Hong Kong and Victoria Peak.

After leaving Hanoi it was a short flight to Hong Kong, it’s so easy to get into the centre using the airport Xpress. I wasn’t feeling too great but I had booked a night at the Metropark at causeway bay earlier in the year so I was excited to have some more luxury.

I checked in and immediately took in the stunning views over Hong Kong Island at Victoria bay. I loved it and the rooftop pool was incredible! I decided I would go up Victoria peak for the sunset and off I went, stuffed full of anti-flu meds, I took the Subway.

It’s so easy to take the underground, you can get a 24hr pass or pay stop to stop. I went to central and then started the ascent to the tram that would hopefully take me up to the peak. Unfortunately I got a bit lost, my map apps wouldn’t work in between the big buildings, I felt like crap and it was so humid I couldn’t stop sweating.

So by the time I eventually found the tram, and realising I had walked halfway up the peak before walking back down, the queue was huge and I knew I wouldn’t make it for sunset. I was annoyed because it was a clear day and I had read they can be few and far between in Hong Kong.

I decided to make the most of it so walked along the harbour side and watched the old junks with their red sails ferry around the water. I got some Durian ice cream, I thought I would try it and it was not a good idea, definitely an acquired taste!

Night started to fall and I took the Ferris wheel near the ferry port to get an amazing view of the City. It was so cheap too, the HSBC building was the best but all the lights were insane!

I walked back along the harbour watching the lights on the mainland. I took the Subway back to causeway bay and found a dumpling shop, got a load of veggie dumplings, a few soft drinks, then found moon cake at another store.

I took it all back to my hotel, and devoured it while looking out over the City. I wasn’t sure what to think of Hong Kong after my first day, but I was looking forward to exploring more over the next few days.

I woke up the next day feeling worse than ever, with a definite case of tonsillitis. So I went to the shop and got salt, proceeded to drink gallons of water and did a load of salt rinses. I tried to enjoy the pool again but it wasn’t the same, I also had to check out of the hotel and into a tiny cheap one in the centre of causeway bay.

It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, but it was only £20 and the location was amazing. I stopped and had lunch nearby waiting for check in time, I was frustrated because I had lost almost a full day, but I forced myself out, and managed to get to the Victoria peak tram in time for sunset.

It’s a fun journey, very touristy but the views you get at the top are spectacular. I took a couple of the City by day, then enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the mountains and sea before the main event. Hong Kong lights up at night in an incredible way, and Victoria peak is one of the best places to enjoy it.

Once I had taken it all in, I headed back down on the tram and wandered towards the central-mid-level escalators, the longest ones in the world! It spans 800 metres and it’s a great way to see the City without having to do the leg work, and I found a random art installation at the top of the escalators.

I found some cool street art around this area too, which I definitely want expecting. I finished the night with a beer and some more veggie dumplings. Tomorrow I was up early to head over to the big Buddha and explore mainland HK.

Exploring the ancient Cities of Myanmar.

Today I was up super early, I got everything ready the night before including a shower so I could get up 15 minutes before Min Min was picking me up. This was still 4:30am but I was excited enough to not feel too tired, Min Min was waiting for me outside and off we went towards U Bein Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the world. It’s located south of Mandalay and is a popular spot for sunrise and sunset.

On the way we stopped at a pagoda where the monks were washing the face of Buddha, people arrived to pray and attach gold leaf to the body of the Buddha. It was a nice little start to the day.

We drove out of the City and into the countryside, arriving at U Bridge at around 6am. It was so quiet and only 2 other tourists around, unfortunately it was also really cloudy so I wouldn’t get a good sunrise. I still loved walking along the bridge and taking with the locals, I even found a little chameleon friend.

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Once I had walked to one side and back it was on to the next part of the tour, the ancient Cities. We stopped at a huge broken pagoda, destroyed by an earthquake, I had the freedom to explore the whole place, and I had it all to myself. After about 20 minutes or so I was ready for breakfast, with Min Min waiting just across the road from me.

Breakfast was a traditional Myanmar dish consisting of thick cold noodles with egg and a chilli, garlic peanut sauce. It was delicious and came with a banana plant soup. I ate it so fast the lady serving in the little covered shack was asking if I needed more! Even the little side dish of bean sprouts with a slice of lime tasted really good.

