I’m a Traveller

To be able to write for the Traveller…yeah, that’s pretty up there on my list. So when a competition was released with the chance of winning a Gecko Tour Adventure around either Central America, Africa or South East Asia, as well as the opportunity to write for Traveller, I got writing.

Here goes nothing:

On the first day we didn’t make it. Some friendly, (and much more experienced) climbers found us lost halfway up a mountain, covered in sweat and scars. We didn’t know we were lost though. “Lagoon? No, there is no lagoon here” they told us. 

The best part of this holiday was that the water was never more than 50metres away, and when we made it down the mountain, we were quite literally dropped straight into the waves. Floating inches above the soft sand in crystal clear water, it was evident that any disappointment from not finding our lagoon that day had simply washed away. How could you be upset in Paradise?

Railay Beach, an island accessible only by long-tail boat, is located not far from the infamous Phi Phi Islands of Southern Thailand. The pristine beaches that line each side of the island are wrapped with overhanging limestone cliffs, that are often dotted with experienced climbers. You can kayak through caves, hike through forests, and borrow long-tail boats to go island hopping for the day. There is also, as we were informed by a local, a beautiful lagoon known as The Princess Lagoon, hidden somewhere on the island. 

With ten days there we were determined to find it, and it wasn’t until our second last day that we happened to stumble upon a track. At least I think it was a track. Around a bend, down a path, take a left and then a right, we arrived at the side of a mountain. There was a small clearing in the trees and the ground was slightly worn. After pausing to look at it for a few seconds we started to realise that the exposed roots lined up the bank resembled somewhat of a staircase. Not quite structurally sound, the fraying ropes that dangled down from the occasional root, however, made us slightly more convinced that this was indeed the way to our lagoon. 

Slow and steady we made it up the bank, and if the humidity wasn’t enough, the concentration it took made it impossible not to break a sweat from every inch of your body. Did you know it was possible to sweat from your elbows? This was the furthest we’d been from the water this entire holiday, and we could feel it. 

Reaching the top we were faced with a choice – left or right. We took left and were taken to a lookout. Not the sort of lookout you’d find at home, though. This lookout had no railing, no fence, no ‘Unstable Cliff Edge” or “Risk of Falling” warning signs. This lookout was as if someone had simply taken a machete to a tree, revealing a coast-to-coast 180° view out across Railay Beach. I reiterate, Paradise. 

Pulling ourselves away, the sweat dripping down our bodies reminded us of our lagoon. Walking back passed our previous climb, the thought flicked through my head of how we would get down, but any concern was completely stifled by what we found next. Getting to the lagoon required climbing down three almost vertical cliff faces, using nothing but a fraying rope to lower ourselves down against the slippery clay. From Paradise I’d found myself in the middle of an assault course through the jungle. 

By the time we reached the bottom we were covered in streaks of mud that not even our sweat could budge. The tread of my shoes was so caked in clay that I all but slid to the edge of the lagoon. What we found, however, was stunning. A large body of water, completely enclosed by overarching limestone cliffs, entangled with shrubs and vines that trickled down into the lagoon. The subdued light that flowed through them danced on the top of the sparkling water. The mud underfoot was no deterrent and rather only acted as an incentive to remain there floating for hours. 

If you go to Railay Beach, find the lagoon.

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To be a World Nomad

Recently I took a leap of faith and did something I don’t normally like to do – put my writing up for judgement. I’ve applied for a Travel Writing Scholarship through World Nomads with the chance of winning an all-expenses paid trip around the Balkans while being mentored by Tim Neville, a professional travel writer and contributor to the New York Times. I know right, WOAH.

Even if I don’t get it, (there were pages and pages of entries), you have to be in it to win it! Plus, it was a real learning experience – learning to write for someone else, with restrictions, and under pressure. Still not sure if I completely like what I produced (I am my own worst critic), but I thought I’d share it anyway…along with a few low-quality photos I managed to scramble together from the experience.

