2016

2016 was a bit of an odd year. We lost an incredible number of famous icons, including Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman… the list is ridiculously long. Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States. Brexit happened. My mum (and Bambi) taught me if I can’t say anything nice I should just say nothing, so we’re going to move on swiftly.

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But some good things happened this year. Suicide and child mortality rates are down globally, we have the highest percentage of the world’s children reading and writing in human history, several species of animals are no longer considered endangered, among other things. It’s important to look at the good as well as the not so good.

 

For me, personally, 2016 was a fantastic year.

We brought in the year at the Albert Halls ceilidh..

 

We went to Rome…

 

I experienced Carnaval in Cadiz…

 

We went to Paris…

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…and Cologne…

 

There was St. Paddy’s with my workies..

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There was a weekend in Manchester…

 

I saw Frank Turner live!

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I was chief bridesmaid for Amy and Charly…

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My not-so-little brother graduated with a First!

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Luke and I celebrated our first anniversary 🙂

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I had a fun summer in Brighton with the usual suspects!

 

We went to London, saw Les Miserables and Book of Mormon, went to the Jazz Festival and Notting Hill Carvival, and ate some pretty amazing food…

 

We had some sunny musical park days..

 

..and we played some more gigs..

 

..and ate some more amazing food..

 

We went to Prague for Erin’s 30th..

 

..and my mum turned 50..

 

We had a great weekend in Pitlochry visiting the Enchanted Forest..

 

We had an interesting Halloween in Madrid..

 

I really improved my Spanish..

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We went to Copenhagen to visit the Christmas markets, which seems to have become a new (and awesome) tradition..

 

And I did most of it with my favourite person in the world 🙂

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My continuing resolutions (from 2015) didn’t go too badly.. I’m now well and truly in the habit of drinking much less. I cut down on time spent on facebook. I went to a few concerts and musicals. I travelled a fuckload.

I did not, for the second year running, get even close to drinking 2 litres of water a day.

I aimed to read 50 books, and I actually read 24. It’s still not a bad effort I’d say.

This year, my resolution is to take better care of myself. Be happy, worry less. I won’t try to make massive changes, because these are destined to fail before even February hits. But I’d like to continue eating healthy. Do a little more exercise. Drink a little more water. Maybe get up and about a bit more (I do love my duvet days). Generally be a little less lazy.

I’d like to read another 24 books.

I’d like to run a 10k race, and do a little bit of the Camino de Santiago.

I’d like to learn to use Spanish past tense.

Travel is always a goal, and this year I have 2 weekend trips and a 7-week backpacking spree already booked, with more on the cards, so it’s looking to be a good year!

 

So far 2017, has been interesting.

We started the year in Edinburgh at the Street Party 🙂

(Sadly wordpress would not let me include some fairly hilarious videos I have containing celtic salsa dancing and helium-infused singing that I have from Hogmanay.)

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We booked South-East Asia for July and August! ElephantsWorld I’m coming to get ya!

Also this happened…

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Wish I could tell that dentist her approximation of the glue lasting less than 6 months was out by about 3 years!

 

 

I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2017 🙂 x

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Elephants World

Note: these were the routines and elephants at Elephants World when I was there in 2014 – it may be different now! 🙂 Photos marked ‘EW’ are from the Elephants World Facebook page, all other photos are my own.

I cannot recommend Elephants World enough, either to go as a visitor or a volunteer. It’s an experience you will never forget.

Visit http://www.elephantsworld.org/ or https://facebook.com/elephantsworld/

 

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On the 9th of May 2014, I was picked up at my hostel in Kanchanburi and taken to Elephants World (EW), where I was about to live and work as a volunteer for the next month.

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t  nervous. I’d never been up close to an elephant before, and I was well aware I’d be living in close quarters with other beasties too (give me elephants over flying ants any day).

 

My first memory of arriving at EW is of Tang-Mo, a particularly feisty elephant, who stuck her trunk into the truck because the visitor beside me had brought bananas and she could smell them. Not what I needed to calm me down. As you can see from the photo, she’s a big girl.

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Before spending my first day as a visitor, I was shown to my room.

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The volunteer hut consisted of 5 individual small huts joined together. Each individual hut had a bedroom and a small bathroom.

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As well as our porch, we had a stunning area to hang out in, complete with hammocks, right outside our bedrooms.

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The first two nights here were the worst, while I became accustomed to everything. We were in the middle of nowhere, 30km from the nearest town.

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There was no electricity in the rooms, or in the reception after 6pm. The wooden slats that made up the floor weren’t completely joined together and you could easily see between them, looking down into the grass below – a big deal for someone as scared of bugs and creepy crawlies as I am. The bathroom was 3 walls with a thatched roof that didn’t quite meet, and the shower (basically a hose) only had cold water. No fans, definitely no air conditioning. Since I had arrived in the middle of May, at one of the hottest times of the year, I would be lying if I said the first few days weren’t difficult.

However, by the end of the first week I imagined myself living there permanently.

 

Some things never changed. Just like the first few days, every night of my month stay I checked my room for bugs or animals, jumped (quite literally) into bed and meticulously tucked in my mosquito net. I’d then set my alarm bright and early for the day’s work, and plug myself into my iPod. Norah Jones was my saviour that month, my way of coping with a ridiculous phobia, for a place with an abundance of insects and animals creates a lot of noise at night. With music to make me forget what I was surrounded by, and a solid day of work behind me, I was always sleeping within minutes.

The music also helped to drown out Tungan’s barking. Elephants World look after many different animals on top of their elephants: water buffalo, goats, sheep.. and especially dogs. With around 11 or 12 dogs when I was there, it only took Tungan – who would bark at his own shadow – to set all the others off.

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This is him waiting for/ trying to steal a banana. We were all convinced he thought he was an elephant. The number of times he got kicked trying to play with them in the water, it’s no wonder he was a bit of a sandwich short of a picnic.

 

The other things just took a few days to become accustomed to. The heat, for example, we solved by buying talc powder and covering ourselves before we slept. I’m not sure how the science works, or if it’s simply an old wives tale, but the psychology worked and we felt just slightly cooler as we went to bed.

 

But the life you lead and the people you meet and work with are what makes this place so appealing. You learn, you laugh (a lot) and the feeling of doing something genuinely good is unbeatable. Those little home comforts that you miss in the first few days are very quickly and easily replaced with great company and incredible experiences. It was a ‘job’ that I grew to love very quickly.

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Our daily routine started at 8am, when the majority of the volunteers would wander up to the reception area from the huts alongside the elephants. We’d start in the fruit shop, the hut where we kept, you guessed it, a huge amount of fruit. Each elephant received a basket of fruit in the morning, and with 11 elephants to feed the volunteers got to work disinfecting, washing and preparing the fruit. We stored a huge selection, from watermelon to bananas to papaya and everything in between. In the fruit shop was a board with each elephant and what could be put in it: sometimes for diet and often for likes/dislikes. Watermelon and larger fruits would be chopped into pieces with a large cleaver, bananas and smaller fruits eaten whole with skins on.

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At 9am, already sweating from the heat and work, we’d sit down to breakfast. It varied occasionally, but usually we’d have bread and jam, fruit and fried eggs. Until the day nutella and peanut butter arrived on the table. At that moment, you’d have thought that we hadn’t eaten in weeks – which was far from true!

 

Around 10am the visitors would arrive. We’d give them an introduction including some elephant facts, a background of the organisation and the safety procedures and rules. Afterwards, the elephants would receive their first basket of fruit of the day. The elephants are fed by hand by the visitors and volunteers by placing the food at the tip of their trunks, which is always a great activity to start the day with as you can get up close and personal to these amazing animals in a safe environment.

