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Monday, August 14, 2017

Bergen - Picturesque but rainy

I arrived into Bergen on the Rotterdam ship one Monday morning in July. The skies were overcast but I wasn't about to let rain deter me from the one day I had in this port.

Bergen is famous for its World Heritage Site of Bryggen, which is the fishing wharf with brightly painted buildings. However, there are other places of interest in this picturesque city, Immediately evident is the aesthetically pleasing Norwegian architecture throughout but nature is also on the doorstep, with the sea and mountains both surrounding this port city.


First stop was, predictably, the Bergenhus Fortress, situated as it is on the harbour. One of the oldest castles in Norway, it is remarkably well-preserved and the defensive tower from the 13th Century still stands proudly overlooking the water. The fortress is still used by the Royal Norwegian Navy however the buildings within at one point accommodated the royal family, a church and a bishop's residence. I was interested in learning about it and I always admire old buildings and ponder at what stories we aren't told.

I grabbed a hot tea from a roadside van to warm me up as a persistent mist threatened rain and I headed along the waterfront, with all it's pretty buildings. Many of these are souvenir shops, so I walked on, heading to the funicular to take me to the top of Mount Floyen. The funicular costs NOK 45 (approx EUR 4.80 or GBP 4.30) one way, although you can take a steep walk of over an hour to get up there. I love funiculars so I decided on this, particularly as the rain was now pouring out of the sky. The trip takes between 5 - 8 minutes so you quickly gain great views across the city. At the top, the views are quite breathtaking as you can take in the several mountains around and the different parts of the city. The rain obviously didn't deter many tourists, as it was pretty busy there.

Misty panorama of Bergen and me

I had heard that the coffeeshop/restaurant at the top were quite nice, although pretty expensive - like most things in Norway, but I wasn't hungry or needing a break yet. There's a playground with troll figures for kid's to enjoy and different scenic walks through the mountains that lead off from here. I decided on walking back towards the city. A couple hundred metres from the viewpoints, I came across some free-roaming goats, who are tagged with this new technology that prevents them from going outside certain areas. I'm not 100% that this is particularly animal-friendly, as it gives them an electric shock if they venture into prohibited areas, but I suppose at least they aren't penned in. Some of these goats were highly entertaining, with one parading around on a table top, posing for pictures. I also found it amusing that the only black goat was called Obama.



Off I wandered back down the mountain, through the forest and on a well-worn path. The views are quite nice on the way down too and I enjoyed being out in the fresh air. It took me around 40 minutes to get back to the city and I had worked up a bit of an appetite so I headed through the fish market to Trekroneran for a tasty, budget-friendly meal. This small stall has a variety of hot dog options around 50 - 60 NOK (Around GBP 5 - 6). I thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm not normally a hot dog fan.



I wanted to visit Troldhaugen, the composer Edvard Grieg's house but I hadn't left enough time (the perils of drinking in the crew bar til 4am). The house is a living museum and concerts are held daily in the summer at lunchtime. It was now past that and I was worried if I took the bus that I wouldn't make it back to the boat on time. You can take a bus from the Visitor's Centre in Bryggen and please go if you're a music lover!

I wandered back through the wooden houses of Bryggen, visiting the shops and workshops that sell a myriad of tourist goods but also some beautiful handcrafts and clothing. All the staff have impeccable English and were really friendly. I bought a couple of affordable items for friends who may not make it this far North and headed back to the ship.

I definitely wished I had more time to spend in Bergen as it was somewhere that surprised and delighted me, with its' quirky streets and an abundance of cafés and restaurants that I'd be keen to try if feeling more flush.

We set sail in late afternoon, luckily getting some spectacular scenic cruising in before we left Norway. The sun came out a little, but my photos definitely would have benefitted from better light.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Part 11:Pub-crawling around the World - The Valley House, Achill, Ireland.

