Back in 2008, I toured the north and south islands of New Zealand and one of the most amazing things I did was to hike across an active volcano, otherwise known as Mount Tongariro. Feeling a little hungover, as was the norm back then, I started on the hike across Mount Tongariro National Park. I had five layers of clothing on, it really was that cold, and it took about eight hours to cross from Whakapapa Village to Ketetahi. The scenery was dramatic with snow-covered mountains rearing up into the sky all around our little hiking party.
At ground level, there were mountain springs flowing with cold clear water, and the greens and browns of plants growing up out of the melted snow.
About halfway through the hike, we passed Mount Ngauruhoe, otherwise known as Mount Doom, which, for me, was a real highlight. I’m a die-hard fan of The Lord of the Rings, and I couldn’t stop myself from climbing just a little way up and getting the guide to take my photo.
We hiked on through dove-white valleys, the wilderness that lay ahead unseen, concealed by the brilliant white all around. It was blissfully quiet, but I could hear my fellow hikers chatting in the distance. In fact, it was a good job they were there because I could easily have gone missing, never to be heard from again.
I trundled on and started to make my way upwards. It was such a struggle, the snow made it very slippy, so I had to wear crampons. It was incredibly cold and the higher I got, the windier it got. Eventually, I found myself at the summit of the mountain. The effort is always worth it!
At the top of Mount Tongariro, I got three hundred and sixty-degree views and it felt like I was on top of the world. The clouds were lower than the summit and it seemed otherworldly. It was peaceful, even though I wasn’t alone, and I took a moment to stand there, looking at that perfect scene in front of me and thought of all the things I had done up to that point.
On top of that mountain, I felt elated and overjoyed I was there. It was one of those moments that made me realise all the decisions I had made about my life were the right ones and I was definitely living my life to the fullest.
After a while, it was time to continue on my hike. The way down was bloody difficult because the slope was so steep and, instead of snow, I had hot rocks to contend with. Not just hot rocks but slippery hot rocks. The easiest way to do it was to inch my way down, much like when you’re on skis. I tried that, but any small movement would send a cascade of rocks down the mountain taking me with them. The next tactic was to slide down on my backside, but before I could even manage to get in a position to do this, I slid, fell on my arse, and ended up in a heap with five other people.
We started to laugh, every little movement sending a few more rocks downwards, and us another inch from where we sat. Eventually, we managed to pull ourselves together and made it to the bottom unscathed.
The whole hike was amazing, and the last part of the journey to Ketetahi Road was through a small forest which, compared to the strenuous hiking I had just tackled, was easy. But, I was so intoxicated with joy that I skipped and ran through that forest until I reached the end.
The hike had taken around eight hours through a wilderness which had stirred my heart at every turn. Mind you, my body was singing a different tune over the next few days because I ached all over, but it was one of the best days out I’ve ever had.
Mount Tongariro, New Zealand
Mount Tongariro, New Zealand
Mount Tongariro, New Zealand
Mount Tongariro, New Zealand
This is one of my tales from my new book which is on the way to being published 😉
I spent the first few days of 2018 on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka, otherwise known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. It really is one of my favourite destinations for a number of reasons, the beautiful scenery, the wildlife, the food, and the wonderful hospitality of the Sri Lankan people.
After 7 years, my friend Mark has left Thailand and is currently living in the coastal town of Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka’s south west coast, and I was lucky enough to stay in the house he has rented.
Dahana Holiday House
And what a house it was! Dahana Holiday House is something else. A gorgeous villa with an exquisite garden with green grass, vibrant flowers, many species of trees and plants, and daily visits from colourful birds and butterflies. There’s even a mongoose that roots around in the undergrowth every day which I, sadly, never got to see. And let’s not forget the fish pond with koi carp, statues, and interesting wall hangings inside. It’s not your average place to stay that’s for sure.
