Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Travel Blog: Luang Prabang

A lot of people who haven't been to South East Asia haven't really heard of Laos: a landlocked country bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Those who have heard of it, probably have because of the infamous Vang Vieng tubing (or drinking in the river on a giant rubber ring). I only had time for one Laos destination - and I'm so glad I picked Luang Prabang!

This was one of my favourite stops on the trip. There's a vibe about the place that's hard to describe. It's so chilled out that it feels like you've stepped back in time. Again it was stupidly hot when we arrived. I checked into The Sanctuary hotel, my favourite hotel of the trip because it had so much character and made me feel like I was on some kind of spa retreat - money goes along way when it comes to accomodation in Laos. There was then some time to explore the banks of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. The country was under French rule for a while so the architecture is a blend of Asian and colonial with low wooden houses and bakeries on every corner.  As dusk descended on the Mekong river, which offered some breathtaking views and photo opportunities, we stopped for dinner at the awesome Tamarind Restaurant. Lao cuisine is unheard of in Western Europe but so so good. Its less spicy than Thai food but full of flavour. We filled up on lemon and ginger shapes, nibbles, crispy seaweed. stuffed lemongrass and steamed fish in banana leaf. Such a great meal! The restaurant also had a cooking school which I would have loved to have tried if I'd have had the time. Then it was off to the nightmarket. This was by far the best nightmarket I encountered in Asia, so if you're going make sure you leave some space in your luggage for it. It's full of handmade wares so I stocked up on beautiful silk scarves, jewellery made from bullets, handpainted parchments, fans, woven handbags, harem pants and more. One of the things that struck me about this market was the politeness of the vendors. No pressure to buy, easy to haggle, and so lovely that twice when I got confused by the currency and overpaid by ten times the amount the vendors gave me back my money no questions asked when I returned an hour later. I almost felt bad haggling by my third night at the market because the people were so nice.

The next day started with a temple tour ... they really are breathtaking in Laos filled with giant buddhas and populated by monks. It was so hot that one of the monks came out to give us some glasses of water to cool down. After some temple hopping we boarded a boat on the mekong for a relaxing ride down to the Pak Ou caves. Pulling in to a makeshift pier and climbing up some steps in the rock face reveals a small cave with over 2,000 buddhas of every shape and size. It was a really serene spot. Then we crossed the river and had lunch on the riverside - another great example of Lao cuisine with some minced pork with coriander and sticky rice. The view of the beaches, mountains, river and elephants was spectacular. 

Then it was our turn to ride elephants. We strolled through a small village and arrived at the elephant camp. I already posted about my elephant riding experience. They are majestic animals who I loved petting and feeding and despite the scenic surroundings I preferred feeding them to riding them. After a bumpy ride back to the city I was exhausted so made a quick pitstop at the night market and grabbed a quick snack at Joma's bakery - a favourite with backpackers in the area. I wish we had a Joma's back home, their frozen lemon and mint shakes and peanut butter cookies are amazing. 

The next day we took a bus to the Kuang Si waterfalls. One of the girls I met on the trip who had travelled substantially in Asia described these as 'the only waterfalls in Asia that live up to their expectations'. She was right .. wow!!! Even walking to the waterfalls among the vibrant flowers and with butterflies flying around you is scenic enough but then you turn a corner and pools of baby blues and aqua and green cascade before you and take your breath away. You can't bathe in most of the falls so its a great chance to soak in the view. There is a seperate bathing area towards the bottom of the falls, although you need to cover up to swim in it (most tourists ignore the signs but this was deemed very disrespectful by the locals). Given the heat on the day swimming was just what we needed and we swam around, getting our feet nibbled by the fish in the pools. On the way out we stopped by the bear sanctuary and watched some beautiful black bears getting fed. 

Once back in the city I bought some Beer Lao and sat at one of the riverside bars watching the world go by .. I totally switched off in Luang Prabang. Then I checked out the ethnology museum where the local guide explained to me the courting rituals of the Lao hill tribes ... for example did you know that in some tribes if a man picks up a girl and carries her into his house she is bound to marry him so all the girls walk around in groups so that noone unsuitable can carry them off? It was genuinely interesting. It also showcased how the men that were the best pottery makers and basket weavers were the most sought after grooms and those who couldn't master the skill were often cast out of the village - the men of Europe would seriously struggle to survive there! After watching a video of a Lao wedding (including the gory cow slaughtering ritual) I got asked out by my very young looking Lao museum guide. I quickly made excuses to leave as wasn't really looking for a date when I went in there - plus its illegal for Lao nationals to hook up with locals even if I wanted to lol.  At around 5pm it was time to go watch the sunset at the top of Phousy (comically pronounced Pussy) Hill. There were a lot of tourists and the day was foggy so it wasn't the clearest sunset I've ever seen but you get great views of the city from the top of the hill and we got to meet some local school kids who were trying to practice their English.

