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Last stop…Singapore!

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As I’ve said before, the best way to see a city is to walk it…and with my trusty trip advisor app (you can download maps for free, and they had GPS even when your phone is in flight mode) by my side I was feeling pretty confident about smashing the 8-10 minutes hostelworld stated it would take me to reach my bed for the night. These websites are so helpful…take exit b from Bugis station and head up Victoria street…hmm…up…which way is ‘up’? Right or left? Trip advisor says left…so off we go!   
Having crossed back over the equator, rainy season was in full swing. I decided to duck into the next bar or cafe I saw, which, as luck would have it, happened to be the famous Raffles Hotel – home to the Singapore Sling, one of my favourite cocktails. Who could pass up an opportunity to sample their fave beverage in the very place it was created…on its centennial year no less? Not me that’s for certain, even at S$35 a pop… That’s about £16. Eek. However, it was delicious, and if I come back I’ll be having another! 

A few metres down the road and I rather wondered if all the gin had gone to my head as, to my left, the was a flying ship. Not Jolly Roger, Neverland stuff, but a huge luxury cruise liner thing. A few steps more and the trees parted to reveal it was of course, not flying, but a massive structure on top of three skyscrapers. Research would later tell me this was the famous marina bay sands, but for the moment I was transfixed! 

By this point I was very bored of lugging my 8kg bag around and decided to hot foot it to the hostel. The astute among you probably realised on the second line that I’d been walking entirely the wrong way since turning left out of the train station. Bugger. My first destination without a friend to guide me and I’d already taken the scenic route. Taxi? Taxi! Who needs to be on the budget tour anyway?
Luggage deposited and phone charged I set off with the intention of getting lost. The last time I travelled alone I spent so many hours meandering around San Francisco, Sydney and everywhere else, but this time I’ve either been in places too small to lose your way or had a guide to keep me on the right track. I had a few ideas of things I’d like to do during my few hours in this city, but mainly I wanted to wonder around and see where my feet took me. 


Half an hour later, having navigated my way through a place I’m pretty sure was a business park, done some illegal jay-walking and generally having done a rather good job of being in all the places I shouldn’t be, I found myself at the marina (that big boat) in time for sunset.  

 The building actually house a shopping mall, casino which is free for tourists but extortionate for locals, and an elite hotel with rooftop infinity pool. For S$23 you can visit the sky park on the roof, where there is also a nice restaurant (if you have a booking for dinner you don’t need to buy a ticket). The views from the top were stunning, and with my Singapore airlines boarding pass I got a nice 15% discount on my entry! 

At the top I met Tessa, a teacher from Chicago who has come to Singapore for a two year adventure. Once the sun was down and the skies darkening we took the lift back down the 58 floors to the bay in time for the light show which takes place twice each evening on the water. We elected to watch the show from outside marina bay sands, where we could see the story projected onto the water and hear the music etc.  

 However I’d really recommend watching the second show from across the bay if you get the chance, to appreciate the lazer and light show which takes place from the other side. We, however, were too busy doing this…

I ended my evening in Chinatown, which was pretty much closed by the time I got there at 10; one restaurant was still serving so I headed in for dinner. No one spoke English. Ah. Lots of pointing and hoping later I ended up with a really delicious meal, and a big dumpling. Jun, a guy I sat next too, informed me this is where the native Chinese people go for authentic food, and you’d never find a local or a tourist here. If I want ‘the good stuff’ I should visit Fortune Centre. I’m quite happy with authentic though, have never had authentic Chinese before! 

Singapore is definitely going to require a return visit, for at least 2-3 days! But for now it’s time for the final leg of the tour. London here I come!

Ps Singapore airport is INCREDIBLE. There’s a butterfly garden, cinema, sleepzone, all the food you can imagine…if you’re here for more than 5 hours they even offer a free city tour. Seriously if you have the option between a 2 hour lay over and a 6 hour one…choose 6. If you get the choice between 6 and 24, choose 24. I’m glad I did!


The best day?

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My final day in Indonesia probably seems unremarkable in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t do or see anything I haven’t done before, but still I think it may have been my favourite day so far.  
Wiebke wanted her ears candled in the hopes it would help her be able to dive when she got to her next destination. We set off down the beach front to a massage place and were introduced to Ani, a small, sunshiney Indonesian lady who ran the place. Whilst Wiebke disappeared to sort her ears out, I opted for a sasak massage with Ani’s sister, which is something akin to being beaten up by a small Asian lady who doesn’t look like she should be up to the task. I can’t abide massages where you come out feeling like you’ve essentially been stroked for an hour, so for me this was perfect!  

