Category: Thoughts

Why Laos is My Favourite Country

Laos is a magical place. Unlike anywhere I have ever been before Laos managed to make me feel like I was on one of the biggest adventures of my life while also making me feel like I was completely at home. I didn’t know a lot about the country before I ventured to Asia in 2017 and thank goodness I did because Laos is now officially my most favourite country I’ve visited… so far, anyway!

The Scenery
The views are incredible. From the mountains and the greenery to the rivers and the waterfalls, Laos does not disappoint. My favourite moment was visiting Pakbeng, a small village in between the Thai and Lao borders. I remember waking up before 6am to stand on my balcony and look over the mighty Mekong River to see wild elephants enjoying themselves by the water. A memory I will never forget.

The People
I think the Lao people were the nicest people I’ve ever met bar none. So sweet, kind, and happy to help. I only spent seven days in Laos but our Contiki local guide is now my friend on Facebook! He was the best and we all grew incredibly close to him after playing cards on a slow boat for two days straight. Ahhh, the epitome of serenity.

The Currency
Ever wanted to feel like an absolute baller? Go to Laos. Taking 1,000,000 Kip out of the ATM will feel awesome. (That’s only $150 AUD!)

The Pace
Time goes slowly in the best way possible in Laos… it’s relaxing to be there. I loved every slow minute and wish more and more every day that I could be back on there and on Lao time.

The Adventures
Want to go cycling through the streets with no helmet on after a shot of the strongest whiskey you’ve ever tasted made from fermented lizards and snakes? Laos. 

The Story
The history of Laos is not common knowledge. That’s why the bombing that occurred there in the 1960s and early 1970s is referred to as the American’s ‘Secret War’. By the time the war campaign ended in 1973 a tenth of Laos’ population had been killed. Laos is the most heavily bombed nation in history. Conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs onto Laos. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos. Can you believe that during the war Laos was supposed to be neutral?
When I was learning about the history of it all while visiting the COPE (Co-operative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) Centre in Laos it was explained to us that the only reason these bombs were dropped was because the US military had to get rid of them before they landed back on US soil… Laos was just a dumping ground. There are still millions of unexploded bombs, grenades and landmines left with at least half of Laos still covered by them causing 300 new casualties – mostly children – per year due to accidentally stepping on or playing with an unexploded cluster bomb.
I was really proud of my tour group when we donated enough money to the COPE Centre to fund two prosthetic arms and two prosthetic legs for the victims of the bombs.
Knowing all of this, visiting the COPE Centre and viewing the documentary films there, and then realising how beautiful and kind the people are in Laos… that’s what makes this country so worthy of all of our love and visits. I bought a ring at some Lao markets made from the materials of a detonated cluster bomb and I have not taken it off since I bought it. Laos is very special to me and I can’t wait to go back.

Have you been to Laos? I’d love to hear stories from other travellers who have experienced this beautiful, wonderful, incredible place!

Katie

Adventures in Far North Queensland: Glacier Rock Lookout Hike

I’m a pretty big fan of walking up giant mountains and I am not afraid to admit that it’s at least 85% because of the view at the top. Yes, I definitely enjoy the physical aspect. Of course, I am most certainly crazy about the influx of outdoors ensued endorphins. Absolutely, I love getting amongst nature in one of the most beautiful rainforest filled parts of the world. And obviously, working up a sweat under the tropical sun is awesome. BUT that view!? That view is good enough to surpass all those things.

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Glacier Rock is a three hour round hike suitable for reasonably fit people of all ages. When I say ‘reasonably fit’ I really do just mean reasonably. It is not the most difficult hike I have ever done and there are plenty of options for stops along the way. As long as you can walk at a normal pace you should be fine to do Glacier Rock!

The hike starts at the Stoney Creek carpark, so type that straight into Google Maps and make your way to the carpark. Cross the bridge above Stoney Creek and start your journey through the rainforest. From there it’s all straightforward and simple – just make sure you keep going until you get to the top! Some people stop about an hour in because they think that’s all it is. If it’s not the view in these photos, keep going up!