The next day was one of my favourite days. We got up before 5am to go to an almsgiving ceremony with the monks. Basically every day the monks go out at sunrise and walk through the village with some big bowls and the locals offer them food for the day. It has to be cooked as monks are not allowed to cook, so it was mainly sticky rice and fruit - although it amused me that since some of the monks are only children alot of the offerings are biscuits, chocolates and oreos. Not quite traditional but welcome by the smaller monks. It was great to be a part of this. I handed my camera to someone else as I didn't want to be one of those annoying tourists that stands in the way of the monks and got stuck into the ceremony. It really was quite humbling and good for the soul. 

After a quick powernap I went exploring. It was fairly early so the only people around were the local fisherman wading in the river, the women going to market to buy food and the monks collecting their alms. Sometimes it's great to just immerse yourself in city life. People always ask me how I can travel on my own. One of the things I love about it is to be able to just 'be' somewhere. No distractions. No banter. Just being there and watching the world go by. I went to Peninsula Massages to get a Lao massage (it is highly recommended by most bloggers and reviewers and is located next to Vat Xieng temple).  A Lao massage is definitely an experience I'd recommend. The small Asian woman lay me on a mat on the floor and then proceeded to crawl all over me, pulling at my joints and digging her knees and elbows into my rib cage. It was a very deep tissue massage and I winced at one point but for abour £4 for an hour long full body massage it was great value and I left feeling totally relaxed.  Then I had lunch at a great restaurant on the riverside. I was the only person on the restaurant and loved having the time to absorb the views across the river whilst savouring my tamarind and coconut curry.  

If you're in South East Asia make sure you don't miss out on Luang Prabang! Its a definite must see for anyone looking to relax and absorb some culture.

Next stop: Hanoi!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Travel Blog: Chiang Mai

The next stop on my South East Asia trip was Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. The flight from Bangkok got in pretty late (though I'm glad I flew and didn't take the train as I later heard that the train broke down that day and took almost a full day to reach Chiang Mai). It was a case of dumping bags in the room and setting off to explore the city without wasting any time.

South East Asia loves a good night market, and Chiang Mai is no exception. They have a massive tourist night market on every night, but if you're lucky enough to be there on a weekend (which I was) they have a 'local' market too which I preferred. I went straight to the local night market which was in a great location with plenty of live music and locals around. I did a tiny bit of shopping - purchasing my second of five pairs of harem pants - and then landed at the insect stand. Eating insects has always spurred an element of curiosity in me, with my inner foodie wondering what they'd taste like. On the advice of the locals I opted for fried grasshoppers, as apparently these were among the tastiests and the worms could ooze in your mouth which didn't sound particularly pleasant. The woman at the stall didn't let me take just one grasshopper - I had to buy a 100g bag with about 50 of the things. My Thai friend and I stopped at an awesome little chillout bar near the market playing live music and ordered a couple of glasses of wine - clearly wine is the natural accompaniment to fried bugs. The grasshoppers themselves weren't actually unpleasant. Pulling off the legs of something before you eat it is a bit odd but they actually tasted ok - I can't really think of anything to compare it to but they were savoury and a bit crunchy.

 The next day was one of my favourite days of the trip - packed full of activities. In the morning I booked on to a jungle ziplining adventure with Jungle Flight - I highly recommend them. The safety standards were excellent (despite the limited English of some of the staff), the price was reasonable (including a great post ziplining lunch), you get a free tshirt, its in a great part of the rainforest with amazingly scenic views and is generally great fun. Jumping off a 40m platform was a bit daunting but the rest of it was exhilirating and, despite the intense heat that day, I loved it -and it also gave me the opportunity for some extreme selfies. 

I got back to my hotel with 10 mins to spare and then jumped on to a mini bus to Doi Suthep mountain and Wat Phra That temple. This is pretty far out of town (about 15km) so its best to do on an organised tour rather than on your own (though the local buses to go there) and definitely worth doing. This temple is home to many stories - such as the Legend of the White Elephant and the story of the protective five headed Nagas.  There are over 300 steps to reach the temple so I'm glad we went at dusk when it wasn't as hot. The inside of the temple was a spiritual experience. I learned a lot more about buddhism - the significance of the positions of the buddha, the traditions observed by people, how they prayed, and a lot about their beliefs. We then got to receive a blessing by a monk, who chanted and poured water over us and then tied a white string on our left wrist. It was really serene in the temple and quite a humbling experience. 

