So something kind of mind-blowing has happened recently – I’ve had to add that I’ve actually got a published work to my resume!

Even if the subject is kind of whacky and may seem like it’s not at all related to travelling, it was something I have a lot of life experience in, and it showed me that writing about things you’ve experienced is much easier than writing fictional stories and trying to imagine what these imaginary people are going through. Maybe I was never cut out for fiction, because characters echoed people I knew and myself, rather than taking on a life of their own. Maybe I was always meant for non-fiction writing? My blog does go very well when I actually pay attention to it…

I think that’s another thing I like about books – when you’re done writing, they’re there and finished. It’s not constantly progressing and doesn’t need to be tended to and maintained all the time. Maybe this is why my plants always die? I like the idea of something being finished, tied-up neatly and ready for consumption by others. There’s a certain feeling of accomplishment knowing you’ve completed something.

And this feeling of completion is sooo good that I’ve started planning for a bunch of other books again. Since nobody is paying me this time, I have free reign to write whatever I want, and this time it’ll be just my name on the book – not that I mind sharing the cover with my awesome mother. So while I work on my next few books (which actually means write a lot, drink a lot of coffee, and then delete a lot go text) you should go and check out the newly-published ebook.

If you buy it now, you’ll also get a free book that’s the start of my mum’s next series, the A – Z of Travel Planning. So you can learn how to clear your junk, make some cash, and then put it towards a good cause – travel! And it’s dirt cheap – you really have no excuse now!

 

Garage Sale Etiquette: How To Make Money, Have Fun, And Not Punch Anyone In The Face!

I feel so sorry for this blog.

I haven’t written to it since I was overseas. That’s over a month ago, mainly because I don’t want to think about all of the things I did while I was overseas. It was so fun and carefree and since we’ve gotten back we’ve mainly been stressed.

About a whole variety of things. Petrol costs, bank balances, phone bills and every other bill possible, health insurance, job seeking.. It feels like it’s been a massive stress party, and I’m the hostess with Tim as my unfortunate guest. There have been a few screaming and crying episodes where everything seems like too much, and there have been many sulky mornings and nights when we get on each others nerves.

And as you can see by this post so far, there hasn’t exactly been much fun stuff to write about. I’ve not really been in the mood to write about the things we did overseas because of the lack of internet access here (which means no pretty photos to go with posts) and so instead, I’ve been distracting myself with a million other things.

The upside to the neglecting of my blog is that my uni work is finished and submitted on time (so far, one down and two to go) and I have been making a lot of journal entries for future projects, as well as starting other projects of my own and working on some with my mum. So things have been getting done, I just haven’t had the energy to log on and write about it. I’d promise that will change, except we all know it won’t.

So instead, there’s your update. I’m not dead, and I’m still writing. And I will muster up the courage to write about my adventures soon.

So if you’ve watched, read or heard the news in the past 12 hours, you’ll know about the missing Malaysian Airlines flight.

If you haven’t, the basic story is a flight with 239 people left Kuala Lumpur just after midnight and by 2:40 am, it had lost contact with air control and has been missing ever since. Scary stuff. We’re checking the Internet like crazy people to try and get updates on if anything has been found, but so far, nothing. Rescue ships have been dispatched into the China Sea – last known location – and search and rescue teams are working to locate the plane as well.

Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing 777

Malaysian Airlines haven’t had a major accident for almost twenty years, and if this flight has indeed gone down, it would be their worst disaster. The plane itself, a Boeing 777, is named as one of the world’s safest planes. They had their first fatal crash last year in July when three people died after a crash in San Francisco.

Since I’m a little jumpy about flights (I overcame my fear of flying but occasionally logic takes a holiday in my mind) and I’m especially jumpy now because we’re flying out of the same airport on a similar flight tonight, I decided I’d look up the statistics about flying, and the chances of actually being involved in a plane crash.

Turns out, the odds of being killed on an airline flight is 1 in 4.7 million out of 78 major world airlines. If you’re flying with the 39 airlines with the best accident rates, those odds go up to 1 in 19.8 million. But if you’re flying with the 39 airlines with the worst accident rates, then your chances are 1 in 2 million.