Not being a massive hiker – too many involuntary hikes along abandoned railways in Yorkshire when I was a child – I’ll admit I flinched when my friends suggested a multi-day trek to a hill tribe in upper-Thailand. Not that you would have noticed, in fact I was probably the first to agree to it. I’m not good at missing out on things.

We rose before the sun, shoved some clothes in our backpacks and were hustled into the tray of a ute. We created makeshift seats out of petrol cans and attempted to steal a few extra moments of rest as we were bumped and tossed around on our twenty-minute trip up the mountain.

Reaching out first peak, we looked out across a blanket of clouds, the mountaintops only just in view, and a slight glimmer of the sun peaking over the horizon. The trees in the foreground made for the perfect silhouettes, and distracted us for long enough that we didn’t notice the clouds rolling out of the breathtaking valley below. It took the rising sun flickering in our eyes to remind us of where we were.

And that was just the start. We spent the next two days trudging through rice paddies, picking fresh passionfruit from trees that lined the riverbeds, using machetes to hack through dense forest, and all to find ourselves in a place that could only be described as the middle of nowhere.

No reception, no rescue, it was just us and our bamboo-whittling guide.

Debilitated by a bout of food poisoning, it felt like I had the biggest mountain to climb, until, all of a sudden, I did. But our guide promised us our home for the night was on the other side. Little did he tell us that our home was the stuff of fairytales. Atop a hill, in a clearing of dense shrubs, lit by the brilliant orange sunset, emerged a rural village of the Lahu people – a remote and barely-touched hill tribe originally from Tibet and China.

Reaching the village we stepped into another world. We washed in the stream, and ate chicken curry cooked over the fire. It was the first food I’d eaten in days and it reminded me of home though I was as far from it as I’d ever been. We couldn’t speak a word to each other but the children were eager to play with us, and while the buffalo were highly susceptible to letting out less than pleasant gases, I doubt I would have caught a wink of sleep in my raised bamboo hut had they not been so cleverly herded underneath as ‘natural insulation’.

Watching the sun set that night; surrounded by my Lahu family can only be described as a place I’ll never forget.

Tying up Thailand

Trying to think back on the last few days is actually a struggle. Not because I didn’t enjoy them, because I did a lot. Time just feels slower in paradise. It’s as if I’ve been here for months. Plus I feel like when you move slower, time moves slower. But please correct me on my relative time theory, because if there is one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know anything about that.

On popular advice, we headed out to Hong Island – an undiscovered paradise, only to find that unfortunately at least a few hundred other travelers had done the same. Call it a discovered undiscovered paradise, but paradise nonetheless. Snorkeling at the first stop, swimming and playing with rabies-free (*fingers crossed*) kittens at the second. A visit to a lagoon, and hours of floating in clear blue water to end it all. While we all agreed we’ve been spoiled at Railay Beach, if there is still clear blue water and shiny white sand, there is still a smile on my face.

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Ever determined to find the lagoon we’d set out after on one of the first days, we decided to put more planning into it, and actually work out where it was – by the way, it’s called the Princess Lagoon. No amount of planning could have prepared us for what we found though. An almost vertical climb up a rocky cliff entangled with convenient tree roots and fraying ropes, and then down again on the other side. Pushing through any hesitations we reached a viewpoint over the entire beach, with no railing of course, and found yet another moment to sit back, smile and say to ourselves “only in Asia”. Dripping with sweat and covered in mud, once we got down to the lagoon no sharp rocks, sinking into mud, or slick floating on top of the water could stop me from having a swim. At this point I was sure I was invincible. Plus floating in his arms once again in such natural beauty is an opportunity I will never pass up.

