Dreams for Plans

In search of food, nature, relaxation and most importantly fun!


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Strengths are a virtue

This is an ode to the human brain and its capacity to learn. It is my thoughts on changing careers and searching for a match for your skills and preferences.   In the words of Albert Einstein ‘Learning is an experience, everything else is just information’.

Working in the field of adult Autism and ADHD has been a real privilege. I have been fascinated with the human brain ever since my dad had a traumatic brain injury and I realised its frightening power.  Working within the fields of neuropsychology and neurodiversity requires you to consider what we as society hold as important and take it apart and think again.  Autism is one excellent example, whilst people with this type of neurodiversity often struggle in social situations they can excel in other areas, such as, but not limited to having great stores of knowledge about particular topics and being more aware of the sensory world.  Our brains are all exceptionally unique and working with people who think differently to you can only enhance your own perception of the world.  Additionally to reach adulthood and still be searching for answers about why you appear to think differently takes a lot of courage and insight, as does the desire to work towards improving your life from this resulting knowledge. 1001004011299920

The excellent book ‘Neurodiversity’ by Thomas Armstrong discusses various developmental and mental health conditions including Autism, Anxiety and Depression. Without dismissing the disabling effects of these diagnoses Armstrong asks us to take a step back and consider not only the difficulties associated with these conditions but the strengths too. This doesn’t mean believing everyone with conditions such as Autism have rain man like abilities or that all people with schizophrenia are creative but it does ask us to consider strengths and individual skills not reduce people to deficits.  Not everyone has world class talents but not everyone needs to.

We all have strengths no matter how small they may seem. I refuse to believe there is anybody you couldn’t find an area of strength for and capitalise on it. It is the small chink of sunlight on a cloudy day, that little window of opportunity that can be grasped and built upon.  When someone is feeling negative and despondent it is looking for that small piece of positivity, the flower thriving amongst the weeds.

Sometimes we don’t have awareness of our strengths and we need others to help identify them.  I remember carrying out the Johari window exercise below with a young girl and the people who cared for her and she was amazed at what other people thought of her and where her talents lay.

To a greater or lesser extent we are all capable of learning and achieving personal growth. From the moment we take our first gulp of oxygen as a tiny baby our brains are creating connections.  However we all learn very differently, whilst some of us fit into an academic mould, capable of reaching those high grades, others have more specific talents and areas of skill.  I think it is well accepted that career services have not always risen to the challenge of thinking more creatively about this.  There has certainly been slow progress in recognising the talents of ‘neuro diverse’ individuals.  Although there are companies now positively recruiting individuals with diagnoses of Autism such as Microsoft!

The theme of this post is not neurodiversity however it is a general celebration of strengths and striving to better yourself. This is a common human theme and one that can be under recognised in us all.  I think that whilst the phrase ‘you can be anything you want to be’ is a bit of a misnomer we certainly shouldn’t ever accept a lesser path for ourselves. To an extent you can be what you want to be, you might never have the footballing skills of Cristiano Ronaldo but if you love football why not work in that field.

I never initially set out to be a Psychologist. I had a place at Cardiff University lined up for me to study Journalism and I guess it is my wondering about my own career that made me consider the topic of skills and take inspiration from some of the people and clients I have worked with. Our capacity to learn is enormous as is our potential to grow and change throughout our lives.

Armstrong discusses people with neurodiversity needing to create niches for themselves. The idea of niches comes from biology and the idea that species need to create specialist habitats for them to survive, for example a beaver building a dam.   Armstrong defines a niche as ‘altering the fixed and static environment to make it more suitable for your particular needs’.  It is a wonderful concept in terms of neurodiversity but I think it can also be applied to everybody.  We all need those places we feel happy, inspired and safe.  We all have an element of control over our surroundings and we can take steps to make them feel more comfortable.  Many people are driven to do job roles which play to their particular strengths and desire to work in specific environments.  Not everyone has this ‘luxury’ but we can certainly try to modify what we do to make us happier.