Far from just a bar, The Valley House in Achill is steeped in history, a previous Daniel Craig movie set and a top rated Lonely Planet hostel. I've mentioned it in many blog entries but never under pubcrawling. Now I'm correcting this clear oversight. It's difficult to pinpoint one particular night in this incredible venue as I've spent so many there but here are memories and reasons you should visit.
Slievemore at sunset, can be seen from the end of the lane at the Valley House

The location - Firstly, it's on Achill island, which is beautiful anytime of year but particularly in the summer months. The bar itself is hidden by trees, surrounded by a pitch and putt course and a small lake. It's less than a fifteen minute walk to the nearest immaculate and often deserted beach. It's courtyard captures stunning sun in the late afternoon and it's wonderful to while away a few hours basking in the sun there. I remember a particular bank holiday Monday in June 2007, guitars were out as was the sun, tunes aplenty and good company - it made for a perfect evening. Of the friends I spent it with, three live in different countries now, one is married with a child and one I have long since lost contact with.

The music. I can't remember many nights without music in this place, for me it's the first place I think of when I hear "session". From regulars who show up with their guitar to visiting musicians with banjo's, flutes, violins or crystal-clear voices - I have never heard such a diverse amount of talent in any other venue, and here you don't even pay for it. Even the owner, Pat and his wife, Alice, are great musicians and the "sesh" is encouraged every night. There are people who have been joining in the sessions here for over 30 years (including my own Dad) when Pat's father, Roger (RIP) ran the place. If you want a bar with music in Ireland, you can't go wrong here. My own favourite memories centre around jamming with my Dad when we've been here together, particularly August bank holiday 2012 and 2013. Hearing an ensemble version of "The Weight" with impeccable harmonies still resounds from 2008 and a version of "There is a Light that will never go out," will always remind me of nights in the Valley House.
Regulars taking part in the "sesh" one summer night

An inexpensive bed can be stumbling distance from the bar. In the cooler months of the year (of which there are many in Ireland), it is nice to stay in the warm confines of the Valley House after a few pints of Guinness (or whatever you're having). It is advisable to book ahead for holiday weekends - i.e St Patricks Day, Easter, Hallowe'en etc. The Hallowe'en party is normally great craic. Music as always and an array of creative costumes, from Slash (Guns N'Roses) to a French courtesan (portrayed by a man), Robin Hood to Sponge-Bob. It's great to be able to crawl up the stairs and not out into the freezing night, particularly in October or March - or even sometimes May!

The Guinness must be mentioned. It was the bank holiday weekend in October 2006 and a group of us were staying in the Valley House, sharing the 12-bed dorm (great fun, as you can imagine). Åine , a friend, was buying a round for everyone and was insisting that her friend's boyfriend, John, didn't need another pint of Guinness. I had been on the vodka most of the day and actually had a pain from it. John and Åine went back and forth over this and eventually she included him in the round. At this point, John looked over at me and said "You have to drink this pint, I can't." That was my first Guinness. After a sip, it eased the pain I had in my tummy and I wondered why I hadn't been drinking it all weekend! Since I have travelled to many countries, drank Guinness in a number of Irish bars and around Ireland but I haven't found anywhere with a pint like the Valley. In the final stages of the drive from Dublin, I salivate at the thought of the pint that will soon follow.


Ambience: 10/10
Cost: $$ (I haven't been in awhile but by memory a pint of Guinness is around EUR4.40, you must try one!)
Food: Now renowned around the county for it's stonebaked pizza, sometimes other food is offered. Always good quality pub grub and great after a day at the beach or a few hours whiled away in the pub. Reasonably priced.
Location: You will need a car to get here. It's located in Dugort on Achill Island and public transport isn't very accessible. There are some taxis on the island.
Toilets: Well maintained and cool on nights where the bar gets very warm.
Overall: If you don't visit here you're missing a genuine hidden gem and my favourite bar in the whole world.


