of the group were ill from swallowing half of the Mekong, one had been arrested and three of us normally house proud girls had to sneak out of the back entrance of the hotel because the mess in the room was bordering on the obscene. All in all a successful trip I'd say.

Friday, 23 April 2010

DON'T go trekking if you're ridiculously clumsy

Doing a trek through the hills and rice paddies of Sa Pa is really incredible.... unless you're a clumsy buggar in which case you'll get latched on to by a hoarde of little hill-tribe women who carry you about before guilt tripping you into buying everything from belts to fabric-covered whistles.

I for one had to be helped along by an 80 year old H'mong lady in crocs with an enormous wicker basket on her back who was skipping about the place like a spring lamb while I fell on my face and sat in puddles.

The second we stopped for lunch we got absolutely bombarded by our little helpers, asking us to buy from "the three lady carry you.... TWO HOURS!", which makes you feel guilty and retarded in equal measure.

The same goes in Sa Pa town itself- there are beautiful handicrafts to be had everywhere but you can't go out on the street without an iron resolve. You take a sideways glance at a bedspread out here and a hundred H'mong grannies come and smother you with them.

It's a terrible place to come if you're a softie or a magpie, even worse if you're both- I've somehow found myself in possession of enough hand-woven cushion covers to blanket a football pitch. This is despite the fact I have not got a single spare cushion at home. Be afraid.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

DON'T do Halong Bay in the rain

There are beautiful beaches and coves to visit... but we couldn't go. Because it was wet and cold.

You can sit on the top of a boat and sail through the bay... but we sat inside. Because it was wet and cold.

You can go snorkelling and see the sea life around the rocks.... which we did for five minutes and gave up. Because it was wet and cold.

I will grant that all the mist and fog did give a kind of eerie beauty to the whole thing, but that wears thin pretty quickly when you are constantly damp. Trying to admire anything through a faceful of wet is not the best.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

DON'T try to maintain a blog in Vietnam

Terrible idea. Whoever tries it is an arse.

DON'T get the cheap bus from Mui Ne to Dalat

Least not without a damn strong nerve and an even stronger sports bra.

If there is one way to punish people for being tight-arses, this is it. Four hours of rickety hell down roads that might as well have been laid by Godzilla in the midst of an epileptic fit. Being, ahem, petite doesn't exactly help either- my bum left the seat about once every two seconds and I caught some genuinely impressive air on more than one occasion.

Apparently for just $2 more you can get a bus that goes on brand spanking new roads. So, unless you want to arrive with bruises having replaced your will to live, I suggest you bite the bullet and fork out for it.

DO eat something rank (Part 3)

This one tops the lot- hard boiled duck embryos.

I must admit this one was actually a mistake. A hideous foetus related mistake.

I ordered two of them off a street stall in Dalat thinking they were boiled eggs, forgetting that anything innocent looking out here usually contains either some surprise creatures or parts of an animal you never knew existed. I was soon reminded when I cracked the top expecting yolk and brown goo came out instead.

After the initial horror, naturally I had to try a bit once it was already in front of me. Tasted like yolk with veins in. Which is exactly what it was. Even I wasn't brave enough to power through with this one.

In all honesty I don't know what I was expecting from a city where you can visit a copy of the Eiffel tower and get your picture taken with a Vietnamese cowboy in the same day. It's like an alpine village meets Vegas on acid here. I'm half surprised a jack in the box didn't pop out.

Not that I want you to get an unfair image of Dalat cuisine- they do have a few tasty treats, including hot peanut flavoured soy milk which is lush. Even if the poor woman did advertise it to us as 'penis milk'.

DO drive a tuk-tuk

In our case at least, find an awesome Cambodian tour guide who is enough of a nutter to let two English girls with no producable driving licenses rag his tuk-tuk around for the whole day.

When people say Asians are laid back, they aren't exaggerating- he ended up spending the entire day chilling in the back seat with his arms behind his head getting double takes from passers-by.

Mr Bov, we salute you.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

DO eat something rank (part 2)

Barbecued pigs intestines.

