A spoonful of sugar.

Makes me feel like sh*t and is really not doing me any favours. I think I have a little addiction to sugar and sweet stuff, and have decided enough’s enough (after eating enough Maltesers, Toblerone and Celebrations over Christmas I’m surprised I’m not diabetic) and I’m going to cut it out of my diet to try and be as healthy as I can be. For my overall health and also because I know that it makes me feel good. It also helps for exercise. Ever tried running after eating a bucket load of crap? It’s really hard work.

So, as from now* I’m going to stop eating stuff like cake, chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, desserts etc. No sugar in my tea. Natural sugar in things like fruit, dried fruit or honey is OK though. No refined sugar or processed crap basically.

I’m going to go cold turkey. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I gave up smoking once, so surely I can do this? I know I’ve got willpower. I think it’s in there somewhere. I just have to find it and use it. I did do this a few years ago, managed a couple of weeks and it was fine (I completely forgot and got lured in by custard creams in a work meeting). I’ve given chocolate up for lent before. So, it should be easy right? Hopefully.

That’s also why I’m posting this. Telling people. Gives me an extra incentive to stick to it. And also, helps if I see any of you. Please don’t give me chocolate or offer me a biscuit**.

Ta. Wish me luck.

 

 

*9pm, Sunday 29th December 2013.

**Or wave one in front of my nose. I won’t be responsible for my actions. 

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Runs around the world #15

Melbourne, Australia

First things first. HELLO cooler non-humid weather! Oh, how I’ve missed you. You are wonderful. Let me give you a kiss, you are that wonderful. You’re a little bit cold, but I’m not complaining. At ALL.

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Pretty much as soon as I landed in Melbourne I was raring to go out for a run. I didn’t go the first day though. I was a bit tired from all the flights and lack of sleep, plus I needed to go and buy some new clothes seeing as though the laundry place in Sihanoukville had lost half of mine. Including a pair of my running socks. Not that I’m still a little pissed off at that, oh no.

But the next day was a different matter. I woke up all excited, desperate to get my trainers on and get out there. So I did. For over 6 and a half miles. The longest I’d run in a long time. Since Hong Kong I think, which was the beginning of September. A long time ago. Whoop!

I didn’t plan to run that far. I didn’t actually plan to run any distance, I just wanted to go out and run. So I went to the end of the road and down by the creek, and just ran and explored. That’s the best way for me to run sometimes, not knowing where I’m going. Just running to see what’s round the corner, or just turning round and trying somewhere else if you find a dead end. You see all sorts by doing this. So, I got a good bit of exploring of Ivanhoe done on that first run. 

My legs didn’t like the last couple of miles, that’s for sure. I kept it nice and slow though, and I could actually breathe for once without feeling like I was breathing through a wet towel. I was pretty surprised how green it was around here and down by the creek. Loads of trees, grass and green stuff. My first taster of realising what a green city Melbourne is. There’s trees and parks and grass everywhere. Even in the city centre, most streets are lined with trees. 

I loved this run. It was great to be back somewhere it didn’t seem odd to be running. It was great to be somewhere I could run ‘easily’. It was great to be able to run somewhere where there’s clearly loads of different places to run (that aren’t on roads). I’ve got a feeling I’m going to like Melbourne for running.

I told you I’d be back on it when I got to Australia. Yes!

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My Christmas Day in pictures.

I’d been meaning to do a day in pictures for a while, but not yet got round to it. So I decided, what better day to do it than Christmas Day?

My original idea for a day in pictures was actually to take a picture every hour, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stick to that. Time kind of ran away with me, and I wasn’t clock watching. So, this is my Christmas Day 2013 in pictures:

Chats with the family first thing (Christmas Eve night UK time):

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My traditional Christmas Day morning run (can’t miss that!):

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Going out for dinner so I decided to glam up a bit when getting ready. Not worn mascara for months!:

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Pre-dinner preparations, including champagne:

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CHRISTMAS DINNER! South African/Aussie mix of turkey, roasties, pumpkin, peach salad, beans, cranberry gravy and christmas pudding. YUM.

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New friends:

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Afternoon champagne after dinner:

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Later on, two bottles of champers down:

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We move onto Moscato. DELICIOUS!:

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Early evening, riding home in the sunshine:

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Chilled out evening watching National Lampoon with the cat and dog, eating pizza and Toblerone:

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Then some Google hangouts with some buddies. Karl wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken:

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Washing up. Got to be done:

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Then a mammoth FaceTime session with the family on their Christmas Morning (late Xmas Day night/early Boxing day morning here). I was in the iPad, propped up on the sofa and it was just like I was in the room for a bit. Lots of laughs and giggles. And I look orange because of THE LIGHT:

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Bedtime. Ok, so this was actually the early hours of Boxing Day morning but it still counts, as it’s the last thing I did:  

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Pretty perfect day.

Christmas from the outside.

This is kind of how I feel the run up to Christmas has been for me. Like I’m outside, looking in through a window. Not taking part, just watching everyone else.

