A Travellerspoint blog

I Love Monkeys

And Other Encounters With Animals

semi-overcast 33 °C

My favourite thing in Ao Nang were definitely the monkeys, so I thought I'd write a few words about them. In the far end of Ao Nang beach you can find loads of gibbon monkeys (I'm not sure but that's what I was told they were) living in the jungle, and they come out to the rocks as they know they will be fed by tourists. I was of course overwhelmed by emotion when I saw these cute little creatures, and when they came to take peanuts and bananas with their soft little hands I was almost crying! They are part of the wildlife, but they are so used to people that they even jump on your shoulder or sit on your lap eating. They were so cute when they went to bathe in the water, playing around like little kids. When they came out of the water they looked like little rats with their fur soaking wet! I loved them so much and could have stand hours watching them.

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This was the first time I got attacked by a monkey. It scared me a bit to say the least!

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Then there was the fluffy cat.

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I found her on my first day in Ao Nang (or actually my mum had already found her) and I couldn't stop visiting her. This cat had the most stunning looks and the most arrogant personality, and she didn't bother to hide the fact that she really rather I didn't come by so often. Still, I couldn't help my weakness for bad-tempered fluffy cats! And as if her beauty wasn't almost too much to take, she had a little fluffy friend too. A very, very arrogant one.

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Perhaps the cutest one of all the animals I've met so far was the little puppy in Tiger Cave Temple. So tiny and soft and so alone on the big parking lot that it made me burst into tears right there in the middle of the people. Our taxi driver was looking at me like he thought I was going insane. In the end I saw a Thai woman coming to feed the puppy, and the other puppies too, so apparently they were being taken care of, but it still makes me sad thinking about that little thing amongst the cars and tuk-tuks. I know I shouldn't get emotional about each and every animal I see, but it's difficult to be surrounded by so many poorly looking cats and dogs when you come from a country full of spoiled pets. And just to think about all the lazy, fat cats I know and love, and then to see these skinny cats around here, it's so sad it makes me wanna take them home and give them a good meal.

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When I went to an island called Chicken - named after its shape - with my parents, we met the resident goose. She (or he, but I think it looked rather feminine) was strutting around like a queen, stopping for little snacks people kept giving her. She was obviously very used to being surrounded by people, as she came and stood on my mum's beach towel. Again, I had to stop myself worrying about the lonely little goose living alone on an island, with no goose friends to play with.

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Well onto other things. After I left my parents to Ao Nang, I spent two days in Bangkok, and now I'm in Chiang Mai, writing this taking advantage of the super cheap and fast internet connection. My stop in Bangkok was merely for getting some rest between two long distance buses. I visited the Grand Palace but apart from that I didn't do much. Read books, watched movies and ate cheap food (you've gotta love the 30 baht meals after two weeks in expensive Ao Nang!). As for Chiang Mai, I really like it here in the north but more about that later!

Posted by Maria8 17:36 Archived in Thailand

Ao Nang and around

Pure beach holiday

semi-overcast 35 °C

From Ko Pha Ngan I continued to Krabi to join my parents for two weeks. They were on a 3-week holiday in Ao Nang, a beach town 25 km from Krabi Town. I arrived in pouring rain but after a couple of rainy days the monsoon season seemed to be over, the clouds cleared from the sky and the weather became for what I had hoped for - unbearably hot and sunny. We didn't let the occasional showers bother us though - after the boredom in Ko Pha Ngan I came to realize that if I want an action-packed holiday, I better stick with my parents! For they don't waste time when on holidays!

Ao Nang isn't much of a place itself, just a small touristy town full of restaurants and resorts and tailors, but it's surrounded by some stunning islands. Most people take longtail boats to reach better beaches around. It was difficult to find a cheap room there as it's very much package holiday orientated, but I managed to get a little room for 300 baht per night. It was really expensive for what it was but the location was great. I wanted something simple as I had an intention to take full advantage of my parents' hotel's hot showers, swimming pool area and the white robes...