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Now we come to one of my favourite parts of this trip – and an example of one of the many perks of traveling with a luxury travel journalist. Before I set out on this adventure, I had wanted to organise a special dinner for the wonderful people that had invited me on their adventure. After finding the perfect place, I was devastated to hear back that it was only open to Resort guests due to popularity. Queue luxury travel journalist. Pulling a few strings, we managed to secure ourselves a booking for drinks, and after swindling through security and surviving a ride in a golf buggie, we arrived in my dreams – fairy lights and all. The Grotto is a bar nestled under the limestone cliffs of Phranang Beach, and is the epitome of natural beauty. Each table was set with stone plates, linen serviettes, a succulent each, and complimentary insect spray. After looking at the menu, realising one drink was more expensive than dinner for all six of us the previous night, we decided to keep it classy. Probably the first people ever to be so dorky as to ask for their photo to be taken from all angles of the cave, we indulged on the complimentary breads, admired the well-behaved monkeys, soaked up the live music, and exchanged new year goals. The next stop naturally was to abort before dinner and head to the local Thai joint for an awesome and cheap dinner. It was the perfect way to end an awesome holiday.

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Words cannot capture how grateful I am to have been on this adventure, and that’s saying something coming from the girl with endless things to say. Each journey I go on teaches me new things about myself and those I love, and this has been no exception. People can make or break a trip away, just as they can at home. Holidays abroad are a reminder of the importance in surrounding yourself with people that support you, love you and challenge you. 2016 has been a big year of growing, and this trip was the perfect way to both kick-back from the year that has been, and get a kick-start for the new year ahead.

Love to you all, you know who you are.

E x

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Hey from Railay Bay

Railay, Railei, Raylay, Rayliy – the beach with a million different spellings, and even more cases of severe sunburn. But not me, I’ve been living it up with massages under the trees, a massive sunhat and so much aloe vera from Santa. It’s my little slice of paradise. Whoever said you can’t have the cake and eat it too clearly hasn’t been here.*

But it hasn’t just been a process of relocating from the sand to the water and then back again. We’ve been quite adventurous to say how relaxed we all are. After spending too much time floating on top of it, we decided to check out what it was like under the water, so headed to the Phi Phi Islands to scuba dive. Being my first time I must admit I was a little nervous. But with a severe case of #FOMO and a promise that I would find Nemo, how could I say no. Not only did I get to live the plot of both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, but also saw the shorts for the third part of the franchise, Finding Crush – the story of a turtle that falls out of the EAC and ends up in Phi Phi. Call me for info, Disney.

Surviving a gnarly storm on the ride home, we were greeted by the most incredible sunset I have ever laid eyes on that night. Such is the way in paradise.

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Next on the to-do list was venturing to a cave we had spotted on the side of one of the encroaching cliffs of the bay, in which we had decided there was a lagoon. “An easy walk” we reminded ourselves as we trekked through bushes and vines and up steep rocky tracks. At points I felt like we were trekking Everest, but I was quickly put straight. Dripping with sweat out of places I never knew sweat could come, and informed by climbers that we were definitely lost, we descended the cliff to the beckoning beach below. No lagoon but plenty of opportunities to practice our power poses, so all was not lost.

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Dolled up with a fresh $8 manicure that resembled a time when I used to paint my nails with whiteout in primary school, we headed to somewhere nice on the other side of Railay – a bamboo bar overlooking, and at some points overhanging the water. Intoxicated by reggae music, we ate, drank and reached a new level of relaxation as the afternoon disappeared beneath us.

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Keen to catch another sunset, we jumped on some kayaks and explored the cliffs from another angle. No cave was left undiscovered, no matter how small it may have looked from the outside…and unsurprisingly turned out to be on the inside. Pulling up on shore for a quickie to check out the Penis Caves, and watching some real-life David Attenborough shit as a water lizard caught and devoured a crab, it was fair to say we’d reached our peak enlightenment for one day.

A chef-cooked meal for us at home, plus some fresh juices from down the beach that we’d spiked with tequila. Does life get any better?