The number of fatalities per million flight hours is a tiny 12.25.

The highest survival rate of people who’s planes had crashed was in the 1990’s, when you had about 35% chance of surviving. That survival rate went down to 24% in the 2000’s but apparently these days you have a 95% chance of surviving a plane crash. I think that positive jump in statistics may be largely due to the amazing landing on the Hudson River by Capt. Sully.

Based on statistics, if you flew every day of your life, it would take 19 thousand years before you died in a plane crash. You’re also nineteen times safer on a plane than you are in a car. You’re also more likely to die from a bee sting than a commercial flight.

Another fact: 80% of crashes happen in the 3 minutes after takeoff, and the 8 minutes before landing, and in between those times the chances of being involved in a crash drop dramatically. So if you’re awake, and prepared for that total of 11 minutes of flight time, then you have a higher chance of survival.

So when you compare statistics and averages, your chances of dying in a plane crash are very very slim. If you’re an American, you should be more worried about heart disease, which kills a frightening 1 in 2 people. For the rest of you, you’re in more danger whilst driving to the airport than you are of anything happening while you’re on a plane. However if you do get into a plane crash and survive, you should probably buy a lottery ticket. I figure the odds are on your side.

All of this information soothes my soul immensely, and I feel like I can relax a little bit more. Hey, according to statistics, I can relax for my entire flight apart from those 3 minutes at the start and 8 minutes at the end. And hopefully, when we land, we’ll have some more information on the missing plane and the people aboard. Here’s hoping they’ve got good odds.

 

It is officially my last night in Malaysia. Come tomorrow, Tim and I will finalise packing our bags, and head off on the bus to begin the long journey home.

Our journey involves a one hour bus ride, a one hour flight, a four hour stopover, and almost a nine hour flight through the night to Australia. Followed by a day and a half in Brisbane to get the rest of our belongings and say goodbye, and then we’ll be driving across three states to get to our new home.

They do say that “change is as a good as a holiday” but never content with doing things by halves, Tim and I decided the best thing would be to have a holiday, then come home to a massive change in life. The decision to send our belongings across the country and move to a new state seemed like a really good idea before we went away, when we had a heap of money saved and were fresh out of jobs we’d grown tired of. But now… It’s seeming like a bit of a crazy decision.

I still can’t decide if I’m looking forward to being home or not. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing my pet, and my sister and girlfriends from work. I’m excited to drive down to Melbourne with Tim, because we’ve never been on a road trip together before and I’ve never been on a road trip with someone who will pull over if I want to take a photo in the fields of grain. I’m really keen to wear some different clothes and read new books that I couldn’t carry with me on this trip.

But I am going to miss motorbiking on the edge of a foreign country, and eating delicious and extremely cheap food every night. I’m going to miss the freedom of not caring what time it is, or where we are. I’m going to miss having no schedule to stick to other than the upcoming date of a flight to another exciting destination. I’m sad to be leaving the amusing confusion that comes from not speaking the native tongue of whatever country we’re in.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag of feelings today. I think I’ve got pre-post-holiday depression – which is really unfair because being prepared for things isn’t what I’m known for, and this isn’t even being prepared for anything good. I think I’m going to just stop blogging now, before I get too mopey about my upcoming return home. Instead, I’m going to go out and eat my last dinner in Malaysia, and I’m going to enjoy it!

This is the first time that I’ve ever travelled as one half of a couple. I’ve travelled with family, with friends, and alone, but never with someone I was romantically involved with. And it’s a completely different experience to anything I’ve known before. 

I love Tim, don’t get me wrong. I’m madly in love with him, to be honest, and I hope that doesn’t change any time soon (or ever). But travelling with only him has put a whole new strain on our relationship that hasn’t existed before. I don’t mean to say that travelling is tearing us apart, or that we’re miserable being around each other 24/7. But it’s interesting to see what happens when you have zero exposure to people other than your partner on a regular basis.

