Saturday, 31 December 2011

I'll put it on my list: 12 Travel Goals for 2012

A couple of my favourite craft and lifestyle blogs do these special birthday lists of goals for the coming year like "28 before 29" etc. I am fast approaching my 30th birthday and though I am inspired by the concept, the thought of listing 30 things to then do before my 31st birthday presents just too many negatives when I already know I will spend at least half the year paralysed by the shock of being "old". (I am joking. I am actually looking forward to embracing a new decade, one where my new love of crochet, green tea and reading non-fiction, will finally suit my mature years.)

Instead here are my 12 Travel Goals for 2012, a year I have big hopes and dreams for. I have tried to keep the goals realistic and attainable. In twelve months time I hope to be writing a blog post about how I have achieved all of these things, or at least how I gave them my best shot.


Maybe this one is cheating as I've been planning it as part of this trip but it's a valid goal for this year and one that I could tick of as soon as next month. I am currently researching what to do and where to go in a relatively short space of time (two weeks) and the fact that I'll be doing it with one of my best friends from home will make the trip totally "sweet as".


This also may happen sooner rather than later as NewMan may have to return to Southeast Asia, but in my opinion it is already overdue. I have travelled alone with work so am no stranger to days and nights with only myself for company, however, there was always the comfort of the company credit card and the fact I could expense my phone and internet bills. I am equally scared and inspired by the idea of making my own way in an unknown territory for a week or so. It is a challenge that I have set myself and I genuinely have no idea how I will feel about it before, after and during.


This is a biggie. This will be hard work to complete. Of all the goals I have listed I think this will be the hardest to complete, or rather the easiest to not keep up with as it requires thought, effort and commitment on a daily basis. Well, it's about time I was good for something so I'm going to give it ago and if there's anything out there that I want to do every day (apart from annoying NewMan and drinking tea) it's photography. So here is my 365 for 365 profile, which I'll also feed into my Tumblr and my Flickr so I hope you'll check in with it every now and again. If you also are doing a 365 for 365 or something similar let me know so I can stalk it.


Since we left the UK in October I have been keeping a travel diary documenting where we stayed, what we did, what we saw and how good or bad it was. I have made some brilliant trips in the past but alas have no recollection of specifics like the names of restaurants, hotels, museums and sights I enjoyed so this is my way to ensure I don't forget these details that I can then pass on to others.


NewMan and I are both keen snowboarders; it's actually how we met. Despite lapping up every inch of the sun's beams as we dodged the UK winter in Southeast Asia and now in Oz, we are both missing the snow and our boards and if we're honest, we always planned to make it back to Europe in time for the end of the season so fingers crossed that our plans and budget allow this.


How I have missed my lady friends. Until two years ago my trusty band of merry women were my travel companions. Despite NewMan being my favourite travel teammate possibly ever, I do enjoy the different dynamic that female company brings to a trip; magazines, deep and meaningful conversations, fizzy cocktails. Yes, indeed, even if it is to Bristol again a girlie getaway is a must for 2012.


I've made no secret previously in the past about my love of writing; it is one of the reasons I started blogging back in 2009. Until then writing was always a part-time lover, done in secret, the rewards as plentiful as the frustrations while my ambition was only half satisfied. As I left my full-time job to go travelling, I also committed a bigger part of me to writing for a living as I now balance a number of different "jobs" to pay the bills as we travel. Though this means I write words  that come more from my head than my heart, I have no complaints. I am still in that wide-eyed giddy phase where I cannot believe that someone will give me pennies for my prose. As for those words from my heart, as well as writing and re-writing short stories I am also tentatively planning a taller one. Needless to say I take great pleasure in this blog and as a result have started to dreaily entertain the idea of focusing my literary ambitions on travel writing. In the words of The Beach Boys, wouldn't it be nice?


NewMan has never been further north than Birmingham and I, ashamedly, have never visited Scotland or Northern Ireland. I'm not saying that these trips need to be made this year but this demonstrates how much more scope there is for travel in your own backgarden and I can't wait to take my newfound enthusiasm and energy for travel to the UK.


Ah yes, that famous travel goal that everyone lists; learn to crochet. Maybe not, but I recently did start learning to crochet as a productive way to kill those hours on long haul flights or during endless waits at airports. Already I know it's successful as a time waster  killer, but I would like to actually have something to show for my labours, rather than line after line of inconsistent stitch.


