Oh hi there England

‘What the hell just happened?’

This sentence goes over and over in my head whilst I sip on my jasmine tea from Hong Kong.

I’m not in Hong Kong. I’m in England, North Yorkshire, Dishforth village, parents’ house, kitchen. I’m sat on one of the six wooden chairs around the wooden table that we’ve had for as long as I can remember.

I stare out of the window. The window to the right of the home-phone and the drawer with the address book in. It’s the same window that I used to stare out of to see if I needed to wear a coat to school. The same window that Dad bangs on to scare away the cat from eating the bird food.

I stare at the bird-feeder (which is the same). I stare beyond the bird-feeder and my pupils absorb a collage of greenery – the fields and hedges merge into one (possibly due to the dizziness, due to the jet lag).

My flight went OK, thanks for asking. Hong Kong > Bangkok > Dubai > Manchester. 21 hours in total. Easy breezy. Lots of things seem easy now, which is nice. I mean, I had to get home and so I had to take a long flight. What good would complaining do? Just get on with it and try to enjoy.

I thought it would be different though (the flight, that is). I thought I would end up speaking to somebody about my trip and get all emotional looking back on it. Or I envisioned myself, sitting there in silence, listening to music and welling up at the incredible, life-changing moments…

Neither of those happened. It was just a flight. I think actually I was trying too hard. I was trying too hard to feel something, I just felt numb.

I slowly sip on the jasmine tea and I still feel a bit numb.

‘I’m unemployed.’ That sentence rolls around in my head a lot. For those that know me, I can’t sit still for 2 minutes. I’m hooked on doing new things and achieving new goals and so that word ‘unemployed’ makes me feel a little bit sicky. Over the past 4 months there has been 14 flights and each time on the immigration form when they ask for ‘occupation’ I put ‘Writer’ as my pride can’t quite take ticking the unemployed box. I was going to write ‘Astronaut’ once because, well, that would amuse me. Even better, ‘Body Builder.’

I think in the next few days, things will sink in more. I’ll meet up with friends, eat lots of Mum’s home cooking and I’ll embrace the job hunt.

I’m determined not to be sad, but to think fondly of the trip. Although right now, even that’s a struggle because I can’t seem to digest that it even happened. Already, it feels like a dream.

14 flights, 22 boats, 4 sleeper trains, 52 buses. A huge cluster of cars, metros, tuk tuks and scooters. A long list of adrenaline activities, breathtaking scenery and strange foods, delicious foods, seeing people with no food. A concoction of paradise and poverty. Swinging from silk blankets and room service to dirty sheets, no sheets, sleeping on the floor. Being so hot, your scalp is a fountain and not an inch of your body is dry. Feeling true exhaustion. Feeling every amplified emotion under the sun: excitement, hope, anxiety, fear, love, sadness and complete joy. Speaking of sun, I am now a different race. 4 and a half months of backpacking have seen countless memories, mosquito bites and life-long friends. THANK YOU to everyone who has made my trip so very special.

I’d also like to thank people who have kept up with my travels via the blog, and thank you so much for all of your kind comments, it really means a lot.

I plan to keep this blog and do some more posts (tips for first-time travellers, why solo travel is the way forward, etc…)

As for now, it’s time to inhale a roast dinner (and then probably sleep for 24 hours straight). IN MY OWN BED!!! How can I be sad when home luxuries are so incredible? And when I say luxuries I mean – toilet paper, being able to drink out of the tap, having various clothes to choose from, a fridge full of food, tight cuddles, dog slobber from an excited Syd…

Something that stuck with me when I was away and feeling homesick was, “It’s good that you’re missing home. It means you’re lucky. It means you have something that’s worth missing.”

What is my life right now

Seeing a friend from university, waiting in Hong Kong’s arrival lounge made my tummy bubble with excitement. Our WhatsApp conversation when I was going through immigration resembled two giddy 14 year old girls about to see One Direction in concert. Seeing Tania’s gorgeous smiling face, instantly made me feel at home. I can’t wait to have such a dear friend be my local guide!

I stayed the first couple of nights in a hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui. This is a very central area and you can easily throw yourself into the hustle and bustle of it all. The Chinese people I’ve come across so far are lovely. But, points to note: they are very loud and they sneeze a lot. Personal space is also viewed differently here. If you’re in a queue, you’ll have someone’s warm Dim Sum breath on the back of your neck. In the airport, I was giving the person in front of me ‘English queue space’ – maybe stood about 50cm behind the man. The Chinese woman behind me actually nudged me forward saying “you go, you go.” THERE IS NO NEED TO BE ANY CLOSER!

***

Points to note: do not buy drinking yogurt from 7/11 in Hong Kong. It tasted like feet.