Because obviously I’m not having a normal Christmas this year. I don’t have to do any of the normal festive stuff that I would be doing at this time of year. I’ve not been in the UK where the run up starts ludicrously early, like August. There has been no present shopping, no card sending, no Christmas partying, no food shopping, no need to get a tree. No thinking about to do lists or having a million and one things to get done ‘before Christmas’. Things this year don’t fall in the ‘before Christmas’ or ‘after Christmas’ time frames.

It’s made a nice change.

I’ve enjoyed the last couple of months without all the Christmas run up crap. Enjoyed SE Asia without any Christmas trees, products or adverts for stuff I don’t need. Even when I got to Australia it’s not rammed down your throat like it seems to be in the UK.

I’ve been able to sit back and watch everyone else ‘get ready’. Get ready for this one big day (or a few days if you’re lucky to have some time off work). And blimey, I’m exhausted from watching.

There seems to be this need for perfection. To have the perfect day and nothing can go wrong. A need to over do things. To buy presents that people don’t really want or need, just so they have a present. To buy food like it’s not available for weeks. The stress at trying to make everyone happy. To spend weeks preparing for such a small amount of time. To panic that there’s not enough food, or enough presents, or enough drink. It goes on.

Has the real meaning behind Christmas been forgotten? I guess in some ways it depends what the real meaning behind Christmas is for you. For some, it’s the religious aspect. For others, it’s just getting together with family and friends. For some, it’s a chance to get great presents. And of course for others it’s to eat and drink shit loads of great food and booze. Have all of these been overridden by commercial idealism? Do you feel guilt, pressure or just like there’s too much to do?

Is it really the most wonderful time of year?

For me, it seems to start too early. I’ve always thought this, and I think that’s why this year it’s been nice being away from it for a bit. There seems to be a huge build up for just a few days. It’s a special time of year, but there just seems to be so much…well, guff around it.

For some, it can be a reminder of what’s not great. People that have lost relatives or people dear to them. Missing places at the dinner table. People who feel under pressure to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas when they aren’t able to, for whatever reason. People forced to spend time with people they don’t get on with, just because ‘it’s Christmas’.

I know that soon though, I’ll watch and see all the lovely things. The good stuff about Christmas. The result of the hard work and preparation. People having fun, relaxed and happy. The excitement and joy at getting gifts. Kids excited about Santa Claus. People spending time with their favourite people. All the amazing food being eaten. So is it all worth it? Only you can answer that I guess.

For me, I love Christmas. I like nice food, spending time with some of my favourite people, twinkly lights, trees and Christmas parties. This year is different though, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas. That’s because there’s nothing familiar really. I’m on the other side of the world to the people I normally spend it with and it’s warm here. The sun is out and it’s light until well into the evening. Very odd.

I’m not sad though. It’s not the first time I’ve not seen my family on Christmas Day, and I know I’ll speak to them at some point. And I’ll see them soon enough, so although I will miss them a little bit, I know they’ll have a fab time whether I’m there or not, just as I know I’ll have a fab time here. I’m not bothered about not getting any presents; this has never been a big thing for me. I will miss my sister-in-law’s 5 puddings though. They were fab last year.

I wanted to find somewhere to volunteer here in Melbourne, but all the places I contacted were either full or were only taking on regular volunteers. It’s something I want to do next year though, wherever I end up. Helping others who aren’t so fortunate. Those people that won’t have that perfect Christmas, for whatever reason. Those people who get forgotten, in the midst of all the jollity. I’d like to help make someone else’s Christmas just that little bit better. That little bit special.

So this year I’m going to go for my usual Christmas morning run tomorrow as it’s a tradition of mine, then I’ve been invited to a Christmas dinner feast by some friends of Bob and La’s here in Melbourne. The food they’re cooking sounds amazing and it’s a chance to make some new friends. So I’m looking forward to it; new experiences and a chance to see how other people do Christmas. Boxing Day might be spent at the beach, or on the bike. Something outdoors in any case.

So, Merry Christmas to you all. Whatever you do, wherever you are, I hope you have the most wonderful, magical and joyful few days. Don’t stress, enjoy the little moments and eat, drink and be merry.

Oh, and one last thing. The world has this way of making it look like everyone else is having the most perfect, wonderful time. Chances are, they’re all not. My thoughts go out to anyone missing someone this year, or not having a great time. You won’t be alone, even if you feel it. Do your own thing, whatever that is, to make it special for you, or just to be able to get through it. Tomorrow is another day, and 2014 is just round the corner.

Reason #5622795433 to love Australia.