As I pondered on my 2012 goals I was sitting poolside in NewMan's Mum's back yard, drinking her tea and eating her delicious fruit and yoghurt combos. It was easy to totally forget that normally there is literally a world of distance between us. However, with her love for travel equalling ours I think it unreasonable not to hope a meet up doesn't take place. It may take a bit of organisation and inevitably a lot of money, but I think NewMan and I are committed to make it happen.


As I admitted just before Christmas I am missing my family and even though I could happily keep on travelling for the longest time, I am looking forward to seeing them. I also think that going home is an important and essentially definitive part of travel. This may mean you deduct traveller status points from me but I now know I will never be a traveller who loses their way home.


I referred to this in my post for NewMan's birthday, but it looks increasingly unlikely that he and I will return to London and to the lives we were living before. Instead I think we will continue to explore this life less ordinary we appear to have embarked on and we will do so by living in another country. We've already got a strong idea of where we'd like this to be and there are some equally as appealing back-up options too. We talk about these plans nearly every day with hope in our eyes and butterflies in our belly. Less than a year ago I would have dismissed these kind of conversations as "impossible" or "pie in the sky" and yet a little planning, a lot of saving and a big fat talking to from NewMan has opened up my mind and it would seem my future.

If you would like to also write 12 Goals for 2012 (not just travel) please do share them with me or in the comments below and I will update this blog post with links to your lists. We can then tick off each goal on our list together or commiserate those that we didn't score.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A life less ordinary

To say 2011 was a good year is an almost criminal understatement.

2011 has been an outstanding year.

2011 has changed my life.

It's the year I decided to travel. It's the year I did travel. It's the year I am ending by travelling - on the other side of the world, no less.

It's the year I decided to pursue and live a life less ordinary.

The end of one year and the start of another is of course a very clichéd good time to take stock and as I do the following moments stand out for me.

Snowboarding with boys in France.

My now sister-in-law's hen do in Brighton and her beautiful wedding to my brother.

Love at first sight in Croatia.

Getting lost in London as I contemplate leaving.

A quick French fling confirmed how much I love travel.

Telling Shepherd's Bush that it was time to go.

Packing up my troubles in my old kit bag.

Wakeboarding in Malaysia... or not.

This silly amazing hotel in Singapore.

Falling in love with Thailand.

The "big deal" that is Australia...

This is not to say that 2011 hasn't been challenge or emotion free. It's the year I became, strictly speaking, unemployed and knowingly plunged myself into a deep uncertainty about my future, financially and professionally. And it's the year I left a life and a London I loved.

Yet I'm not panicked about this, most of the time I'm not even thinking about it. Instead I'm focused on reducing the uncertainty by working hard and keeping focused on end goals. Most of the time...

Though 2011 has taught me many things, the greatest lesson has been that the unexpected can be far better than I expect it to be, so I welcome you, 2012, and all the unexpected things you have in store for me.

Bring it on.

Living my life like it's golden?

The Gold Coast.

Doesn't it sound glamorous? Doesn't it conjur up images of perfect beaches and weather? Isn't it just the kind of place you would like to go on holiday?

Well, it did for this British Bird. You want to know what our holiday destinations in UK are called? Bognor, Blackpool, Southend-on-Sea... not much golden about these place names is there.

And yet the Gold Coast, or more specifically Surfer's Paradise - one of the busier and most developed towns on the "GC" - was described to me by a few people (Australians and British) as the Blackpool of Australia's east coast. For those who don't know what Blackpool is like, this video of "the North's decaying fantasy island" paints a charmingly tender portrait of the once most popular holiday destination for working class families in the UK.

Having visited both places for roughly the same amount of time I can see some similarities - the flood of native tourists, the depressing number of amusement arcades, theme parks and fast food restaurants, the dated plastic shop fronts, the blissful innocence with which children enjoy their time there - and yet there is quite literally a world of difference between the two.

The eponymous stretches of golden sand into which deep blue waves of dramatically crashing ocean pound all day, every day make Surfer's Paradise beach picturesque and indeed paradise-like in a way that Blackpool, sadly, couldn't compete with.

Thanks to differing economic climates on both sides of the globe, every summer Blackpool fights for its survival as the number of empty shops and deteriorating shells of demised businesses multiply. In the Surfer's Paradise at the peak of it's high season - the Christmas period which is slap bang in the middle of  Australia's summer holidays - it was exactly how Blackpool would dream to be - busy, bustling, alive... profitable.