We’ve become each other’s only form of physical companionship, and I’m finding myself relying on him more than I ever would at home. I’m normally extremely independent and am guilty of putting plans with friends over plans with Tim a lot of the time, because we lived together and I knew he’d always be there. But now, I find myself checking behind me on the motorbike every few minutes (five minutes if I force myself to wait) just to make sure he’s still behind me, still following. I’d prefer he go in front so he can keep an eye on me, but of course he wants to stay behind me so that he can still see me.

Story time: when we were looking for a hotel in Hue, in the rain with no petrol, Tim’s bike ran out of fuel and I went through a light. I waited on the side of the road for him to appear before I did a complicated u-turn and went back to find him standing at the petrol station, waiting for me. I dissolved into tears when he hugged me, and realised that losing him was a terrifying and very possible reality to me. Ew.

However, the pressure of being the only physical and familiar presence for each other is adding a level of stress I’ve personally never known in a relationship. I’ve always been a person who needs to talk about things, and Tim has always kept to himself when something is going on. I’ve always had my mum, my sister, my friends and workmates to talk to aside from Tim, but now there’s only him. Sure, there’s Facebook and phone calls and emails, but it’s not the same as a face-to-face ‘deep and meaningful’. Tim has become my main emotional outlet, but we both have vastly different coping mechanisms, and it’s hard sometimes to get on the same wavelength with each other.

We’re a bit snippy at times, arguing about stupid things, like if we have soap for our shower, whether we’ll leave the TV on when we get into bed, and even now, when I’m asking him when we last had an argument and he said yesterday, we’re almost about to argue about if we did argue yesterday. So silly and exhausting. I’ve had a few good cries to a mostly bewildered and exhausted Tim when things have gotten too much, and slowly, we’re starting to work it all out.

Turns out when you rely and be dependent on someone, you can also feel alone and abandoned if they withdraw from you. That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn properly for the first time, and a lesson Tim has been suffering through me learning as well. I’ve also learnt that there’s a fine line between comfortably relying on someone for companionship and romance, and being a clingy psychopath. Some days I feel like I’m crossing that line a bit – especially when I’m bawling my eyes out and saying “DO YOU EVEN LOVE ME??” to the guy who worked so hard to get me in the first place.*

So it turns out that all I needed to realise I’m able to rely on someone else without feeling like an utter failure in terms of emotional strength was a little bit of couple’s travel. It’s driving us a little bit crazy, and driving us a whole lot closer to each other. I know people say that travelling with your partner can be hard and exhausting, and they’re not wrong. We’ve shouted, and ignored each other, and slammed things, and slept as far from each other as possible.

But it’s also rewarding and character building, and shows you that good things are worth working for. We’ve held hands at dinner, and laughed while standing in the clouds on a mountain, and comforted each other after near misses on motorbikes, and taken selfies on the edge of a foreign country. Even when we want to kill each other, it’s so ridiculously comforting to know we still love each other.

There’s my sappy post for the month done. I tried to ask Tim how he felt about all this, and he just shrugged at me, and said “You know me, I show nothing.” So we semi-shouted at each other from separate beds, threw some pillows and giggled about it. He feels a lot on the inside, but would probably prefer I didn’t post it all on my mostly unread public blog. Seeing as I can’t read his mind and suck his thoughts out, guess I’m gonna have to respect that.

* Look, PMS makes you crazy, it’s really not (entirely) my fault.

We’ve only got two and a half weeks left of our trip! And only one week left in Vietnam.

It’s at this point that I’m torn between wanting to never go back and not being able to wait to go home. The biggest reason for wanting to head home at this point is to get some other people between Tim and I before we kill each other from limited exposure to the outside world, and to earn a substantial amount of money so that I can just come back and live over here. Why can’t I win the lotto!

On the other hand, when we’re riding through the greenest rice fields I’ve ever seen, or scooting around cliffs facing out into beautiful blue ocean, I never ever want to leave and I realise that my life right now is the stuff that other people’s daydreams are made of. Which is a little mind-blowing.

However, Tim is standing at the window and I can tell he wants us to get on our bikes and get moving already, so I’ll publish this and run along. Today’s mission is Mui Ne (sand dune central) and apparently it’s going to take three hours. Which really means five or six. Wah ):

 

Hot day, bored couple who wants to do something “travelly” and not hang around our clean, but extremely boring, hostel all day. Time for a waterfall visit.

