Perhaps one of the most recognisable sights in Southeast Asia is Ha Long Bay. Located on the northeast coast of Vietnam, the bay is a bumpy 3.5 hour drive from the capital city of Hanoi. The vastness of the UNESCO heritage site quite literally took my breath away. With a name that translates to ‘Bay of the Descending Dragon’, Ha Long Bay spans an impressive area of 334km² and is populated by 1,600 monolithic islands made of limestones and hollowed by beautiful grottos. Some of these islands are even believed to be over 20,000,000 years old. Upon the glassy water, junk boats spread their sails like amber wings and fisherman cast their neats over floating villages.
During a philosophy class last semester, I stumbled across a particular term: a posteriori. It means to know something through experience. And as it happens, a posteriori is how I would describe my knowledge of the number one reason I travel.
If you had asked me four months ago why I traveled, the answer to that question would have been simple; I travel to meet new people, to explore new places, to try new food and to learn new things. Whilst that answer isn’t necessarily wrong, there is another reason that now tops that list. I cannot think of one word to describe it; all I know is that I only discovered it through experience.
There we were – my friend and I – strolling through central Hanoi during a walking tour. We had just exited the Ho Chi Minh Museum when suddenly a couple of Vietnamese children who couldn’t have been more than five years old ran smack bang into us. One wrapped his arms around my legs and clung to me like a limpet. I had to shoot my arms out to capture my balance.
“I’m so sorry!” a woman apologised, descending upon us and peeling the child from my legs. My friend and I laughed and reassured her that it was no worries. We made to leave when the woman caught my arm and asked us a question. I didn’t quite catch her properly, but gathered that she was wondering if we would be interested in taking a quick English class with the children. My friend and I exchanged nervous glances; we were predisposed to be wary of scams or getting roped into something dodgy that would result in some form of payment – let’s be realistic, this was Southeast Asia – but in the end our manners got the better of us and we let her drag us across the bridge and to a square where the rest of the group were.
It turned out that she was the teacher of a class of about thirty students from an international language school. The children were all around the age of five and were wearing matching uniforms. I’ll never forget the way their faces lit up when my friend and I walked over. There was another teacher, and she and the first woman divided the children into two different groups and then allocated my friend and I to a class each.
I was given a set of A4 laminated cards, each with different pictures on them, and instructed to ask questions related to the content. The children would then answer in English to practice their language skills. For example, I might hold up a card with an illustration of kids playing outside in a playground, and ask how many ducks were swimming in the pond, or what colour the monkey bars were. The children would collectively shout out the correct answers in perfect English.
The feeling I got from being a part of this short yet valuable activity really made an impact on me. I got a rush of adrenaline every time the children got the answer right and cheered. The teacher asked if they could take a picture with me, and they all scrambled to stand next to me. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face as fifteen pairs of tiny hands reached out to hold mine as we posed for the camera.
In that moment, I knew. I knew that this was why I traveled. I don’t just travel for the people, the places or the food. I travel for those small, unexpected moments where you’re pinching yourself to make sure you’re awake. I travel for those rewarding experiences that inspire you to flip your life upside down. I travel for the exuberance and utter joy that was on those children’s faces as I took my English class that day in the middle of the bustling Hanoi square. I knew very well that for those children, the memory of the girl with the red hair who asked them about ducks and monkey bars would fade in time, but what mattered was the impression I made in those few short minutes.
I travel for the times where – after rendering myself broke to afford a trip – I feel like the richest person on the planet.
It’s that time of the day again, when I’m scrambling to my laptop to write and publish the day’s blog post before midnight. I always swear I’m going to be prepared and proactive and draft my posts before it gets to crunch time, but something always gets in the way. That ‘something’ is usually ‘excuses’. Sigh.
Anyhow. Time for round two of the vlogs! This time, I have condensed two weeks of my Vietnamese adventures into two and a half minutes of highly-edited, explosive footage. Okay, so maybe it’s not as Spielberg-esque as I’m making it out to be, but the sentiment is there.
Out of all of the countries in Southeast Asia that I visited on my last trip, Vietnam was unquestionably my favourite. I guess there’s just something about crawling on your stomach through war-torn tunnels, and trying to cross a five-way intersection whilst motorbikes hurtle full-speed at your small, defenceless body that leaves a lasting impression on you. Obviously the Vietnam experience extends beyond that, but those were definitely some of the things I think every tourist should prioritise when they book their tickets.