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One of my favourite things that I did with my parents was visiting the Tiger Cave Temple. We climbed 1237 steps up to the top of the hill. Some of the stairs were extremely steep and high, and with the +35 'C heat it was one grueling hike. Once we reached the top it was worth it though. The views were stunning and of course we felt like we were really sporty and outdoorsy people! I even made it up without any energy boosting candy, because a nasty monkey stole my bag of M&M's and then sat on a rock picking on them - apparently he didn't like all the colours - and looking at me with a mocking face!

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Some of the steps really forced you to lift your legs!

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Island hopping is a must thing to do in Krabi, as the province is famous for its dramatic landscape of limestone cliffs. From a longtail boat you can see those huge karsts rising from the waters. There are some beautiful beaches close by, most famous of them the island of Phi Phi. I gave it a miss though, because even though it is supposed to be amazingly beautiful, the other things that I keep hearing of it didn't make me wanna spend more than 1000 baht just to get there for couple of hours. I mean after all, how many different beaches do you need to see? Some of the closer islands, like Poda and Chicken, and the mainland beaches of Railay and Phra Nang were easy for day trips and just fine for me. I think I've been spoiled by many nice beaches already and maybe don't fully appreciate them anymore. The scenery was undeniably beautiful but beaches and islands weren't the most interesting thing for me. I've only now realized that I actually haven't taken many photos of the beaches, and those that I have are mostly from the rainy days!

Krabi area is popular place for rock climbing, and there were loads of climbers in East Railay. I had been thinking about giving it a go, but from where I stood it didn't seem to be worth the money. Maybe it's different once you're up there, but I thought I'd rather save up to do a skydive in Australia or New Zealand.

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Nearby Krabi Town is not very interesting place, but we went there to do some shopping as prices are lower there. There was a pretty temple too.

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We also went to see the hot springs where you can bathe in a temperature of 40-42 (I loved it, the place was like a big outdoor jacuzzi) and Crystal Pool. Unfortunately the latter was packed with locals on weekend trips, and I'm sure it would have been nicer without all those kids making noise and splashing about. Oh I sound like a bitter old lady! There was a beautiful jungle though with lush green trees, and right after rain it was so fresh.

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I thought these blue flowers were like something out of a Finnish forest.

There are advantages to really touristy places, like being able to get surprisingly good version of my ultimate treat, banoffee pie. Whilst I was with my parents I was eating in normal restaurants too, not only in food markets like I've done so far. I must say that western food in Ao Nang was really expensive and not all that. Every now and then I do crave for a big, greasy pizza, but the stuffed feeling afterwards makes me turn back to simple meals of chicken and rice and delicious fruits like lychees, rambutans and mangosteens. I suppose I'm lucky cause Thai food is one of my favourite foods anyway, and I don't easily get bored of eating rice every day. There was a pretty beach bar that served the tastiest fruit shakes and health smoothies. They even did blueberry milkshakes! And even though I knew I shouldn't, I had the occasional overpriced Starbucks coffee too, but only because their season flavour Dark Cherry Mocha (mine's iced) was quite possibly the best drink I've tasted in my entire life.

The best meal of my journey so far I had in Ao Nang in a Thai-Dutch restaurant (the town was full of strange combos like that). Chicken skewers served on a barbecue with peanut sauce to die for and a baked potato with garlic butter. It was heavenly, so much so that I returned the next day to have the same thing for lunch. Maybe it was because I was finally having something else than rice, but it was good all the same.

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There didn't seem to be much night life and the streets were empty by midnight. Then again I wouldn't know cause I never went out! I had expected to, because a friend of mine from Finland was also there with her sister and other people, but every evening we were too knackered to go anywhere. After all I got up at 8 every morning and was active all day! Or maybe our definition of fun had changed a little bit since we last had a holiday together at the age of 17, when days were for sleeping and nights for getting pissed on Absolut vodka and orange juice!

