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


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12 Every Day Foods that Contain Added Sugar


Challenge: To go Sugar Free
Charity: Diabetes UK
Total £ accrued: £3
Thoughts: You don’t need sugar when you’re this sweet 😉


12 Every Day Foods that Contain Added Sugar

Fifteen days into my challenge and despite resisting my ultimate favourite treat; french macaroons, as well as a seemingly unlimited supply of chocolates in the office, I was caught out on three occasions. The first; alcohol, day one! The second; stock cubes, day ten! The third; earlier on today when I was stitched up with a cup of tea combined with a spoon of sugar!

So, in case anyone else wants to ditch the added sugars, I thought I’d make a list of the top twelve every day foods that nearly (or did) had me fooled. Be warned, some of these might come as an unpleasant surprise!

 


1. Alcohol

Gin and tonic

Okay so maybe not technically a “food” but a key part of most of our *ahem.. my* diets, and my downfall on day one! Nearly all alcohol is created with added sugars, but the key word here is “nearly”.
My “spirits” were lifted when I realised that there is one type of alcohol that only contains naturally occurring sugars – wine! Needless to say, I’ve been on the vino ever since. I will add some some wines do, i.e. dessert wines and the like but if you know of any other alcoholic bevs made without added sugar, please comment below… I’m asking for a friend…

 

2. Stock Cubes

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Edited. Original Photo Credit: Dailymail.co.uk

Probably the one that shocked me most, not only because it caught me out on day ten in my super healthy vegetable casserole, but also because it’s probably one of the most used items in most “healthy” home-cooked meals.

Short of making your own stock, I haven’t come up with an alternative but I have just avoided it altogether and used other spices. Beware though, some pre-blended spices also contain sugar.

 

3. Soy Sauce

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Image Credit: epicurious.com

Another item regularly used in day to day “healthy” cooking, and that includes my favourite; a vegetable egg noodle stir fry.

There hasn’t been anything similar to soy sauce that I have subbed, seeing as Worcestershire sauce also contains sugar (and really isn’t even close to the flavour). I am considering creating a satay-style stir fry using peanut butter and coconut but beware, most peanut butter brands also contain added sugar.

 

4. Bread

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A basic everyday ingredient, I’d probably say that we use bread more than any other carbohydrate.

Even though I am not an avid bread eater, I have noticed that being unable to eat bread has been a big hurdle in trying to figure out what meals to create. Sandwiches, burgers, wraps, pizzas, garlic bread, naan bread and so many more have all been off the cards for me this month.

But there is hope!

Sourdough and pitta bread, as well as some other whole wheat rolls, are not made with added sugar! Result!

 

5. Hummus

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Image Credit: archanaskitchen.com

Everyone knows at least one strict health geek who always opts for carrots with hummus rather than crisps and chocolate as a mid morning snack. But perhaps it’s not as healthy as we all thought! Many brands of hummus have added sugar, but this does change brand to brand and depends on flavour (I found a lemon hummus without added sugar, when the plain had added sugar). Thankfully, there is often a low fat version which does not add sugar.

 

6. Bacon!

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Image Credit: flaticon.es

Shock, shock, horror! What?! Your favourite salty breakfast companion has extra added sugar??? Yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, but it does. We all know how healthy bacon is known to be as it is, but I feel that the addition of sugar is just to maximise the un-healthiness. Sort of the cherry on the top of an already guilty pleasure.

Before you start replacing your bacon with posher sounding pork such as parma-ham, or asking for an extra sausage in your full English instead, you should know that they also usually contain added sugar. This is primarily because sugar is a great preservative, but also because apparently meat isn’t sweet enough.

 

7. Quiche

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Image Credit: images-gmi-pmc.edge-generalmills.com

Now I’m not sure if this is just because of the shortcrust pastry base, or if the quiche mix itself includes sugar but unless you plan to make your own [from scratch] then you may want to scrap the quiche from your sugar-free meal plans.