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I have now handed my notice in at work as I am keen to take on new challenges and feel that buzz of inspiration and excitement that I know I can get from work. I got it when I started this website and I get it when I see certain job roles.  My mind feels fizzier with happiness and ideas.   This move might well be away from Psychology, I am not sure.  Whilst my skills appear to be working with people I enjoy and feel I am good at other things.

I will take from this role inspiration from the people I have met and the belief that no matter who you are or what your circumstances may be there is always room for personal growth. As Einstein said ‘Learning is an experience, everything else is just information’.

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The Jewel of York

There are small patches of land in York that contain dozens of jewels. Iridescent ones a little smaller than the size of a five pence piece. Shiny metallic reds, greens and yellows. Unfortunately those seeking treasure would be disappointed. Unless of course you happen to be an Entomologist.


The Jewel of York is in fact a tiny insect that lives almost uniquely on the Tansy plants around the river Ouse. Its official name is the Tansy Beetle. It used to be widespread around Britain but now only lives on this small 30km stretch of the river Ouse, with another small population only just being discovered in Cambridge.   Most people in York have never heard of it, which is astonishing when you think how special it is to have such a rare and lovely insect predominately only exist in your city. Our insect population, including the Tansy Beetle, is declining rapidly due to changes in land use and the clearing of important plants.  Whilst it can be easy to dismiss such small creatures and focus on the threatened animals at the top of the food chain (the polar bears/Orang-utans) as Jonas Salk (Researcher and Virologist) wisely said:

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We happened across the TB when we were strolling along the banks of the river Ouse. Before I moved to York I saw it primarily as a beautiful walled city and did not think of the surrounding areas, possibly because there were far too many pubs to be sampled!  Given the time to explore on foot you realise it is special in that one minute you are amongst the city walls and the next you are in unspoilt countryside.  Some of the 5-7 mile walks you can take from the city are worthy tourist attractions in their own right.  Another great example being the circular walk to Bishopthorpe to have a look at the Archbishops palace and of course sample a few ales and a Sunday roast!

On this particular day the banks of the Ouse and the surrounding land were covered in wild flowers and the only sound, apart from the odd idiot in a speed boat, were the birds. We happened to notice an information sign so went over for a closer look. It was information about the TB and surrounding it on the Tansy plant were dozens of the little beetles.

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They are predominately non-flying creatures and slowly walked around munching the Tansy leaves.  Whilst they seemed to be flourishing their numbers are carefully monitored and there is a real need to increase their habitat.  Being keen to help out in our local area we decided to  volunteer with the charity Buglife to help preserve the TB’s habitat and even grow further crops of Tansy for it to inhabit.

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The TB might not be a real Jewel but it’s certainly worth taking a little treasure hunt down the Ouse to find.


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Wanderlust

I had a feeling the other day I haven’t had for some time. I had managed to shake it off whilst we were traveling but sat in my mum’s house doing something and nothing it appeared.  I noted it with dread. It might be a familiar feeling to some people.  It isn’t boredom per se although there is certainly a pinch of that, it is a restless feeling that is both physical and mental.  A tight itchy feeling in the legs and a emptiness in the pit of the stomach.  I have always had this feeling when I am sat around not doing much and only getting out and doing something alleviates it.  It’s not low mood it’s more of a passing malaise I can sometimes sink into. My previous blog noted we were going to try and be ‘Hygge’ as the Danes call it for the rest of the period up until Christmas. Well I lasted one day of cosiness, tea and TV before I needed to shoot off on a 9 mile walk to ease the restlessness. I’m beginning to think I have a diagnosis for this feeling…..

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Ok, so everyone gets a little fed up on arriving home after a holiday or time spent away from everyday ‘normal’ life. I seriously think we have the travel bug though as we are already picking new places and experiences we want to have like ‘Ooo how about seeing the Yaks in Tibet’ or ‘watching Brown Bears in Canada’,’aaah and let’s go and trek to Machu Pichu!’ Someone said to us the other day when we saw them for the first time ‘well at least that’s out of your system then!’ We both looked at each other in horror! I’m not sure you ever get the desire to see new places ‘out of your system’ and why would you want to?