One night me, my parents and their friends bought lanterns from the most adorable old man and sent them to the sky. I had been looking at this little man for almost two weeks. He was so cute, hardly the size of the lanterns he was selling.

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For me these two weeks have been the beach holiday I've watched other people having for the past four years when I've been working in hotels, bars and restaurants. It's been lovely and it was great to see my parents in Thailand, but I've spent enough time in the south now and I'm eager to continue my journey up north and then on to Laos!

Posted by Maria8 04:01 Archived in Thailand

Rainy days on the rave island

29 °C

I spent a quiet week in Ko Pha Ngan, an island famous for its full moon parties. It was a last minute decision when I was all prepared to go to Ko Tao - the weather forecasts were showing rain and thunderstorms for all week, so I thought it might be more fun to join Marcel and Stefano who were heading for Ko Pha Ngan.

It took us a 12-hour overnight bus journey, almost three hours waiting in the middle of nowhere, another bus journey and 2,5 hour ferry trip to reach Ko Pha Ngan. The boys were happily sleeping on Valium while I stayed up almost the whole journey, no doubt annoying my neighbour with my reading light.

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We stayed in fabulous bungalows near the port town of Thong Sala. I only paid 150 baht per night and felt like I was in a hotel room! There were also some adorable dogs living there. A big one who looked so kind and wise and humble, and two puppies who were just like little hyeenas! I got hopelessly attached to them.

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During our stay there was a Half Moon Festival held on the island. Turned out that there isn't just Full Moon Parties, you can also celebrate the Half Moon, Black Moon, Shiva Moon and whatnot... Which I wasn't aware of cause I wasn't planning to go anyway. Half Moon Festival is a party held one week before and one week after the Full Moon Party. I'm certainly no rave girl and wasn't into anything like that at all, but when in Ko Pha Ngan... I decided to give it a go and went there together with the boys and some people they knew, a local tattoo artist and his friends, a mix of Thai people and foreigners.

The party was in jungle and had a festival feel to it with lots of food stalls and bars around. The first two hours I thought it was quite fun, but I can't say it was my idea of a good party. I've never been one for the whole electronic music, psychedelic lights and masses of people off their heads thing. I was home quite early, just in time when the heavy rain started yet again.

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It was difficult to get a good picture there, but it was pretty much like this.

Those days in Ko Pha Ngan were long and lazy with constant possibility of rain and thunderstorm. When it wasn't raining, it was impossibly hot and humid, making all our belongings damp in the bungalows. We had a routine of sleeping late, going to town for our meals (always the same food market as the restaurants were too expensive) and watching movies with better or worse quality. I spent a lot of time reading books and catching up on my notes. Stefano rented a small motorbike and we were travelling on it all three of us, but I also walked a lot between Thong Sala and our bungalows. After all, it gave me something to do and it was a nice 20-minute walk to get there. I seemed to be the only one who didn't mind the walk, and was even trying to earn some money by doing the 7-11 runs... Despite my best efforts I never made a penny this style.

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I expected Ko Pha Ngan to be this crazy party island - that is why I didn't want to go there in the first place - and was surprised to find it so dead. The bars and restaurants were empty and there were no people around. Even Haad Rin, the most popular backpackers' area, was quiet. Apparently more people start coming in couple of weeks' time. I thought that shopping in Haad Rin was quite good, I found lots of cute little shops even though they were on the pricey side. I had one good day of shopping there by myself and ended up spending way more than I had allowed myself to!

Because of the rain - or the laziness of the guys! - we didn't go around much. It's a shame cause I feel like I spent a week on the island without seeing anything particularly beautiful. I didn't see the most popular sights like the Chinese temple and some supposedly nice waterfalls. So due to all this I wasn't too impressed with the place. I was being tight with money and didn't want to pay for the driver only for myself or take part in organized trip. I'm sure the island has a lot to offer, and maybe one day I will visit again with better luck.