Tried some of these off Merc's plate at a Cambodian market and they are actually surprisingly tasty. Though it is just slightly offputting when the woman pulls out the entire metre long wiggly string from the chopping board and slices it into bite-sized chunks for you.

DON'T eat a Durian

Who would have thought a fruit exists that smells like bin juice and tastes like mangoes and feet? For some unknown reason they go absolutely mad for them over here but I can smell them a mile away and they always make me gag.

It's even worse in dessert form. Steer well clear of Durian sticky rice unless you have a terrible urge to eat a solid fart.

DON'T hike to Bokor

Ever. Ever ever ever. In a million years.

If you happen to pass through Kampot on the Cambodian coast at any time please resist the urge to do a trek up to Bokor Hill Station unless you have a death wish. You used to be able to get a moto or a truck all the way up there which I imagine would have been pleasant, but now Chinese developers have closed the access road so the only way up is an absolutely hellish two-and-a-half-hour vertical climb through dirt roads and jungle.

You are literally scrambling up rocks and dirt paths in 40 degree heat covered from head to toe in sweat for what seems like an eternity. Seeing as the trip starts at 8am I made the fatal error of not having breakfast either and consequently almost fainted at one point. We lost one guy about half an hour in because he thought he was actually going to die.

After you finally, breathlessly make it to the top you are obviously expecting something fantasmical to await you..... but no. Being as it's dry season all the waterfalls are dried up so all we did was spend an hour walking around half a dozen disused buildings. Cue another two-and-a-half-hours on the way down sliding all over the place on your arse desperately trying to avoid toppling over a cliff edge.

Don't. Just Don't.

DO hire a fishing boat

Probably one of the coolest things I've done out here and ridiculously cheap to boot. We stayed on Bamboo Island off the coast of Sihanoukville for a few nights, and the little Khmer restaurant at the end does fishing trips for $5 each.

It's so quiet that it ended up being just us and the two Khmer guys setting out on this little wooden fishing boat. They take you right out to sea and you fish with hooks on fishing twine wrapped round empty water bottles and old spindles or whatever else they happen to have found to use. We stayed out for at least three hours, watching the sun go down, and when you get back to shore they barbecue whatever you've caught for you for free.

A fun trip followed by the freshest seafood you've ever eaten all for 3 quid- you can't go wrong :)

Monday, 15 March 2010

DO wear trunks that fit

And avoid being like the rank old man we saw on the beach yesterday who came straight out of the sea and into a restaurant with both of his balls hanging out of one leg. Maybe that's the look he was going for, I don't know. Either way, us and about seven other people who caught sight of it found it gross and hilarious in equal measure.

Do not be that guy.

Friday, 12 March 2010

DON'T stay near the lakeside in Phnom Penh if you are squeamish

We had an absolutely enormous spider in our bathroom the other day. Then a rat came and ate the spider. Not cool.

*little update*

I will soon be enriching your blog reading experience with the addition of some lovely photos and videos. I only realised you could actually do this the other day and as most of you know I am technologically retarded so give me sometime between a week and a year to actually get my head around it. I promise it will be worth it!

Love xx

DO pack some serious supplies if you want to tackle Angkor

Temple gazing is no easy business, kids. Consider the following a basic starter pack:

- Bicycle gloves: For scaling vertical steps with nothing to grab on to but boiling hot rock. Cambodian health and safety regulations don't exactly... well, exist.

- A fistful of dollars bills: For the nuns that will pop out of nowhere round every corner wanting to bless you for a donation. The only alternative is creeping away feeling like a disrespectful tightass.

- Running shoes: To make a speedy exit from the hoardes of men, women and children selling everything from coconuts to bangles that will swarm you at the entrance to every temple. For a more efficient experience substitute the above for a pogo stick. Or a foldaway scooter.

- As much water as you can physically consume: To replace the gallons of sweat you will be attractively sporting after just half an hour. This is never, I repeat NEVER, to be considered a suitable place for a date.

DO hold on to your hats- this is Cambodia

Oh, Cambodia. An absolute assault on your senses in both good ways and bad.