E x

 

*pre-quantum physics.**

**Don’t worry if you don’t understand – this is an in-joke.

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Kristmas in Krabi

Twas’ the night before Christmas and all through the resort,
the team was searching for a fun activity of sorts.
The Kris Kringle presents were bought and wrapped in all kinds,
each excited about the next day and the presents we’d find.

Sad to leave the Sarojin but keen for adventure,
to another part of Phuket our plans had us venture.
A car ride to the unknown and a longtail boat to follow,
the beauty of our destination was not hard to swallow.

Swims in the sunset and beds in the trees,
incredible cliffs overhanging and thieving monkeys.
A never-ending buffet and a daring fire show,
meeting new friends, and tequila as BYO.

A Christmas tree made from palm ferns and all sorts of flowers,
fans on full blast and nothing but cold showers.
Santa nailing the gifts even though we’re not home,
calling family far and wide over the phone.

Swimming in the sea as warm as a bath,
trying to find cool and undiscovered paths.
With plans to kayak, dive, and swing from a rope,
island hop, in-house chef and puzzles – not sure how I’ll cope.

A Christmas spent away can seem like no Christmas at all,
not sure about you, but whatever this is, I’m having a ball.
Got to go explore caves before we lose the light!
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

E x

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You’ll phind me in Phuket

Well I’ve been to Thailand before, but now I can say I’ve been to paradise. The last few days have been such a whirlwind but in the best possible way – like the  kind of whirlwind you create when you mix the bubbles into your bath. Speaking of which, I’m currently sitting in my ensuite, filling up my enormous stone bath with petals and bath salts. As I said, I’m in paradise.

It all started with the reunions of all reunions, a moment that will no doubt stay with me for a lifetime. Having the same butterflies in your stomach as you did meeting him for the first coffee a year ago is pretty special. Even if he surprised me with some unsightly facial hair, his smile was still visible so I was set.

Next the reunions kept flowing until the (lit af) fam was a solid unit again. Something I felt pretty honored to be part of. And what a place to do it – The Sarojin  in Khao Lak, Phuket, aka paradise. Private suites with beds the size of my room, an adjoining bathroom with open waterfall shower and enormous stone bath, spas on the deck, and even a resident cat if you’re lucky. The gardens are sprawling and the pool is stunning. Days are spent lounging by the pool, playing croquet in the garden, walking the length of the beach and chasing hermit crabs, getting massages to the sound of the waves, and enjoying all day breakfast all day long.

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Thankful for the sleeping pill I popped on the flight over here, I made it to the most incredible, bucket-list-ticking birthday dinners. Picture this: candle lit dinner on the beach, 12 courses cooked right in front of you, the sounds of the waves, the best company and all to celebrate the birthday of a pretty special person. Finished with lighting our own laterns and setting them off into the sky. Something that has actually always been on my bucket list. Tick. Nothing could ruin a night like that, even rain.

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Don’t know how much more of this paradise I can handle, but I’m pretty sure it’s much more. Would love to share more, but drinks are calling!

E x

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How to relive your holiday

I don’t know why I never thought of doing this, but I love editing movies and often film my holidays and this is what I produced from my trip to South East Asia. I visited Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

King ‘kong

The mighty ‘kong. We spent a night in a lovely guesthouse overlooking the Mekong River, which happened to house two particularly helpful travellers – an English man who had retired three years ago and, since then established a foundation and school teaching young adults in Laos to speak English; and another who was just overly keen to stuff us with as much advice on travelling in Laos as we could possibly pack into our tired and sore heads. The border crossing the next morning however, might I say, was seamless. So big thanks to Don and Alan.

The two day cruise down the Mekong was very pleasant. While it offered a few stop-offs, it was mostly used as time to catch up on sleep, or to hone our card playing skills. Visiting a local tribe was also interesting, especially getting the chance to compare it to the lifestyle of the previous tribe we’d been fortunate enough to encounter. The most interesting thing I found about this community was that they still had a charm doctor (a career path I wish was offered back home!)