It’s worth noting that other pies will also have added sugar, some not only in the pastry but in the filling as well. Particularly if bacon is an ingredient… or stock cubes are used… don’t get me started on the alcohol…

 

8. Salsa

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I’ll include with this, other pre-made sauces such as pasta sauce, pizza sauce, curry sauces and many more!

Don’t expect there to be shortcuts if you are going sugar free, if you want a lasagna, you make that f*ing lasagna from scratch! Grow the tomatoes, knead your pasta, even raise your own cow (if dairy is your thing ya know, and only if you are nice to the cow). Basically, say goodbye to the good old combo dips you can get by the quiche section of Sainsbury’s.

I made my own home-made salsa, recipe coming soon!

 

9. Breakfast Cereal

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Image Credit: kashi.com

Nothing like a bowl full of sugar to start your day, right?! The question is, do you add sugar to your sugar? There are some who sprinkle sugar on their already sugar saturated cereal bowls, just to ensure that the most important meal of the day is also the most unhealthy.

I’m not just talking about coco pops and frosties either. “Adult” breakfast also has more of the sweet white granules than you’d expect, take muesli for example.

 

10. Hot (and cold) Drinks

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Again, not classed as food per se, but a huge part of our daily consumption – liquid. Of particular note is all types of coffee, lattes, cappuccinos, the lot! Because, well who has coffee without sugar? But also the alternatives for those who don’t drink regular lattes, like Matcha lattes and (my all time fave) Chai lattes!

I must say, out of everything I’ve given up, I miss Costa Chai lattes the most.

But then there’s also the cold drinks like iced tea, fruit infused water drinks, and even some smoothies all with added sugar. I’m basically living off water and wine currently.

 

11. Salad Dressing

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The most ironic one of all, Salad Dressing. Me: “Hi, I’ll just have a salad because I’m on a diet.” Waitress: “Great, so would you like some sugar with that?”

Basically, most, if not all, salad dressings have added sugar. That’s just bloody inappropriate in my opinion, I don’t know what you think?!

But fear not, I have a fantastic recipe of my own for a good salad dressing without the sugar. It will be coming up in the next blog post!

 

12. Sushi

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Image Credit: img.grouponcdn.com

Yes, I went there!

Smashed them all out of the park with this one. You probably didn’t know this, but sushi rice is made with sugar and vinegar. Turning this otherwise known as “healthy” snack into a sugary treat.

Add the soy sauce and you have a bit of sugar on sugar action, which really doesn’t contribute to the overall healthy vibe.

 


 

So all in all, you can pretty much find added sugars… everywhere. But with a bit of determination and savvy-ness mixed with creativity, it can be avoided!

Watch this space for my sugar free meal ideas and recipes! And see how I’ve done in my next blog post.

Part Three

 

October Month 10: Sugar Free (Part One)


Challenge: To go Sugar Free
Charity: Diabetes UK
Total £ accrued: £1
Thoughts: A healthy body is an investment into your future.


The Tenth Challenge: Going Sugar Free

Who’s Idea was that?!

The question I’ve been asking myself all day as I wrestled with food packages to try to find out what doesn’t contain sugar. I didn’t really help myself when I ended the last month on a massive sugar binge. Not by choice really, but having the Wedding of my gorgeous friend & her lovely man on the 30th meant that there was plenty of sugary treats to indulge in, not least of all the alcohol. What would you do?? Don’t answer.

I have to big up my best friend’s mum though as I started this sugar free adventure over at their place and after my pointing out that both the sauce and the powder of the fajita packet contained sugar, she made me my very own sugar free fajitas! We then all enjoyed some sugar free cake

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At breakfast time, I hadn’t had much more luck, realising that all of the yogurt was made with sugar, all cereal and even some of the cheese. I was gutted when I found out that bacon also has sugar – it seems rather pointless to me seeing as it’s supposed to be salty. I had to dig deep to find them, but I was relieved to be able to put this breakfast together.

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So pretty much a terrible idea, because sugar is in EVERYTHING! That sort of scares me actually, because I thought I was pretty healthy before with a few treats from time to time. But it’s clear to see, that I eat so much more sugar than I even know about!