***

21/05

I’m in an area called Kowloon Tong. It is where Tania lives. Today we are volunteering at an old people’s home to help out with her Mum’s charity – SENsational. The charity helps to educate corporate companies about employing individuals with disabilities.
http://senconsultancyltd.com

Today at the home, we chatted to the elderly, handed out goody bags and made sure everyone had plenty of lemon and honey tea (apart from the diabetics!) It really was quite an experience. I realised I didn’t have much experience with people that were very elderly and sometimes I struggled with what to say. Tania was incredible. When we visited those in the their rooms (because they could not leave their beds) I was completely speechless. One woman was frothing at the mouth, living through a drip and could not move or speak. One woman was so angry and confused and I have never been stared at with such hatred (although I’m sure it was not intentional). I have never witnessed people so old and ill before and it was quite upsetting to see. (Please be assured they were very well looked after in the lovely home!)

Back to the common room: I’ll never forget my conversation with the lady who has forgotten most of her life. Barbara has dementia. She thinks she was born in the south of England but doesn’t know where exactly. She also is convinced she is 67. Bless her, she is much older! What she does remember though, very vividly, is travelling the world at 21. Her grey eyes lit up when I told her I was doing the same. I told her I was looking forward to doing some hiking in Hong Kong. My heart clenched and tore apart when she said, “oh take me with you. I love walking.” She then held my hands and sounded desperate, “please. Take me with you.”

***

After an emotional rollercoaster at the home, it’s time to check-in at tonight’s accommodation. The buying multi-packs of croissants from 7/11 to last you through the day lifestyle is about to come to an end. Don’t get me wrong, I still have 6 days left of backpacking. But Tania and I have just hit the jackpot… Tania works for Sassy online magazine and this weekend she has been asked to review The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. She gets a luxury stay there for free and I am her plus one. We. Cannot. Contain. Our. Excitement. The editor was supposed to do it, but she’s busy. “I’ve never had a work perk like this before” said Tania. “I got a free cupcake once.”

***

Jesus Christ.

(Hyperventilating).

Just had some time in the Chinese herbal steam room. I’ve calmed down a bit so now I can talk you through it.

It is 25 floors of complete luxury. Hands down the best service I’ve ever had in my life. Do they realise I’m not important? Our room has a sensational view of the harbour. I almost passed out when I googled that it’s about 480 quid a night and a few years ago it was rated top 10 hotels in the world. I can see why…

We were served afternoon tea in our room. The jam had rose petals in. There was a white chocolate cream-cake that tasted like a white Ferrero Rocher and it may be the best sweet treat to ever sit in my tongue.

They gave us juice detox shots in test tubes because, well why not.

We had a pillow menu and sampled 9 pillows before choosing ‘NASA’ – designed to give astronauts supreme comfort.

Pinch me.

***

We had a very relaxing gym and spa session. But whilst using the Chinese herbal steam room, there was a lady doing exercises. She was naked. Boobs and bush on full display. She was waving her arms around and doing lunges. ‘Feeling uncomfortable’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Back to the room and trying to wipe that sight from my mind. Physically, I’m totally relaxed. For the first time in a very long time, nothing hurts.

22/05

Safe to say I slept well last night. The breakfast was phenomenal and the service continues to blow my mind. A man scraped honey from a sheet of honeycomb for me. I went to the loo (washroom because I’m posh now) and the attendant (Wendy) washed my hands with jasmine lotion. This is not real life. It’s ok Wendy, I got this.

Tania has also been asked to review the 5* Dim Sum lunch on the 25th floor. Oh it’s a hard life. My favourite was the pumpkin and crab dumpling with chilli. Tania loved their famous beef dish – made with 96 layers of fine pastry. Dim sum after dim sum arrived and our bottomless Chinese tea meant I had to pay Wendy another visit. Then came my favourite part: the dessert. After my cashew nut cream pudding I was in a blissful food coma…. Time to hike Victoria Peak! Speaking of peaks, I think my life has now peaked, aged 21. And you know what, if this is the peak, I am more than ok with that.

After the hike, Tania says, “Liv, do you like lobster?” (She has already seen me eat lobster dumplings at lunch). That’s not the point. Tania has just been invited to a lobster tasting session TONIGHT and I’m going with her. Apparently I’m not allowed to leave Hong Kong. I’m clearly her good luck charm. My Dad messaged me saying “Gah, you could fall in a pile of shit and come up smelling of roses.” Thanks Dad. Love you too.

We quickly showered and popped on a dress and spent the evening inhaling lobster. #BackpackingLife

23/05

I’m now staying at Tania’s house for which I am very grateful. Her family are beautiful people. Today I went solo and hiked Dragon’s Back. Lots of thinking time trying to digest what the hell just happened. I have experienced true true true luxury. As amazing as it was, I also felt very undeserving of it. It was strange to feel uncomfortable about being SO comfortable. Does that make sense?

