Tag Archives: Sunset

Mongolia – the Land of Blue Sky

After a month in China, I was ready to leave the crowds, pollution and humidity behind (and let’s not forget the squat toilets) and was really excited about travelling to Mongolia. More than just being eager to get there, I was looking forward to the train journey ahead of me… all 30 hours of it! This was the first part in a series of long train rides that form the trans-Siberian rail journey from Beijing to Moscow. It had been a dream of mine for a long time to go on this train journey but it was one of those dreams that I never thought would actually come true!

I had joined a new group of travellers in Beijing that I was going to travel with for the next three weeks all the way to St. Petersburg. We set off together from Beijing Railway Station and lugged all our bags on board to start the first of many train rides together.

All aboard… ready with all my luggage!

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The train journey was a great experience… and a pleasant surprise. After my overnight train journeys in China, I was starting to wonder what I’d let myself in for and how I’d survive 30 hours on a train! Thankfully, the trans-Siberian trains were a lot better… we had more space and windows that opened, I could actually sit up in my bed and we had cabins with a door (I never thought I’d be so excited about doors before!). Once we set off on the journey, the train attendant delivered fresh sheets to each passenger and there was an endless supply of boiling water so it was time to make our beds and crack open the pots of noodle soup.

Cabins on the trans-Siberian train (2nd class)

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An hour or two into the journey the landscape started to change dramatically. Leaving behind the smog and grey city buildings, we started to see beautiful greenery, wild flowers and more of a rocky and mountainous landscape. As evening drew closer, we were lucky to see a beautiful sunset over Inner Mongolia and were treated to a complementary dinner in the train’s restaurant car.

Landscape and views from the train ChangingLandscape

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Sunset over Inner Mongolia

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One of the highlights of this particular train ride was the bogie (wheel) changing at the Chinese-Mongolian border at Erlian. The whole process of border crossing and wheel changing took several hours! The train wheels needed to be changed because of the different track gauges used by the Chinese and the Mongolian/Russian railway networks. After going through customs and immigration, we elected to stay on the train for the bogie changing. The train moved off into a shed where the carriages were decoupled, the bogies detached and then the carriages lifted up by a hydraulic lift while the bogies were changed. It was an interesting process to watch from inside the raised carriage and we were all pushed up against the cabin windows looking out to try and glimpse what was going on. The only drawback was that it was late into the night and we couldn’t use the toilets at all for about 4 hours since they shut the toilets every time we approached a station or when the train was stopped.

Bogie changing in the shed

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I woke up the following morning and the train was traveling through the Gobi desert. I was really excited about this part of the journey and had imagined it in my head many times. I’d always imagined the train chugging along the tracks surrounded by golden sand dunes as far as the eye could see and camels dotted all around. I must admit I was a little disappointed with the sight that wished me good morning. I jumped to the window and instead of beautiful and smooth sand dunes I saw yellow gravel-like sand, a pretty flat vista and a few shrubs dotted around… welcome to the Gobi desert! I got over that pretty quickly though as the landscape kept on changing.

The Gobi desert

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Leaving the desert behind, we started to ride through the Mongolian steppe… it was very beautiful and matched some of the images of Mongolia I had in my head … a vastness of both flat and hilly grassland with wild animals roaming freely and ger tents scattered around the place.

Animals roaming in the wild

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Some of my best moments on the train were just sitting by a window with music playing through my headphones, camera in hand, admiring the stunning landscapes and watching the world go by… just me and my thoughts.

As we drew closer to Ulaanbaatar and the train was winding through hills and around bends, we started to see picturesque settlements with quaint bright coloured houses. The main thing that jumped out at me was the beautiful bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds scattered around… it had been so long since I’d seen such beautiful clear skies that I just couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Beautiful blue sky and coloured houses close to Ulaanbaatar

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Not having researched Ulaanbaatar at all before I arrived, I was surprised to see how built up the city was. The main highlights for me were sampling local cuisine (varieties of dumplings and Mongolian lamb) and visiting the Gandan monastery where we were able to witness the monks performing some of their daily ceremonies. I also really enjoyed a Mongolian cultural show in the city where we got to see musicians playing local instruments, dancing and singing… one of my favourite parts was listening to the Mongolian throat singing.