An overnight in Pakbeng allowed for many boxes on my Laos to-do list to be crossed. We tried the traditional dish of ‘lab’ for dinner at a gorgeous restaurant that advertised the skills of the cook: “My wife is very good cook – lovely jubbly”. A great recommendation by our guide (most of our cruise was there!) In the morning we also got to see the monks chanting and receiving alms, but I think we have plans to see that more authentically later on. The biggest thing for me in Pakbeng was the elephants though. I’ve developed a bit of a madness to the good old elephant while I’ve been away, so seeing them in the flesh, though still at a distance, was awesome. Nothing cooler than looking out your window in the morning, across the Mekong, to see elephants bathing.

Two short stops on the second day of the cruise were a nice chance to stretch our legs. The Pak Ou caves were awesome with over four thousand Buddha statues. Seeing the cave where elders hid in when Laos was invaded by China, and Buddha statutes that had survived the second war was also incredible. We also got to see, and taste, local Laos whiskey from the village that is renowned for brewing it. All in all, the cruise was a great way of getting for Thailand to Luang Prabang!

First impressions of Laos are very good! Much prettier, cleaner and more organised than Thailand. The city of Luang Prabang is actually a world heritage site, and has a curfew at 11:30pm. We did however, stumble across a buffet style dinner in the markets and for Jack, if you are reading, eat your heart out. We got given a plate of which we could fill with as much of the plentiful buffet as we wanted, plus a bottle of beer, for just over $4 AUS! I felt like I’d died and gone to boy heaven. Definitely going back tomorrow before we hit the night markets and some drinks. Hopefully by then we will have worked out the ‘two for one’ deals so we don’t end up with 16 drinks like tonight! Whoops! When in Rome I guess….haha!

Catch ya

E x

From sunrise to sunset

In one day, I watched the sun both rise and set. It’s fair to say, it’s been a fairly jam-packed last couple of days. It all started at 5.30am yesterday morning with a sunrise tour. We were driven to an incredible hidden viewing point to watch the sun emerge from the mist-covered valleys. Every second was one not to be missed.

Once back at the Lodge, we didn’t stay long. After packing up our bags, we bundled aboard a truck and met our tour guides, Pat and Jackar, and some new fellow travellers, David and Paul – all of whom we would, whether we liked it or not, get to know fairly intimately over the following 48 hours. The drive up the first mountain was by no way an accurate introduction to the two-day trek ahead of us. While strenuous at the best of times, it was an incredible trek that took us through rural farms, streams, back roads, and just the middle of absolutely nowhere.

The most amazing place it took us however, was hands down, the rural Lahu hill tribe, where we slept the night. It emerged on a hilltop through the parting trees as if the opening scene to a fairytale. And getting closer made it no more believable. The seventeen huts in total that made up the village were made solely of bamboo (apart from the large, ill-fitting satellite dishes, evidence of a Western influence). Pigs, dogs, cows, chickens, and buffalo wandered around freely, as did the many curious children. At first, honestly, it was a bit awkward. The locals didn’t seem to make eye contact, making us feel incredibly imposing on their cultural way of life. But, just as was the case with my previous cross-cultural experience in an Aboriginal community, it was the children that broke the awkwardness, confirming my belief that all children, though worlds part, speak the same language of love and laugh and play.

One of the greatest things I learnt on this trek was the millions of uses of bamboo. From hiking poles to houses, toy guns to boats. One use, however that it fails at fulfilling is providing a comfortable bed. Apart from the drafts (and smells) coming through from the herd of buffalos gathering underneath us, it is rather a hard surface to comfortably doze upon.

All in all, it was an amazing thing to do, and I’m glad we found time to fit it into our trip. For any who are interested in travelling – the Cave Lodge is absolutely fantastic. The range of activities available, the people and the place itself are outstanding. If I had time to stay for weeks, I would.

A few long days of traveling planned to get to Laos.
Until then, ciao amigos.

E x