Friday, 18 December 2015

My Bucket List

 With dreams so big - It's great to keep track! 
1.     Go on a yoga retreat in a beautiful country (2013, Chang Mai, Thailand)
2.      Climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa (2010)
3.     Climb a mountain (2016, Clouds Rest in Yosemite NP) 
4.     Visit Niagara Falls (2001)
5.     Visit the pyramids in Egypt and strike an ancient Egyptian pose
6.     Visit Iguazú Falls (2015) 
7.     Visit Grand Canyon
8.     Go to Russia - Moscow and St Petersburg (and see a ballet)
9.     See the Northern Lights
10.  Road trip across the USA 
11.  See Mount Everest
12.  Visit the Taj Mahal
13.  Visit Rio and see Christ the Redeemer (2015)
14.  Spend 'spring break' in Cacun. 
15.  Spend christmas in New York
16.  Spend christmas in Lapland
17. Visit the Great Wall of China
18.  Fight wild bears in the Colosseum, Rome... Ok, maybe not fight bears. (2010)
19.  Try sushi in Japan
20.  See Kilimanjaro and stare in awe. 
21.  Bungee Jump off a bridge
22.  Sky Dive (2015, Igauzu Falls)
23.  Eat steak & Learn to Tango (separately of course) in Buenos Aries. (2015)
24.  Visit every country in South-East Asia (2014 completed)
25.  Visit every country in South America
26.  Visit every US State (and be able to name them all 2015)
27.  Fly in a hot air balloon
28.  Ride a horse (2015, Campo Grande, Brazil) 
29.  Go paragliding
30.  Run a marathon
31.  Learn to knit whilst bored on a bus
32.  Attend a film premier 
33.  Gain a scuba diving qualification (2016, Koh Tao)
34.  Scuba Dive in the Great Barrier Reef
35.  Dive off a cliff (2014, Philippines) 
36.  Reach 1000 likes on facebook for my blog
37.  Make £100 from my blog
38.  Learn to speak a language/ improve on my existing
39.  Sleep under the stars in a hammock or see-through pod 
40.  Try local cuisine in chile. (2015, traditional BBQ in Santiago) 
41.  Visit Machu Picchu and get an iconic photo (2015)
42.  Go to the white house and big Abe. (2016, Washington)
43.  Go to Miami and sing 'I'm in Miami bitch' (2015)
44.  Have an article published in a well-known publication (one for History and one for travel)
45.  Learn to cook an authentic thai dish
46.  Visit Hanoi & Saigon to remember the Vietnam War/ learn more about the history. (2013)
47.  Go chill on a beach in the Philippines (2014)
48.  Go to Bali and learn to surf (2014)
49.  Go to the Full Moon Party (2013)
50.  Learn to say hello in 15 languages (currently on 9 : Hello, Bonjour, Hola, Guten Tag, Sabaidi, Sawasdee Ka, Chao, Ni Hao, Ciao)
51.  Go to the Galapagos Islands and pretend I'm Charles Darwin
52.  Drink from a coconut in Barbados 
53.  Visit the Amazon (or pantanal) and see a monkey (2015, Campo Grande)
54.  Ride an elephant (2013, Chang Mai, Thailand)
55.  Go on a safari in Africa
56.  Go whale watching
57.  Swim with sharks
58.  See the sunset in Bagan (2014)
59.  Ride route 66 singing 'Life is a highwayyyyy'
60.  Moped through the mountains (2014)
61.  Drive the Great Ocean Road in Australia. 
62.  Go on a cruise *(2013, Ha Long Bay - would like to improve this though!)
63.  Go Volcano Boarding
64.  See the waterfalls in Croatia 
65.  Explore Auschwitz 
66.  Swim with dolphins 
67.  See the Golden Gate Bridge (2016)
68.  Spend too much money in a Casino in Las Vegas (2016)
69.  Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend Arizona
70.  Go skiing in Salt Lake City and pretend I'm on Getting There with Mary-Kate & Ashley
71.  Visit Salt Flats and pretend I'm Capitan Jack Sparrow (2015, Bolivia)
72.  See a penguin in its natural habitat 
73.  Poop myself on the swing at the edge of the world in Ecuador
74.  Drive the Romantic Road in Germany and visit Neuschwanstein's castle
75.  Go to an authentic christmas market in Germany
76.  Take a Gondola ride in Venice (again - because I don't remember it from when I was little!)
77.  Go snowboarding in Canada (obviously not in Ontario where I used to live - but somewhere like Whistler!)
78.  Visit Lake Louise (2016)
79.  Swim in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland
80.  Go to Barcelona's cathedral and pray
81.  Visit the Parthenon in Athens  (2012)
82.  Skinny dip in the ocean (2014, Philippines) 
83.  Cry my eyes out cycling down Death Road in Bolivia (2015)
84.  Go to Carnival in Brazil
85.  Go to October Fest in Berlin
86.  Go tubing in Vang Vieng (2013) 
87.  Experience proper white water rafting (not the shit I did in Thailand haha)
88.  See Petra (2017)
89.  See Laguna Verde, Bolivia 
90.  Visit Victoria Falls
91.  Rock-climb somewhere awesome (2014, Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand).
92.  Go to Delhi and avoid Delhi Belly
93.  Swim in the Red Sea
94.  Go to Tibet and pretend I'm barbie from the PS1 game I used to play
95.  Spend a night in an igloo 
96.  Uluru, Australia
97.  Ride the Trans-Siberian rail-way 
98.  Explore a ship-wreck (the awful one I visited in Zante doesn't count)
99.  Visit all continents
100. Visit 100 countries