Ulaanbaatar city (on a rainy day)

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Prayer wheels at the Gandan Monastery

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Mongolian throat singer and dancers

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Aside from the train ride, the highlight of the trip for me was spending time in Terelj National Park, hiking and sleeping in a ger tent for the night. The national park was stunning and pristine and it was a welcome change of scenery after days of being in built-up cities or being confined to a train carriage. There were rows of ger tents with a backdrop of grassy meadows, stunning rock formations and pine-covered mountains.

Ger camp at Terelj National Park

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Hiking in the national park was fun (although a little scary and slippery at times)… my only bad memory of the place was being constantly chased by swarms of flies during the hike! We walked up hills and through pine forests, across narrow pathways and to stunning viewpoints. Along the way we passed beautiful wild flowers, horses and even some gorgeous owls awake during the day.

Stunning views along the hike in Terelj National Park

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Monastery located on the side of a mountain

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Beautiful owl spotted during the hike

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Dinner at the camp was delicious… homemade and freshly prepared Mongolian food… and very welcome following the afternoon’s hike. The evening was filled with archery lessons followed by games and lots of laughter with fellow travellers. The ger tent was our home for the night and was a lot more spacious, comfortable and warmer than I had imagined… once I got over the grasshopper and beetle that were hiding in the tent I actually managed to get some sleep!

On the way back to Ulaanbaatar we stopped to see the huge monument of Genghis Khan and learnt more about the history of the country.

Genghis Khan statue

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Soon we were back at the train station and it was time to jump on board the train again… for the next 40 hours… to Russia!

Pandas, Noodles and Squat Toilets

When I first decided to visit China, I was slightly overwhelmed with the size of the country and worried about getting around without knowing any Mandarin. I was tossing up between travelling solo and taking my time or travelling with an organized group, which would be more fast-paced but smoother. In the end I’m glad I went with the group option… it was a lot easier to get around with a local Mandarin speaker… little things like ordering in restaurants, buying train tickets, finding a toilet and getting a taxi all become much more difficult when you don’t know the language!

In total, I spent a month travelling around China and Hong Kong. It was an extremely interesting, insightful and cultural experience. I have some fantastic memories that I brought back with me and also some not so great ones, but it was definitely a worthwhile trip. I was able to see some breathtaking sights, such as the Great Wall of China and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army. I also met some truly wonderful people, both locals and fellow travellers, but also had some really challenging moments.

Some of my fondest memories are sitting by the Shanghai Bund at night watching the bright lights of the skyline; riding on a bamboo raft along the Li river  surrounded by stunning limestone karsts; learning Tai Chi in the early morning in a local park; watching cute, cuddly yet incredibly lazy giant pandas chewing bamboo; and watching the sunset out on the deck of the ship while cruising down the Yangtze river.

Shanghai Bund skyline at night

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Bamboo rafting on the Li river in Yangshuo

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Early morning Tai Chi class

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Pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu

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Sunset on the Yangtze river

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Other vivid memories (not as fond though) include sitting on a five hour public bus ride with a sack of live animals next to me (it turned out they were chickens but I let my imagination run wild); having our group stalked by a local lady in the Chengdu market and trying to lose her; and disturbing images of cats and dogs hung up for sale in the local Yangshuo wet market.

The trip started in Beijing in the north of China. It took me a few days to get used to being there… the new language and distinct lack of English anywhere; the noticeably higher levels of pollution; the humidity; the squat toilets, a lot of them extremely filthy; people spitting on the streets as they walked past me; and let’s not forget chopsticks! When I arrived I couldn’t even pick up a dumpling with a chopstick but I’ve finally mastered the art of eating with them… I didn’t really have much of a choice!