Today I fancied some Maltesers to chomp on while I watched a film. So I had a walk down to the local supermarket to pick some up, but IMAGINE my disappointment (if you know me, you’ll know my love for Maltesers, so you’ll know it was high on the disappointment scale) to find the shelf was bare. Oh noes. They’d probably ran out due to the fact they were on offer and it’s Christmas in a few days time. Decided to ask the nice supermarket chap nearby who went to have a look to see if there were any out the back. There weren’t, but he said I could have a raincheck. For some reason I turned terribly English and said “I’m sorry, pardon, what’s that?”. Apparently it’s a little bit of paper which I can take in next time I go and I get the Maltesers for half price because they were out of stock. What?! HOW GOOD IS THAT.

So not only do I get half price Maltesers soon, I also HAD to buy a Toblerone instead. Double chocolate bonus. Although I may have made myself feel a little bit sick and got a sugar headache by eating too much Toblerone. Meh, oh well. It was so good, it was worth it.

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Australia, I lurve you.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Nope, I’m not watching When Harry met Sally.

It’s how I feel right now at getting to Australia and being able to get back into doing more exercise. YES. More exercise. No doubt a lot of people might think I’m crazy but you have NO idea how much I’ve missed it. Yes I know I’m travelling and seeing all these wonderful things but I also love all the fitness shizzle, so it’s been hard to see that slide over the last few months. I’ve felt lazy and unfit, wobbly and just generally quite bleuuuuurgh. Too much beer and rubbish food, and not enough running and stuff.

But now I’m in Oz, I’m back on it with a vengeance. The weather helps. It’s much cooler here, and not humid, so it’s oh-so-pleasant to run in. There are lots of other runners here; it’s nice to run somewhere where it’s a popular pastime. I don’t feel like an oddity. I’m staying in the same place for a bit, so I’ve got time to run, to join running groups, to see what stuff is on at the local leisure centre. I’m lucky enough to be able to borrow a bike here so I can get out for bike rides. All that normal exercise stuff that can be fitted around a bit of sightseeing and mooching about.

You see, I enjoy it. Exercise that is. I don’t do it because I should, or because I have to. I don’t do it to lose weight. I do it because I enjoy it. It makes me happy. It makes me feel good. It’s a huge part of my life. It’s not something that has to get squeezed in; rather it’s something that time is made for, in place of other things. I like to feel fit. I like that post-exercise high (especially after running). I like to be pushed to go that little bit further, or faster. It’s how I spend my spare time. It’s my hobby, my passion. Especially if it’s outside. That’s my favourite.

So I am LOVING Australia for how easy it makes it for me to crack on with my hobby. I’ve been for a few runs, a bike ride and done plenty of walking already. There’s a leisure centre just round the corner from where I’m staying which I’m going to check out soon. There’s a real outdoors vibe here in Melbourne. Bike trails are everywhere. There are loads of parks and leisure centres. Lots of people always out and about. I feel like I belong here. It’s my kind of place.

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I’m mixing what I love doing with my travel experience. I’m getting to experience Melbourne as someone living here, not just someone visiting the city for a few days. And I like it. This is travelling for me.

And it’s not just Melbourne. I’ve decided I’m going to cycle round Tasmania soon. Yes, that’s right. Just me, a bike, a tent and some stuff. I don’t know how long for, or my exact route but I’m just going to hit the road and see where it takes me. A proper adventure, and one where I can mix exercise and travel even more. GET IN. You probably have no idea how happy this makes me. I have a huge silly grin on my face just typing this.

If you’d known me 10 odd years ago and told me I’d [slightly] addicted to running, and would be cycling around Tasmania on my own with a tent, I’d have laughed in your face. Hell, even 3 or 4 years ago I probably would have done that. Now? It feels perfectly normal – no laughing here, just excited anticipation. I got the bitten by the bug and now there’s no stopping. This is a lifestyle. My lifestyle.

In fact, I’ve got new fitness goals, inspired by the travelling I’ve done so far and some of the people I have met along the way. Stuff I want to start when I finish my travels. Stuff I can really commit to and throw myself into when I am in the same place for a while. New things I want to try. Being away from that routine and not always being able to do the exercise I love has really made me appreciate it. Given me new ideas and focus for the future. I don’t just want to do a few runs every week. Nope.

I want more now.

Captivating Cambodia.

Cambodia. A country full of character, history, scenery, lively people and good food. We had about 2 and a half weeks in this amazing country. The first and main thing for anyone going to Cambodia is to go and see Angkor Wat. Obviously a must. But. There’s much more to it than that. It could be said that Cambodia got a bit of a bum deal from us in terms of travelling time. We spent 10 days at the beach in Sihanoukville not doing anything. Not seeing anything, not exploring, not taking any pictures. Because, after all the other SE Asia travelling, we were worn out and ready for a holiday. So, yep, we ate into our Cambodia exploring time to be beach bums. But, it was worth it. I don’t feel like we missed anything, or sacrificed anything. In fact, those 10 days gave us some great times, great fun, new friends and even though Sihanoukville doesn’t feel like the real Cambodia, we met some of the loveliest Cambodian people going. And still had plenty of time to go visit those Angkor temples and to find out more about the Khmer history, include the Khmer Rouge regime.