We bumbled into Poipet having already got scammed out of at least 15 quid for our visas and then followed around for the next hour by a guy with the creepiest fingernails you've ever seen claiming to be our 'tour guide'. Word of warning- if you stop ANYWHERE that doesn't have queues upon queues of anxious looking people and police wandering around in droves, you aint at the border. This being Asia, you don't even have to get your visas until you are actually inside Cambodia, which makes it a hell of a lot cheaper and avoids the possibility of you being stalked by a tout for the remainder of your day.

THEN we got onto the roads. A spare set of underwear is essential for any trip in a Cambodian vehicle. The road markers are a mere suggestion, blind overtaking is the norm and there is a strict swerve-or-get-hit policy in force. I was on a moto the other day and not wanting to wait he just mounted the pavement instead. Does the job I guess.

Aside from being totally mad though, it can also break your heart being here. You can really see that this is a country of people trying to rebuild their lives after the horrors of the Khmer rouge and every day is full of stark contradictions. Take the kids for example. On the road to our guesthouse lived the most wonderful, happy group of children we'd ever met- they'd run up to us every night shouting "hello, hello!" wanting to hug us and play with us. I took a picture one night and they spent the next ten minutes staring into the flash, pressing it right in their eyes then jumping away in fits of giggles. You move literally twenty metres down the road though and come face to face with the polar opposite- street begging kids, trained by their parents at just five years old to cling to foreigners, punch them, swear at them and try and steal whatever they have to hand.

Come prepared, come with an open mind, and come to see everything the country has to offer- positive or otherwise.

Monday, 8 March 2010

DO dance the Macarena in a country that will never understand it

This lovely suggestion was courtesy of Dave Pedder, and I managed to do it to full effect at a Thai school full of bemused 11 year olds.

While we were at the Elephant Park we spent a day visiting the local school, which was a fantastic experience but basically involved them plonking us in a classroom and walking off. Having thoroughly exhausted the limits of their English (through about 20 games of hangman) we were frantically scrabbling around for ideas when I decided to bestow upon them the cultural treasure that is the Macarena.

I have never seen anything funnier in my life than 30 Thai kids standing on their chairs wiggling about and shouting "eyyyyyy macarena" at the top of their lungs. Some of the boys didn't quite get the hang of the moves so decided just to spend the next half hour shouting the words over and over again, which I'm sure was a delight for their teachers next lesson.

Absolutely wonderful kids though, so kind, polite and friendly (even though I did catch a cold off the snotty kindergarteners)

Monday, 1 March 2010

DON'T feed elephants in the street

Or ride them, or any of that crap. Chances are there's a guy with a hook beating the life out of them when they're not in front of you.

Having just spent a fantastic two weeks in an elephant sanctuary (there is nothing in the world cuter than elephant babies), I've seen what happens to elephants in the tourist injury. Almost all of them at the park had been through the pajaan ceremony, where they chain them up for weeks and beat them into submission. Some even had broken hips from forced breeding programs or had been blinded by their owners for disobedience.

If you do come to Asia, just try and be smart about it. You don't get wild animals to perform circus tricks for nothing.

DON'T get a rock thrown at your face and have to have part of your head shaved in a Thai hospital

Nuff said.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

DON'T be a retard

Spent the entire day on a moped the other day without so much as a scratch, then once we got off I managed to gash my chin open faceplanting a waterfall.

Totally ruined this lovely Thai couple's picnic who had to run around scooping up this idiot foreigner who'd just gone sailing past them on her arse. This was followed by a walk of shame having to go back down the hill with completely wet trousers and my chin hanging open, doing the obligatory smile and nod ('yes, yes, I really am that stupid') while people pointed and gasped, or in many cases actually came up and asked me what on earth I had done to myself- the Thais aren't exactly reserved.

I now have an attractive scab and enormous purple creation on my chin, which attracts even MORE stares from frightened locals on the street every day. Have resorted to trying to plaster it in concealer to avoid scaring people too much. Common sense was unfortunately not something I was blessed with.