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Songkran, the elephant below who died in 2015, was a bit of a diva (more on her later) and preferred to be fed directly to her mouth.

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The next stop for the visitors was the river, where we’d watch the elephants bathing from the comfort of the bridge.

 

The men sitting on the elephants in the second picture are the mahouts, or elephant caretakers. Each elephant has their own mahout who looks after them, and the bond that is created between them is very obvious to see. The mahouts live in a separate village on the EW grounds, where they have their homes and a private area to live with their families. Everyone has a place at EW. The men care for the elephants, the women cook the fantastic Thai food for the visitors and volunteers, and the children go to local schools and spend time playing on the grounds by themselves or with us.

 

Although the mahouts are usually men, because of the tone of voice normally required to give commands, this wonderful lady was the mahout of a blind elephant called Lam Duan. After being a banker for many years in the states, she gave it up and left one day to come to Thailand and be with these amazing animals. The pair were inseparable, and the genuine care she showed for her elephant was beautiful to see.

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There were also younger guys learning to be mahouts, a family business if you will. Like Turtle, who took a particular liking to me..

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At this point in the day, while we were watching them in the river, we’d talk about Songkran (mentioned earlier) and her success story. At 76 years old, she was the second-oldest elephant at EW (2014). She arrived severely overworked and underweight after a hard life, and in her 6 years spent at EW before she died in 2015 she made a miraculous recovery. Having worked with her myself, I would never have believed that such a strong and spirited elephant could have been so weak and timid just 5 years before. I’m so happy that she got to spend her last few years relaxing and being looked after, after such a difficult life.

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This cartoon of Songkran was drawn by Gaby, a talented artist and fellow volunteer.

 

The final stop before lunch was to the sticky rice hut, to prepare another snack for the elephants.

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Each morning, one volunteer would come to set up the ingredients and soak the rice in preparation for this part of the day.

The week where it was my turn to prepare the sticky rice in the morning was particularly eventful. Every morning I’d open the door and be confronted with several hens, who liked to sneak in through a hole in the roof and nest in the baskets. I could only go so far into the hut before they’d fly at me, wings flapping furiously, and I’d run from the hut hoping that nobody saw (or heard me screaming). There was the morning that Laura came to help me and I laughed at her when a mouse gave her a fright.. at which point I lifted a container and no less than ten mice ran from under it, right over my bare feet. Then there was the morning I had this guy for company:

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It’s a little blurry but you get the idea.

 

And last but not least, the morning I had my run-in with Kammoon, a 3.5 tonne elephant with a notorious reputation for eating. This particular morning, the sticky rice ingredients needed to be refilled, which involved carrying large packages from the store at reception level down to the hut, as well as the normal large basket of washed pumpkins. The packages of vitamin pellets, calcium powder and rice weighed 30-50kg each, and I’m only wee. I eventually got the packages into the wheelbarrow, with the help of some other volunteers, and I was off.

I got as far as the river, about halfway to the hut, when Kammoon spotted me. We often get asked if she’s pregnant, because of the size of her, but it’s purely down to the amount she eats on a daily basis. We considered the possibility that she might have been starved in her working life, and she now tries to make sure it never happens again by continuously eating whenever she can.

Not only had she spotted me, but she could also smell the pumpkins in my wheelbarrow. Before I could get away, she’d come charging up to me and stuck her trunk into the wheelbarrow trying to get to the pumpkins, which subsequently turned the wheelbarrow over. I was left with scattered bits of pumpkin, a split bag which was now pouring powder all over the grass (much to Kammoon’s delight) and a 50kg bag of rice on the ground. She lost interest eventually and left, leaving me struggling to get everything back into the wheelbarrow. Every time I got one package in, it would collapse again trying to get the next in. I was ready to cry with frustration by the time one of the mahouts arrived and helped me. Looking back, I imagine watching it all happen would have been like watching a slapstick comedy.

 

With the visitors, we’d cut the pumpkins and add them to the huge pans of soaked sticky rice, which the mahouts would then cook over the fires. Once cooked, they’d be left to cool to complete the last part of the process later on in the day.

The sticky rice hut area was also where Bow resided, a new and very weak elephant who had just recently arrived (2014). We would take the visitors over to her in small groups, to feed her and brush her.

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As the weaker elephant, we were always very careful to keep her separated from the other elephants, until her strength improved. In the wild, elephants live in family herds where weaklings are not tolerated. At EW, the elephants are generally not related and come from different backgrounds, so introducing new ones into the group can be difficult. I remember one morning having breakfast and hearing a commotion by the feeding area. When we ran over, Wasana (a small but strong female elephant) had pushed Bow onto the ground. When we found her, Bow was lying on her side and too weak to pull herself back up onto her feet. We ran to her side and pushed, until eventually we got her back onto her feet. Having Bow separated with an individual food supply became more important than ever after that.

 

After lunch, it was time for the visitors to visit the mud bath.

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Then it would be time for the visitors to get their hands dirty. The most common activity was to go bana grass cutting on the grounds, which required wearing huge thick gloves if you didn’t want to look like you’d been arm-wrestling with Edward Scissorhands. We’d also take trips outside of the grounds to cut banana trees, often arriving at people’s homes where they would have unwanted trees growing in their gardens. The small amount of trees on these trips gave the visitors an idea of what we’d do in the evenings as volunteers, without giving them too much hard work.

One tree-cutting night with the volunteers will live with me forever. It was my first evening cutting excursion, so all I had experienced until then was the tamer easier visitor version. The first surprise was the vehicle we travelled in. With the tourists, we’d take a vehicle with seats, the same one used to collect them from their guesthouses in the mornings. With the volunteers, we just took the banana truck. We’d climb up the outside of the cage and jump in, which was difficult for someone as uncoordinated as me. But once you were in, you were safe enough.

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When we arrived in the field, we all got to work. The mahouts would use their knives to chop the trees at the roots, and the volunteers would work two to a tree, to carry them back to the truck. This was fine – until the rain started. And with the rain came the spiders and the red ants.

We continued until the truck was completely full. And that’s when I realised where we were gonna have to sit on the journey home.

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The other volunteers climbed up and sat on top of all the trees, but as I was wearing flip-flops and it had been raining (and the fact that I’m naturally clumsy)  I, very elegantly, put one foot up, slipped and faceplanted into the mud. With a little help from another volunteer, I got to the top and sat down on the trees. The cage was completely full, and so there was no space at the top to be actually inside the truck – we were just ‘chilling’ (at least, everyone else was while I held on with white knuckles) on top of wet slippery trees, occasionally being nibbled by curious ants as the truck hurtled down the road at 70mph. One of the volunteers has a photo of us back at EW that night, covered head to toe in mud, and I’m hoping that one day our paths will cross and I’ll get to see that photo again.

 

After tree-cutting with the volunteers in the afternoon, we’d head back to the sticky rice hut to roll the cooled rice into balls. The elephants knew their routine and would hang around the hut impatiently for a while, occasionally sneaking a trunk into the rice baskets to grab a ball before we’d finished.

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Then came the best part of the day: getting into the water with the elephants.

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I believe this has changed now, but in 2014 we allowed the visitors to sit on a few of the elephants’ backs – there were five or six elephants who were strong and healthy enough to allow this to be done safely. This is not a stressful experience for the elephant when there is one or two people on their necks and upper back and without a heavy chair.

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For the newer weaker elephants, like Bow, we’d spend time scrubbing and washing her instead.

 

This would be the time of day when the mahouts would show off their incredible acrobatic skills on the rope:

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I always envied them, because I spent about an hour one night grasping the rope and willing myself to jump off the (not even that high) bridge, just to do a basic rope swing, to no avail..

