13 Weeks of Wandering – Luang Prabang

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: Breathtaking Beauty, Ancient Traditions & Bustling Atmosphere


13 WoW – Laos: Luang Prabang

luang prabang

I arrived in Luang Prabang immediately noticing the far from rural atmosphere of the busy bus station. Spotting shops opposite the bus station, I immediately knew what my next purchase would be; a sim card!

Relishing the luxury of having data on my unlocked HTC, I found a hostel close to the center and solicited a tuk-tuk, negotiating a fair price and using google maps to check my route.

It was a 15 minute ride and I was soon at the hostel of my choice, Lakang Thong, only to find that it was full! I was then re-directed to the “brother hostel”, Lakong Thong 2, where I shared a room with none other than the two Japanese guys I had met on the bus from Sa Pa and one girl I had also seen on the same bus.

Keen not to waste any time, I set out to explore Luang Prabang.

 

So, what is in Luang Prabang?

Luang Prabang topped it as my favourite city in SE Asia, and here’s a little snippet…



The Bamboo Bridge

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A bridge built solely of bamboo and rubber which creates a connection to the other side of the Nam Khan river. A local family re-builds this bridge every year after the high levels of the river washes the bamboo away.


A small fee of 5,000kip will get you a ticket to use the bridge and cross to the other side where you will find a small village, a temple and a lovely little restaurant.



Mount Phou Si

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Mt Phou Si meaning “sacred hill” is a mini mountain (100 – 150 meters high) in the center of Luang Prabang and is located between the Mekong delta and Nam Khan river.

There are amazing views of Luang Prabang, the surrounding mountains and the two rivers from the very top. On the way up you will see several religious shrines and statues, and there is a mini temple atop the hill where you will see monks doing their daily rituals.

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Word of advice: Do not let a broken flip flop discourage you from climbing!

 



Temples & Tak Bat, the Almsgiving Ceremony

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There are many beautiful temples in Luang Prabang which you will see nearly everywhere as you explore, in addition to this there are many monasteries where monks young and old reside and learn from one another. I met a monk who had been in the monastery for 5 years!

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One ancient and sacred ceremony in Laos, and indeed Luang Prabang, is the Almsgiving ceremony.  This is a Buddhist tradition where monks leave their temples at dawn to collect alms from the faithful and devout Buddhists lined along the street, kneeling on their mats, with baskets full of sticky rice and other offerings.

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A transfixing ceremony to witness, it is worth waking up early to see this. The ceremony normally starts at about 6am and you can spot the monks in their brightly coloured robes doing their procession along the main street, Sisavangvong.

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The rise of tourism in Luang Prabang threatens to reduce this sacred tradition to another tourist attraction, so I’d urge you to be respectful of this and only join in if it means something to you.

 



Day & Night Markets

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If you are a foodie, Luang Prabangs day and night markets are the perfect place for you to spend your time. With food as far as the eye can see, the day market usually sells ingredients and fresh produce, whereas the night market sells an array of aromatic, hot, Laotian delights.

Also in the night markets, you can get your fix of retail therapy with the trinkets, clothes and ornaments that the local market sellers have to offer.

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Try mini coconut pancakes if you want a sweet, hot, freshly made treat, or have a smoothie made to refresh yourself as you wander through the market.

 



Pak Ou Caves

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A place of Buddhist worship for more than a thousand years and by far one of the most intriguing caves I have ever been to, the Pak Ou caves are worth a boat ride to visit. The tickets you purchase once you step off the dock will get you entry into two caves, one immediately up the stairs and embedded in the limestone cliff ahead of you, and the other a little higher up into a deeper and darker cave that you will need a torch to explore.

What makes these caves particularly unique, is the 4K+ Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes as far as the eye can see and on every surface you could possibly balance a Buddha on.



Whisky Village

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Not far off the Pak Ou caves, and along the same river you will gain access to a unique village in Luang Prabang; the whisky village. This little village called Ban Xang Hai has made a name for themselves distilling and selling rice whisky to locals and tourists alike.