Their own website has more photos, details of upcoming events and information.
/http://www.valley-house.com/

Sunday, February 14, 2016

5 places worth a visit on your travels

To me, everywhere is worth visiting once. I have found enjoyment in every place I've been and just because there are places that I won't rush back to doesn't mean that I regret visiting there in the first place. Then there are these places, which are truly special. They might be a little trickier to get to, or you may not have them on your list for a variety of reasons (distance from other places, budget, transport options etc) but I highly recommend (read: suggest you visit or you are missing out!). I either have gone back already, will go back or a little part of my soul will pine for them.

1. Achill Island, Co. Mayo, Ireland. I have raved in previous blog entries about Achill, my favourite place in the whole world. Why should you put Achill on your list? Its scenery will take your breath away, from the craggy  rock formations, many pristine beaches perfect for surfing, kite-surfing or just a swim, magnificent cliffs rising into modest mountains that are well worth a hike, delicious seafood and Irish music sessions in many pubs waiting to serve creamy pints of Guinness. I can't extol the virtues of this island enough. From the Atlantic Drive to Keem Bay, barbecues under the shadow of Slievemore at sunset, a good walk to knock out the cobwebs on Keel beach and settling in at the Valley House for a pint and great tunes - it's hard to beat and I'm sure you'll agree.
Slievemore at sunset

The writers Graham Greene and Heinrich Boll spent time living on the island and many an artist has taken up residence there.

How to get there: Train from Dublin to Castlebar, then 1 hour bumpy bus journey to Achill Sound, or hitch - plenty of friendly locals and travellers pick up on the road from Castlebar to Achill.





2. Trakai, Lithuania. Never heard of it? Probably not but it's fantastic. Only a stone's throw from the capital of Vilnius, which is also worth a visit, Trakai is definitely budget-friendly and worth a visit for it's Gothic castle (with unique architecture for Eastern Europe), the bridge, the maze (yes, a maze you can get lost or found in!), a range of outdoor activities - including sailing and rowing and the fact that it's a national park. It's been quite a few years since I visited (hint: I was a teenager at the time) but it still pops up in my dreams. Grab some local food for a picnic beside the lake. If you wish to do more than a day trip you can get apartments for less than EUR40 a night.
Image from TraveloLithuania.com


How to get there: From Vilnius, there are regular buses every 20 mins or so. There are also trains for the short journey.





3. Koh Chang, Trat Province, Thailand.
Koh Chang is definitely growing in popularity but it's still much cheaper than most of the Thai islands, such as Koh Samui or Phuket. Don't expect the karst formations that you'll find on the Andaman islands, but there are plenty of picture perfect beaches here with far less crowds than the famous spots on other islands. It's pretty hilly and is great to explore (be careful of the wildlife in the jungle) and you can also hop onto other, even less visited islands from there. If you really want the 'backpacker' feel you can stay at Lonely Beach, where the nightlife is anything but lonely. Massages start at around EUR5, accommodation can be as cheap as EUR8 per person sharing (even in a double room) and a wide range of cuisine can be found on the island. I recommend Kai Bae beach, for location and the beach.

Me, a swing, Kai Bae beach.
How to get there: We got burned on our trip because the internet doesn't always tell the truth! Well, information changes, I guess. If you are coming from Bangkok, it is recommended to get to the Ekkamai bus station EARLY (and/or book in advance) and get a bus that leaves before noon. It takes about 4 and a half hours to Trat. Some buses go directly to the pier where boats leave from, others just to Trat and you have to share songtheaws (they resemble pick-up trucks with benches in the back) to the port. The last boat to the island leaves at 7pm. The boat takes about 30 minutes to cross and then you will have to pay about 150bht to get to whichever resort you're staying in.

There are also buses from near Victory Monument in Bangkok to Trat and Koh Chang, they leave hourly but once again, be aware that due to demand there may only be 2 or 3 buses running rather than hourly.

http://iamkohchang.com is a good website if you're planning to travel there.