From Sihanoukville, feeling more relaxed than someone who’s spent a whole year in a spa, we made our way to Siem Reap on a hotel bus. What’s a hotel bus I hear you ask? Well, it’s kind of like a posh sleeper bus. Little compartments for two, with completely flat beds and pillows/blankets, separated to the rest of the bus by curtains with headphones and music (Dr Dre beats no less, although of course they are the fake ones you can get out here). Normally you have to pay extra for this compared to the normal sleeper bus but we ended up being upgraded onto this one for free. Bonus. A pretty decent night’s sleep followed, and we wound up in SR in the morning surprisingly fresh and sprightly. When we originally booked our ticket the woman said she would organise a tuk tuk to take us from the station to the middle of town for free as part of our ticket. We were a bit sceptical, as you learn to take what people say about transport with a pinch of salt as it’s often not quite the case. So, we gave the name James Bond as a bit of a joke. But, sure enough, there was our tuk tuk driver holding up the sign JAMES BOND. I so wish I’d taken a picture but I was too busy fending off other tuk tuk drivers. Honestly, they’re like wasps round a jam jar as soon.as.you.get.off.the.bus. In your face. Literally. I’ve had to push some of them away before. They ignore what you say most of the time too.

The usual routine followed. I’m sure you know it by now. Find a guesthouse. Haggle for a good price. Dump bags. Get food if not eaten. Go for a wander. Find cheap beer. Drink beer. And that’s pretty much what we did the first day. We had our first beer at 11.40am. I don’t remember going to bed but Nick says I collapsed on my bed at about 9pm. We found a great bar on Pub Street doing cheap 50c beer where we sat for around 7 hours. We made some new friends from the USA, Doncaster and Ireland, and all sat there getting drunk. It was a most fabulous day, even if I don’t remember all of it. I do remember my foot bleeding a lot (I’d ripped part of my big toenail off somehow) and falling asleep in the hotel restaurant while waiting for a burger though. Just a usual drunken night out. Only this one cost us $7 each. That’s less than a fiver. For a 7 hour, 14 beer, drinking session. The next day was fairly relaxed, and I didn’t have a hangover. Extremely surprised at this. Either my tolerance level is back up or I was still drunk for most of the day. I suspect the former, the latter would just be scary. Walked lots. Suspect this helped.

The day after was Angkor Temple day. Whoop! You must have heard of Angkor Wat? Or the Temples of Angkor? If not, learn more here. It’s somewhere I’ve always fancied visiting if I ever got the chance, so I kind of woke up a bit excited. There’s bloody loads of temples in the whole complex, but there was three I really wanted to see: Angkor Wat (the main and most famous temple complex), Angkor Thom (the huge city, including Bayon which is the temple with the faces) and Ta Phrom (the one that’s overgrown with trees, as seen in the Tomb Raider films). So, after negotiating hard for a tuk tuk, we ended up with a sparky young lad as our driver for the day. For $6 he took us round. Little star!

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The temples were beautiful. All different in their own way. Seeing Angkor Wat for the first time, that iconic view that I’d seen so often in other pictures, was mesmerising. Made even the more better by bumping into some old friends we first met in Laos. What a spot for a final goodbye, as they’re off to Indonesia, Nick’s off back to Thailand and I’m off to Australia, so no more chances to bump into them. I’m hoping to meet up with them in Oz or NZ though, if the universe plays ball and dates and places collide. Angkor Wat is huge. Really, really massive. Loads of rooms, courtyards, corridors, nooks and crannies. It was also crammed with people, no surprise there. Lots of tour groups. Especially from Japan and China. Who always seemed to be going the opposite direction to me. Especially where there were steps or small doorways. One chap from a tour group even decided to use my leg as support when he fell up some steps. And I didn’t even get a thank you.

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In a way it reminded me of the Taj Mahal, although it’s not really similar in the slightest. I can’t quite explain why, it just does. Maybe the size and scale and, well, I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. It was also lovely to bump into some friends we made on our very first night in Laos, all those weeks ago. Ross and Emma, a permanently cheery, lovely couple have been a bit of a permanent fixture in Laos and Vietnam. We kept bumping into each other all the way round, in different places, which was lovely. But we all realised that this would be the last time, as we were all heading off in different directions after Siem Reap. Although, I hopefully might be able to meet up with them in New Zealand, if dates and schedules line up. It was a sad day, a realisation that the next adventure was soon upon us, which, of course while exciting, also means the current one has to come to an end.

Angkor Thom and Bayon were next. I liked these. They weren’t as restored as Angkor Wat, and were a lot less crowded. I didn’t get pushed or grabbed, or fallen on. Oh, although I did get rudely told to move out of the way while I was taking a photo, so someone else could take on. I may have taken longer to finish my photo after that. Well. How rude.

I liked the faces of Bayon, they all seemed to have a bit of a self-satisfied dreamy smile. It made me wonder what they were thinking of. Yes, I know they’re not real but you know what I mean. Or, they could be magical mystical things that come alive at night when no-ones watching. You never know.  Travelling means keeping an open mind, so, who knows?

