Eating like Obama

Aside from the amazing local food in Hanoi, of which Barack Obama himself sampled when he visited (see within), I loved wandering around the narrow streets of the old quarter and stopping at various cafes for a spot of people watching.

Once I had found my way around Hanoi’s old quarter and learnt how to safely cross the road, I managed to do some further exploring and a lot of eating. I’ve had much less time to write recently, with a lot of moving around, but I was keen to at least document my favourite things about my visit to Vietnam’s capital city.  


People watching at Cong Caphe

Loads of people say it, but watching the world go by whilst drinking coffee in Hanoi is one of the best things to do in the city. There are loads of quirky little coffee shops to hang out in but Cong Caphe was my favourite and it’s a chain. Yes, I said chain! They serve a huge range of coffees including a very popular coconut iced coffee but it’s the decor that makes it really different. Each cafe is designed to resemble a 1970’s bunker, all the staff wear army green and propaganda posters hang on the walls. The cafe has been critised in the past for pushing the boundaries of its communist theme but this probably helped them gain popularity, particularly amongst young people. Here’s me looking serious/vacant on the balcony at Cong Caphe. 

Drinking Egg Coffee

They don’t sell this in Cong but they do in loads of other coffee shops. Coffee is a big deal in Vietnam but egg coffee is just something else. Not to everyone’s taste (it’s like a dessert) but definitely something to try. Egg coffee is made with robusta coffee, topped with egg yolk which is whisked together with sugar and condensed milk. After a little research by my dorm buddy and new friend, we found the most famous spot to try this local delicacy at a cafe run by the family of the guy who invented it. Giang Cafe is not easy to find, on a main street but down a small corridor and above a shop making it feel like a secret spot. It reminded me of the secret bars in Barcelona. No vino blancos here but very cool cafe and very sweet and unusual coffee. 

Women’s Museum 

The Women’s Museum is actually good. There are a few museums in Hanoi that sound interesting like the War Museum or Hoi Chi Minh Mausoleum but I didn’t want to visit too many in my short time. A little sceptical about visiting a museum I knew little about but this place was actually a really impressive tribute to Vietnamese women. A perfect blend of photography, artefacts and history, (particularly about revolutionaries in war history), it left me feeling inspired! 


Weekends at the Lake 

Every single weekend in Hanoi, the road which surrounds the lake is closed to cars and bikes. This creates a nice peaceful spot in the city to leisurely walk around. In the day, a lot of young families visit and it kind of becomes a bit like a park on the roads. People sit chatting on benches and enjoying the atmosphere or visit a cafe or restaurant overlooking the lake. At night, the market stalls arrive and live Vietnamese classical singing can be heard through speakers all around the lake. 


Perfecting My Road Crossing 

It seems genuinely impossible when you first arrive. Motorbikes dominate the roads and they don’t seem to stop for anyone. Crossings might as well not exist although they seem like your only hope. To cross a road in Hanoi, you must firstly position yourself at a crossing and ascertain which direction the traffic is coming from (sometimes one-way which is a dream in comparison to both.) You must then walk out in front of approaching motorbikes. Yep, it goes against every rule in the Highway Code but if you don’t do it, you will spend your entire time in Hanoi on one side, of one road. Okay so you don’t literally step in front of a bike that is one metre away from you, you let those go of course. However, if there is enough room for them to swerve you, there is enough room to go. You must then keep your eye on all other oncoming bikes and repeat the process with each one until you reach the middle (and repeat the other way!) or the other side of the road, where you can finally let go of holding your breath. Once you perfect it, you feel like you have cracked everything that is Hanoian life but, in reality it’s still pretty dangerous. There is no way I would hire a motorbike but many brave, brave (stupid) tourists do. 