So what’s the cure for wanderlust? Well to wander more or course! Although it’s not always necessary to go to the other side of the world. I’ve been thinking how to cope with the sudden absence of travel and the accompanying daily freedom and stimulation.

I like to approach my wellbeing practically and there is no point in moping and dwelling on what could be (Though I am all for short term feeling sorry for yourself with lots of chocolate). It just is not an option to sit and fall into a pit of despair. Like the obvious go for a walk or just get out and do something if you are in a state of enui, there are some constants when thinking about staying happy.

Do not live in the past or the future but enjoy the present.

Yes our memories are unbelievable – seeing kiwis in NZ under a moonlit sky, sleeping in a junk in halong bay, sipping Fiji bitter on a paradise island, diving in Borneo… But you can’t live in your memories. The future will hopefully bring more travel but today is here right now. Staying busy, trying new things, learning, laughing, just doing different fun things especially whilst we are still of work.  We have been combining some trips down memory lane with trying new things.  Tonight’s dinner is chicken with cashew nuts a dish I’ve never cooked but that we loved in Thailand. I have also decided to learn Spanish and read up on my favourite subject Psychology, my new job is a big exciting challenge after all.

Dream by all means but make it a reality by problem solving and planning

We will be going away this year at least three times and I am sure we will travel again long term at some point. Dreams are fun and daydreaming can be helpful when life gets a little tough but what is more important is making it a reality.  What is the first step towards making your dreams come true?  In our case it is money and saving up so that when we see somewhere we want to go we can. It is also getting inspired so ordering brochures and looking at deals online.

Being grateful – Life is pretty exciting

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that life is pretty darn good. Ok, so we aren’t away still, but we are moving from Manchester to York and renting a new apartment, starting new jobs and living in our favourite ever place. There will be so many exciting places in Yorkshire (and generally in the UK) that we haven’t seen and that we need to go to.

I never really thought about how much I love lots of little things about England until I was away. However it truly is a special little country.  The people are friendly, the countryside is beautiful and even the seasons are pleasing when you have experienced 34oC sun for months on end. Yes I sometimes wish I was elsewhere but a corner of my heart will always be in England.

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 No regrets

Finally the big thing about happiness is not regretting things you have done and things you haven’t. Just do it. Try, go for it, throw caution to the wind etc. We listened to this song by One Republic all the time when we were away. It is so true. Although the scars on my leg from the coral reef aren’t ideal they make a pretty good story.

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hygge and herring

The Danes have a wonderful word called ‘Hygge’ -pronounced ‘Hooga’ – which roughly translates to ‘creating a cosy feeling and doing cosy things’. Think lots of candles, snuggling up on sofas, inviting friends round for meals and generally focusing on your wellbeing. I’m sure that’s a simplification as from what I’ve read Hygge is more of a way of life and a mindset for the Danes than simply having a few duvet days, but to me it sounds a perfect concept. I love the idea mainly because it legitimises just staying snug in your house, looking after yourself, eating and socialising – some of the best and most important things in life.  

  

I first read about the concept in the book  ‘A year of living Danishly’ by Helen Russell. I loved the sound of Hygge and on reading more I wondered if perhaps the Danes investment in personal wellbeing and cosy, social time helps explain why they are consistently voted the happiest nation on earth. Whilst in Britain we spend all winter working long dark hours and throwing ourselves into Christmas shopping with grim determination. The Danes are gearing up for the pinnacle of Hygge -Christmas – a time where they spend lots of time with family and friends socialising.  Engagement with others has consistently been shown to be a key factor in warding off depression. A second fantastic general principle I’ve read about in Denmark is the idea that you work to live not vice versa. Ideally you love your job and the focus is on balance but it’s more commonly expected that you don’t stay long extra hours working but that you go home, pick up your children and eat with your family. It sounds like my kind of place.