No Added Sugar

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It would have been easy to say “oh lets just avoid desserts or additional sweet things” rather than scan packets and google food products to find out what does and does not contain sugar. But I want to have a slightly ‘all or nothing’ approach, in the sense that I want to see what I can eat if I cut out any added sugars!

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I will be using substitutes like honey or maple syrup when desperate measures are required but they will be kept to a minimum. And I look forward to giving you some ideas of sugar free meals!

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My main concern with this is that I am really going to have to start cooking creatively and paying attention to everything I buy and eat. I have a pinterest board for ideas but I pretty much have to say goodbye to eating out and to drinking (I already failed on the latter when I totally forgot and ordered myself a G&T on day 1).

For every time I consume added sugars, it will be £1 to Diabetes UK, a UK-based patient, healthcare professional and research charity that cares for, connects with and campaigns on behalf of all people affected by and at risk of diabetes.

Wish me luck, and don’t feed me sugar!

x

Part Two

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

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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!

 

13 Weeks of Wandering – Sa Pa: My Humble Abode

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


Where To? Vietnam
How long? 3 Weeks
Thoughts: Have you ever taken a shower with a pig grunting right outside your shower door? Neither had I.


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Animals Galore

Glancing up from my second noodle meal of the day, it was difficult not to feel as if I had been taken back a number of centuries as women clad with their native, time-honoured garments sat together conversing. Beyond them lay the unspoilt mountain terrains rich in vegetation and of course, animals.

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Back on route to Mama May’s village, I must have seemed like I’d been locked in a cage all of my life as I marvelled at the ducklings nestling around their mother in one corner, a goat bleating intermittently in another and a pig stalking us. Really, I have seen all of those things many times before but usually in a farm or a zoo, not just sort of on the same road cars (or more likely motorbikes) would drive on.

ducks

But what really had me oohing and ahhing was coming across a family of buffalo just having a pee break across our path. I felt sort of rude interrupting so apologised in a most British way as I squeezed past, but they seemed unfazed by my presence and carried on doing their business.

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There were also horses, chickens and other wild and domestic animals, but what scared me most were the dogs.
It seemed as if we had walked in on a serious Jeremy Kyle moment where one dog had definitely been cheating on her partner with his brother and things kicked off big time! First was the severe baring of teeth and then the growling as two of the dogs circled each other and the [basic] bitch watched on. Then was the barking and the slo-mo leap towards one another as I visualised my doctor warning me not to be bitten by any animals because I hadn’t had my rabies jab. The knockout moment was when one of the dogs got a sizeable bite on the other’s neck and the last I remembered before hastily edging past was the bloodstained teeth of the champion.

 

My Humble Abode

A grand total of 6 hours later, just a few hours after I’d given up on breathing like a normal human being (I have asthma – don’t judge), we arrived at her actual house. I mean, I genuinely don’t know what I was expecting… like a mountain lodge with a hot tub or something?! No, this was the real deal and it was her home.

I met her children first, only two of them were able to communicate in minimal English whilst the others shyly smiled at me. Then I met her mother in law, a beautiful old lady with a bright smile and warm personality who you can’t help but love despite the language barrier. She would still try to speak to me in her own language making big gestures so that I would understand. And her husband who I’d met earlier was also home now (with my bag) and also did not speak any English.

Her home was a humble room which had been divided into sections. A small section was the “kitchen”, this was a drain in the ground in one corner and a small fire pit in the other corner with stools surrounding it. This was the area the whole family communed around as they cooked. An area was boarded off for Mama May and her husband, another section for her mother in law and the kids would climb up a ladder to an “attic” area above the kitchen to sleep. My bed was by the window hidden by a mosquito net.

Her husband had built their home, Mama May proudly told me, from scratch by himself! She also told me that she was the sole bread-winner of the family since nobody else is able to work due to a lack of local jobs other than farming. Because she had learned to speak English, she was able to capitalise on tourism and invite people to her humble home. This made me feel proud to be able to be a part of helping her make a living, but also proud of her as an example of a “strong independent woman who don’t need no man”!

