So I missed writing about month seven of my trip as a lot of things were going on in my life.
After almost nine years together, Trav and I broke up at the end of January.
It has been a really hard time for both of us and I haven’t really felt like writing, or doing much else really. Some days have been fine and I have felt like myself, but others, well, not so much.
This literally changes everything for me and the future that we had mapped out for ourselves has gone completely out the window. My plans for the next couple of years are going to be a lot more fluid and will involve a lot of travel with short stints of working in between. I don’t want to settle down anywhere yet, so I’m not going to.
I was going to write a post about this dramatic change in my life but I really don’t want to go into any more detail than to say that unfortunately we both wanted different things and the compromises we were making to stay together simply weren’t working for either of us anymore. It’s very sad but it happens.
Back to the last two months and what I have been up to, I started month seven back in Bangkok where I had a full day of exploring the city before saying goodbye to my Dad who was flying back to New Zealand.
Then I flew to the Philippines to meet up with Trav.
We had Christmas together in Manila, not my favourite city but one with great food options and a beautiful old town, Intramuros. We ate amazing tacos, pizza, fried chicken and pasta during our short two days there before flying to Cebu and catching a bus and a ferry to tiny Malapascua Island.
I didn’t end up loving the island, I thought it had a weird vibe, although it did have some beautiful beaches. The day trip we did to dreamy Kalanggaman Island made it worth travelling to alone.
After an interesting couple of hours as the only westerners in a mall in Mandaue City, we were on a flight back to Manila for an overnight in an airport hotel before flying to Coron on New Years Eve.
What started out as a quiet night ended up to be one of my favourite New Years ever when we met a group of fun American guys and partied in the town square with locals as well as bar-hopping around town.
Coron wasn’t one of my favourite places and I had a few mishaps there but at least the amazing New Years made spending time there worth it.
Then after a loooong ferry ride we were in paradise – El Nido.
The five days we spent in El Nido were some of my favourites of my three months in Asia. We reunited with our awesome New Years posse and met a load of new friends too while exploring the spectacular surrounding islands and beaches. This part of the world is mind-blowingly beautiful.
We managed to drag ourselves away from El Nido for a couple of days on the beautiful beach of Sabang. From here we visited one of the new seven natural wonders of the world – the Puerto Princesa Underground River – then flew back to Manila from where Trav flew back to Sydney and I caught a night but to Sagada via Baguio, picking up my friend Toby along the way.
Toby and I spent the week spelunking in underground caves, hiking to hanging coffins, swimming under waterfalls, and hiking to a remote village with 2,000 year old rice terraces in Sagada and Batad, a definite highlight of my trip.
Then I was travelling by myself for the first time in weeks although I did catch up with a couple of friends unexpectedly when I headed back to Sagada to relax for a few days.
My month in the Philippines was up and I flew to the last country of my South East Asian Odyssey: Vietnam.
I had long been looking forward to visiting Vietnam, especially for the food, but I was a bit nervous as I would be by myself for the entire three and a half weeks and I had heard so many stories about scams.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about.
I was scammed by a taxi in Hanoi but that was it. Vietnam treated me well. Generally I found the Vietnamese to be a friendly, welcoming bunch which was lucky as I was going through a very tough time emotionally while I was there.
After a few days wandering the numerous green spaces and sampling the incredible food in Ho Chi Minh City, I headed to the beach town of Mui Ne where I ran down giant sand dunes and wandered the long stretch of beach full of kite surfers.
From Mui Ne I took a night bus to Hoi An, my favourite town in Vietnam for aesthetics and cuisine, then stopped over in the atmospheric town of Hue before arriving in Hanoi just before the big Vietnamese New Years celebration of Tet.
Hanoi was a crazy whirlwind. The streets were jammed with people and scooters. I met up with my friend Johnny and some of his friends and we partied every night with new friends from our hostel. It was a crazy couple of days and a lot of fun although I definitely couldn’t keep it up. I am not 23 anymore, that’s for sure.
Nursing a hangover after Tet, we relaxed with a three day Halong Bay tour where we kayaked, cruised the islands, explored a cave and hiked in a National Park. It was too cold to swim but we had sunshine every day.