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The hike is a very well established network of Aboriginal walking tracks boasting a great deal of history. The Djabugandgi Bama walked these tracks for trade, seasonal food gathering and to visit ceremonial sites. In the period of early European contact – around the late 1800s – the network of walking tracks was adapted by gold miners, cattle drovers and railway workers to cater for pack horses which is what inevitably turned it into what we see today when we walk the track.

The first time I walked the track I took my mum with me. We made it up and back in 3.5 hours, but that time included a half hour stop at the top for some refuelling (snacks, lots of snacks). We are not crazy fit nor do we do long distance hikes often, but we made it there and back with relative ease.

The second time I took my friend, Kate, with me. Again the actual walking part took three hours. The third time Kate and I invited another friend, Rhianne. Once more, three hour walking time. So I am very confident to say that three hours is what you can expect if you are planning to take your time and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Here are my top tips for the Glacier Rock Lookout Hike:

  1. Bring lots of water and plenty of healthy snacks. I would recommend a litre of water per person, especially in the Summer months. Cairns is a very hot and humid place and the sun is no joke – trust me on this one, water is essential. We usually take a backpack and take turns carrying it. Snacks like sandwiches and fruit always make us feel much better when we get to the top and it’s also nice to enjoy the view with a little picnic.
  2. Go early in the morning – that’s when it is the coolest here in Cairns. The middle of the day is the hottest, so try to avoid the main part of the uphill walk between 11am and 1pm. The view is also much clearer in general in the early hours of the morning.
  3. Bring swimmers! Stoney Creek is a beautiful and safe swimming hole with fresh water for cooling off. It’s also a quiet swimming hole, so most days you may get a whole area to yourself! Be sure to keep an eye on children though as there are a lot of rocks.
  4. Stop when you need to stop – this hike is stunning and there is SO much to see. I am confident that you will want to stop and look around as much as possible, so do that! There’s nothing like Far North Queensland.
  5. This IS a nature hike so please be mindful of the things that can be surrounding you while out and about in Australian nature. Always be aware and don’t venture off the very clearly marked path. Be cautious!
  6. If it has been raining or it is raining, I would recommend rescheduling your hike to the Glacier Rock Lookout until it is dry. This can be a steep hike in some parts and as it is all dirt it can get very slippery and dangerous in wet weather. Again, be cautious!
  7. Most importantly – take some kind of camera! You won’t want to miss this shot! Your friends will be reeling with jealousy when they see the amazing things you got to see and do in Cairns.

I’d love to see your photos and hear about your Glacier Rock experience – leave me a comment down below!

Katie

2017

Here we are again! It’s that brilliant time of year when I get to do a recap of the last 365 days. I love yearly recaps, I really do. They make me feel so accomplished because I can realise – all at once – exactly what I have achieved in what is actually a very short amount of time.

Let me begin by proudly stating: 2017 was the best year of my life. So far, anyway!

When I left my life in Sydney and moved back to Cairns there was only one thing I really wanted from life – travel, travel, travel. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go or how I would get there or where the money would come from. I just had a burning desire to explore the world.

By the end of 2016 I had booked and paid for my first solo travel experience. I left for that trip in February and what followed can only be described as the most magical three weeks I could have ever hoped for. I went on the Asian Adventure Contiki tour which took me through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. For those of you who may not be familiar with Contiki, they are an organised group travel company specialising in adventurous once-in-a-lifetime trips for 18-35 year olds. I met so many fantastic human beings while I was on Contiki. They quickly became like extended family (and when I say quick I mean the first day!).

When I returned from my Asian Adventure it was time to get stuck into cheerleading for the year. I ended up becoming the ‘social media manager’, if you will, for our team during 2017. I really enjoyed doing it and it brought the possibility of social media marketing as an alternate career path to my attention. I’m looking forward to doing it again in 2018 and beyond, hopefully until my time as a cheerleader is up. Speaking of cheerleading, I went to my first competition! My team placed first and so did the dance duo I performed in. I was ecstatic! I have never been a very competitive person and this was the first competition I’d been to since my very young years in gymnastics. To place first was just the icing on a very delicious cake. I was also honoured to be team voted to receive a Spirit Award for 2017. It was a great year of cheer.

