Category Archives: Travel Updates

Mini trip in Eastern Europe

This week I travelled from Berlin to Kathmandu the long way round – via Budapest and Belgrade. The past week has been a whirlwind, living out of my suitcase and catching sleep on trains and planes wherever possible. Not surprisingly, I’ve caught a cold. This combined with the fact that Mum and Dad have been delayed by two days, leaving me alone in Kathmandu for three nights, means I’m having a chilled out time in Nepal so far despite the constant noise and motion that is Kathmandu.

I left Berlin on Friday night with Bec and we caught a 14 hour train south-east through Germany, The Czech Republic, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary. The train wasn’t too bad and we managed a few hours sleep although were awoken at 2 a.m. with a creepy man watching us sleep. He soon left us alone and the rest of our trip was much more relaxing. We kept the history to a minimum and spent most of our time swimming in the Szechenyi and Lucasz baths, eating great Hungarian food, drinking chilli coffee and champagne frappes in New York Cafe, and generally admiring the beauty of the city. After being so long in Berlin, which makes up for in cool what it lacks in beauty, we were both in awe of buildings such as Fisherman’s Bastion and St Stephen’s Basilica, especially lit up at night. We also went to the Szechenyi bath party (Sparty) on Saturday night – think thermal pool plus DJ plus 500 drunk backpackers. Crazy fun but crazy gross by the end of the night. The one museum we visited was Hospital in the Rock, which was an underground hospital and nuclear shelter kept secret from the Soviets until 2002.

On Tuesday Bec and I left Budapest headed in opposite directions – she home to Berlin and I on another train south, this one to Belgrade, Serbia. Figuring on a lack of bread in Asia, I left her with my jar of Vegemite but the airport security staff took it away from her! I guess they wanted it for themselves, they’re only human.

With less than 48 hours in Belgrade I had to be choosy about what to do. On the morning of my first day I took a walking tour which was a good way to see a lot and learn about the city in three hours. Then I walked the length of the main road of the city to the biggest Catholic cathedral in the Balkans, Saint Sava temple. The outside is white and majestic, but the inside isn’t finished – not even close. It’s all concrete but I found this interesting in itself. I also met an ancient Serbian woman and we had a broken conversation in which we somehow managed to exchange names, nationalities and the fact that Christianity is common in Australia but I’m not religious. Amazing!

Belgrade has been voted the best nightlife in Europe, so luckily I was staying in a social hostel called Hedonist where we soon had a group of about 10 people wanting to go out, including an American expat who wanted to take us to his favourite bars. So all of us – Aussies, Swedes, Yankees and Canadians had a beer in a bar along the Sava river and then crossed a bridge into Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) which has a bunch of boats and barges converted into bars and clubs. We went to one that played the strangest mix of music from the ’80s to now of every genre imaginable and in no logical atmospheric order. Prince would become Kings of Leon would become a South American dance song.

It was a late night and the next day I packed up on about three hours’ sleep and said goodbye to my new friends. I could easily have spent more time in Belgrade and the rest of Eastern Europe, but was due to meet Mum and Dad in Nepal. I flew to Kathmandu via a 10 hour stopover in Qatar bringing my travel time to almost 24 hours. As mentioned Mum and Dad’s flight was delayed so they are currently spending two nights in Kuala Lumpur.

As soon as I landed I recognised the familiar smells and heavy, humid air of Asia. Kathmandu is as chaotic as expected. Dumplings, curry, spices and chilli. Electricity blackouts every day. Incense, temples, hippie pants (regular clothing will be my biggest readjustment back in Sydney). Watching every step to avoid giant holes in the road. Endless car horns and motorcycle horns. Three months in Europe was awesome but Asia feels like coming home.

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The architecture of Belgrade: Communism meets early 19th Century meets modernity

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Looking over to Novi Beograd with the boat bars in the Sava river

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The Saint Sava temple

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Bec may call me the Map Queen but maps were no help to me here.

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Auf Wiedersehen Germany, off to Eastern Europe

Tomorrow I leave Berlin, and I’m delaying the daunting prospect of packing by writing a blog post. Having been nicely settled with my own bedroom for three months (with a wardrobe – the first one in months!), the thought of fitting everything back into my bag is overwhelming. I’ve had to make a new music playlist as a packing soundtrack just to motivate myself – and to put it off further.