On arrival, you will be invited to taste any of their large selection of whiskies, some with snakes and scorpions preserved in the translucent orange-tinted alcohol. But if you explore further, you will also see silk weaving mills selling locally made silk scarves. Explore a little further again and you will see a beautiful temple just a little way into the village.



Kuang Si Waterfalls
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The only place I had to blink twice to make sure I hadn’t died and gone to heaven, I don’t need to say much but let the photos speak for themselves.
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It was a breathtaking moment where I thought, “this can’t be real” but it was!
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Kuang Si (or Kuang Xi) Waterfall is the biggest naturally formed waterfall in Luang Prabang. It drops down three tiers ending in a 50-metre drop into the most stunning turquoise pools and then continues to flow downstream. You can choose to swim in these exquisite paradise pools, or you can find one of the dirt tracks to climb all the way to the serene lagoon on the top where you can swing on the rope swing that sways inches above the refreshing water.

My only advice; don’t attempt to climb in flip flops!

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There is so much more that Luang Prabang has to offer for every type of traveller, an array of restaurants from the affordable to the fancy, multiple cafes to enjoy breakfast, lunch or even just an ethical hot beverage, and a selection of bars for those boozy nights!
If you are there for luxury, they have romantic sunset cruises on the river and pricey five star spas to indulge.

Beware of the elephant tours, many of them are not the well-respected elephant sanctuaries but instead are money-making tourist traps where the elephants are badly abused to break them down to submission for tourists to ride. Look into the tours before you book them, you don’t need to look far to see how mis-treated elephants are for the sake of tourists.

Luang Prabang was probably my favourite place in Asia, if not only for the incredible Kuang Si falls, then for the rich culture, deep-rooted traditions and historical features.

Next stop: Vang Vieng!

 

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13 Weeks of Wandering – Laos

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: “Don’t listen to what they say, go see” ~ Chinese Proverb


13 WoW – Laos

On my quest to get to Luang Prabang, only will power could speed the slow boat on from Muang Khua. A tiring and long journey left my patience in the red when I eventually arrived.

Arriving in Nong Kiaw
Laos Boat

The boat arrived around 4pm in Nong Kiaw and the boat driver was quick to hail me a tuk tuk by pointing at me and yelling “Luang Prabang” to some man. This man helped me into the back of his tuktuk and I  tried to get assurance that I had not missed the bus to Luang Prabang. He waved off my concerns, tried to gather more folk into the tuk tuk but failing that, he took me on a surprisingly long journey.

First Stop; the Monastery. We waited there for around 5 minutes and a monk emerged after this time. He climbed into the back with me and nodded, relaxed, adjusting the “blinds” that supposedly protected us from the downpour of rain.

Next Stop; the ATM. At my request, he dropped me at the ATM and left (with my luggage) to drop off his other passenger, our monk friend. I prayed fervently, remembering my woes in Sa Pa, and inserted my card. When my money was dispersed and my card returned, my heart celebrated despite my being nearly ankle-deep in rain water. To top it off, the tuk tuk returned, with my bag! Huzzah!

Third Stop; The Bus Stop. Couldn’t tell you the name of it, couldn’t tell you how to get there. But can tell you what it looks like:

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Cheerful and happy, I arrived, ready to continue my journey to Luang Prabang. The bus stop seemed rather quiet; nobody was around. I approached the window cautiously and asked to get on the next bus to Luang Prabang. “8am tomorrow!” I was told, to my surprise. He then explained that there are only two buses, one departs at 8am and the other departs at 2pm, unless I wanted to charter my own bus for a much larger sum (I vaguely remember 500,000 kip). I did not wish to do this, so I returned to my tuk tuk dismayed with the instructions to take me back nearer the river where I could stay the night at one of the guesthouses.

The cogs in my head were turning as I was ferried by this tuk tuk driver, he must have known the last bus left at 2pm yet he still took me for this long ride.
My patience was on even thinner ground than before as he came to a stop. I asked if there was any other way of me getting to Luang Prabang, he pointed at a building that seemed to be advertising tours.