If you’ve ever been to Luang Prabang, then you’ll know that one of the main tourist attractions seems to be the Kuang Si Falls. And for all those who are intending to go to LP and are doubtful of visiting somewhere that is so often touted by tuk-tuk drivers, don’t be so easily fooled. The first time my family and I visited LP, we avoided heading to the falls for a while because we figured it was the typical tourist trap that you normally see in SE Asia. One pitiful waterfall and a bunch of overpriced stuff. We were SO wrong.

Us at the Falls

Kuang Si Falls are about an hour’s tuk tuk ride away from the centre of Luang Prabang. You can motorbike there, or rent a car, or even use a bicycle, but tuk tuk is the cheapest and easiest option. If you head into the centre of town, there will be swarms of drivers practically begging to take you. We went with two girls from Norway (total strangers) so the price went down to 60,000 Kip there and back. The downside of going with a group/people you’ve never met is you need to agree on what time you want to leave, and you need to make sure the people you go with are on the same page as you. If you’re looking for a 30 minute photo-taking adventure, you’ll be upset if you end up with people who want to spend the whole day there.

Kuang Si Park

Entry to the falls is 20,000 Kip. This also gets you entry to the barely-advertised Bear Conservation Centre, a place that rescues bears from becoming trophy pets or part of strange medicinal practices. And for once in my life, I can see bears in captivity that aren’t showing signs of extreme stress or depression, which warms my heart to now end. The bears here have space, friends, and lots of the right kind of activities to keep them entertained and healthy. You can give donations, or buy a shirt, a bag, a water bottle… you get the picture, to support the centre and allow them to keep rescuing bears.

Moon Bears

 

LP Bears

After cooing over adorable bears, we went along some slippery dirt paths to the falls. There’s many levels to the falls, and they’re all equally impressive. The lower falls have beautiful, milky blue-green water, and the biggest fall that comes down the mountain is seriously impressive in itself. We walked to the top and snapped the obligatory photo between making a very important choice. Climb giant boulders and try to reach the very top of the fall, or go back down the hill to the lower falls and swim. For two lazy people, it wasn’t a hard decision.

Kuang Si Falls

Since we went in the afternoon, the crowds were pretty intense at all of the levels. Most people recommend going earlier in the day to avoid crowds and I would echo that advice – it’s just more relaxing. And many photo opportunities are ruined by two hundred other people milling on the edges of each pool. We found a relatively uncrowded pool, and decided we’d finally take our Nikon AW1 in the water. It’s waterproof to 10M, and we were still extremely paranoid about even splashing it. But it turned out fine!

Falls

 

Be warned, the water is pretty freezing. But it’s nice for a day out and the falls are absolutely gorgeous. This is an especially good outing if you’re finding yourself a little bored with the laid-back town of Luang Prabang, or if you need a break from all the temples – of which we saw a total of zero. If you want to go swimming but milky blue water ain’t your thang, or you want something a bit closer to town, check out the La Pistoche Swimming Pool & Bar.

Waterfalls

 

 

So far in our trip, we’ve done something new in every city. New for me, I mean, because everything is new to Tim. In Bangkok it was ice skating and visiting an abandoned mall. In Chiang Mai it was motorbiking through the mountains. And in Luang Prabang, our new activity was discovering La Pistoche.

La Pistoche

When we were wandering around the city searching for accommodation, I noticed a bunch of little signs stuck to different street poles and light posts. “Swimming pool & bar” they say, with a little arrow pointing in the right direction. I didn’t take too much notice because the biggest thing on my mind was making sure we didn’t pay $100 a night for a hotel or end up sleeping on the streets. But a few days later in the heat, I remembered the signs.

After a quick Google for directions, we set off for La Pistoche, one of the most popular backpacker pools in Luang Prabang. If you can find one of the signs – very prominent around backpacking areas and the night markets – then you just need to follow them faithfully and they will lead you very easily to the pool. If you can’t find a sign, jump on the net and grab directions. The address is Ban Phong Pheng Village, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos.

