8 things I’ve learnt in a month of travelling

It’s been exactly a month since I left Singapore. Already! And it’s already about 3 weeks since I last wrote a blog, so I’m overdue for writing something.

The initial idea for this blog was ‘8 travel tips from my first month of travelling’, but now I’ve written it, I can hardly say ‘don’t wee on your own leg’ is a travel tip (see point 7) – or really any kind of tip, because it’s just common sense – so I’ve entitled it ‘8 things I’ve learnt in a month of travelling’ instead. Yes folks, I’ve finally learnt weeing on yourself is not advisable. So at least something good has come out of my leaving my job and travelling around Asia. My parents will be so proud.

Anyway, that little treat is towards the end, once you’ve read points 1-6, so let’s start where all good listicles start – at the beginning. Here’s what I’ve learnt (it’s groundbreaking stuff):

1. I have great intentions about blogging and writing, but intentions don’t always turn into actions. While I work well under pressure and can smash things out when I need to, it turns out I am pretty good at procrastinating unless I have a pressing deadline (who knew?! Haha. BTW, this is not new news to anyone who knows me. But it’s certainly been proven true in the last month). I think I need to start setting myself a goal of writing, say, at least one blog a week.

2. Despite my initial trepidation, I am perfectly capable of living out of a rucksack. In fact, I massively over-packed and will be sending some clothes with my friends back to Singapore after their visit this weekend to give me a bit more space. This is what my rucksack looked like initially – it needed its own seat on the ferry from Koh Samui to Koh Phangan.

rucksack on ferry

It was packed so high that when I put it on, I not only almost toppled over backwards with the weight (20kgs, which was lucky in a way because that was my maximum luggage allowance on the flights I’ve taken so far), I had to walk with my neck tilted forward like a right muppet because it’s not designed to be packed all the way to the top; the top has a drawstring and it’s supposed to roll down and sit behind your shoulders. Probably should have done a trial run of packing it before I left Singapore but, well, I left that until the last minute. See point 1.

While it’s definitely do-able, living out of a rucksack can be frustrating. Even though I always pack the stuff I think I’ll need near the top, this never seems to work, and I always end up needing something from at the bottom and emptying the whole thing out whenever I get to somewhere new. The solution? Just take everything out when you arrive at a new place, and dump it on the bed/floor/some other surface. Doesn’t work so well in dorms unless you want to encourage people to rifle through your stuff (maybe to take some of it and free up some space?), but okay when staying on your own. Another solution would be to use a suitcase, but no self-respecting travel wanker uses a suitcase.

3. After three years of living on the equator I thought I was used to the heat. Wrong! I was used to occasional heat in the 10 minutes or so I would typically be outside in between home and public transport or the office, and used to maximum airconditioning in almost all other conditions (trains or buses, home, work, shopping malls, bars, restaurants…). My first couple of weeks travelling were in places with a fan rather than airconditioning and in the last few days, I’ve upgraded to AC rooms. Turns out this is money well spent because not being able to sleep when it’s too hot is pretty rubbish, and waking up drenched in your own body fluids (not those kinds, get your mind out of the gutter!) loses its novelty very quickly. The heat is also exhausting and makes you sweaty and rank and I am by no means used to it at all, which brings me to point 4:

4. Make-up is overrated. It’s especially overrated when it’s so hot outside (and inside, if you don’t have aircon) that it drips off you immediately with sweat. It’s also overrated when you’re in ‘the zone’ of being a traveller and you don’t actually give a shit what you look like any more. I don’t usually wear a lot of make-up anyway, just a bit of foundation, mascara and lipstick, but I can’t even wear a tinted moisturiser here because as soon as I step outside, it slides off and drips down my face. Mascara is displaced by the sweaty drips and runs into your eyes; the panda look isn’t cool, and it’s also not cool to not be able to see because you have black chemicals in your eyes (maybe a waterproof mascara would solve this? But I don’t have room in my rucksack, so…). And lipstick – well, if we’re sacking off foundation and mascara and going ‘au naturale’, lipstick seems a bit redundant. I made an exception last week when speaking at an event in Phuket, but that’s only because a) it was kind of work-related, and I wanted to look like a professional speaker and not a traveller who definitely lives out of a rucksack, and b) we were in an airconditioned hotel, with minimum chance of profuse sweating (or make-up melting down my face) on the cards.