Dahana Holiday House is located in Seenigama, a small Sri Lankan village, around 2 kilometres from the main town of Hikkaduwa. It’s a sleepy neighbourhood where the locals go about their day to day business. As you walk along the small lane to the main Colombo-Galle road, men on bicycles cycle by, women in brightly coloured saris pass you by, with just a hint of curiosity in their eyes, and couples walking along hand in hand, sheltered from the sun by their umbrellas. Dare to say hello and you’ll get a wonderfully warm smile in return. Crossing over the main railway line makes for some fabulous photo opportunities, and if you’re there at the right time you can marvel at the train as it trundles past with its passengers hanging out of the doors.
The house is looked after by manager, Sanjaya Indrajith, and housekeeper, Lasitha Pathum, or just Pathum. Pathum is also a fantastic cook and he’ll rustle up just about anything you desire for breakfast from typical Sri Lankan fare to European food. His eggs, sausages and tomatoes served with toast is delicious and just what you need for the day ahead.
It’s not only Dahana Holiday House that will lift your spirits while staying here. There is also the, aptly named, Villa Spice Forest, a second villa, just as gorgeous and just as calm as the first. Pathum took me on a tour of the grounds and he explained that the resort uses herbs and spices from the garden to produce Ayurveda medicines for health purposes. These same herbs and spices are also used in the food that he cooks. You’ll love the platter of fruits, like pineapple and guava, that is served straight from the trees. All of the food produced is organic without any fertilisers being added, so if you’re looking to stay healthy while enjoying your holiday, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll be as amazed as I was, when Pathum gives you a handful of leaves to smell and you recognise the smells of cinnamon, allspice, vanilla and ginger, or he points out turmeric and aloe vera plants. It’s simply wonderful.
Meditation and Buddhism
Sanjaya told me that if visitors want to learn about Buddhism during their stay he will be only too happy to share the Buddhist philosophy and a little of the Sri Lankan history and culture. If mediation is on your mind, he can teach you why it’s important and how to use it properly. Believe me, the quiet and stillness of the garden is the perfect place for morning meditation or maybe a spot of yoga.
Both Sanjaya and Pathum speak English and are on hand to help with anything from organising trips to pickups and drop offs at the airport. My friend and I wanted to go on a river safari, so we talked to the guys and they suggested we visit the Madu River or Madu Ganga. They told us there was a lake 10 minutes from Hikkaduwa, but they suggested we travel the 8 kilometres to the Madu River because this was the better place to visit. We weren’t disappointed. Sanjaya and Pathum drove us there in their tuk-tuk and even came on the safari with us. The river is huge and has some 64 islands and is home to over 300 species of plants and over 248 species of animals. It is said to be one of the last remaining areas of untouched mangrove forests in Sri Lanka. As we travelled along the river we saw brightly coloured kingfishers, water monitors, snoozing in the mangroves, sea eagles, herons and cormorants. We got off the boat onto Cinnamon Island and we learned how cinnamon sticks are made. The guy who lives there stripped the bark of the tree, this alone smelled heavenly, then he carved strips off the bark with his knife and laid them on a rack to dry out. My friend and I were intrigued because you don’t often think about where things come from when you’re shopping in the supermarket. I’m a cinnamon lover, it’s so healthy for you, so we bought some cinnamon powder for tea and a small jar of cinnamon oil which is good for fighting viruses and helps to decrease inflammations, among other things.
Dahana Holiday House and Spice Forest is just 400m from the sea, in fact, when the waves are high, you can just about hear them crashing onto the beach on a still night. The town is not far away and there are tuk-tuks available if you want to spend the evening in any number of Hikkaduwa’s bars or restaurants. It’s also ideally located for onward travel as the train and bus stations are close by.
There’s plenty of stuff to see in Hikkaduwa. Hikkaduwa beach is a stunning stretch of golden sand perfect for relaxing or surfing in the huge waves. Seenigama Muhudu Vihara is a small temple located on a tiny island just offshore, just a 3 minute boat ride away. The Tsunami Honganji Vihara is a temple erected to commemorate those that lost their lives in the 2004 tsunami. A statue of the Buddha, with its hands facing the sea for protection, was donated by the Japanese for good luck. There is another tsunami museum further along the road with hundreds of photos which brings home just how devastating this natural disaster was. The woman who runs the museum will give you a little insight into what happened. It’s very sad and shocking, but it’s a beautiful memorial to visit.