 

And after drying off a little, we’d take the visitors back to the reception to give the elephants another basket of fruit. You’ve probably realised that a day with an elephant mostly revolves around food.

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After the visitors had gone around 4pm, we’d head down to the river to swim and wash – the water was perfectly clean and the same stuff running through our hoses into our bathrooms. Once dried and changed, we’d meet in the reception area for a Thai buffet dinner and the evening’s entertainment.

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The entertainment varied from night to night. The first time I went to EW, half of us hadn’t seen Game of Thrones, and so we started watching it from the very beginning. We had no electricity except lights so we would charge someone’s laptop during the day, giving us enough battery to watch two or three episodes in the evening. We’d set the laptop up on one of the tables and pull our chairs round, sharing out any food packages we’d been sent or any snacks we’d picked up on the last market run. For me, it was always a glass of coca cola. Every single night.

On these nights the mahouts would generally do their own thing, as we’d watch Game of Thrones in English. However, they’d quickly come and join in if they heard a sex scene.

 

Other nights we’d all, mahouts and volunteers, sit around with the guitars out, singing songs and drinking Thai rum and beer.

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Maria (on the left) was our supervisor, and I will always think of her when I hear Zombie by The Cranberries. She had a lovely voice and would regularly treat us to renditions of her favourite songs.

Of course, it only took a few beers for me to get involved (I can’t sit still when there are musical instruments present). Like here, when he held a party for Tom’s birthday:

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There were also nights where we got out of Elephants World for a few hours – a change of scenery was sometimes needed.

There was one night where Agnes, the owner, treated us all to a Korean barbeque on a beach as a thank you for our work. Then there were the weekly market runs on a Sunday, where we’d head into a small nearby town to collect anything we needed for the coming week.

 

Then there was the night where the initial plan was Laura and I going into Kanchanaburi for a night in a guesthouse, air conditioning, the opportunity to Skype my parents, eat something other than rice and go for a pint..

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.. that escalated into a whole volunteer night out.

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Highlight of this night being Stefan’s ‘I have never’ revelations. Cough, prostitutes.

 

Another volunteer worth mentioning was Reis from Buffalo, New York. Reis brought a very, ahem, unique sense of humour to Elephants World. I wish I could have heard his classic song ‘Take Me to Kanchanaburi’ for myself but the recorded version was definitely better than nothing. There were the suggestions of nudist days to tackle the problem of decreasing numbers of visitors, and an electricity plant powered by elephant poo. You can’t make this stuff up.

Then came the inappropriate jokes. “Tom, would you like a hand with that?” and comparing Richard and Chad to Slumdog Millionaire and a lumberjack, to name only a few. However, with these jokes came some innocent revenge from the boys. There were many, but the best were convincing Reis that he had been smoking elephant poo and not weed with the mahouts, and that breathing in the air from McDonalds makes you gain weight. There was never a dull moment, that’s for sure.

 

But it wasn’t just great people and majestic elephants I shared my month with. Oh no.

When working in the fruit shop we often encountered unwanted ‘visitors’. Snakes were the most common, but we also had one tourist who reached into the back of a lower shelf to grab a watermelon and came out with a scorpion dangling from her fringe. What’s worse, this particular scorpion was a mummy scorpion, with lots of little baby scorpions on her back. I’ve never ever seen someone so calm as they casually mentioned that they’d been stung. On the head. By a freaking scorpion.

 

There was the night we witnessed a normally calm and collected volunteer scream and leap about 6 feet into the air as she had spotted a centipede crawling along the floor while having her dinner. This particular kind are poisonous, and one of the mahouts practically jumped across the table to deal with it. At least we knew we were in safe hands.

 

There was Frog Patrol, where I’d go into Laura’s room before she went to bed to catch and free any frogs lurking in her bathroom, so that we wouldn’t be woken up in the middle of the night by her screaming at the frog jumping on her bed. Frogs and toads never bothered me so I was always happy to do it.. they never bothered me, that is, until I left my toiletries bag on the bedroom floor one morning and when I returned in the evening to get some mosquito repellent I rooted around until I saw two eyes peering back at me from the depths of the bag. Cheeky wee bugger had climbed in and got comfy while I was out guiding. I got a fright, screamed, he jumped out, I screamed some more. Needless to say, I was always a little more jumpy with the frogs after that.

 

It wasn’t just frogs in the bathrooms. Tom’s bathroom was on the end of the block, separated from the others, and so he often got the weirdest and most wonderful of the creatures. Generally it was geckos, huge with bright colours, like this guy that lived in my bathroom:

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But I will never forget the night where we went to check what animals had made themselves at home in his bathroom, and finding a spider bigger than his hand chilling behind the mirror. I still don’t know how he got to sleep that night.

 

And last but not least, the night where Laura and I went for an evening swim and found ourselves cornered in the river as a herd of water buffalo decided to join us. Luckily they got deep enough that they had to focus on keeping their heads above water and we managed to slip out undetected.

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When I think back to the bugs and animals I encountered, I wonder if I really did it all. It seems very surreal, a person like me living there and loving it as much as I did. But I did, I’ll be forever proud of myself and I will forever wish I could be back there. Working with those amazing volunteers and hilarious mahouts, caring for those elephants and having the time of my life. Creepy crawlies and all.

 

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A History Lesson in Kanchanburi

May 2014.

After a hectic visa run and an interesting few days in Bangkok, I was back on the road again. My next stop: Kanchanaburi.

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Kanchanaburi is one of these places that many people don’t seem to know about. Everybody knows about Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the islands, but this wonderful city is less known. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty tourists, just not on the same scale. And it’s a shame, because it was without a doubt the most beautiful place I visited in Thailand.

I took a motorbike taxi to my ‘hostel’, Sam’s House. Upon arriving, the woman at the reception asked me the only two questions I understood in Thai: what was my name, and did I have a reservation? Unfortunately my replies (also in Thai) were apparently so convincing that she continued to talk to me in Thai, oblivious to the blank expression on my face.

After 6 weeks or so of hot, cramped hostel rooms sharing with anywhere between 4 and 12 people, the private chalet with double bed, air conditioning and a functioning bathroom made me feel like royalty. I’m not even ashamed to admit that for the next 24 hours I didn’t leave the room except to eat. Even the jumping spiders in the room didn’t phase me.

 

The following day I was off on a tour of the main Kanchanburi sights.

Our first stop was Erawan Waterfall. I have to be honest, temples and waterfalls are beautiful things, but when you live in a place with an abundance of them the novelty starts to wear off a little. And so, bearing in mind I’d been in Thailand for 7 months by this point, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. That changed pretty quickly.

Erawan Waterfall is split into 7 tiers, each one with its own separate waterfall. It’s 2km from top to bottom with the first 5 tiers being easy to reach, the 5th to 6th being a little more difficult and the 6th to 7th a full on climb.

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There were 8 of us altogether on the tour: 3 middle-aged couples, a young guy called Ben and I. Ben and I got talking on the bus and ended up climbing to the top together. We started, as you would imagine, at tier one, which already struck me as a stunning sight. And it only got better from there.

I’m not sure which of the tiers each photo is of, but here they are anyway:  

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After climbing to the top, we decided to swim in each of the pools as we returned to the bottom. I made it into most of them, despite my fear of water and the fish that nibbled our feet.