It was an amazing experience for me to climb parts of the Great Wall of China… twice… because once is just not enough! The climb to actually get to the wall was challenging… it felt like I was on a never-ending staircase leading to nowhere, but I eventually made it up to the wall. Local people along the way kept greeting me and asking to take pictures and selfies with me… I felt like a bit of a celebrity! Climbing the wall was challenging but also very humbling when I thought about the people who built the wall and what they went through as they had no proper pathways or stairs to climb with the materials and worked throughout the year in all conditions. The views from up on the wall were breathtaking… I’d always seen pictures of this architectural wonder but couldn’t believe I was actually standing on it!

Hiking the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

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Another highlight of the trip for me was seeing the Terracotta Warriors in person. This was something I had read about before and seen photos of on the Internet but they don’t come close to what it looks like in person. I was surprised by the sheer size of the army and all the detail that had been put into each individual warrior… it was an incredible sight and I’m sure my pictures won’t do it justice!

Terracotta Army in Xi’an

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Warriors still undergoing restoration

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Over the course of the trip, I took three overnight trains in China. Memories of the overnight trains are bittersweet for me… I loved them and hated them all at the same time, but I’m glad I experienced them! I had some fun times with fellow travellers and friends… playing cards, chatting away, watching movies together, eating countless pots of noodle soup and building friendships over cups of tea, cans of beer and sometimes shots of Chinese ‘firewater’! But it wasn’t all fun, games and laughter… sharing a 6-bunk ‘cabin’ was challenging with some beds that you couldn’t even sit up straight in. I say cabin in the loosest sense of the word as there weren’t really any cabins… the whole carriage was open plan and without any curtains arounds beds for privacy. I still remember my first train ride where I hardly slept because there was a super loud snorer on the bunk next to me (I’m talking deafening snores!) and another guy who wanted to play loud games on his phone! After finally falling asleep in the boiling hot carriages, I awoke at 5.30am to find a random stranger eating breakfast at the end of my bed… he was slurping away at his noodle soup while I was asleep! I have to admit I found that a little creepy! Aside from sleeping arrangements, the hardest part was the squat toilets… not just because you had to squat but because toilets on the trains are probably some of the dirtiest I’ve ever seen (I won’t go into graphic details!).

Playing UNO on the train

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Another of the highlights of the trip for me was a two-night stay in a monastery in Emeishan. The monastery was beautiful and although the rooms we stayed in were simple they were a lot nicer than what I was expecting… in my mind I pictured us all sleeping in one large room with mattresses or blankets on the floor. We could only use communal showers between 5.30pm and 9.30pm and I had to go on spider kill and cockroach hunt a few times. Nonetheless it was an amazing experience. I especially loved waking up at 5.30am to the sound of the monks chanting… it was very peaceful and a great way to wake up.

Monastery in Emeishan where we stayed

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Candles lit in the monastery

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We spent one of the days in Emeishan hiking in the area surrounding Mount Emei. I used to think I was pretty good at reading maps but apparently I’m not to be trusted hiking on a mountain – I’ll get lost! At least I wasn’t alone! While hiking, I got separated from most of the group except one person. The two of us continued alone following our maps… we ended up seeing sights that weren’t on our planned route (albeit beautiful sights), climbed what felt like hundreds of steps, and got horribly lost! When we finally got out of the national park (without making it to our destination of the monkey zone), we walked almost 5km in the wrong direction and then found out that a monkey had bitten one of our friends! We tried to hitch a ride back to the monastery on a motorbike that wasn’t big enough for two, ended up walking back the way we came and then got told off by a bus driver in Mandarin because we didn’t listen to him the first time when he tried to give us a lift! All in all it was an eventful and tiring day… we got lots of exercise and ended up walking around 22km in total… but we made it back in one piece!  If I never see steps again it’ll be too soon!

Hiking around Emeishan National Park

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Lost outside the national park

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Aside from the major attractions and great outdoors, China has some wonderful local markets. I really enjoyed strolling around the bustling market in Shanghai, haggling and bargaining for things… it was more for the experience rather than the 20p it saved! The local food market in the Muslim quarter of Xi’an was also really great. It was colourful, vibrant and full of food stalls with interesting smells. I really enjoyed sampling the different foods there… one of my favourites was a yellow sticky rice cake with fresh dates.