4. Tarife, Southern Spain. Forget Gibraltor (seriously, it's not a nice place) and go a bit further down the road to the charming town of Tarife, which is also the southernmost tip of Spain. Although it barely gets a mention in guidebooks and isn't the prettiest of port towns, it is a haven for kite surfers and also offers pristine white beaches both on the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans (the two meet here) and there are wonderful views across to Morocco. There's the Moorish Castillo de Guzman el bueno fort to visit and the Church of San Mateo plus plenty of lovely tapas places to eat for under EUR10. It is definitely worth a weekend trip if you're interested in geography or history.
Med on the left, Atlantic on the right

How to get there: The nearest airport is Gibraltor, but Malaga is only an 1 1/2 hours away so you can see more of the Costa del Sol before taking in Tarife or plan your trip from there.  The easiest thing is to hire a car (pretty inexpensive - from EUR45 per week) but you can get a bus from Malaga. There are also regular buses from Gibraltor and Algeciras.












5. Kaikoura, South island, New Zealand. Last, but by no means least. There are so many places to get to in New Zealand but I've noticed that this one is sometimes missed. I have no idea why. Kaikoura is known primarily for year round whale watching, and it's absolutely worth it. Although I missed the money shot (the tail raised out of the water) I did so because watching it took my breath away. There are also large seal colonies in the area, fantastic to watch, even from a bus and dusky dolphins out at sea. Even though I visited in peak season, the small town wasn't very busy, which is nice for a break when travelling. You can see a longer post I wrote on a local bar/eatery here.
Sunset on the beach


How to get there: There are regular buses from Picton, which take around 2 and a half hours, whilst buses from Christchurch take only slightly longer and fares are very reasonable (you can get buses from NZD$1 in Christchurch, whilst it's around NZD$15 from Picton).

Kaikoura is not a cheap destination, although if you're already in New Zealand you're probably aware. Still, if you're on a backpacking budget it's probably a good idea to set a little extra aside for the even the basics here.
The walkway at 7am, beautiful mountains in the distance.
Realistically, I could put so many places on this list but these were the ones that I see mentioned least online, that were special to me at the time and still remain in my mind. Where are your places? I'd love to hear so I can add them to my list.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Not Khao-San, other places to eat and drink in Bangkok

The first time I was in Bangkok I was incredibly overwhelmed by the size of the place - the city seems never-ending and if you get up to any heights it stretches out in every direction the eye can see; the river winding through various sky-scrapers and low-lying shacks by the river. The enormity of it is still striking to me now but I've gotten to know another side of the city by now and can thoroughly understand why it offers expats a nice life.
From the Mariott Rooftop, Bangkok goes on forever

An old friend from Dubai, Becky, now calls Bangkok home. We go through long periods of not meeting up and our last meeting outside Thailand was a funny road-trip to Ennis, accompanied by a little green teddy. Yes, Becky and I do have some weird ideas of fun but we also share a very similar sense of humour and a deep bond from sharing some tricky times in Dubai. Becky's place is a far cry from Khao San Road; it's set in a pretty district of Sukhumvit, surrounded by other residences with pools and gyms and up market restaurants nearby.

I'm not a huge fan of enormous cities, probably because the city I come from, Dublin, only has a population of about a million people, which barely competes with the major metropolises of our world.
I like my cities smaller and easy to navigate. Having said that, I'm a big fan of Bangkok's various options of transport - the BTS is cheap and reliable, motor cycle taxis are ubiquitous, taxis themselves are crazy reasonable considering it's a worldwide city with an intolerable traffic problem. You can even take canal boats (not a pastime for hungover backpackers - the stench would shake even the sturdiest constitution) where you might chance upon a dead croc floating in the infected waters, true story - a friend has seen one.

So, to share some of the places I've been and liked in Bangkok, even though I fear giving too much away, it's nice to share with other travellers and for the owners to have patronage of those seeking out a different path.