Train Street
Another extreme hazard that would breach all safety standards ever written in the U.K. There is a street in Hanoi with a railway track running along it! A street that is left with barely enough space to walk along, dominated by the track. It is also an active residential street for anyone to pass through and I noticed no safety signs, at least none in English anyway. It’s even a difficult to safely get to, with major roads to cross right by it. So I thought it would be a good idea to go? Well, the train only runs through twice a day at 7.30am and 3.30pm so I knew I would be safe. However, I know people who have been there to witness the trains passing and apparently minutes before everyone just disappears inside, so you know it’s coming. I didn’t fancy that but it’s still a pretty unique sight at any time of day and left me wondering which came first, the houses or the track?

Eating the Best Pho
Hanoi is of course where you will find all the amazing food which is reason enough to visit in my opinion. Pho is NOTHING like I have had in the UK. It’s simple ingredients with the perfect broth taste so good, it’s addictive. I’m desperate to try and find the same or recreate it (lol) when I’m back.
I can’t confirm I found the best but from the fair few I had, my favourite by far was from Pho Gia Truyen. Doesn’t look like much but it’s the one. Go get it. 


Eating Like Obama

When the don, Barack Obama visited Vietnam last year, he was taken to a Bun Cha restaurant which is supposedly one of the best for this local dish. Bun Cha is grilled pork served with noodles and a humongous bowl of leafs and fresh herbs for you to mix in yourself. It’s delicious and I had it a few times. So, with the huge incentive to eat like Obama, I had to have it at that restaurant too. At ‘Bun Cha HΖ°Ζ‘ng LiΓͺn’ there are huge photos on all the walls of Obama there that day with Anthony Bourdain. It’s a really basic, quite messy, local food restaurant but you can’t go wrong with places like this in Hanoi as Obama and I both know. 

Here’s one of me with Obama enjoying his Hanoian beer and Bun Cha. 



The Eiffel Tower Bridge

This was my favourite place to visit in Hanoi and possibly one of my favourite moments from my trip was to stand on this bridge during sunset. I think it’s one of the most underrated architectural features of the city. The Long Bien bridge, designed by the same guy who designed the Eiffel Tower. Intrigued by its similarity in style, I was keen to visit. The bridge has a central train track and either side can only be crossed by bikes or pedestrians. Stepping onto the bridge was a little unnerving with hundreds of motorbikes hurtling past me and there is a part of the beginning of the bridge you can actually feel shake beneath you. Once the bridge stopped shaking and I had committed to continuing, walking along felt quite exhilarating, especially as I was one of the only pedestrians there and the sun was setting behind me. I didn’t cross the entire bridge as it’s massive but once you reach the part that overlooks some very green farmland before the river, standing alone, it became the most peaceful spot within the madness of passing traffic. 




I would love to visit again and explore even more. If anyone has been, please share your unique or just food experiences in the comments as I would love to hear about them. 

Peace out ✌🏼️

Malaysia Unplanned

I had originally planned to stop off at Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days, as many travellers do, to easily and cheaply transit to my next destination. However once there, it seemed a shame not to spend a bit of time getting to know Malaysia!

Kuala Lumpur is a typical bustling capital city but fairly relaxed compared to India. I have to admit I was looking forward to a slight change in culture. For one thing, I felt I could wear a little bit less clothing but I might need a spray tan on my bright white legs before they can come out! Truthfully though, as a female foreigner, you are less likely to get any hassle if dressed on the conservative side. 

The city is full of crazy huge malls, tall buildings like the Petronas Towers, roof top bars and snazzy hotels but China Town is really the spot. Here you find old architecture, markets & street sellers, good food and even a few hipster cafes. I definitely think there is much more to be discovered and I hope to make another stop off here sometime in the future. 






After a couple of days, I decided to get out of the city and visit Penang. Penang is just 4 hours from KL and there are plenty of coaches available which makes for a really pleasant and scenic journey. Having a car at this point would have been great to be able to stop off. 

Just before reaching Penang you cross a quite magnificent 24km bridge. The Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah bridge is the longest in Southeast Asia. It’s seriously long but I was surprised to find out that it doesn’t even rank in the top 10 longest bridges which is dominated by some crazy 100km bridges in China. 