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Cheerleading went hand-in-hand with my gym tendencies during 2017. I was very dedicated and focused on my fitness. I joined an F45 Team Training gym and completed my first 8 week challenge with them. The challenge helped me to change the way I think about food and lose a few more kilos in the process. I was two kilograms away from my goal weight when I hurt my hip late in the year. Not to worry though, it was just a minor setback and it’s feeling much better after a few months of rest! I’m very excited to see what 2018 has in store fitness wise… The next 8 week challenge starts at the end of January and I’m raring to go!

In May, one of my very closest friends turned 30. When this happened she said to me, “Katie, I’m going to go to Disney World for my 30th!”, and I said, “Count me in!” And that, my friends, is how easily my second overseas trip for the year was born. We ended up going to Orlando, Florida as well as New York, New York for two glorious December weeks. We went to all the Disney theme parks as well as Universal Studios AND I got to live my life long dream of seeing a show on Broadway. I ended up seeing 5 Broadway shows over 4 days and I was in absolute heaven. There is nowhere like New York City.

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But by far the best thing to happen in 2017? That would be Ethan. My wonderful Ethan. It was by pure luck that we found each other and I can honestly say that the butterflies have not stopped floating in my stomach since the first time he stood up and pulled out my chair for me on our very first date. In 2017 I learnt what it really feels like to be hopelessly in love and it is a magical feeling.

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Speaking of Ethan, we are super stoked to be planning our first overseas adventure together! He’s got the travel bug just as badly as I do, so come December we will be off on our own Contiki. We’ll get to visit 10 European countries together over a blissful month of nothing but us. I’m in another world just thinking about it…

2018 will be all about focusing on health, fitness, and saving up to make our holiday the best one possible.

So here’s what I learnt from 2017:

  1. Solo travel is as good for the soul as everyone says.
  2. When you stop trying to find love it will find you.
  3. Saying no to chocolate isn’t as hard as you may think.
  4. Sometimes you just have to do what’s best for you and move on – people will get over it.
  5. You are never too old to try something new.
  6. Something seems really bad? Take a breath and revisit tomorrow. It probably isn’t.
  7. If someone is nice, they’re nice. If someone is rude, they’re rude. If someone is mean, they’re mean. Get the point?
  8. Love heals all previous pain.
  9. True friendship is very valuable and becomes harder to find as we grow older.
  10. Sometimes, if you take a chance on him, a wonderful man will surprise you with his maturity, wisdom, and kindness.

Katie

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Travel Diary: Thailand

DAY FOUR. 

Today has really just been a full day of travel. I checked out of Tokyu Rei Hotel at 7am and made my way to Osaka Station. I found my way to the JR for the express service to Kansai and hopped on. Being inside the airport was amazing because of how much warmer it was! I checked in and found out that my flight was delayed two hours. Not great, but not terrible. At least it wasn’t cancelled! I caught up with an old friend from Sydney because she was at the airport too, on her way home, so that passed some time.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur was the BEST. I have never been so content on a flight. Great service, great food and a comfortable setup. I watched a bunch of movies thanks to Malaysian Airlines’ great film selections. I was very relaxed .

We landed in Kuala Lumpur at 7:15pm… and I had to be at my next gate by 7:30pm! Which was all the way on the other side of the airport. If you haven’t been to the Kuala Lumpur airport… it’s VERY BIG. That experience was not so relaxing. I legged it through the terminal and ended up being the very last passenger let through the gate. Thank goodness! I got a window seat and a row to myself so at least I had a comfortable flight setup again.

DAY FIVE.

I’ve been so busy that this diary entry will just be dot points!

