Would Seoul be a good Korea move?

I am not actually considering Seoul as a ‘career’ move but during my short visit, I found the sophisticated but highly energetic city did make me think about what it would be like to live there.


Seoul was not an ‘original plan’ destination for this trip but half way through, I was losing a bit of motivation and felt the need to be more spontaneous. It was actually Japan I thought of first. Japan has long been somewhere I was excited about going but after some thought and research there was just too much I wanted to do there for the time and money I had left. Still feeling determined to go somewhere different, I checked out some flights and found that Seoul would be a realistic option, even if just for a few days. So off I went! 

It turns out, Seoul is no ‘poor mans’ Tokyo, (who even said that?) I can’t say I can draw upon a comparison yet but what I do know now is that a lot of South Koreans, unlike people from other Asian countries I’ve met, do not admire Japanese culture or aspire to be more like them. Some actually resent the comparison. The truth is there are similarities but South Koreans are actually very patriotic and have their own unique culture, style and traditions. 
As only in Seoul for a few days, I tried to visit as many places as I could. I combined some of the popular hotspots with my obsession for hunting down bargain vintage clothes (especially now Korean or Japanese stuff was up for grabs!) and I couldn’t resist some k-beauty madness. 

Hongdae is where one of the main universities is and the part of town where the Korean youth partying goes down. Although I didn’t fancy clubbing, (and apparently I’m too old in Seoul with rumours of maximum age limits of 30 in some clubs!) I stayed around this area, close to Hapjeong station. It’s a tiny bit quieter, more restaurants than clubs but music still plays throughout the night. Earplug life. And the party really does go on all night for some young Korean’s – I tried to get a coffee at 9am one morning and found nothing open but plenty of people just finishing up from the night before!


The expat zone. It’s a lot more multicultural here with little India and middle eastern areas plus all the Americans. I didn’t care much for the Main Street here but I loved Usadan Road. A narrow but long street full of boutique shops, vintage, restaurants and intimate rooftop terraces. The best spot I found was the rooftop of Mmm Records which is a record shop/ coffee shop/ bar for an alternative view of the city and its encompassing mountains. 


Whaaa this place is mental. Pretty much door to door Korean beauty stores blaring out music to ‘intice’ you in. The shop assistants hand you a basket before you have even committed to walking through the door and tell you about all the offers and discounts they have on. It’s quite impossible to go home empty handed. Well, I certainly wasn’t strong enough to resist trying out the supposed power of snail secretion gel on my face or avoid picking up a few dozen face packs that can not only brighten but tighten, smooth and perfect your skin. I have to admit I was tempted by the foot peels but also scared my entire foot might dissolve. 

Extreme beauty treatments are very popular in Seoul. In fact Seoul is the plastic surgery capital of the world. It’s not unusual to see young girls walk along the street with facial bandages on straight from one of the many clinics. It’s quite common for young girls to have eyelid surgery to make they eyes look bigger or to get a quick nose job. I decided to stick to the snail slime.  

Cheonggyecheon Stream

Such a lovely walk on a sunny day! It’s a modern stream and recreational feature of the city, down below the busy streets. I felt like I was the only person in the city down here. The best way to describe it is that it’s a really long park. Underneath each bridge on one side there are huge steps that lead down to the stream to create a lovely spot to sit in the shade. It was boiling that day, probably why I was I on my own but the bridges provide a perfect spot to cool down and enjoy the beauty of the inner city sanctuary. 

Gwangjang Market

This indoor market just off the stream is best known for its food but they have a secret. The entire ground floor is full of Korean favourites such as cold noodles and dumplings but if you make your way upstairs to the 2nd floor there is a huge vintage clothes market! 

I mean I was in heaven. There are probably over 50 sellers here, each with their own personalised stall. Most of the sellers were uber cool Korean guys, looking the part but there were also some Korean granny’s selling the contents of their old closet. Men’s and women’s clothes, vintage trainers, coats, Skajan jackets, trousers, dresses from the west, Korea and Japan. 

I probably spent about 3 hours here trying everything on. The best thing is, the majority of the stuff is actual vintage, not just vintage look and it’s not expensive. I managed to limit myself to just one bag of clothes but I vowed to myself to go back one day, it was just so good. Cold noodles on the way out, not for me. Should have had dumplings. 