 Massages take place in little bamboo huts, shaded by woven walls and beautiful sarongs. There are flowers growing in bamboo hangers all around and, just as my massage began, someone somewhere started playing the guitar. Heaven. 

The mysterious guitar player turned out to be Kevin, a guitar teacher. So Ani’s sister handles the massage side of things..Kevin offers guitar lessons…what does Ani do? She teaches people to cook! Wiebke and I booked ourselves in for a class that evening. 

Wiebke disappeared back to our homestay to call home, whilst I stayed to speak to Rei (like Rhea, roll the r), Ani’s 18 year old niece who was staying for the holidays, who wanted to practice her English. Like almost every Indonesian I’ve come across, Rei is also pretty darned good on the guitar. ‘Do you play?’ Kevin asked. ‘No.’ I replied ‘I owned a guitar for 3 years and never managed to play a song’. 2 hours later and I could play not 1 song…but 2!!! Hotel California and Imagine. So exciting! Trouble is I just sold my guitar…

We spent the rest of the day at Sama Sama (it means you’re welcome) cafe by the beach, soaking up the last of the sun before I head back to England where, I hear, it’s cold and raining. Something to look forward to!   

That evening, our cooking class with Ani was more of a lesson in how to keep up than anything, as she bustled around creating three dishes at once and not entirely explaining what she was doing or the quantities in which she was doing it. Luckily between a diligent German and well, me, we were able to ask enough questions have her repeat everything 10x over until we were sure we had everything just right! So hopefully I’ll be able to recreate the Gado Gado (a kind of spicey peanut sauce) and Urap Urap (Lombok salad) when I get home! 

Though I can’t imagine they’ll ever be as good as here, with fresh tamarind, onions and lemons the size of my thumb nail but with more flavour than 10 of the same back home, and all crushed together using a stone mortar and pestle which felt like it was probably one of the original designs. 

  We got to sample our creations, which were darned good even if I do say so myself! Though three dinners (there was a chicken curry too, which was just ok) is enough for anyone! 

Many hours, and more guitar lessons and singalongs later it was time to say goodbye. 
Kevin and Ani have invited me to stay with them if ever I return to Lombok, which I really hope to do! Next time maybe I’ll even finally conquer my fear of riding a scooter. I’m not sure I’ve done the best job in communicating why the day was so wonderful…maybe because it’s the last day I just appreciated everything that much more. But I went for a walk and ended up having a massage, guitar lesson, cooking lesson and meeting a wonderful family who completely welcomed me into their world. I visited a beautiful beach, laughed with new friends and ate delicious meals. Lombok is such a unique and special place, next time I’m coming for a month!

Next (and final) stop, Singapore! 


Meeting the locals 

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Travelling, for me, is mainly about people. Sure there is beautiful scenery, delicious food and fun things to do, but without people all of these things would just be a little bit greyer (thanks DW!). Lombok, it seems, has the best of people. The locals here are as unspoiled as the landscape; the majority still marvel at tourists the way I marvel at seeing the milky way over the ocean from a tropical beach…and you know you’re off the beaten track when you can’t find a postcard for love nor money! Unfortunately this is 2015 so the marvelling is all too often coupled with requests for photos (if you’re lucky, more often than not you turn around to find someone following you as they attempt to take a selfie with you in it completely without your knowledge), or just to sit with you for a while so they can practice their English. In exchange for conversation they will share whatever they have, be that food, their language or stories. 

Getting off the boat from the Gilis, I felt like Leonardo di Caprio returning to the mainland after his time on The Beach. After 6 days of quiet, engineless, existence, the noise and busy-ness of the port was overwhelming. A French couple and I haggled for a taxi and headed to our first destination, Sengiggi. We didn’t even stop there; the ‘quiet village’ was heaving with locals enjoying the last day of the post Ramadan celebrations, so much so that you could barely see the black sand beach, it was so covered in people! Instead we decided to head to Kuta, which is bigger but quieter. Along the way our driver asked if we would like to stop and see a traditional Lombok village…why not?!

  Whilst much of the island is modernising, traditional locals still live in mud houses, making a living from farming, weaving and making jewellery. The houses are simple, one room dwellings where women and boys under 10 sleep on woven blankets inside, whilst the men and older sons sleep outside. Whilst sat on the outer part I spotted a tray with some leaves and a pot on it…can you guess what it was?

   A make up set…of course! The leaves when chewed create a red paste used for colouring the lips and cheeks. The tobacco (in the pot) is then used as a brush to remove the red stains from teeth. Genius huh?

Ok next challenge…what is this?  

 If you said a tomato, take 10 points!

