Cycles of Life – Penang P2

After my ill fated but still highly recommended food tour, I fell into a total food coma, hoping to wake up hungry before my long awaited cycling tour the next day.

While I did wake up with plenty of time for a street food breakfast, my stomach was having none of it. I wasn’t hungry at all and the smells I experienced as I wandered around, trying fruitlessly to work up some sort of grumbling in my stomach just made me feel slightly nauseous. Super annoying on any day, but on the day of a cycling trip? Downright disruptive! Anyway, I wandered, empty handed and empty stomached back to my Airbnb to await my pick up by Matahari Cycles. They were on time, the van was super comfortable and I actually really enjoyed being one of the first pick ups as it meant I got to see some of the other areas of Penang- and see how the other half travel!! The hotel that we stopped at first was like something out of Getaway or Luxury Escapes and while I do love my flashpacker lifestyle, there were certainly some hints of envy tugging at my heart.

It also gave me a hint to the route I could take to my mum’s old house and I got extremely excited as we passed by the old swimming pools she used to train at. It seemed relatively easy to find and navigate to, so I knew I would find it the next day.

Eventually, we had picked everyone up and were soon winding our away around the hills of Penang, avoiding the cyclists for whom this must have been a regular pilgrimage. I became very glad that we were being driven for this section as it went on for quite a while. We soon arrived at a tiny village, in the middle of nowhere really, on the other side of Penang Island. We seemed to be in a different world entirely than that of Georgetown and its heritage listed street art. This was proper, rural living- a world away from the city life I was so used to. I love nature and so was thrilled by the opportunity to escape.

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It wasn’t a total escape, however… there was still a 7/11 and so, even though I wasn’t hungry I knew I needed to eat something or my body just wouldn’t do well on the ride. Dried chickpeas were my friend for the morning. We met up with our awesome guides and after receiving the run down on the bikes (amazing, Giant brand, mountain bikes with everything a girl could want except a padded seat) which had been set for our heights which we had sent through earlier. It was so smooth, organised and it filled me with confidence for the rest of the day.

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The ride itself was incredible, we rode through the back streets of villages, past schools (closed for the holiday), farms and canals; through palm plantations, mangroves and over rice paddies. The riding was mostly flat and therefore really easy, although riding through the rice fields was mildly terrifying and a few people did fall- they weren’t hurt and Matahari dealt with it fine- but still, if you’re not confident on a bike- take the longer way around (which they did tell us to do!).

The highlights of the day were the stops we made- first, an unplanned one at a local Mosque where they were marking a Holy Day which marks the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son and the mercy of God in providing a lamb instead. Vegans or vegos may want to stop reading now as the way they marked this particular day was by slaughtering livestock and dividing the meat into three portions- one as a sacrifice to Allah, one to give to the poor and one to feed themselves. We were lucky enough to see the portioning process and be invited to learn more about it, take photos etc. It was incredible to see and I felt really lucky to experience it.

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The next was a planned stop at a local goat farm where we got to try goat’s milk ice cream (which my stomach actually totally appreciated by this stage), pat adorable goats and also learn about some of the local farming methods and plants they cultivated in the area, such as rubber.

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Our next stop was tea and kaya toast (and curry puffs) at a local fishing village. Again, my stomach appreciated these tasty treats (though I don’t think I’ll be indulging in kaya much in the future- it was very sweet and I was grateful for the blandness of the toast itself to balance it out). We also saw how the fishermen sorted their “subcatch” from the nets. While a catch might be mainly large fish, the nets also pick up much smaller fish- destined for pet food or those fish ball things depending on quality-, prawns and other crustaceans and, I was pleased to see not too much, litter. So, these men and women would squat down and pick out the debris and subcatch from their nets, separating and sorting it as they went. It was a long process and by the time we were there at around 11, they were almost finished, starting the job in the wee hours of the morning.

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We cycled for another hour and a half or so before we came to our lunch spot- overlooking rice fields which stretched out to the horizon was a little bamboo hut- loaded with, glasses of nutmeg juice, bowls of laksa and plates of fresh fruit. It was a welcome sight and a beautiful one, at that. I could only eat a few mouthfuls of laksa- I think partly due to the fishy-ness of the dish of which I’m not a fan, and also because of my stomach issues that day. I think I was still full from my toast- ridiculously. The fruit and nutmeg juice was very welcome, however, and I felt ready to take on the final stage.