  

I was particularly keen to see a little piece of Denmark at Christmas and get myself my own ‘Hygge’ style weekend so when we saw cheap flights back to Europe from Bangkok it was a no brainer. The flash packing has finally drained the bank account. The second huge draw was the Scandinavian cuisine. When I was a little girl of around 3 years old we went to a Danish buffet in Liverpool. Being so small the staff said I could eat for free. Big mistake. I loved roll mop herring even then! I filled my plate full and ate them like a walrus! I’ve been a huge fan of this fishy delight ever since. Denmark is also famous for its Danish pasties or Snegals, Smorrebord and pork dinners…. After boot camp in Thailand and the ridiculous Paleo diet all I can say is bring it on!

So we found ourselves on our final leg of our travels in Copenhagen and soaking up every cinnamon scented, glog filled, fairy light decked minute of the Christmas atmosphere in Copenhagen. We hadn’t seen a single Xmas tree in Asia!! It was November for gods sake!  We stayed in an air bnb property in Copenhagen which is very interesting as it is owned by a lady who owns a design shop. She has created a multicoloured haven of kitch design. It’s not necessarily our taste but it’s nice waking up in a real Danish space than yet another hotel (number 80 odd on our travels!). So Hygge was fully in action as was eating of course…

  
The food has certainly lived up to its billing. We started each day with a coffee and snegl of some kind. Living in Britain I think we get fresh bread and pastries pretty good but the Danish bakeries truly excel in sweet pastries and whether it was at the wonderful chain Lagkagehuset or a smaller cafe they were wonderfully fresh. My favourite was the cinnamon and chocolate extravaganza pictured called Direktersnegl! Next we sought out my old favourite – herring. So often you visit a touristy place and are really disappointed by the restaurants nearby but not this time. We visited the famous multicoloured Nyhavn and were drawn in to one of the restaurants by the promise of an all you can eat herring buffet.

  
  
Unfortunately this time I didn’t get to eat free! 

However for £20 each at Nyhavns Faefgekro we enjoyed a traditional glass of Aquavit, mulled wine and so much herring I actually stuffed myself to bursting point. My younger self would be proud! We did other things than eat in Copenghagen of course. The Christmas markets were lovely and so much more chilled out than at home. Manchester has huge German and European markets but they are so rammed full of people it takes the fun out of it somewhat. In Copenhagen you could actually walk to the bar order a Gluwein and stand and enjoy it whereas in Manchester you are fighting past people and then have to stand in the cold rain pretending you are enjoying your £5 thimble of wine. We also visited Tivoli gardens but were a little underwhelmed. There was a storm coming so the weather wasn’t ideal but it just felt a little bit like paying entrance into a deserted fun fair. So anyway back to the food that’s enough ‘other things’ mentioned to try and pretend we didn’t just eat!

I have to note two places where we ate yet more fantastic, fresh and wonderfully presented food that will live long in the memory. The first is Thirion Charcuterie and Vins located on Prinessegade near Christianshavn metro. Here we selected from the wide range of Belgium beers and enjoyed a charcuterie platter each. The cheese and meats are delivered from the South of Belgium and are free from preservatives. Being big Belgium beer fans we were in heaven!

  
Secondly the brunch at Cafe Norden was pretty fantastic as the photo below suggests. Cake – check, cheese – check, eggs and bacon -check! No herring but that’s probably for the best. 

  
So with heavy hearts (and bellies) our 7.5 months travelling comes to an end. I’m going to write another blog to summarise the feelings we have about this but I have to say if there’s one place that can inspire me to go home and thoroughly enjoy Christmas in wet windy England its Denmark. 

I think we are going to have to prescribe ourself plenty of Hygge, though possibly not herring, before we start our new jobs as the travel bubble sadly bursts.


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Animals…

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It would feel remiss to start this blog without paying respects to those who lost their lives in Paris.  I never intended this blog site to cover serious matters but being away from England when horrendous acts like this happen makes you feel sick to the pit of your stomach.

Travelling around this beautiful world of ours for the last 7 months we have been privileged to have seen the most stunning natural landscapes across three continents. We have observed the many varied animals and plants that share our earth (..and who quite frankly have more about them than we humans will ever have) and spent time with lovely people from different cultures in lively, multicultural cities. What kind of person thinks they have the power to control, destroy and change all of this wonderful diversity? It is truly wrong.  My friend has just had a baby and told me she cried her eyes out at the news, what kind of world are we leaving for our children?