From there it was straight to a typical khantoke dinner. There are a bunch of tourist trap ones in town where they cram dinner and a show in a packed room but I loved doing the off the beaten track version at a family's house. We drove into a residential part of the city and pulled up to a gorgeous two storey wooden house. The owner and his son came to the door to greet us with a garland of flowers and a welcome drink and then took us to perform a blessing before entering the house, offering small bouquets of flowers to the spirit guarding the house. He gave us a tour and introduced us to his family and showed us how the meal was being prepared. A khantoke is basically a bit like Spanish tapas. Lots of dishes are prepared and put on a tray in small bowls and then you pick a bit of everything and eat it with your hands along with some sticky rice. Before the meal they gave us some leaves and pointed us to a tray full of chopped up goodies. I piled all of them into my leaf, wrapped it up and popped it in my mouth. I didn't realise however that one of the goodies was chopped up hot chillies and my mouth was soon on fire despite my high spice tolerance. The family found this hilarious and rushed to my aid with a tray full of gorgeous coconut flans and cold cucumber which quickly restored my mouth back to normal. We sat on the floor with the family as there were only four of us which meant we could all eat together. The food was delicious!!! Steamed chicken amok in a banana leaf, fried chicken, stewed meats, a gorgeous tomato and chilli paste and many other treats accompanied by a chicken soup and a trio of desserts. Stuffed was an understatement. Before leaving, the grandparents of the family chanted over us and blessed us with another string tied to our wrist. Two blessings in one day! Then they gave us some gifts of a hand woven basket with some Thai plums that were yummy and we were off on our way. I was so stuffed that I fell asleep in the car on the way back in some sort of food coma.

The next day it was an early start to set off to Thai cooking lessons with Thai Orchid cooking school. Again I'd recommend them. We went to the market first and learnt about the ingredients we'd be using, as well as trying a few delicacies like the pungent Durian fruit (which isn't allowed in most hotels because the smell is that bad) and fermented eggs (which didn't really appeal so most of us didn't try these). On the menu were spring rolls, pad thai with prawns, a green chicken curry and some mango with sticky rice. We were given demos of each dish and then left to our own devices to cook. I love cooking so this was naturally one of my favourite activities. The food tasted great and the recipes were easy to follow. We got given a recipe book at the end and I bought one of the knives we used so I'll definitely be recreating these at home. Word of warning though, it was very hot and whilst we were doing the demos our chicken and eggs and prawns were sitting in the heat so we all had a bit of a runny tummy after the course.

I contemplated the Chiang Mai zoo but one of the girls I met that day was a conservationist and put me off giving me horror stories about animals in captivity. I also contemplated Tiger Kingdom but the locals told me it wasn't safe and that every month tourists were injured, bitten or mauled by the tigers, which was also enough to put me off. So I took the next 24 hours to do some souvenir shopping, laze by the pool or wonder through the city exploring. After such a packed itinerary I needed that bit of downtime as travelling can get exhausting!!

Next stop ... Luang Prabang, Laos

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Travel Blog: Bangkok

So since I got back from my trip people keep asking me 'What's this place like? or What did you like best?'  ... and one of the great things about travelling is that your experiences along the way turn you into a storyteller. This is technically a bucket list blog and not a travel blog, but maybe some of these posts will inspire people to add some things to their bucket list and if not it will at least record some of the awesome things I did in South East Asia.

As I explored each city I wrote little phrases and notes down on scraps of paper that were hastily shoved into my bag whilst I focused on enjoying the moment and capturing the beauty of what I was seeing with my camera. Now that I'm back home it means I get to relive those moments through piecing together my little notes and sharing some of time in Asia with my blog readers.

First stop ... Bangkok!

I only got to spend around 48 hours in Bangkok, but I reckon that was probably enough. After arriving on a late flight and going straight to bed I was up early and out before 7am, exploring the streets of Bangkok - basically just wandering aimlessly through the city which is one of my favourite things to do in a new place. It didn't take long before I stumbled across wat after wat after wat (thats a temple or monastery to you and me). Buddhist monks walked the streets and there were markets packed with food on every corner. One thing that doesn't come across in any of my photos is the heat or the smell of this city. It was mid April, with temperatures ranging from 35-45 and very humid. I was basically a sweaty mess as I walked down the smelly streets, attempting to take in and capture life in Bangkok - someone should develop the 'smellovision' concept!