5. Mosquito spray is definitely not overrated. Mozzies are everywhere, and I’ve been bitten like mad. I even seem to get bitten while wearing spray and hiding in bed under a mosquito net. Maybe there’s something special in my blood. Mwuahahahahaha. I can definitely see the appeal of elephant pants now, with their covery-leg abilities and elasticated mozzie-up-your-leg-prevention system at the bottom. So I’ve bought some, which I don’t really have room for, as you’ll know if you read point 2. But, elephant pants are very much like rucksacks for the traveller – essential equipment.

6. Doing nothing is definitely underrated. I’ve managed to do nothing in 7 locations so far (1 in Koh Samui, 3 in Koh Phangan, 3 in Phuket), and to fill a whole month by doing very little, and it’s amazing! I’ve read about 8 books (separate blog with a list and short and probably useless reviews to come, which I’ve been writing as I write this one, so screw you, point 1), sat on beaches, been for a few walks, spoken at an event, eaten lots of Thai food, drunk plenty of Chang beer, watched multiple sunsets, been to a full moon party…you might notice none of these are particularly active activities. The most action I’ve seen was a yoga and meditation retreat for a few days on Koh Phangan. To be fair, this was more exercise than I’ve done in a long time. And it also involved more sitting on the floor than I’ve done since I was about 5 years old (which is probably about the same time I last did so much exercise). Never mind the yoga, sitting on the floor cross legged is *hard work* people. Another blog to come on the yoga retreat. Assuming I can get over point 1 (again). Here’s a picture of the place, just to give you a sneak preview. And break up the text a bit:

yoga retreat.jpg

7. The smell of mothballs (or whatever those gross smelling white balls are that look like old fashioned mint sweets which they put in urinals) makes me gag. Dis. Gus. Ting. Seriously gross. I have discovered this because some toilets in cafes have one toilet with a toilet and urinal in the same room, I haven’t gone loco*. I used a toilet today and actually weed a bit down my leg in my hurry to get out of there without throwing up. Which then actually meant I was in there longer because I then had to wipe wee off my leg as well as the regular ablutions associated with having a wee. The moral of that story? Don’t breathe through your nose in public toilets (really shouldn’t have taken me 37 years to figure that out), and don’t wee down your own leg (again, this shouldn’t be a thing at my age. What can I say? See point 8…).

8. I’m clumsy. Okay, this is also not new news, but having fallen off a moped in week 1, I went on to stub my toe a few days ago on the edge of a wooden bed (no injuries were sustained with the weeing on my own leg, you’ll be pleased to know). I thought I might have broken my toe initially it was so swollen and bruised, but I was still able to move it, which according to the NHS website – and my own previous experience of injuring a toe (this was not my first rodeo) – is a good sign. And after a few days, it’s definitely getting better, I’ve managed to walk to the beach today. That’s two injuries in a month. At this rate, I’ll have to replenish my first aid supplies soon – or at least the painkillers. At least a first aid kit was a useful thing to have packed in my over-stuffed rucksack. And I’ve learnt quickly to keep that in the front pocket so I don’t have to empty the whole bag if I ever next time I need it 🙂

Stay tuned for more properly insightful blogs, if I can be be bothered to write any.

*Edit – I used the facilities again before I left, and it turns out I was in the men’s toilet. Oops. It’s definitely still a thing though, I’ve seen it elsewhere.

Encounters with the locals: local wildlife, that is, I’m still largely avoiding people

Earlier this week I left Koh Samui, and boarded the ferry to Koh Phangan. Again, I’m staying away from the main touristy parts [read: far enough away from the full moon party that I can go tonight, but won’t be kept awake by all night partying by all the youths if I go to bed early. Disclaimer, my transfer to the full moon party is at 10.30pm, so it’s not going to be a particularly early night either way. But at least I can escape afterwards when I realise I’m the oldest person there].

I’m in a co-working space this week, so there are plenty of people, unlike last week. There are several bars, cafes and restaurants all along the beach (just as well as I won’t be riding a moped to travel anywhere), and apparently Haad Yao, where I’m staying, is one of the nicest beaches in Koh Phangan. Boom.