Bukchon Hanok Village and Gyeongbokgung Palace

Completely different vibe at Anguk metro station. After a little walk down the high street passing bakeries and cute cafes I arrived at Bukchon Hanok village. It’s a heritage site of traditional Korean architecture with a history of over 600 years. There are a fair few visitors here so plenty of shops and restaurants make it pretty busy but it was still really cool to see. Young people also visit here to dress up in traditional Korean clothing called Hanbok. You see loads of them walking around going selfie mad but the outfits are beautiful!

Right next to the village is Gyeongbokgung Palace. The second palace I visited in Seoul but the grounds of this one made it my favourite. There are actually 5 palaces to visit in Seoul. The history of this one dates back to 1395, it was burnt down during the Imjin War but restored again around 1852. 
A perfect photo location for those dressed up in Hanbok. 

The Verdict 
I managed to squeeze in a few other things like a visit to Namdaemun Marmet, Seoul’s biggest market and a sneak peak of Gangnam where VIP partying goes down but there are so many more things to do I didn’t get time for. There are actually mountain walks you can do directly outside the city which sound amazing. The food in Seoul was a lot spicier than I expected but so delicious and Korean BBQ… yes. I loved the people, they have a keen desire for fun without any inhibitions. Young couples are sweet, loving and wear matching outfits and older people I met had great sense of humour. 

Despite my love of Seoul, my number one city still remains, good old London. No matter where I go, I think it will always feel like home to me. I’m looking forward to being in London again soon and getting even more out of it. The horrific tragedies the city has suffered recently upset me a lot but I certainly will not be turning my back. I want to be there supporting with everyone else! People in London want to make good stuff happen and it’s inspiring. I love the culture, the diversity, the constant evolvement and I love being around like-minded people, who love the city just like I do. 

So thanks Seoul but London, I’m coming back! 

Peace and love βœŒπŸΌοΈπŸ’„

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 ✌🏼️

Falling in the Mud

Easy for some but for a total wuss like me, completing a two day trek in the breathtaking Sapa mountains was kind of a big deal.

I hadn’t really trekked properly until the start of this trip, in Sri Lanka. Climbing Ella Rock in Sri Lanka’s hill country is probably not difficult by trekking standards, but I certainly didn’t find it easy. I was however, so pleased with myself for making it, especially wearing a pair of Flossy’s (Spanish daps/slippers), which I have since worn proudly with a huge hole in the toe. 

In Vietnam, without giving it too much thought I decided a two day trek in Sapa should be no problem for a now ‘experienced’ trekker like me. Sapa is in the mountains of northern Vietnam about 300km from Hanoi. It is known for its terraced rice field landscape and being occupied by Vietnam’s indigenous tribes, in particular the Hmong. As usual, I read about other people’s experiences online but at the risk of being put off all together, I decided to just go for it. 

My hostel in Hanoi offered 2 day packages for the trip but it’s a good idea to visit a few tour companies around the old quarter for a better deal. I went for a mid-range tour that included a kind of fancy sleeper train on the way and a ‘limousine’ minibus on the way back. Both journeys were pretty good. With cheaper packages, you can travel by coach which, from what I heard, are not bad either. The cheapest way of course, is to make your own way to Sapa and arrange a tour when you get there. As it turns out, the treks are all pretty similar, if not the same and everyone ends up in the same kind of homestay at the end of day one. 

As part of my package, I was picked up from the station and dropped at a hotel to have breakfast and take a shower before being picked up by the tour guide. I prepared myself with a tiny bit of yoga before we set off, particularly as I knew my weak little legs were probably going to suffer for days afterwards. 

The tour guide and I joined up with a few other trekkers in Sapa town before hitting the trail together. Now part of a 6 strong group and about 7 local ‘tagalongs,’ I felt I couldn’t contest much when we were asked if we wanted to take the easy route or the ‘slippery route.’ I reluctantly agreed to the slippery route. Why?! More fun everyone said. A few minutes later I hated myself and everyone in the group and wanted to give up. It was sooo slippery from the rain the night before, every downward and rocky step was a potential fall and soon enough I was on my arse splattered from the waist down in mud. The tagalongs (I’ll explain this later) helped me up whilst I laughed awkwardly (crying inside.) The guide asked again if I was okay with the slippery route. Feeling like I needed to redeem myself from embarrassment, I of course pretended to be fine but braced myself for another fall. 