There is no denying that the weather in Blackpool, and indeed most of the UK, is as much about pot luck as the casinos both destinations house, whereas the odds for bright sunshine and blue skies over on the Gold Coast are consistently good.

There are other reasons why Surfer's Paradise has the edge on Blackpool; scuba diving, jet skiing, surfing, power boating, sky-diving above the ocean. Even the most die-hard Blackpool fan wouldn't be keen to indulge in these activities in the Irish Sea.

Drawing this comparison has made me strangely homesick and sympathetic for the plight of Blackpool and other holiday destinations in UK. It is potentially ironic for me, a traveller with a life long lust for wandering away from home shores, to now be considering the effect that travelling abroad has on UK tourist destinations. And yet in many ways it is completely bizarre to even consider a trip to Blackpool, a place I've never lusted for and have only visited briefly and by accident, when there are still 101 places I want to go in the world. That said, Surfer's Paradise wasn't one of them.

However, Surfer's Paradise was warm, easy, enjoyable and harmless fun. We swam in the surprisingly cold Pacific Sea, we drove along the rest of the Gold Coast  and marvelled at pretty, clean beach after pretty, clean beach and we found some very nice independent restaurants among the plastic fronted chains and worryingly cheap burger joints.

The whole time we were in Surfer's Paradise NewMan kept reminding me that this wasn't "real" Australia. I was confused; it was popular and clean, the people were friendly and helpful, we felt safe and welcome. Why wouldn't he claim that this as the "real" Australia? I think it may have had something to do with this music video and those flippant references to the Gold Coast being like Blackpool.

And yet, there is one difference where I think Blackpool has the edge. I happen to think that Blackpool is the real UK. It is both a historic seaside town and a sign of our current times and as the above Vice video proves, the people who live there have true British qualities; resilience, pride, realistic optimism, a prevailing sense of humour, a deep and grumbling sense of nostalgia and upper lips that have stiffened with age and experience. And this British Bird is very proud of that.

Monday, 26 December 2011

One way or the other...

Wow - I just got a #MusicMonday from my #MusicMonday pal Suma all the way from Brazil! Hope you are having wonderfully happy holidays missy. Her song choice and video is well worth watching for travel inspiration alone! I can't wait to see Suma's photos...

So here's my song choice. A catchy little number from a band called We'll Make it Right. They are a group of Dutch musicians led by Benny Sings, a song writer/singer/producer I am borderline obsessed with. There's not much of a story about this song but there is a lot of love for it. It's also one of my favourite albums of the year so I think it's a fair choice.

And here come my first Instagrams of Australia...

I read the news today, oh boy...

It's strange the things you start to miss when you're away from home. Friends, family and certain foods aside I unexpectedly found myself missing something else: reading the newspaper. Of course there are ways and means now of catching up with the news online but theses apps and websites don't quite cut the mustard. Call me old fashioned but I like newspapers in all their ink-staining, stuffed full of supplements, impossibly-stubborn-to-turn-or-fold glory.

Because of this in Kuala Lumpur I picked up and read The Star, an English language Malaysian newspaper. Then in Singapore I spread The Strait Times across our humongous King and Queen sized bed in Marina Bay Sands. In Thailand I quickly got used to reading The Nation or Bangkok Post by the pool or on the beach.

Not only have these English language newspapers allowed me to satisfy my strange desire for filthy fingertips but I also believe I've gained a new insight into my host countries, cultures and people. The style of reporting, the coverage of events near and far, the selection of lifestyle features has impacted on my opinion of each country in both good and bad ways. The Star with it's bright red logo and front page reliance on big colour photos appears more tabloid yet the reporting was fairly middle of the road yet featured mostly regional business and political news in the opening pages. Interestingly I found out that The Star is ultimately owned by the current ruling political party.

The broadsheet The Strait Times read fairly pro-government in both subtle and unsubtle ways and was also very focused on business and economic growth in Singapore. It seemed to play it safe and traditional, yet the articles were well written. Unlike Thailand and Malaysian newspapers I read, The Strait Times in Singapore's most popular newspaper.

In Thailand the floods, the new-ish Prime Minister and the on-going highly contentious debate about the country's lese majeste law consistently dominated the front pages. Maybe it's because I read more editions of these newspapers because we were in Thailand longer, but both Bangkok Post and The Nation seemed more critical of current government (Bangkok Post more so certainly) than the Malaysian and Singaporean publications I read, albeit in a slightly cagey way. What did surprise me were the lifestyle features in weekend editions, which would regularly feature shops or restaurants or fashion buys - all of which were extraordinary expensive even by Western standards. I struggled to think that a 3,400 Baht (approx £680) wooden stool featured in a Sunday edition of The Nation was a realistic potential purchase even for the ex-pat or upper/middle class English-speaking Thai readers.