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But it was Ta Phrom that I think I was most looking forward to. This is the one that’s all overgrown with trees. Where nature has been left to do it’s thing, and you can see how destructive and powerful it can be. Huge trees have grown into, over and through the bricks. The one that was used in the Tomb Raider films (apparently, I’ve never seen them). It was beautiful. Eerily beautiful. Amazing to see all the roots and how they spread. The trees were huge. Really, really huge. It does just remind me how we can be at the mercy of nature. Ok, so there’s no immediate danger to us from these trees (as far as I know they’re not killer trees), but it just shows how things you think are strong can be reduced to a crumbling heap by nature. It’s powerful. We should never forget that, and give it the respect it deserves.

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There’s so many more temples to visit, but these are the ones I wanted to see. I think any more and I would have been templed out. (This can be a common affliction while in Asia). It’s funny, the complex reminded me of Clumber Park (England), India and Mexico in different ways at different times. The more places I go to, the more triggers of memories I seem to get. The joy of travel, eh?

Siem Reap was a great place to hang out. It had a great little vibe. It’s only really a tourist destination because of the temples, but there’s actually lots of other stuff to do too. We hired bikes one day and went out to a couple of the rural villages on the edge of the Tonle Sap lake. It was awesome. The villages were very rural, and it was clear the people who lived there didn’t have a lot of money. But, the people we saw, especially the children, we just lovely. Shouting and waving to us as we biked past.

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We also went and gave blood at Angkor Children’s Hospital. I wanted to do something to help, and I haven’t been able to give blood in the UK last year and of course when I’ve been away, so this seemed perfect. Everyone who can give blood, should. It saves lives, and is vital. I started as soon as I was old enough at 17 and have given as often as I can since then. It’s such as easy thing to do but so important. Seeing and hearing the children at the hospital when we went was heartbreaking, and so I’m so pleased I got this chance to help, just a little bit.

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After Siem Reap, I took my last bus journey to Phnom Penh. A long, bumpy ride, I was so over Asian bus rides by the time we got there. I’m glad it was my last. They’ve been fun, and an adventure, but, well, think yourself lucky with the potholes in England. There’s craters over here, and they don’t get filled in. I’m surprised my spine isn’t shattered and that my brain is still in my head.

Phnom Penh is the capital city. We’d already been there once but only for an hour on a bus changeover. We arrived here in the evening, and headed to the South of the city to try and find a place to stay. It was harder here; places were either full or really expensive (well, expensive in the context of Cambodia/SE Asia). As we were wandering around after having no luck for a while, a guy on a scooter stopped us on a street corner, introduced himself as Greg and offered us his spare room. Of course we said yes, hopped onto a tuk tuk and followed him to his house. Why wouldn’t you?

We stayed with him and his two house mates (Cass and Kip) for our last 3 days of the SE Asia adventure, and it was great. No checking in and checking out, they gave us free reign of the apartment and even fed us pizza. Man, it was awesome pizza.

That’s one the beautiful things about travelling. You meet people and you just know. There’s mutual trust. People offer things, you know it’s genuine. No half-arsed offers. I had a 10 minute conversation with someone in Thailand and now have somewhere to stay in Tasmania next month. And I will stay there. It wasn’t just a polite offer.  You get to meet all kinds of interesting people.  A wonderful thing. The world is small and people are lovely.

The real reason for going to Phnom Penh though (apart from me having a flight to Singapore) was to learn more about the Khmer Rouge regime. I’d heard of Pol Pot, but didn’t really know much about him. Now I do.  We visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum which was originally a school, and then the S21 prison, where people were taken to be imprisoned, tortured and sometimes killed. It was a haunting place, where blood stains on the floors and photos of the prisoners made it even more impactive. We also visited the Choeung Ek killing fields just outside Phnom Penh, where huge numbers of people were killed. Both were moving experiences, although the overwhelming feeling I had was anger. Such hypocrisy, power, greed and insanity. Such a complex and twisted history. And these weren’t the only prisons and killing fields; there were hundreds all across Cambodia. In total, more than 2 million Cambodian people died. For wearing glasses, for being a teacher, for being educated, for being able to speak a foreign language. All under the direction of a professor and educated man himself who studied abroad. Go figure.

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I know a lot more now, and the more I learn about atrocities like these, the more I struggle to get my head around it. But the more I hope that things like this are in the past. That they will never happen again. That countries around the world will not let it happen. We must educate people so they are aware, raising future generations to stop this.

Cambodia has been a mix of experiences, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it. It’s captured my heart and there’s just something about the country that is special. I can’t quite narrow it down to one thing; it’s everything. Everything that I experienced there.

So thank you Cambodia. You were wonderful.