I’m might even have an actual conversation with someone who isn’t my Airbnb host this week. Although maybe not, since it’s Friday so almost the end of the week, and my main conversations so far have been with a couple of friends on WhatsApp (including a 3.5 hour marathon call with Lauren this week, which replaced our usual Wednesday night out in Singapore) and the barman in what’s become my ‘local’ on the beach. However, I said hello to the woman in the next cabin when I arrived the other day – woah. Turned out she’d found a scorpion in her bathroom. She asked me if that was normal. Errr…no? I hope not!

But actually I’m enjoying my own company – this is not a particular surprise to me, but it is the longest I’ve ever spent on my own. I’m getting used to having the time and space to do whatever I like, even if that’s not very much. Including sleeping whenever I like. In my defense, I didn’t sleep well at all the first night I arrived in Koh Samui.

While a tree house in the jungle sounds idyllic, I hadn’t really thought through the associated jungle noises and creatures who would be sharing the space with me. All night, hearing creatures on the roof, bees buzzing, toads and frogs calling, and countless other noises I have no clue about. I’ve since worked out what one of the weird noises you can hear at night is…it’s a lizard, see the video below. They are soooo loud! They’re also pretty big, as I spotted one on the wall of the treehouse when I got up in the night. But they eat mozzies so they’re welcome to hang around.

On night three last week I got horrifically bitten by mozzies; my Airbnb hosts put a mosquito net over my bed, which made a big difference. The bed here in Koh Phangan already has one, which is definitely appreciated, although I’m still getting bitten pretty regularly, but not in bed, which is something.

Here’s my hut (shed) for this week. It’s again very basic and it doesn’t always have running water, but it does have a totally useless hammock which isn’t tied up high enough, so if you sit on it, you basically sit on the floor with your legs up; you can tell this by looking at it, but I tried sitting in it while drunk the other night, just to be sure. I could always retie it but I probably won’t bother. However it’s very close to the beach and I have a pretty sweet view while I’m blogging from the co-working space (picture on the right).

Anyway, back to the wildlife. In less than two weeks, I’ve seen lizards (small and big), birds, squirrels, a snake (which I was assured ‘probably’ wasn’t poisonous; just as well as it was pretty big and about 2 inches from my feet while I was brushing my teeth one morning), spiders, bees, crabs, fish, frogs and toads, a couple of baby sharks in the sea (at least, they looked like baby sharks), and a parrot behind the counter in a supermarket. The parrot reminded me of Kev and Mel. I wonder if they’re missing me. I WhatsApp called them when they first got back to Manchester because I was missing them. As they’re not so familiar with WhatsApp they probably found that extremely confusing.

As I’m writing this, I’ve realised I’ve had a massive fail as I have a grand total of zero photos of any of the wildlife I’ve described here. So here’s a picture of me with Kev and Mel instead, just before we all left Singapore.

Family portrait

Note to self – take more photos! (And use fewer brackets when writing 🙂 )


Learning how to fall off a moped

While I did very little all week in Koh Samui, on the one day I felt really adventurous, I decided to have a go on a moped.

Let me set the context. In Thailand, in fact in most of South East Asia, everyone rides mopeds. And not only do they ride mopeds, they carry shopping on them, and whatever else they might need to transport, which can be anything from a dozen crates of chickens to furniture.  If you’re not riding a moped…well. You’re probably a bit safer. Thailand is apparently the most dangerous country in the world to ride a moped.

While I have no particular ambition to carry shopping and animals on a scooter, getting around on moped is what most people do in Thailand, locals and tourists alike. It’s cheaper and more convenient than relying on taxis, easy to explore the local area, and since I’ll be in Thailand for a few weeks, I thought I should probably learn to ride one.

Since I was staying in a really quiet area with peaceful roads and hardly any traffic, I thought this would be the safest place while I’m travelling to learn how to ride a moped. Ha! I forgot I was using my own uncoordinated body. I do technically have a licence for riding a small moped, even though I’ve never ridden one before – apparently if you passed your driving test pre-2001 in the UK, you can ride up to 50cc mopeds without taking the test. Must be easy then, right?