Back in Hanoi, I said goodbye to Johnny and my friend Steph and I headed on the night bus up to the mountain town of Sapa, which is known for trekking and rice terraces.
It was a lot cooler and I really enjoyed getting back into hiking again away from the sweltering heat I had endured during most of my time in SE Asia. We hiked to surrounding villages and also did an overnight homestay at a Black Hmong traditional village which was an eye-opening experience.
After a night back in Hanoi, it was time to fly back to Sydney, and reality.
I have been back in Sydney now for a week and it has been hard but I am really glad to be here. It’s a city that I know well and I am around friends which is exactly what I need. I had forgotten how damn stunning this city is. I will be sad to not be living here anymore but I am sure I will be back a lot to visit people, and maybe to do some temping work in the future.
And that is the past two months in a nutshell. Phew.
Now onto the Stats:
Countries visited: Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Australia
- Thailand: Bangkok
- Philippines: Manila, Malapascua Island, Coron, El Nido, Sabang, Sagada, Batad, Banaue, Baguio
- Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa
- Australia: Sydney
Islands visited: Malapascua Island, Kalanggaman Island (day trip), Busuanga Island, Malcapuya Island (day trip), Banana Island (day trip), Malaroyroy Island (day trip), Palawan, Miniloc Island (day trip), Cadlao Island (day trip). Helicopter Island (day trip), Luzon, Cebu, Cat Ba Island
Best meal: All of the food in southern Vietnam with a special shout out to my day of eating street food with Vy’s Cooking School at the Market Restaurant. I tried about twenty different dishes with each being more delicious than the last. What a day of gastronomic pleasure that was!
Worst meal: Definitely the dodgy Banh Mi with very questionable tasting meat I had on my last night in Vietnam. I woke up with food poisoning the next day. More on that in the lowlights.
Best craft beer: The end of month eight I have finally been back in a country with craft beer options – very exciting! My favourite is Stone and Wood Pacific Ale, the best beer in Australia in my opinion.
- Malapascua Island loop hike 8km
- Echo Valley in Sagada 7km return
- Batad Saddle to Batad 3km
- Hike to Waterfall from Batad 7km return
- Hike to peak on Cat Ba Island 8km return
- Hike to Cat Cat Village from Sapa 5km return
- Hike to Hau Thac Village from Sapa 14km
- Hike from Hau Thac Village to Su Pan 6km
Interesting person of the month: Definitely my friend Toby who I met in the Philippines on New Years then travelled with for a week in Northern Luzon. A guy after my own heart when it comes to prioritising travel, Toby works events and festivals over the US for about two thirds of the year then travels the rest of the time. This is the kind of lifestyle that I am hoping to make for myself one way or another. He also has the craziest stories. It is so inspiring to meet people like this on the road and it definitely has made me realise that I am not the only one that wants something different in life than the norm.
Reading: I have not been doing much reading over the past two months. I think I have only finished reading one book, Jane Eyre, which I enjoyed but it was a bit of a punish at times. I am currently reading The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. Also about his observations on life in Britain, it is not as good as Notes from a Small Island but I am enjoying it.
Listening to: I am going through a Grouplove phase at the moment and loving their songs ‘Colours’ and ‘Love will Save your Soul’. So good.
Hilarious moment of the month: The hilarious moment that stands out for me the most is when our crazy American friend John was dancing with some locals kids across the road from the hostel we were hanging out at in El Nido. They were all lined up doing these hilarious gangster moves, this lanky pasty American and all these tiny skinny kids. I laughed for a long time.
A day on Kalanggaman Island
Sure, Malapasucua had some pretty nice beaches, we couldn’t really complain, but I had heard that the beaches of nearby Kalanggaman were much better. And they were. Kalanggaman has a long white sand bar that juts out into the turquoise ocean and it was just stunning. Definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid eyes on. We swam in the clear waters, made friends with hermit crabs, walked around the coastline and ate a delicious BBQ lunch. It was a pretty awesome day.