Not surprisingly all three newspapers featured more regional Asian news than their European counterparts yet their coverage of non-Asian events and news was perhaps more than Western press gives to Asia outside of the business pages. In all the publications I read I found the "Opinion" and "Comment" style columns featured interesting yet safely selected issues, which were certainly not as passionately researched or written about compared to the British newspapers I am used to. With all the deserved bad press and scrutiny Fleet Street is currently receiving, compared to these publications some of which are considered liberal in their respective countries, the British right to freedom of speech and the freedom of the British press is exercised with far greater force and regularity.

It is of course worth reiterating that these are English language publications and their readers, certainly in Malaysia and Thailand, wouldn't be typical of the average Joe in each country so their content and my opinion on that cannot be applied too rigidly to these countries' majorities. However, for me reading a local newspaper is now part of my travelling experience and a way for me to get to know a part of the country I am visiting a little better.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The real meaning of Christmas...

It's taken two months, 54 blog posts and five countries, but it has finally hit me.

I am missing home.

Not UK, not London, but my family home, that is my parents' home. The main reason for this is, of course, Christmas.

The true meaning of Christmas has been debated backwards and forwards by greater minds than I and this is not my turn to take on this battle, but instead I'd like to take a few moments to explain what Christmas means to me now that I am away from home and the usually busy and festive run up to Christmas I half enjoy, half endure, has all but passed me by in Southeast Asia.

This will be my first Christmas away from my family. Despite spending Christmas abroad previously it has always been with my immediate family - my happily married mother and father, and my two big little brothers. No matter where I may be living I've always descended upon my parents house for Christmas Day and as much time either side as possible. It is since living away from home that I have truly appreciated the warmth, sometimes literal but always metaphorical, to be found in my family home.

Thanks to my Mum's masterful cooking and organisational skills, Christmas is precious annual downtime for me providing I can get enough time off work. I go home, I put big woolly socks on, I unwind by the fire, I listen to the recent additions to my Dad's CD collection and drink endless cups of tea with my Mum. My brothers come over with their respective others, we play boardgames, we argue like we were children again, we laugh at each other with love in our eyes. It's downtime and it is family time. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I am just bloody lucky. Aside from the love, support and encouragement my family give me, I am also lucky enough to just enjoy their company. And it is their company that I will particularly miss on Christmas Day...

There are, of course, no regrets. I am happy to be here in Australia. Meeting NewMan's Mum and family has dispelled any nerves and excelled my expectations and I am so happy to be spending time with his family and friends this Christmas. I've heard his Aunt is a whizz at Christmas Day Scrabble games and they've just had a pool built in the back garden in time for our arrival. I've been promised a traditional Aussie BBQ and I am actually very looking forward to the "no presents" rule we've all agreed to. Already I have so enjoyed meeting some of NewMan's oldest friends who've allowed me a special insight into his life before me and before London. It has made me realise that this leg of the trip, in Australia is about so much more than just travelling, and I wouldn't change that for the world.

Likewise I wouldn't change what Christmas means to me. It may not be the true meaning of Christmas but Christmas time is family time for me and maybe it took being on the other side of the world to realise that and how important that is to me.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Magic moments

Dare I say it but I think I may just be improving at this photography game. And I'm not basing that on my own opinion although I have had a few moments where I've glanced at a photo and thought "Cor blimey Bird! Nice pic!". I've been flattered and surprised by lovely comments from friends, family, strangers, Flickr and Twitter chums as well as my brother, whose camera I borrowed, all applauding some of the photos I've taken so far in my journey learning more about photography.

However, despite everything I've learnt and achieved sticking to the most essential rules of photography, some of my favourite photographs are actually ones that due to my still amateur status blurred the rules a little.

Like this photo taken on a busy street on the outskirts of China town in Jakarta.

It is clearly (very) overexposed but it captured a moment exactly how I wanted to capture it. In other words, my motivation to take the photograph was less to recreate a pretty scene through spot-on settings and composition, it was much more about capturing the complete focus and utter absorption of these men in their chess game. The bright light and blurred traffic that shouldn't surround them but does because my camera settings were off actually ends up focusing attention on the very moment I wanted to capture. It was pure accident, but I'm starting to learn that not very often, but sometimes photography can capture, or create, truly magic moments even by accident.