Once in Penang, I took a local bus to the Unesco World Heritage site of George Town. 



In 1786, the island of Penang was possessed by Captain Francis Light under the East India Trading Company and soon after, he established George Town. You can see the European style fused with Chinese in the architecture. It’s lovely to stroll around and spot all the colourful and unique designs of each buildings exterior. Chinese lanterns hang everywhere and colourful shop adverts are painted across split bamboo roller blinds. 




I loved visiting the Chinese Buddhist temples here. You feel totally free to take your time and absorb the atmosphere. No one is watching you, in fact no one really takes any notice of you. One early morning I visited the Kuan Yin Teng (Goddess of Mercy) Temple and it was packed with people coming and going, lighting josticks and praying. Amongst the jostick sellers, there was one guy selling caged birds to be released! Seems like a pretty crafty way to make money out of nature loving Buddhists but people were paying. I met a women outside who was keen to tell me about the temple and that she didn’t agree with the caged birds. She scared me a bit but it was sweet of her to let me ask some questions. She told me it was so busy that day because they were celebrating Buddhist New Year which falls on the three days that follow the first full moon in April. She explained that the roof of the temple was replaced just three years ago but the original temple has stood for over 200 years. It’s believed to have a special force of protection surviving two Japanese bomb landings either side of it in the 2nd world war, saving everyone inside. 

Since becoming a World Heritage site, the town has commissioned a street art trail. It’s good art work but a bit gimmicky so you’ll have to queue up behind the selfie sticks if you want to take any photos of it. Making it quite an arty town means there are plenty of small galleries and one-off street pieces to see too. 

The food has got to be one of the main attractions here. There are two huge food courts in George Town with a load of different food vendors or ‘hawkers.’ It’s super cheap and the food is all amazing. If you are there at night, a bonus treat is the entertainment. You will notice a stage in the middle of the space and around 9pm I witnessed the vocal and visual delights of three local singers; one guy, two girls, in matching black and white outfits. The guy led the show and although I couldn’t understand him, I think he was warming up the audience with some banter before they started singing. Once they got going, they each led an incredible pop style ballad with some strong synchronised side stepping before I had to drag myself away.
My third and final stop before heading to Bangkok via Singapore was Malacca. Similar to George Town, another world heritage site and very similar style in architecture, Malacca or Melaka is Malaysia’s most prized historical town. Melaka however, is centred around a river, so you can take a stroll down the footpath and stop off at any of the many riverside bars and cafes as well the town itself.




Remains still stand of St. Paul’s Church and the A’Famosa fort built by the Portuguese around 1500. These are some of the oldest European remains in South-East Asia. 

My personal favourite thing to do here was taking a walk down Jonker Street Night market which is only open on weekends and sampling as many tasty treats as I could stuff in along the way. The entire 500 metre and surrounding area is jam packed with street food and other stalls selling anything from souvenir type items to home products and gadgets. 





I also loved the flea market, which again is only open on weekends. It’s situated behind the Discovery Cafe. I found all sorts of fascinating stuff here like vintage Japanese comics, a United Nation rubber collection, Malaysian books, 50’s watches and jewellery, vintage posters, 80’s postcards, furniture, juke boxes, toys and some clothing. A lot of the clothing is from Singapore who source a lot of vintage clothing from Europe so you aren’t likely to find anything you can’t get at home in this department although a much better souvenir than a keyring or a fridge magnet if you find something really cool. 


As a keen random crap enthusiast, I couldn’t resist a little souvenir for myself so bought a rusty old medicine tin and some customer loyalty bank gifts from 60’s Singapore. Really glad I have to carry those round with me now. 

There is loads to do in Malaysia and I didn’t even get started on the beaches in the East which are meant to be some of the most amazing for scuba diving in the world. Will definitely be back for more. 