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So with feelings of disgust and sadness lingering every morning after watching the news, we have then gone to our boot camp. Luckily the physical activity and supportive friendly staff have taken our minds of it all. We are on day 4 of the boot camp and are currently totally exhausted in our hotel. The day has generally started at 8:00am and finished at 2:30pm. It literally has normally finished for us then as we have tended just to lounge in bed after this!

 

We did manage to break this lazy afternoon routine up to go to a cat café around the corner from the hotel. Being around animals and handling them has long been known to prove therapeutic to humans and soothe distress.  Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is even a recognised therapeutic approach. The origins of using animals with mentally ill patients was first seen in England in the late 18th century at The Retreat in York. Domestic animals roamed the grounds and patients were able to stroke them and spend time with them leading to positive results.  I have been involved in sessions with people with Dementia when dogs are brought in to interact with them and witnessed how positive it can prove.  It is heart warming to see previously socially withdrawn individuals light up when a dog is in front of them.

Unlike humans, animals do not judge on race, religion, gender or sexuality and their gentle, unconditional affection can help people improve their mood, social interactions and cognitive abilities. After several hours sat in the cat café with a languid cat called Cooper on my lap I certainly felt much more relaxed.

In terms of the boot camp it is exactly what we hoped for. We have seen more of Chiang Mai in four days than we ever would by ourselves. We have carried out three exercise activities each day. So far we have received training from Muay Thai champions, walked in the countryside, trekked up temple steps, ploughed rice with a buffalo on a Thai farm and completed a Thai army obstacle course. In addition to these more local area activities we have had instruction in pilates, circuit training, aqua aerobics and rock climbing. Pretty impressive!

It is amazing what your body can do if you focus your mind. When you exercise alone it is easy to give yourself an easy time but when you have someone setting you goals and not letting you give up, you can push yourself further than you thought possible. We still have three more days left and tomorrow is going to be insanely tough! Circuits in the morning (45 mins non-stop), then a gruelling walk up 700 temple steps – not once but 3 times – then a kind of running treasure trail around the Royal Botanical Gardens. And Saturday and Sunday sound brutal too! It is certainly going to require some serious willpower.

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So it is hard to summarise this blog as it has trod through heavy despair to fairly light hearted every day life struggles. The overwhelming thoughts I am having are that the human mind is a truly fascinating/frightening subject.  It is capable of enormous feats of bravery, compassion and endeavour and it is also capable of breath-taking cruelty and callousness.

When you look into the gentle eyes of a buffalo or the cool, fixed eyes of a cat you see no malice – they care not for our ridiculous wars. Any malicious intent we ascribe to animals is purely of our making and imagining. ‘Animals’ is certainly not the word to describe these people.  The world may have lost it’s sparkle for many of us this week and my mind and body may be weary but my spirit is not dimmed,  I am sure like many.

In this beautiful world of ours with tolerance, hard work and hope we can go again and again and again……

good in the world

 

 

 


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Gearing up…

We might just be crazy! We have signed up for a week long boot camp in Chiang Mai next week. We will be doing circuits EVERY day 😟 and then two fitness activities, one in the am and one in the pm. The exciting bit is the activities will allow us to get out and explore Chiang Mai. We will be cycling and hiking in the countryside around the city. Kayaking down the rivers and hurting across obstacle courses in the gardens of the bootcamp. We will take Muay Thai classes under the instruction of professional fighters, help farmers plow their rice fields with buffalo and take yoga classes instructed by a local teacher. That’s not mentioning the climbing and the temple run (think steps lots of steps).