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Now, I had booked “The Twist”- an optional ending to the tour which was billed as a challenging climb. I’m fine with climbs as long as I have gears but I realised on the tour that this wasn’t a road climb, it was a mountain bike climb on very rough tracks which often got quite skinny and were always extremely bumpy. I’m certainly no wimp, but I’ve never mountain biked before and I was also very aware of the fact that what climbs up must also climb down. One of the guys in our group had done this ride in reverse and said the climb required you to carry your bike part of the way and there were sections that he had to focus entirely on controlling his bike so he didn’t fall.

And he was experienced.

Scared for my limbs, I spoke to our guide and he suggested that we turn it into a hike for me and the other girl who was now having second thoughts. Our reverse ride friend was fine to ride himself and we would meet him on the other side. I was overjoyed and excited. I love, love, love hiking and was totally pumped to be able to incorporate my two great loves on one trip.

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I’ve never been so thankful in all my life- the climb was steep, yes, but more than that, it was treacherous. AND the views were magnificent- something I wouldn’t have seen if I had been on my bike as I would have been staring at the track in front of me the entire time.

This section of the tour was cool too- we stopped in front of cacao tree (as in CHOCOLATE) and there was a ripe pod which our guide picked and beat open for us to taste. Cacao fruit is DELICIOUS- similar to mangosteen in texture and taste- and not at all like I was envisaging.

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The climb ended and we started heading down and it’s then that I really became grateful- this wouldn’t have been any fun for nervous little me. Plus, the other girl and I were chatting away about all sorts of things which again, would NOT have happened had we been on bikes. I feel like my vocab would have been limited to grunting, swallowed screams and muttered unmentionables as I toppled over on what I’m sure would have been regular occasions.

When we reached the bottom, we were both so glad that we hadn’t skipped “The Twist” entirely- the views of the beaches were stunning during the hike, but the beach itself was so chilled out. There was a hammock, a restaurant with drinks waiting for us and a plate of noodles too. I had a few mouthfuls but again, my stomach betrayed me and resisted the deliciousness despite the amount of energy I had exerted that day.

After relaxing at the beach for a while, Matahari drove us home again, dropping me at my door where I looked forward to scrubbing myself clean in my lovely shower before exploring Georgetown and its festival! The day was already so great that I was a little skeptical that it could get much better.

I can’t emphasise enough how excellently run and organised Matahari was and I HIGHLY recommend them to anyone who likes cycling. It’s such a great way to see Penang and you really do get off the tourist track. I can’t encourage you enough to give them go if you’re heading to Malaysia- it was an incredible day.

 

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Chiang Dao, or “The Day I Spent Emulating The Proclaimers”

I am on a budget- though, if you looked at the amount of money I spend on fruit, you probably wouldn’t get that impression- but I still want to do and see all the amazing things Chiang Mai and its surrounds has to offer, so when I had an extra day in my weekend due to the start of Buddhist Lent, I knew I wanted to make the most of it. After looking at some excellent blogs (like this one and this one) I knew I had found my cheap day out- and cheap it was! Not including food I spent under 500b. With food, it climbed to around 800b. A super budget day out. Now, as the title suggests, I spent A LOT of my day walking, which is partly why it was so cheap, but I actually loved this aspect of my day and while it was tiring and certainly a long day, I got to see parts of Chiang Dao that you never could on a bike- motor or otherwise.

I started my day early and caught the 40b 6am bus from Chang Phuak Station to Chiang Dao. The bus is really comfortable, not air con but with lots of fans on the ceiling which circulate the air so that it’s not stuffy in the slightest. That said, it was 6am and the bus was relatively empty- I had a seat to myself and many passengers were curled up across the 3 (lol) seater benches having a nap. I preferred to stare out the window and take in the changing landscape from city to highway to mountain jungle. It’s a beautiful road and if you can get a window seat, do.

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Once I got to Chiang Dao, I went and found a cute little spot for a traditional Thai brekky. I even got to practice some of my Thai, although I was also immensely grateful when the woman responded to my inquiries in perfect English. She said I was doing well though and everyone smiled when I commented that my food was “aroy makht” (very delicious!).