Mall time in Mandaue City
I am definitely not the kind of girl that likes spending time in Malls but when you have the choice of going to a mall or arriving hours early at a small airport for your flight, I will generally choose the mall. We thought we would grab a bite to eat, use the wifi, browse the shops – all of which we did end up doing – but what we didn’t count on is that we were literally the only tourists in the entire mall. It made for an interesting afternoon with the shop assistants following us around to chat, people doing comical double takes when they saw us and a lot of people staring and smiling at us. I felt like a celebrity. It was Myanmar all over again. I also had the cheapest hair cut of my life – $1.50!
Celebrating New Years in Coron
Waking up with a hangover, two seriously banged up knees, and a busted lip from a fall on the way home still couldn’t ruin how fun that New Years was for me. What started out with me and Trav having a quiet dinner ended up being a massive night out with a group of American guys: Toby, Anush and Johnny. You know when you just click with people straight away? Well that was how it was with our little group. We had dance offs with lady boys and kids in the main square, counted down and saw the fireworks with tons of locals then barhopped around town to the early hours. What a night!
Day trips and new friends in El Nido
I know that El Nido is touristy, for the Philippines at least, but it is for a very good reason. The limestone cliffs, secret lagoons and beaches, and incredible aqua-marine waters that surround the town of El Nido are simply incredible. It is one of the most visually stunning places I have ever experienced. On top of that, we met so many cool people during our five days there. Firstly we reunited with our New Years crew for a couple of days of fun, and then we just kept meeting more and more people from there. Every night we went out for dinner and drinks with the ever-evolving group. We did karaoke, we ate amazing food (including the best burrito of my life!), we had a lot of laughs. I was kinda exhausted by the end of the five days but it was completely worth it and I will always have such fond memories of El Nido.
Outdoors adventures and quiet time in the mountains of Sagada
Wow I loved Sagada. I loved it so much that I ended up returning there for a second visit after going to Batad with Toby, just to chill out for a bit. The first three days was all about adventure. We went spelunking in an underground cave which was so much fun, and we hiked through the beautiful mountain scenery of Echo Valley, past hanging coffins (more on this when I finally get around to writing about Sagada), through an underground river and to a waterfall which we swam under. My second visit was a lot more low key, lingering for amazing mountain coffee with a kitty on my lap, reading on the balcony of my Guesthouse overlooking town, long walks to cafes on the outskirts of town, and eating. Damn the food was great in Sagada. I miss that little town.
Marvelling at the rice terraces of Batad
I had wanted to visit the small and remote village of Batad since I first read about it on a travel blog a couple of years ago. A village in the mountains that you could only reach by a 3km hike definitely appealed to me. It may have been past the rice harvest but it didn’t matter to me, I found the steep terraces so impressive and beautiful anyway and I felt very lucky to be there. We did a hike to a waterfall along the terraces and the views were spellbinding. Visiting our Guide’s family in lower Batad we learnt how to get the rice from the stalks and then we followed a funeral procession up the steep mountain path back to upper Batad. In the evening the stars were incredible. Batad was friendly and laid back and it represented the best of the Philippines for me. I will always remember the special time I had there.
All of the food in VIetnam
Oh Vietnamese food, where have you been all my life!? I have been a Pho lover for years and have always been partial to a Vietnamese fried spring roll but I really didn’t know much else about Vietnamese cuisine. I was missing out! There is so many dishes that I had never heard of before outside of the country and I made it my mission to try as many as I could. What I found was the zingiest, freshest, tastiest food I have ever eaten. I also lost the extra weight I had put on eating fatty western food in the Philippines within a couple of weeks. Not every dish was amazing but I had so many that were just incredible. My favourites were probably Bun Rieu Cua – a crab and tomato broth noodle soup, and Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio, vermicelli noodles with barbecued pork and pork spring rolls. I also loved the Banh Mi in the south, egg coffee in Hanoi and the white rose dumplings and crispy pancakes from Hoi An. Who am I kidding – I loved everything!
Pleasantly surprised by Ho Chi Minh City
I never expected to like Ho Chi Minh City, so I really had no expectations going in. That’s probably why I did end up liking it. In fact, it ended up being my equal favourite Asian city with Singapore. I was expecting a chaotic, dirty, ugly city and although it was definitley chaotic, there was so much beauty there. Gorgeous architecture, tidy green parks, incredible food, and just so much life everywhere you look. People really live their lives out on the streets here and I loved wandering around watching everyone going about their days. What a fabulous city, and one I can’t wait to return to.