Dave, the Airbnb host, showed me how to control it. Apparently most people forget to stop accelerating and brake at the same time, and this is a key reason learners come off. Okay, I said, confident. I’ve got this.

I strapped on my helmet, got on, lunged forward a bit, braked a bit, accelerated a bit, thought ‘I’ve sooo got this’, set off onto the road and managed to get about 30 yards before someone overtook my rapid 5mph speed and I panicked and fell off. Doh.

Fortunately I fell onto the grass, although I did sustain some scrapes and minor cuts and bruises – and had neck-ache the next day, who knew you could get whiplash at 5mph?? But without a doubt the most damage was to my ego. How embarrassing!!

Dave came over to check I was okay and to drive the bike back, which took him about three seconds because I was still within spitting distance of where I’d set off from, and the woman who’d freaked me out by overtaking me – not her fault at all – was very reassuring that it happens to everyone, don’t worry about it, etc. etc. Yeah, but where are all those learner muppets falling off bikes now eh?? Only me coming off it here lah!

Well, that was certainly enough excitement for one day, so I went down to the beach instead, where I couldn’t hurt myself or anyone else. The next day I borrowed a push bike, which was considerably safer, although I haven’t ridden one for years so I was still a bit wobbly. I didn’t fall off it though, so, you know, could have been worse.

I rode down to a nearby wat (temple), which actually wasn’t much further than I’d managed to walk down the beach the day before. But I went a different way so it definitely counts as exploring.

Here’s a crap picture of the bike (to prove I rode it) and wat in the background. I had to stay at a distance as I couldn’t get into the temple, having stupidly forgot to bring anything to cover my knees. There’s also a slightly better picture of the boat temple which was close by.

And so ended my adventures with mopeds. At least until the scabs have healed anyway.



The adventure begins; getting used to doing nothing

Now I’m officially unemployed for the first time in, like, ever, at the grand old age of 37 I’m taking my gap yaaah and travelling around Asia. Woooo! Bring on all of the cultural experiences! And maybe even some blogging 🙂

From what I’ve heard and read from people who go travelling, they often pack as much as they possibly can into the time they have. Have all of the experiences. Make all of the memories. See all of the things. I plan to do that at some point, but first I’m taking some time to chill out and experiment with doing nothing.

People always say you get bored of doing nothing. You know, like when people retire they say they’re bored, there’s nothing to do. Ha!

I decided I’d start my gap yaaah by seeing how long it would take me to get bored by doing nothing. I thought this would be a good experiment and nice way of settling into being a travelling hippie (which is of course, the goal).

I left Singapore last Monday and flew to Koh Samui, a Thai island. Bearing in mind my pursuit of doing nothing, and the fact this ruled out much contact with people or the outside world (because people have ideas and want to do things and such like), I booked a tree house above a cafe on the south of the island in Laem Sor, well away from the main tourist areas like Chaweng.

In the week I was there I didn’t venture more than about two miles in any direction from where I was staying. I realise Koh Samui is a beautiful place, but when you’re a two minute walk from the beach, are literally staying above a bar (even though you’re the only customer most of the time – good for avoiding conversations with other humans), which serves beer as well as nice food, has a hammock and a Peter Andre shower – an outside Peter Andre shower, no less – why bother going anywhere else?

To be fair, I did feel a bit guilty a couple of times. It’s hard to switch out of business mode where everything’s busy, busy, busy, emails, meetings, calls, and constant ‘doing’, to doing absolutely nothing and not having any kind of routine. Plus, at the moment I feel like I’m on holiday, rather than taking an extended break, and holiday usually means doing all of the things, having all of the experiences…

I kept feeling like I should go and explore the island, see some waterfalls or markets, anything which meant venturing out, even a little. And then I thought, why should I? If I’m happy doing bugger all, what does it matter? No-one’s relying on me or expecting me to do anything. Just enjoy the freedom of doing nothing!

My week was therefore filled, if you can call it that, with reading several books, sitting on the beach (in the shade, obvs, living on the equator for three years have proved to me that the sun is not friends with my skin), and watching the sunset.

With views like that, I could definitely get used to doing nothing 🙂