A few near misses later, plus falls from others which made me feel better (hahahaha), we made it through the muddy part of the trek and could finally enjoy the scenery around us. 

We stopped for lunch and realised the tagalongs hadn’t just followed us and actually helped me quite a lot with the trek, just to get to know us. They were selling bits of jewellery and their own handicraft which no one really wanted but we now felt kind of obliged to buy. Very young girls also arrive with sad and desperate faces. They really are working the tourists but fair enough. I bought a couple of bracelets I will never wear but it was all very cheap and worth it to stop these little girls basically play crying in your face. 

In the afternoon, the rest of the group went back to Sapa town as they were only one-day trekkers. Lightweights. I was taken to a homestay where a few other trekkers had also ended up. It’s fair to say it’s not the kind of homestay I have stayed at before. It’s more ‘indoor camping’ than ‘cosy family sleepover.’ The hosts were lovely however and cooked us some amazing food. Showers were hot and everything was clean, HOWEVER, we were in the middle of the mountains and the biggest bugs I’ve ever seen were all around us and a couple of rats were running around freely. I slyly coped myself one of the private rooms but cheeky karma came and bit me in bum when I noticed a spider as big as my fist sitting on the wall next to my bed. I stood there literally stunned for about 5 minutes wondering what to do. I felt like I couldn’t be a wimp and ask someone to get rid of it. I considered asking the hosts if it was dangerous but they had already gone to bed. I was left with no option but to drop down the mosquito net, pull the thick duvet over my head and hope for the best. Of course, nothing happened apart from me waking up in the middle of the night dripping in sweat. Unfortunately no conquering of fears happened that night and my Dad can rest assured that he will still be asked to get the spider out in future. 

Day 2 started off with pancakes! Whooo! I then carried on the trek alone with tour guide Lin and her 8 month old baby.

Lin was in the true sense of the word, amazing. She told me she continued to guide the trek until she was nine months pregnant and started again when the baby was just 15 days old. At 26, she now has three children. Her husband works on a rice field and her five year old daughter stays at home with the two year old… her nine year old nephew also helps out when not at school but Lin says her five year old knows how to look after them both no problem. Wait, what!? I was totally astonished but no doubt it’s typical in their culture. These women and people are utterly incredible and if ever you needed any inspiration, just visit Sapa and meet them for yourself. 

We headed out and I opted for the easy route this time. I think Lin was quite happy with that as she seemed a bit tired. Day two however was just as, if not more beautiful.

And five days later my legs still ache but it was well worth it. 

I’m now finishing up my trip in Hanoi but will be visiting Halong Bay first which I am VERY excited about, then I’m off to Hoi An to hopefully get something nice tailor made. Definitely another Vietnam update or two to come, I love this place. 

Peace out βœŒπŸΌοΈπŸ’„

My Perfect 2 Weeks in Myanmar

I feel so privileged to have been able to visit this beautiful country and be welcomed with open arms by its kind and gracious people after all the hardship they have endured.

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about visiting Myanmar at first. As a fairly inexperienced solo traveller in a country only recently open for tourism, I wondered if I would feel safe and if travelling around was going to be straight forward. Luckily for me, there is already a common backpacker route which is very well catered to. Granted, following a backpacker route is not the most adventurous but it was ideal for me and provided a perfect introduction to Myanmar. 
The majority of backpackers fly to Yangon or Mandalay, take a bus or trek to Inle Lake, bus to Bagan or in a different order. With just over two weeks, I flew to Yangon and took night buses to Inle Lake, then Bagan, then back to Yangon.

There was just so much I loved about Myanmar that I could write about it all day. Instead, I have whittled it down to my favourite things about the country in roughly the order I travelled. 