Posted by Maria8 06:01 Archived in Thailand

Dirty Pretty Things

Holy City vs. Sin City

30 °C

When in Bangkok, I wanted to see some temples. Unfortunately the Grand Palace was closed on the day I tried to visit (and two days after that) so I had to leave that for my next stay in Bangkok.

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Instead I had a look around the nearby Wat Pho, best known for its enormous reclining Buddha. The pictures obviously don't do justice, but it was quite incredible to walk around there and be completely surrounded by those amazing buildings. It's like a tiny village, made entirely of temples in all imagineable colours.

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The temple that hosts the reclining Buddha is the most popular spot to visit, basically a corner full of tourists elbowing each other to try and get a good picture of the Buddha. The statue is supposed to illustrate Buddha falling into final nirvana.

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Before getting to this area I had come across another fenced selection of temples. I went through the gate to have a little look around, and as I was walking the quiet paths I was met by two dogs sleeping in the middle of the road. There's loads of dogs around here and they're all friendly and kind, so I was surprised when one of them started to bark like crazy and got up to his feet showing me his sharp teeth. I tried to move calmly but there was not much time for that as he attacked towards me like a madman. I galloped away in panic, just waiting for his teeth to dive into my skin. That was until the monk saved me! Suddenly the cutest old monk appeared, looking kind and ushering me into a building full of paintings and Buddha statues. He and his friend - or his boss as he called him - were so sweet and spoke both good English. There were several different Thai dishes on the table and they gave me some lunch. It was nice experience to sit there chatting with them. Apparently there is such thing as free lunch!

I also saw the big standing Buddha statue. There were some Thais doing their rituals and saying their prayers which was nice to see, although I felt a bit stupid being there with my camera when those people were trying to have a spiritual moment.

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Bangkok obviously has many different sides to it and is a city of big contrasts. After seeing the glorious palaces and holy temples, I was curious about the seedy part of the city. I wanted to see Bangkok's red light district as sex tourism is so big in Thailand. Even though I felt a bit guilty about wanting to see it, feeding my curiosity with someone else's misery. I was wondering whether that made me just as disgusting as the creeps on a sex vacation.

I went to Patpong night market with Marcel and Stefano, two guys I had met earlier in Bangkok. It really was more like an ordinary night market, only it was surrounded by go-go bars and ping pong shows. We were soon joined by two Americans, Michelle and Adam, and we decided to go and see a ping pong show.

Our experience with the ping pong show was horrid, and not only because the shooting banana landed directly on my legs. Now, I'm not gonna explain in detail what the ping pong show is all about as I don't wanna start writing anything X-rated, but you get the picture. Ping pong shows have nothing sexual about them, they are a freak show and circus, a sad one at that. I wouldn't think that those having a sex vacation went to see them - they are for curious tourists who do it for a laugh. Which is kinda ironic cause there's nothing funny about these miserable looking girls getting stuff out from their, er, special storage. The show we went to see was mostly with middle-aged women looking bored beyond belief. Then again, that's hardly surprising.

After a while we were presented with a bill of 5900 baht, which is more than 100 euros! And all this for seeing the show (which was supposed to be 100 b/person), beers and some drinks they had added on the bill "for the girls". This was outrageous and something I'd been warned about, and we weren't having any of that. At that point it all turned a bit scary, the doors were closed with guys standing in front of it, and there we were in the darkness with the owner lady screaming like a maniac. She was getting straight to our faces looking like she was gonna get violent any minute, yelling: "You think this free?!" The whole situation would have been quite comic if it wasn't downright frightening!

I really can't tell how we got out of there. Somebody was coming from outside and the door was opening just a little bit, which was our chance to force our way out. Some of us threw some money on them but I managed to escape without losing one baht. Going there was a BAD idea.

When we were safely back in the market, we decided to go and have a cocktail together to calm down and put the fiasco behind. Me and Michelle still had shaky legs so I suppose that was good enough an excuse to waste my money on Singapore Sling.