After my hiking adventure, I sat with Tania’s Mum (Faride) in what she calls her ‘Secret Garden.’ We sipped on green tea and I learnt more about her incredible charity. Faride really is such an inspirational woman. She is so encouraging and her attitude to life feels like the sun beaming through on a cloudy day.

***

After weaving through the famous ‘Ladies Market’ in Mongkok, Tania and I had dinner in a little local restaurant. Ah, I feel more like my backpacking self now. The unknown ‘fish balls’ are on my list of foods never to try again. I also asked the waiter for a tissue / napkin (my rookie chopstick skills meant fishy noodle juices were splashing). The language barrier meant he bought me back a pack of Kleenex and charged me an extra $3 on my bill.

I’ve smiled a hell of a lot these last few days. The last 4 and a bit months I have leaped from never wanting to go home to being desperate to be back in the UK.

Right now I only have 2 days left. I do not want to leave.

My thoughts on Thailand

16/05

There was a storm last night. I have never heard thunder so loud before (it sounded like a bomb going off above my head), waking me up from my deep sleep. The explosive sound caused me to sit bolt upright, eyes wide. I got up and looked out of the window to see that a little back-street had been transformed into a fast flowing river. I hope Anne and Charles can fly home ok!

I am going to spend the next 3 days in Bangkok to rest and re-charge. The last few months have been full on and exhausting. My body is weak and raising up the little red flag. “Please, slow down and look after yourself, Liv.”

So, as the next few days will be pretty slow in terms of ‘adventure’, I’d like to dedicate this post to my thoughts. Before this trip, I was naive in thinking that Indonesia and Thailand would be similar. WRONG. The smells are different, the sounds are different. Bali smells of strong, musky incense. Thailand smells of street food. In Bali you get hassled and pestered more: “yes please, transport. Yes please, transport. Taxi for you.” I’m surprised that here in Thailand, you rarely get pestered. You’ll be offered the odd Tuk Tuk, but it’s not nearly as hectic as Bali. Bangkok is still very busy and crowded though. Another difference is that Thailand has more crazy, animated influences. Bali feels more historic. BOTH have hideous amounts of traffic.

The area I’m in in Bangkok (Silom) feels (touch wood) very safe. It’s not that touristy and is mainly locals on their way to work: beautifully dressed, picking up their iced matcha green tea on their commute. The metro is not how I expected it to be. It is pristine clean, with very high security. I feel safer here than I do in London. But if anything, that is a bit how this area feels (central London). As always it’s, ‘same same, but different.’

I have found the differences in how our cultures perceive beauty very interesting. In England, having a tan is an attractive quality. We, as a country, spend goodness knows how much every year, contributing to the fake tan industry, in our efforts to deepen our natural tone. Or as soon as there is the tiniest bit of sun, the vest top is on in the hope to catch some colour. If you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense: a tan is just damaged skin. Thai people, on the other hand, worship the pale beauty. They cover up head to toe to avoid the harsh rays. Also, pretty much every beauty product / moisturiser has a ‘whitening agent’ in an attempt to whiten their skin. And you know in England, some girls have a ‘slag line’ where there is an accidental orange line on their jaw where they have not blended their dark foundation and bronzer correctly? I have noticed the same same thing in Thailand, but instead it is a line from white powder.

Clothes are smaller here (perfect for little me). If anything, I walk around Thailand feeling like a powerful giant (a feeling I have never felt before). The women here are teeny tiny (most smaller than me in both height and width). I have also noticed that most underwear shops sell extremely padded bras with no room for boobs. (Lady-boys!?!?)

***

I met up with Monica for dinner. She flies home tomorrow. This got me thinking more about going home (only 10 days now). On the one hand, I’m so excited. To feel that tight cuddle from Mum and Dad. To have a fridge full of food. To have my own bed. To go to my running sessions again. To be able to drink out of the tap without severe risk of death. To have a snack that isn’t bright green and loaded with syrup and sugar. To have a decent toilet. Yes, part of me is very ready for home. But the other part of me isn’t. I want to continue to explore and to meet incredible people. I want to continue to try new foods, smell new smells, feel emotions I’ve never felt before. At the start of my trip (4 months ago) I felt an overwhelming pressure to do everything and see everything. “This is your time, Liv” I said to myself. “Don’t waste it.” I have now come to realise that this isn’t my time (not my only time, I mean). I’m only 21 and this will not be my one and only big travel trip. The amount of people I have met in their late 20s, 30s, 40s… You can travel the world at any time in your life. You can have the best day of your life at any age.

18/05

“I hate Bangkok.” I said that the other day.

Now I take it back. I love Bangkok.