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Part of the route, around the 3rd or 4th tier, was a set of wooden stairs. When we climbed them on our way up, it was quite early in the morning without many people. On the way down, they’d been used by a lot of people, some of whom had been swimming. Wood plus water doesn’t mix. As I turned to Ben to warn him that the stairs were slippery, I got as far as “Be careful, the stairs..” before I lost my footing and skidded down, from the top right to the bottom. I had bruises on my arse for weeks.

 

There were a lot of monitor lizards around, like this wee guy below, although none as big as George (our resident Monitor in our park in Nonthaburi)..

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And a few dodgy translations..

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The next leg of our journey was the Death Railway.

“In 1943 thousands of Allied Prisoners of War (PoW) and Asian labourers worked on the Death Railway under the imperial Japanese army in order to construct part of the 415 km long Burma-Thailand railway. Most of these men were Australians, Dutch and British and they had been working steadily southwards from Thanbyuzayat (Burma) to link with other PoW on the Thai side of the railway. This railway was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Japanese army engineers selected the route which traversed deep valleys and hills. All the heavy work was done manually either by hand or by elephant as earth moving equipment was not available. However after the war the entire railway was removed and sold as it was deemed unsafe and politically undesirable. The prisoners lived in squalor with a near starvation diet. They were subjected to captor brutality and thus thousands perished. The men worked from dawn until after dark and often had to trudge many kilometres through the jungle to return to base camp where Allied doctors tended the injured and diseased and many died. After the war the dead were collectively reburied in the War Cemeteries and will remain forever witness to a brutal and tragic ordeal.” (http://www.kanchanaburi-info.com/en/muang.html)

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We visited a cave just off the railway line which, now a temple, served as an infirmary for prisoners working on the construction during WWII.

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And we took the train for a few stops on part of the railway itself..

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..until we reached the River Kwai Bridge, part of the Death Railway and made famous by films and books due to bombings in 1944.

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My last night in Nonthaburi was spent drinking cider and playing pool with Ben – and mentally preparing for my month with the heffelumps!

A city well worth a visit if you’re in Thailand.

X

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…2016? It was January 2 weeks ago..

So last year I posted a blog (as I’m sure you all know because you definitely read it religiously) with my personal top 10 moments of 2014 and my resolutions for 2015.

I continued my resolutions from 2013, spending less on drink to the point of cutting down my alcohol consumption even further (especially over Christmas!), and I did manage to squeeze in another two trips to the theatre. Sadly, 2015’s were a bit of a let down. I didn’t make it to any of the cities or countries I wanted to, and I definitely didn’t drink 2 litres of water every day. Nope. Not even close.

So I’ve got a few more challenges to push myself this year. It was fun reading back on my post from Hogmanay 2014, not having a clue what 2015 was going to have in store for me. And I’m sure it will be equally amusing when I read this back in 350-odd days time.

1. Continue the resolutions from the last few years. That means continue to not be a complete Scottish stereotype, and keep doing the things I love (most notably theatre, concerts, shows and travel). Also spend less time on Facebook, which became a goal halfway through the year.

2. Drink 2 litres of water a day. Second time lucky.

3. Read 50 books this year. I’m on Goodreads, if anybody wants to be my pal. Gon.

1 continued, one second attempt at a failed, and one new resolution. Tidy.

 

Last year I had my ‘top moments of 2014’, but I did have a pretty action-packed year travelling South-East Asia. This year I stayed put in Madrid, but it was exciting in different ways – new flat, friends, music, love and job. So although I don’t have a super-exciting countdown of moments, here’s a quick run-down of my 2015.

 

We brought in new year in spectacular fashion at the Stirling Albert Halls ceilidh..

 

And let’s not forget the dancing that topped off the evening..

 

I got to experience some pretty cool typical Spanish parties, which all revolved around food..

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I got some pretty cool visitors..

 

I discovered the After Eight game..

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I visited Toledo, a city south of Madrid..

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..and Aranjuez..

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I spent Valentines Day on the top of the Pyrenees mountains..

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I experienced Semana Santa (Easter in Spain), one of the weirdest festivals I’ve ever seen..

 

I had some fun nights..

 

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I did plenty of exploring..

 

I hung out with this wee guy loads..

 

I took far too many sunset pictures..

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There was St. Paddy’s in Madrid..

 

I ate WAY too much ice cream..

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There were jams in Retiro, although I’m still sad that there’s no footage of the Game of Thrones theme from Gavin and I..

 

I saw ACDC live, even if it was only for 10 minutes…

 

And UFO!

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I met this absolute spesh… 😉

 

I had another brilliant summer working in Brighton…

 

I saw big KEV-I-N at the hydro..

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I did a 15-hour Star Wars marathon..

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I got involved in loads of music stuff..

 

I went to Berlin..

 

And, almost like a complete circle, we finished the year with the Albert Halls ceilidh once again..

It wasn’t the best year, but it was a bloody good one, and I’m excited to see what 2016 will bring.

Happy New Year a’body

x

 

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The Real Meaning of ‘The Land of Smiles’

April 2014

In order to stay longer in Thailand, I had to complete a visa run. Had I only needed 30 extra days on my visa, I could have simply travelled to a border, crossed over, got stamped and headed right back into Thailand but I needed 40 to cover my trip to the elephant sanctuary.

Since I was down south on Koh Phangan, I’d been told my easiest option would be to go to Malaysia. All I had to do was get to Hat Yai in the south of Thailand and from there, minibuses run constantly to Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia where I would be able to apply for a 60 or 90-day tourist visa. I’d get the visa within a day or two and then I could return to Thailand. Sounds simple, huh?

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It turned out to be the most stressful experience of my life to date, and a week I will never ever forget.

When Nicky and I arrived at the harbour in Surat, we said our goodbyes and I boarded a bus headed for Hat Yai. I thought it was a direct bus but about half an hour later I was dropped off at the airport and then hustled into a minibus with a few Thai people. This happened to me so many times over the course of my travels but it never got any easier. I can only imagine what I’d be like now, having forgotten most of the Thai I learned.

I was shoved back off the bus an hour later outside a shop in a little town, God knows where, with an hour to kill until the next bus. Knowing myself well, I decided to stay put so I wouldn’t get lost or get myself into any sticky situations. Even my rumbling tum wasn’t enough to get me to leave and risk missing the bus, but luckily the cute Thai couple who were travelling the same route as me had gone for food and brought me back a meal. Thailand is often known as the ‘Land of Smiles’ and the people don’t think twice about generosity. It’s in their nature, and that evening I was about to really experience the truth in that stereotype.

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The next bus arrived eventually (#ThaiTime) and in we clambered. It was starting to get dark by this point and I’d been travelling all day. Normally I would take the bus to the next town and wander around until I found somewhere to stay, partly because you can never be too sure where you’re going to get dropped off. However, this particular bus driver was a good egg and tried to work out where I was staying so he could drop me off. With neither of us able to speak the other’s language, a mass game of charades ensued, while I tried to explain to the bewildered gentleman that I hadn’t booked a hostel and just wanted dropped off in the town.

So that’s exactly what he did.

At around 9.30pm, in the pitch black, I was dropped off in the outskirts of Hat Yai, with nothing around except a Tesco; not the bus station full of motorbike taxis that I had become accustomed to.

By this point, the cute Thai couple had already bought me dinner and then joined in with the charades (and a bit of Google Translate) to help me get to where I needed to go. Their next endeavour was to phone a professor from their university, who spoke excellent English, and who informed me that the town I was currently standing in had no public transport system, and that there was no chance of hailing a taxi. Shit.

Just as I was contemplating heading across the road to sneak into the Tesco warehouse for the night, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, I was faced with a beautiful Thai girl, speaking to me in English. Did I need somewhere to stay that night? Yes I did.