Learning more about Vietnamese cuisine in Hoi An
After doing a cooking class in Thailand I knew that I wanted to do one in Vietnam too and Hoi An was the place I chose to do it. I ended up going with a cooking and street food demonstration class and I am so glad that I did. I got to try over 20 different dishes, pretty much all of them super delicious, as well as watch a lot of the food being prepared and making four dishes myself. The best activity I did in Asia. I really loved it.
Wandering the Imperial City in Hue
I was exhausted and sad when I set out to explore Hue. I couldn’t really be bothered but sitting around in my hotel room all day would have been worse than trying to do something. It was cold and grey outside as I wandered aimlessly over the bridge to the old section of the city. The vibe of the city changed once I crossed the bridge. It felt as though I had stepped back in time. I saw the walls of the Imperial City and it looked intriguing so I decided to go in. And it was amazing. I found overgrown gardens, crumbling ruins, beautiful temples and a tangible sense of melancholy that matched my mood and actually elevated it. The dismal weather only added to the haunting beauty of the place.The few hours I spent wandering around the grounds were quite magical.
Party time in Hanoi and celebrating Tet
I’m sure a few of my friends think that when I’m travelling I am partying every night but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t go out loads in my every day life and I actually go out even less when I am travelling as I don’t want to be hungover when I’m out exploring and I don’t want to waste my travel fund on alcohol. But sometimes there are exceptions, and my time in Hanoi was a big one. I had three pretty massive nights out in a row, drunk a lot of beer, danced on tables and met loads of interesting people. For Tet we went down to the lake to watch a spectacular fireworks display. I was exhausted by the time we left Hanoi for Halong Bay but it was so much fun and definitely worth the hangovers.
Hiking around Sapa
I was really missing being able to get out hiking on a regular basis during my time in South East Asia so my time in the cooler climes of Sapa in Northern Vietnam was dedicated to it. Steph and I hiked to the cute village of Cat Cat, nestled in the rice terraces that Sapa is famous for, then we did a trek to a Black Hmong village with a local guide who we did a homestay with. Steph had to leave early the next morning to catch a bus but I stayed and did another two hour hike with our Guide, Mama Zu, between other local villages before her husband scootered me back to Sapa. It felt good to be outside exercising again.
Catching up with friends in Sydney
After spending too much time alone during my Vietnam travels, it was amazing to come back to Sydney and have so many friends to visit and stay with. I love meeting new people but there is nothing like being surrounded by people that know and love you, especially when you are going through a tough time emotionally.
Getting a job in Sydney
Now that my travel plans have changed and I am wanting to travel for longer before I have to work for a long period again, I was eager to get a couple of weeks work while I am back in Sydney. I am only back for three or four weeks so I knew that it might not be possible but luckily for me, my Agency got me two weeks Reception cover at a Media Company in North Sydney, and it perfectly aligned with the time I was looking at working. Score!
Breaking up with Trav
Obviously. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And having it happen when you are by yourself in a foreign country surrounded by strangers – even harder. Enough said.
Scams and unpleasant people in the Philippines
While I was expecting to be scammed constantly in Vietnam and then I had no problems at all, it was the opposite in the Philippines unfortunately. Everyone always raves about how friendly Filipinos are (and there were so many amazing friendly people too) but I came across more scammers there than anywhere else in South East Asia. The customer service most of the time was also very, very bad and I encountered a lot of rude people during my four weeks in the country. It’s a shame because the kind people I met were super kind and lovely. Maybe I just had bad luck.
Worst internet of my life in the Philippines
Australia and New Zealand get teased for their bad internet but Philippines has got to take the cake for worst internet in the world. Again, maybe I just had bad luck, but the wifi I experienced was absolutely, hands down, the slowest I have ever used. It wasn’t usable most of the time. Very, very frustrating when you are trying to book the next part of your trip and keep your blog updated.
Hurting myself on the way home after New Years
After one of the best New Years of my life, I ended up falling over on the way back to the hostel and somehow smashing my face on the ground as well as banging one leg up so badly that it is still tender now, almost two months later, and slicing my knee open on my other leg. I woke up in the morning with a fat lip and blood all through the bed. Oh, and a raging hangover. 2016 did not start out well for me.