Another similar example is this photo taken in a Buddhist temple, also in Jakarta, where the movement of the praying worshippers was too quick for my shutter settings, yet the effect of this movement blurred by my slow shutter speed accurately captured the almost ethereal and serene haze inside the temple created by clouds of incense and hundreds of burning candles.

I know that I have a long, long way to go yet before I sit back, relax and remove the "amateur" prefix to photographer from my blogger profile, but I wanted to send a big thank you to those who have taken the time to comment with invaluable advice, tips and encouragement. Without any doubt it is the personal experience of others that has been shared with me that I have learnt most from. That and shooting in black and white, funnily enough.

In fact, I wrote a guest post on TravMonkey specifically about what I've learnt switching to black and white film so head over there to read it. You can also see one of my sunset photos from Koh Lanta on Travel Dudes website.

As I'm now (fairly) comfortable in Manual settings as opposed to Auto, I'm switching my focus (was that my first photography pun!?) to improving composition and practising shooting with a shallower depth of field so any tips to help with these would be very welcome! However, a beg really wasn't the aim of this post it was to say thank you and to encourage anyone who may be thinking about pursuing photography a little deeper to do so.

Go on, do it! There are some truly magic moments out there to be enjoyed and captured...

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Too long...

It has been too long since NewMan was in Australia, his home country. We worked it out to be three years since he stepped foot on home soil and it's nearly two years since he last saw his Mum (naughty boy). So this week's #MusicMonday has been chosen to mark this occasion as he is now back home after far too long.

It's also a cracking version of a stonking song so enjoy.

Here are my last Instagram photos from Thailand, a country I loved from beginning to end with only a few blips in between. That's a pretty good relationship if you ask me. Next week will be my first Instagram photos from Australia!

Hope you've had a good week Suma and all! Guess what? It's nearly Christmas!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich...

"But we don't eat Vegemite in sandwiches!"

This is always NewMan's response to this song lyric from Men at Work's Land Down Under and it always makes me smile

Well, I'll find out for myself soon enough. In less than 24 hours I will touch down in Australia on The Other Side of The World.

If you'll allow it, I'll indulge in elaborating on why my imminent arrival in Australia for the very first time, ever, is a kind of a big deal to me.

One word. Neighbours.

I bloody loved Neighbours growing up.

No I'm not joking. I am deadly serious. What did you expect me to say? "Well, I studied the plight of the Aboriginal people as a school project and felt so moved that I've always wanted to go there to explore their history further," or "I just love the accent," or "I want to research my family history to see if any of my distant relatives were shipped over there as a convict," Of course not, though two of these are subjects that now fascinate me in my adult life and I am looking forward to learning more about the history of the country from Australian people, places and other sources.

Instead true to Freud, one consistently repeating event in my childhood has influenced my current way of thinking and specifically my anticipation at the prospect of landing in Oz. When I was growing up from a young, single figure age until after I should have known better my daily life featured and to a certain extent revolved around Neighbours. I raced home from after school activities to be sat on the sofa in my lounge in front of a small remote-less colour TV which every day at 5.30pm waiting for the tinny, electric keyboard, opening chimes of the Neighbours theme tune. Everyday, for years and years.

At the risk of over-emphasising an already embarrassing story about myself let me explain that I was the generation who watched Scott marry Charlene, I sobbed with Des when he lost Daphne and to this day I still call an electric gas spark hob igniter a "Granny Helen" after the formidable Helen Daniels.

Not only did I become infatuated with the story lines and character plots, I became obsessed with all things Australian. I picked up the accent and vocabulary ("Rak off, Bouncer!"), I envied their modern houses, I desperately wished our school uniform was that horrible plaid material dresses they wore at Erinsborough High, and I craved living in a warmer climate, somewhere where everyone had pools in their back gardens, sorry, backyards.

Of course, 10, 15 years later the lust has long worn off and I've moved on to (and again away from) harder hitting shows like Eastenders. But I would be lying if I said that making my first trip to Australia isn't a big deal and that Neighbours has nothing to do with it.

It's also fair to say that my boyfriend of nearly two years being from Australia is also a contributing factor to the rising sense of anticipation. I will of course be meeting his mother for the first time (a very big deal!) and sharing in their family Christmas. These stand up as "big deal" events on their own and it just so happens that Australia is the backdrop.

