Thursday, 18 December 2014


From SR we flew to Luang Prabang in Laos. I decided to stay at a hostel as Martina was soon leaving and I needed to make friends.  At the start I was slightly concerned about traveling on my own, however I made friends with an American girl, Christine, within 5 minutes and the golden girls duo was born.

The Golden Girls

There are no words to describe how pretty and tranquil luang prabang is. We spent the first evening exploring the night market and the good market where you can fill your bowl full of delicious fresh veggies for £2. We then met up with josh who we had met in hue and met some 'interesting' people at his hostel.

Night Market in Luang Prabang

The next day we visited the Kuan si waterfalls with a bunch of people from Josh's hostel.  I have never seen such crystal clear water, we trekked up the waterfall which was not easy in trainers let alone barefoot (one of the guys turned up with no shoes, bearing in mind he was smoking joints out of banana leaves the night before this was not surprising).

Kuan Si Waterfalls

After the waterfalls we hiked up the temple in town to watch the sunset.  The sunset was beautiful but yet again I find people ruin these events by spending the entire time with their cameras/ phones out, how about you enjoy it with your own eyes?!? Take a picture, sit down and live the experience!

Like the old grannies that we are Christine and I were back at our form and in bed by 11am, our room mates on the other hand came crashing in at 3am and spent an hour eating, talking and being generally annoying.  So a 630am when Christine and I woke up for yoga we made sure to be equally as inconsiderate (I know not very yogi of us!).  Yoga, cycle round town and a bus trip to vang vieng.  VV one of my favorite places in SE Asia, I've realized I love little towns where you bump into loads of other backpackers and there are lots of outdoorsy things to do.

Morning Yoga on the deck at Utopia overlooking the Mekong

We went for a morning stroll and ended up climbing, literally rock climbing, up a small mountain.  The guy at the bottom who took my entrance fee could have told me climbing up this rock is virtually impossible but 1 hour later and a mild panic attack and I was back at the bottom.

The realisation that flip flops were a terrible idea

Just before I ripped my favourite pair of trousers!
The summit!

Oddly Christine bumped into an American guy she had met in pai half way up this rock, that's what you have to love about traveling!  The afternoon was spent tubing, now a much more tame activity since they closed 26 of the 30 bars that used to line the river.  Essentially it's a pub crawl along the river, each bar has different activities from mud volleyball to wet basketball.

One of the Bars tubing in Vang Vieng

Post Tubing 

Left Christine and took a minivan down to Vientiane.  As usual the minivan is packed to the gills - not the safest mode of travel however I made friends with a group of Dutch guys and after about an hour chatting he promptly fell asleep on my shoulder ... the first time I have ever literally put someone to sleep with my chat.

We parted ways at the bus station as I had already booked a hostel, turns out people are right when they say there is absolutely NOTHING to do in Vientiane.  I was starting to despair at the thought of two days with no one to talk to (I traveled down to Vientiane to cross the border into Thailand and fly to Chiang Mai via a domestic flight - saving those pennies!) when I bumped into the Dutch guys at the bottom of my road.  They invited me along for the afternoon which was nice of them (or maybe I invited myself along ...either way at least I had something to do!).


Martina and I parted ways in hcmc I went on to Phnom Penh and she went to sihanoukville for 2 days (beach resort in Cambodia).  Oddly we bumped into each other at the Vietnamese border - turns out I had booked the luxury bus with wifi and comfortable seats win!  Crossing the land border from Vietnam to Cambodia was an experience, queues do not exist and officials try to scam you (even when there is a sign over their heads advertising the official fee for a visa).

The one thing I have realized with traveling is the scariest times is when you're moving from place to place as this is when you have ALL your possessions with you and everyone you pass by is aware of this. You're constantly on guard and trying to keep a close eye on all your belongings.

Once over the border you were immediately struck by the difference in development between Vietnam and Cambodia. The roads in Cambodia (apart from in the cities) are practically non existent. Ironically once you arrive in PP the disparity between rich and poor becomes hugely obvious, there are a lot more cars here than in Vietnam and they are all expensive SUVs.  In fact I think I saw more range rovers in PP than in Chelsea!


I've already written about my expediter owner working with the kids at LRDE AND SFODA on Facebook but I still can't help thinking about their adorable faces and how happy they all were even though they had so little in life

The week at the volunteer house was really difficult.  On the first day I was shown my room and immediately noticed the drain for the shower was uncovered, the first thing I thought of was cockroaches.  Needless to say 2 hours later when I went to have a shower there was a cockroach roaming around.  I mustered all my mental strength to 'remove' it from my bathroom but it was swiftly followed by another cockroach.  The thought of spending a week trying to get rid of cockroaches filled me with dread so I came up with an innovative solution to block the drain yet still allow water to flow down it!