The five places within Vietnam featured in this vlog are (in order of appearance): Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). Note all the H’s. Hanoi was my absolute highlight of the trip; I can’t way to share my experience of staying in the Old Quarter in a future blog post. Hoi An takes out the award for the prettiest town, with streets decked with lanterns and fabrics that create a kaleidoscopic explosion of colour. I doubt I have to convince you of the beauty of Ha Long Bay, and Ho Chi Minh City was quite possibly the best history lesson I have ever had in my life. More on all of these enchanting places later, but if I’ve peaked your interests, then I invite you to view my 2016 Travel Vlog for Vietnam on my YouTube channel.
What was your favourite part of Vietnam? I found myself drawn to the north, but maybe that’s because I thrive in colder weather (cheers, New Zealand). Would love to hear your thoughts!
Angkor Wat – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is perhaps one of the most important tourist attractions in Cambodia. Consistently topping the lists for Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet’s must-see tourist destination in the world, the resplendence of this temple has stayed with me a long time after visiting it.
One of the highlights of traveling to a faraway and exotic country is having the opportunity to try weird and wonderful foods. In France, that may be escargots. In South America, that may be roast guinea pig. In Thailand… well, let’s just say you’ve come to the right place to find out.
Traveling to Southeast Asia as a vegetarian, the last thing I expected myself to do was eat a bug. But, as it would stand, I am not very good at being vegetarian.
Feeling a little bit like a contestant off Fear Factor, I decided to expand my palate on the very first night of the trip by having a nibble of a grasshopper. In Thailand, insects are fried in a wok, seasoned with chilli, salt and pepper, and enjoyed as snacks. Whilst I cast my doubts on the Thai people’s relationship with the word ‘enjoyed’, I will admit that it wasn’t the absolute worst thing I have ever eaten. Did it taste like bitter, burnt popcorn? Maybe. Did it require me to run to the kitchen and spit out the remnants immediately afterwards? Maybe. But rest assured, it looks more gross than it actually is.
Fried Chicken Heads
When I passed these at the market, I actually had to do a double take. I’d heard of chicken feet being a delicacy, but chicken heads? I felt a little sick just looking at them.
Whilst our tour guide informed us that these are mostly used for the purposes of pet food, that doesn’t stop people (including a few questionably brave tourists) from indulging themselves. Apparently (because, y’know, there was no way I was trying these in a hurry) they consist almost entirely of bones and gristle with a little bit of fat in the neck. If these little guys whet your appetite, don’t forget to crack the head so that you don’t miss out on the “unique buttery flavour” of the brain.
I think I’ll pass.
Arguably this isn’t as crazy as the other foods listed, but hailing from somewhere like New Zealand, it’s still a shock to see an entire fish for sale – head and all – as opposed to cuts of meat.
What really took me aback was the price. One of these fish were worth 30 baht (the Thai currency) which is roughly equivalent to USD$0.80!
Fried bamboo worms are a Thai treat that you will most likely find in the North.
My friend Poppy and I brought a small bag of ‘lesser’ worms (because apparently you have high and low quality fried worms… who would’ve known?), and I plucked up the courage to try one.
In all honesty, I preferred the grasshopper. These little rascals tasted like gravel with a vaguely peanut-esque aftertaste. “Just like popcorn!” our guide grinned.
Whole Fish 2.0
If you thought I was done with the fish, then you were wrong.
I have no idea what kind of fish this was, but I’m sure it was an ugly mother******. This entire fish – teeth and all – was placed on the table in front of us, complete with chopsticks and dipping sauce. Had I not been vegetarian, I don’t think I could have even eaten anything, what with it staring back at you. If you fancy watching Poppy’s ethical dilemma, check out our travel vlog.
The first thing I decided when I arrived in Thailand was that I would have put on 5kg worth of dessert by the time I returned home. How can you not when you’re constantly walking past places like this?!
Aside from the miscellany of ice cream flavours, the toppings alone are to die for. Toasted marshmallow? Buttered popcorn? Oreo crush? Froot loops? You name it – they’ve got it.
You cannot travel to Thailand and not try the street food. Aside from the fact that it’s so insanely cheap, it also tastes infinitely better than anything you would ever buy out of a package. Plus, you’ll find yourself eyeing up foods you never even knew existed.
Durian? I have no idea what that is, but I’ll take three.
You got me; this isn’t a photo of watermelon juice. But it is a photo of fresh watermelon (and some sneaky papayas) at a local Thai market, which I think we can all agree is far more photogenic than juice in a cup.
Watermelon is one of my favourite fruits, and the only thing better than fruit is liquid fruit. The beauty of watermelon juice in Thailand is that – like everything – it is so much cheaper than the same product would cost back home (or even in neighbouring countries, for that matter). An average watermelon juice in Thailand might cost around USD$0.60. To put that into perspective, when I ordered one during my stopover in Singapore on the way home, I was charged USD$5.60. Case in point.