As the Vegemite sandwich comment proves, NewMan has offered a different insight to his home land and I am as much looking forward to visiting his childhood haunts, going to "servo"s and "bottle-o"s, having Vegemite on toast, seeing the infamous Big Banana and the Big Pineapple on our road trips as I am excited about visiting some of the key sights: Sydney Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach and of course Ramsay Street.

Again, no, I'm not joking. Rumour has it Karl Kennedy is still living on the street...

I just want to be in your panorama

Panorama is the name of a roadside restaurant on Koh Lanta positioned high on a cliff's edge, surrounded by trees strategically positioned to allow for exceptional views out across the sea towards a neighbouring uninhabited island. NewMan and I stumbled upon it as we did one of our many motorbike tours of Koh Lanta.

On the approach to Panorama you are greeted by numerous signs in German, English, Swedish warning of the restaurants presence ahead on an otherwise deserted and quiet road. They also invite you to enjoy, "the best coffee on Koh Lanta". Neither NewMan or I are coffee fans so this didn't entice us but the restaurant's appearance (white wood structure, all open plan and bright blue features) and views did.

Our first visit was for a beer, having already eaten in Lanta Old Town, which is a ten minute drive away from Panorama. That didn't bother our host and Panorama's owner "Jack" who welcomed us like old school friends and with the menus he also presented us with additional reading material; a collection of travel magazines featuring a few select and well-thumbed articles about Koh Lanta. Also in each menu is a photo copied letter from one of Jack's loyal German customers, who explains now is a "good friend". It describes how Jack, real name Paiboon Tachajaruvong used to live and work in Bangkok but some years ago gave up city life for island life on Koh Lanta.

We drained our beers and left feeling relaxed and happy that we'd found another Lanta gem. We promised Jack we'd return. This we did on the Sunday after I completed my Open Water Diver and this time we came hungry. After devouring some home cooked Thai food we spent a lazy few hours reading our books as well as more reading material provided by Jack including an academic thesis about the native Lanta sea gypsies written by a Swedish academic, which names Jack as a great help in arranging interviews.

Jack is representative of a surprising number of Thai people whose stories are easy to relate to as a traveller who has recently left London behind. Fed up with long hours at work turning into long days in a city, Jack steered his career and life into a sharp U-Turn searching for something more, or maybe, actually a little less out of life, like less stress.

After stretching ourselves a little too far and having desert, we were presented with complimentary jiulong tea a less common blend of Chinese green tea which Jack explained combats stress and is "good for the heart". I may not do coffee but I certainly do tea, and this slipped down a treat. It was so good I paid for a second pot and we both smirked at the cheeky cups.

I am convinced that Jack's U-Turn from Bangkok to Koh Lanta was a decision he hasn't regretted and here's why.

During our first visit as we sipped our cool beers and enjoyed some shade, the view and a friendly dog that slept at our feet, the peace was interrupted by a motorbike speeding up to Panorama's entrance and breaking sharply. A voice called out in heavily-accented English: "There's been an accident! A motorbike accident. Can you call ambulance?" Jack moved quickly but not in panic. He grabbed his mobile phone, climbed on to the back of the motorbike and calmly asked the (Dutch?) tourist to take him to the accident.

Twenty minutes later Jack returned. He appeared unshaken and only slightly sombre. We asked him what had happened and he explained that a tourist had been driving on the wrong side of the road, went round a corner and collided with two locals and a toddler on a bike going the other way. One woman had "certainly broken her leg" and the child had a head injury. They were on the way to the hospital.

It wasn't that Jack was unmoved by the accident, he was just completely calm in reacting to the events that had unfolded and he had no doubt been incremental at translating and organising transportation to the hospital. It struck me how differently I would have reacted.

Rightly or wrongly, I would have been breathless, adrenaline fuelled, overly chatty and maybe a little teary as a result of witnessing a serious accident, particularly one which involved a child. I don't know for certain but if Jack's change of pace from Bangkok to a sleepy corner of a beautiful island was part of his quest for a greater inner calm, I think it was an important step and is inspiring to those of us who debate a similar path for ourselves.

Either that or that jiulong tea is even better than I thought...

Friday, 16 December 2011

Baby, you're a firework...

I'll be honest. The Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha isn't somewhere I've previously thought about heading to, though I do love me a museum and a hot climate. It would just be a slightly inconvenient detour as we are less than 72 hours away from departing for Ozstraya.

However, after seeing this video of spectacular daytime fireworks which played out at the museum recently I could be prepared to change my mind.