If you've visited Wat Pho, which certainly is worth it from a historical perspective (It was the first university in Thailand) and to admire the colourful stupas in the courtyard, then you'll appreciate a cool drink or some food nearby. There are a number of options by the river, you can normally get a seat at Eat Sight Story, ESS to watch riverboats go by and enjoy the view of Wat Arun. It is accessed by a soi between two temples. There is also the better known The Deck, which boasts the same views and excellent food, but you may struggle to be seated.
Wat Arun at sunset

Bangkok is developing quite the cafe culture and a great spot for brunch is Gram, on Soi 49 of Sukhumvit. There's not much seating and it's probably to be avoided in the sweatier months but I had a long, lazy lunch there in March and it was very pleasant. They offer all day breakfasts and super smoothies.

I was lucky enough to be invited to Bellino wine bar and boutique, a stunningly picturesque little part of Italy in Bangkok. Go for the chorizo, stay for the reasonably priced and good (finally, good wine in Thailand!) wine.We had a lovely night there for their birthday party.

If you are pining for a bit of trivia, then you can head to pub quiz on Thursday nights at The Pickled Liver, a proper British pub which doesn't feel like it's just off Sukhumvit in Bangkok, a very unassuming joint with good pub grub.

And finally, if you're looking for a quieter Rooftop than Lebua (the rooftop scene's from the Hangover have made it a hotspot), head over to Octave at the Mariott for 360 degree views of the city. It also has great 2 for 1 cocktails between 5pm - 7pm so you can enjoy your sundowners at a more reasonable cost than most of the city.

Sorry Becky, if I've given away some of your secret spots, but not all :)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Christmas Exile

The weather is outside is… well, considering it's December it's pretty balmy but then I'm in Dubai. This time last year I was home in Ireland (for the first Christmas in 7 years), the year before in Chiang Mai, the year before that Oman… and so on. When you choose an expat/nomadic/travelling life you may consider that Christmas may be spent somewhere else and that maybe it will be a novelty. If you're an expat maybe you've committed to the chaotic challenge of the trek home for the holidays, with thousands of other harried travellers facing queues, delays and arm-breaking bags full of duty-free alcohol.

I've grown accustomed to being away this time of year because although I enjoy travelling, I would rather not set foot in an airport between December 12th and January 5th. I have been repeatedly proven right that what can go wrong will go wrong with travel during these dates… in 2013 I couldn't get OUT of Thailand because even the slow boat down the Mekong was booked up, last year in the early days of January, I experienced 36 hour delays (and horrible attitudes) by Qatar Airways when there was some morning fog in Dubai, and a friend had someone throw up in her hair onboard a flight five years ago during the season… Merry for everyone but her!

I remember my first year in Dubai, presents had to be arranged so far in advance and a lovely cabin crew friend posted them from London for me (at the time there were no direct flights to Dublin), now we have numerous online sites to make that easy. I used to use a prepaid card to call home from a landline, which also meant they had to be home. Now, I can call my family for free, without even a telephone connection. In 2004, I had Christmas dinner in the Dubliners pub in Garhoud with my co-workers before I worked the evening shift serving everyone else theirs at the Irish Village. Things have certainly become easier but Christmas is still about family. I'm lucky that my extended family are spread across the world and grateful each year that cousins, aunts and uncles have invited me into their home to celebrate over the past few years and this year I got to celebrate with a new arrival in my cousins room after seeing my godson on Christmas eve and again on Christmas night. Family comes in many guises; it doesn't mean I miss Mom, Dad and Nickki any less.

It also means I get to learn about and sometime share in other traditions; most Europeans celebrate on Christmas eve, rather than Christmas Day, and it seems that my family have always unknowingly prescribed to this too - we've always had a family dinner and opened presents on Christmas eve, whereas most Irish people are having drinks in their local that night. I lived with a Swedish friend who explained that it was more traditional to have a selection of seafood rather than turkey, ham and stuffing. Even within my country, there were differences: whilst I lived in Kerry, I grew familiar with the tradition of Wren Boys, which I hadn't known growing up in Dublin. Whereas I always seemed to be in some form of transport on St. Stephen's Day (known as Boxing Day to the UK or 26th December) so I could head out to party that night, this year it was all about playing games in my PJ's. In 2013 on the 26th, I was visiting a renowned mountain temple in Thailand. I love the variety that my life and exposure to other cultures brings.