I tend to think of Italy when I think of gelato, but that doesn’t mean the Thai don’t know how to do their frozen desserts.
I became obsessed with matcha green tea gelato during my stay. The taste is ultra refreshing and perfect for a snack on the go during a hot, sticky day tour in the sun. One of those crispy waffle cones don’t go amiss, either.
I think the name of this fruit alone is enough to warrant a mention.
If you don’t think you’re familiar with these, then you might be able to jog your memory by scrolling through any Instagram tag along the lines of #smoothiebowl or #nalubowl. Dragonfruit are white on the inside with distinctive black seeds dotted throughout them. They taste somewhat like a less tangy kiwifruit, and are popular for their gorgeous colours.
What weird and wonderful foods have you encountered on your overseas travels? Comment below – I’d love to hear about your experience!
Look what’s arrived! It may have been a whole three months since we were sipping mango smoothies in the back of a tuk-tuk, but I finally got around to throwing together a short travel vlog of the two days we spent in the beautiful Cambodian town of Siem Reap.
I love Instagram. A perfectionist at heart, I love the tidy squared layout of each account, and the challenge of ensuring that each photo is thoughtfully edited to create a fluent and thematic profile. There’s an art to it, I’m sure.
Three of my favourite Instagram posts. Follow me and my shameless self-marketing here.
Instagram – like most social media websites – provides one of the leading visual platforms for travel inspiration. I personally develop my destination wishlist from three sources; blogs, YouTube and Instagram. I am especially picky with the latter, and only follow a very small number of accounts. I find there exists a lot of overlap between fashion, beauty and travel bloggers, however because I have an embarrassing lack of interest in the former two, I try to only follow profiles that feature more heavily on the travel side of things. And so, for your viewing pleasure, I have curated my top ten Instagram accounts (in no particular order) to ignite the wanderlust in you.
Nastasia’s photography is nothing less than beautiful. The founder of the female-empowering travel blog Dame Traveler, Nastasia Wong’s mission is to “make this world a more connected, peaceful, compassionate and loving place“.
You are probably already familiar with the epic photo series by Murad and his wife – Nataly – titled: Follow Me To. Each picture showcases a unique and breathtaking take on some of the most popular (and unexpected) destinations around the globe. Am I guilty of printing out a stack of my favourite photos and making a #followmeto collage upon my bedroom wall? Most definitely.
I have a bit of a sweet spot for Nicola Easterby – the travel photographer and blogger who runs this account – as I am in love with the way she showcases the natural beauty of New Zealand. If you enjoy Nastasia’s work (from nastasiaspassport) then you will find yourself to be a fan of Nicola.
I don’t agree with the unhealthy and downright dangerous mentality of lionising social media personalities, but Lauren Bullen from Gypsea Lust definitely has me questioning my morals. With her partner, Jack Morris, Lauren travels the globe creating wondrous imagery and content.
One of the real points of difference that draws me to Brian Baldrati is his visual documentation of the people he meets on his travels. I find that a lot of other photographers tend to focus on landscapes or themselves. This is by no means a bad thing, but it is nice to shake things up a bit every now and again. Enter: Brian.
Nash and Kim of the Nomadic People make me want to buy a van and road trip across the United States of America. Or Europe. Or Asia. Or anywhere, to be completely honest with you. I don’t know where their adventures will take them after this trip, but I can’t wait to see what beautiful imagery they come up with next.
Here we arrive at the brainchild of the previously mentioned Nastasia Wong (see 1.) Dame Traveler is a (you guessed it, travel) website “inspiring and empowering women to travel more, do more and be more“. What’s pretty awesome about this account is that every photo showcases a different woman, introducing you to dozens upon dozens of new and upcoming bloggers.
Mônica Morás is only someone I have stumbled upon quite recently, but am immensely glad I did. A lifestyle blogger from Brazil, Mônica has been on the road since 2014, photographing and sharing her global adventures. A little bit different from the rest of the profiles I have included in this list, I enjoy reading Mônica’s captions just as much as viewing the photos themselves.
Last but not least, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Sidewalker Daily. Curated by Nina Zadeh, this account showcases – much in the style of Dame Traveler – a new travel blogger every day. Again, this is a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the work of people that you may never have heard of, and to be inspired by the visual tales they delight in sharing. The beauty of this account is that you too can be a featured #sidewalker.
So there you have it; ten of my favourite Instagram accounts to infect you with the travel bug. I’m always hungry to discover new bloggers, so tell me below who you follow – or even better – share your own Instagram so I can give you a follow and say hello!