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Rose was studying English among other subjects at the local university and had stumbled across a very frazzled-looking backpacker as she was heading home that night. She was also working as a model. No joke.

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Being one of a very generous culture, she brought me back to her apartment where we had dinner, spent the evening with her brother and some friends and talked about various things for hours on end. I felt like a bit of a celebrity, as Rose called a few of her friends and had me talk to them, to prove that she had a ‘farang’ in her room! I stayed over, and the next morning her brother collected me on his motorbike and took me to the bus station so that I could continue my journey. Rose invited me into her home, fed me and gave me a bed to sleep in for the night; her brother drove me to the station; both they and their friends made me feel so welcome in their company. I’m not sure what would have happened or where I would have ended up sleeping if it wasn’t for their hospitality that night, and I’ll be forever grateful to them.

When I arrived at the bus station, I was feeling optimistic. I was in the right place, and I knew where I needed to go. What I hadn’t counted on was that there were protests happening at the border between Thailand and Malaysia, and no minibuses were running for the next week. Bollocks.

My only option, or so they said, was to take a taxi to the border and take a minibus from there. The taxi alone was going to cost me 900baht (the equivalent of £18, which is a steal for an hour-long journey in a taxi but bear in mind I was living on a Thai wage). I realised I had no option as I was on the last day of my visa and therefore needed to leave the country, so I withdrew my money (reluctantly) for the taxi ride and off we went. Not before leaving my bank card in the ATM, of course. Because it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do something ridiculously stupid.

The taxi ride and subsequent minibus journeys between Hat Yai and Penang were stressful, but eventually I made it. Specifically, to the ferry terminal in Butterworth where we needed to cross over to reach Georgetown. And that’s when I realised that I had not only lost my bank card, but that I only had Thai baht in my purse and I was now in Malaysia. It was a really great example of forward planning.

Luckily, a young American couple, who I’d spoken to on the bus, came to my rescue and paid my ferry fare. They were backpackers as well, but travelling with converted American money. This meant that they considered the boat fare they paid for the 3 of us to be pennies, and so then couldn’t understand why I was quite so thankful. I imagine it to be something like a rich stranger paying a £20 train fare for you because you left your purse at home by mistake – you know they can easily afford it, but it’s a lovely gesture and you’re still very grateful to them.

Once I’d actually arrived in Georgetown, things started to look up. I found a budget hotel which was a bit dingy but it did the trick. I had a private room, air conditioning and a chatty owner at reception from Bangladesh who proposed to me several times. I was pretty shaken up, but being in the right town and not in a cramped minibus was reassuring.

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Things started to look up when I finally left my hotel room in search of food. That night, I had the best curry I’ve ever had in my life.

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And so, I started to feel a little better. Getting my visa ended up being the easiest part of the whole trip, amazingly. It did mean trusting a complete stranger with my passport for 24 hours, but it was well worth it to not have to to go the embassy.

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The last thing to do was the 23-hour bus ride back to Bangkok – the things you do to save a couple of quid eh.

x

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A Little Bit of Luxury

Gotta thank Jeff and Matt for a lot of these pictures!

On Friday 25th April 2014 I left my ‘Koh Tao family’ and headed off to the next island on my list: Koh Phangan. The journey was uneventful, and I arrived at the hostel without any problems (a nice change, although considerably less exciting). Usually I’d just turn up in the next town, go for a wander and pick somewhere to stay (with a quick glance at ‘hostelworld’ for prices) but a backpacker in Pai had recommended Shiralea Backpacker Resort to me, so I trusted her and booked myself in. 10380287_10152424159624823_2199373393625415779_n Bless that lass in Pai. Booking this particular hostel meant taking a songtaew to Haad Yao on the west coast of the island but I’ll be forever glad I did. Although it had ‘backpacker’ in its name, it wasn’t the hostel experience I was expecting or used to. It was without a doubt the most beautiful place I stayed in on my entire trip. shiralea-backpackers I think it has a small dorm but I opted for a bungalow as a bit of a treat. Coconut-Heights Once I was checked in, I dumped my stuff and headed for the pool (I KNOW!). Post_20110509112854 The place was full of people around my age, the bar stocked Magners… it was a happy time. What I didn’t realise was that every other person at the pool was with a tour group, and they had been travelling together for the last 2 weeks. Having been a part of something similar, I understood the friendships (and relationships) that can occur in a short space of time when you’re travelling together like that, so it was pretty daunting to begin with and I was wary not to step on any toes. I got talking to a group of girls first, but my saviour was a guy called Alex who invited me to play beer pong. I’d never played it before but it was an opportunity for free beer so I gave it a shot. Turns out I’m pretty good, and I won the game for our team. Either that or ‘beginners luck’ is a real thing. It turned into a bit of an initiation, and I ended up being invited to their pool-side BBQ for dinner. Score.

1480493_10204051517473954_919169851410773675_n One of the girls also raised enough money for a local charity that she agreed to having her head shaved… 10363567_10204051527074194_3871231699931317984_n I got invited to their neon paint party that night too, which is exactly as messy and fun as it sounds.

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I got right into it, of course.

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The next day my friend Nicky who I’d met on Koh Tao arrived, so we spent the afternoon chilling in the pool with a guy called Matt who was on the tour. It turned out Matt and Nicky lived in the same street back home in the UK, had friends in common, but had never met until then. It’s a scarily small world. That evening Nicky and I headed back to the port town of Thong Sala to experience their weekend market on Walking Street. After 7 months in Asia temples and markets lose their appeal and novelty slightly, but I did get a couple of nice foody things including rambutan, a type of fruit and well worth trying if you get the chance. rambutan-ftr That evening happened to be the last night of the group’s tour, so we all gathered in the bar for a good drinking sesh. There was a bell at the far end which, when rung, signalled that the ringer was buying a shot for every person there. With it being their last night, the bell got rung a lot. Whoever thought up the bell idea, kudos to you. 1209081_10151711392353096_1783025188_n1-600x320 In fact, it was rung so many times that I got suitably drunk without needing to put my hand in my pocket. But, sadly, your brain doesn’t work like that when you’re drunk. I ended up spending a fortune (in budget-spending terms) buying shots for myself and a Canadian couple I’d just met. Plus they had some pretty strange shooters on the menu, and working our way down the list seemed like a great idea at the time. I ended up dancing to the song ‘Umbrella’ as if I had an actual umbrella to dance with, which had Nicky crying with laughter, but I’m pretty sure I looked like a complete and utter twat to any sober person who might have happened to catch me doing it.

We were up early the next morning for a trip to Angthong Marine Park which I was both excited and terrified about, because it involved kayaking and snorkelling. angthong1_g Snorkelling was first on the agenda, which was perfect because it meant I didn’t spend the rest of my day panicking. I was last in the water (after giving myself a pep talk and procrastinating with my mask) and first back in the boat (after someone threw a piece of bread into the water beside me and I got caught in a school of fish, a cool experience for someone else but the beginnings of a stroke for me) but I did it. I remember the first time I put my face in the water, and it was so damn clear I gave myself a fright. I might go as far as to say I was starting to enjoy it before the bread incident happened, but my heart didn’t stop pounding the whole time. Considering I’m too feart to go into a swimming pool myself, it was a huge achievement, but I can’t see myself doing it again any time soon.

We stopped at a beach and climbed to a viewpoint, where we could see the stretch of rock formations that make up the marine park, and also the Emerald Lagoon.

Ang-Thong-Marine-Park-emerald-lakeOur next stop was for lunch and our kayaking trip, which turned out to be great fun and not in the least bit scary – we weren’t too deep and I spent a lot of energy forcing myself not to think of what might have been below me (probably nothing but water, but you try telling my incredibly-active imagination that).