Sometimes you need to give a city time. I now love the craziness. Not just the hustle and bustle but I love the fact that crowds of people are on the street, eating crispy pork with glass noodles floating in a spicy lemongrass and ginger soup for breakfast at 6.30am. Too funny. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t live here permanently (too tiring!) But the quirks of the weird street food and the kind people have softened my heart. For example, I had a lovely experience in Lumphini Park this morning. I braved the humidity and went for a jog. I was going very steady as I haven’t trained properly in quite a while and I don’t want to get injured. An oldish man about 60 (he looked younger but the Thai people always do!) he ran passed me at quite a speed and it made me very jealous. Suddenly, a wave of energy hit me and I thought, ‘sod it.’ I let my legs stride out and I kept by his side. It felt great to run again. Not just jog, but run. At the end of our stretch out (about 2.5k) we both slowed down. The sweat was pouring out of my skin like a garden sprinkler. The little man bowed his head to me and closed his hands into the prayer position.

“Thank you,” I said. “That was a good run.”

“No spee Glish. No spee Glish.” (He doesn’t speak English).

I closed my hands into prayer position and bowed my head too. “Kob khun ka” (thank you) I said.

He gave me a massive smile. “Kob khun ka” he replied.

Fire Dancing, Dog Attack and Intense Emotions

10/05

Last night was eventful in that me and Jade had to hunt for a new room with a bed that wasn’t infested with red ants. Finally we found one. And apart from the noisy monkeys, I slept quite well.

My stomach isn’t hideous today, nor is it healthy. It keeps cramping and tricking me that I’m going to poo myself. Poor Anne almost did. “It’s coming out of me like lava! I’m really looking forward to having normal poos again.” Anne-Marie, Koh Sok, 10/05/2016. She has sprinted to the toilets at the harbour several times, and returns glum-faced. “Shouldn’t have eaten that crispy chicken” she adds. “Or that iced coffee. Or those smelly prawns yesterday.”

After almost 2hours on the ferry we arrive at Koh Samui. It’s a big island (51km) and feels more like a city because it’s so busy. It’s no Gili Air, that’s for sure.

Even though we were all tired from the travel day, we still had an ace night out. On the beach, cocktails, half naked Thai men fire dancing. The music was brilliant and my energetic, sober dancing had me fall over from spinning so much. I bruised my arm badly but it was worth it.

11/05

Beach day. 37 degrees but with the humidity it’s 48 apparently. Even with my factor 50 (been using 50 my whole trip) my face got a little pink. Not quite lobster, but an unwelcomed salmon. Not the best look.

Thailand is so uncomfortably hot at this time of year, you find yourself hunting out and loitering in convenience stores, just for some quality air-con.

12/05

Last night Anne went on the back of a scooter with some hippie pirate guy who worked in the reggae bar. She returned at 6am and had, what she describes as, “the best night of her life.” Apparently Thai men with tattoos, piercings and fire dancing skills are “her people” and her soul “belongs on an island.” I’m trying to keep this blog PG, so for the nitty gritty story, please see handwritten diary. I am very glad she is alive.

Bus > Harbour > Boat to Koh Tao. It sure is beautiful. Perfect even. A thousand times better than Koh Samui, but from what I had heard from fellow travellers, I knew it would be.

Had another very spicy green curry. Most of the others couldn’t handle it, but I thought it was delicious. My taste buds are getting stronger and stronger. Who’d have thought that 5 years ago I would have been known as the spice queen? (I’m also known as Big Daddy and Anne is Little Daddy).

I got my hair braided. One electric blue braid and I love it. Anne blessed my braid with some crazy. She looked into my eyes, stroked down the braid and whispered, “f*** shit uuuuup.” I was crying with laughter.

***

It worked. Felt like a new woman and had a fantastic night. We were picked from the crowds to join with performers and try fire-dancing. Felt pretty invincible and it is potentially a new career path…

13/05

Had a very long day out on the boat snorkelling today. Several of us got heat stoke. Monica threw up over the boat. Sian almost passed out.

At one point it turned us crazy. I stuck plastic straws to my teeth, thinking I was a walrus. Anne and Phil were almost in tears from their sunburn and Charles set his mouth on fire. Nobody knows why he did it but he singed his beard in the process and we were all crying with delirious laughter.

14/05

Feeling a bit better this morning. Went for a walk along the beach. Managed about 3k and then got attacked by a dog. It was a mongrel that was Labrador size with wiry, sandy hair and huge testicles. He charged towards me. He was jumping up and barking at me and I was so scared – too scared and panicked to cry. I want to go home. I want my normal life where my life isn’t at risk by wild, vicious dogs the moment I step out of the door.

Finally, he stops jumping up, but is circling my ankles. I try to walk slowly and he continues to circle. I love dogs back at home but these ones are different. They’re not pets. You know what they say about dogs imprinting? I genuinely believe that happened. Right there, right then. For the whole 3k back to the hotel, the scruffy dog would not leave my side. Except when we came across another dog – he would race towards it, attack it and then come straight back to me. He had become my protector. I have never known a dog to be so transfixed on me; not even my dog back at home (who I miss very much!)