When I first pitched the idea of showcasing my experience of the Hobbiton set tour in black and white, I was met with sarcastic laughter.
What would you want to do that, for? my boyfriend ridiculed. The whole point of Hobbiton is that people want to see all the colours!
At first I admitted that he had a point. But then I thought; fuck it. This is my blog, and if I want to do a greyscale piece, then I will bloody well do a greyscale piece. Besides, there’s something poetically beautiful about black and white pictures. Furthermore, it seems every photograph of Hobbiton is in colour. What’s wrong with incorporating a point of difference?
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Hobbiton is the location that Peter Jackson and his crew shot ‘the Shire’ scenes in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies. Tolkien fans from every corner of the globe make the pilgrimage here to experience the unforgettable authenticity of Middle Earth. Hobbiton is not just a tourist attraction; it’s its own world.
Cost: $79 for adults (departing from the Shire’s Rest)
Tip: Remember to book in advance! Upon arriving, you will have to battle an army of elves and wizards (see what I did there?) to get to the front of the queue to buy your tickets. Even then, you will probably find that the tours are fully booked for the next couple of days; unless you feel like waiting on the off chance that someone doesn’t show up for their tour, it’s a long drive back. Also, don’t forget to bring your I.D. Each ticket comes with a complementary beer, and you won’t want to miss out on the Green Dragon Inn’s original brews.
If you had asked ten year old me if I were likely to ever get a tattoo, I would have given a squeaky, pre-pubescent laugh. Me? The goody-two-shoes kid who always checks twice before she crosses the road? Not fudging likely. But as you will know, young adulthood always turns up late to the party with a plus one of experimentation, and why not explore your new identity with getting a tattoo that you will be stuck with for the rest of your life? That’s the exact opposite of a recipe for disaster, if you ask me.
Nine years later and — much to my parent’s disgrace — I have initiated a tradition of acquiring a tattoo in every new place I travel to. I have homage to New Zealand, the United States and Rarotonga permanently etched into my skin, and plans for many more. I have so many ideas and opinions about tattoos that I would love to share, but they alone warrant their own post. For now, I am going to share my experience of adding to the collection with a Thailand tat.
So there we were; me — the veteran with my measly three tattoos — and my ink virgin friend Poppy, roaming the sleazy and drunken streets of Pattaya for a semi-reputable tattoo parlour. Just that sentence in and of itself is a parent’s worst nightmare. We had investigated maybe seven or eight studios before settling on one that looked to offer a sanitised and satisfactory experience.
I’m not going to lie; I was drawn to my tattooist Jim because of his devilish good looks. Very professional of me, I know. The other factor that ticked the box for me was that he looked to be of European descent. This stemmed purely from the fact that I was searching for someone who would speak English well, and that I would be able to communicate with throughout the process. In light of the fact that we were tattoo-hunting in Southeast Asia, this was quite the priority in my books. I consider the Thai artists to be very talented and innovative, however when you are getting work permanently inked into your skin, you need to be on the same level of understanding. A language barrier is the first step to painful and expensive regret.
Having not really committed to any particular design yet, I opted for a spontaneous rendition of my favourite piece of artwork: The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a woodblock print by artist Katsushika Hokusai. And yes, incase you feel the pressing urge to remind me, I am very much aware that I got a Japanese-style tattoo to honour Thailand. Don’t question my motives. Meanwhile, Poppy stuck to her guns and settled on an intricate dragon fly that she’d had her eye on ever since I had thrown the idea of her also getting a tattoo into the mix.
If you have never gotten a tattoo before, then I’m sure you probably have a lot of questions. I was exactly the same. Whether it hurts or not tends to be the most pressing, and I’m not going to lie; it hurts like a bitch. In saying that though, I am a complete and utter wuss. I cry when I have to get a blood test, and I have avoided piercing my ears for fear of inexplicable agony (*cue derisive laughter*). Yet somehow, I manage to drag myself into that chair time and time again.
The best way I can describe the sensation of the needle upon your skin is by likening it to that of a prolonged cat scratch. What’s more, the beauty of tattoos — as opposed to piercings, as I have been told — is that as soon as the artist removes the gun, the pain vanishes (at least, in my experience that has been the case). Sure, you get some itching and irritation during the healing process, but you will not have to endure months and months of tenderness or rawness in the aftermath. The pain itself is a very concise and fleeting sensation.