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Our last trip was to a different island for a look at some caves. We started climbing the steps up the hill just as I noticed a sign that showed the routes we could take to different caves. I knew we were going the easiest route as we didn’t have a lot of time, but it was still displayed as being a fairly difficult trek so we asked the tour guide if we’d need the walking boots we’d packed. He literally just laughed, said the sign was “exaggerated for those fat Americans that come here” (nothing like a bit of casual racism to start your adventure) and continued up the hill (barefoot, might I add) so we shrugged off the sign and followed him.

Never trusting a Thai man again.

The first ten minutes of stairs were fine. But then the stairs began to be fewer and fewer, replaced largely by tree roots and big rocks. I started wishing then that I’d just worn by boots anyway, as the flip flops were making me slip and kept catching onto things. But it was a bit more like trekking at this point, so I was enjoying it and I kept going.

Gradually, though, the path got worse. Big rocks turned into little rocks, and a trek up a hill turned into a steep climb. There was only a rope either side of the ‘path’ to hold onto, which was constantly shaking because people in front and behind you were also using them to climb up. It got more and more difficult as we continued up the hill, with less things to use as footholds and the ground getting steeper.

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I know a lot of people who would’ve been really good at this and maybe even actually enjoyed it, but I’m the clumsiest bugger on this planet and once cried on a climbing wall (inside, fully harnessed with a soft mat under me – I was a kid, just to make that clear) so this just isn’t my kinda thing.

By the time we reached the caves, the climb was near-vertical and I was just about greetin’. I’m not proud to admit that. But I was fecking terrified, holding onto those ropes for dear life and beginning to imagine how I could make a life for myself up in that cave so I didn’t have to face the journey back down.

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Unfortunately, I was so shaken by the climb that I spent most of the next 10 minutes sitting on a rock trying to calm down and didn’t really get to appreciate the caves. The whole reason I’d done it in the first place.

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And what goes up must come down. A German guy suggested I go first, so that they could shout to me where to put my feet. I started off ok, until I put my foot on a rock and said rock disintegrated under my feet. At this point I’m literally just holding onto one of the ropes with my left hand and a tree root in my right hand. I scrambled around for a bit, trying to find anything at all to put my feet on when I realised I was just gonna have to let go.

Imagine going down a slide. Fun, huh? Imagine that slide is made of sharp rocks, dirt and gravel, and you’re only wearing bikini bottoms on your bottom half. Not so fun. But it must have looked so comical from the top, because all I could hear was everyone else laughing. And it turned out to be the best thing for me, because in between my screams of pain as my arse got torn to shreds it made me laugh too. And it might have hurt like hell, but it remains to this day one of the most comical memories I have of my time travelling. The sort of thing you really do expect to ever only see in a cringey comedy at the cinema.

And that’s how my weekend in Koh Phangan ended. Being helped down the rest of the hill by a hot German and not being able to sit down on the hour-long boat ride back to the hostel. I’ve had worse Sundays.

x

 

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2014 In A Nutshell

New year is supposed to be a time for reflection and new starts. This year, that’s only partly true for me.

2014 is the first year where I feel like I’ve actually done something with my life. It turned out to be the best year I’ve had so far, following 2013 which was by far the worst. But at least knowing that, I know I didn’t mope around in my failures and I got off my arse and changed my situation. 2013 was a very difficult year, but everything that went wrong I feel I’ve managed to turn around for the better. I’ve completely moved on from past relationships, I managed to get a couple of new teaching jobs which I love and I’ve found a new passion in life: travelling. And so, there’s been a lot of reflection, but as for ‘new year new me’ bullshit, I’m going to try and continue as I have been this year.

My new years resolutions were to spend less money on alcohol/ drink less and go to more shows/plays/musicals/theatre productions. I think I’ve done quite well to be honest. Although I might just have scuppered that with my last week at home. Let’s not count the Christmas period!

This year, for 2015, my resolutions are to drink at least 2 litres of water every day and visit as many new countries and cities as possible. If I’m good with my money I should be adding half a dozen Spanish cities, Morocco and Portugal to my list. 🙂

This year I’ve done a lot of fun things and a lot of (for me!) scary things; I’ve had some memorable experiences and some forgotten nights; I lived in 3 countries over 2 continents; I travelled through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore; I worked in Bangkok, London, Brighton and Madrid; I’ve made some amazing friends and let go of some people who weren’t good for me; and I’m happy.

Here are my top 10 moments of 2014:

10, Snorkeling at Angthong National Marine Park in Thailand. A simple holiday experience for most people, but I’m terrified of the sea and felt like I’d achieved something. Even if my heart was pounding dangerously the entire time.angthong1_g

 

9. Coco and Shaz’s wedding reception at Beancross. After being away for so long it was great to get dressed up, see my family and friends, do some ceilidh dancing and take advantage of the free bar (thanks dad). Also, my wee bubz Amy asked me to be her chief bridesmaid. Aww.

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8. Bringing in the new year at Siam Square in Bangkok with fireworks, music, and a great bunch of people.

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7. My weekend in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand, trekking through the jungle, seeing wild elephants and king cobras, swimming in natural springs, finding tarantula nests and standing in a field while a million bats flew over my head. Incredible.

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6. Spending a week in Chiang Mai with my friends during Songkran.

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5. The first time I had a full conversation with someone in Spanish. An amazing feeling.

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4. Doing the fire limbo with Didi on Kho Phi Phi. No casualties. Yass!

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3. Sitting on a beach on Koh Lanta watching the sunset, not another soul in sight for miles.

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2. The night of the Koh Tao pub crawl. Hilarious memories with great people that I will never, ever forget.

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And without a doubt, my absolute favourite:

1. Spending 5 weeks at an elephant sanctuary with a group of volunteers who completely made the experience for me. A month of caring for and learning about the elephants, guiding groups of tourists, parties in the evenings with the mahouts, swimming in the river after ‘work’, living in wooden huts with various beasties and living in a place that I miss and consider returning to for good every day.

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I hope 2014’s been good to you, and I wish you all all the best for 2015 🙂

Peace x

 

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SpicyTao!

With Songkran over and most people either away home or away off travelling somewhere else, it was time to move from Chiang Mai. Luckily, my trusty sidekick Sar had the same travel plans as me: the gulf islands 🙂 The first leg of the journey was a 12hr bus. We were starting to get used to them by this point.

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That’s my impression of a sausage roll.

We arrived at our hostel, which turned out to be probably the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Clean bathrooms, curtains on our beds and a lounge with a TV. I felt like a queen.

I spent the day sleeping off my shenanigans from the previous week while Sar went shopping at Chatuchak. That evening we ordered pizza to the hostel and watched a couple of films in the lounge. After a week of drinking, water fights and socialising, it was a perfect evening.

I then got told that, while I was off quickly skyping my family, a Thai girl joined Sar in the Lounge but after the scene in Anchorman 2 where Brick screams, she promptly left.

The next day I introduced Sar to my favourite restaurant . I’m not even embarrassed that it’s not a Thai place.

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My mind’s telling me yes.. but my BODY! My BODYYYY is telling me NO! We ate like little piggies.

That evening we started our journey to Koh Tao, the first island on our list. We started out on a bus which dropped us outside a shop at 2am in the dark with nobody around, where we waited until a songthaew (like an open-air truck with benches, a popular form of public transport) arrived and took us to the pier. You get to a point while travelling in Thailand where you just trust anyone. They turn up at 2am, take your bag, put it in the truck and tell you to get in. Under other circumstances it would be dodgy, but it just seems to work there. If you don’t trust them and don’t get in, then you’ve just lost your ride to the pier which you paid for and there’s not going to be another way to get there for several hours. Also the other groggy-looking people who look like typical backpackers in the back of the truck are a sure sign that you’re in the right place.