πŸ’„πŸŽ’

You aren’t married!?

Whilst in India and Sri Lanka I was asked all the time if I am married. I know it’s unusual for someone my age to be unmarried in those countries but it has made me think about our culture in comparison.


For many single people, living in London particularly, finding love doesn’t seem to come easily. I’ve noticed that a lot of people in their twenties living in London are focussing on careers or just busy enjoying themselves which can mean that, even unintentionally, relationships just aren’t a priority. Living in a competitive society makes us compare ourselves to others and judgemental of people’s achievements or lack of. I have been guilty of this myself in the past and no matter how hard I try to be more open-minded, I am probably a bit conditioned to think this way. I believe that ambition to achieve career goals or financial stability is important for our own psychological development (and our bank balance) but also I am attracted to people who are that way. I wonder if the expectations we set for our potential partners makes us lose sight of what might really make us happy with someone – like just love and having a family. All of a sudden, you reach an age where you might like to be in a relationship but now you have been exposed to so many possibilities, your unrealistic expectations will mean that no one will ever be right. 

I think we, along with all our dating apps, as well as our exposure to so much in the media through the internet have massively over complicated our thoughts and even our lives. 

In India traditionally, life is about family and living as a close unit. Working for your family, providing security, safety and future are the priorities. It has been beautiful to see such genuine closeness of families and the contribution to family life on a daily basis. It’s a bit of a contrast to some of us back home in the U.K. Yes most of us do care about our families, but we tend to think about ourselves above everyone else. As a young woman in India, you will be found a suitable partner through your family and live happily ever after. As a slightly older, but still young man you will be found a wife and also live happily ever after. And that’s supposed to be kind of it! Sort of. At least from that point you will probably have some children and live your life as a family together. 


In modern India, the culture is changing. For somewhere like Kerala (or major cities) where education is advanced and a lot of families are middle class, many young people want to pursue more freedom in their lives, travel and find their own partner through a “love marriage,” which is not arranged. The family I stayed with in Kochi are an example of this. Boss of the house, Linda, lives with her husband and 2 children. Linda tells me her son, aged 17 is hoping for a love marriage, much to her dissatisfaction. Linda believes that by ensuring the matching of two people of the same level of education and class are what make arranged marriages so successful. It’s hard to say what defines a ‘successful’ marriage in India but statistically the divorce rate, although gradually rising, is still very low. Linda and her husband’s marriage was of course arranged and there is no denying that they are very happy together.


Sometimes I think maybe a consenting arranged marriage would have been great for me. Do these modern young Indians really know what they are letting themselves in for?! I’ve spent a good 10 years of my life expecting to end up in a decent long term love relationship, let alone marriage and I know I’m not the only one! 

I’ve had 4-ish boyfriends in total, who mostly didn’t deserve that title but who are still of some significance and more than a few attempts on top of that. Still unmarried, I prepared to wear a fake wedding ring in India to deter any unwanted attention, I decided this wasn’t necessary but people asked me often out of curiosity. I told the truth which was usually questioned with, “How old are you?” and then guaranteed shock when I told them I’m 32 and not only because I’m so desperately youthful looking. I think I shocked one guy even more when he asked if I have even had a boyfriend to which I replied “Yea, loads!” 

It made me feel a little like I often had to justify myself and our culture. I would tell them we all get married later in England. Which is partly true. The truth is I’m happy with my life and I wouldn’t change it. Yes having someone to share things with would be more than great but having the freedom to do what you want and be who you want is everything. I know I make my life complicated at times (all the time) by being ‘unsettled,’ but my parents always allowed me to make my own decisions and that meant dealing with the consequences too, whatever they may be, for me to grow and learn from. Sometimes I’m sure they wished they had made some for me and maybe they would have benefited me in some way but ultimately I wouldn’t be me without all my experiences in life. Experiences from relationships, travel (so much more to do!), countless jobs, moving around, friendships, being reckless, being scared, sometimes fearless, being bold and doing things my way. 


