Vietnam Part 1: Hanoi to Hue

Hi guys!

After an unnecessarily long journey (Bangkok>Hong Kong>Dubai(8 hour wait)>Glasgow) I am back home! I had a brilliant time, but it is always nice to come back to family, friends and your own bed.

Three weeks is far too much to condense into one blog post, so I'll break it up into a few and try to keep it to the highlights!

The trip got off to a bit of a shaky start as after just a few hours in Hanoi, we were in the middle of a typhoon. At first we adopted the mentality of "we're Scottish, we can handle a little rain" before realising it was more than just a little and no, we couldn't.

Sheltering for a while, we had our first taste of Pho (pronounced 'fuh') a traditional Vietnamese dish, which is a type of noodle soup. For me, it was a little watery and had too much coriander (not a fan!) but it is always good to try something new.

After waiting it out for over an hour, we realised the rain was not stopping anytime soon, so thought it best to head back to the hotel for a bit which was just 5 minutes walk away. That was, until we got to the street where our hotel was and found it flooded! I'm not talking just a little bit of water, I'm talking knee-high, and at points mid-thigh high. It was quite the experience, and left us a little shell-shocked but after just a couple of hours the water had completely drained away. Phew!

Photo courtesy of my tour leader, Pooky, who we hadn't even met at the time. I was all too flustered to get my camera out at the time although as I suspected, I have come to regret this! I'd really like to have photographic evidence of that moment
Next stop: Halong Bay. We weren't sure if we would be able to go, as all trips had been cancelled the previous few days due to bad weather. However, luck was on our side and we were on our way! We stayed on a Junk Boat overnight, which sailed around Halong Bay, through a working floating village before stopping to let us explore a cave and then sailed around some more before mooring for the evening. Halong Bay is beautiful in terms of the islands, however it is not being looked after properly and the water is very polluted due to rubbish being thrown into the water by tourists and some boat companies. I hope things change soon, as it would be a real shame to destroy a place of natural beauty such as this.

Then it was back to Hanoi to get ready for the night train to Hue (pronounced 'Whey' - leading to many an in joke). The night train turned out to be a lot of fun, as we had half a carriage to ourselves and were sleeping in compartments of four. Lots of noisy card games were played and one of the Vietnamese train guards even got involved - I have never seen someone so chuffed to win a round of cards. We'd been warned the train would be pretty basic, but it was much better than the night train I had been on last year to Bangkok so I was pleasantly surprised. Only downside: being woken up an hour earlier than planned by some strange Vietnamese music being played over the speakers then a man popping his head in the door to try to sell us some rice for breakfast...em, thanks, but no thanks.

Arriving in Hue early, we grabbed a quick breakfast before embarking on a moped tour of the countryside that most of our group had opted to do. I had a bit of a dilemma deciding whether to do this or not, as I know motorbikes can be risky forms of transport and that my mum would be extremely nervous if I told her I was thinking about doing it. However, after reassurances about the safety of the excursion from our trusty tour leader, and hearing how amazing it sounded I knew I couldn't turn it down. I was very glad I had made this choice after about 10 minutes: the drivers drove very carefully, we were all given helmets and it was so much fun! It really give us a chance to see the countryside and the more typical way of life than you would see in the city. We stopped at various places throughout the journey, to see demonstrations of rice production, a local market, incense production, Vietnamese hat making. It was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip!

We then toured round the tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty, and the Thien Mu Pagoda. It was all incredibly interesting, but one of these situations where you are given so much information in one go that you are desperate to retain it all but can't. Come to think of it, that happened quite a lot on this trip! Our guide for the afternoon was great, and kept coming out with a lot of sayings - my favourite being "buy a peanut, get a monkey."

In the evening, we had dinner at a restaurant nearby to our hotel, where good food was followed by several rounds of Jenga (and adding a bit of personalisation to the blocks as other travellers had done before us) and an introduction to the game of piggy back pool. There could not have been a more hilarious way to end the day.

The next day, we continued with our local guide as we saw round the Imperial Citadel before starting our journey late morning to Hoi An.

Have you visited Vietnam before? More of a Pho fan than I am?

Family Time - Culzean Castle and Country Park

Hi guys!

A couple of weeks ago, my maternal grandparents came down for a little visit as while we had seen them a couple of times throughout the year, they hadn't been to stay with us yet. Even if they had, I would have been at Uni and possibly not able to see them, so this was a lovely opportunity to spend some chilled out time with family (excluding my brother, who was working most of the time).