Local market in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

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Sticky rice cake and meat burgers in the local food market

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The foodie in me really came out to play in China. I truly enjoyed the variety of food and drink on offer and the different flavours from different parts of the country. From the succulent Peking duck in Beijing, to mouth watering dumplings, to the fiery hot pot in Chengdu… the food was delicious! I’ll never feel the same about eating duck and hot pot back in London! I even got to try and make my own dumplings in a cooking class… they didn’t taste too bad for my first attempt!

Peking duck in Beijing

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Duck shaped dumplings at a dumpling banquet in Xi’an

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My very own homemade dumplings!

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The trip ended in Hong Kong with the highlights of the beautiful Victoria Harbour and stunning views from the top of Victoria Peak.

View from Victoria Peak

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Then it was time to say goodbye to new and dear friends; it’s funny to think we started as a group of people who all stood in silence as we rode the elevator together when we first met! It was time to head back to Beijing to meet new travellers, revisit the incredible Great Wall, sample more duck and get ready for the journey west… into Siberia.

Morocco – the country of contrasts

I spent an incredible few weeks travelling around Morocco in North Africa. This country wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit when I decided to go travelling, but I picked the trip because the duration, budget and distance all fit my criteria when looking for a small adventure to fill the gap between other travels… and I also wanted to fulfill my dream of sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert! Having said that, I’m really glad I went… I came across some beautiful and historical places, had some fun and amazing adventures, made some great (hopefully lasting) friendships, got acquainted with Arabic music (Zina!) and some useful phrases… I’ll never forget ‘Yallah, Yallah’!

Morocco is a beautiful country and full of contrasts… you could be standing in the arid desert while at the same time being able to see snow capped mountains in the distance; there are large malls and western shops with fixed prices and a few kilometers away there are old bazaars and markets where bargaining is a huge part of the experience; there are centuries-old kasbahs and a short distance away modern cafes and satellite dishes everywhere; there is poverty on the one hand with people (including children) begging for money on the streets and nice buildings and expensive cars across town; and there’s a huge diversity of languages…. Berber, Arabic, French, Spanish.

We travelled around the country starting from Casablanca in the west and heading north to the city of Tangier. Unfortunately it was a cloudy and rainy day so we were unable to see Spain in the distance. However, I do remember the walk through the colourful streets of the medina, stepping in puddles, watching locals run their businesses and kids paint football badges onto walls, and smelling the scent of freshly baked bread.

Following Tangier, we headed south to the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen. This was one of my favourite towns in Morocco… full of charming streets and spectacular landscapes! I really enjoyed walking through the winding and seemingly never-ending streets of the medina… a lot of the walls were painted in varying shades of blue and had splashes of other colours added to the mix. There were locals running their businesses inviting you in to check out their wares, kids playing in the streets and stray cats trying to keep out of the sun. The market in Chefchaouen was also very vibrant… I ate some of the best strawberries there that I’ve had in my entire life!

Panoramic view of the city of Chefchaouen

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The medina of Chefchaouen

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Leaving the blue of Chefchaouen behind, we visited the stunning ancient roman ruins of Volubilis, the imperial city of Meknes and the medina of Fes. The trip was very educational and I also learnt about different marriage ceremonies in Morocco… but don’t worry I didn’t get married while out there!

Ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis

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Tannery in the medina of Fes

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The journey then went further south to Merzouga and the Sahara desert after which we ventured back west across Morocco to the incredibly scenic UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou and then headed into the High Atlas Mountains.

Ait Ben Haddou

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Some of my highlights were riding out into the heart of the desert on the back of a camel, singing and dancing with new friends at the Sahara Bedouin camp and sleeping outside under the stars and the light of the near full moon. I hardly slept because of the cold, mosquitoes and fear of desert creepy crawlies but it didn’t matter because I was completely mesmerised by the sky filled with stars… another one of those ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments!