Runs around the world #14

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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I hadn’t run since Laos. I didn’t run in Vietnam, and I was there for 3 weeks. So it had been about 4 weeks since I’d last run. Various reasons for it – no ideal places to run, bad weather, flooding, too much drinking and eating, too hot. You name it, it happened. I’m gutted actually, because it’s the only country so far where I’ve not ran. I did do a small sprint down the street but I’m not sure I can count that. No, I definitely can’t.

So, I ran in Cambodia. In a place called Sihanoukville, the only real coastal resort in the country. We ended up being there for 10 days, and I ran 3 times. I got into a bit of a routine and it was lovely. I felt like I had got back to normal a bit with my running. Back in the groove. I loved it, I really did. Felt like I was back to being me.

So, I’ll write about the first run I did there. It was hard. But I was expecting that. No running for a month? Of course it was going to be hard. I think my legs thought I had given up.

It didn’t help that it was hot and humid as hell. Over 30 degrees, even at 8.30am. As I didn’t know how I’d feel, I just decided to run as far as I could, which ended up being 3 miles. I totally wasn’t expecting THAT. I reckoned two at a push. Because, I feel like I’m starting again with my running. Which I hate. But, I managed 3. Which I certainly didn’t when I first started running. So maybe all is not lost! As long as I can do 5K, I reckon I’m good to go and start upping it when I can.

I find running in humidity is hard. I might have mentioned it before. Yes, yes, like a broken record. A sticky sweaty broken record.

Imagine running with a hot wet tea towel over your mouth and breathing through that. Or in a steam room. Or when you’ve got your head over a steaming bowl of water if you have a cold. For me it just makes it harder work; I’m slower and the air I’m breathing doesn’t feel clean and fresh.

But, all that gets forgotten. Kind of. It’s there in the background, along with the burning legs muscles, but the happiness of running again took over. I got to take in the new scenery; the fields, the lake and the people as I ran past. People here didn’t really stare, or even look bemused. I didn’t feel awkward. This is a new thing. I liked it.

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The scenery was lovely. And Flat. Huzzah! But, as I’ve found with Cambodia, there’s a lot of reminders that you’re in a very poor country, and a country with a divide between rich and poor. I ran past fields and grass that could be stunning, but they were covered in litter. I ran past grand hotels next door to families living in shacks. But, that’s what’s out there to see. I’m not on holiday, staying in a complex. Running while travelling helps me see the real stuff, the Real World. Real Life. Helps me understand more about the world we all live in.

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Here, I felt I had time to run. To enjoy it. Every bit of it. A lovely early morning run in the sunshine, then a leisurely walk afterwards to stretch out my muscles and just enjoy the post run high. After that I did some more exercises and had a long shower, and a lolloping stroll down to the beach where I had a post run breakfast of a massive fresh fruit salad. 

 

I’m chuffed. I’m chuffed that I can still run for that long. I’m chuffed that I was able to get out there and do it. It was lovely to get back into a routine. I’m chuffed that the passion for running is still there. I felt alive.

I can’t wait for Australia, where I think there will be even more chance to run. Where it won’t be so humid. Where there’s races I want to take part in. Where there’s running groups and people I’ve arranged to run with. Where I want to get properly fit again.

It’s going to be EPIC.

A holiday from the holiday.

That’s what I had recently. 10 days on a beach, eating lots, drinking lots, partying, sleeping, sunbathing, paddling in the sea, a little bit of running and little else. Just resting and having a bit of a holiday.

You probably think, but you’re ON holiday. Why do you need a holiday? That’s just being greedy.

But you know, travelling is tiring. Travelling can be non-stop. Travelling can be hard work. Travelling can be stressful. Travelling is not really the same as a holiday.

Imagine the last weekend away you might have had, where maybe you went to a new city, or a new place. You’ll have to get there, right, so by car, or train or even plane. Then, you need to find your hotel, that you’ve probably already booked, so it’s just a case of finding it. Then, you spend a few days finding places to eat, visiting sights and attractions, lots of walking, taking pictures, new sights and experiences. Then you travel back, and get home and probably feel a little bit worn out, and maybe in need of a little rest.

OK. Now imagine doing that pretty much every day for a few months. Imagine not having any accommodation or travel booked, so all that has to be sorted out on the move or when you arrive in a new city. Getting to a new place and finding your way around. Learning new bits of a different language every few weeks. Organising visas and getting used to new currencies. Packing, unpacking and repacking. Figuring out who’s genuine and who’s trying to rip you off. Finding a laundry to wash clothes. Lugging a heavy backpack about. Getting on and off buses, trains or tuk tuks. Finding cheap places to eat, where you can try the local food without it costing a fortune.

I tell you, it’s a bit tiring. And I’m not knocking it one bit; I do enjoy every minute of it. And please don’t think I’m being ungrateful, I realise how amazing it is for me to be able to do what I’m doing. But boy, I didn’t realise how much I needed a break until I laid on that beach. A break from doing. No going anywhere, no sorting anything out, no photos or sights to see.

Sometimes, travellers need a holiday from the holiday. A chance to recharge, to stay in one place for a while, establish a little bit of a routine and just enjoy the art of not doing.

