The Giant Buddha, Leshan, China

It’s time to start writing about China. In 2016 I lived in China for almost 6 months, February to July. It was my first experience living in another country, actually… it was my first real experience living independently away from mum and dad. And what an experience it was! All the cliches are about to come out here: China is really like nowhere else I’ve visited – I had photos taken of me because I’m blonde and pale. I’ve never felt like a celebrity before! It was surreal. I urge you to visit the People’s Republic of China, the culture shock might be very real but it’s worth it. The photos do wonders for your ego! In regards to China, so far I’ve only written a post about the Great Wall. How typical. I’m not disparaging it(did I use that word correctly?) but everyone who visits China will visit it – for good reason, it’s amazing, iconic, ancient and so on.  But now I want to talk about something a little less famous, in this post I am going to talk about…
the Giant Buddha of Leshan.

Leshan is a city near to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. We lived in a suburb of Chengdu, probably the biggest city nobody seems to have heard of. 14 million people call Chengdu home! I am looking forward to blogging about my old home, it was my favourite Chinese city. Of course, I’m very impartial! We managed to do a few ‘local’ trips whilst there. (Local includes 10 hour coach journeys, btw). In May we took the high speed train for a little day trip to a local attraction, the bloody big Buddha! He’s been impressing people for over a millennium. Apparently he took 90 years to complete, work finally finished in 803. He’s aged well! I think the detail is pretty incredible when the age is taken into consideration. 1000 years of wear and tear on top of the lack of modern technology. Round of applause for the workers!

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To be honest, if I was visiting Chengdu/Sichuan for only a few days as part of a trip to China, I wouldn’t recommend visiting the Buddha. I am glad I did it but we had the luxury of living there. No doubt about it, he’s impressive and the local grounds and very peaceful. However, there are better things to see and do in this part of China. Unless he holds some sacred significance to you, I wouldn’t call it a must-do. It’s a 7/10 kinda thing. You’ll be able to say you’ve seen the biggest Buddha statute in the world… but I doubt that’s on your bucket list. I’ll end by saying that I strongly urge anyone planning a trip to China to visit Sichuan though, I’ll write more about ‘my’ province soon.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I’m finally writing about Kuala Lumpur which means I’m finally finishing the southeast Asia trip from 2015… better late than never! So let’s wrap up Malaysia and Asia in style with KL. Well… maybe ‘ in style’ isn’t the right phrase to use. If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t say we finished the trip with one of the best places. When I think of the countries we visited during the 9 weeks, Malaysia usually comes to mind last. Maybe it’s because it was the one we added in a rush and hadn’t planned as much for. The likes of Vietnam and Thailand were always must-dos for us but Malaysia kinda tagged along. It was a good addition, I liked Malaysia but I doubt I’ll return. Of the three places we visited there KL was probably my least favourite. Langkawi was a little bit like paradise, George Town felt different in its own cool way. KL was just a big city to me. That’s not to be critical, big cities are great and I’m sure it’s fun to live there but I didn’t come away in awe. Sorry to any KL fans/residents.

I’ve had to look through my photos to remember what happened, of course most of them are of the very impressive Petronas Towers. The Petronas Towers held the record for the tallest building in the world until 2004 and, as you might expect, they’re absolutely massive. They’re not as iconic as NYC’s skyscrapers but I liked them, I’m a fan of symmetry.

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A theme of Singapore/Malaysia was multiculturalism, this was apparent again in KL. The city had all the usual influences: British/colonial, Chinese and Indian. Diversity is fantastic, it enhances any city. You couldn’t imagine any major city without it. Below you can see a mosque, a Taoist temple and a church. I’m an atheist but religions are often heavily linked to a place’s culture, even for a non-believer it’s interesting to visit places of worship. The old man in the Taoist temple kindly told us our fortunes for the coming year, that’s where I found out 2016 was going to be the year of the monkey. My year!

I was fairly critical of KL at the start of the post, some might even say I was a bit harsh. The place itself didn’t blow me away. True. But I did tick two things off of my bucket list: I swam in an infinity pool and I saw monkeys, wild monkeys! That’s not bad going, thanks KL. The Air B&B we found had a shared communal rooftop pool with pretty decent views…

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And I’ve saved the best ’til last… these little rascals below. I’d been on the hunt for monkeys for the whole 9 weeks with little success and then when hope was almost lost… Batu Caves came to my rescue. The caves have been made into temples, they were still constructing one when I visited – I carried a tile up the stairs! I was rewarded for my good deed, as once I was up there I was completely spoilt. There were monkeys all over the place. I was able to get so close to them, they definitely weren’t afraid of people – some people were afraid of them though. They could be a quite aggressive, especially if food was around. I kept away from food and snapped away, I could’ve watched them for ages. The trip to KL was worth it for this alone. The next step – letting a monkey climb on me. I’d better book another trip to Asia!