Once Martina was back in town I spent all my free time with her back at her luxury resort.  Cambodians are the friendliest and most appreciative people I have ever met and even though there were times when I didn't feel safe (especially at night) it was so lovely to see how much they appreciated my work. I spoke to some of the employees at Martina's hotel about what I was doing and they all individually thanked me so many times and allowed me to use all the facilities as if I was a paying guest.

While in PP we went to cost the killing fields and S21, the former was extremely well curated and had an excellent audio guide. At this point you have to excuse my ignorance but I didn't realize the Cambodian  war continued on into the late 90s.  It is truly shocking to see what human beings are capable of doing to each other.

After a week we moved on to siem reap via the bumpiest 7 hour bus ride along dirt road, not an experience I will quickly repeat.  

Road from PP to SR

Again Martina kindly let me share her room at her lovely resort. We watched the sun rise over Angkor wat,visited the war museum where the guides are all ex war veterans and each has their own harrowing story about their life during the war.

Sunrise over Angkor Wat
Temples at Angkor Wat

Butterfly centre
 Met up with Tom and Gaby and another friend of theirs, we took a 2 hour tuk tuk out to the jungle and then rode motorbikes to the top of a mountain where we saw a beautiful reclining buddha carved out of a rock and swam in a gorgeous waterfall.

Stick insect

Reclining Buddha

A lot of people think SR is too touristy and I can see what they mean with the lights of pub street but I think overall SR is a really pretty little town with loads of great restaurants and stunning scenery.

Saturday, 6 December 2014


Arriving in Vietnam after three weeks in china was a bit of a shock to the system. What struck me immediately was how hot and humid it was, I was later to find out that the weather was mild compared to city's further south. If I thought walking around in china was hard with the stealth cyclists who would creep up on you in the road, Vietnam was a whole different ball game. There is no pavement and the only way to cross the road is to walk into the street.  cyclists will avoid you (probably because of the nuisance you would cause by being run down) in a city of 8 million people and 5 million scooters you have to embrace the madness and go for it.  In hanoi I caught up with Sandra, who I met in china and we spent our first proper night out together which resulted in a trip to the infamous lighthouse and waking up with bruises all over my feet.

Spent a few days exploring hanoi until Martina arrived and then set off to halong bay. We had the option of the castaway tour but being the granny's that we are we decided we didn't fancy a magaluf weekend in se Asia and opted for the more luxurious boat cruise.

Martina clearly can't focus but this is the only picture of me with the bay in the background

Back in hanoi we caught the night bus to phong nha.  If I thought night trains were an experience I was in for a treat with the night bus.  Started off well with the bus driver screaming at Martina for getting on the bus with her shoes on but at least he didn't force her to wash her feet as he did with others.  After an hour of waiting about and driving around in circles we set off, flashing lights and blaring eurotrash house music.  Thankfully we made friends with people on the bus and played cards and drank vodka to pass the time.  The sleeping pill I took drowned out the sound of the blaring horn, seems like you're only able to drive a vehicle in Vietnam if your hands are glued to the horn.

Night bus raver ....

Spent the day in phong nha trekking through the jungle and exploring. A couple of the caves.  What we didn't expect was that the only way to get into one of the caves was via a 30m high zip line and a kilometer trek through a narrow mud tunnel in the dark but we made it through (after much complaining and swearing in Maltese ....)

Ever the sensible one, Martina returned to our hotel to get an early night before our 5am bus to hue.  I on the other hand drank a bit too much, got stranded at another hostel and then had to break into my own hotel at 3am.  Needless to say the bus ride to hue was an interesting one....

Arriving in hue feeling a bit worse for wear we met a friendly Aussie over breakfast and decided to spend the afternoon walking around the citadel together.  Although the heat was oppressive the walk around the limited restored parts of the citadel was fun and followed up by a delicious veggie lunch costing a total of £2 per person!

A moment of panic looking for my passport which I'd put in a 'safe' place and an early night before our transfer to hoi an.

Originally we were going to hike it down to hoi an but as we only had one afternoon in hoi an decided to take a private car to save time (and there is also only so much we can take)

Hoi an was by far the prettiest city in Vietnam we have visited.  I can understand why they call it the Venice of Vietnam, fully of narrow roads, restaurants offering mouth watering meals and dozens of houses/temples and other sites to visit.  Hoi an is also a shopping Mecca known for it's hand made shoes.  we thought we would invest in a pair if shoes each, unfortunately it all went a bit wrong and included a little tantrum on my part and possibly some shoes being thrown out in the street.