Full from my delicious larb and mango salad- not som tam but something slightly different- I decided to start my journey to the caves. My new favourite app ever, maps.me took me on a route which can only be described as “off the tourist track”. I was walking along roads which were passing behind local house, local farms, people just living their every day life. It was a fascinating walk and honestly, it was so interesting to see how these wonderful people lived and the lands they survived off. There were fully laden mango and jackfruit trees, bananas and longans drooping over me and SO much corn, EVERYWHERE.

The walk took roughly an hour, I would say and before long I found myself at the caves. I actually tried to do a “nature trail” but it was so unmarked that I couldn’t even tell where to go, 5 minutes in and my shins were already plastered in clay from climbing up muddy ascents. I quietly admitted defeat, turned around and to save some face, asked the bemused looking Thai man at the entrance of the caves, where the bathroom was. I quickly realised this probably meant it looked like I had just climbed through the jungle in search of a toilet, but I said it perfectly (for a farang) and he responded in kind.

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Anyway, after I recovered my pride, I ascended into the temple, paid my 40 baht entrance and was struck, as always, by the intricacy and beauty of the carvings, statues and icons which are features of every Buddhist Wat I’ve seen so far. Upon entry into the cave, I paid another 100b for a guide and then 100b as a compulsory tip? which I didn’t mind giving because those lamps are HEAVY and extremely HOT. It’s like, less than $3, who am I to begrudge a volunteer- my lovely lady was also disabled from birth- less than what I would unthinkingly spend on a chai back home? It’s easy to get pissy about being “ripped off” or “paying too much” because you’re a foreigner but honestly, it’s important to keep things in perspective.

The caves themselves were beautiful and eery. I loved being shown all the different cave formations, the guide explaining what they sort of looked like as we went through. There were bats on the cave roof but they didn’t bother me at all and it didn’t smell too bad.

The highlight was actually the unguided section where I was able to sit and reflect on my time in Thailand so far in absolute silence. It was so quiet that my ears were ringing, I could hear every move I made and it was just so… focused.

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After the caves, I made my way (on foot) along the road to the beautiful Wat Tham Pha Plong, taking in the stunning rainforest which surrounded me. The temple itself is set into the limestone caves with a few lookout points and peaks being built into the mountain. Once you get to the temple, it’s an easy climb of about 510 steps (and halfway there’s a rest stop if you need with an encouraging message of “you’ve climbed the hardest  2__ steps, only 3__ [easier!] steps to go!” Super cute!) which is lined in trees and proverbs from the Dharmma. Once again, it strikes me how similar some of these proverbs are to those in the Bible but how they’re all missing that overarching idea of grace- in Buddhism, one is always striving to be better and reach that ultimate place of “oneness”, whereas in my faith, we strive to be better because we’ve already been accepted- it’s a sense of gratefulness and desire to live the way God wants us to which drives our bettering… One thing I’ve always been grateful for, in regards to travel, is how much we can learn about our own selves and our own beliefs when they are placed next to those we do not subscribe to or which are foreign to us.

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Regardless, the temple itself was a stunning piece of architecture and offered beautiful views across the Chiang Dao Valley that I count myself blessed to see. The day was cloudy and drizzling all day but it didn’t dampen the views, my spirits or the beauty of the countryside. If anything, it just made everything seem even more lush!

After this, I’d definitely worked up an appetite and after walking past the beautiful Nest 2 on the way up and reading about how good the food was from every travel blog about Chiang Dao ever, I knew I had to stop there. The blogs did not lie. The service was impeccable; the setting, gorgeous; the food, delicious. I got a coconut (gotta get them electrolytes in) and a stirfried tofu dish which was so flavoursome! It was packed with galangal, lemongrass, mushrooms, greens, kaffir lime leaves, holy basil, and of course, a lot of chilli. It was absolutely divine and made according to my request of “farang spicy”. The hardest thing was choosing what to have! Yes, it’s more expensive than most of the places I eat in CM, but the serving size and the quality of ingredients certainly made up for it.

