Monday, 29 August 2016

Moving to South Korea

     What. Is. My. Life. Seriously. Just over a year ago I published this post, entitled "I'm Moving to Hong Kong" which was the first terrifying steps towards a year that, in the end, turned out to be pretty amazing. And now, here I am, doing it all over again in a new country. South Korea, to be exact. Busan, if we're being completely precise. And it's just as crazy and terrifying and nerve-wracking as last time.

Busan city skyline and bridge at night, South Korea
(source)

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Vientiane | Laos Traveller

      Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and the final stop on my Thailand & Laos adventure. We arrived here late in the evening, after catching a flight from Luang Prabang (the roads were flooded, and we had to skip Vang Vieng). This actually meant we got an extra day here, due to our schedule change, which worked in my favour, as I was only going to have one day here originally, though other members of the group were going to end up staying for four or five days now. My initial perception of Vientiane was that it was going to be another large Asian city, not unlike Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. And in some ways it was; big, busy, lots of traffic, a little generic at times. But in other ways, I preferred it to some of those other places, as it wasn't quite as big, and it felt like there was a lot of character, especially in all the riverfront restaurants, and some of the sights we visited. It wasn't my favourite stop of the trip, but I did enjoy it more than I was perhaps expecting to. On that first evening, it was pretty late by the time we got to the hotel, but most of us still went out for dinner after we'd checked in. We were staying near the Nam Phou fountain, which is beautiful when lit up with coloured lights at night, and has several bars and restaurants nearby, and the one we went to was pretty cool, with colourful lanterns out the front, and a live band playing inside.

Nam Phou fountain with lights at night, Vientiane, Laos

Monday, 22 August 2016

Luang Prabang | Laos Traveller

     Luang Prabang is probably the best known town in Laos for travellers to visit, especially with the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls nearby, so it made sense that we would spend a few days here. However, our 2 day/3 night stay was extended to an extra night (and two full days), due to a rainstorm causing landslides and flooding on the road to our next destination. This gave us plenty of time to see more of Luang Prabang, but meant that we would have to skip Vang Vieng and fly straight to Vientiane, since the roads could take days to clear. I didn't really need all that extra time in Luang Prabang, but it's a nice enough town for sure. It's a good size for walking and cycling around, and there are lots of nice bars and markets and such to explore, as well as dozens of temples, with many monks walking around town, and the museum to visit. The Mekong river may not be the nicest shade of brown, seeing as it picks up silt for hundreds of kilometres along its length, but it's still nice to sit down by the river, and Luang Prabang sit son a sort of peninsula, where the Nam Khan river meets the Mekong.

Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Mekong River | Laos Traveller

     I wasn't sure what to make of the prospect of two days on a boat down the Mekong river at first, as it could have potentially been a rather boring journey, but in the end, I quite enjoyed it. It was relaxing and laid back, and the boat is far more pleasant than say, a bus or a car. We spent one more night in Thailand on the way though, staying in Chiang Khong, right beside the river, which marks the border. On the way, we stopped at the White Temple; I had seen pictures of this before, but hadn't actually realised it was that that we were going to see. I know I've said before that the temples all start to look the same after a while, but the White Temple completely blew the rest away. It's huge for starters, and surrounded by water and bridges and fountains, and everything is so intricately and beautifully designed. It's the colour that makes it stand out though (can you guess what colour it is?), as it just looks so clean and pristine, and is a bright change form the reds and golds found on most other temples. Randomly though, there were various heads hanging from trees nearby, of famous fictional characters, such as superheroes, aliens and fantasy creatures, which was all very odd to discover around such a stunning religious building. We had a snack at the little food court outside, before hitting the road again.

White Temple in Chiang Rai province, north Thailand

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Chiang Mai | Thai Traveller

      Chiang Mai is the ideal base for exploring the north of Thailand, with so many activities on offer in the surrounding countryside, be it a bicycle tour, white water rafting, or meeting elephants. The town itself is pretty lively too, with the old town inside the moat boasting many more temples, quirky little shops, and many fun watering holes, to be frequented by day and night. It immediately felt smaller, cosier, and gentler than the busy, chaotic streets of Bangkok, so it was more in line with what I want during a holiday! We arrived there at around 8am, after our overnight train journey, and were able to check into the holiday straight away. After freshening up a bit, we wandered into the town, across the moat, and found ourselves some breakfast; I'm terrible for skipping breakfast when I'm travelling, but after being up for a few hours already, even I wanted some food. Our optional activities were planned for later in the day, and the following day, so we used this time to roam around the town for a while.