Just a 15 minute walk from the house, in the small town of Peraliya, is the sea turtle hatchery. A fantastic place to learn of the conservation work they are doing to protect these beautiful sea creatures, and the programs in place for recovering turtles before they are released back into the sea. If you’re lucky enough to be around when the baby turtles are released into the sea for the first time, it’s an experience not to be missed.
During the high season between October and March Dahana Holiday House costs $55 per night and can sleep up to 6 people. For over 4 guests there is a charge of $10 per person, per night.
Villa Spice Forest has two parts, 2 rooms on the ground floor and 3 rooms upstairs. The cost for upstairs is $55 per night and can sleep up to 6 people. For over 4 guests there is a charge of $10 per person, per night. The ground floor also costs $55 per night and can sleep up to 4 people.
Low season between March and October the cost is $40 per night for both houses. Additional guests will be charged $10 per person per night.
If guests plan to stay more than 1 month they will receive a 30% discount.
Bangkok is full of wonderful surprises and, if you know where to look, you can find them all over the city. Take Sathorn for instance, some say the centre of the city, with it’s high rise office blocks, glitzy hotels and European style bars and restaurants, but it’s also home to M.R Kukrit’s Heritage Home. If you’re interested in history, this beautiful teak house won’t disappoint.
Mom Rajawongse Kukrit was born in 1911, educated in England, and was Thailand’s 13th prime minister between 1974-1975. He was a very talented artist and writer and he has over 40 novels to his name. His home represents the man he was, and it’s been left just the way it was when he lived there. There are many of his personal souvenirs and you can really see the passion he had for traditional art and literature through paintings and books that are displayed.
The house is of traditional Thai design and it took over 20 years to be completed. There are 5 beautiful teak buildings, all of which came from different parts of Thailand; the owner had them transported and reassembled. As well as the buildings, there is walled garden, a lily pond, a bird pavilion, and a European style garden with a lawn surrounded by colourful flowers, trees and shrubs.
M.R Kukrit’s home was registered by the Department of Fine Arts as “the home of an important person” and they point out that it’s not for exhibition purposes like your usual museum, rather it’s the home of a person who lived there, which, in my opinion, makes it more interesting. The other thing I liked about it was its location; tucked down a leafy lane, smack bang in the middle of one of Bangkok’s most affluent districts, but a world away from all the noise of the busy road, just one street away. 🙂
It was the Christmas of 1999, and my boyfriend gave me a wonderful surprise, but when I opened the present, I found an apple and the look on my face said “I hope that’s not all he’s got me!” The clue didn’t register until I was given a hint from his parents; the Big Apple?! “Oh, wow!” I was off to New York for 6 days. I was one happy girl.
A few days into the new year, we found ourselves in Manhattan. We had a fabulous time there, but one story sticks in my mind. A night we went clubbing.
We got all dressed up and went out for dinner and then made our merry way to a club, called Liquid. It was quite a big club, from what I remember, and the pink and purple colours dazzled as the lights flashed around us. It was early when we got there, so there weren’t very many people there. We made our way to the bar and asked for two red bull and vodkas. We nearly fell over in shock with the reply we received! There was no liquor license! That was the year 2000, and only 10 years after the internet started, so it wasn’t really the norm to check out places before going there. Had we been able to do that, I don’t even know if the club had a website back then, but we would probably have found out that Liquid didn’t serve booze.
We were slightly taken aback, seeing as we were in the city that never sleeps, it seemed that was true, but we would just have to experience a night without our vodkas, after all we had paid money to get into the club, so we weren’t going to leave just because of a minor (in our case, major) detail. So, we ordered red bulls, minus the vodka, and moved away from the bar and found a place to people watch.