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Apart from this brief visit I haven't been exploring Bangkok's night life. It's been nice just to hang out at the hostel with the people I've met. As for alcohol, it isn't cheap here in comparison to other things, and it's something I haven't really budgeted for. A night out here would probably end up costing just as much as an ordinary night out in Spain. As a cheapskate extraordinaire, it shocks me that for a price of one drink I could buy 5-6 meals from the street kitchen! Needless to say, I've stuck to water and fruit shakes!

Posted by Maria8 05:38 Archived in Thailand

Buy... You're In Bangkok!

30 °C

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Bangkok was shopping. After saving money all summer, during which I literally only worked and slept and watched Grey's Anatomy on DVD, I was ready to hit the shops. However, turns out that I can't find a way to shop in this city! Even though they seem to sell anything for any kind of budget.

Khao San Road area where I'm staying is obviously a cheap place to shop, but I haven't found many things from there. It's just one of these places, like Veronicas in Playa de las Americas, only the prices are cheaper. But even when it's cheap it doesn't really mean that I need any of that stuff.

I went to have a look at the huge shopping centres in Siam Square area. This is another Bangkok altogether, full of 5 star hotels and big advertisements for luxury labels. This area was mad. The streets were absolutely packed with people and it was a bit frustrating to try and move there. There were massive malls everywhere, they really are HUGE and surrounded by some impressive high-rises.

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As soon as I entered Central World Plaza shopping centre, I realized I was a bit out of my league there. It consisted of seven floors, each one of them an endless labyrinth of thousands of shops and fancy restaurants, everything clean and modern and frosty with air con. I felt exhausted just looking at it - how could you ever go through all the shops? It was super modern and they had all the possible stores there from higher end labels to high street shops, plus big cinema and posh food hall. They had everything you'd find from any big European city - unfortunately they had prices to match! I pretty soon discovered that things that are expensive back home aren't gonna be any cheaper here unless they're fake. I had obviously been in denial!

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This kind of place can really spin your head though. I almost got into the shopping bubble, and at some point found myself in a trance like state making my way to the fitting rooms to try on some dresses at Guess and Ted Baker, before I got a reality check and told myself I was getting carried away, big time! There was no way my budget was gonna strecth to 10 000 baht dresses, especially when they were the last thing I would need whilst on the road! When even a Topshop dress had a price tag of 5000 baht I had to admit defeat and put myself back to where I belonged - in search of Khao San bus.

MBK is another big shopping centre close by and has cheaper prices. The only thing is that it's a bit FULL with so much stuff that it would take you a lifetime to really go through all the shops. I had a quick look at the place and gave up there and then. I'm obviously not much of a shopper!

So for future's reference, if you see me in some pictures wearing uncharacteristically hippy clothes, it's not because I'm trying to prove some point that I'M IN ASIA NOW, it's just because that's what I can afford! Besides, that sort of clothes are really comfortable in this humidity.

On Saturday I went to see Chatukhat weekend market. It took about half an hour to get there by metro that I had just discovered Bangkok had (it's quite new so spotlessly clean and modern). Chatukhat market was really chaotic place and knowing that I have real trouble spotting a gem from the sea of useless crap, I had my reservations to begin with. True enough, markets are not for me! I always wander around them, thinking oh should buy this, or should I just have a little look around if I find something better, in which point I don't find the original thing anymore. This was easily the biggest market I've ever been to, my guide book tells me there are more than 200 000 stalls. You can really get lost in there! I was determined to buy something, but was already giving up and making my way back to the underground when I finally spotted a cute pair of sandals. With a sigh of relief I was good to go.

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Posted by Maria8 06:08 Archived in Thailand

Bangkok And The Beginning

30 °C

My trip has had a flying start as almost a week has passed and it feels like I only arrived yesterday! Bangkok is the first place I'm visiting and I've had a great time so far.