The man inside spoke very good English, but he only repeated what the man at the bus station had said, “there are only two buses and they leave at 8am and the last one at 2pm”. I knew the answer already but I asked “do all the tuk tuk drivers know that the final bus departs at 2pm?” The answer, “yes”. My patience was gone by now, “So why did this tuk tuk driver take me with false promises of a bus to Luang Prabang?”. He shrugged his shoulders and translated to the driver… Maybe my sass was a little extra, maybe he had been found out and I struck a guilt chord, either way he walked to his tuk tuk, grabbed my bag, dumped it in my arms and then drove off. Thanks for nothing I guess!

Nong Kiaw

Bag in arms, dust cloud where tuk tuk used to be, torrential rain, lost look on face. I did a 360 degree on my surroundings and was pleasantly surprised to spot some friendly faces; the German families from my boat trip lunching beneath the shelter of a veranda. The kids were already smiling and waving, and I was ushered in to join them for lunch.

We chatted over Pho and a mango smoothie about their travel plans and that’s when I found out how they came to be here. The four of them, as youth, had travelled the world themselves backpacking. Now, years later with their children of the same ages; 9 and 11, they wanted to re-live their travel experience with their children and open their eyes to backpacking. As a family, they all decided on Laos for the same reason I had, it was a less-travelled country with many unexplored corners.

The families had been all travelling together with their backpacks, staying in hostels and travelling cheaply by bus, train and tuk tuk. They were now deciding whether to head back to Luang Prabang or to go to Vientianne. Their accommodation that night had not yet been decided, and neither had mine!

When we parted ways, I headed to the river to book a cheap room.
The double bed was dressed with well used sheets and a duvet decorated with a children’s design. There was a DIY mosquito net that was a riddle to set up with wires to attach to two walls. The wifi was a luxury that neither worked, nor did I expect it to work. In short, it was what I would describe back home as a dive, but what was most probably the most luxurious hotel in the small village/town area. Hashtag “First World Problems”.

 

A Long & Dark Night

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The rain continued to beat down, and it got late, but I knew I needed to get something to eat if I was going to take my doxycycline (anti-maleria tablet) so I worked myself up to venture out in the dark, wet night.

I don’t remember which way I walked, or how far, but eventually I came to a restaurant which was surprisingly full. Not keen to sit in the rain, I looked for a table in the balcony upstairs, and who was I to come across but my German friends! I joined them again and we spun stories of our travel adventures until we finished our meals. After paying, and as if on queue to us about to depart, the electricity in the town went out.
We wove our way through the inside of the building, which seemed to double up as a hostel, and lingered at the door where the rain seemed to furiously beat down, with more intensity than earlier that evening.

My pathetic excuse for a mac/anorak was already soaked through from earlier, so I didn’t hesitate. Tightening my hood’s strings and zipping my cold and damp jacket, I secured my flip flops on my feet and stepped into the rain, bidding my friends good night. Thinking myself clever, I fished out the mini torch that I’d brought along and headed confidently in the direction I thought I’d came.

I’d never seen the darkness quite so… dark. Buildings were barely a shadow as they blended into the blackness and my torch did nothing in the torrential rain to guide my path, weak as the light already was due to the fading batteries. Ten minutes must have passed and I still did not recognise anything, there was a turn somewhere, I was sure of it but I couldn’t remember where. I cursed myself for not thinking more carefully about the route I was taking earlier. Other than the rain, all was silent and not even the moon was out to light my path. My imagination started to get the better of me as time continued to pass and I couldn’t recognise anything. I thought about where I would take shelter if I could not find my way back, fearfully I shone my torch over the buildings either side of the road and imagined scary men lurking in the shadows. I was in full panic mode now, it was fight or flight… or apparently freeze, which is what I did when I saw a motorbike’s lights go on and then shortly after breeze by me. I didn’t know whether I was relieved that I hadn’t been abducted by this motorbike man or annoyed that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to ask where I was. I no longer cared that I was entirely soaked through and I accepted that my torch did nothing for my vision, but kept it on as a security blanket to hold onto – I was very aware by now that my rape alarm wouldn’t compete with the powerful sound of the rain.