Once breakfast was finished it was back on the bike to continue onwards. We now headed to Innwa, one of the ancient Cities of Myanmar. The bike journey was so cool, passing by old temples, banana tree groves and rice paddies. We passed the old ancient walls of the City and really went off road.

The main place to see is a huge stone temple that you can explore, with a white and gold pagoda adjacent to it. I really enjoyed this place, it was a beautiful building and again I wandered around without seeing anyone else.

After I had been on my little adventure around the area, we continued to an old tower that had also been damaged by earthquakes, we didn’t linger here as you’re not able to climb it so no exploring!

The next stop was a small partly damaged pagoda with some cool Buddhas and great views of people working in the rice fields. This place was so peaceful, with villagers going about their morning duties and the scent of incense filling the air.

Our last stop in the Southern area of Mandalay was an old wooden monastery. I believe it’s used to teach children, but I couldn’t see anyone around, just a few squirrels and some dogs guarding the steps up, so I didn’t dare to climb them.

Next on the agenda was Sagaing hill, to get there we drove back up towards Mandalay before crossing the river over the …. bridge. Min Min stopped for me to take some pictures of the Irrawaddy river up close, then we started to ascend the hill.

Again I had to get off at the steepest part but it was definitely worth it as we reached the top and I took a short uphill walk to reach Soon U Ponya Shin pagoda, I hadn’t done any research on this so it was a great bonus. The bright blue curve of the temple along with all the Buddha inside was amazing. Plus the view of you walked a little further up over the whole river delta was spectacular.

We drove back down and stopped at one more pagoda, a controversial one that the government had painted gold against the community wishes. This one was good but I was a bit pagoda’d out at that point. We continued our drive and stopped for tea at a little teahouse while we waited to go to the next temple.

This next one was really cool, mainly because we got to watch the monks there chant and ring their bells before queueing up for food from one of the nearby villages. There was a lot of ceremony involved and it felt great to be able to watch it. They eat lunch at 11:30 and that’s their last meal for the day.

It was a long drive back into Mandalay but interesting to watch day to day life and the locals would always wave and smile when they saw me going past as a westerner.

Arriving back in Mandalay Min Min wanted to show me one last point of interest, Shwe In Bin monastery. I’m so glad he did as it was a beautiful wooden building with lots of intricate design. Monks walked peacefully about and I probably spent more time there than in some of the others places due to its beauty.

I was soon back at the hostel and ready to relax after being out for over 8 hours it cost me 20000 kyat for the whole day with Min Min, including food and drinks, he was so great and explained a lot about Myanmar life. I chilled out till the early evening coolness and had a wander around the hostel area. I don’t know if I was just in the wrong place but it felt like there wasn’t really much in the way of shops/restaurants or bars in Mandalay.

That evening I walked up the night market which wasn’t great, before finding a little restaurant on the street called Shan Ma Ma. It was similar to the night before, you ordered your main dish then got some sides and soup to go along with it. After explaining I only ate vegetables I was soon tucking into we great food again.

Suddenly the whole street went dark and I realised it was a power cut. My second of the holiday. Luckily the restaurant had a back up generator so I finished my meal with a beer before walking back some very dark streets and I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Back once again in Bangkok.

Waking up in Chachoengsao I packed up the few things I had taken out of my bag and Liam, via 5 minutes of driving down the wrong side of the road got us to the station.

The ticket cost about 10 Baht to take us on the hour long journey to central Bangkok. I got some tasty coconut batter snacks for the train and we began our short journey. It was so pretty as we passed rice fields filled with storks and the scenery starting to become less country and more City.

Liam had recommended a hotel near Asok train station so we alighted there and ten minutes later we were checking in. It was a really nice hotel and I had splurged for the executive lounge so we could get breakfast, afternoon snacks, and free drinks in the evening.

After a chillout by the pool with a Pina colada we got some free lunch at the lounge and headed towards Siam Square for the magical rainbow cheese toastie. Bangkok is pretty easy to navigate with its metro and SkyTrain and along with 7/11s they make a nice reprieve from the heat.

We arrived at Siam Square and found the Hokkaido Cheese Toastie shop on the ground floor of the mall. We ordered some drinks while we waited for the rainbow toastie and then realised they were cheesy drinks! Actually they were delicious, Liam had strawberry and I went for matcha and they had a cheesecakey float on the top.

Then the rainbow toastie arrived and it was everything we were hoping for and more. So pretty but also super weird as the different colours are different fruity flavours. But cheese.