Regardless I find this video strangely inspiring and I hope you do too. If not you will at least marvel at the achievement and will certainly find the "oohs" and "aahs" amusing as they are precisely the same noises we Brits make during night time fireworks on a cold November evening in UK. This makes me realise we are all more similar than we think we are and it's actually a very small world we live in...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Give it back... Lanta Animal Welfare

About a month or so ago I read a tweet introducing a travel blogging initiative called "Travel Bloggers Give Back". A little investigation showed that it originated from Green Global Travel, a US based blogging team who have a healthy attitude and conscience towards sustainable travel - something I try to work on with every step I take, every place I stay in and every foreign country I visit. Though I considered it bold at that stage to declare myself a travel blogger what with only a couple of handfulls of highly valued loyal readers, I announced my interest and support for this initiative.

And here is my blog post about a special cause and how I am giving back this Christmas.

Koh Lanta was our first stop on a six week tour of Thailand that is close to completion. One of the larger Thai islands in the Andaman Sea it is a well developed but still authentic and unaffected place to live, travel and tour around. That is for us humans. One of the things we noticed about Koh Lanta and have continued to notice as we have taken in other Thai destinations is that domestic animals such as cats and dogs often become strays, certainly more often than perhaps in our "home" nations.

My travelling partner and boyfriend NewMan and I are not animal- people. Though he grew up with pet dogs in the family neither of us have owned, cared for or even looked after an animal as adults, yet we are not animal haters and it saddened both of us to see stray dogs and cats roaming the streets and beaches looking for food or just some affection. Though we didn't see any sick animals we are aware that strays are often malnourished and carry diseases that they could easily be vaccinated against.

So when we heard that there was a non-profit organisation based on the island which cared for these animals and did all it could to neuter and rehouse the animals we were intrigued and encouraged.

Lanta Animal Welfare was founded by Californian born and one time Norway resident Junie Kovacs who has set up a Thai cookery school and restaurant on Koh Lanta eight years ago. Her story and that of the welfare centre is worth learning about in this beautiful but heart-string-pulling video.

Lanta Animal Welfare from on Vimeo.

It is more than likely thanks to Lanta Animal Welfare's efforts that the animals we did see were, more often than not, in reasonable health.

I have since found out that visitors to Koh Lanta can visit Lanta Animal Welfare to see the good work in progress, walk a dog or stroke a cat and if only we'd stayed longer on the island we'd have been there like a shot. Instead we will be giving the centre a Christmas present donation and will prioritise a visit when we return to Koh Lanta, which we hope will be sooner rather than later.

In addition to donations (small and large) you can support the centre on Facebook, by buying this special cookery book or should you be lucky enough to be in the area, by signing up for a cookery course at Time for Lime, the profits of which are the major contributor to Lanta Animal Welfare. Alternatively Lanta Animal Welfare offer extremely tempting and competitive long-term volunteering opportunities for vets or animal lovers.

Since moving on from Koh Lanta we've seen more stray and unwell animals than we are comfortable with, but likewise we've also seen and heard about other projects doing extraordinary work in these areas and so there is always hope, however there may not always be the funding so I am thankful to Travel Bloggers Give Back and Green Global Travel for giving this one project a voice. You can read other

(P.S. Our four legged friend on the beach in these photos isn't a stray dog but a well loved family pet who lived at one of our favourite beach cafes. During our stay on Koh Lanta we met an ex-pat couple who had adopted a cat from Lanta Animal Welfare and also heard a story of holiday makers adopting from overseas, which is apparently very possible. Maybe when NewMan and I do eventually settle we'll take the next step towards being real animal people!)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hot child in the city...

So there I am in Jakarta with this irrational but convincing fear that I was going to get mugged, kidnapped by the police while also contracting the bubonic plague. I know, quite the cool, calm and collected traveller, huh? Well, read this post to understand how I got to be in a taxi on my way to execute a well planned sight seeing trip of Jakarta.

I got out of the taxi to a wall of humid heat at Merdeka Square, or "Independence Square" as it translates in English, and looked down a long road towards the impressive National Monument or Monas as it’s more commonly called. The heat stayed with me for the rest of the day like a loyal companion.

Immediately I noticed a huddle of policemen at the entrance and the fear awoke inside me again as I recalled, almost word for word, the stories I'd read about corrupt officers asking “Westerners” for proof of ID and issuing illegal “fines” if appropriate documentation wasn’t produced. Had I put my passport in my bag? How much money do I actually have on me? What if they don’t speak English? I wish I knew more Bahasa Indonesian! The anxiety tornado-ed around inside.