There was only one thing to be done, return to the restaurant and try to ask for help. They would probably be closed by now but perhaps someone would be there to help me find my way. That’s what I tried to do, but in the blinding rain and the pitch blackness, it was hard to tell after an undisclosed period of time whether I had passed the restaurant, taken a wrong turning somewhere or if I needed to keep going.

The sound of German singing battling with the rain was never a more delightful sound to my ears. I saw flashlights coming my way and praised the heavens for them all! I must have seemed like a crazy person shouting at them from a distance but they soon figured it was me. They knew exactly where they were, and exactly where I should have been… 10 minutes in the opposite direction to where I had originally set off!

Feeling foolish, I headed back cautiously and couldn’t have been happier to finally stumble into my little “hotel” room. Sadly, not only was the electricity off, but the water was also, so I improvised with the last 500ml bottle of water I had, brushing my teeth, washing myself and taking my anti-maleria tablet. #Winning!

 

One for the Road

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I was grateful to wake up the next morning to working water and electricity, I was packed and ready to get my tuk tuk taxi, courtesy of the guesthouse owner, with a new 1l bottle of water for July’s Challenge!

Happy to see that sign indicating the bus station again, I head straight to the window to pay for and secure my spot in the Luang Prabang bus. It was a long wait before we finally filled the bus, although each time I thought it was full, they always seemed to fit one more in. Until one American lady.

She was clearly a backpacker, and she was a fairly large lady with a fairly large bag who seemed to be arguing with the man at the window. The whole bus was curious but it became obvious why she was so furious as the level of her voice kept rising. “I’ve heard about you, you know!” She was yelling, “You are famous on the internet you know that?”
I leaned my head out of the window further, curious as to what on earth she was on about, “Yes, you’re famous for all the wrong reasons! They told me about you, saying the bus is full when it’s clearly not full! Trying to extort us tourists!”

I looked behind me and in front of me and it seemed pretty damn full.

“Fine! If you won’t take my money then I’m going directly to the bus driver then, because that bus clearly is not full!”

We all braced ourselves as she head our way. “You,” she addressed the bus driver, “Here, Luang Prabang, will you take me?” She waved money at him as he smiled awkwardly. One of the boys on the bus was pretty much (annoyingly) narrating exactly what was happening in my ear as it unfolded before us, throwing in his opinion “the bus is clearly full, I don’t know what she wants?” I shook my head but listened on as the bus driver tried to convince her that the bus was full and she would have to wait until 2pm for the next bus. “But it’s clearly not full! Look, I can fit right there!” She pointed to a space just under half the size of the rest of the seats which also happened to be right next to me and I cringed slightly. The argument carried on for longer than we were interested, and the boy narrating in my ear decided to get involved and re-iterate what the driver had just said to her. “He says the bus is full, that the law only allows for a maximum of 16 people on this size bus and you will have to wait for the next bus at 2pm.” She brushed him off, “That’s nonsense! He’s lying!” The whole bus sighed.

Eventually, after threatening to further damage their reputation on youtube by filming them and telling the internet about them she left with a resolve to hitch-hike there. The bus left and we drove past her as she walked on down the road to Luang Prabang.

Now, the funniest part of the story was… she turned out to be absolutely right! Around 20 minutes into our journey, the bus driver stopped and waited in a location. A young woman appeared with luggage which she slung on top of the bus and she sat on that half-sized seat next to me the entire way to Luang Prabang!

What do you think about this? Was the American lady mistreated? Who was this mystery woman and how come she was allowed to sit on the half seat? Chuck your opinions in the comments below!

See what happens when I arrive in Luang Prabang in my next post!

12 Months of Simple Living: End of Year Thoughts

It’s been a year of this transformation journey and as January 2018 arrived, I thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on each month and what impact, if any, it has had on the way I live my life now.

1. | January – Vegetarian |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Vegetarian Recipes

If there was ever going to be a controversial challenge it was this one. With opinions and beliefs splitting people world wide on the subject, it was always going to be harder for a previously strict carnivore to “try out” being Vegetarian for a month and then blog about the short lived and not hugely successful experience. But this journey is my own and now I can see this short lived month really did have an effect on my view, and now my lifestyle choices. However insignificant they might seem, they are still small steps toward a healthier life and a better world.