I was expecting to be totally overwhelmed by Bangkok, maybe even a little bit intimidated, but there was no culture shock at all. It's not mad like I thought it would be, it's just a city, a very fascinating city though! During the long period of time that I was waiting to do this trip, I heard so many stories, saw so many pictures and read so much information that I had a very vivid image in my mind before arriving. For me Bangkok turned out to be more or less the city I pictured beforehand. I suppose I was too prepared, so much so that the city couldn't surprise me. But I really, really like it - just like I thought I would.

Of course Bangkok is like nothing I've ever seen before. It's so full of smells and noise and colours and dirt, it's beautiful and disgusting at the same time. And of course on my first day I almost got driven over by several tuk tuk drivers as I was walking around in my fluffy little world like stupid, looking very white!

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I spent my first two nights in a pretty little place called Shambara Boutique Hostel just off the Khao San Road. It was cozy with dark wooden floors and spotlessly clean too, but I wanted to find something cheaper (although at 350 baht for a single room Shambara is a bargain too and good value for money). The problem was that it was quite difficult to meet people there as they didn't have any common room apart from the restaurant downstairs.

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So I downgraded slightly to a guesthouse called My House, where I pay 200 b (about 4 euros) for a cell-like single room with a toilet and shower. You couldn't possibly call this room nice, but I'm getting what I'm paying for and have long ago stopped staring at the dirty, pale green walls and wondering about the cockroaches (there isn't any). The best thing about my hostel is the common area/restaurant downstairs where you can lie on the sofas and they show three movies every day on the big screen. It's always packed with people and really easy place to talk with other travellers and chill out. So my room may be a bit of a dump but I'm having so much more fun here!

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I chose this place cause it's located on Soi Chanasongkram, which is a really nice road and was my favourite part of the Khao San area since day one. It's only two minutes walk from the actual Khao San Road, so you get all the advantages but don't have to deal with the touts poking you with their signs that say "Cocktails! Very very strong! We don't ask for ID!"

Before I left everybody told me to leave Bangkok as soon as I could. That wasn't my plan then, and indeed, I have now been here nearly a week and could easily spend another one if my time in Asia wasn't so limited. There's so much to do here, the city has so many faces and so much character. Most of the people I've talked to seem to disagree with me though. Maybe it's just because it's my first time here and everything's new. After living on islands for the past 4 years I always really enjoy visiting big cities. I like the hustle and bustle, streets full of different people and the technicolor nights.

Soon I'll try and write about some of the things I've done so far... I'm determined to keep this up to date although it's very difficult to find time to write!

Posted by Maria8 04:19 Archived in Thailand

I'm Finally Going Away!

-17 °C

So it's time for my long-awaited trip to start, and as a travel blog addict I decided to start my own. It will be my travel journal to print out when it's all over and a good way to let people know where I am and what I'm doing. I will write in English so that all my friends can understand.

This isn't gonna be the big trip I had planned for - due to my own very bad decision when choosing a summer job! I had to cut out some of the destinations I was most looking forward to, like Japan and the whole US road trip. Four months on from the day when I realized it wasn't gonna happen, I still find myself bitter. But I suppose I will work my way over it in spiritual South East Asia! And at least I learned never to work in shitty places again... If you wanna get your money, that is!

So my trip will begin from Bangkok. I figured Thailand would be an easy place to start for a lone traveller who's never been to Asia before. I don't have a strict itinerary but I hope I will have time to visit both Laos and Vietnam before flying to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then on to Australia in the end of January. I don't know when my big trip will end, but I suspect it will have a lot to do with money!

For me the most challenging part of the travel preparations has been packing. I'm one of those people who like to carry loads of stuff with them, just in case. So I've normally been the one dragging around an enormous suitcase, rucksack, laptop carrier (stuffed with much more than a laptop), handbag and several plastic bags hanging from my arms. And carrying all this wearing four jackets just because I want to take them all with me but don't want to pay for the excess luggage! Now I'm looking forward to finding out how I will get on with my newly purchased backpack.

I will have to manage with a considerably smaller budget that I imagined but I won't let that bother me. I can't wait to start my long overdue travels!

Posted by Maria8 00:34 Tagged preparation

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