For the most part, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather we had been having and relaxed in the garden but on the Saturday we took at trip down to Culzean, a favourite of most people who live in the area! I'm sure many people have somewhere like Culzean: somewhere you were taken as a child, to the extent where you became really sick of it, but as you got older you began to appreciate how beautiful it is and how lucky you are to have somewhere nearby like this to visit.

My Dad finds it very hard not to ruin a perfectly lovely photo :P

A lovely day spent with family :)

Where's your nearby go-to spot?

Day Trip to St Andrews

Hi guys!

Having lived in Edinburgh for 5 years and Scotland my whole life, it is a bit shameful that until recently I had never visited St Andrews. When my flatmates suggested we go for the day after exams were finished, I was very excited to go. This meant I had to be very well behaved at my end of exam night out, but it is always good to have an extra incentive to avoid a hangover!

In the morning we set off from Edinburgh, getting a train to Leuchars and a bus from there to St Andrews. This was the first instance of Scotland's uncharacteristically lovely weather this summer which was an added bonus for the day.

First stop: lunch at The Grill House, a vaguely mexican themed restaurant. I cannot recommend this enough, we had a yummy two course lunch for £5.95 - the portions weren't huge but you don't want that at lunch anyway - and shared a pitcher of frozen strawberry margharita so our total cost came to £10 each including a tip: bargain!

I really really wish I could wear Ray-ban style sunglasses and look half decent...but alas, it is not to be (bye bye purple sunglasses!)

We then took a walk down to the old Cathedral, the beach and had a walk round the main streets.

It was a lovely sunny day, exploring a quaint little town, catching up with friends - the perfect way to wind down after months of revision!

I was also reminded that there are so many places in Scotland and the UK I have yet to visit (so I musn't forget them when planning my travels).

Anywhere in the UK/Scotland you'd love to see?

p.s. I am writing this from the past! I didn't want to neglect this new blog so have scheduled some posts for while I am away. I will look at any comments when I am back :)

Introductions & Exciting Plans

Hi guys,

At the moment, I am at this funny intermediate stage in my life where I have just graduated from university (yay!) and am awaiting the Next Big Thing. Anticipating that this might happen, I made sure to have something to look forward to at the end of the summer, so as we speak I am getting ready for a 3 week trip to South East Asia starting on Tuesday. I went last year to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and this year I will be exploring Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as stopping in at Bangkok again on the way in and out.

Last time, I went by myself but joined a tour group where luckily I met lots of lovely people but this year I am going with one of my best friends and ex-flatmate of 3 years so I am even more excited without having to worry about my potential future travel buddies.

I'm not sure what this blog will be, but I imagine it will take a few posts to recount my various adventures this summer and hopefully once that is done I will be embarking on the next stage and have lots of new exciting things to talk about.

To start, I thought I'd share some photos of last year's travels.

Downtown Singapore: where I flew into, and spent the exploring day by myself before meeting my tour buddies. A nice bridge between Asian and 'Western' culture, and a good place to ease myself into my travels.

A beautiful 'Water and Light' Show we happened upon in Marina Bay, Singapore
My wonderful tour girlies and I at the bottom of the 400-odd steps leading to the Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

Group dinner at a hotpot restaurant at our base in the Cameron Highlands

Me with the Rafflesia flower, which we trekked for over an hour into the Malaysian jungle to find. They only live for several days at a time.

Made friends with a butterfly, at a butterfly farm in the Cameron Highlands

 A view to Emerald Lake in Ang Thong Marine National Park, Thailand. I can't look at this photo without stressing out and thinking 'Rachel, please put both straps of your backpack on!!'

Time for some buckets and boogying at the Green Mango, Koh Samui

No bikini body judging please :P At Bottle Beach in Koh Phangan, a small cove with only a few people and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been

With the reclining Buddah in Wat Po, Bangkok

It's so hard to just pick a few photos from the trip, as every moment seems as important as the next and sometimes the moments that don't involve any particularly touristy or notable sights can be the most precious.

I also really enjoy making little videos of photos I have taken, and I made one for this trip. One day I would like to be even remotely skilled at video-editing (and photography, for that matter) but for now these will do.

This is getting me all excited for my next little adventure.

What's the favourite place you've ever been? Anywhere on your wishlist?