Early Morning at Yangon’s Chinatown 

I flew into Yangon and stayed in Downtown which is where Chinatown is located. First thing in the morning when street sellers and hawkers are setting up it was hectic and I could barely move down some of the streets but enjoying the mad atmosphere was definitely one of my highlights. I did however manage to take a few snaps once everyone was ready to roll.

Shwedagon Pagoda at Night 

Just a short taxi north, I went to visit the sparkling, golden Shwedagon Pagoda. I headed there just before sunset which ended up being a perfect time. It’s cooler for one and when the sun goes down the whole place is lit up. You can just hang out and enjoy its beautiful, relaxed atmosphere. I met one family who had come for the evening to celebrate their eldest sons birthday and I can totally understand why. It’s a really special place. 

Strolling around Nyaung Shwe

After a couple of days, I took a night bus from Yangon to the closest town to Inle Lake. I finally got off the 12 hour journey (they tell you 8) at around 6am at Nyaung Shwe. I stayed at quite a cheesy hostel but it was super clean and comfy, sharing an ensuite bathroom with just 3 other girls. Although a little flashpackery, I had booked the previous night at the hostel so I could get straight in the room. For me, it was worth every penny to get into bed after the journey but I know some people will take advantage of being up that early and get straight on a boat for sunrise across the lake. I saved my boat trip for the next day. 

The town itself is so lovely with a huge traditional and not too touristy market, loads of nice restaurants for local food and back roads for exploring the countryside. I’m not confident on two wheels, but probably should have hired a bicycle for a bit further afield exploring. Apparently there is a pretty winery (however the wine is not good) where you can get some lovely views. I found my own pretty spots just from walking about. 


Inle Lake Boat Ride 

I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t think it was as idyllic as the Kerala backwaters but on reflection it really shouldn’t be compared. Inle Lake has a raw beauty that provides a fascinating type of agriculture to its farmers, fishermen and local people. When on the lake there is so much life from the communities but also vast tomato, giant cucumber and other veg growing in abundance surrounded by flourishing rice fields. 

As tourism is quite big here, you will be taken to various ‘craft workshops’ on the lake where you can learn how stuff is made and then gently encouraged to buy locally made jewellery, umbrellas (parasols), hand woven textiles and cigars. I’m pretty sure you can be taken out on a boat without the stops if, like me, you hate that kind of thing but I was with a group so just sat outside and kept quiet when I’d had enough of the group learning activities. 

The Food 
Myanmar has its own unique cuisine quite different to any I have had before. I couldn’t really compare it closely enough anyway. Traditional dishes include curries with chick pea tofu or pork. Tomato and tea leaf salads as staples, as well as one of my favourites the rice salad which like a lot of dishes, includes peanuts that creates a real contrast of textures and flavours. And finally I took a cooking class!

Myanmar People 

Beautiful, beautiful people of Myanmar! The smiliest bunch I have come into contact with so far are those from this country. Children were excited to see my funny white face and would always wave and giggle. This bunch came running over to me as I took a walk off the beaten track. They spoke no English but we connected over some flowers / weeds they had picked and then gave to me!

The most unique thing about how Myanmar people look is definitely the use of Thanaka on their faces. Apparently, Thanaka is a 2000 year old beauty secret worn by mostly women and children but also men. Made from ground bark, it is a multi-functional sun protection, fashion statement and is said to promote healthy skin from acne and ageing. Obviously coped myself two tubs! 
Whilst in Nyaung Shwe I was lucky enough to see a monthly procession where locals celebrated with offerings for the monasteries. All ages were dressed up for the occasion, including children as young as 4 or 5 in snazzy dresses and make-up. 

Despite my reservations, I felt so safe every where I went in Myanmar. Everyone was so welcoming and warm, offering advice and just chatting with no agenda. There was no hassling. The standard of hospitality in hotels, hostels, restaurants and even the buses was really impressive. I did have to deal with a bit of Yangon-to-the-toilet when I first arrived but that’s my weak western stomachs problem. Local taxis were easy to use as well as pick up vans which you can jump on a off for next to nothing. 