I spent my first few hours in Kuta, Lombok alone, making me an easy target for passing hawkers. But unlike more touristy places the people here don’t seem to mind if you don’t buy. My first exchange was with Julie, Sam and Sunita, three sarong sellers who spend their days walking up and down the beach with a HEAVY bundle of fabrics on their head.  

 Having ascertained I already had a sarong they stopped asking me to buy one of theirs (unheard of anywhere else I’ve been – usually if you have one it means you’ve been worn down before, so they’re determined you can be persuaded to buy again!); instead we spoke about their lives, families, villages etc and I showed them photos of the UK (mainly Glastonbury, Cornwall and Loch Lomond…my phone had limited options!). As the three women continued on their way, two young boys joined me. One selling coconuts and the other bracelets. These two were not so easily placated by ‘no thank you’, but they were fun.  

 The younger one, Sabi, is 7; he goes to school in the mornings and sells bracelets on the beach in the afternoon. At sunset he goes home for dinner and to make more bracelets before hitting the beach bars to gain trade from drunken tourists. The older boy, Jonny, is 15 and already married. He and his wife have their own stall selling coconuts and pineapple to people on the beach. My younger nephews are 6 and 14…and whilst I’m sure N3 would be a dab hand at selling bracelets to people on the beach (or anywhere!) I’m glad he doesn’t have to.

Back at the homestay I met Wiebke, a German girl travelling through Asia on her way to work in Australia. She’d spent 3 weeks in Lombok (it’s easy to see how) and proved to be an invaluable guide during my stay here. Our first stop was the beach, where a Saturday night shindig was in full swing, including bonfire, live band, fire poi and impromptu limbo competitions with bits of palm tree! A few years ago the law was changed disallowing locals to build bars on the beach, but our host had a clever way around that…his bar is a boat, on wheels!  

 The lights, stage and sound system were all portable, set up just for the night, and the tables were lit by sand anchored candles in wax sandwich bags (great as they don’t catch fire). If you ever travel to Lombok be sure to bring a handful of these with you, they can’t be found easily here so they rely on tourists and visitors to provide them. Means a good few free drinks in exchange – more than a fair swap!! 
This is the first destination I’ve been where I’ve had no idea what tomorrow will bring, but I can already feel myself falling in love with Lombok. Wish I was here longer!

A quick catch up…

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So, where did we leave off? After spending all of 15 minutes on the hectic Gili T I’d booked an island hopping boat to the neighbouring Gili Meno (couple central) and the quieter Gili Air. The harbour was chaotic, with travellers and locals alike clutching coloured bits of paper, looking either lost or lethargic depending on if you were viewing the former or the latter. A loudspeaker made intelligible announcements at regular intervals and, somehow, those holding the appropriate ticket seemed to understand and make their way down the sand into the crystal clear water and onto the boat. I had a white ticket, and as I was clearly struggling to make sense of the system the most sensible option seemed to be to follow another group who also had white tickets. Fool proof. Lucky for me that group were awesome! Tori, Aimi, Harriet and two guys they had met along the way. Harriet and Aimi are friends who met in a hostel one night three years ago and have done seasons and summers together since before embarking on an epic adventure around the world. Tori is Aimis big sister, who’s currently cycling the globe on her little blue bicycle. Amazing right?! You can read about her adventure here: 


harriet, aimi and tori

The group were so welcoming, and before I knew it we were on Gili Air and splitting into three teams to locate accommodation for the 6 of us. Of course the boys defected (which is why they are ‘the boys’…I can only remember one of their names!), having haggled for a gorgeous house in Elephant Bungalows (I KNOW!) with a pool etc, whilst we girls had turned down places which couldn’t accommodate the whole group. Pfft. Within a few hours though we were safely nestled in Santigi homestay, with our host who had been born and bred on the island. He told me the island had changed a lot since he was a boy, when no foreigners came at all and there was no currency or tourism. I joked with him that it must be nice to be able to make a little money from the trade, but his reply suggested he’d prefer to return to the simple life. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your home change almost beyond recognition.  a few years ago there were no hotels here; it was for day trips only. now they're building a 200 room resort 

Many of the younger locals however are embracing the changes, as it gives them entrepreneurial opportunities to start businesses such as homestays, gelato shops, tourism centres (there’s one on every corner) and the like. The people here seemed so friendly, happy to just chat to you and discover little about your life, without the feeling that they’re just hoping you’ll spend some money on whatever services they’re offering. The pace of life on this island, which you can walk around by foot in under 2 hours (it’s that, bicycle or horse and cart – as there are no motor engines allowed here), is slower and less hassled, with a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ mentality. The girls and I felt right at home. In fact for the first 12 hours or so I’m pretty sure I annoyed everyone with the amount of times I expressed joy and disbelief at where we were.