Tim 

Entry is 20,000 Kip, plus a 50,000 deposit. There’s bicycle and motorbike parking, or tuk tuks waiting outside if you choose to head back that way. Personally, I’d recommend walking or taking a tuk tuk if you plan to drink at the very cool swim-up bar. I rode my bike back to my hostel a little tipsy and it wasn’t a fun (or safe) experience.

Tags

The 50,000 deposit leaves you with a little tag with a number. DO NOT lose this tag, or you lose the 50,000. This arrangement may sound a bit strange, but the deposit is more like a bar tab. Tell the bartender/waiter your number when ordering food and drinks, and they take it off the 50,000. If you don’t spend it all, then you get the rest back. If you spend more, you simply pay the difference when you’re leaving. A great idea for a bar in a swimming pool, and it means not having to worry about money until you’re ready to go home.

Cocktails

The water was beautifully refreshing, and we know that because we got there so late that there was nowhere to sit. I’ve read that all the lounges go pretty early in the day, so if you want a day of lounging and sunbathing, it’s best to try and beat everyone else. If you’re going to spend most of your time in the pool – there are stools at the swim-up bar – then it’s not really an issue.

Swim Up Bar

The bar seemed pretty reasonably priced. During “happy hours” which are from 12 to 5 you can buy two for the price of one cocktails, and they make them pretty strong. Big Lao beers are 15,000 Kip and the food all seemed pretty reasonably priced too.

In another pool, there’s a volleyball net (nobody was playing) and a slide. Being told of a slide, Tim went to try it out and used our awesome underwater camera to document the results. There’s also a little “spa” connected to the big pool with the bar, but don’t expect warmth or bubbles. It’s more like a dipping pool for those who don’t want to get wet.

Pool

The music is good (and loud), the food is fresh, the drinks are cold, the water refreshing and the company interesting, and potentially amusing. I kept trying to go back on our last day, only to remember my bikini was being washed. Boo. I would recommend this to anyone staying in Luang Prabang for a while who just want to chill out in a traveller’s environment. Far from being “touristy”, La Pistoche has a relaxed vibe that makes you want to stay until the sun goes down. A must on a hot day in the little town of LP.

I finally rode a motorbike by myself!

Okay, it was an automatic scooter, but anything is an achievement for me, especially alone and in a foreign country. I decided that if we wanted to go ahead with our plan of motorbiking through Vietnam (a plan now very twisted and different to how we imagined) then I needed some practice first, so I could avoid killing myself on the first day.

So we went off to find someone to rent us some bikes, and 500 Baht and a held passport later, we had two little scooters with a helmet each. The guy had to explain to me how to actually start the scooter and rev the engine, and at this point he looked worried and asked if I actually knew how to ride at all. I nodded and shakily scooted twenty metres down the road. I don’t know who was more scared at this point – me or him.

We planned on riding the Samoeng Loop. Golden Triangle Rider has some really good info on it, and even a map you can buy and have mailed if you a, plan ahead and have time, and b, have a post box. The one for the Samoeng Loop is out of print and they have a new edition coming soon, but we also managed fine without a proper map. We ended up with two random maps, one from the motorbike rental guy of Chiang Mai, and one from a woman selling strawberries of half the loop.

The Samoeng Loop from GT Rider’s website.

The basic gist of the Samoeng Loop is Chiang Mai > Samoeng > around the Mae Sa Valley > Chiang Mai. Beginners are recommended to do this in reverse, so we took that advice and set off along the highway for the town of Mae Sa. It was pretty basic once we were out of Chiang Mai, you just follow all the signs and try not to get run over. Before you leave Mae Sa you should stop for fuel if you don’t have a full tank, because when you’re halfway up a hill in the middle of the rainforest, having low fuel makes you a bit panicky.

After you turn off for Samoeng, the hills start and it all gets really pretty. Dotted through the rainforest are a bunch of different tourist activities, like the tiger temple, elephant camps, zip lines, etc etc. There are also about a zillion people selling strawberries by the bag. We didn’t buy any but apparently they’re really tasty.