One job that I’ve finished is to clear space on my camera for the coming months by moving photos onto a USB stick – my third one of the trip. I’m not looking forward to sorting through all those photos when I get home, at a rough guess there’s probably well over 2,000 now. I think it will have to wait until the post-travel depression hits and I need some escapism.

It’s been a while since I updated about my own trip rather than singular events in Berlin. I think there’s some family members who are unsure of where I am and why and where to next and when the hell I’m coming home.

Yesterday was nine months since I left Sydney, and tomorrow I leave Berlin. I’ve been working as an au pair for 11 weeks, living with a German family who have two girls aged four and six. Au pairing has been difficult but a great job for travelling – I’ve worked 20-30 hours a week and have had free time to explore and socialise. I’ve picked up a decent amount of German out of necessity, and travelled to some nice towns out of the city. Berlin’s such a cool city, full of fantastic events, open-minded people, art, music and culture. I read a great quote about the large number of people who move to Berlin because of the lifestyle etc, and it was along the lines of: ‘Don’t stay in Berlin. Re-create Berlin in your own city’ and it’s really stuck with me. So don’t worry, I am coming home!

But not just yet. Tomorrow I’m catching a 14-hour overnight train to Budapest, Hungary with a Kiwi friend, Bec, who I met here in Berlin. We’re going to a club night at a public pool, among other surely amazing things. We just couldn’t resist the promise of ‘As long as you intrigues by the idea of a laser bath disco party’ [sic]. After three nights there I have a seven-hour train to Belgrade, Serbia where I’m spending two nights. I wanted to travel overland from Europe to Asia but it wasn’t possible given time, travelling alone and the riots in Turkey. So I’m flying from Belgrade to Nepal.

Mum and Dad join me the day after I arrive in Nepal, then Meg a few days later and Julia a week after that. I can’t wait to see them all! The family are staying for two weeks and Meg and I will travel for two months. I plan to return home in September.

Hopefully this gives the family and friends who are following the blog an update on my whereabouts. Berlin’s been fantastic, but I can’t wait to get back to Asia, to see my family and to keep on travelling.

Guten tag Berlin

Last week I took up residence in Berlin, Germany and am making it my home for the next three months. I’m working as an au pair for two little girls and living in Mitte, right in the centre of the city. I’m still not sure if I’m trendy enough to be here, but I’m loving the abundance of culture, anything-goes fashion, left-wing + eco-minded lifestyles and of course street art. And I’m trying to address the lack of trendiness.

Yesterday I visited the East Side Gallery. I saw Kim Jong Un (see pic below and also http://on.fb.me/11a4otz). I love street art, it’s definitely something I’d like to see more of in Sydney, and I’ve included my favourite pieces from the wall below.

Plans are underway for the wall to be removed to make way for some fancy schmancy new buildings. Everyone up to David Hasselhoff has become involved in protesting against it, so if you feel so inclined, check out the online petition at http://www.change.org/eastsidegallery (and don’t forget to click the button to translate the page into English!).

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A classic Berlin Wall image – still so evocative.

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Kim on tour

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West side

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Back in the West

I’ve made it out the other side of six months in Asia and over five weeks in China – five weeks behind the Great Firewall, which blocks WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google and more. It was an epic experience; every day brought some new amazement, whether it was an 8,800-kilometre wall or having to use a public squat toilet with no door or toilet paper. Five weeks is not enough time to see everything I’d like to in China, but it was enough time in China for the sake of my sanity.

One of the highlights was the people I met – both the Chinese, who are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and the tourists. Each country seems to attract certain types of travellers and in China I met some really interesting people, including two guys riding a tandem bike from Shanghai to Paris, another who was living in China by selling his art on the street, Swedish and German musicians, a New Yorker food artist and an applicant to the Mars One project who is in the running for a one-way ticket to establish a colony on Mars. Definitely expanding my ideas on life and career options.

I visited Guangzhou, which is China’s third largest city, Yunnan province with some of the best food and sights of the country, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou National Park, Xi’an and Beijing. Beijing was the highlight and also the only place where I saw more than a handful of Westerners, though I still was asked by a Chinese roughly three times a day for a photo and still had a severe language barrier. While I know the very basics of Mandarin, so little English is spoken in China that pretty much everything is really difficult. It’s not like any other country I’ve been – where you can get by with English and a phrase book. I’m so glad I went there but I won’t go back to China until I know the language.

