A massive welcome to you and thank you for taking the time to read my little memos about life and mostly how I fail at it!
In a nutshell:12 challenges over the course of a year and 13 weeks to see the world!
Look out for my blog posts tracking my progress on each of my challenges and updating you on my “13 Weeks of Wandering“. Hopefully they will be informative and humorous, but inspiring as well as thought-provoking.
Join me as I show you a new way to challenge yourself and live simply. Don’t forget to subscribe at the bottom of the page!
If you have done or are thinking of doing a similar challenge, I would love to hear about it so let me know in the comments below or contact me.
Currently residing in Surrey, but have been blessed to have lived in many different places across the UK, and in Ghana before that. I would describe myself as an introvert with extrovert qualities (confusing much?!!).
There are lots of things I love and these include spa days, dancing, writing, organising & finding bargains. Obsessed with avocados and edamame beans, have two odd phobias… if you can guess what they are I will be impressed.
Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: When a monk asks to add you on facebook, you don’t say no!
13 WoW – Laos: Vientiane
It was dark by the time I arrived, so spotting this fountain gave me a sense of security.
It was all very different in Vientiane, I could tell it was the capital by how well developed it seemed to be.
I’d already decided on a hostel to go to; Sailomyen hostel, it seemed to be walking distance so I braved it with my front and back backpacks.
Although a little bit away from the centre and a dollar or two more expensive than other hostels in the area (around $8 a night), this hostel was far superior in decor, ambience, cleanliness and luxury to any other hostel I had stayed in.
Walking through the door was a very pleasant surprise and checking in was smooth, friendly and professional. I was lead to my four bed female-only dorm on the fourth floor, the bunks were so luxurious with curtains allowing for full privacy. It was like each bunk was your own little hotel pod. It was probably the most comfortable hostel in all of Laos, maybe even all of the countries I visited.
After a very comfortable night’s rest, and a tasty breakfast in the morning, my only complaint was the same complaint I had for most hostels all over South East Asia; the Air Con!
So I switched to a much cheaper hostel bang in the center where I shared a room with 7 men and had beds that felt so hard that I wondered if they were carved of rock. But thankfully, me and the boys agreed on no air con whilst we sleep!
“Wat” is there to see in Vientiane?
Vientiane is a city full of surprises. It is a combination of traditional Buddhist temples with french colonial buildings and architecture, this is because of it’s history with the French making this one of their trading posts. Also for this reason, you will find some very good french restaurants, cafes and bars in this area.
Bordering Thailand with nothing but the Mekong river between the two countries, you can enjoy some amazing sunsets by the river whilst you overlook Thailand.
Here are some of the things you can’t miss!
In case you didn’t get the pun in the heading, a temple is called a “wat” in Laos (and most parts of SE Asia). Probably because when you see the beautiful architecture you will be going “waaaat” in awe.
The most popular temples would be these three:
Wat Ho Phra Keo One of the oldest Wats in the capital and former home to the emerald Buddha. This is now converted to a museum.
Wat Si Muang The site of the lak meuang, or city pillar, which is home to the guardian spirit of Vientiane.
Wat Si Saket Basically a temple with thousands of Buddha statues.
I have to admit that I didn’t visit any of those, but preferred to explore some of the other temples that I came across whilst I explored such as Wat That Phoun and Wat Mixai. This may or may not have lead to me befriending a monk on Facebook.
Make Friends with a Monk
Meet my friend ພູມລຳເນົາ ສາຍເຊໂດນ, don’t ask me how you pronounce it. Yes, he is a monk and yes, we are facebook friends! Let me tell you how this happened.
I was exploring Vientiane on Buddha day, not sure what I was looking for but as it was Buddha day, I thought there may be something going on about town. As I am walking, a stranger in his car approached me and started to talk to me, but in true British style, as I did not know this individual, I did like we do on the London underground and ignored him.
Ducking into Wat Mixai, I’m admiring the architecture when lo and behold, I am approached by the same man. “Hello!” He smiled widely at me, “Don’t just stand outside, come in! Come in!”
He said it with such confidence that I thought perhaps he worked at the temple, if that’s even a thing, and so I allowed myself to be ushered inside.
I realised too late that inside was a monk, sitting in front of a giant Buddha and my new Indian friend walked straight up to him, put some money on the gold tray and sat in front of him. He turned to beckon me as I contemplated my escape, “Ohh no, I’m good, this isn’t really my thing” I tried to tell him, but he would have none of it!