What happened next really made our night. As we sipped our non-alcoholic beverages, both of us thinking, “once we’ve finished these, we are outta here and gonna get drunk,” when a circle of people formed in front of us. We wondered what was going on, a fight maybe? But the atmosphere didn’t feel like that, there was no-one sizing each other up or shoving going on.
All of a sudden, music blared and, in the middle of the circle of people, a guy began break-dancing, moving this way and that, head spinning, body popping and getting into seemingly impossible positions. It was thrilling to watch. Another guy, who had been on the other side of the circle, took over and it was his turn to display a variety of gymnastic movements; one-handed handstands, leaping so high in the air and almost defying gravity. The determination and skill these guys had was phenomenal. It’s very difficult to balance you’re body on one hand, while trying to spin (believe me, I’ve tried, I didn’t even get to the spinning part!) yet, these very talented men were doing it with ease. We were blown away and couldn’t tear ourselves away from the action, our eyes not daring to look away in case we missed anything. It was the longest time I’ve ever taken to drink a vodkaless red bull in my life. All too soon, the break-dancing stopped and the crowd dispersed, and we were left to our drinks. It was like it never happened.
What a night though. How fantastic that we were there when they decided to have a break-dancing battle. We left not long after, excitedly chattering about what we had just witnessed, found another bar and got drunk!
Over the years, I have travelled to over 20 countries and I’ve seen and done so many amazing things. But, there are a few places that I hold dear to my heart for one reason or another, so here is a list of my favorite places on Earth.
My home for the past three years, Bangkok excites me like no other city. Before I lived here, I never thought I would be a city girl at heart, but it turns out I am. It’s exciting because it is so diverse, there are traditional Thai temples, Hindu temples and Islamic mosques. Shopping malls that will make your eyes boggle at the sheer size and extravagance, some of the most delicious food you’ll ever eat, and rooftop bars where you can gaze in wonder across the city and almost touch the stars. The city has a fascinating history, part of which has European influences and people from all over the world call Bangkok their home. It’s a fabulous place for exploring and every twist and turn throws something new at you. It’ll take a long time to ever get bored.
Darling Harbour, Sydney
The first time I went to Australia, in 2005, I was wowed, I loved everything about it. The Blue Mountains, Fraser Island, travelling across the outback, but one of my favourite’s is a simple pleasure. I love everything about Sydney, but the best place to be is sitting in a bar, just as the sun is setting, in Darling Harbour. The day’s light slowly diminishes and the neon lights of the city and office lights of the skyscrapers, across the harbour, come on. It is, quite frankly, spectacular, especially when the lights are reflected in the water. I remember sitting there one day when I had a sudden rush of happiness and comfort, so much so, I had to ring my mum, back in the UK, to tell her how amazing it was.
Northampton is the place I’ve lived since I was 12, and it’s the place I go back to for holidays. It’s where my family are, and the friends, that know me the best, who welcome me home with open arms to pick up conversations, just like it was yesterday. My family are the single most important thing in my life, so I look forward to my annual trip, where I can spend time with them, eat some of mum’s delicious food, drink wine with mum and dad, and share more than a few laughs along the way. I get to see my gorgeous niece and nephews, who seem to be growing up way too fast, and spend precious time at Christmas with my sisters, brothers, and their families, it’s a fabulous time all together. Time that goes all too quickly, so it’s time to relish every moment spent with them.
Sri Lanka is where I got married first time round, and it’s a place that I probably would never have gone to if it hadn’t been for my marriage. We spent two glorious weeks there before jetting off to the Maldives for our honeymoon. We stayed at a plush hotel, which has since been rebuilt, following the 2004 tsunami, and we had our wedding ceremony in the hotel grounds. On the morning of our wedding, we got into our wedding outfits, both in handmade sarongs and tops to match. We met each other in reception, and walked outside to the gardens, accompanied by a troupe of Sri Lankan dancers, we signed the register, fed each other cake, our arms entwined with silk ribbon, and then sat and watched the dancers perform a traditional dance, while we sipped cool champagne. After that we went to the beach and had photographs taken, and we spent the rest of the day in the pool with the few guests that had gathered to watch our special day. This marriage never lasted, but it’s still there in my memory. I’ve been back to Sri Lanka twice since then, and it’s always going to hold a piece of my heart.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
I only spent a few hours here, but the reason I was in Mexico was for my husband’s sister’s wedding. We stayed at the Moon Palace, a palatial and beautiful hotel, and, apart from the odd day tour, we didn’t really see much of this part of Mexico. However, an evening out saw us in Playa Del Carmen, which, back in 2000, was a world away from the glitzy malls, bars and clubs of Cancun. The thing that I remember was hundreds of tiny streets, with restaurants filled with locals who were there to enjoy their evenings. I bet it’s a different story today.