Things to be Mindful of when Tattoo-Hunting in Thailand
Avoid Language Barriers
If you cannot clearly communicate what you would like done, then maybe it is time to consider another studio. There are so many important things to discuss — whether that be finalising a design, settling on a price, answering any burning questions or detailing the healing process — that crossing your fingers and hoping ambiguous hand gestures will do the trick just isn’t good enough. If you are prepared to walk away with a tattoo you are not happy to have on your body forever — with no idea how to look after it — then by all means, ignore this tip. But if you want the process to be smooth sailing and stress-free, then this should be at the top of your checklist.
Do Not Use a ‘Cheap Bargain’ as the Dictator of Where You Get Your Tattoo Done
As is the general rule of thumb with most goods and services, a higher price is indicative of higher quality. Tattoos are no exception. In a place such as Southeast Asia where bartering is the norm, quality can be harder to gauge as artists are always trying to beat the previous price. We ended up going with Eve Tattoo Studios, who provided the most expensive quote.
There’s a reason for all the jokes around HIV and AIDS when telling friends you’re getting a tattoo in Thailand. Okay, maybe that is reserved for the worst case scenario, but there are still plenty of consequences to reap from short-cutting the process. You need to make sure the studio is sanitised and clean. A professional artist may tell you that they are using a new needle straight out of the packet, and some — such as Jim — will even show you as they open it for peace of mind. This tip is more common sense than anything, but as someone who understands the feeling of getting caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of a new tattoo, it is not difficult for the basics to get brushed to the back of your mind.
Do Your Research!
Can we please take a moment to appreciate the magic of Tripadvisor? You wouldn’t send your child to a new school without looking into the quality of both the institution and the employees. Okay, strange analogy, but you get the gist. Another thing I strongly recommend doing before committing to a studio, is asking to view work done by the tattooist that is similar to what you are looking at getting done. I have found that this is especially relevant to conventionally feminine designs, as studios are more likely to advertise their big, colourful pieces that accumulate hours and hours of work, and tens of thousands of dollars. It is one thing for an artist to be adept at these styles, but if you are more interested in minimalist pieces, it definitely pays to ask to see their personal experience with these.
Find the Balance Between Assertion and Flexibility
I learnt the hard way that it is unfeasible to waltz into a tattoo parlour lacking the mindset to adapt your design according to the artist’s recommendations. You need to remember that your artist has your interests at heart, and is just trying to negotiate a compromise on a design and placement that will both suit your tastes and look good at the same time. In saying that, if they suggest a final design that you do not like, you need to make it clear that you are not happy with it. As a naturally passive person, it took a number of goes for me to muster the confidence to tell my tattooist that I didn’t like what they were suggesting, but that I was willing to explore other options.
Choose Your Timing Wisely
This is especially applicable to traveling. The healing process of a tattoo is not long and complicated, but there are a handful of things you need to abide by for your designated time period. One of these is that you must avoid swimming and sun exposure. As you can imagine, this can prove a hassle if you are traveling to a tropical destination where lounging on a sun-drenched beach is one of the selling-points (ahem Thailand). If this is the case, you might want to book your tattoo in for the end of your trip. Otherwise, it’s hello layers.
If you have culturally-orientated ink lined up in your sights, you may want to double check what is appropriate and what is not. In Thailand, it is considered disrespectful to have the Buddha tattooed onto you. Whilst this may not appear to be such a pressing issue once you are on the flight home, I firmly believe that respect and courtesy to the customs and values of your host country are of the upmost importance.
So there you have it; my tips and tricks for getting a tattoo in Thailand. And if you ever feel like making a spontaneous and permanent decision in the southern town of Pattaya, I highly recommend you pay Jim and the rest of the team at Eve Tattoo Studios a call.
Name: Eve Tattoo Studios
Location: Pattaya, Thailand
Number: +66 87 130 1808
Have your own crazy tattoo experiences or advice to share? Comment below! I would love to hear all of your stories!
I wish I had the luxury to say, ‘you may have noticed that I have been absent from posting for the past month or so’ like most bloggers, but that would have required me to make regular updates in the first place. As this is only my third post, I’m going to let that slide, but worry not! My goal is to create new content every MONDAY, WEDNESDAY and FRIDAY! Now, let’s see how long that lasts for…
One of the perks of having my own blog is that I have complete creative freedom over what I create and produce. For me, this means that I am not limited to sharing my experiences in just one format. So I have decided to experiment with my cinematic side, and have put together a vlog (or ‘video log’ for the less informed – looking at you, mother) to document my adventures in Thailand this past November.
Without further ado, please enjoy my Thailand vlog! And feel free to stop by my new Youtube Channel and give it a cheeky subscribe (and a thumbs up if you’re feeling extra spicy).
Comment with your own Youtube channel and/or videos – I’d love to check them out!