Before I knew it, we were both sat there listening to this monk telling us the history of the temple, about monk life, anything you wanted to know! It was all very interesting, but then out of the blue the monk asks me, do you have facebook? And I’m taken aback, I mean yes of course I have facebook but are monks even allowed facebook??? How do they log on? What do they post about?
Whatever the answer, I’m now friends with a monk on facebook.
Take a walk along the Mekong Delta past 6pm to see the night markets set up trade by the riverside.
You will be spoilt for choice as you browse through each stall selling various styles of clothing, souvenirs, jewelery, accessories and more.
If you follow the river, you will also come across food markets nearby selling not only Laotian cuisine but varied dishes from neighbouring countries and beyond.
If you are feeling more like a sit-down meal, why not explore some of Vientiane’s restaurants and bars. I was delighted to come across this French restaurant playing live music.
Also known as the “Victory Monument”, this monument is dedicated to those who fought for their independence from France.
Found on the same road that leads to the Presidential palace, this monument sits in the centre of Vientiane standing out in this commercial district.
The stunning water fountain is a centrepiece to the symmetrical gardens which you will be able to see the best view of from the top of the monument.
On each floor as you go up, expect to find market stalls selling everything from clothes and handbags, to shoes and books. And take a look out of each of the unique windows for a new perspective of Vientiane.
13 Weeks of Wandering: Vientiane
Pha That Luang
This is a large and very ancient stupa in the middle of Vientiane which is covered in gold! It is the most important national monument in all of Laos, both as a religious symbol and as a symbol of independence.
It was amazing seeing monks flock to this monument, even taking selfies (yes I’m serious) with their monk buddies by the monument.
There is so much going on around here, with market stalls outside, monks inside and people selling small birds (poor things) to be released over the monument.
And if you keep exploring, you will find the giant sleeping Buddha, where you may be able to take a nap yourself (or was that just me?!).
So there you have it! Vientiane in a nutshell! Other than not really having anywhere to change money from Kip to Thai Baht (be prepared if you plan to go on to Thailand from here, I had to exchange with some random Australians I met in a bar – it was all very much a last minute panic), it was a very well built up city with plenty of things to do and places to explore. A definite must-visit when you go to Laos!
Follow me as I get the sleeping train back to Bangkok and then prepare to leave Asia altogether!
Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: Accidentally climbing mountains again…
13 WoW – Laos: Vang Vieng
The journey was stunning, just looking out of the window gave you anomalous mountain sights in their peculiarly jagged silhouettes. There was something alien about the way the forested mountains seemed to have been placed randomly onto the otherwise flat terrain.
The bus dropped me off outside one of the largest and busiest party hostels in Vang Vieng.
Staying true to my “wing it” attitude, I walked the main street comparing the prices and atmospheres of each hostel, homestay and guest house. Finally, I settled in at the Rock Backpacker Hostel.
Sharing a bare, under-decorated girl’s room of 6 beds, I was surprised at the level of dirt that the last girl had accumulated beneath my new bed. I worried about ants, and even worse, cockroaches! It didn’t help also having a leak in my backpack due to a broken bottle of sweet-smelling rice wine bought from the Whiskey Village in Luang Prabang; everything needed to be hand-washed and hung up to dry.
I can’t say I came out of the showers feeling that much cleaner but it was certainly refreshing and by the time I was out, I could hear the party goers getting rowdy.
The good thing about this hostel was that you could book tours from the front desk and sign up to group activities such as tubing (more on that later), although I’m sure I was ripped off massively price-wise. The bad thing was, well, it was one of the more rowdy hostels I’d stayed in, and why wouldn’t it be? Vang Vieng is known for being a party destination!
How can I describe this? Imagine throwing yourself onto a choppy, brown river and hoping for the best. Now imagine doing that whilst drinking, a LOT! Okay, so you have tubing – a tradition that nearly had to be banned due to the number of deaths that were occurring. Did I do it? Of course!
Now tubing started as a method of transportation for the locals of this area, and other parts of Laos, but as with all sacred and non-sacred traditions in SE Asia, it’s been taken over by monetisation and has become a tourist attraction. And what do tourists like to do? Drink!
So as you are being pulled down the dirty river waters in this tube, bars along the river side will throw you ropes in the hopes that you will grab on, pull yourself in, have a drink and carry on. This will happen all the way down the river until you reach the large “TUBING STOPS HERE” sign where you then (hopefully) catch the last line thrown your way and pull yourself in. How smooth your journey is, is determined by how drunk you get and whether or not you are me and despite not drinking, still get stuck in a bush…
Would you do it? Tell me in the comments below!