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi is another place that holds some fond memories for me. I was travelling in Thailand with my friends and they had the most wonderful birthday surprise in store for me. They had been plotting with my family for my folks to come and visit. It was nothing short of amazing when my family turned up at the bar we were having drinks at. We shared a wonderful week all together and it’s on record as the best birthday I’ve ever had.
I went to KL the first time in 2005, when I was on the way home from Australia. It was the first time I’ve ever travelled to the other side of the world alone, and I spent 3 days in Kuala Lumpur. I stayed in a lush hotel, which is, sadly, no longer there, and it’s there I dined alone for the very first time. I went to the bar to have a couple of drinks first and chatted to the bar man, who made me feel a little less nervous about being on my own. When I went to the restaurant for dinner, I remember feeling very self conscious when I first sat down, thinking everyone was looking at me, they weren’t. I ordered, and then the resident band sang a Robbie Williams song to me, making me feel even more uncomfortable, but then I relaxed, helped along by the wine, and started to enjoy myself, I even started singing along with them.
Fun Island, The Maldives
Fun Island is where I spent my (first) honeymoon. The island was small enough to be able to walk around it in 10 minutes, pristine white sand, and private beaches to go with our private villa, such a romantic place, ideal for a honeymoon. The water was turquoise blue, and so clear and warm, we went swimming every day. We saw dolphins and sharks, and swam with the many other beautiful fish that made those waters their home. We ate good food, drank cocktails, and even paddled across to a smaller uninhabited island which we had all to ourselves, because no one else was stupid enough to wade between the two islands where the current swept our feet from beneath us.
Ibiza was where I spent my (second) honeymoon, but first my boyfriend and I used to go there every year for at least 5 years prior to our wedding. We loved it there, the clubs are amazing, and the island, if you get out of San Antonio, is beautiful and we had many wonderful holidays there. We needed a holiday after the holiday, mind you, because of all the partying we did, but still, it was an exciting place. Not only did we spend our honeymoon there, but we got engaged, sitting outside Cafe Del Mar, watching the sun disappear below the horizon, followed by applause from everyone around us. They weren’t applauding us, they, as well as us, were applauding the sunset. It made the hair on my arms stand on end, and to add to that, we were sporting huge grins as we continued our celebration into the night.
Adelaide, South Australia
Adelaide is home from home. I have family there, my mum’s second cousin, Helen moved there over 40 years ago. Helen and her family all make me feel so welcome whenever I go and visit. And it’s in Adelaide that I made a life changing decision. I originally went there in 2005, because my second husband and I needed to have time apart to decide whether we should continue our marriage. It took many walks up the beach to come to the decision that would set me on a path that would, eventually, lead me to living abroad permanently. Whenever I’m in Adelaide, we share so many laughs together, I just love spending them with them, they’re like my second family.
My mum’s other second cousin, Gill and her husband Norm, live in Bundaberg, and the first time I visited them, we went on a road trip together to the town of 1770, Agnes Water and Fraser Island. They were so gracious and I was astounded at just how much Norm knew about everything, from the different species of trees to the history of Australia. They took me to the rum distillery and we watched bats fly off from the mangrove trees in town, we took a drive to Bargara for lunch and walked across their property in the countryside. I did so much with them in the short time I was with them and it was the first place I went to when I went travelling alone for the first time.