Whether young Indians are happy with arranged marriage or not, there are some who do not have a choice. Some women do not have the psychological and financial independence that we have and should be grateful for. Although modern India seems to be slowly developing in some areas, it’s a huge and complicated country with a long history that will take time, if ever, to change so drastically. We are very, very privileged to be able to live the way we do. 

Unlike in a traditional Indian family, I might not have been part of an every day unit with my family for a long time but I still owe everything to my parents who gave me the freedom to be the person I am today and I hopefully my path will continue to lead me to happiness, married or unmarried. 
Peace and love,

πŸ’„πŸŽ’

The road back to Colombo!

So I decided to head to Dambulla and take on the Sigiriya Rock Fortress!

Feels silly now but I was a little apprehensive about climbing Sigiriya as I stupidly read loads of stuff online which made me think it might be dangerous and I wouldn’t be up to it. Stories of bee hive attacks, slippery steps and falling rocks along with an expensive entry fee almost made me not bother but I can assure you that with a tiny bit of planning and preparation it’s actually very doable and safe. 



Sigiriya Rock is undeniably the most fascinating world heritage site in Sri Lanka. Formed originally from a volcano, it’s thought that around the 5th century, King Kashyapa built his palace and fortress on top of the rock. He wanted to protect himself from the repercussions of murdering his father and seizing the throne. The rightful heir, Kashyapa’s older brother Moggallana, fled to India at first to escape being assassinated himself but there he built an army and returned to seek revenge. 
Moggallana moved the kingdom straight back to Anuradhapura and the site was thought to have been a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. It’s so old, there are other stories and interpretations around the history but I think this makes it quite a mystical place to visit.
I reached the site just before it opens at 7am. I would strongly recommend to anyone thinking of climbing the rock to do the same and avoid the heat as much as possible. It’s also a lot less busy at this time which makes the climb far more enjoyable. I think about 5000 people visit every day so its definitely worth getting in before he rush. It only took me an hour to reach the top, but I spent at least half an hour exploring once there and then took more of my photos on the way down. 
The entire climb is via 1200 steps which is not exactly a leisurely walk but it is straight forward. Unlike Adam’s Peak, the steps are of average size. There are a few that could be slippy if you aren’t paying attention but these are not high up. Consider it more a conscious climb than a physically demanding one. 

It was so worth it. It’s a very special and unique place on top! 





At $30 to enter the site and climb the rock, it’s the most expensive tourist entry fee in Sri Lanka and not ideal on a backpacker budget. However, I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Sri Lanka to go for it and if on a tight budget, just have a few less Lion beers / buy less elephant print trousers, please!
On the route back to Colombo, I passed through another part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle for some more temples in Anuradhapura. Here, I decided not to pay the second most expensive entry fee to the ancient part of the town at $25 (will have to save that for the next visit.)

Instead I spent a short time in the town and visited the free or small donation sites such as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Like the Tooth Relic, the Bodhi tree here is another of the most sacred Buddhist sites, thought to have grown from a cutting of the tree the Lord Buddha sat below when he found enlightenment.


To be honest, it looks like just another temple but the atmosphere here got me emotional and, not unlike me, I cried a bit. I’ve been known to do this before in very spiritual places (when I say spiritual places, I mean anything and anywhere if the mood is right.) On this occasion I think it was something to do with seeing people worshipping and praying so intensely and many together as whole families that got me. I felt really privileged to be able to visit and be part of that. 

It’s a pretty big Buddhist deal basically and although I’m not Buddhist, I definitely felt that in the energy there (hippy vibes to the max.) So, if you are into that and spiritual/emotional like me – definitely go, sit there for a while and observe everyone and everything around you. 