And oh, it was heavenly. It worked.

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Vietnam vagabond adventures.

The second bit of my Vietnam adventure took in the cities of Hue (pronounced h-way, not huey, like the guy from Yorkshire on our sleeper bus insisted it was), Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (and a lot of loooooong bus journeys in between each one). We’d already booked our sleeper bus tickets in Ninh Binh before we saw on the news that the super typhoon was due to hit Vietnam right on the central coast – right on Hue, the next day – exactly the time we were due to get there. Hmm, not exactly ideal. Luckily for us, it decided to change it’s course and ended up missing the coast completely, although the first day we got there it was very rainy and windy all day (some remnants from the typhoon) so we could do nothing more but have a chill out day. Part of a rainy day in Hue for us resulted in an Indian FEAST because the local Indian restaurant was only a few doors down. Exactly what we did on the first day in Luang Prabang in Laos so we decided to make a tradition. I felt more stuffed than a shop full of teddy bears afterwards but, damn, it was worth it. After weeks of noodles and the like it was bloody lovely to have a change, and reminded me when I was in India back in July.

Hue is an old city with a lot of history, and an imperial city that’s not dissimilar to the Forbidden City in Beijing (although nowhere near as big). Over the couple of [dry] days we had there, we just spent a fair bit of time wandering around the city and hired bikes to get out into some small villages out in the countryside. It was one of my favourite places, mainly because I just had so much fun. My Hue Highlights:

  • Hiring bikes and getting out into the villages. We didn’t have a set route, we just set off down one of the roads out of the city with no map, just a vague sense of direction. We ended up biking through some really small little villages, where I guessed they don’t see many Westerners. Or indeed any at all, judging by the amount of children shouting hello, waving and running after us or taking photos of us and the adults who would nudge the people they were stood next to, and point and stare, mouths almost wide open. Which soon changed into big massive grins when we shouted “hello” to them in Vietnamese. Add to that pretty incredible scenery, the best hire bikes we’ve had so far, and you’ve got one of my most special memories of Vietnam. The real Vietnam.

  • The baguette lady just down the street from our hotel. She did the BEST egg baguettes for breakfast which were cheap as chips, and she was lovely and happy and smiley too. I don’t know what she did to the eggs to make them taste so good but I think it was all in the salt and pepper. We went there every day, and I might have even had two some days, they were that good.

  • The little cafe just down the street from our hotel. We managed to strike a deal with them to get cheap Bia Saigon. They even moved one of their tables and chairs for us so we could sit on the pavement and watch the world go by. We might have just gone there both afternoons for lazy afternoon drinking in the sun.

  • The hotel. We stayed in a really nice place. We managed to bargain the price down making it super cheap (around £2.30 each a night) but it felt like we had splashed out and treated ourselves. It was nice and clean, had air conditioning, the best shower yet, and they even came in every day to make the beds and give us fresh towels! The luxury!

  • The architecture and history. The city, especially the old citadel, is very pretty, in a bit of an old run down kind of way. Lots of old buildings and stuff to look at and photograph. Lots of flowers and green stuff too.

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After Hue, Hoi An was a completely different kettle of fish. Old and historic, but in a completely different way. Very French-colonial and quaint, with lots of old wooden and coloured buildings along the river covered in lanterns swaying in the breeze. It’s an UNESCO world heritage site, just like Luang Prabang in Laos, and it reminded me of LP too. Even down to how touristy it was, Yep, the few old streets near to the river were just full to the brim of tourists strolling round, and all the shops were either art galleries, tailors, handicrafts or bars and restaurants. Vendors from pretty much every shop would shout out as we walked past. When we sat down to have a beer or some food, people would try to sell you stuff while you were sat there, or even eating. I found it a pain in the arse, and I’m even more patient nowadays. Luckily we had learnt the Vietnamese for ‘No thank you’ and ‘I’m not interested’ so once you trotted that out they soon disappeared, but imagine saying it 50 times a day over and over again (and I’m not even exaggerating). Arrghhhh. That aside, it’s a very pretty place, but I couldn’t help but have the feeling that it wasn’t the real Hoi An. Those pretty 3 streets down near the river just all seemed to be geared towards the visitors. The real Hoi An was away from the river, which we managed to explore a little bit before the floods. We found lovely baguette sellers (the Vietnamese like their sandwiches), a smashing little cafe with the friendliest people and the cheapest beers (only about 15p each and buy 2 get 1 free) and the best food stalls for dinner. We never got to explore the beaches because of the floods which is a shame, but all in all I enjoyed my time here, and in fact those few days ended up being a proper little adventure, that I couldn’t have predicted, and that’s what makes Hoi An memorable for me.