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And she carried on proving herself strong as she set about making us all dinner despite having walked however many million miles whilst I died in the corner swearing never to walk again.

 

When Pigs Fly

Mama May’s place may have been small, but that didn’t stop her from keeping animals. She had chickens which fought each other for the last grains of corn. One cheeky little hen, who would puff up her chest and try to be ‘ard, tried to bully another scared chicken and baby chick by running up to the cage and poking her head through pretending she was going to peck them. Then there were the cats, that would stretch out on the veranda and chill because, well what else do cats do?
But more importantly, were the pigs. Two large and over-confident pigs.

Have you ever taken a shower with a pig grunting right outside your shower door? Neither had I. But when you’ve just been hiking for 6 hours and you smell as if you belong with them, showering with pigs seems less unconventional. When it came to it, I was more worried about the giant mosquitoes than stepping out of the shower and into a pig’s sty. Seemingly, not only did the vegetation grow bigger and more bountiful but so did the insects.

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It was to my great surprise that Mama May had hot running water for her shower and even a sit-down toilet which is rare in your regular populated cities of Vietnam, let alone in the mountains of Sa Pa! The warm water was welcome seeing as the temperatures in the mountains were akin to the temperatures of England in the autumn and the unceasing rain more so. This was my chance to thaw and ease my aching muscles whilst ignoring the pig nose pressed up against the frosted glass door. *Grunt, Grunt*

Needless to say, the whole shower experience was surreal. I can’t say I’ve ever showered with a pig outside my door. Well, I suppose now I can!

 

The Mystery of the Scream in the Night

Settling in to bed after a huge home-made dinner of spring rolls, rice and soup, washed down with “happy water” (a.k.a the Vietnamese equivalent of home brewed Sake), I couldn’t get myself comfortable.

Shining my torch on the mattress carefully, my biggest concern was whether or not there could be bed bugs but I couldn’t tell and I had to take that risk. I pulled out the supposedly 100% silk sleeping bag that I bought cheap from a Ho Chi Minh market and prayed it would protect me from all bugs. Spotting a number of holes in the mosquito net, I knew better than to hope in the net to protect me from the blood thirsty insects so covered myself entirely within the sleeping bag liner.

“You are getting the real Sa Pa experience” I reminded myself whilst trying to get comfortable on the rock-solid mattress. As the temperature dropped, sleep evaded me more and I drifted in and out of consciousness frequently jumping awake fearing some insect had made its way through the net.

I’d finally battled myself into a light sleep when I shot up hearing a loud high pitched and long enduring scream. I couldn’t tell where the bloodcurdling wail was coming from but it sounded as if it was in the house. When it would not stop I heard stirs and movement and I don’t know what they did, but the noise stopped as abruptly as it started. I was scared shitless, but my bladder was giving me all the signals that a toilet break would certainly be necessary soon.

I put it off as long as I could manage, but the fort wouldn’t hold for much longer; I had to be brave! I untangled myself from the safety bundle I had created with the sleeping bag liner and slid out from  under the mosquito net grateful to feel my flip flops under my feet. Then, using only the torch of my phone as a light, I found the back door which would lead me to the pig sty and ultimately, the toilet!

Again, not sure what I was expecting would happen when I braced myself and opened the door, but it certainly wasn’t the giant moth that flew in my face! Stifling a scream, I jumped back nearly wetting myself there and then. When I had pulled myself together, I forced myself outside to the pitch black. The bathroom was only about five steps away, but it felt like another 6 hour hike as I darted my eyes about jumping at every rustle of leaves or snap of a twig. What felt like years later, I made it to the bathroom. Thankfully, it was on the way out of the bathroom that I spotted the giant cricket/spider/stick insect/moth mutation killer bug literally the size of a nokia 3310 and I never looked back making a swift retreat back into the house and the shelter of my sleeping bag liner.

I never did find out what that scream was…

Find out what I do when I see a woman bleeding by the cliff side in my upcoming third and final Sa Pa post!