Since January, I’ve found myself increasingly choosing the vegetarian options whether it is in my work canteen, at home or out to eat with friends. I put this down to a change in my attitude towards meat as a result of understanding the vast amounts of waste, the damage to the environment and the inhumane treatment of animals all for the sake of corporate greed.

From a health point of view, I am so much more aware of the fats and greasiness of meat and how much heavier it sits in my stomach, I do tend to feel a little odd when I eat some types of meat now. It does make me wonder what sort of diseases we are potentially exposed to by eating meat.  That’s not to say I don’t crave the odd steak now and then but I am so much more aware of  trying to choose organic, free range, grass fed meat.

Having said that, I do want to aim to be even more veggie and I have concluded that being a full time vegetarian would be the ideal lifestyle choice and probably is how we were once meant to be. Not that any of my life choices are ideal- we’ll see!

Note: Spiralizers interest me now more than ever before!

 

2. | February – Forgiving |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This one has to be the hardest of all as it’s a continuous battle and a continuous cycle. Choosing to let people off the hook when they have wronged you seems unnatural to our human instincts and makes us feel like a doormat sometimes. But this doesn’t have to be so. I am continually reminding myself that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation; if you are continually wronged, don’t let them wrong you again. But love them and show them kindness anyway.

I can definitely see improvements with the way I handle disagreements, knowing that just because we have differences of opinion doesn’t make us bad people, just unique individuals who handle things in different ways. I try to respect another’s perspective even if I disagree.

I still struggle with letting things go quickly, but I can usually get over it after taking a breather. And with my long term grievances, it will always be a battle to maintain forgiveness but I will keep trying.

 

3. | March – Positivity & Thankfulness |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
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This challenge is one that went beyond my natural disposition. I’ve grown up in an environment of complaining, from my family to the culture of the UK, so trying not to was a real difficulty. Being thankful for everything, including the bad times, just opens your eyes to how blessed you really are. Blessed you have arms and legs, and eyes and ears, blessed you are able to use them, blessed you have food, shelter and a job. There’s actually a lot to be thankful for!

I really struggle, still, to see the glass half full rather than half empty but I am working on it. A good way to start thinking a bit more positively is by writing a diary of your week noting, at various points of the day, how you felt – happy, sad, angry – and to what degree out of 100% you felt those emotions. When you look back, you will likely realise you have a much happier life than you initially thought. This is because our minds get conditioned just to remember the negative and not the positive.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

 

4. | April – Stick at It |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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This challenge  actually made me realise that my problem wasn’t so much giving up on things, as feeling like giving up every time something gets tough. Also it was about believing in my ability to achieve what I set out to do.

Through going travelling, something I needed to do for myself but was afraid to, it helped me build confidence in myself. I’m trying to maintain this confidence now that I am back; it’s actually the mundane things in life that knock the confidence out of you.

I have found myself being a little braver and taking those risks even if I might fail, but there’s still work to be done!

 

5. | May – Exercise |

Navigate: Part One| Part Two | Part Three

This one’s gone out the window! Seriously, I don’t like doing any of it – classes annoy me, I don’t even know where to start in the gym, I HATE running, going for walks in the cold British weather is not up there on my fun list… so what can I do?!

I know I have to exercise, I know it’s very important for mental and physical health, but I just need to find something I actually enjoy doing.

I am working on it!!! The only classes I do quite enjoy are yoga classes, so I will try to keep those up at least. Any suggestions? Let me know!

 

6. | June – Meditation |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

A very interesting challenge, in that, I thought this would be the easiest, but it turned out to be much harder than I thought.

I enjoyed it when I did it, but I found that I had to make time for it, rather than try to fit it in my day.

I haven’t kept it up on a daily basis but have naturally found myself meditating on life, faith and positive thoughts when on my own and spending time enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“Beauty is the purest feeling of the soul. Beauty arises when soul is satisfied.”
― Amit Ray

 

7. | July – Water |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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A challenge that you either understood completely or didn’t get at all. Fellow water haters, I confess, I was doing so well and then I reverted… But I have a plan to get me back on track!