Camel ride into the Sahara desert

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Nomad family and their camp in the Sahara desert

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Sunrise in the Sahara desert

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Another highlight was hiking up to and around the village of Aremd in the High Atlas Mountains and getting to spend the night with a local family there. It was such a beautiful place… we hiked around the valley, crossed streams and took in the beautiful views and fresh mountain air! It was also refreshing to have no wifi!

Aremd village in the High Atlas Mountains

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As we travelled from North to South, the landscape changed dramatically from lush green vegetation to barren desert landscapes to snow peaked mountains. At points in the North, it was hard to believe we were actually in Morocco… I didn’t expect to see so much green! Leaving the Atlas Mountains behind, we went off to the coastal town of Essaouira and then ended in the bustling city of Marrakech. The sights, smells and sounds of Djemaa El-Fna put me into sensory overload! I also managed to visit Jardin Majorelle… the beautiful botanical gardens created by Jacques Majorelle and owned by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner. The garden contains hundreds of exotic plant species and trees as well as several ponds and streams. You can hear the sound of birds chirping around, see turtles swimming in the pond or just sit on one of the shaded benches and take some time out of the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Sunset in Essaouira

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The medina of Marrakech

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As with most trips, the food and drink is always memorable and I believe it’s a big part of the travel experience. Over the weeks I spent in Morocco, I became reacquainted with mint tea and probably consumed gallons of it! It was interesting to also learn about the process of making mint tea… it was more involved than I thought! Food-wise I really enjoyed sampling the different types of tagines… my favourites were kafta and egg tagine and lemon chicken tagine. I also came across Msemen, which is a Moroccan square shaped fried pancake (delicious for breakfast!), Harissa (a hot chili paste) and Lemon Fanta (so refreshing on a hot 39 degrees day!).

Mint tea making ceremony

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Kafta and egg tagine

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So with a week to go until the next adventure begins… you may ask ‘where to next?’… wait and see!

The river runs through it

Leaving Thailand behind, I spent just over two weeks in beautiful Laos and Vietnam. It was an amazing two weeks of adventure, fun, new friends, new (and unusual) foods and trying lots of new things for the first time… kayaking in the Nam Som River, holding a python round my neck, swimming in a freezing cold waterfall, riding on a water buffalo at sunset, eating deep fried worm (yes, I said worm!) amongst many other things… some of these things I’d never imagined I would ever do!

Kuang Si waterfall south of Luang Prabang

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Riding a water buffalo in Hoi An

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After crossing the border from Thailand into Laos, we spent two days sailing along the mighty Mekong River. It was a beautiful ride with cold mornings, sunny afternoons and being surrounded by gorgeous hills and mountains all around. We passed various villages and fishing boats along the way and several cows and elephants too. We spent the night in a rustic lodge in the small village of Pak Beng located on the Mekong River… staying in wooden cabins with very little hot water and lots of geckos for friends, it made for an interesting night as the only sounds I could here were those of nature.

Views sailing along the Mekong River

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Buddha statues in the Pak Ou caves, a stop along the Mekong River boat trip

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Finally we arrived in the town of Luang Prabang… this is a beautiful town located along the Mekong River and one of my favourite stops on the trip. It’s a laidback and serene town even though there are a lot of tourists visiting. Some of the highlights for me (apart from historical or religious sights) were the bustling night markets (and the bargaining that comes with them), street food vendors selling mouth-watering dishes, strolling along dusty side streets, rising at dawn to watch the saffron-robed monks receiving alms, and the lively morning market with a variety of unusual eats! I saw a lot of interesting and strange foods in the morning market including deep fried mice/rats, frogs, snails, squirrels, budgies and cobra… I wasn’t brave enough to try any of them!

Mice, rats and snake found for sale in the Luang Prabang morning market

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Monks collecting alms in the early morning

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Sampling street food was definitely a highlight for me… from scrumptious spring rolls to delicious dumplings and, my personal favourite, banana and Nutella crepes that I bought along the sidewalk.