Flying from Beijing to Stockholm (via a twelve-hour overnighter in St Petersburg airport) meant my return to Western civilisation after six months in Asia and I’m suffering reverse culture shock. So many white people! I can drink the tap water! And I can flush toilet paper down the loo, and I can sit rather than squat. No one is staring at my white skin or taking photos of me. I’ve been eating brown bread and cheese and salads and Greek food and sushi. On the downside, everything is crazy-expensive.

But please don’t think I’m back to normality. First of all it’s snowing here, which is amazing to me. Secondly, I’m staying with a Swedish friend who has a Finnish mother and Iranian father, as well as some Israeli relatives currently visiting. Amazingly, they all speak English to me but on any given day they’re communicating in Finnish, Swedish, Farsi and Hebrew. And thirdly, Dad was wrong when he emailed me saying that he’s happy I’m back in the safer Western world. Two days after landing in Sweden I came down with the worst stomach bug I’ve had in years. I had nothing like it in all of Asia. Luckily it was gone within 24 hours and now I’m pretty much over that and the jet lag. But I’m still hiding out inside, away from the -2 degree weather.

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My bed in St Petersburg airport.

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High tech in Russia.

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The view from my balcony in Stockholm. SNOW!

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Some Aussie culture for my Swedish family.

Birthday, lady boys and other highlights of Pai, second time around

Happy birthday me! Such a strange birthday this year as I’m in transit between Pai and China. Left Pai yesterday after 3.5 weeks and caught a bus with a friend all the way down to Bangkok. Slept really well thanks to a Sangsom (Thai rum) nightcap! When I woke up in Bangkok this morning it took about 15 minutes for me to remember that it was my birthday. I’m killing time in Bangkok today and flying to China tonight.

Reflecting on a few of the funny things that have happened over the past few weeks and thought I’d consolidate it into one post, because I’ve been a bit lazy with the blog lately.

1. Ladyboy massage
I love ladyboys, they’re so fabulous, but I never thought I’d spend an hour being rubbed intimately by one. Still, not a bad massage!

2. Meditation
A cafe in town does a free 30-minute guided massage three times a week and I wanted to give it a try. I’d never done meditation before but thought it would be good for me. I went four times and while I’m not very good at turning my brain off, I’d like to try it some more.

3. Being the longest-serving student during my last training session
I knew it was time to move on when, in my last Muay Thai session, I was the person who had been training at Charn Chai the longest (eight weeks). I got to lead the abdominal session at the end, which was a dream come true haha. Power trip…

4. Eating chicken blood, chicken tendons, raw pork…
I think I mentioned earlier that this time in Pai I ate my meals at the gym. It’s all local market or home cooked food, a lot of it rather mysterious. Coagulated chicken blood in soup broth, raw minced pork, deep fried chicken tendons – and I didn’t even get sick!

5. Valentine’s Day rose
I should have realised in advance, judging by the overly dramatic Thai soapies and music video clips, that the Thais would be nuts for Valentine’s Day. As I mentioned in my last post, I woke up on the 14th to find a rose from the guy who managed my guest house (who has a girlfriend and a new baby). Not such a welcome gift, actually.

6. Thai honesty
I was told twice in 24 hours by Thai men that I should do more exercise because I’m ‘too big’. One of them followed up the next day by asking if I’d weighed myself yet. When I explained that Western women don’t like men commenting on their weight, he said ‘I know, that’s why I’m telling you, so that you know’. I think he might have missed the point.

7. Hello Kitty wheels
As I was staying a few kilometres out of town, my guest house provided a bike for me to use. Best part was that it was a hot pink, Hello Kitty, double seater bicycle and it was my constant companion for three weeks. I went everywhere on it, gave people lifts on the back, and actually crashed it one Saturday night trying to ride down the main street with a friend on the back (no major injuries though!). Sangsom strikes again…

My time ended with a three-day birthday celebration – a barbeque at the gym on Saturday night, ice cream sundaes on Sunday and tonight, I’m staying in a nice hotel when I land in Guangzhou, China. Here’s to 24 being as fun as 23.

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Birthday girls Tai and I – note the kilos of icing on those cakes

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Andre and I leaving Pai for our 13-hour bus trip to Bangkok

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Pad work with Turbo

Life in Pai – again

I’m back in Pai to regroup, settle and plan for a few weeks. Having been on the move for the best part of three months through Cambodia, Laos and the south of Thailand I was in need of a familiar and easy place to call home before heading to China on the 25th of Feb.