We wandered around the mall for a bit checking out the randomness of it all, then found the Hello Kitty cafe. I was super excited but it was actually a bit disappointing inside, and the menu was overpriced so we didn’t stay. Instead we walked along the skywalk, checking out Erawan shrine from above and finally jumping the SkyTrain back to Nana for a beer and to people watch.

We sat here for a while watching ominously as dark grey clouds closed in on us before the heavens opened up. It was past 6 at this point and we wanted to enjoy the free drinks and food at the hotel, and after a soggy 40 minutes of being packed into the SkyTrain and metro like sardines we made it.

The food was great and they had plenty of vegetarian options, Liam was super happy he could drink white wine too as it’s something of a luxury for him. Feeling a bit tipsy we got changed before heading to Tuba antique restaurant and bar. A cool little place off the beaten track that Liam had suggested.

We arrived via taxi and it was pretty cool, lots of random objects dotted about the place and tasty cocktails which were huge! We sat at the bar and chatted through the night till I was too tired to talk. So we walked slowly back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.

I woke early in the morning, and went for a refreshing swim before trying literally everything vegetarian on the breakfast buffet. I waited for Liam to wake up and we got ready to head out. We wanted to head to Chang Chui market with its cool abandoned planes but realised it’s closed on a Wednesday.

Instead we headed to Jim Thompson’s house as a last minute decision, and it turned out to be pretty cool. It wasn’t super expensive about 200 Baht, this includes a tour of the house in your language. It was cool seeing this snapshot of post WW2 life for an expat and the gardens and decor were stunning. It’s also easy to get to, just take the SkyTrain to National Stadium and it’s a 5 minute walk from there. We also checked out the canal just past the house.

e took the BTS down towards Lumphini park, this place is famous for its water monitor lizards though unfortunately Bangkok council had the majority of the big ones removed as they were becoming a nuisance in the City, including one casually walking into a Tesco.

The park itself is a nice break from the city and you can rent bikes or pedalos. We visited in 2015 and it seems like it’s in a constant state of fluctuation. We enjoyed the lizard hunt and were rewarded for our endeavours by spotting a big one eating an even bigger fish.

From here our plan was to take the BTS around to Sala Daeng and hit the unicorn cafe, but Liam dropped his phone somewhere in the park. Luckily a local found it and we managed to get it back but by this point it made more sense to walk down to the cafe.

It was about a 25 minute walk from Lumphini to Silom district where the cafe is and it was totally worth it. Bright and garish it was like a crazy acid trip, with unicorns hanging from the ceiling and the most colourful desserts menu I have ever seen.

We ordered some iced drinks and one of the rainbow waffles, the drinks were so sugary and sweet we had to wait for the ice to dilute them a little but the waffles were incredible.

Buzzing from the sugar rush we wandered up towards the main street in Silom near the BTS and grabbed a couple of beers. We were going to head to some of the gay bars but they didn’t open till 6pm and like needed to get back to Chachoengsao.

It turned out we probably could’ve gone there as the BTS was full of commuters so we decided to risk the Bangkok traffic and take a taxi for 100 Baht. Google maps said it would take 45 minutes but almost 2 hours of bumper to bumper cars we finally arrived at the Avani.

Liam quickly sorted out a taxi back home and I prepared for my morning departure to Myanmar, the first official leg of my tour.

Returning to South East Asia.

After 6 months of travelling to a new European destination every month I decided I needed to do something bigger, for longer, and so after checking flights via Skyscanner app I was booked on a flight heading to Bangkok and returning 2 months later.

I was super excited and immediately started planning my trip, adding Myanmar, Hong Kong and the Philippines to the top of the list of must see countries.

Another 8 months flew by and before I knew it I was on the plane from Manchester to Bangkok via Dubai. The highlight of my flight was watching the sunrise over Iraq, it was absolutely beautiful.

My plan was to meet up with my friend from Wales, Liam who had been living in Chachoengsao town for the past few years. Located just 45 minutes from Bangkok airport, I landed and once through immigration was soon on my way via taxi. This cost around £20 and took approx 50 minutes.

I arrived at Chachoengsao train station and 30 seconds later Liam turned up On his moped and I got my first glimpse of the town. It wasn’t much different to places like Nong Khai and Kanchanaburi that I had visited previously.

Stopping off at a 7/11 I grabbed some fun sounding snacks and a cheese toastie, the ultimate Thai snack for foreigners. We made it back to Liam’s cute Thai house and after a quick tour we sat on his little patio drinking Leo beer and catching up.