 

Penang, Malaysia

I wanna start writing about China but I’ve still not even reached the end of the 2015 Asia trip. My laziness strikes again, let’s resume with the penultimate stop – Penang. After lounging about by the pool in Langkawi for a few days it was time to jump back into ‘proper travelling’. We took the ferry back down to Penang to explore the state’s capital, George Town. The fact a place in southeast Asia is named ‘George Town’ is quite a big clue that it might’ve had a history of colonisation! George doesn’t sound like a very Asian name to me! Here’s some European-looking architecture, we’ve seen quite a bit in southeast Asia by this point. It’s not all that special, I know.

The next thing you’re about to see is far more interesting, don’t worry. Southeast Asia isn’t just temples or relics from when those horrible westerners ruled, oh no! George Town is famous for its street art, you won’t have to walk very far to find some but you might need to have your eyes peeled! The artwork can cleverly blend into its surroundings, one of my faovurite pieces is the two kids on the swings, see below!

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George Town is a cool place, it’s colourful and multicultural with all kinds of cuisines available to try. I remember having a pretty good curry, a pretty random rice dish and some pretty delicious tofu satay skewers during the time we stayed there. Day to day being vegetarian is no problem for me whatsoever, it’s not even something I think about anymore. However! When I travel and a country has a particular dish that I (probably) won’t be able to try, I do feel… I don’t know the word, not regretful, maybe annoyed(?). I really wanted to have satay skewers whilst in Malaysia, you can imagine that I was very happy when we managed to find a place doing a tofu alternative. God bless you tofu, you weird flavourless sponge. Here’s a picture of me eating said skewers complete with cute girl being nosy.

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George Town was probably my favourite place in Malaysia, admittedly we only visited 3: Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur being the others. It’s got a good feel to it, I like a place that’s had a range of influences. One negative to finish on though! I remember the heat being particularly oppressive here, for southeast Asia that’s saying something! Take some strong deodorant.

Part 1: Barcelona, Spain

At the moment I’m living in Catalonia, about 90 minutes south of Barcelona on the train. My town is pretty… sleepy, it’s very nice and I’m sure it’s about to get busier now the weather’s improving but it’s not an international city with lots of history. Trips to Barcelona are needed. When I found this job I decided that I wanted to get to know Barcelona and I think, so far, I’ve learnt a lot about the Catalan capital. It’s a place I’d visited a few times when on family holidays but it was always far too hot in July/August, the weather wasn’t conducive to sightseeing. Amazingly the Barcelona metro remains too hot even in February.

The first trip to Barcelona, since I became a local, was in September. I had only just arrived and a friend came out to visit, we looked online to see if tickets were available for a Barcelona game. They were! For about 60 euros each. Ouch. Pretty extortionate but seeing Messi play live was/is on the bucket list so it could be justified. Off we went to the Nou Camp to watch arguably the biggest team in the world, it was all set. I logged onto the stadium’s wifi to check the team and…. tragedy strikes: Messi, Suarez and Iniesta are all on the substitute’s bench. Long story short, Barca lose to a team I’d never heard and Messi, Suarez and Iniesta all play for about 30 minutes, they do absolutely nothing. I still feel cheated and will be returning to properly watch Messi play.

During this first trip we also took in some culture, it wasn’t purely to watch the football! We visited Parc Guell to see some of Gaudi’s work, I wanted to see the funky lizard I’d seen on postcards and souvenirs but sadly it was hiding. Stay tuned for part 2!

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At anytime of year you’ll spot Catalan flags flying from windows across the state/province/country(I’ll cover all bases). There are different variations but the one pictured below is based on the Cuban flag, everything is clear if you choose to fly this one: you want independence. The topic is huge here, some people are so sure they’re going to become independent. It’s something I still don’t fully understand, I’ll sit on the fence and be an ignorant foreigner. In September it’s Catalan Day so there were even more flags out than usual. Normally I’m not a fan of flag-flying, I wouldn’t want to see the English or British flag hanging out of windows back home. However,  I like this picture taken on the most famous street in Barcelona, Las Ramblas.