DO eat something rank (part 1)

Courtesy of the lovely Miss Booker (thanks for this sweetie) was a request to eat the most disgusting thing I could find while I was out here. So here it is: deep fried grasshopper. Oh yes people, head, legs and all I scranned the lot. Kinda tasted like pork crackling. I have to admit I got used to it and actually ate another one a few hours later too. Maybe I'm on to something here...

Stay tuned for more weird and wonderful garbage that I can find to put down my gob.

Friday, 5 February 2010

DO agree to totally random stuff

Just did the Miss International Flower Bloom pageant for Chiang Mai flower festival last night. By far the most bizarre thing I have ever done.

Four of us got collared by the woman at our guesthouse to enter and agreed just out of the sheer randomness of it. The whole thing was so surreal- we got all dressed up in traditional Thai dress, hair and makeup, then after getting an actual police convoy to the festival we had to walk through rows and rows of spectators waving and taking pictures of us all.

The Thai round of the contest was beautifully choreographed with all the contestants graceful and absolutely immaculate.... then enter us. We were blatently the evening's entertainment- we had to introduce ourselves and then perform a 'talent' (I use the term very loosely) that we had mostly had less than a day to prepare. There was truly the good, the bad and the ugly- everything from synchronised skipping to a football commentary (in my own case doing poi to the can-can song- I can imagine the faces).

Needless to say none of us made the final three with our ridiculous attempts at a performance, but it was some experience alright.

DON'T get a Changover

Bad times.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

DO find a Thai disco

We got taken to one by a lovely Thai girl which was hidden on the top floor of a nondescript looking car park. Wicked fun. More ladyboys than you can shake a stick at, Samsong flowing freely and belting karaoke covers of all the Thai classics (whatever they are).

Despite all this, as a bunch of foreigners we were apparently the main attraction- they pulled us tables together in a prime spot, kept offering us drinks and everybody in the place wanted to dance with us. We left about 4am exhausted but grinning.

If you can find it, do it.

DO expect to meet a few crazies

Fun as it is staying around the Khao San Road area of Bangkok (we're actually on Soi Rambutri, a nice little side street), there is no shortage of utter space cadets round here.

Case in point: crazy Austrian guy on god-knows-what who minced over and started chatting utter gibberish about his wife in the Phillipines (fair enough, you say, only the guy was about as straight as a roundabout). After being told where to go by our large Swedish friend for trying to stroke his tattoos, he flounced off only to re-appear two hours later minus all of his belongings, do three laps of the bar then bail in full view of everyone and have to be removed by the management. Last we heard he had started on the owner of a guesthouse down the road and was spending the night in a Thai prison. Some hangover that's gonna be...

Friday, 29 January 2010

DO find a random little back end street stall and chow down

On the plus side, I got an awesome lunch yesterday for 60p. We found this little stall in the back end of nowhere, and not having the slightest clue how or what to order I just went up and said "soup?". 10 seconds later a massive steaming bowl of noodle soup appeared, full of marinated beef, vegetables and little hand made wontons. Score.

Granted I did eat it on a plastic chair surrounded by stray cats and washing up buckets, but it's all good.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

DON'T cross the road if you have a pacemaker

Phew. Finally arrived in Bangkok (minus 1 digital camera thanks to some over-enthusiastic baggage handlers on the way to Dubai) and it is MENTAL. Crossing the road here is roughly akin danger-wise to base jumping. Traffic is a fifty mile an hour free-for-all with every conceivable vehicle, including food carts that are still cooking giant pots of noodles.

Sam and I have thus adopted the technique of standing around until a Thai person comes along, then walking about an inch behind them until they get to the other side. Sam's theory behind this is that "they won't mow one of their own".


Welcome to my blog! Here you can follow me and my friends winging our way around Asia for 6 months. We haven't even slightly planned anything (to the point of it being slightly silly) so this is a list of what we've come across to do and definitely not do if you ever decide to embark on a similar trip.

Against my better judgement I will also be attempting the best suggestions of mad things to do from this group: Feel free to join and suggest more stuff.

Enjoy!! xx