Uluru is the place I got to sleep in a swag under the stars on the first night of a 6 day trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide. The whole trip was one of the best experiences of my life, but Uluru seemed almost mystical, once the sun left for the day, only the sounds of the outback to keep us company, and it’s around 600 million years old. From a distance it looks smooth, but get up close and you see holes and gorges, springs and caves, it’s just incredible. Throughout the trip, I did some amazing things, like walk around Uluru before sunrise, hike up Mount Ohlssen Bagge, and spend the night in Coober Pedy and Parachilna, but I also met some wonderful people who are still my friends today. And travelling through Australia’s outback was such a memorable adventure, I didn’t want the trip to end. In fact, when we arrived in Adelaide, we had one more night all together before leaving.
I spent seven weeks in New Zealand, travelling across the whole of the North and South islands on the Magic Bus. When I first arrived, I hated it. I had just spent five months in Thailand, I left behind some good friends, it was freezing, and I couldn’t muster a smile for anything. But when I started my journey around the country, I realised just how spectacular it was. The scenery is just stunning, especially in winter when the mountain tops and valleys are covered in snow. I hiked Mount Tongariro and Franz Josef Glacier, I went cave tubing, sand surfing and horse riding. I spent time with new friends and time alone, I even took a road trip and had waterfalls, gorgeous beaches, and hiking trails all to myself. When I left, I vowed I would never return, but I’ve since changed my mind and will go back someday. I learned a lot about myself there, like how to enjoy being alone, and it was New Zealand where I acquired a love of walking and getting out and about.
One of my best travel moments was when I went travelling in 2008, and my friends had come to visit me in Thailand. What I didn’t know was that my friends had been plotting with my family for my folks to come and visit me for my birthday.
My friends and I had arrived on Koh Phi Phi and little did I know that, on the day of my birthday, my family was en route to the island to surprise me. When we woke up, we had breakfast and one of my friends went off to sort out a hotel for her friend that was arriving later that day, or so she told me, what she was actually doing was meeting my family off the boat.
A little while later, she called me to arrange to meet her at a bar for a few birthday drinks. When we got there, we ordered a drink and a few minutes later my mum, sister, brother and my brothers’ friend arrived. I had my back to them, so when I turned round and saw them, you can imagine my reaction. I was lost for words, in fact I recall saying “What the f…..g hell are you doing here?” My mum allows swear words in times of excitement!
I really had no clue that they were coming, it was such a fabulous birthday surprise, and after rounds of hugs and kisses, we all shared the most wonderful day. We had a fabulous week all together, enjoying boat rides, snorkelling in the blue sea around the islands, sunsets, and evenings of delicious food and drink.
All too soon, they were heading home, but it was one of the best travel moments of my life, and I will always remember it. I’m so thankful for my friends and family for conspiring in, what turned out to be, the best birthday I’ve ever had!
How much do you really know about Bangkok? Did you know that from as far back as the 16th century Bangkok has had European connections?
Neither did I, until, one day, while I was researching about castles in Thailand for my blog, I stumbled across a map which gave information about European heritage in the city. I delved a little further and found there were over 60 locations around Bangkok that all have European ties. Palaces, bridges, galleries, museums, and people all have a very interesting history.
With this new found information, I decided to start my own little project. I put on my hiking boots, packed my camera and notebook, and went in search of these places.
This research has taken me over a year to complete. I have walked the many streets of Bangkok, sometimes retracing my steps to get the photographs I needed. Finding the places and taking photographs was, relatively, easy, but since then I have been compiling my research, designing, and self-publishing my first book:
A not so easy task, but one that has been extremely satisfying. It has given me the opportunity to, not only, explore Bangkok, so I now know the city probably more than many locals do, but I have also learned a part of history that I never knew existed.
I love exploring Bangkok; there is so much to do and see, and the idea behind my book is to allow you to follow in my footsteps, discover these places for yourself, and learn about Bangkok’s connections with Europe. It will be a useful guide to have in your pocket.
I have really enjoyed the process of creating my book; from the initial research, getting out and about in the city, and finally being published.
My book is intended for those who love to learn and like doing something a little different.