At one point I wandered into a fairly boring part of town. I brought out my map to find somewhere more exciting to explore and got stopped by a man in his 50s. He started asking me where I was going and where I was from etc. I had a Taken moment (I'll refer to these alot - basically when you're a woman travelling alone and anyone stops to ask too many questions, and you've seen the movie Taken, then your brain automatically seems to jump to the unmistakeable conclusion that you're going to get kidnapped, drugged and sold to a prostitution ring against your will until Liam Neeson come and rescues you). I tried to make excuses and pretend that I was really interested in reading the history of a bridge I was standing close to untiil his phone rang and he walked off. I read that sign for a long time, until the man had disappeared from my line of sight. Then I carried on walking and bumped into him again. He was convinced that I was lost and that I shouldn't really be in the business district as there's nothing to see there. More questions were asked and he sat me down on a bench in the middle of the street and told me he'd show me where to go. Assumption #2 - I'm going to get ripped off. He sat down and explained to me (in fairly good English) why he loved Bangkok, asked me questions about where I was from and what I enjoyed doing. He then asked for my map, circled all the interesting places and wrote a list for me of what order I should see them in. Then he told me how he worked for the local newspaper and had done for several years, and warned me about tourist traps and taxi tricks. He then hailed me a tuk tuk, explained to him in Thai the itinerary we'd discussed and bargained the price of 40 bhat for an hour's ride in a tuk tuk (that's 80p or 1 euro to you and me). He put me in the tuk tuk, waved me off and told me to enjoy my trip. So both my assumptions were totally wrong. He was just a really nice guy. I discovered most people in South East Asia are super nice and genuinely appreciate tourism and people who take an interest in their culture - their sense of pride is astounding.

So I set off on my tuk tuk ride, with my guide who spoke no English other than 'up to you, up to me' and 'photo please thankyou' - thank god for the old man or I wouldn't have had a clue where I was going. As I mentioned in a previous post, tuk tuks are great fun to ride, and it was great to get some breeze after the morning heat. I saw a lot of gorgeous temples - the highlight being the Golden Mount, with its giant statues and great views of the city. I also passed a lot of barricades as the Thai Government is super corrupt and there were still anti-Government protests going on in the city. After trying to take me to a number of shops (they get free petrol credits if they take tourists to certain shops - but my driver understood when I said I wasn't interested in going) he dropped me off at MBK. A massive shopping centre. Floor after floor of increidbly cheap clothes, souvenirs and electronics. Some of the people I met went back three times to fill their suitcases. I however hate shopping (I know - weird right?!?). I was just glad for the air conditioning, so after I cooled down and bought one pair of trousers and a fan and I went in search of the food court (now eating I like!). There were only locals eating there and I grabbed a great pad thai  and some fresh lemonade for 70 bhat (£1.40).  I then took the sky train back to my hotel's district - probably the most efficient and clean metro system I've experienced ... def recommend when travelling in Bangkok as its cheap and really easy to use.

I was then knackered and had to spend an hour by the pool to recover from the heat. Closely followed by an amazing dinner treat of Musuman curry and Thai Green Curry. Thai food is much spicier in Thailand than it is at home but I loved it! There was a quick trip to the night market too, but I hate shopping and was jetlagged so I ignored the offers to go watch live ping pong shows and other similar entertainment and had an early night.

That was probably a good call as the next day was packed too. I got up early for a tour of the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha. Wow! That place is amazing .. so much gold and statues and gorgeous buildings. And a lot of history and tales of Buddha too - I'm glad we had a local guide explaining it all. Be warned though, you need to cover up to go see this. Ankles and shoulders can't be on display. I wore ankle length leggings with a baggy tshirt which got me past the first checkpoint but then I got sent back at the second one as my leggings were deemed too provocative and innapropriate and I had to go rent a long skirt to cover myself up with. In 40 degree heat this was far from comfortable. We also had to take our shoes off to approach the emerald buddha - and the floor in those temperatures is scalding hot so Im pretty sure I burnt a layer of skin off.

Next stop was a tour of the klongs - the canals that run through Bangkok. On the way to our boat we stopped to pick up some fresh coconuts to drink from, some freshly cut mango and pineapple and a takeaway lunch of barbecued pork and sticky rice - so so good! I ate mine and everyone's leftovers. We then boarded our boat and spent a couple of hours on the river. I loved this as it gives you an insight as to how people really live, as most locals houses back into the canal. It's also worrying to see how much of that area floods during rainy season as those houses were pretty close to the water level even in the dry season. We stopped to feed some fish with the monks and then steered past Wat Arun - the iconic symbol of Thailand.