The day trip of endless mishaps from Coron
You know those days when everything that could go wrong does go wrong? I had one of those when we did an island hopping tour from Coron. It started out with us leaving an hour late despite everyone being on the boat early, then we had two and a half hours of rough seas to get to our first island. When we were almost there, we got stuck on a reef and everyone had to get off the boat so they could free it. When they finally did, the engine wouldn’t start because it was flooded with water, causing another half hour delay. Once we got to the islands, all was good and they were very beautiful. But then we had to brave the rough seas again to get back to Coron, and we left late. Getting back was the worst. Everyone on the boat was continually being drenched by waves and we were all shivering from the cold when we finally got back, with the last half hour of the journey undertaken in the dark with no lights on the boat, not even a flashlight. What a nightmare.
Getting eaten alive in El Nido
I’m lucky in that mosquitoes don’t usually like me so I rarely get bitten. My luck changed when I was in El Nido. Through a number of encounters with sand fleas, small jellyfish, mosquitoes, and God knows what else, I ended up covered head to toe with red welts that woke me up in the middle of the night, itching like mad. Not fun, especially as my legs were still pretty bad then too from my New Years Eve fall. I felt like I was falling apart.
Struggling to meet people in southern Vietnam
I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to meet people immediately after the break up when I was travelling in southern Vietnam, despite it being exactly what I needed to do to take my mind off it. Apart from a few exceptions, I found that a lot of the backpackers I encountered were very young and basically on an obnoxious booze tour of the country. Not my scene at all. Luckily my luck changed once I headed north but the first couple of weeks in the country were pretty lonely.
Food poisoning on an epic travel day
I knew that I was tempting fate. I told a fellow traveller I was eating dinner with on my last night of three months in Asia that I hadn’t had any form of food poisoning for my entire trip. I woke up early the next morning, the day I had to travel for over 24 hours to get back to Sydney, with severe stomach cramps and nausea. I ended up shelling out for a hotel for three hours at the airport in Bangkok because I thought I was going to pass out. Luckily resting up helped a lot but it was still one of the worst travel days of my life.
Moving out of my apartment
Moving is never fun but it is even less fun when you are moving out of an apartment you love after breaking up with your fiance who you still care for while jet-lagged and recovering from food poisoning. I don’t recommend it.
I actually can’t believe how low this is. I even rechecked it to make sure I added up the figures correctly. I have been staying with my lovely friend Bec in Sydney for the past week so I haven’t had to pay for Accommodation here and I got some pretty good deals in Philippines as I was sharing a room with someone else almost the entire time. I actually splurged a bit my first couple of weeks in Vietnam on private rooms but still the total is low. I am very happy with this.
Food and Drink $676.50
Not bad at all for two months of spending on food, drink, and groceries. Philippines was definitely more expensive than Vietnam for food and drink, especially as I was eating a lot of Western food there because I wasn’t a big fan of Filipino cuisine. Australia has also been expensive even though I haven’t been eating out much. Grocery shopping alone here almost requires you to remortgage your house and I don’t even have a house to remortgage. Ouch.
- Tailor Made dress $35
- North Face Down Jacket $41
- Leggings $21.50
I hadn’t planned on buying any more clothes but I couldn’t resist getting a dress tailored for me in Hoi An for an upcoming wedding I am going to. Also, Northern Vietnam was a lot colder than expected so the jacket was seriously needed. And my leggings were falling apart so it was definitely time to replace them.