I have no idea where Christmas in 2016 will be spent, hopefully somewhere new and interesting and the idea of still being away is fine with me. I am perfectly content with my nomadic/expat life and as long as it keeps bringing surprises and adventures and often detours from the norm, then I will embrace every second. I hope you all had a wonderful festive season and all the best for 2016.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Part 10: Pub-crawling around the World: Himmel, Lonely Beach, Koh Chang


It was the height of Thai New Year, known as Songkran, we had been sprayed with water all day and we figured we were going to be wet all evening so we donned clean bikinis and headed out to see what Lonely Beach had to offer.

Ting Tong appeared to be the most popular bar on Lonely Beach and we'd stopped in the night before (which ended with me completely sozzled after only one bucket of vodka - what do they put in those buckets?) but we noticed there was a foam party advertised a little way up the street in Himmel Bar.

Himmel Bar is pretty large and at first glance appears a little classier than Ting Tong Bar, because most of it is covered by a roof. There are plenty of seating areas, both outdoor and indoor and an large dance floor, which was already playing host to a small number of patrons when we arrived. It was all feel-good music - a bit of dance, some 90's and 00's hits thrown in for good measure. I seem to remember "I've got 5 on it" and also some Kylie! The bar staff were all friendly and buckets were on special for 150baht, as seems the norm on Lonely Beach. Himmel Bar also offers a variety of shots and cocktails.

My friend Jess and I had picked up some new friends, lone travellers Joe and Anna (I remember travelling alone and people NOT talking to me), in Ting Tong bar and we made some more friends in Himmel Bar before the foam got too thick. We ran into some Spanish guys we had met on the ferry over to the island and there was even an old, bearded dude in a cowboy hat - everything one needs for a crazy night in Thailand. So, with buckets in tow we began venturing to dance in the foam….
Jess got involved!

The night progressed with more and more foam, everyone spinning a little faster, a little wilder…
Jess getting cheeky with everyone that would talk to us and pretty much warning me off any man that approached, although she allowed me brief periods to dance with our new German friend, Joe, when we weren't having friendly foam fights with anyone and everyone in the crowd. Glow sticks and glory straws were being handed out at the bar - somethings are required for a cheesy night out. We also attracted the attention of a Thai lady friend, who was keen on our drinks. At least she was openly keen: Another guy just picked up my bucket and walked off with it. I caught him trying to steal someone else's' later on. Well, there are always people who spoil it for others, it can't be blamed on the bar.

Happy out of the foam
The party continued late into the night, with the foam being topped up on a regular basis. The bar staff were superb when a glass was broken in the foam, going straight in to remove the glass and tend to the one or two people who had sadly cut themselves (thankfully not badly at all). The music was still banging as we strolled off to our guesthouse around the corner around 3.15am.

All in all, it was a really fun night. Himmel bar advertises winter parties and runs special events quite regularly so be sure to catch one of their parties if you're in the area.


Ambience: 10/10 - If you're looking for a party in Koh Chang, you really can't go wrong.
Price: 150bht buckets, shots 100bht. Other drinks range from 100bht upwards.
Food: They offered barbecued food earlier in the evening, so they do food. I can't vouch for it personally.
Location: Soi 2 Lonely Beach, just off the main street in Lonely Beach - very easy to find.
Toilets: There were toilets and they were attended by staff, trying to keep it foam free. Fairly clean.
Overall: A good choice for a party on Lonely Beach, particularly on special nights.
Dancing the night away

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Being away and coming back.