Monday, 14 December 2015

5 Top Historically-Engaging Locations to Visit in South-East Asia

After having explored the whole of South-East Asia whilst studying a history degree, I felt it necessary to share the top locations I found the most engaging along my travels. I hope you can see why I have picked the locations I did and I urge you to venture out and see them for yourselves. In addition to the ones listed, I would recommend watching the ancient ballet at the Prambanan temples in Indonesia, exploring the National museum of the Filipino people in Manila and gaping at the beauty of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam.

1. Killing Fields/ S-21 Prison, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The sign reads ‘Killing tree against which executioners beat children’, a mass grave is then located next to it where one hundred babies’ bodies were found from where they were tossed into the pit after being killedShamefully I was unaware of the terrible atrocities that unfolded under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1975. I have been even more shocked to since learn that every time I bring it up in seminars, nor have half of the class. One quarter of the Cambodian population was killed in the space of a year. Since the event is still so fresh, new pieces are uncovered every day and walking round the Killing Fields you can see emerging pieces of clothing through the mud, bringing home how real the whole event was. Likewise, Pol Pot’s systematic process of execution involved taking photos of every person that was to be sent to the Killing Fields. Therefore, the former S-21 Prison is now lined with photographs of every person that was executed under his regime. The Killing Fields and S-21 Prison will undoubtedly break your heart and it is a very tough and emotional day out. However, it is truly moving to see how Cambodia has progressed in such a short space of time.

The sign in the photo reads: 'Killing tree against which executioners beat children', a mass grave is then located next to it where a hundred babies bodies were found from where there bodies were tossed into the pit after being killed. 
2. Ayutthaya City, Thailand.
ayutthaya city
Ayutthaya was previously the capital of Thailand before the Burmese invaded and burnt down most of the city thus forcing them to relocate to Bangkok. The temples that remain in the small city are truly breath-taking. I would, however, advise you to research the temples before you venture out to see them as there is a serious lack of information boards due to the fact that, despite its beauty, Ayutthaya is unfortunately missed by most of those doing the classic Thailand loop. In a way though, this contrast against the overwhelming popularity of sites such as Angkor Wat allows its beauty to radiate far more. My friend and I were alone in most of the temples allowing you to fully explore them without worrying about whose photograph you were stepping into next.

3. Bagan, Myanmar.
Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, with over 4,000 Buddhist temples erected here, and with over 2,000 remaining, Bagan has more history than you have the ability to cover in a lifetime, let alone one day. If you are lucky and the weather is in your favor then you must head to Shwesandaw temple to watch the sunset over the ruins. Personally I find that the most beautiful part of Bagan is that every person can have his or her own temple. I was able to bike out and find a temple to claim for myself, sit down with a book on the history of Burma, and picture the triumph that occurred right where I sat.
4. War Remnants Museum & Chu Chi Tunnels, Saigon, Vietnam.
war remnants museumwar remnants museum 2The War Remnants museum, previously named the American War Crimes museum, caused me to well up on every floor. Very graphic photographs are displayed of the civilians that were killed along with stories of those who witnessed the crimes. The most moving section was one that showed the effects of the US chemical Agent Orange, a herbicide and defoliant used as part of Operation Ranch Hand. Again, graphic photographs show the deformities that have occurred as a result and those screaming for help after the attacks took place. The Chu Chi tunnels similarly had me in tears and feeling physically sick. There were around 200km of underground tunnels used by the Vietnamese to hide from the Americans and this location allows you to go down into the tunnels to see how they lived. I found out I don’t do well in small spaces, but these were unbelievably tiny. Not knowing how far the next exit was sent a wave of panic through me. How 20,000 people lived inside these tunnels I’ll never know! Of particular note is the re-structuring of the booby traps used by the Vietcong that resulted in 10 percent of all US deaths. Although it feels as if you are watching the next setting for a SAW movie, you have to pinch yourself to remind yourself that this is real life. Although these locations were of course very biased, the reason I feel they are essential to see is because they really highlight the horrors of warfare.

5. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. 
Built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman, Angkor Wat is a phenomenal temple complex. There is a steep 20 USD entrance fee, and it will set your group back 15 USD for a tuk-tuk driver for the day, but it is worth every penny. Personally, I found the mass crowds somewhat detracted from the beauty at the main temple, Angkor Wat, however by visiting surrounding temples within the complex – such as Bayon temples – it is possible to step back in time and picture the civilisation that reigned there. The place itself is rich with nature too as the trees have grown around some of the temples and wild monkeys climb round the ruins. I’ll confess, my heroic moment of the trip was chasing after and wrestling a monkey who had stolen a lady’s flip-flop!

Monday, 9 November 2015

To couchsurf or not to couchsurf?

I have been travelling now for a few years now, and yet couchsurfing went against every intuition I have ever had, and everything my parents told me not to do… sleeping in some random person house I met online. However, in a moment of desperation, stranded with only expensive accommodation in Miami, I turned to the couchsurfing community and finally put my faith in the internet. I'm glad to tell you that I didn't end up in a ditch, or underneath somebodies basement as I feared I might!

  • Despite having 0 references, and being extremely last minute, Jeremy, my first ever host, told me I could get a cab to his workplace and we could sort things out from there. Upon arrival, he instantly trusted me and gave me keys to his house and car, telling me I could get an uber back to his and wait, nap in his car, or, wait for it… have free tickets to watch the Miami Marlins play New York Mets with some of the best seats in the house! Turns out he worked as the Baseball Team Equipment Assistant so was able to bag me some free tickets, and even invited me to watch them train the next day.
  • Speaking of unexpected adventure, in San Antonio, my host's neighbour popped over with VIP Jazz Festival tickets in a downtown park. I hopped onto the back of his motorbike and was given a great lengthy tour around the city, which happened to coincide with an electronic light story of the Alamo projected on the cathedral. That’s the great thing about it all, you just never know where a Couchsurfing night will take you, every day is a brand new adventure.
  • I met the craziest lawyer in Tallahassee, Florida. She called me her international spirit animal haha, we're both really just raging alcoholics who like to party and prefer having male friends - though, I'm pretty sure she'd be my best friend if she were in England haha.
  • It’s a great chance to try out and learn new things. From balloon animals to nudism, there is a variety of hosts that offer some really crazy things! (Yes, one mans profile suggested mutual masturbation because, ‘no homo, I just like the guest connection’) haha. Don’t worry though, I never had these people sneak up on me, I just avoided them if it were listed in their description… But hey, if you’re into that! Give it a go.
  • On the downside, however, unfortunately, it can be rather sexist. Men do have a harder time finding a place to stay since many women don’t feel comfortable hosting them alone, but also many men would rather their company. This can lead to some odd situations… A guy I met in NOLA stayed with an old rich guy in Miami and ended up giving him nipple massages in return for accommodation. This man even offered him a job as his ‘personal assistant’ in return for getting a green card to live in the States – weird.
  • Of course, you also do hear the horror stories. One guy had a webcam pointed at the sofa where I slept, and didn’t tell me… Whilst I figured it was more for air b&b guests that stay when he isn’t there, it still made me feel awfully uncomfortable, and among other odd things he did (like demand I get his drinks all night), I ended up leaving early and switching hosts.

Overall though, I would urge you to take a leap of faith. It was the best thing I have done, I met some great people, had a great laugh and got to do things I would have never been able to without it! Oh, and don’t forget, it’s free! A cost-effective way of seeing the world. Just exercise caution when choosing who to request to stay with, always tell a friend where you’re going and have a reasonable exit strategy for a worst-case scenario.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Summary of USA

I'm sorry I never kept up with my blog in America. Honestly, after my laptop crashed and I only had my phone, it was hard to do and I just got lazy! My apologies. I'll give you a quick low down of some of my opinions.

  • My favourite place: New Orleans, it was lively and just a whole bundle of fun. Easy to get around and jazz music makes the world a better place! Despite Hurricane Katrina physically devastating the city, the people have a real sense of unity and ability to bounce back.
  • Most surprising place: San Antonio! It was far more beautiful than I thought I would be, great people, lots to do, wonderful to walk around.
  • Worst place: Tallahassee, Florida: Though I had the best host ever, there was hardly anything to do (unless you did some archival research like myself), and it was very hard to get around. I had to walk miles to get anywhere! Very tiring. I also wasn't a fan of Dallas, Texas as I just couldn't find much to do there honestly, and the attractions were rather pricey. I did like George Bush's presidential library, but did little else.
  • Most fun: Miami, Florida. While it would have been a hell of a lot better had I been 21, I still had a great time, met some awesome people and was able to dance the night away. There is nothing to do there during the day other than shop/ lay on the beach, but it was wonderful to just be surrounded by a young and vibrant environment constantly.
  • Best University City: Lubbock, Texas. As a university town, had a great spirit everywhere you went, one huge community. Lots of fraternity parties to keep you busy if you're able to flirt your way into the right communities! Everyone was very welcoming though all around. 
I'll be posting about my experience couchsurfing soon, my God there was some fun...