There is more to do in Anurandhupra but after that I was happy checking out the markets and eating during my couple of days there. Although I didn’t, I would recommend hiring bicycles to get around as nothing is walking distance, especially in the heat. I opted for hiring a tuk tuk but they are a bit intense and want to take you everywhere (some can get you into the ancient city without a ticket) for a set price instead of just short trips. I managed to get one really cheap the first day to see what I wanted, he also threw in a visit to his family home where his wife made me tea and I played with his grandson a bit. In contrast, the next day I probably paid a bit too much just to visit some random small temples another driver suggested because I didn’t have a real plan and I was melting. I learned if you want to avoid this, and this is particularly difficult for me; always have a plan on where you are going and what you want to do before you roll out. 

For me, it’s a shame you can’t just stroll around in peace but these guys need to make money so just work out how to make it work for you. 

To finish off my time in Sri Lanka, I headed to Negombo, a major city closer to Colombo airport than Colombo itself. It’s not all that, the Dutch fort is now a prison and the Dutch canal is not very well maintained. What is fascinating here is the fishing centre of the city, rows and rows of perfectly lined up drying fish on the beach close to a fresh fish market. 


There is also a pretty unique Buddhist temple. 



Due to the location and that a lot of travellers stop here before or after a flight, there is an abundance of seafood restaurants which are definitely worth checking out but definitely no need to stay here long. 


On the whole, Sri Lanka has been an amazing and beautiful experience that surpassed my expectations.
As a new backpacker, occasionally I found it hard to know who to trust but once I let myself go a little, I found the majority of Sri Lankan people to be deeply kind and spiritual. Many times, strangers went out of their way to offer me genuine help and advice which I found truly touching and wonderful.

Thank you Sri Lanka!
LBπŸ’„πŸŽ’

Lipstick Backpacker

I’ve finally left the villa! It was tough but I’m now in Ella, a small town surrounded by mountains in the Badulla district.

There are a couple of small climbs/walks here that lead to stunning views. One is Ella Rock and the other is Little Adam’s peak. After that, there isn’t much more to see here, one or two nights would be enough. Most people take the famous scenic route from here by train to Kandy, which I am excited about doing next. And, I have a travel buddy for the 6 hour journey!

Since completing all the sights here in Ella, I’ve been having a couple of chill days. Whilst sitting around reading and drinking tea, I have also been observing the way female tourists are dressed and it’s made me think about my own appearance here as well as the safety of a solo female traveller. Many tourists are wearing the same shorts and vest tops they would on holiday in the West but as I am here alone, I’m following suit of the local women and covering up from shoulder to below the knee when out and about. Personally, I feel more comfortable and it saves on sun cream. Hello sexy tan lines. 

I am however, still rocking the bright lipsticks every day. I’m pretty determined to keep a little bit of glamour going throughout my trip but I’m also aware of the unwanted attention it could attract. At home, no matter where I go, I always pop on some lipstick, often without any other make up. It makes me feel confident, bold and I think I look like a major babe basically with very little effort. But on my own, in a country like Sri Lanka, I do feel a little self conscious as men do stare a lot and some of their views on women, in particular white women is let’s say, complicated. Sitting in a cafe or bar, local men will stare the whole time you are there and I know this is not unusual for female tourists, make-up or not. 

So I have decided I am lip-sticking to it for now but I’m going to try and pick up a fake wedding ring as although it won’t make me invincible, its something solo female travellers have found useful on some occasions. The only negative of this is that it won’t do me any good in attracting a real potential husband on my travels, but if I see any babes I’ll be sure to whip it off. 

Here’s me after my little hike up Ella Rock which was beautiful all the way from Ella train station, walking along the railway line and upwards through tea plantations and then forest. On the way down it started raining on the steep and muddy slope which made it tricky. Good job I was wearing the obvious choice in hiking shoes – ‘Flossy’ daps but thanks to a little help from one of my new yogi friends for helping to guide me down, it was totally fine and I’m so chuffed I did it. 

Would love to hear everyones comments. 

Lots of love,
Lipstick Backpacker πŸ˜‰ πŸ’„β€οΈοΈ