I eventually arrived at the hotel resort. Of course, scruffy dog is still glued to my right ankle. How on earth do I get into my room without him!? I went back to reception and explained the situation. They laughed / were shocked and said they had never known that to happen before. In order for me to enter my room, alone, a man who worked at the hotel had to beat him away with a sweeping brush. This was difficult to watch. It was also difficult because he was so close to me and I almost got hit by the broom several times.

Taxi to harbour > some strange place I can’t remember > bus to Surat Thani > sleeper train to Bangkok. It has been an exhausting travelling day.

15/05

Jade has been my hero. I was feeling upset and she comforted me, knowing exactly what to say (maybe it helps that she’s a mental health nurse!?) I’m sad that the amazing friends that I have made in Thailand, fly home today / tomorrow. I’ll be alone and have 4 days to kill in Bangkok (an error with planning on my part). I feel both emotionally and physically drained. My whole body hurts and I feel dizzy from the exhaustion. Me and Jade went for a little walk around Lumphini Park and talked about anything and everything. I feel more confident about the next few days now, I need to rest, re-charge and look after myself. Before I know it, I’ll be flying to Hong Kong.

I felt very choked up saying goodbye to Anne, my hilarious crazy Canadian. And Jade, my Welsh beauty with a heart of gold. The reason we all got so emotional saying goodbye is because for the last 16 days we have been in each other’s pockets, sleeping next to each other every night. Seeing each other at our best and our worst. Last week, I saw Charles have a poo in a hole in the ground. We are family. As the Thais would say, we are “same same, but different.”

Anne: “don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.”

Cooking Course, Thai Massage and Wild Monkeys

I made a little bucket list before leaving the UK. Bungy jump (tick), volunteering (tick), working on a farm in NZ / Aus (tick) Great Barrier Reef (tick), swim with turtles (tick), see elephants that aren’t in a zoo (tick) Thai Cooking Course…

A little old lady took us around the markets and helped us with choosing ingredients. Then, back at her house, let the cooking begin! I was smiling throughout the whole thing and was in my element. We were taught the fine details such as how much sugar is the perfect amount to compliment the salt, what smells we should be searching for and how to tear a Thai basil leaf correctly. I have now perfected the Thai green curry, Pad Thai, and for dessert: mango and coconut sticky rice.

***

06/05

Today I spent the day with Anne. We laughed and bonded a lot re. getting the shits. Wow that girl knows how to make me laugh. Never have I met such a vile, hilarious human being. I swear she needs her own TV show. We look quite the pair walking around together. Anne is twice my size with porcelain white skin. When we walk around together, some locals point and laugh.

Speaking of locals, let’s get a traditional thai massage. I think it’s time.

I was a little nervous because I have quite tight muscles. But, no pain, no gain. As my Dad would say: pain is just a weakness leaving the body.

Good lord it was amazing. I now feel as light as a feather and at least 6 inches taller. The little Thai lady was stood on me at one point. Her elbows prodding me in all places (probably would be arrested in England). At times it was a very fine line, especially when she was pressing her elbow up my inner thigh. But what can I say, it was certainly an experience. At one point she was stretching me out by pushing her feet in my armpits. Weirdly relaxing.

07/08

Slept like a baby on the sleeper train last night (heading back to the bustling Bangkok). There is something strangely satisfying about sleeper trains – being in your comfy elephant travel pants, get rocked to sleep by the motion, praying you don’t get killed in your sleep. Just kidding, as long as I sleep with my phone, wallet and passport under my pillow, I feel quite safe on them. Then getting woken up about 5am by the little train man with his selection of breakfast drinks: “Copi? Oran joo? Copi? Oran joo?”

***

Dodgy stomach again today. Oh Thailand.

***

Explored Chinatown in Bangkok. It was SO busy. A back-street maze of pashmina scarves, tacky key-rings, street food and hair extensions. Heaven for pickpockets, I’m sure. I cuddled my backpack to my chest like a real loser.

The craziness of Bangkok continued into the evening. We took a taxi to the famous Khao San Road. It is exactly how you would imagine Bangkok to be. Loads of flashing lights, loud music, lady-boys dancing outside bars and clubs and Tuk Tuks galore.

Had the spiciest food I’ve ever had in my life (and I’m pretty good with spice). I made the mistake (mistake because I currently have a fragile stomach) in asking for “normal spice” i.e. how the locals have it. Even though I was sweating, nose running and my chest to my scalp felt like it was burning with blisters, I would still say the dish was phenomenal. Because at the time when I was eating it, there was no pain. Just the most complex, glorious concoction of flavours that my tongue has ever sampled.