I was pretty tired after only managing a couple of hours sleep on both planes and after a few hours I needed my bed. I was up late in the morning the next day and Liam had a plan for the day. So off we went on his moped, I didn’t like driving one when I was last in Thailand but I quite enjoyed being chauffered around on the back of his.

Liam took me around the town and showed me some of his fave spots, by early afternoon it was getting super hot so we went to one of his favourite bars, an amazing little place on the river with views of a gorgeous temple called Wat Sathon.

We sat here watching the boats go past drinking some beers with ice to keep them cool. After a couple of hours we decided to leave, though our way back was blocked a bit by a market that had somehow popped up while we were drinking.

As Liam navigated his bike back up through the crowds I walked up, marveling at all the goods on show. Once we were free I got a couple of nice pictures of the temple and we headed back to his place to cool down and get ready for dinner.

Unfortunately about 30 minutes after getting back to Liam’s the sky opened up and rain started pouring down. I knew this would happen as I’m visiting at the back end of rainy season. What we weren’t banking on was the power to go out!

Sat in darkness with just the occasional lightning flashes and car headlights giving us a glimpse of the outside world we patiently waited for it to calm down before we could set off to the restaurant. As I sat there something landed on my leg, and being the epitome of calm I jumped up shouting before realising it was just a frog. (Liam had told me he’d found a snake in his living room not long ago so that was definitely in my mind)

The rain eased off a little and we were too hungry to not risk going out, praying the power would be on in the town centre. Luckily for us it was and we were soon sat on the river once again in an amazing wooden Thai house.

This was the first test of my vegetarianism, and it wasn’t great. The only dishes on the menu I could eat were fries, an egg salad and some vegetable side dishes and rice.

Luckily for me the egg salad and fried morning glory were super tasty and the rice helped me fill up, my whole meal cost about £7 including 2 beers, I knew that Thailand would be one of the more expensive countries I would be visiting too.

Heading back we were hopeful of the power being back on but as we turned down the road the street lamps were off and the 7/11 closed. Getting back to Liam’s we know we were up early the next day to catch a train to Bangkok so abandoned the evening and went to bed.

Out of the mountains, into Barcelona. 

Today was my last day of a great solo trip, and it was good to know I could bear my own company for a week. 

I was heading out of Andorra into Spain, purely for economical reasons, as flights from Girona to Manchester are really cheap. 

Unfortunately it wasn’t till after I booked that I realised the only way to get to Girona was through Barcelona. This turned into a nice little bonus, even though I’d only have a few hours there. I had booked a hotel right next to Girona airport as my flight was at 7am. I decided to treat myself by booking a hotel with a pool and spa. 

I travelled from Andorra La Vella bus station straight through to Barcelona, taking about 3 hours and arriving at the Central bus/train station. The descent down from the mountains was ace with golden fields laid out in front if us when arriving in Spain. 

The underground in Barca is so good, especially on a hot day with the air con. As I only had limited time I went straight to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, there are still cranes towering above this cathedral but it doesn’t deter hordes of tourists taking pictures. 

This is the second time I’ve visited and for some reason I still haven’t gone inside! It’s a must do really so it’s still on the list. I saw a lot of Barca last time I came so I tried to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before. Checking on the map I realised there was a whole park called Parc de la ciutadella we had missed when I came with my friends. So I walked down towards their version of an arc de triomf, built in 1888, in the sweltering midday heat. 

Walking through the arch and down a long wide boulevard I made it to the breezy park. Here I could slowly meander and check out the sights including a huge water feature which may have been partly created by an unknown Gaudi, a random wooly mammoth, and the castells dels tres dragons, a building designed to look like a castle. The park also houses a zoo and the parliament of Catalonia.

I was getting hungry now so walked towards the bus station that would take me to Girona airport, enjoying the beautiful streets as I went. I ate in the station, some lovely Spanish pastries and a donut. I took the bus out to Girona airport where my hotel was a 5 minute walk away along a main road. Here i relaxed in the spa pool and jacuzzi, after a week of walking non stop, traveling between cities and countries it was an amazing way to end it.

I’ve enjoyed travelling solo, I definitely prefer to travel with someone though. The parts of the holiday where I longed for someone to experience the moment with, such as the riverside in Toulouse, or the top of the mountains in Andorra were also the most enjoyable. It just would have been better with someone for those jaw dropping moments. 