  • Arrived in Bangkok and my luggage was lost, so I had to deal with that for the first time ever! Luggage has officially been in Malaysia longer than I ever have.
  • Airport transfer that I’d booked and paid for didn’t arrive so I had to get a taxi to my hotel instead. Turns out the taxi was extremely cheap and I’d been way over charged for my transfer anyway!
  • Met some of the Contiki gang in the lobby (after they walked back from a bar where they’d been held up by police for drinking on a religious holiday!) and we all stayed up chatting until about 2am when my luggage arrived – yay!
  • Breakfast at 9:30am the next day before exploring Bangkok.
  • There were eight of us from the Contiki tour so we went to see Wat Arun and Wat Pho (temples).
  • Had lunch at ‘Slow’ across the road from the hotel
  • Relaxed by the pool and met my Contiki roommate before the 6pm Kickstart meeting where we met our tour manager Jess
  • Went out for a night – a crazy night! – on Khao San Road! We ate dinner in a big group at the Nat Guest House, went to Lucky Beer Bar and met Jess, danced on the road, went to Rastafarian bar and went to a Ping Pong show in a tuktuk! CRAZY!
  • Went home for some sleep but I stayed up to repack my bag and do the first of many discards – this time I chucked out my $3 boots and a turtle neck

DAY SIX.

  • 7am breakfast at the hotel, followed by checkout.
  • Guided tour of the Grand Palace with our local guide, Nutty!
  • Private boat ride along the river where we fed the hundreds of Catfish bread
  • Walked home and we all had lunch at Jade’s House
  • Went to Khao San Road for shopping and Fishy Foot Spas!
  • Caught the coach to the train station and got on the very cool Sleeper Train to Chiang Mai!

DAY SEVEN.

We woke up this morning at 6am on the Sleeper Train to a little man yelling “You wake up please! Wake up!”. He swiftly moved through the cabin and turned all of our beds back into chairs. We had a bit of time to mingle before arriving in Chiang Mai! We were taken from the station in our new coach to our Chiang Mai hotel, The Empress, where we had the best breakfast imaginable! Waffles, omelettes, fruit, bacon, potatoes, juice… you name it, it was there and it was awesome. After breakfast we were all very excited to get ready to go and see the Elephant Sanctuary. It was an hour and a bit away so we all boarded little safari taxis to get there. When we got to the sanctuary we made elephant food out of tamarinds, salt and rice and fed them. The youngest elephant we saw was 6 and the oldest was 65. After they had eaten we took them down to the river to have a swim and a bath. The experience mixed with the scenery was unreal. It was a major highlight and I’m so glad I did it.

The next activity on the agenda was our Thai cooking class. We met our instructor Perm at the markets first where we spoke about all the ingredients we would be using and then we all went to his house where he taught us how to cook four traditional Thai dishes. We made Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, Penang curry and chicken cashew nut. My Pad Thai was burnt but the rest was really yummy! I enjoyed the class a lot.

Afterwards we went to the markets to see the Ladyboy Cabaret! AMAZING! They were awesome and very funny. The best part was when four of the boys from our tour had to get up and be dressed in drag to be part of the show! Extremely hilarious.

We all went home after the show for a well deserved sleep. Party Night in Chiang Rai tomorrow!

DAY EIGHT.

Coming soon.

Travel Diary: Japan

DAY ONE.

I guess I finally did it! The big solo trip I have been wanting to go on for forever and a day. Although the plan had always been to travel solo in Europe, I am glad I changed my mind.

I arrived into Kansai International Airport at about 8:20pm. After going through immigrations, finding my suitcase, and visiting information desks, it was time to hop on the JR and head to Osaka station. Getting on the train was easy enough… it was the one and a half hour train ride that I found a little rough! I was expecting forty minutes tops so I was a little surprised. I have decided to turn my phone to roaming while in Japan to ease the difficulty of finding my way around – relying on WiFi is just not good enough for me on my lonesome. I’ll get better and more confident one day… but hey! I’m in another country completely on my own so it’s not a bad start, right?

When I got to Osaka Station I went outside and grabbed a taxi. It was nearly 11:30pm so I was now well and truly 12 hours into transit. The hotel was actually much closer to the station than I had realised, so the taxi fare was very cheap! My hotel check-in was smooth and painless and the room is super cosy. The bathroom is my favourite part – a tiny little bath tub and a toilet seat that kindly warms my very cold tush.