***

Hatred for Sek, our local guide. He told me and Anne that two new people were joining our group: 2 professional 23 yr old rugby players from Melbourne. We saw them on the name list, “Phillip and Laren” and painted a glorious picture of them in our heads. It was too funny when we finally met them. Firstly, they’re not from Melbourne, they’re from Canada. Secondly, they don’t play rugby. And thirdly, Laren is a woman and Phillip is her husband.

09/05

I’ll be home in under 20 days. How mad is that? I’m up early, sat on the train, looking forward to what the day will bring. (…madness)

After our third sleeper train experience, we arrived in Surat Thani about 8am. Me and Anne headed off alone to Khao Sok national park to do some hiking. Anne told me it would take an hour. When I asked to confirm that it would be about 60 minutes, she replies with “ha, I don’t know. I guessed. An hour sounded about right.”

At this point, we were already on the sweaty, very suspect local bus with little water and no snacks. I checked the guide book and my heart sank when I read ‘journey time: 3 hours 30.’

It was one of those experiences when you laugh a lot because you’re delirious. And because Anne makes my stomach hurt with laughter so much anyway. I asked her to articulate our adventure:

“Separated from the herd, we boarded the tin can of hell. The smell on board could best be described as wet Swiss cheese in sweltering 40 degree heat confined in a used ziplock bag. I am to this point unsure if that scent was emanating from the vehicle, my body or Liv. I have a strong suspicion it may have been my feet, but some things are better left unknown. We sat at the back, surrounded by windows -turned hot plates. The windows were rolled up in an effort to preserve the AC I’m unsure actually existed. That combined with a short water supply made for ideal dehydration conditions. There were locals also on the bus, causing the vehicle to stop many times to deliver what I assume must have been great Thai drugs or rotten fish (which may have contributed to the smell?). The bounce of the vehicle made me wish for a bra with better support as I worried my breast might knock me out at anytime. Not to mention I sustained severe brain damage and Liv possible haemorrhaging of her organs but rib puncture. The only treatment available was hysterical laughter.”

Thank you Anne for your perfect word choice.

Spirits were lifted on our glorious hike. We saw wild monkeys swinging from the trees and we got extremely close to them. One was eating a snake. An actual snake. We swam under waterfalls and discussed how perfect life is right now.

Perfect minus the dodgy stomachs. We feel we ought to take a step back. We have become too cocky, too confident – drinks with mountains of ice, swimming in unknown waters, eating raw salads, street food chicken and smelly prawns. We must look after ourselves and realise that we are not invincible.

Thailand: Off the beaten track

03/05

Goodbye civilisation, hello wilderness! Today is the day that the 3 day Northern Hill Tribe trek begins. We crammed into the back of a truck and firstly stopped off at some markets. The markets smell vile. It’s a stench so strong that you can taste the warm, rotting fish on your tongue. One stand sold placenta. Lovely. Another sold an array of salted insects. Sek encouraged us all to try some. I politely declined. I find it baffling that some are brave / silly enough to try the meat here. The ambiguous grey flesh has been sat out in the damp heat for hours on end, covered in flies and various bugs. As I look at it in disgust I feel like a fortune teller: diarrhoea and vomiting will be with you soon…

A couple more hours driving up steep, winding roads and we were ready to begin the adventure. The forest swallowed us up and saw us walk for about 2 and a half hours up some pretty steep hills. Me being me had a great time. Others (especially those who had not long come from England) struggled with the relentless heat and some of the climbs.

When we arrived at the first remote village we were greeted by an old lady with dainty limbs and thin lips. Can you believe that at 90 she still works on the farm? She has to. They are extremely poor. One man suffered very badly from diabetes but could get no treatment – his body was a frail skeleton. It was very shocking to see.

Piglets, chickens and wild dogs scuttle around our feet as we explore the Karen village. The Karen tribe have their own language, so even Sek can’t understand most of what they are saying. We learnt that thank you is pronounced “Tabruh.” Not to be confused with pronouncing it in a more separate way: “Ta Bruh,” because that means “you’re crazy.”

We slept all together in a hut made of sticks. We each had our own, thin mattress on the floor and a much needed mosquito net. The outdoor hole in the ground (toilet) is pretty filthy, but that’s all part of it. There is no flush so you throw a bucket of water down it when you’re done.

One of the locals, Aulala (pronounced Oo-la-la) made us a delicious feast for dinner. He’s an incredible chef. He said he learnt from watching his elders when he was younger. His yellow curry was mouth-wateringly good.

When the air cooled and the black sky covered the sun, his friend, Niki, taught us a few games that they like to play around the fire. Niki literally won every game. I’m convinced he was cheating.