Dark, green, and wet - the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.

Dark, green, and wet – the perfect tropical rainforest waterfall.

We first stopped at the Mae Sa Waterfall, which is pretty and apparently has TEN levels. We only made it to level four, where it was still green and very peaceful. Admission is 100 Baht each, and 20 Baht for motorbikes.

After we stopped for lunch (grilled chicken, yum!) we headed off to the Pata Caves. The turn off is ridiculously confusing – the sign points further up the hill, but it’s down the side road that heads downhill. So we detoured (u-turns on bikes are a big thing for me) and got on the right track. To get there we drove along a really steep road covered in red dust, and went further up the mountain. Also at the Pata Caves was the Buddha Handprint, but when we went to look at it, we couldn’t really figure out what it was meant to be.. It looked nothing like a hand! Sorry worshippers, we just didn’t get it.

Seriously, what IS this thing?

Seriously, what IS this thing?

So we trekked up the hill to go to the Pata Caves. It’s an uphill trek, and when the path forked, we went right. Obviously the wrong way because after another ten minutes of trekking we still couldn’t see a cave! Tim looked like he was going to die, so we decided to pike it and go back downhill, when Tim fell on his butt. His fake cried echoed through the hills and probably traumatised the wildlife.

Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!

Poor thing. He was very dirty after this!

On the way back to the main road, Tim’s bike turned off completely on the downhill slope, which was fun! Not. Once back on the highway, we kept riding further up and around the mountain. It gets pretty cold the higher you go, and sun disappears altogether, so I would wear long pants and bring a windcheater/windbreaker/North Face jacket so you don’t freeze. The cold is worth it though, because eventually you reach Samoeng, and get an amazing view of the landscape from the lookout. It was a bit foggy when we were there, but I can just imagine how amazing it is when it’s clear.

On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!

On a clear day, this would be even more amazing!

Then we headed downhill, and got confused at the turnoff. Left goes to Chiang Mai, right goes to Samoeng. Because we were confused and didn’t realise that going to Samoeng means going out of your way and backtracking to get home again, we followed the directions of a fellow motorbiker and began the ride back to Chiang Mai. We soon realised why they tell beginners to do the route backwards – going home was a lot of very steep and very sharp uphill turns, when I thought I would topple over quite a few times. Once we were past near-death, we were lucky enough to have some elephants pass us by on the other side of the road! It was a really awesome moment, and it made us glad we hadn’t paid to go and see elephants when we could see them for free.

Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.

Seeing elephants this close was a great end to a perfect trip.

We finally got on the highway back to Chiang Mai, and after some more confusion and an unneeded u-turn, we found ourselves back at the city. Navigating around the Old Town is a bit of nightmare – so many one way streets! But the ride itself was pleasant, beautiful and really easy for some totally inexperienced riders. All in all, it was an awesome day out and only cost us about $35 in total! Well worth it if you’re brave enough to give it a try. And if you’re not and you have a more experienced friend, go out on the back of their bike instead. I guarantee you’ll still have an amazing time.

Bikes

There were plenty of things up in the mountains to do that we passed by, there’s the Royal Botanic Gardens and I even saw a sign for Monkey School (??) so by no means did we do everything. I’m a bit bummed we missed heading to Samoeng, but there’s always next time!

Easy Rider

So the mission for today is riding to Hoi An. It’s overcast, a bit rainy, and this will be our first long slog on the bikes.

The map for today, if we can remember it!

The map for today, if we can remember it!

We’ve got ponchos especially for our bikes (very amusing to me) and now it’s just a matter of hoping that we get there okay, we don’t get too wet, and we don’t run out of petrol or phone battery somewhere along the way.

This is just a short post in case we do die. Just in case. And if we do, I want to be buried! Here it is, on the record. Cremate me and I’ll haunt you forever.

I better pack the laptop away now, because Tim is looking murderous about having to pack the entire room by himself (a feat I’ve been doing since we got to Asia) and he’s even sitting there looking smugly at me now. Telling me we’re late. And I’m not ready. (typed as he was talking to me)

Okay, sayonara!