It could be a long and repetitive blog if I were to sit and describe each and every one of the following days. We did spend one day on a snorkelling tour of all 3 islands in this area which was pretty magical. I was lucky enough to swim solo with a turtle as he came up for air, as the rest of the group had gone in search of shallower waters. When I rejoined them they were surrounding a huge one who was happily munching away on seaweed growing on the coral reef. He was shallow enough for you to swim right alongside him as he surfed the seabed. Such a dude! I’d made a purchase in Bali I was keen to try out – a see-through dry bag meant to hold mobile phones etc for use in the water. I’d seen the kids using them in the pool in Battambang, and picked one up in Kuta…but dare I try it?! I did dare and it was fine! The pocket of air trapped inside the bag even makes the whole thing float so you’re even not too scared of dropping it. Unfortunately by the time I braved it we were in very choppy seas which affected the underwater touchscreen capabilities, but the following day in the calm shallows it worked a treat! The sea outside our favourite bar, Mowies, is sheltered from the waves by a reef around 300m from the shoreline. This meant the water close to the sand was still, shallow and warm, though the bottom was covered in uber sharp coral which made walking a bit of a mission (very funny to watch, not so funny to do). Just perfect for a dip when you got too hot on the beach!  
Today, day 6, my friends left, and for the first time all trip I was sad to have said goodbye. They’re such fun loving people and I’ve laughed a lot with them. In fact within an hour of them leaving I was at the harbour ready to set sail to the next adventure. Gili Air is a perfect paradise, but if I’m going to make new friends for my remaining 3 days in Indonesia I’d rather it was somewhere new. So I’m off to Lombok, not sure where yet, to see somewhere else I haven’t seen before!

  Wish me luck :-)  

Walking on Air

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Life is perfect.

Back soon :-)


Island time…Asian time…same same.

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Every day on this trip I’ve seen westerners getting stressed. It’s understandable at times, though always pointless. Case in point. Today I was up and ready by 6.45 for my 7am bus to the Gili Islands. At 7.45 the bus showed up and we began our journey. After 15 minutes we pulled over whilst the driver made a phone call. 10 minutes later he took another call and we were on our way. Half an hour later we reach a harbour, but are told not to debark. Half an hour later again we’re back in Kuta and asked to change buses. An hour and a half after this we reach another port where we all get off and are told to wait. By this point a couple with me were tearing their hair out. Why oh why had we been up so early if our boat wasn’t till 11?! They’d have just taken a cab themselves and sorted it out etc etc. Honestly it’s best to just go with it. Sure, with a 7am start I expected to already have my feet in warm white sands and preferably be drinking rum out of some sort of coconut…but you’re on island time now, and Asian island time at that. No one here is stressed, and you stressing isn’t going to get you there any faster. Be flexible with plans, keep expectations low and go with the flow.

To put things in perspective, you could be at the office! 

We did eventually get our boat, and to everyone’s relief it was a real boat which looked up to the journey. Sometime later (maybe one hour…maybe three), after a salty, wind swept journey including a spot of dolphin watching, we reached our destination.   

  15 minutes later I had booked a boat to a neighbouring island. 

Gili T is crowded, loud (in the 70’s way) and noisy – filled with people yelling, horse drawn carts running back and forth (there are no cars here) and hundreds of people. Not for me. I want relaxation, tranquility and peace.  

 So I’m just enjoying a quick watermelon shake before my next boat. 

To be continued…

48 hours later

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Every so often when travelling you come across an ‘is this real?’ moment. Perhaps you’re extremely jet lagged, walking down a perfectly ordinary city street, surrounded by high rise buildings only to turn the corner and view the Sydney harbour in all its glory. Or maybe you find yourself witnessing the perfect sunset, with awesome people on a beach some would describe as paradise. Whatever the situation, I’m sure every traveller has had at least one of these moments. You stop for a second and survey where you are and what you’re doing, and realise that for some people this is everyday life (Not fair!). But at least you’re here experiencing it, which is better than some alternatives. 

I spent almost my entire time in KL feeling like this. 

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital city. It’s a huge, bustling metropolis, home to several cultures, religions and the famous Petronius Towers – the tallest buildings in the world. I arrived quite late in the evening, and it was gone 9pm by the time I had navigated my way across the city and found myself at the Reggae Mansion hostel. I’d chosen this place mainly because of the pod like beds (they’re fully enclosed other than the entrance at the foot of the bed, and offer a shelf, light and power socket per bed.  