04/05

I had a scary loo trip in the middle of the night but I live to tell the tale. I slept badly, but not awfully. Today we did an 8k trek in the morning. I loved it so much, but again, some others were a tad vocal regarding their hatred for walking. Last night I taught everyone some silly songs including, “I was saying goodbye to my horse” and “A Fireplace” (See Bulgaria Diary, 2007). Ah, my Dad would be proud. So yes, even when people were struggling with the uphill effort and the blazing sun, morale was lifted with the odd sing-song. Actually, the frequent sing-song (the songs are so stupid they’re the sort that get funnier the more you sing them). Whilst stretching our vocal chords, we trekked through both forests and rice fields and saw a vicious, jet black tarantula. I saw its skin pink mouth and fangs!

We arrived at hill tribe no.2 for lunch. Imagine having to walk 3 hours to see your mate in the next village? With no roads, it’s the only way. We were all sleepy after the food and had a brief nap on the floor. However, we were soon woken up…Time for bamboo rafting!

Of course, it wasn’t safe. But cruising along on the handmade wooden platforms was great fun. Sometimes the water was still, sometimes fast flowing. There was a group of naked village kids playing in the dirty water – laughing and splashing around. A true picture of kids being kids. When admiring their naive, angelic beauty, I let out a scream. A ginormous spider landed on my arm out of nowhere. I’m not usually afraid of spiders but this beast really took me by surprise. As the Thai would say, “Oh my Buddha!” (I found this expression hilarious when I first heard Aulala say it).

Standing up, barefoot on the raft for several hours was a little tiring on the knees, but so worth it. The scenery down the river was phenomenal. I feel privileged to have seen herds of wild buffalo. I didn’t expect to see elephants but we saw those too (life made).

After a few hours rafting, we arrive at our third hill tribe. This one is really off the beaten track. From the road we have walked for almost 6 hours and rafted for 3. There is no school for the kids. And if someone was to need urgent help from a hospital, they’re probably not going to make it. I think this tribe is even poorer than the first. It’s dirtier and there is no shower. There is only the brown river to wash, which to me just screams infection, virus, illness, death.

***

An adorable, tiny girl appeared from behind one of the huts. Now I’m not usually one to care too much about little kids but as soon as I clapped my eyes on her, in the least creepy way, “I want you” went through my head. My heart melted when she smiled at me and held my hand. She was climbing all over me, laughing with me, we ran around and chased each other and rolled about on the floor. Strangely, she wouldn’t go near anyone else, she just didn’t want to leave my side. For this, I felt very special and I want to take her home.

Aulala cooked up another storm. The cashew nut and ginger stir fry was on point. Surprise, surprise, pineapple for dessert (Just as Bali was obsessed with banana, for Thailand it’s all about the pineapple as we are served at least 3 portions of it a day).

05/05

Oh my Buddha that was a long night. No sleep. Sleeping on the hard floor was really painful on my back. Everything hurts and it feels like a hangover from hell. There were so many bugs, it was a clammy heat, dogs were fighting and I swear the cockerels are broken here – screeching every bloody minute.

We had another long, enjoyable rafting session. When we finally reached the 4th village for lunch (and our final stop) there was a great sense of achievement amongst the group. I was very excited to have my first Pad Thai in Thailand (their traditional noodle dish). In search of some zing-zing, I added some extra chilli flakes to give it a bit more of a kick. Silly me, not thinking, I then rub my eye a few moments later…

CHILLI IN MY EYE.

Oh Jesus Christ, the pain. I was half crying and half laughing at the hilarity of the situation. Everyone else stared at me, not really knowing how to react as I’m up, hopping around and grabbing bottles of drinking water from the table, chucking it at my face.

Suddenly, about 8 locals rush out of the kitchen to see what all the commotion is about. “I have chilli in my eye!” I scream.

“Chilli in eye!” / “She has chilli in the eye!” / “Oh my Buddha!” A chorus of Thai voices chanted back at me. They swarmed around me like wasps and frantically blabbed in Thai, waving their arms around in panic. My left eye felt like needles were piercing my eyeball and the whole left side of my face felt like it was on fire.

Suddenly, Niki was throwing buckets of water on my RIGHT FOOT. What the actual heck. Still half laughing, half crying, “What are you doing!?” I asked.

“Left eye chilli, right foot water!”

The room fell silent for a few moments as the locals all take a step back from me.

I catch my breath. “Wow… it’s working…” I’m not kidding, the pain eased when he drenched my foot.

“Ah, it’s starting to burn again.” He poured another bucket onto my right foot and sure enough, the pain eased once more. By the fifth bucket, I was fine.

“HOW!? WHY!?” I asked.

Niki laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “My Grandmuddah tell me. Her Grandmuddah, Muddah, ancestors… Yes? Oh but I don’t know. It just work. Left eye chilli – right foot water. Right eye chilli – left foot water. You understand?”

“Yes, but no.”

We laugh together. Oh Chiang Mai, I love you.

When arriving back to the city in the evening, it felt ever so luxurious to have a toilet and a shower. Shaving my legs also helped to peel off a nice thick layer of grease and dirt. Man, I was filthy.