After a night and morning of travelling, we finally arrived at Koh Tao. Sar had booked her nights at Spicy Tao Backpackers but I had only managed to book from the next day, so I set off to find somewhere to sleep for the night. This is a story for anyone who has doubts about staying in horrible hostels.

The hostel I chose was right off the beach, and I was put into a clean air-conditioned room with a couple of other backpackers. I can’t remember how much it was, but it was slightly more expensive than other hostels in Thailand that I’d been to, I guess because of the location. The place was nice, the people were nice, everything was nice. That was it though. It was nice. It was cleaner and more comfortable than other places I’d stayed, but there was no atmosphere.

Then I moved to Spicy Backpackers. Ha.

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I paid a stupidly cheap price for my stay here, and for good reason. My first experience of my 10-bed dorm room with only one air-conditioner was of the shit that someone had left in the adjoining toilet. Why was it left there? Because there was only running water for a few hours each day, and the toilet wouldn’t flush. That smell…

And yet, even with all of the disgustingness and lack of comfort that this place offered, you had to book in advance in order to guarantee you a bed. Why? Yeah, the price was definitely a factor, but any self-respecting person would otherwise pay an extra quid to have a flushing toilet and a shower (we washed with a bucket of water most days, if you’re not fast you’re last. Only so much running water). The real reason was for the atmosphere.

The first night I was there, we had a rum and curry evening. 400bt or something (about £8) for as much curry as you could stuff yourself with, and as much rum as you could drink. After about an hour of drinking the entire hostel was sat in a circle playing act-it-out with someone’s iPhone (you know the one where you have to hold the phone to your forehead and guess what your team is acting out? So much hilarity). That same evening I had a discussion about Irn Bru with a guy from the Isle of Jersey who looked like Jesus (don’t ask me the specifics of that conversation) and I convinced an English guy that a haggis is a mythical creature that roams the highlands.

It was like everybody just came together to have fun, everybody got along and everybody was up for a laugh. And the people I met at this hostel, who I spent the rest of my time on this island with, I will forever refer to as my ‘Koh Tao Family’.

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This is the lot of us on Jack Sparrow’s boat (poor Thai guy had no idea why we called him that, but we thought it was fecking hilarious..).
On this particular day we headed to a nearby island called Nang Yuan, which was stunning.

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Sadly it was probably the hottest day I experienced while in Thailand, so even with factor50 suncream I got pretty burnt and wasn’t feeling up to doing the viewpoint climb. It was so hot that I ventured into the sea just to cool off.

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Which is where we came across a black-tipped reef shark lying on the sea bed not far from where we were chilling, and spent the next half hour deciding if it was real but dead or if it was a toy. To me, the eyes were too glassy looking for it to be real but I wasn’t sure enough to pick it up myself. Until someone else did. So of course we all had to have a go. Turns out it was real.

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Apologies for the bikini shot. I hope you weren’t about to eat. 🙂

It might have been a dead shark, but it was a shark, and between this and going in the sea I felt like I’d been on an episode of fear factor.

Over the next few days we had a few priceless moments in an Australian bar called Choppers. The first was on Sar and I’s first night in Koh Tao, when we had finished our main course and I decided I was going to be a pig and have dessert too. When my brownie arrived I let Sar have a taste first, and she screwed her face up. I tasted it next and there was definitely something wrong with it, like they had sprinkled the top with salt or something. I started to wonder if this was a new trend, dark chocolate with salt, maybe like strawberries with black pepper. Nah, it turned out they had used salt in the making of their brownie instead of sugar. BOKE. The manager’s defence? At least that proves they’re homemade! …

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The second was while trying to order lasagne. Each of the pasta dishes came with the choice of penne or spaghetti, but everyone knows lasagne is different. Except one little Thai man, who happened to be taking my order. After asking me numerous times if I wanted my lasagne with penne or spaghetti, and the entire table trying to explain to him what lasagne was, I gave up and ordered at the bar. Who knew ordering lasagne could be so difficult.

And then there was the evening of the pub crawl. My favourite night of my entire time travelling, hands down.

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We started the night at the infamous Choppers bar with open-mouth shots and vodka buckets. We had our names written on our arm in black marker, although an ‘if found please return to’ address would also have been useful for some.

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Then Jodie got her hands on that marker, and we got our nicknames on the other arm. I was Scotland, naturally. James wasn’t so lucky..

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Our next stop was a pool party. We had a few drinking rules to follow at this stage of the pub crawl.
1. No drinking with your right hand.
2. No saying the number ’10’.
The forfeit? 10 push-ups. So of course, someone gets ‘buffalo’d and they start to do push-ups, the crowd is chanting the numbers as they do each push-up, and then I forgot the rules of the game and shouted ’10!’ as he did his tenth.

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My attempt was pitiful. I only managed 3. And even that was a struggle!

Next stop, ladyboy cabaret show. I ended up sitting next to an Ozzy lad who genuinely didn’t know whether to be disturbed or turned on.

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After the show we went back to Choppers bar to see a live band. I still maintain that we were the reason that night turned out so amazing. A couple of days earlier, Sar and I had been in Choppers while the same live band was on, and the pub-crawlers were too busy trying to get into each others’ pants to even notice them playing. On our pub crawl evening, all it took was to start dancing in front of the band and soon the entire squad of us were jumping around in front of the tiny stage as if we were teenagers at a gig. They even said at the end of the set that it was the best pub crawl night they’d played at. After seeing the atmosphere at the crawl two nights earlier, I really don’t think they were just saying it.

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Our last stop of the evening was a beach party, where there was your typical Thai fire show and more buckets of booze than I could count (probably more to do with the alcohol than the number). We chilled out on the beach and met some pretty fun people. By the end of the night I couldn’t walk through the sand so poor James practically carried me back to the hostel. Oh dear.

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My last evening on Koh Tao was spent chilling out with loads of peeps from the hostel in our little lounge area, where I convinced the group (which consisted mainly of English girls) to watch ‘Filth’ – the disgust and confusion on their faces was much more entertaining than the movie. The perfect way to round off a pretty epic 5 days on Koh Tao.

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Not entirely sure what face I’m trying to achieve there.

x

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Songkran in Chiang Mai!

On April 12th I left Pai, much to my disappointment as I could have happily stayed there for much longer had I not been meeting folks elsewhere. The journey was fairly uneventful, until I arrived in Chiang Mai itself where I found myself in a tuk-tuk to my hostel being soaked by passing trucks full of barrels of water and singing people. Songkran had begun.

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Upon arriving at ‘Baan Kunt’ hostel (tehe) I changed into dry clothes and went for a wander with My who was also staying there. Why did I change into dry clothes when there was a nationwide water-fight happening? Your guess is as good as mine. I was drenched again in seconds.

My next experience of Songkran was of three curvy teenage boys dancing on a stage like Beyonce. Possibly scarred for life. #Thailand

That afternoon after returning to the hostel and changing into dry clothes yet again, we sat around in the common area catching up and discussing the differences between a Thai ham&cheese sandwich (ham, cheese and salad) and a Thai club sandwich (ham, cheese and salad).

That night we had a reunion of all the TTT people who were still in Thailand, except for a few who had gone down south for the celebrations instead. We met at a rooftop bar, sitting on pillows on the floor drinking cocktails and catching up on the last few months in our cities and schools. Some of us had only met once or twice since we all arrived at Sena Place Hotel in Bangkok 6 months earlier, but it’s amazing how close we all were. It’s like you’d known these people for years. Imagine the picture below, but it’s so full you can’t see any carpet.