Feeling full as a coconut (not the one I had just quenched my thirst with), I made my way back into town, the same way I came- or so I thought. My app, which I still love, took me on a slightly different route which led me… DSC02358.JPG

literally into the middle of corn fields. I felt like I was in Fellowship of the Ring as I trekked my way through these fields, not knowing if I was even allowed to be in them. I was also getting worried at this point because all the photos I was taking and the use of my navigation system had worn my phone down to 1%. And I was in the middle of a field. It was a little terrifying. So, I took a lot of glances at my screen, trying to figure out how long it would take to get to where I needed to turn right and left in order to get to the bus station (which, btw, the bus didn’t drop me at in the morning, he just let me off in the centre of town). Halfway, roughly, to the station, the inevitable occurred and my phone died. I was here

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It was a little terrifying but I figured, as long as I followed the path- I’d be ok. And eventually, probably a lot longer than maps.me originally estimated, I got to the “suburbs” of Chiang Dao. Tired, nervous and seriously wanting to get to the bus station I happened upon a man sitting in his open front house, selling knick knacks and drinks. “Bus station?” I queried- not even bothering to try in Thai. “Yes, behind, behind.”

It was literally right behind me. The was just one barbed wire fence between me and the station. It was like the time Mum asked the policemen where Flinders St Station was while standing on the corner of Elizabeth and Collins (disclaimer: this was in our first year of being in Melbourne. Not recently.).

The man looked very amused as I celebrated, “Thank God! How do I…?”

“Tiny gate- just there”

It was not a gate. It was a gap between the barbed wire fence and the wall next door. But it looked like a well worn gap and no one official looking was around so I thanked him- in Thai- and squeezed my way through the gap.

And then the bus arrived. Literally 3 seconds after I did. I have no idea how many busses run from CD to CM in the afternoon but I was so grateful that I was on this one that I almost cried. I paid my 40 baht and hopped on a vastly different bus to the first one I experienced. This one, I was sharing a seat which would have sat 2 people comfortably, with 2 other people. Luckily, these Thai people were stereotypically tiny so we all fit… albeit very tightly.

I suddenly became extremely aware of how muddy I was and how ridiculous I must have looked but to be honest, I was too tired to even care.

That night, I was in bed by 8pm and 100% asleep by 9:30 at the absolute latest.

It was a stunning day and I loved every second of my adventures… especially how cheap it was! It just confirmed to me that you don’t need to spend big bucks to have a good time in Thailand. You just need to be willing to stretch those legs and see the world at a slower pace.

Have a blessed day!

Missing you all lots!

Amy x

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We’ll all float on okay… Day 2 of BKK

 

After waking from my food coma, I found myself excitedly waiting for the floating market tour. Initially, I intended to walk down the road a bit, grab a bag of freshly sliced fruit before heading back to the bus but due, I assume to the tourist led nature of Khao San Rd area, there was a distinct lack of vendors out and about and I was starting to fret that I wouldn’t be back for my hotel pick up at 7:30am.

I needn’t have worried because today was my first experience of Thai Time! I don’t think the tour left until around 8ish which resulted in me becoming increasingly stressed as I loitered in front of my hotel, eyeballing any tour guide which came close to looking like they were leading a floating market tour.

Eventually, my van arrived and accompanied by a lovely mother and daughter from the US (interestingly, most of my tour companions have been US or UK based… the glut of tourists in CM seem to be Chinese, Korean, US, UK… not nearly as many Australians as I was expecting- probably because they go south to the Islands) I hopped in for another whirlwind morning.

We headed out of the crazily busy city along the highway until we reached a train track! I was a little confused at first but the tour guide explained that we were first going to a market which was set up along a train track… a working one! At 9am the train would come chugging along through the market and all the vendors would lift their awnings, shift their goods and pull stupid farangs and their selfie sticks out of the path of the train. It was very bizarre and I felt almost like I was in some sort of surrealist, Inception style landscape where things weren’t as they should be but everyone just accepted them as normal.

The market sold lots of fresh, cooked and dried food (including fresh coconuts which I gratefully consumed) as well as touristy souvenirs and clothes. While it was centred on the train line, it definitely spread further but we didn’t have time to explore a lot. We had a schedule and it must be kept. Well, as much possible. We had a couple on our tour that kept turning up late. It was infuriating and I felt slightly comforted by the fact my teacherish frustration was shared by the Thai tour guide who actually admonished them at one point because the man decided it was a great idea to go to the toilet when we were next in line for the long boat tour… after already arriving 10 minutes late to our meeting point.