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Langkawi, Malaysia

Confession: I feel like a fraud writing this post. I don’t really like beaches and almost look down on people who just go off for 2 weeks to the seaside without taking in any culture or trying new experiences. Each to their own but I think there’s a lot more to travel. However, after probably 7 weeks of absolutely ‘authentic backpacking’ we decided to book in at a posh resort on a Malaysian island. Well, nobody’s perfect! The resort was amazing, out of our budget to be honest but my girlfriend really wanted to have a few days of luxury. We took an overnight bus from Singapore to Penang and then waited a few hours before our ferry over to Langkawi – by the end of this journey she wasn’t the only one wanting luxury! There’s not loads I can write about Langkawi, it was a great place to relax for a few days. One of the main attractions is huge bridge suspended in the hills, it takes some courage to walk on – a part of the floor is clear glass! It’s worth doing, the views are fantastic.

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One of the things I most wanted to see in Asia was a real life monkey. Yeah, temples are cool, snorkeling – amazing… but monkeys top everything. Langkawi delivered! A group of the little rascals started rummaging around on the beach before searching the bin to see if the humans had left any treats. Watching a monkey open a bin bag was thoroughly entertaining, I highly recommend it! I can’t remember if they found anything of use, I’m sat here annoyed with myself for not knowing the ending. They were not bothered in the slightest about their audience.

Overall, Langkawi served its purpose and I enjoyed our time there, it’s beautiful. It’s definitely not a must-visit destination in Southeast Asia but they do have monkeys.

Singapore

I should be lesson planning but that isn’t very appealing right now, let’s blog instead. The next stop on the tour was Singapore, by this point it really did feel like the end was coming and Singapore gave us a fresh reminder of what home was like. Cambodia, Thailand etc. were like nowhere else we’d ever seen before, it was eye-opening. Singapore was the outcast, it felt like going back to the western world briefly. I was walking around the streets around Arab Street and said ‘this could be Brighton’. Countries in Southeast Asia are cheap for us westerners, they sadly suffer from poverty and instability. Singapore couldn’t be more different, expensive and prosperous.

On the first evening we visited the harbour, it’s located next to the central business district. Many international banks are based there and the skyline rivals those of other international trading cities. I can’t stress how different it felt to other places in this part of the world. Every evening a light show is performed from the recognisable Marina Bay Sands hotel. Pretty impressive. The best thing about Singapore was the diversity, I think 4 languages are considered official here: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. It meant we could have a Chinese for lunch one day and a fantastic Indian curry just before we left. Coming from multicultural Britain we take such things for granted but a lot of places don’t offer this variety. Without sounded cliche it seems the different demographics get along pretty well, I hope that’s the case anyway. We were staying in a hostel near Arab Street and decided to visit the big Mosque nearby. I’m pretty sure this was the first time in my life I’d been inside a Mosque, I also had to wear a skirt as my legs were out – what a whore!

A theme of the trip was colonial architecture, the French were the big imperial power/oppressors in Southeast Asia but in Singapore it was clear the Brits had been here.
References to the colonial past were easy to find, the Victoria Theatre (yes even with RE!) being a great example…
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Overall, I liked Singapore and thought we saw all we’d want to in the few days we spent there. I wouldn’t call it a must-do if you’re planning a trip to SE Asia but it is extremely well-connected place, maybe starting or ending a trip here would make sense.

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The Mekong Delta, Vietnam

This will be a short post, as I only usually write about 500 words at the best of times it might as well just be a photo post. We finished our time in Vietnam where we had started, in Ho Chi Minh city. We’d seen quite a bit of the city during our first time there so we decided to book ourselves on a tour to the Mekong Delta in the far south of the country. It was just a day trip and of course set up for tourists like us but it was cool to see life in another part of Vietnam. The Mekong is so important for the countries in southeast Asia, loads of people depend on it.

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We were well aware by this point that a tour means stopping at places where you’ll be encouraged to part with your cash. And voila! Local treats were of course on sale including some kind of alcohol with a dead snake and scorpion inside the bottle. Grim. Women were making a kind of toffee sweet that we actually ended up buying, it’s hard to resist their trap at times. We wanted to take it back home for everyone to try and it pulled my mum’s filling out. Oops.

The main reason I’d wanted to go on this tour is because I’d seen boats on the water under overgrown plants/trees. It was getting towards the time to head back to HCMC and we still hadn’t got in a little boat, I was beginning to want a refund but patience is a virtue! We were taken to a river and all climbed in the boats waiting for us, complete with rowers(?) wearing their cone hats. Just what I wanted! We peacefully went along under the coverage of the foliage.

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Here is a photo of our happy rower.

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That was our last experience in Vietnam, I loved the country. It’s the one (along with Thailand) I definitely want to return to. I found the recent history fascinating, the people kind and the scenery beautiful. I highly recommend Vietnam.