Wat Phan Tao exterior with blue flags in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Bangkok | Thai Traveller

     I'm not done with my holidays yet! After my 2 weeks in Vietnam, followed by a few days of rest in Hong Kong, I'm off again. I'm spending the next 2 weeks on another trip, travelling from Bangkok up to north Thailand, and then through Laos until we finish in Vientiane. I've never been to either country before, and this tour in particular seems to cover everywhere I want to go in Laos. I'll likely come back to Thailand at some point to do the south, but since you tend to have to start in Bangkok most of the time anyway, it's pretty easy to split the country in half like this. Speaking of Bangkok, this is where the trip began (did you guess from the title?) and we actually got to spend a day and a night here, which was good, as often with these trips you have to book an extra night or two if you want to see the departure and finish cities. I flew direct to Bangkok from Hong Kong, but by the time I landed and got to the hotel, there were only a couple of hours to wait until the welcome meeting, and since we were a bit far from the main sights, some of which were already closed, and a rainstorm chose that moment to pour down, I opted to just wait in the hotel for that time.

Chao Phraya river and Wat Arun in the centre of Bangkok, Thailand

Thursday, 11 August 2016

We Are

Text reading "We are the light, We are the dark" printed on an ocean/ seascape background

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Hanoi & Halong Bay | Vietnam Discovery

     Hanoi is definitely a city that took me a little time to get my head around. On first glance, it seemed like any other big, crowded city, with higgledy-piggledy buildings and millions of motorbikes racing through its streets, not unlike the other stops I've been to in Vietnam. But on closer inspection, the French influence on the city becomes apparent, with decorative building designs, tree-lined boulevards, and the abundance of coffee shops, fashion boutiques, and artsy outlets that are quintessential to French culture, and have now informed the culture of Hanoi too. And of course, Hanoi is a hub for anyone wanting to visit sights in the same region, such as the mountain town of Sapa, or the famous and beautiful Halong Bay. Our arrival in Hanoi was an early one, after getting a 13 hour train up from Hue, but luckily we had access to shared rooms in the hotel, so no less than five of the girls piled into the two beds for a nap, while I sort of dozed in a chair, being unable to sleep properly. Although rather than go for breakfast, I opted to continue doing this for as long as possible.

Red Huc Bridge on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Hue | Vietnam Discovery

     A few hours by bus from our last stop, Hoi An, and we were ready to tackle the next city on our route, Hue. This was Vietnam's former capital, and was the seat of power for the emperors of the Nguyen Dynasty, so there's plenty of history to discover here. I had heard that there wasn't all that much to do in Hue, so I was pleasantly surprised to realise there was ample amount of things to be doing in our couple of days here, though since I'm not much of a history buff, it was perhaps not my favourite destination on the trip. And after the beauty of Hoi An, being back in a crowded city, lacking that same picturesque quality, was a bit of a downer. There were still plenty of interesting and pretty sights to see once we started exploring though!

Thien Mu pagoda outside Hue, Vietnam

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Hoi An | Vietnam Discovery

     Arriving in Hoi An is like stepping back in time. With the old town preserved by UNESCO, it's a pedestrian and cyclist zone, with cheery yellow wooden buildings, adorned with bright flowers and colourful lanterns, with historic buildings of interest on every street, and all set alongside a river full of brightly painted wooden boats, and yet more lanterns. It's even more beautiful at night, when all those lanterns light up the night, bringing a fantastically colourful display to life. There is also an interesting combination of architectural styles, with Vietnamese, French, Chinese and Japanese styles on display, as a result of colonial times, and merchants and immigrants from other parts of Asia. We arrived here early in the morning, after taking the overnight train from Nha Trang, and then a bus for an hour from the station in Da Nang. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we went into a small café to have some breakfast; I've grown very fond of the Vietnamese coffee, especially since it's become somewhat of a necessity on these early start days! It was also quite nice walking to the café so early in the morning, as the town was very quiet, whereas later in the day it's chock full of other tourists and selfie sticks for days.

Boats in the river in Hoi An, Vietnam

Monday, 1 August 2016

Nha Trang | Vietnam Discovery

      I love the ocean and being by the coast, so hitting the seaside town of Nha Trang sounded like it would be right up my street, and in many ways it was; the only complaint would be the vast numbers of other tourists there. Anyway, we arrived in Nha Trang very early in the morning - around 5.30am to be exact - after taking the overnight train from Ho Chi Minh City. The train was a very interesting experience, and not as bad as I had expected to be honest. The facilities aren't glamorous by any means, but the compartments were adequately sized for four of us in each one - we could even squeeze in a few extra for some rounds of drinks and card games before we actually slept - and have air conditioning and even power points for charging. Bedding is provided, but it's recommended to get a thin silk sleeping bag, as they may not be changed between every passenger. The bathrooms aren't wonderful, and I recommend taking your own toilet paper, hand sanitiser, and newspaper or something to cover or wipe the seat, but they were at least usable. I also experienced possibly the worst wake up of my life, when they blasted music throughout the train about 15 minutes before arriving in Nha Trang, and allowed the whole Vietnamese song to play before making the announcement, then eventually shutting up.

Nha Trang beach front, Vietnam
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