After putting two extra scarves on I went outside in pursuit of some food. I wasn’t properly fed on the plane thanks to a stuff up by my old travel agent so I was pretty darn hungry. There was a curry place across the road from my hotel – yum, Japanese curry! – so I decided to order there. After grabbing some bottles of water from the 7/11 and collecting my meal – as well as declining two invitations to the nearby bar in the process – I made my way back to the warmth of the hotel. I managed to load an episode of Gilmore Girls to watch while I ate, and once I was done it was a nice warm shower and off to bed.

DAY TWO.

I woke up at a quarter to 8 this morning and called my mum before getting ready to go to Universal Studios. I left the hotel at 9am and started the walk to Osaka Station. It was 6 degrees and raining so I was VERY glad to be wearing two scarves again. I bought an umbrella and, after much confusion and agitation, found my way to the Universal City train. I missed the train transfer and had to spend an extra 15 minutes fixing that but I eventually made it to Universal City Station.

I was cold and wet so I went into Starbucks to warm up. I ordered a white mocha and I was pretty nervous about it thanks to the disgusting drinks at the Starbucks in Sydney… but Japan knows what they’re doing! I will miss these when I leave.

I entered the park with my ticket and wandered through before deciding to spend most of my day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had lunch at Mel’s Drive-In Diner and I saw the Monsters Rock’n’Roll Show. After that I walked around the park a little longer before deciding to go back to the Wizarding World to buy myself a wand (and drink some more Butterbeer).

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On the way out of Universal I had a quick look through the Universal CityWalk. I bought myself a denim jacket from The GAP before catching the train to Osaka-Namba Station. I wanted to find an Aussie bar I’d heard of called Coolabah. It was meant to be very close to the famous Dotonbori strip so I figured I’d hit two birds with one stone. I found the bar  eventually but it was still early so I was the only person in it and I didn’t find the staff very friendly, so I ordered some food and sat minding my own business. I regret not finding a cool Japanese place to eat but you live and you learn!

After dinner I moved through the streets in search of Dotonbori. I was very excited to see the giant Glico Man sign which indicated that I had indeed found Dotonbori. After taking a bunch of photos I Facetimed Mum and Dad to show them the hustle and bustle. I spent some time shopping in H&M and bought some warmer clothes – I might only have one day left in Japan but I’ll definitely be trying to make the most of it. My feet were very sore today because they were so cold so I’m hoping I have a more pleasant day tomorrow!

By the time I left the Dotonbori district it was 2am, so I found a taxi and got myself back to the hotel. It might snow tomorrow – fingers are crossed!

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DAY THREE.

Today was quite an adventure!

I woke up around 8am and repacked my suitcase in preparation for leaving Japan tomorrow. I’m nervous to buy anything in case the weight goes over – which isn’t very good considering I just got here!

I ended up leaving the hotel and arriving at Osaka Station around 11am. I figured out which train I needed and set off for Nara. On the way I caught my first ever glimpse of snowfall out the window of the train. Even better was that it was still snowing when I got to Nara! I ended up getting to feed the roaming deer IN THE SNOW! Pretty magical for someone who had never experience snowfall. It was very light but better than nothing. I enjoyed the experience for a while before making my way back to Nara’s Kintetsu Station to move on to Kyoto.

On the way to Kyoto it was really snowing. It was incredibly beautiful but I was absolutely frozen. I was wearing an extra two layers in comparison to yesterday but I was much colder. When I got to Kyoto I found a little coffee shop where I ordered a hot chocolate and an avocado and tuna panini. It’s crazy – the food in Japan is SO good and I haven’t even really had anything typically Japanese! It was 3pm by the time I finished lunch and dealt with some flight issues… so I turned around and headed back to Osaka Station. I literally just popped over to Kyoto for lunch!

When I got back to Osaka Station I spent about half an hour trying to find my way out to the street – it is such a HUGE station! When I finally made it out I noticed a large Red Ferris wheel in the distance, so I made my way over to it. It was called HEP Five and it was part of the Hankyu Entertainment Building. I got to do the Ferris wheel for free and happened to be at the very top for sunset. It was beautiful. Afterwards I found a ramen place for dinner and wandered through the building until it was time to go to the hotel.

I enjoyed a plunge bath when I got to the hotel – what I am sure will be my last moment of luxury for the next two weeks! Bags are packed… let’s go to Thailand!