After that it was time to pack up and get ready for our flight to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. For those of you flying from Bangkok airport you should definitely check out their amazing airport food court - got some great spicy duck which beats plane food any day.

Chiang Mai post to follow shortly ...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

South East Asia .... a bucket lister's paradise

Travelling continues to be one of my greatest passions. It's true what they say that its the one thing you can spend money on that makes you richer.

I just got back from just over three weeks in South East Asia: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia and I fell in love with the people and the places. Its definitely an area I want to explore more ... and I'm already planning a trip back to Siem Reap to volunteer at a school that I visited as I want to truly immerse myself in the culture and give something back. Aside from being an incredible trip, it was also a great place to cross some things off the list

Here's a rundown of some of the things I crossed off and others which should have been there. This blog will also turn into a travel blog for a bit as each place I visited is worthy of its own post for anyone wishing to go there, but for now lets go back to the list.

#22 - Fly on a zipwire through the jungle

I had the opportunity to do this in Chiang Mai Thailand. It wasn't on the original trip  itinerary but its always appealed to me and a local guide recommended using 'Jungle Flight', as some of the places really rip you off. Its something I've always wanted to do ... I love a bit of action and adventure, but don't really have the balls for bungee jumping so this will suffice for now. It was so much fun! There are about 30 platforms and you zip  across from one to the other on zip wires ... feeling relatively safe which is more than I can say for most of the activities I tried out there. Loved the 300m zip line through the jungle with nothing but the trees below and scenic mountain landscapes all around. The scariest bit was actually the freefall/abseil required to get down from some of the 40m platforms, but after closing my eyes when my stomach came to my throat on the first jump I enjoyed those too. A great day out in the jungle (and an opportunity for some extreme selfies)!

- Difficulty: 2/10 (All you need is a bit of time, some balls and around 2000 bhat)
- Thrill factor: 9/10 (flying through trees and then jumping off them was exhilirating)
- Sense of acheivement/fulfilment: 6/10 (lived up to my expectations, but not life changing)
- Recommend to a friend: 10/10 (one of the funnest things I did on my trip)
#34 - Ride an Elephant 

This something I've always seen photos of people doing on their Asia trips or seen on travel documentaries and thought would be fun so when we had the opportunity to do it in Luang Prabang, Laos I jumped at the chance. Just to set the scene a little, we were due to do this after our lunch by the Mekong River, travelling through the local village to the sandy banks of the river and then showering/bathing with the elephants. Sounded great, right? So we trooped up to the elephant centre and the majestic animals were beckoned from their lunch in the jungle for riding. If you've never been up close and personal with an elephant the sheer size of them will take you by surprise. They are massive!!! Huge!! Gigantic!!! (you get the idea) They eat between 300-350kg a day and have unsatiable appetities (I think I may have been an elephant in a previous life - genuinely relate to the constant hunger). It really struck me how small I felt next to these giant beasts. Then came mounting the elephant. We rode on a seat so had to climb up some stairs to mount it. The seat didnt feel safe or secure at all and I was worried about putting my feet on the poor elephant so wasn't the comfiest of rides as we swayed through the village atop the elephant, with no leash or stick or commands, accompanied by a 15 year old boy who seemed to be in no control of the elephant and was more focused on taking photos of the wild pigs and other village life for us on the cameras we'd handed to him. As I mentioned earlier the elephants were taken from feeding time for us to ride and therefore our elephant appeared to be starving, constantly stopping to eat a tree and even eyeing up a few chickens despite being vegetarian. It was also about 40 degrees so he was pretty flustered. So i spent most of the journey worried about the poor hot and hungry elephant and the rest trying not to fall out of my seat as it went down slopes and over hills. Once we got down to the beach by the river I started to enjoy it as the ride felt safer, the elephant was fed and therefore seemed happier and the location was amazingly scenic. When it got to the showering with them part I chickened out ... it had been a long day, the river's waters looked murky and i didnt fancy the hour long drive back to the city feeling wet and filthy. I did however enjoy feeding bananas to the elephants and petting them. Throughly more enjoyable for me than the initial ride through the  village, and substantially more enjoyable for the elephants. Now that its crossed off the list I'm not in any hurry to repeat the experience but loved meeting the beautiful creatures. 