Drinking water has always been at the bottom of my to do list, and something happened when I realised, in my sugar free month, that (some) wines only had naturally occurring sugars; I started drinking more wine… And more… Not like an alcoholic, but just like with my dinner and in replacement for water…

Okay jokes aside (sort of), I just struggle in this already damp and wet, cold English weather to feel thirsty. I feel somehow I’m absorbing so much water just through breathing damp air. And even when thirsty, I’m so cold I opt for a dehydrating cup of tea (that’s right, tea is a diuretic so you ultimately lose more water than you take in).

But the plan? I bought this from Kikki.K and I intend to use it.
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New Year, new pee… I mean me.

8. | August – Say Yes |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
Climb every mountain

This challenge was certainly the most adventurous and the most rewarding, delivering me to exciting new places, giving me more out of life and connecting me with the best people the world has to offer!

It’s an attitude that takes courage and takes self-belief. You need to be a risk taker, taking chances when there may be disappointment. Worst, you need to be prepared to be disappointed.

I have definitely carried on with this type of attitude, but I have to remind myself. I am naturally cautious and if left to my instincts, I would let opportunities pass me by. I struggle with disappointment and so when I am let down it hurts, a lot! But life is not going to get more interesting, fun or exciting if you don’t take risks.

I hope 2018 will be a year that I don’t hold myself back with my own self-doubt, but a year which I open my eyes to opportunities and take them with both hands!

 

9. | September – Slow Down |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two

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Image Credit: ryangoggin.com

This one is harder to keep up when life just gives you busy schedules week on week. Certainly, my technology diet assisted with this and I naturally slowed down in most aspects of my life.

I have since had to remind myself to enjoy beautiful moments, the first full moon of 2018 for example, and a stunning sunrise the following morning.

Slowing down ties in with meditation, with reducing social media and other time fillers and many other parts of my yearly challenges.

I hope to carry on a slightly slower, more purposeful pace into 2018.

 

10. | October – Sugar Free |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Dessert
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This is the challenge I am most proud of. It was complex and required a lot of effort; cooking, reading ALL labels, turning down tasty office junk food etc. But I smashed it!

I honestly saw the health benefits (especially when I returned to sugar), I realised the effect that sugar had on my asthma!

Sadly, the return to sugar has been a full submersion due to the time of year, but I would like that to change in the new year and I’d like to greatly reduce my intake. If not for my overall health, for my asthma (which has suffered greatly due to the return to sugar and all the other factors that trigger it).

I will proudly say though, that I have not returned to putting sugar in my tea!

 

11. | November – Technology Diet |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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Being cut off from the world of social media came with mixed feelings… It was strangely freeing but at the same time isolating.

Yes, I missed out on social events, life updates from all my 900+ facebook “friends” (ha! I have more than you! JK) and ultra-hilarious memes, BUT I gained an independence, learned a new language (slash carried on learning Spanish from all my years of dabbling) and met people in more organic ways.

Being back on social media, I actually am not as bothered anymore… It’s sort of an effort to post so I’m doing it less. And I’m only really scrolling through facebook for the “12 times you failed at life” style posts, because … they make me giggle.

So, although I won’t keep off social media, I think I have struck a balance along the way.

 

12. | December – Volunteer |

Navigate: Part One | Part Two
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What a feel-good way to end the year; by volunteering! I honestly got such a sense of achievement by helping these charities in the skills that I had to offer. I really cannot urge you enough, if you have any spare time, to give some of it to a charity of your choice. You will form new friendships, new connections and it can even help you gain more skills.

One thing that is overlooked when people are looking for jobs but lack the experience, is volunteering. The way I gained my administrative experience was by volunteering for the Lifetrain Trust. So if this is where you find yourself, just go for it – if not to help, then to look better on your CV. But you will feel good when you see the contribution you have made to these charities.

Charities do amazing work, and I will be more than happy to give more of my time to volunteer during 2018!

 

So that’s it, my end of year update! Let me know how you have found my challenges and if you have a resolution for 2018!

Thanks for reading!

Ciao!

X