From Hoi An we flew to Dalat, complete change of scenery in this city.  Dalat is a city at the top of the mountains in the central highlands.  The weather here is cool and fresh which was a welcome change!  It's proximity to Nha Trang meant that the few tourists around were all Russian day trippers.  In fact our hotel looked like something that had been transported from Russia.  It was huge and completely empty, the only reason why we booked it was that it had a gym and pool unfortunately the gym (along with 99% of the hotel) was currently being refurbished!  We spent the first day walking around town, booked a private guide and walked round the local waterfalls.  In all honesty it all felt a bit too fake and staged, what we should have done was booked a canyoning or trekking trip however we were both exhausted by this point (having been on the move every day) and made the most of the opportunity to relax and catch up on life admin.

In the eve we found a small hotel called Zen run by a German/Vietnamese couple were we had dinner and a chat with the owner.  The next day was a bit more R&R and one of the most delicious meals we have had so far including spring rolls, chilli prawns on skewers and fresh strawberry juice.  Dalat is well known for its fresh fruit & veg and beautiful flowers.

From Dalat we flew to HCMC; our hostel was a Japanese based pod hotel.  The pods were great and so much more private than your usual bunks in a dorm.  The highlight of HCMC was the war remnants museum.  The museum is based on various photography exhibitions which highlight the history of the American (aka Vietnam war).  Up until this visit i had a sketchy understanding of the background of this war (also most Vietnamese museums are not well curated).  This museum brought to life the horrors and atrocities of the American war and its aftermath which can still be seen today.  We also visited the Co Chi tunnels which were excellent although I had to back out of the tunnels as they were too hot, narrow and claustrophobic for my liking. HCMC was extremely humid, uncomfortably so, I have never felt so tired and unwilling to move in any other country.  We did get caught in a downpour which would probably explain the humidity.  We also spent one evening at the chill sky bar, every we spoke to recommended it over the Bitexco bar as its outside.  The drinks are pricey (GBP10 per cocktail) but it was nice to dress up and go somewhere which didn't feel like Magaluf in the far east.  

Notre Dame Cathedral HCMC

Torrential rain

One of the stunning photo exhibits at the war remnants museum 

Cu Chi tunnels 

Lunch in the market in HCMC

Pod at Kaiteki hotel HCMC

I can't say I am the biggest fan of HCMC and I was quite happy to leave, it felt very dirty and ominous.  We had a scary experience with a cab driver who drove off down a dark alley when we accused him of fixing the meter and we spent most of our time clutching our bags in fear of the bag snatchers everyone kept warning us about.  December 4th woke up at 5am (it is ridiculous how many early starts I have had on this trip so far.... this was meant to be a holiday) and boarded the bus to Cambodia at 6.30am with my starbucks peppermint tea in hand (probably the last Starbuck's I would have for a while ...)



My plan was to regularly update this blog however this was made impossible for two reasons, first I had to figure out how to get around the Chinese government firewall (I am not very tech savvy so took a whole for me to download a VPN) and second it's amazing how busy you can be when you're unemployed just living life and soaking in all that's going on around you.

My trip through china included Beijing, xian, shanghai, longji terraces, Yangzhou and Hong Kong. 

My first challenge was getting from Beijing airport to my hostel in a trendy hutong in central Beijing, this turned out to be surprisingly easier than expected. 

Highlights of Beijing would definitely include the hutongs and the art district of 798. Being swindled by a cab driver on the second day was a reminder that you do have to keep your wits about you.

Hostel in Beijing 
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Sunday, 30 November 2014


I thought it would be best to start this blog by explaining why I called it #no Chanel (although most of you know me well enough to get it without further explanation)

I started planing this trip at the start of 2014, which incidentally was a few weeks after I decided to buy a Chanel bag as a Christmas present to myself. Every time I mentioned the idea of a backpacking trip, to both my family and friends, they laughed at the thought of me 1. Living out of just one bag (bearing in mind when I lived in Canada for 4 months I took 4 suitcases with me) and 2. Living in an environment which most people would NOT describe as luxurious.  I guess you could say that I'm sometimes a little bit of a princess.  Determined to prove everyone wrong I booked my trip, got a tattoo and pierced my nose (of course I needed to make sure I could fit in with the backpacking community ...)

After a month of traveling I'd like to think I've adapted quite well, although I must admit that I am looking forward to getting my feet back into my jimmy choos .... I just need to figure out where and with whom I left them!