- Trains in Bangkok $2
- Bangkok Taxi $4
- Manila Taxis $9.50
- Return flight Manila to Cebu $118
- Taxi, Bus and boat from Cebu Airport to Malapascua return $18
- Flight from Manila to Coron $88
- Taxi from Coron Airport to Coron Town $1
- Half of scooter hire and petrol from Coron Town $5.50
- Ferry from Coron to El Nido $27.50
- Half of motorbike hire and petrol from El Nido $6.50
- Bus from El Nido to Sabang $17
- Jeepney and Trike from Sabang to Puerto Princesa Airport $4.50
- Taxi from Manila Airport to Pasay Bus Station $8.50
- Night bus from Manila to Baguio $9.50
- Bus from Baguio to Sagada $7.50
- Jeepneys from Sagada to Banaue $3.50
- Trike from Banaue to Batad Saddle $4
- Jeepney and Trike from Batad to Banaue $7.50
- Shuttle van from Banaue to Sagada $7.50
- Bus from Sagada to Baguio $4.50
- Taxi from bus station to hostel in Baguio $1
- Bus from Baguio to Manila $9.50
- Taxi from Pasay Bus Station to Airport in Manila $7.50
- Taxi from Airport to Hostel in Ho Chi Minh City $7
- Bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne $6.50
- Night bus from Mui Ne to Hoi An $25.50
- Bus from Hoi An to Hue $10
- Night bus from Hue to Hanoi $22.50
- Taxi from bus station to Hostel in Hanoi $10
- Night bus from Hanoi to Sapa $11
- Bus from Sapa to Hanoi $12
- Taxi from bus station to Hostel in Hanoi $22.50
- Taxi from Hostel to Airport $8.50
- Flight from Hanoi to Bangkok $78.50
- Sydney Public Transport $14.50
- Sydney Airport Parking $12
- Parking at Whale Beach in Sydney $2.50
A lot more than I would have liked thanks to the numerous flights I had to book to get around the Philippines and the higher than usual bus prices because of Tet in Vietnam.
- Grand Palace in Bangkok $14
- Wat Pho in Bangkok $3
- Trike Tour of Intramuros $3
- Day trip to Kalanggaman Island $31.50
- Beach entry – Bali Beach, Coron $1
- Island hopping day trip from Coron $25
- Day trip Tour C from El Nido $23
- Private boat hire to Cadlao Island $8.50
- Day Trip Tour A from El Nido $17
- Kayak Hire on Tour A to Small Lagoon $3
- Underground River Boat Tour $9
- Guided Jungle Hike from Underground River in Sabang $4
- Cave Connection Tour in Sagada $8.50
- Echo Valley Adventure Tour in Sagada $10.50
- Guided Hike to Waterfall from Batad $4
- War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City $0.50
- Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City $1
- Cu Chi Tunnel Entry and Tour $9.50
- Sand Dune Tour and entry in Mui Ne $5.50
- Cooking Class and Street Food Demo in Hoi An $23
- Bike Hire in Hoi An $1
- Imperial City Entrance in Hue $6.50
- Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi $1
- Hoa Lo Prison Museum in Hanoi $1.50
- Three Day Halong Bay Tour $165
- Cat Cat Village Entrance Fee in Sapa $1.50
- Two day trek from Sapa $22.50
Not too bad. Halong Bay was a splurge but it did end up being cheaper than I thought it would be. All the day trips in the Philippines added up but were worth every penny (except the island hopping from Coron).
- Trav Christmas Present $6
- Toiletries $25.50
- Hair cut $1.50
- El Nido Port Fee $0.50
- Cash out fee Philippines $4
- Boat Hire tip $2
- Printing costs $1.50
- Puerto Princesa Airport Terminal Fee $2
- Sagada Environmental Fee $1
- Internet charges $1.50
- Bag storage fee in Banaue $1
- Money loaned to friend $17
- Skype Credit $11.50
- Vietnam Visa $46
- Pedicure $3
- Massage $9
- Laundry $5.50
- Vietnam fan souvenir $3.50
- Month Phone Plan in Australia $15.50
- 2016 Day Planner $10
Lots of random crap as per usual, some things were needs and some were wants. Pretty standard.
Nice to have this section back in the roundup for the next couple of months!
I only did half a days work at a Media Company on Reception this month but have got another three weeks of work that will come under next month’s earnings. It will be great to top up my travel fund, especially as I am extending my original travel plans by at least a month.
What’s in store for next month:
The next month I will still be in Sydney, working to replenish the travel fund as well as catching up with friends and showing my Mum and Step-Dad around (they are visiting me for a week). Then I will be flying to New Zealand for two-three weeks to visit family and friends and attend a friend’s wedding.
After that, at the end of March, the adventure will continue. Stay tuned for more details.
To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here