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Heard of Saigon? Or Ho Chi Minh City? It’s the same place, a big sprawling city in South Vietnam. It was renamed HCMC in 1976 but it’s still commonly referred to as Saigon (which I think I like better). It’s a 24 hour bus journey from Hoi An. Yep, that’s right, 24 hours. Honestly, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Really. It was actually two 12 hour journeys, split with an hours wait in the middle to change buses. After all my travelling this year, long journeys are now the norm. It’s short journeys that are out of the ordinary. My next flight, from Cambodia to Singapore, is only 2 hours. How exciting, I can’t wait! It’s going to seem like a bit of a treat, haha. I then have a 6 hour wait in Singapore before a 7 hour flight, but hey, that’s not the point.

HCMC is big, loud, brash, noisy, hot, dirty, a bit seedy and IN YOUR FACE. Just how I like a city to be. Well, maybe not the seedy part. The traffic is a nightmare, there’s thousands of scooters and trying to cross the road is like running the gauntlet. Moto drivers and bar owners constantly shout at you to get your business, and the usual baguette and noodle stands line every corner. I have to admit, I was getting a bit ‘city-ed’ out by the time we arrived here. Still, in true travelling style there was a big city out there to be explored, so we spent a few days walking lots, eating, finding cheap beers (naturally) and visiting a museum and war tunnel or two.

In no particular order, my favourite things about Saigon:

  • The scooters. Thousands of them. I love just stepping out into the road and crossing, having them all weave their way around you. I love watching as people transport everything under the sun on them, as well as trying to eat, drink, talk or text all at the same time. I love the scooter helmets and all the different designs.
  • The food. Oh the food. We found some places that were so good we didn’t really go anywhere else. I had one of the best chicken noodle soups I’ve had, only 50p for a huge bowlful, in a little local cafe that would show films opposite a glass factory and a place that sold ice. We spent a few afternoons just sitting, eating and watching Vietnamese life go on. We saw a woman delivering a massive pane of glass on the back of a scooter (at first glance you couldn’t see the glass and we just thought she was throwing her hands in the air like she just didn’t care). We saw the young guy delivering ice on the back of his scooter, dripping water and soaking from where he’d been sat up against the bags. We watched a bit of Terminator 3 and drank iced tea after our soup. We found a little family run egg baguette place where we’d go every morning; they’d bring stools out for us to sit on, give us water to drink, and sometimes a bit of fruit. While eating some of the tastiest egg sandwiches I’ve had we’d try and have conversations with them but none of us spoke much in the other’s language.
  • The war remnants museum. It was heavily propaganda-ised, however there was an excellent display of press photographs from the war and some related articles, which helped balance it all out a bit. After this last trip here I finally felt like I’d learnt what I wanted to learn about the war.
  • Cheap beer. We found a great little cafe on one of the main streets where they served cheap beer and we could sit and people watch from the tables outside on the street. We went here a few times; the first night resulted in many beers here, then to a lively bar where we drank loads of rum buckets, met some strange people and had a 5am bedtime. Another time we had to move from the front tables on the street because the police came round and were enforcing the pavement space rules (which seemed slightly strange, as the bar was opposite the police station and they saw the tables there every day, and then saw us get up and move the tables away while they were watching. A bit of a bizarre practice.).
  • The people. The local people in Vietnam are cheeky, spirited and generous to a tee. I very much enjoyed the interactions I had with them, especially some of the street hawkers that would come and pester us when we were sat outside drinking beer.
  • City wandering. We had a good old wander and saw parks, cathedral, the post office (we scoffed at people taking photographs inside until we went in ourselves and did the same thing – beautiful building!), statues, skyscrapers, Christmas decorations, posh hotels, the river and other general city stuff. Saigon has a lot of old and new architecture, and quite often both are side by side, and make quite a stunning view.
  • The Cu Chi tunnels. You can go and visit the tunnels made by the Vietnamese during the war, where many people lived underground for years. They were incredible. They’ve been widened by 35% and lights added but blimey, how people lived and used them is beyond me. They are really hot and humid, claustrophobic and even just going about 100m through them was enough for most of us. Seeing the booby traps they used to maim and kill American soldiers was pretty sobering too. A lot of people died in those tunnels. Hugely saddening.
  • Meeting people. We met some interesting people in Saigon; people who were travelling or just on holiday, and people who were living and working there. We also bumped into a few people we’d met in Laos previously. It’s a small travelling world, especially the North>South Vietnam trail so it’s not really surprising, and a wonderful bonus. I love meeting all different kinds of people when travelling; the conversations to be had can be anything from light hearted and fun, to serious, challenging and in depth. I get to find out about how people live in other countries, how they travel, what their beliefs are, what their viewpoints are and it just keeps on opening my eyes even wider to understand all the things that make the world go round.

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I loved Vietnam. I really, really did. I’ve wanted to visit for years, and I’m well chuffed that I now have. I learnt loads, had lots of fun, met some great people, saw some beautiful scenery and had a brill adventure. It’s been my most favourite SE Asian country so far but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Just a feeling. I think I’ll be back someday. There’s so much more of the country to explore, and maybe next time I’ll make it even more of an adventure. And get me one of those scooters.