I have always been fairly slim due to a childhood spent playing out 24-7. Any free time not in school I was out building dens, playing football and generally tearing around burning up energy, I took it for granted that I was agile, fit and healthy. I used to get teased at school for being ‘a skeleton’ which was just my natural pre-woman bits (Hips!) physique.  Later on I was used to people’s belief that it’s ok to call people for being skinny ‘ooo aren’t you thin’, ‘you need more meat on you’ and ‘do you eat properly?’. That was until university. Here a diet entirely consisting of pizza and chips with cheese added to the copious amounts of sugary alcoholic drinks made my weight, if not balloon turn certainly towards the rather padded look. I lost this weight fairly easily tho and felt quite smug that when hitting 21 my metabolism still seemed pretty high.
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Oh my how times have changed. The late 20’s to 30 is definitely a turning point in terms of fighting back the flab. I love food and I love eating out and drinking wine, sugary lattes and cocktails. Therefore I need to exercise to retain some kind of balance – physically and literally, I don’t want to topple over like a weeble!
We have tried to exercise 4-5 times a week whilst travelling, and despite a slight hiccup in Fiji, entirely blamed on Fiji bitter and my accident on the coral reef, we have done pretty well. We have used the popsugar routines on YouTube, swam and booked activities involving seeing local scenery and exercise whenever possible. This morning due to a desperate need to up the activity level before next week we went on a 4 hour bike ride in the Cambodian Countryside.
It was an outstanding trip and I would thoroughly recommend it. We saw a few tour buses on our way and seeing everyone cramped in buses bouncing along rough roads taking pictures out of the window we felt very smug. We got to go up little paths and lanes in between fields and by rice paddys. We visited a local market and ate a host of sticky, lovely Cambodian cakes and also tried delicacies like frog. Oh and there were puppies how can you go wrong!
One of the deserts we tried is called ‘Husband Killers’ in Cambodia or Bánh Sát Phu and is worth describing in more detail. Our guide told us it gets this name from this story…….
Once there was a newly wed couple. One morning the husband went to work and the wife decided to make a treat for him for his return so she cooked up Bánh Sát Phu. On his return he was very pleased and quickly popped one in his mouth but the hot palm sugar centre was too hot in contrast to the cooler outer rice and coconut. He wanted to look manly in front of his wife so he tried to swallow it down quickly and not complain. Unfortunately he started choking and whilst still trying to act like nothing happened he died.
If you don’t like your husband the recipe is below! Only joking they are lovely and potentially an interesting dinner party offering!

Palm Sugar Pearls with Coconut Ingredients  (Credit to)

Ingredient
Amount
Rice Flour
2 cups (300 g)
Salt
Just a Pinch!
Palm Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar
1 cup (200 g)
Warm Water
*See recipe instructions below
Freshly Grated or Dried Unsweetened Coconut
4 tablespoons

Palm Sugar Pearls Recipe

  • Combine the Rice Flour and Salt in a bowl and mix.
  • Gradually add Warm Water and stir until the mixture has the consistency of modelling clay.
  • Take a small lump of the mixture and spread it across your fingers to make a disc about 1 1/2 inches (3 cm) thick.
  • Put a 1/2 teaspoon of the Sugar in the center and fold in the edges so that the Sugar is completely covered.
  • Trim the excess pastry and roll the “pearl” in your palms to make a perfect ball.
  • Repeat until all the pastry has been rolled.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and gently lower (don’t drop!) the pastries into the pot.
  • They are finished when they rise to the surface.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon or Asian strainer.
  • Allow to cool: The inside is very hot!
  • When cooled, sprinkle the Grated Coconut over the pearls and serve!

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Now seeing as the bootcamp enforces a Paleo diet the whole week you are there I’m not sure sugar palm donuts will be on hand to power us through the activities, and hopefully there won’t be any need for husband killing!! (Although apparently there’s a Dunkin Donuts across from the hotel if we want to be naughty! And I have been with Dave every day non-stop for 7 months…. 😉 ).  So will it prove craziness to spend the last full week of our travels boot camping, only time will tell? First though we have a cooking class in Siem Reap and four more nights of those Khmer cocktails before, like the cheesy chips, I’m forced to relinquish them! Wish us luck!