I also wish I had pushed myself to go to bars or restaurants on my own. When I did it was enjoyable and didn’t feel weird but it was also easier to grab takeout and also cheaper! 

It was simple flying back home and I had the knowledge that I would be flying out again soon with my ‘festival crew’ to NOS Alive in Lisbon. 

Cracking on in Carcassone

I was up and about early, walking back to Beziers train station. It was hot even at 8am and I knew I was in for another scorcher. I had pre-booked my ticket online for 14Euro for first class! It was only 50cent or so extra so thought I’d splash out. 

The train was only marginally delayed and I was soon on my way, watching the French countryside roll past as we trundled along. We soon arrived in Carcassone and I checked my maps before heading in the general direction of the famous citadel. 

Passing over the canal du midi again, along a leafy boulevard, and over a lovely square. I hit a bridge over the river. From here I got my first glimpse of my destination. I was super excited to explore it, but first I had to drop my main bag off at a hotel. 

I was using Nannybag for the first time and it was so useful, you can leave your bag at a participating hotel for around 5E and it was really easy. 

Now I was free from the shackles of my bag I went straight up the hill to Carcassone citadel. Marvelling at the towers with their bright blue conical roofs. It started as a Gaulish settlement in the 3rd century before the Romans decided to fortify it. 

Now it’s half winding alleyways half tourist filled restaurants and shops. The best tip I can give is to buy your tickets to walk the walls from the tourist office, there’s no queue here compared to the regular ticket office in the grounds of the main castle. 

My first stop in the citadel was the church, there were monks singing inside which really added to the atmosphere. I left feeling very calmed, and began to explore all the winding streets. I walked around the perimeter and found a cute little garden area beneath the bridge into the main castle. 

I was excited to get up high onto the walls so passed through the barriers and went straight up to my left onto the walls. The views over the City and countryside were excellent and the wind was a nice cooldown from the 35°c heat. I passed through towers and looked down into the citadel, gaining a different perspective of the place. 

After a couple of hours wandering round the Citadel I decided to go into the City and possibly walk along the canal again. I walked back down the hill and crossed over the river on a pedestrian bridge. I checked google maps for the little brown circles that indicate places of interest and headed up the Boulevard Barbes. 

It was a lovely tree lined pedestrian street with fountains, the portail des jacobins, a gateway inro the old city, and the Sant Michel cathedral. 

I could see a green space on the map at the end of the Boulevard so I decided to continue walking towards it. As I got closer I saw that it was a walled garden of some sort. Walking around the walls I found the gateway and walked in to quite a creepy old garden. 

It was pretty cool, with an old abandoned church under a load of dirt and rocks and a big Jesus statue located right at the top. 

I love little finds like this, wandering around discovering things that aren’t the stereotypical sights. I passed through the town which has some nice streets, and headed up the canal again. Big boats cruised past and cyclists/joggers/dog walkers passed me by as I took in the beautiful scenery. 

My plan was to walk up until the canal came close to the river, and walk back down towards the Citadel to pick my bag up. After missing the turning off for the river I finally made it and enjoyed the leisurely walk in the sunshine back up to the hotel through gardens and parks. 

I picked my bag up and said goodbye to Carcassone, an absolutely beautiful place which definitely lived up to it’s hype. The citadel alone is worth it! 

My next destination was Toulouse, the trendy student City near the Pyrenees mountains and the Spanish border. I had only really decided to stay here for the onward journey to Andorra but after doing some research I was looking forward to it.
I was staying in a hostel near the river and one of the main sights in Toulouse, the Basilica of saint-sernin. I arrived late on and after checking into my shared room I decided to head straight to the river and see what was going on. I couldn’t believe how busy it was when I got there, teeming with people sat eating, drinking, and laughing everywhere along the riverbank. 

Seeing everyone having fun in the warm evening made me a bit sad that I didn’t have anyone with me to enjoy it, the one time solo travel really bothered me on this trip. 

I sat in a gap between some groups and watched a gorgeous sunset over the river. At this point I was starving so once the sun was down I went in search of food, I was craving something unhealthy and cheap and found the perfect thing…kebab and chips! 

I was ready for bed after a lot of walking about, and when I got back there was nobody in the room, so I got in bed and slowly dozed off. I had a full day to explore Toulouse and wanted to make the most of it.