I needn’t have worried.

I was politely greeted with a handful of smiles, and was ushered through the entrance with a “Hello Missus” and a wink.

Two minutes later as I strolled towards the impressive Monas and admired the surprisingly pleasant park that surrounds the monument, one of the policemen appeared alongside me on a motorbike and offered me a lift with the broadest and cheekiest smile I’d seen since arriving in Jakarta.

I smiled back and politely declined not because I thought it was a kidnap attempt (I could have had 'im easily), I was just genuinely enjoying my walk and indeed I continued to enjoy my walk albeit an often dirty and smelly one around the hectic city for the remainder of that day.

Here is what I saw...

Monas was unfortunately closed so I couldn’t go inside or climb to the top, but I happened to be there on the day they were celebrating 40 years independence so there was plenty to see and do in the surrounding area and the park is a nice green break from the unrelenting traffic.

The National History Museum of Indonesia sits within walking distance of Monas and boasts impressive collections and displays documenting the rather scattered history of Indonesia’s numerous islands and tribes.

The first Buddhist temple to be built in Indonesia, Wihari Dharma Bhakti is still a focal point for Indonesia’s Buddhist population and is especially important to the Indonesian Chinese population and to Jakarta’s bustling China town where it can be found surrounded by busy, noisy (and smelly) street market and food stalls. Possibly due to providing respite from the outside world, it was an instantly calm place to spend a few minutes inhaling incense smoke and absorbing an atmosphere of prayer and quiet.

A walk away from the temple and through China town’s bustling street markets is an education to Western cities on what a real China town looks and smells like. Much to my naive disgust I saw snake blood being sold, the legs being pulled off frogs and even a live turtle being decapitated. As I turned away clutching my stomach I saw Chinese businessmen in suits gathering and watching in excitement on their lunch hour.

A risky ten minute walk away along and more frighteningly across some busy roads was Fatahillah Square and the old colonial city originally built and called Batavia by the Dutch. The poorly looked after old buildings, the familiar Dutch style sloping roofs and the lack of preservation or conservation of such a historic area left me with mixed emotions. A local man who tried to sell me postcards explained in surprisingly good English that the Indonesian government have no interest in preserving the buildings and heritage left by the Dutch. Understandable for a number of reasons, yet after seeing it being proudly acknowledged and maximised in Singapore and Melacca in Malaysia I couldn't help but feel sad for the people of Jakarta and disappointed as a tourist.

My spirits were lifted by a small group of school children who pounced on me as I was the "only Westerner in the old town" and they needed an English speaker to interview as tasked by a clearly imaginative English teacher. They were so polite, charming and enthusiastic I couldn't help but feel more positive about their home city.

Another risky walk further north took me to Sunda Kelapa. The risk this time was my internal physical health rather than an RTA as I followed the river, i.e. sewage system, to the sea to find this historic port. It has been strategically very important and symbolic for over 800 years from pre-colonial Jayakarta Chinese and Indonesian spice sellers, to the Dutch who burnt it to the ground to rebuild Batavia and finally to modern day Jakarta, where it now operates as more of a distribution point for goods to Indonesia's thousands of island territories.

Though there were more museums, more markets and more smells to encounter, I have to be honest and say that I couldn't stomach anymore. Quite literally. Less than two hours after returning from my hot, sweaty walk around Jakarta I was locked in the bathroom battling a fever, cold sweats and the other symptoms that come from an airborne stomach bug. I have no doubt that it was as a result of walking nearly a mile along a river overcome with a big city's sewage and other waste. I hate to end this post on such a negative but the smell of Jakarta's rivers, streams and sea is of a pungency I'd rather not experience again.

It was therefore heartbreaking as well as stomach turning to see a number of families living in self-made shacks under bridges and along the river bank. It was very evident from my walking around that there are a lot of shockingly poor, displaced and unemployed people in Jakarta and I felt deeply sad and uncomfortable as I noticed this.

It seems therefore apt to conclude by say that sight-seeing in Jakarta isn't a comfortable or an easy experience. In addition to the uncomfortably sad sights and the discomfort caused by an inescapable stink weaving through the city, it is also disappointingly clear that the local and possibly national government isn't as focused on tourism and exploiting the city's fascinating history as it's neighbouring nations. This is a shame as I learnt a great deal about Jakarta, its people, its history and possibly its future from my day of sight-seeing and I would like to maybe one day learn more... after my stomach has recovered.