I’ve had a lot of downtime and exercise, both of which I’d been craving. I’m training only once a day unlike last time, meaning I have a lot of free time. I’ve finally shaken a chest cough I’d had for about a month, I’m feeling fit and healthy again and I’m only eating out once a day. My other meal is at the gym – straight after each training session we gorge ourselves on food from the markets. It’s mostly chicken, pork, vegetables, soups and white rice but I’ve tried a lot of new dishes which has been great! Eg: pork that may or may not be raw, deep-fried boiled eggs and bamboo soup.

There’s some really nice people training at the moment with whom I’ve been having some meals and drinks. So all in all, it feels very homely and simple. It’s high season in Pai at the moment and I’m really noticing the influx of tourists! As much as I’m loving being here, I’ll be glad to move out of SE Asia for a few weeks and have a change of scenery in China.

In my free time I’ve been putting together a rough itinerary for China and trying to plan my next few months. I’ve booked a flight to Russia but not sure if I’m going to be able to get a visa, so Vietnam may be on the cards instead.

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My cute bungalow – I’m staying a short bike ride from town. I’m loving how quiet it is out here in the paddocks.

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On my first day back in Pai I ran into Annette and Christine from Sydney! Such a weird coincidence. We had an awesome week hanging out before they moved on to Laos.

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This was sitting on my doorstep this morning. A not so welcome gift from my overly attentive landlord (who has a girlfriend who gave birth to his first child three days ago. Seriously Thai men, WTF?).

Rock climbing and cocktail mixing in Ton Sai

Another month, another country – I’ve spent the past few weeks in the south of Thailand. Which incidentally feels like a whole other country to the north of Thailand. After spending New Year’s Eve on Koh Phi Phi (which was beautiful but so touristy, but a great party island for NYE), Aimee and I caught a boat to Koh Lanta with Marieke and Sanne, our Dutch friends. Koh Lanta is a massive island, touristy but much more chilled out than Phi Phi. I spent the week swimming and snorkelling, and I also added some weight to my luggage with a big ass pink hammock. Pretty bulky but so far, so worth it.

Then it was on to Koh Lipe, which was my favourite island – an idyllic blue water, white sand tropical island. The place is tiny and has a great bunch of expats as well as the local community. We spent every night at Longtail Bar, run by two American women. Every night two guys, one Swiss and one Dutch, played cover songs for free beer and tips. They’d been there for over three weeks and didn’t look to be moving any time soon. The bar also made amazing cocktails and shots, one of them was called ‘Kaaaaaaa’ (you’ll get it if you’ve been to Thailand). The Americans also ran a cafe that had a board-game collection so Aimee and I ended up having epic games of Scrabble every morning.

After Lipe we landed at Ton Sai beach, a twenty-minute mountainous trek from Railay beach, Krabi province. Luckily when we arrived the tide was out and we walked over the rocks with our backpacks. I didn’t know what to expect at all but it’s a pretty cool place. Not very busy or developed, and I had to get used to not having electricity (ie WiFi, hot water, ATM etc). Altogether I spent about three weeks with limited or no access to Wifi, which was really nice (helped break a nasty Facebook addiction). We also met up with Cass (who I met in Pai and then Cambodia) there.

We planned on four nights in Ton Sai before Aimee had to head home, with my plans being more flexible as I had another five weeks before my Thai visa expired. There wasn’t much to do there apart from rock climb – we were surrounded by beautiful, massive cliffs so it’s one of the world’s best places to learn. I figured I’d give it a go, and got a bit hooked. Long story short, Cass and I were offered a job in a beach bar, working evenings in exchange for a beach bungalow, dinner and alcohol so we ended up staying for ten days. We were working nights and climbing days, not a bad life.

We also tried deep water solo climbing, which is rock climbing over the ocean without a rope. You basically climb in your bikini and climbing shoes then jump or fall into the water – fine if you suck at climbing like me, but some people were able to climb really high then had to jump in from about 30 metres. Heaps of fun!

After ten days in Ton Sai I felt it was time to move on so I farewelled the bar and my beach bungalow and hopped a longtail to Ao Nang, the start of my pilgrimage back to Pai via Bangkok. More on that to come.