How many times in a week do you recommend accidentally climbing mountains with nothing but flip flops on your feet? If it’s less than 3 times a week, stop reading. If it’s less than 2 times in 1 day, give up on my blog completely (not really, subscribe below, it’s about to get funny).
SO… I think you get the idea. How? You may ask, does a person accidentally climb a mountain, in flip flops, twice, in one day? Well, my dear readers, it is a lot easier than you think and I am here to warn you of the dangers of not researching your tours before you embark on them!
I booked a 3 stop tour with my hostel, was totally ripped off on price but being short on time I wanted to make the most of my trip. Soon, I was picked up by a private taxi and taken on a solo tour to these 3 spots; Pha Negun, Tham Phu Kham Cave & The Blue Lagoon. “I don’t really want to hike” I had told my hostel receptionist, “I only have flip flops on”. He’d waved off my concerns and assured me that flip flops were fineee!!
Well, they were not.
I was dropped at the bottom of this (yes fairly small) mountain and the taxi driver pointed up and ushered me forward. What was I to do? I started climbing.
There were many points I questioned my existence, I felt like giving up, lost the will to live etc. But for some reason, even after my flip flops threatened to fly off my feet, and after flies swarmed me, after ants bit my ankles and after nearly falling off one or two rocks I was climbing up, I still persisted.
And. it. was. worth. it!
Tham Phu Kham cave
So I mentioned the mountain climbing thing happened not once, but twice in one day… And here’s the second time.
It took me a while to recover in the well-received air conditioned vehicle as we drove to the next destination, but I was ready for less hike and more cave-exploration. I didn’t expect to be presented with both at the same time!
Arriving at the second destination, also the location of the Blue Lagoon, I followed the signs that directed me to the cave. It began with a few steps. It carried on and the steps sort of just became a vague pathway. Then it got really steep. Then a snake showed up out of nowhere and I had no idea whether or not to be scared so I wasn’t.
To cut a long walk short, it was another mountain to climb part-way to reach the cave and I was not too pleased at the unexpected exercise.
After reaching the mouth of the cave, I read a crude sign that stated the cave would be best explored with a guide and not alone, and a powerful torch was required. Well I had my phone and google maps so I hopped in.
The cave was very dark with water running across some pathways. The darkness nearly echoed as an eerie feel submerged me, but it was exciting. Immediately inside the cave you could see a “resting Buddha” shrine set up in the only light part of the cave, but beyond that it was dark. Arrows had been painted on some rocks to give you a vague idea of what direction to head in but I was soon lost.
My phone torch wasn’t much use and the arrows weren’t around anymore, the cave was very vast and so much to explore. I heard voices echoed in the distance and I called out, shining my torch in their direction. Thankfully it was a guide, with a gentleman from New Zealand, who had retired at the age of 35 to come and live in Asia.
Needless to say, I followed them out, my lesson learned; do the same thing again, it was fun.
After all of that hiking and climbing and cave exploring, I was ready for the cool refreshing waters of the Blue Lagoon.
It didn’t take much convincing for me to join the queue of tourists climbing the overhanging tree and jumping down into the crystal waters. One girl was at the top trying to convince herself to jump but nearly crying with fear. It was actually a lot higher than I realised and I would have been more scared had I given myself enough time to think about it.
I recorded myself, my phone in a waterproof case, and just… jumped!
There was something to get my heart pumping and my body refreshed, I don’t know what shocked me more, the jump or the cold water!
I booked my travel on to Vientiane through the first party hostel that I was dropped at to save some kip. And because it was leaving at the time I wanted to set off.
But before I left that day, I was up early to enjoy a delicious Matcha Latte and Almond Pastry whilst I watched the world go by at this delightful cafe.
Vang Vieng had so many places to enjoy a Laotian nibble, but the tastiest Pho I had come across was served to me in a humble outside “restaurant” next door to the Chillao party hostel where I would soon be catching my bus.
It was just gorgeous, perfectly balanced flavours with a zesty twist to it. I still remember those satisfying first mouthfuls as I placed my chopsticks in my bowl for more. Mmm…
But saying good-bye to that, I was soon on my way to Vientiane!
Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: Breathtaking Beauty, Ancient Traditions & Bustling Atmosphere
13 WoW – Laos: 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
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
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.
Word of advice: Do not let a broken flip flop discourage you from climbing!
Temples & Tak Bat, the Almsgiving Ceremony
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
It was a breathtaking moment where I thought, “this can’t be real” but it was!
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.
Swim in the pools of paradise
Swing above the Lagoon at the top of the waterfall
My only advice; don’t attempt to climb in flip flops!
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.
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
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:
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!
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
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!