Luang Prabang Street Food

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Home-cooked Laotian meal including laap and deep fried aubergine

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Aside from this, I was also lucky enough to spend a morning with elephants… the highlight for me was ‘bathing’ them in the Mekong River… in actual fact they were just splashing about with us in the river rather than actually bathing but it was an incredible experience with these gentle giants… a dream come true for me because of my love of elephants!

‘Bathing’ elephants near Luang Prabang

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Leaving Luang Prabang behind, we continued on to Vang Vieng for a day. Here I got to try kayaking for the first time… I was quite nervous at first but it was an amazing experience kayaking along the Nam Som River with the hot sun beating down on my skin. Along the way my group decided to stop at one of the infamous river-side bars… they are pretty cool with loud music blaring, people dancing, drinks flowing, BBQs burning on the side and awesome hammocks hanging around for people to catch some rest and shade from the strong sun.

That evening I sat along the riverside with a BeerLao beer in hand and watched the world go by… boats sailing, flocks of birds soaring through the sky, locals having a BBQ around a fire on the sand and the golden red sun setting behind the grand mountains… it’s one of those serene and breathtaking moments I’ll never forget.

Vang Vieng sunset

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After leaving Laos, we headed to Vietnam where the first stop was Hanoi. This is one of the most bustling, vibrant and chaotic cities I’ve ever seen, especially in the old quarter. There were people and motorbikes everywhere, horns beeping, power lines dangling, street vendors galore, amazing sights, sounds and smells everywhere and dozens of streetside ‘bars’ selling the cheapest beer in the world, Bia Hoi (for the equivalent of 24 cents)! There seemed to be no concept of traffic rules or personal space in Hanoi… you couldn’t walk anywhere without being bumped into or beeped at or nearly run over by a motorcyclist! The thing I found the most strange however is how such a vibrant city completely shuts down at midnight… it’s like it turns into a pumpkin… the streets become empty and lonely, all the sounds disappear and there is just quiet all around.

Streets of Hanoi

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BBQ dog for sale in Hanoi

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One of my highlights in Vietnam was an overnight stay on a junk boat in Ha Long Bay. I had an absolutely incredible time there… apart from getting scared half to death by monkeys when visiting a local beach… but don’t worry, we came away unscathed (just about!). I had another of those ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments when watching a spectacular sunset on the top deck of our boat with a glass of merlot in one hand and my faithful camera in the other… and coming back after dinner to star gaze in the beautifully clear night sky! These are some moments I’ll never ever forget!

Ha Long Bay

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HaLongBay

Aside from Ha Long bay, I really enjoyed my time in the city of Hue. I was lucky to be able to take a slightly non-conventional city tour… I got to ride on the back of a motorbike for the day to see all the sights. It was an incredibly fun and insightful experience… riding through big highways, small back alleys, rice fields, cemeteries, past peoples homes, businesses and schools… it was a great way to see the city as I felt I got a much better insight into the real Hue and the way people live there.

Motorbike tour in Hue and meeting local people en route

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Leaving Hue, we stopped for a few nights in Hoi An with it’s charming streets, many stalls, restaurants, cafes and shops. Some of the highlights here were a noodle making class (it’s harder than it looks!), a cycle tour through vegetable gardens and rice fields (and getting a little lost) and the opportunity to ride a water buffalo.

The final stop for me was Ho Chi Minh City. Before getting ready to go home, I took a trip to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels formed an underground network used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnamese and American War. It was quite an emotional tour and very thought-provoking listening to our guide who was a real war veteran as he told stories of his days during the war and in the re-education camps.

Cu Chi tunnels

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Unfortunately all good things must come to and end… and so it was time for me to leave Southeast Asia and come back home.  However, not long until the next adventure… from thirty degrees heat straight into sub-zero freezing cold… Iceland here I come!

Antarctica – the white wilderness!