Wow Wow Bagan

My final stop before heading back to Yangon was Bagan. If there is a must see spot in Myanmar, there is no doubt it is here. It’s 2000 plus temples and pagodas spread across the landscape is utterly unique and magical to see. It’s an impressive archeological site dating back to as far as 12th century from huge temples to tiny stupas. You can, currently, climb up the very small and dark internal staircases to get a better a view although I’m sure this won’t be possible forever. My photos do not do it justice but I tried. 

Hire an e-bike for the best experience for exploring the huge site and make sure you see at least one sunrise (was 5am for me!) and one sunset. In May, its excruciatingly hot so ideally you have to start your day at sunrise anyway but it’s worth it. I took the flashpacker option again and hired a horse cart for my trips out. Sorry to all my animal and horse loving friends – I don’t know how you feel about this but hopefully we can still be friends!?

For just over two weeks I feel like I had the most perfect trip. 

I would love to come back and visit some of the beaches in the south which are said to be beautiful but maybe a bit earlier in the year as it was seriously.. boiling. 

Thank you Myanmar, I’m so glad I came ❀️️

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. 


Backwater Life

Part of the reason I chose to visit Kerala in India was because of it’s famous backwaters – the canals, waterways and lagoons. Aside from the fact that they are pretty idyllic to ride along, you also get to see the community of people who live along the banks.

Most of the local communities here originally served the boat making industry to transport rice crop to the surrounding cities. Since the land infrastructure has been developed, the boats have mainly been used for tourism. 

At first I took a day trip to Vaikom which is quite close to Kochi. That included a canoe boat cruise down very narrow canals followed by a bigger boat trip across its lagoons and lunch served on a banana leaf (what else?) My favourite trip however, was definitely a further few miles south to Alleppey. Also known as Alappuzha or ‘Venice of the East,’ it’s the most popular spot for riding the backwaters and where many people stay overnight on the houseboats. Just so you know, it’s NOTHING like Venice. It doesn’t even compare. Yes they are both cities connected by waterways but Alleppey is just something else. See for yourself…

The boat ride sellers tell you “the people you will see are very poor,” like it’s a sales pitch which is a bit weird. I did find it strange at first to stare and take photographs of the people living their lives. I wondered if they were okay with being a tourist attraction but they seem to find it amusing and love a good wave and smile as you go past so I soon got over it. You do have to be mindful of this though and respect their privacy. There has however been some concern about water pollution which is not surprising but it’s unregulated boats which can be partly blamed for this. It’s a good idea to book your boat trip in advance from a tour operator. This way you can hope for a company who follow safe tourism standards. I also recommend making a couple of chai stops or for lunch which is a great way to hand over some cash to the locals. 

On the waterways, you really see people using the waters as part of every day life. Washing pots and pans, fetching water, fishing, farming, washing clothes and themselves. 

The basic constructions of the banks homes look like they conceal just one room. You can just about see inside some of them and they are mostly unfurnished with some plastic chairs, brick interiors and some cooking equipment. They clearly serve a basic living purpose with little or no luxuries. 

Watching them work and go about their every day lives is so humbling and I think about how much stuff we buy in the West that we don’t actually need! 

I like to think I care a bit less about having loads of material things since living in London and spending all my money on rent and food. I will however, probably always get carried away in a charity or second hand shop. Mainly thanks to my Mum and Aunty Lizzie. I remember as a young girl thinking that having all the latest new clothes, a TV (remember those?) and a cool car (a black Fiat Punto of course) were all really important. I left school wanting to work so I could buy all these things. I don’t remember thinking about anything else. I lived in my own little bubble for a few years with a shit boyfriend. My exposure to the world was pretty limited and my main influences as a teenager were him and MTV Base. Lolz. 

I’m so, sooo glad we all grow up although there is just so much to learn about the amazing world we live in, it feels never ending. I think everyone who can, should travel, I think it’s important to understand more about the world. I can’t believe I left it so long. 

I highly recommend Kerala to anyone wanting to test the water (lol) of travelling in India, especially solo. I have been to India before but in a small group and I wasn’t ready to take on too much my first time alone although that’s just me and I’m a bit of a sensible Sandra. There is so much to this amazing country and although I need a break from curries for a while, I can’t wait to go back and travel around some more next time!


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,