 Your own little haven after a few weeks of bunk beds and open dorms), and the rooftop bar. Thank goodness it had that. This was the first (and I hope last) place I have ever stayed where no one in the dorm spoke. Seriously. 9 people moving around like little mice, offering one syllable answers to any conversation I attempted. Undeterred I headed upstairs, and was soon chatting to a group of solo travellers from South America. The bar had a fantastic view of the skyline, with the famous towers and the KL tower in close view; also as it was the first night of Eid the sky was often glittered with fireworks. After half an hour or so my new friends got up to leave…’we have to go now, my friend is throwing a house party and he’s here to collect us…unless, you want to come?’

Hmm… Did I want to head out with random people I just met, to a party somewhere I had never heard of, in a city I’d been in less than an hour? Yes. Yes I did.

The next few hours were surreal, we stopped at a store to buy some party supplies (as you do) only for an entrepreneurial chancer outside to whisper that his shop had much better bargains…if we would just follow him? Down a poorly lit backstreet we went (sorry mum, I promise I’m not usually so reckless!) where we had a liquor store open up just for us. I think he has expecting our western crew to be dropping some big bucks (all westerners are loaded, of course)…not to buy the cheapest bottle of rum on the shelf along with some ginger ale and two packets of knock off Pringles.

  KL is a relatively young city, which means real estate is cheap and salaries high. This is the only conclusion I can make having met Jessica (the party host) and seen her home. Jessica is my age, and paying around €400 a month to live in a stunning open plan, maisonette apartment on the 31st floor of a central block. Annually she earns as much as I did in my last job, and has been working for a few years, (this kind of conversation is how you know you’re getting old…fyi!). When I told her how much I pay to share a 6 bedroom house with (shock horror) no pool or gym, her eyes nearly popped out of her head. C’est la vie. We all sat and drank, played music and swapped travel stories and snippets from our cultures for the next few hours. Top tip; if you ever want a laugh, get Asians and South Americans…or anyone really, to attempt to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngechgogerechgwynrobwchllandysiliogogogoch (my spelling is probably a bit off, sorry!)

All too soon I was back in my pod to catch a few z’s before meeting Thibah for a catch up and tour of the city. This invitation was the reason I had come to the city, and I was really excited to see my old friend! 

 Thibah and I were at UWE together and met whilst working as student ambassadors. She moved back home after her masters, so his was our first face to face catch up in nearly 7 years! We had an excellent day strolling around the city, hearing stories about the day Malaysia claimed independence from the British, spending way too much on knock off branded goods and eating local food in the shadow of the towers. Here we met Matthew, a 23 year old chef about to embark on an epic journey of culinary discovery all courtesy of the Hilton. They’re sending him to 35 countries, for 2 months each time, to learn the cuisine there before he goes to work as head chef in the Sydney branch. His dad had wanted him to be an engineer, but he wanted to cook and to travel – and now look at him! What an adventure! From there we ventured to little India before admitting we were both dog tired, and it was probably time for a siesta.  

 A quick recharge and it was back to the roof for a truly international game of pool. You know it’s international when your team represents a continent, not a country! The pool gods were with me that night as I sunk fluke shot after fluke shot, with no one believing me that it was not a normal occurrence. Some time later we were down to a team of 4…Sarah from Melbourne, Danny from Pennsylvania and Hans from Mauritius, aka the prince of KL. Hans is in Malaysia studying; he receives an allowance from his parents each month which covers his apartment (complete with infinity pool, jacuzzi and gym) and party lifestyle. This evening was a lesson in how the other half live. To be 21, living in luxury abroad, taking taxis everywhere and spending $100 a time on rounds of drinks is completely alien to me. Hans took us to his favourite bars, where he has bribed the bouncers so many times there’s no need to queue, and then to a club in a skyscraper which isn’t due to open till August. Remember those moments I spoke about at the beginning? You may wonder what possesses people to accept the invitations which get you into these crazy situations…Sarah, Danny and I have dubbed it ‘following the vibes’.  

 Sometimes you just get a feeling everything is ok, and you’re probably not going to end up with a Russian name or in a bath of sand. These are the tales which make your travels; you didn’t come half way around the world to sit in the hostel. You have to trust that everything will be ok, or better than ok, it’s going to be an awesome adventure, the memories of which will get you through some bleak future day. This is why we travel.

At around 5am we took a taxi back to the hostel, with an invitation to return the next day for a bbq and pool party with the prince and his friends. Deep down I knew I would decline the offer of utilising his AirAsia contacts to change my flight so I could attend. One evening of this lavish lifestyle was exhilarating and a little crazy, but I was glad to return to my backpackers pad with the promise of new adventures tomorrow. I’m finally off to the beach! Bali here I come :-) 


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