“If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart.
Art, and it would be Michelangelo.
Literature, and it would be Shakespeare.
And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.”
~ Andrew Denton

I started writing this blog post a few times and kept deleting what I had… I’m not sure I have the appropriate words to describe this last part of my trip… an 11 day expedition cruise to Antarctica… the white wilderness! I think the saying ‘save the best to last’ is very fitting in this case. To say it was a truly amazing experience is an understatement… it was completely out of this world… better than anything I had imagined and definitely the trip of a lifetime!

MV Ushuaia out in Antarctica

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I think it only really hit home on about day 7 of the trip… when I was out in the freezing cold all alone on the outer deck of the ship, surrounded by snow covered mountains, glaciers and icebergs as far as the eye could see… and I suddenly was overcome with excitement… I was in Antarctica!! I couldn’t stop smiling and shivering at the same time… I was listening to my music at the time and started dancing around on the deck all by myself… hope they don’t have CCTV footage of that!

The whole 11 days weren’t all pleasant… the days on the Drake passage were a little challenging… according to the crew we had amazing sea conditions and they referred to it as Lake Drake… but it didn’t stop me feeling sick every time the ship swayed! It was all totally worth it for the amazing wilderness that awaited me on the other side… our first sight of land was really exciting… the South Shetland Islands and small icebergs floating around… the best bit was that the views only got better as the days went by!

We were lucky to be able to make 10 landings/outings across the South Shetland Islands and the Western Antarctic Peninsula, including 2 continental landings and visiting the old British base at Port Lockroy, where I sent a postcard to myself from Antarctica with advice for future me!

Port Lockroy in the snow

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Zodiac cruise

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During our days in Antarctica, we saw huge icebergs and the most amazing glaciers, some with huge crevasses in them… we had sunshine, wind and snow… sometimes all three in the same day… and we saw some breathtaking sunsets. We also had the chance to see some amazing wildlife… Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adélie penguins, a variety of different seals, orcas and humpback whales and birds galore! We even managed to have a BBQ out in vast wilderness of Antarctica!

Landscape of Antarctica – mountains, glaciers, icebergs and snow

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Gentoo penguin climbing and sliding in the snow

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Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins diving and swimming

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Baby Elephant seal

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Antarctic sunsets

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The highlight for me was the final day at Deception Island, where I got to swim in Antarctic waters in the caldera of an active volcano… it was surreal!

Deception Island

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This trip has been one of the most amazing 11 days of my life. I also made some really great new friends from around the world that inspire me to continue to travel and have more adventures.

Oh and you’re probably all going to ask me whether I figured out how to greet a penguin 🙂 Well… I wanted to go and hug a Chinstrap penguin because they are the cutest… but I kinda wasn’t allowed (they have rules in Antarctica too!)… so instead I just admired them from afar… sat and watched the cute little creatures and their habits and every so often one of the curious ones just waddled over to see what the humans were up to! I know I’ve said it before… but I’ll say it again… it was just out of this world!

Sand Dunes, Sunsets and Seals

Following the volcanoes of Arequipa and Colca, I took off on a trip to Ica and the desert oasis Huacachina. My journey to Ica was my first bus trip in Peru, in fact my first in South America, so I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect. I received a lot of advice from friends and family: ‘hold on to your luggage as tightly as possible for the entire trip‘, ‘sleep with one eye open‘, ‘hide some money in your socks in case you get mugged or the bus is hijacked!‘, etc etc… it’s no wonder I was a little apprehensive. I still don’t fully comprehend the bus system in Peru but I managed to get  to the right destination and made it there with all my luggage intact and without being robbed… I’d consider that a successful trip!

Huacachina was a very serene and beautiful place… a small oasis surrounded by desert sand dunes as far as the eye can see. I spent a relaxing and fun couple of days there, riding up the sand dunes and sandboarding down (with a few minor mishaps!). Watching the sun set behind the dunes was a breathtaking experience!

Sunset in the Desert

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Huacachina Oasis

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I also managed to squeeze in a little visit to the town of Paracas with a boat trip around the Ballestas Islands, where I spotted my first penguins (from afar) as well as Peruvian boobies, pelicans and seals. After the boat broke down near the Islands, we were lucky enough to even see dolphins!

Wildlife on the Ballestas Islands

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