What an incredible few days. I’m still in shock and overwhelmed at some of the beauty and some of the poverty and filthiness. Bold statement, but that was well up there with the highlights of my whole trip. The excitement continues with having a bed tonight. YAY

Bangkok, Babes & Chiang Mai

My flight from Singapore > Bangkok was a little delayed, but I didn’t mind so much because Singapore airport is ace. So many good food stands and free wifi… Can’t complain.

I was flying with Air Asia and was the only white, British person on the flight. I found the English announcements extremely unclear and didn’t know what was happening half of the time. When going through immigration and visa checks, the queue was an hour long which took the time to 1 in the morning when I was finding my backpack on the luggage belt.

I was a little nervous to be arriving into Bangkok at such a time, but let out a sigh of relief when I saw a little Thai man holding up a sign: “Olivia Mulligan.” So glad I pre-booked a taxi!

“Bangkok Central hotel?” He smiles and nods his head. “How long does it take?” I ask. He doesn’t understand – he has terrible English. Together we marched to a jam-packed carpark to try and find his car. Oh no! A big 4×4 truck had blocked him in. No word of a lie, this little weedy man, no bigger than 5’2, gets his hands on the truck’s bonnet and pushes it with total ease to free his car. My jaw dropped to my chest. It was the funniest thing.

The journey was about 30 mins and he was ever so chatty for 2 in the morning. I couldn’t understand 95% of what he was saying. My responses circulated from “ooo lovely” to “sounds great.” He literally could have been saying anything.

I was slightly nervous to be on my own, in a strange city, in Thailand… But what good is panicking going to do, I thought to myself. You’ll be fine.

01/05

Pinch punch, first of the month! Bangkok is hot and humid. It’s 40 degrees. I’m not sure if I have mentioned in a previous post, but I’m doing the first part of Thailand with a group. Because I arrived so late last night, I missed the introduction. So let the meeting and greeting begin!

The tour guide, Sek, is from Chiang Mai. We explored the hustle and bustle of sweaty Bangkok and got a boat to see the city. The boat was SO rocky and I got soaked. As you can imagine, there is no such thing as health and safety here. The boat was about as crowded as the Piccadilly Line at rush hour and leaping on and off the slippy boat was quite a treat. We saw some giant fish leaping around and some giant lizards half the size of a large crocodile. The views on the riverside saw a dramatic juxtaposition – amazing temples and palaces alongside wooden huts on unstable stilts above the water (very, very poor housing conditions).

Wat Pho palace is quite surreal – sequins and sparkles galore and the biggest gold Buddah you can imagine. Unfortunately, it was tourist central and the conditions were made even hotter because you had to wear long clothing. But the buzz of being at such an iconic place made the discomfort well worth it.

***

It seems I’ve only just landed in Bangkok and am heading off already. Time to get the sleeper train to Chiang Mai! It really wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I got my own top bed bunk (so better than the 17 hour bus from Sydney to Brisbane!) then there is a little curtain that goes around your bed so it feels nice and cosy. Toilet is pretty gross, but what can you expect (it’s a hole and no flush, just a hose). It’s advised you sleep with your luggage. Don’t put it on luggage shelves because it probably won’t still be there when you arrive. Sleep with passport, money, phone under your pillow.

02/05

Oh hi there Chiang Mai! Although still a city, it is quieter than Bangkok so I already prefer it. It has a canal that runs around the city centre, people don’t hassle you in the markets and, you know what, it’s quite pretty.

I went out for brekki with my new friends Anne (from Canada) and Toni (from Germany). I felt a little bit sick and couldn’t stomach all of the eggs that I had ordered. Hopefully that will pass soon…

A table of English ‘lads’ were on the table next to us – all with pasty skin, low cut vests and cringy tattoos. Anne spat out her drink in my face when one of them made us laugh so much… The cute little waitress (her name was Joom) had some mango smoothie left over so she gave the ‘lad’ with the stupid haircut a top up. He then puts his hands into the prayer position, bows his head and in an Essex accent says, “You are a babe.”

She looks confused. “Beb?”

“You. Babe” he says again.

“Beb?”

“You. Babe.”

“Wot YOU beb?”

“You. Babe. Good. Babe. Good.”

This dialogue went on for about 5 minutes… Anne struggles to breathe, she is laughing so hard.

***

The three of us spent the day exploring temples and markets. The night markets were incredible – florescent lights, music and an infectious buzz. It wasn’t too busy and felt very safe. We went out for dinner at an outdoor restaurant and I had the traditional Chiang Mai dish – Kai Soi (thankfully I’m feeling fine and dandy again). Kai Soi is a fragrant curry soup with egg noodles (both soft and crispy). It made your lips tingle and was simply delicious!

Right, we need a good night sleep tonight as tomorrow we head further north to do a 3 day hill tribe trek. I can’t wait!!!