I've been intending to write, of course I have, we all have the best intentions…
I didn't… life got in the way…

Having started this blog in July 2012, I couldn't even imagine where life was going to take me in three short years. I've always been a dreamer and I've been pretty good about "doing" but sometimes those dreams seem so elusive. Now, I know they're not. Now I know that you really can do anything - but you can't do everything, unfortunately.

In 2012, I had a great job working in Dubai, I was pretty settled in my lovely Sheikh Zayed Road apartment and I got to travel around 3-4 times a year, sometimes more as it was easy to hop to Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. I had a good life and I was grateful for it but I absolutely yearned for more. Luckily, I was surrounded both personally and professionally by people who encouraged me to take chances, who helped me believe that I could do other things, primarily write and travel. So, I did.

In 2013, I left my comfortable life, ghost-wrote a book, penned 4 plays commissioned for the stage, volunteered for charity in Sri Lanka and visited many more other countries that aroused feelings in me I wasn't aware were possible. I didn't know it was possible to fall in love so often (with different places), to spend 12 days not actually speaking to anyone in English (with very few words of their languages to help me!), to eat bugs without gagging and to live without fear. Everything challenged me and it became very addictive. The first day of 2014 began in Chiang Mai, Thailand and ended in Luang Prabang, Laos; a month later I was in Australia. Travelling is a bubble - I was the happiest I had ever been with my everyday life, but everything else went on without me. Given time back in Ireland mid-year, I had time to review what I wanted next and I realised that I wanted some stability. I loved the buzz of moving from place to place but my means weren't endless. I also like building friendships and although travel leads you to people everyday - there's a slim possibility that you'll meet any of them ever again. I thought Chiang Mai would be a wonderful base to live, I had immediately identified with the place when my bus arrived there and yet thought modern life would be accessible enough there.

July 2013 took me back to Chiang Mai where I quickly found a great apartment, a part time job teaching English at Chiang Mai University and a whole host of fantastic new friends with their own experiences to share. It is a brilliant place to live, with enough comforts of the international world mixed with truly Thai experiences. I learnt more Thai in one year, than Arabic from years in the Middle East. My little soi (lane) felt like a community, the Thai people waved, wai'd or gave me a "hi" everyday, and I had wonderful street food to choose from on either side of my small apartment block. I lived in the Old City with a view of the mountains, I travelled to the university 4 days a week in a songtheaw (red truck). I wrote and edited the rest of my time outside teaching and most of the time it was utter bliss.

With real life responsibilities (my sister's wedding, bills etc) interrupting from time to time, I realised that staying in Chiang Mai longterm would also have it's price. I had met people who couldn't leave, whether they wanted to or not. They didn't have the option to travel home to Europe or the U.S, because regardless of saving in Thailand - that money doesn't go very far in our Western home countries. Having lived in the Middle East I was used to having that disposable income, but I knew it meant sacrificing time off, an easier lifestyle and certainly the wonderful Thai culture that I had grown used to. In a way I think something else intervened (or maybe I sent it out to come back?) and I was offered three different roles back in Dubai; I even had an opportunity to choose. Once again, life showed me that I'm a lucky girl (I work hard for it!) with the options I had.

So, I am back in Dubai. It was hard to leave Chiang Mai, but easy to come back here, if that makes any sense. I'm trying to be an adult, trying to do the right thing but also giving myself new opportunities and demanding more of myself. I learnt a lot in the past few years and I'm happier with what I've achieved. I know more about what's important to me (primarily family, friends and then travel) and what I'm willing to sacrifice to get it and I hope that road leads me back to Thailand and that I'll have figured out a way to make it all viable.

With all the notes I have on various places, I still intend to log the memories but I thought I'd explain a little about how much my life has changed and my thoughts on that, particularly as this has been a record for me to review from time to time. We're all on different journeys: the places are just different - sometimes they are physical and sometimes they are mental.

I hope my fellow travellers that I met along the way get to read this and hopefully empathise with some of the feelings I've had during these past few years.