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After a few hours we moved to Zoe, which was essentially a square with loads of different bars and outdoor dance areas (which I made good use of in the coming nights). A few of us stumbled across a rock bar, and I think I ended up here every single night for 5 days. During this particular evening, we became groupies of the band, prancing about like eejits as we were transported back to the days of high school gigs and oversized band t-shirts. Aileen’s brother, Callum, who had seemed until now to be quite a quiet wee soul, started a moshpit and ended up falling over a speaker. It was epic. According to my twitter diary (without which, these 5 days would just be a complete blur) I got up beside the band and joined in with ‘Chop Suey’, which I don’t remember but doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. 🙂

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I gave up about 5am and headed for food, where I heard a loud and fairly drunken “SCOTLANDDD” from the ground below me. I looked down and it was a guy called Dave who I’d met in Pai a few days earlier. He was a little too inebriated to remember my name, but at least he remembered the right country. Then just as I arrived back at the hostel I met Frank, the English guy who had helped me find somewhere to stay in Pai after I’d walked around for an hour completely lost. I was recognising people all over the place, and it seemed like the entire backpacker population of Pai had exactly the same travel plans as me.

The next day can probably be summed up with the tweet I posted after waking up:
“Day 14, have awoken with a monster of a hangover. Off to purchase a super-soaker & get involved in the biggest water-fight in the world.”

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It was also in Chiang Mai that I discovered Thai Red Bull. Sure, I’ve had red bull at home, loads of times, but this stuff is different. It contains ephedra, which is kinda similar to speed. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really believe the stories so I went ahead and had a vodka and red bull-fuelled evening as I have so many times before. Ha.

We went to the rock bar first, naturally, where we jumped about like eejits as we had done the previous nights. No change there. But I found myself surprisingly ‘buzzing’ when it got to 4am, to the point that I found myself with a few others at an outdoor rave. After bouncing around there for a few hours I was literally forced to go home as the bars closed and the sun came up, and I vividly remember (probably the only thing from this week that I can remember without the help of my diary) lying in bed around 7am knowing I should go to sleep, but being completely wired to the moon I just lay staring at the ceiling for I’m not sure how long.

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The lack of sleep didn’t bode so well for me the next day as Tom and I set out to the zoo, horrendously hungover and receiving sympathetic looks from the girls we met when we arrived.

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I lost my ticket to the aquarium which had cost me 400bt (only me) but the doorman let me in anyway, I guess because Tom had one. What a babe.

That evening, before most of the TTT-ers left to continue travelling or go home, we had a big group meal at a nice Thai restaurant. Iain forgot what he’d ordered every 5 minutes and I thought at one point Lauren was actually going to throw her (or his, considering she swapped just to shut him up) dinner at him.

The rest of the evening was spent playing pool in an Irish pub and watching a domestic in the hostel (“Livvy, ye’ve ruined my chances with these girls now ya cow!”). Charming fella.

I also managed to see some Muay Thai boxing while I was in Chiang Mai, although I was told it was probably rigged which was a bit disappointing. It was a lot more prancing around and weird music than I’d expected.

By this point most people had left Chiang Mai so I spent the last few days attending a cooking class and getting lost in the city with Iain and his fashion hat. A much-needed recovery after several days of shenanigans.

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Chiang Mai was my absolute favourite, and by far the messiest, week from my entire time travelling, spent doing gid things with gid people.

Cheers to everyone for a smashin’ time. x

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From the South to the North: Pai

April 7th, day 8 of travelling Thailand. 15 hours of travelling from Railay beach the previous day, then 10 hours from Bangkok (and that’s with a flight!) and I finally arrive in Pai, exhausted and still a bit uneasy from a bout of food poisoning (I’ll spare yeez the details). I had looked at a hostel online which was cheap and getting great reviews for being quite social and good for organised pub crawls etc, round the corner from the bus station, so off I go.

An hour later I haven’t found said hostel and I’m feckin’ knackered from the walking and the heat. I ended up in a cafe where I met an English guy called Frank, who I ended up bumping into several times over the next few weeks (and this was only the first of many multiple encounters with fellow travellers, I definitely learned how small the world can be). I eventually settled on a weird ‘hotel’ which was 3 wooden rooms behind a post office with a castle-themed exterior that resembled a high school play set – I regret not taking a photo. After dumping my bags I went off to explore… and found the hostel I’d originally been looking for, which was of course round the corner from the bus station after all. Tube.

The next day was a bit more successful. I checked into a different hostel (one that didn’t make me feel like a movie extra) which was run by a lovely wee couple from Essex who took me to a Thai-style restaurant, literally little bamboo platforms on the river.

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They took their great dane ‘puppy’ too, who was about the same size as me, and I will never for as long as I live forget the look on one Thai kid’s face. Pure. Horror. Hahaha.

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2 German girls, Kim and Paula, were staying in the same hostel as me so the 3 of us went out for dinner that night and then onto a jazz bar, where there was an amaaaazing singer.


On our search for our next watering hole we bumped into two good-looking Dutch lads who were heading to a bar on the riverfront, so we followed them, naturally. 🙂 It was a nice wee place and we sat drinking cocktails and chatting for a few hours. A very drunk Italian dude who we’d been talking to in the bar latched onto the 3 of us on the way home and I taught him to say he was “oot the game” which in my half-pissed state amused me greatly. 🙂

I decided I had to have a go on a scooter while I was in Thailand and Pai was mentioned as one of the safer places for a first-timer as the roads are generally quite quiet and there are very few scams (it’s quite common in other areas of Thailand for a tourist to bring back a motorbike and be charged a horrendous amount for a tiny scratch). Paula and Kim had ridden them in Chiang Mai but Rachael (a fellow TTT-er who had joined us the evening before) and I had never done it before so two Thai guys took us for a quick lesson. They are so much more difficult to ride than they look…. I couldn’t turn round the corners and then fell just trying to get off the damn thing. I think the lesson actually made me feel less confident than I had to start with. Paula and Kim (and eventually Rachael, who took to it much better than I did) were really patient with me as I drove at snail pace, concentrating so hard on not falling off that I couldn’t really enjoy the scenery.

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It was coming up to Songkran (Thai new year) where it is customary to throw water at each other, but as it was a few days early and we were riding scooters up a steep hill, we did not appreciate the buckets of water that a group of children decided to throw in our faces. One of the scariest moments of my life. The little shits will be lucky if they don’t kill someone one day.
Thankfully our scary ride was not in vain, as the waterfall at the top of the hill was worth the journey. We sat cooling off in the water and watching a guy practising his skillz (Pai has a circus school).

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I couldn’t do it but Rachael pretty much got it!

I eventually gave up with the scooter while the other 3 went off in search of the White Buddha that we’d seen on a hill in the distance. I’m happy I tried it but also that I quit while I was ahead (and in one piece).

That evening we went to a bar with live music where we watched a reggae band who were pretty decent albeit a bit strange – the bassist was a proper stereotype, the guitarist had a bright pink hello kitty guitar and the singer danced around the stage as if he’d popped a few eccies before the show. Quite bizarre to see him prancing around while singing Bob Marley….

The next few days were chilled out. Paula and Kim left Pai to continue travelling. Rachael and I found a public pool (with the most amazing fruit slushes) so we chilled out there.

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My last evening was spent in the hostel with some other backpackers watching a guy called Boz sing songs with his guitar. Once he had run out of material he started asking for suggestions and managed to do this: the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody to the tune of American Pie. Absolute genius.

x

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