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Back on track in Cambodia

We have emerged from a rather challenging 3 weeks in Thailand (Which I will write more about after we have been back to Northern Thailand) and landed in Cambodia. We had started to feel that we should just book a flight home and cut our losses such was the depth of our dislike for travelling two weeks ago.  Thankfully our next destination was just what we needed.  I love, love Siem Reap!  Sometimes it is best to make your own mind up about a place and whilst some of our friends weren’t overly positive about Cambodia and raved about Thailand – all I can say is it takes all sorts! If you love friendly people, an abundance of cheap, fun and world class activities and amazing varied nightlife you surely cannot fail to love Siem Reap. (I would strongly encourage you to come and make your own mind up about this though of course!).  We are already gutted that we booked an outbound flight and so will not fully capitalise on our month long visa. Incidentally the visa experience was very easy at the airport and we only needed one passport photo.  The form noted it had to be 4×6 cm but people had a variety of sizes and it was not a problem.  We were soon picked up by our lovely tuk tuk driver Lucky and sped towards our hotel.  We are staying in The Rumahmu Boutique Hotel which is a lovely Cambodian style guest house with a gorgeous garden and a pool with Orchids dotted around it.  (No I’m not being paid to say this but I am sat writing my blog in exactly that spot and it is pretty special!). Nice, clean, quiet accommodation – what a relief and when you’ve been away for some time totally needed.

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We’ve recently ground to a halt on booking activities, mainly because it was such hard work and not enjoyable any more, so one of the main reasons we love it here is the fact that we can book to do lots of interesting, diverse activities and it will not break our budget.  The obvious attractions in Siem Reap are the temples.  It doesn’t really get much better for temple aficionados than Angkor Wat and the equally stunning surrounding temples. These are too numerous to list but include, those made (even more) famous by Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. I won’t go on at length about these I will just put this snap of Angkor Wat at sunrise up to sum up what an awe inspiring experience it was. It is certainly a come and do it yourself don’t just read about it experience.

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I want to use the blog to mention a few really nice activities we have done so far in Siem Reap. For me travel is about experiencing new things and learning about the place you are visiting. Cambodians make it very easy for you to experience little snippets of how it is to live here and it makes you love the place and the people more. We used our first full day to go horse riding in the Cambodian countryside which involved two hours ambling about in small villages and going out into the rice paddys to hear and see how farming families live (Happy Ranch).  It turns out I am a crappy horse rider. My horse ‘Diamond’ the white mare pictured had no time for my pathetic reign control what so ever. At one point she decided to just wander off up the road away from our guide. I have never ridden horses before so it was a bit alarming as I seemed unable to alter her course, turn her round or stop her. I would not put this as a negative against the Ranch as they probably aren’t used to utter novices inability to pull the reigns the right way or those shouting get me off this F’ing horse. Not how I had pictured me serenely trotting through the countryside waving at small children.  Luckily after a further lesson in how to steer a particularly stubborn horse I did indeed trot calmly and wave. It is just a shame about the slightly bizarre outfit I had cobbled together for the outing.  Diamond was clearly used to classier riders.

The next activities have involved food and drink obviously! I found the website for the Backstreet Academy on Tripadvisor and we immediately booked the Khmer Cocktail class (We have the Cement Bag making booked and might book an art class!). The Backstreet Academy is a social enterprise which aims to empower locals with skills in one of a kind activities to market and target their experiences for tourists. This helps cut out the tour companies which can monopolize local tourism and give tourists a great authentic local experience. The cocktail class was utterly fabulous and introduced me and Dave to a whole world of spicy, herby Khmer Cocktails that were a world apart from the sticky, fruity ones we normally go for. The Ginger Mojito was a fairly simple alteration to a classic and the Little Gem was a totally different taste entirely with Tumeric and Ladies fingers in it.

Our foodie experience was also based on a listing we found on Backstreet academy but we were too chicken to do the full ‘Fear factor food challenge’. We did however fancy ourselves as Bear Grylls, having watched him loads on the Discovery channel over here, so we wanted to sample at least one insect each. I chose Tarantula and Dave went for Cricket. Both surprisingly not that horrendous. Cricket tastes like sour cream crisps!

So after only three days in Cambodia we have been fully restored and are loving travelling again. If there is one thing I have learnt about travelling is that it is such a unique experience – you can read all the blogs, books and websites there are but nothing will compare to finding out yourself. I am just glad we did not get that flight home because Cambodia is certainly a country to keep you in love with life out of a backpack.