- Difficulty 6/10 (Provided you can find an elephant centre which is easy enough in Asia and dont freak out by the lack of safety its doable)
- Thrill factor: 5/10 (More scary at times than thrilling, largely due to the size of the elephants and lack of control from our guide)
- Sense of acheivement/fulfilment: 4/10 (i did it, elephants are beautiful creatures, but enjoyed the feeding more than the ride)
- Recommend to a friend: 5/10 (some people love the experience, i spent most of the time feeling sorry for the elephant or fearing it would stampede into the jungle or that i'd fall off and get trampled)
#70 - Ride a tuk tuk
There are many types of tuk tuk in South East Asia but the premise is largely the same - some kind of motorcycle attached to some kind of carriage. They are cheap and relatively comfortable and so they are the most popular mode of travel in most cities in that part of the world. I rode a ton of tuk tuks and actually miss them now I'm back. I had some great tuk tuk drivers, like the awesome Mr Smiley in Phnom Penh, and some less good ones like my driver in Bangkok who gave me a 90min tour of the city's sites for $2 but spoke no English other than 'photo' 'buddha' and 'up to me, up to you' ... still not exactly sure where he took me so might have to do some googling to label my photos from that day. Beware though, there are lots of tuk tuks who overcharge tourists or insist on taking you to shops and outlets where they get comission for taking customers. Agree on the destination and price before you ride them. Also avoid tuk tuks with red flags on the top in Thailand - apparently those are run by the mafia! A fact I didnt find out til my last day in Thailand.


- Difficulty 1/10 (Relatively comfortable. Wish we had them at home)
- Thrill factor: 5/10 (Some scary moments e.g. when facing the chaotic traffic in Vietnam or being thrown about in the carriage on a bumpy dirt path in Siem Reap but generally felt safe)
- Sense of acheivement/fulfilment: 2/10 (not life changing, quite fun)
- Recommend to a friend: 8/10 (best way to travel in Asia)
#114  - Eat an insect
Food closely follows travel as one of my greatest passions. I love trying the local delicacy in each place I visit. In a lot of places in Asia these can be weird and wonderful - insects included. I guess this item appeared on my list out of a childlike curiosity as to what bugs tasted like. There are all sorts of creepy crawlies readily available for tasting in most markets ... crickets, grasshoppers, silk worms, spiders, beetles etc. I opted for trying grasshoppers in Chiang Mai as apparently the worms squirt and ooze in your mouth (eugh). The woman at the stall wouldn't let me buy just one so I ended up with a 100g bag of around 30 grasshoppers and sat down in a bar armed with a glass of wine and my newly purchased snack. Its a bit weird at first as you need to pull of the legs before eating it (wouldn't wanna get grasshopper stuck in your teeth would you) but then, as they've been fried and marinated, its essentially just a crunchy, savoury snack. I actually ended up eating about 10. Probably wouldn't eat them if the novelty factor wasn't there but largely tolerable. I also tried some crickets in Phnom Penh which were similar in taste and texture and an assortment of weird fruits and vegetables and even some really tasty frogs. I drew the line at the worms, quali foetus and gross looking fermented eggs that were offered to me though .... those just made my stomach turn.

- Difficulty 7/10 (Once you get over the mental block that its a bug its fine)
- Thrill factor: 2/10 (Not exciting just satisfying the curiosity).
- Sense of acheivement/fulfilment: 1/10
- Recommend to a friend: 5/10 (if you are a curious foodie like me its worth doing as i couldn't really compare the taste to anything else)
Things that weren't on my list but should have been:
  • Travel solo. So many people freak out when I say I went on my own but I loved it. You don't have to compromise as to what you want to do and you get to enjoy just 'being' somewhere. So many peaceful moments were enjoyed and I totally switched off. As long as you're not stupid its perfectly safe and you meet a ton of interesting people along the way.
  • Take cooking lessons. I did cooking school sessions in Thailand and Cambodia and a cooking demo in Vietnam. My passion is food and learning about ingredients and techniques from the various countries was both fun and interesting. I've come back armed with knives, bowls, spices and recipes and can't wait to recreate the dishes at home. If cooking isn't your thing then try whatever else your passion is in a different country ... it adds a new perspective.
  • Visit Kuang Si falls, Halong Bay and Angkor Wat. I took about 400 photos in each of these and they didn't do justice to the natural beauty of these places. A must see for any one travelling to South East Asia.
There's so much other stuff too ... but those will be covered in my travel blog posts which are coming soon! Watch this space!