Anyway, after the train market, we hopped back on the van to travel to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, the best known market and the most touristy, but a really great opportunity to see what the traditional markets were like. We hopped on a slow boat tour which led us around the canals to see all the spice shops, the carvings, the fans, the carvings, and the sarongs. I felt kind of bad because I decided not to buy anything/ couldn’t fit anything into my already overstuffed bag so every stall we went to, I just had to keep saying “no, thank you” over and over again, but I’m sure they’re used to it by now.

After the boat tour, we alighted to explore the rest of the market on foot. By this stage, I was getting pretty hungry (no breakfast=unhappy Amy) but the prices were RIDICULOUS. At the street food tour, the pad thai we ate (remembering that it’s been dubbed the best in Thailand) was between 40-90 baht for the normal sizes depending on what meat you got etc. At the floating market, it was 120-170 baht. INSANE.

Anyway, after wandering around for a while and eating some mango, we hopped on another boat- this time a long tailed speed boat which took us around the canals to see how many of the locals live. It was fascinating and very relaxing. Upon reflection, it became a bit more poignant. I’m probably the last generation to see this way of life being lived in Bangkok. BKK is sinking- the poor management of crops throughout northern and central Thailand has led to immense flooding every wet season in BKK and coupled with rising sea levels, this is spelling disaster for those who live in this chaotic but charismatic city. Many who can are leaving Bangkok but for those who can’t and for the myriad of business and companies based in the capital, this environmental problem is going to lead to disaster. Nothing much has been done either which is doubly concerning. Let us hope and pray that soon, those who can do something, will.

After this sobering boat ride, we came back home and I decided to enjoy my massage which was also included in my welcome pack. Divine, and perfect after a long semester and a long bout of air travel, sleeping on the floor/curled up in a chair in Changi and then a morning of bus travel. It wasn’t super hard (not like my AMAZING experience in Chiang Mai) but I was too afraid to say “harder” in case the tiny man on my back broke me (not a euphemism. He literally sat on my back when massaging me).

The day ended with me chilling out on my rooftop, next to the pool, reading my book. I’m learning to take everything a bit easier while I’m here in Thailand and I think this has been something God’s been wanting to teach me for a while. So, while I was annoyed at the lateness of the van in the morning and the tardiness of my fellow traveller, it didn’t ruin my day. It wasn’t the end of the world. It certainly doesn’t matter anymore and to be honest, the only reason I remembered was because I wrote it down in my journal.

I’m just so thankful to be here and my time in BKK, while brief, was such fun. It set the tone for the rest of my trip and so far, it’s only gone north…

Literally.

Next time, I’ll fill you in on what I’ve been up to in CM and eventually, I’ll write about Ayuthaya too. Let me know if there’s anything you want to know, specifically and I can try to answer J

Love, love, love!

Amy x

Make it Monday! The Cookbook Challenge

I have a lot of cookbooks. When my friends come over to my house, it’s often one of the first things they comment on.

But I can’t help it! My mum and I just… I don’t know. The food styling, the stories, the combinations of flavours… we just go weak and suddenly, the guy at Dymocks is standing there, handing us back our cards, along with a brand new tome of delicious recipes to try.

Of course, despite our best intentions and ooh and aahing, so often these recipes are neglected and we never end up trying to replicate the taste explosions.

There are some exceptions to this rule; cookbooks which I use A LOT but they’re a special case.

So, this year, I decided to remedy this. Every month, I’m choosing two cook books to base our meals on. In January, it was Donna Hay’s Life in Balance and delicious. Superfoods. I’ve had both of these books for a while now and have plenty of recipes bookmarked in them, but hadn’t done much cooking out of them. I chose them based on the variety they offer, the fact that most of the recipes are extremely healthy, and the beautiful food styling which they contain.

The recipes which I chose varied from vegetarian to meat loving, quick and easy to more time consuming. Some of my favourites were the Zucchini Lasagna, Lemongrass Tofu, Barramundi (or in my case, squid) Tacos, the Roast Eggplant Salad with Green Tahini and the Pumpkin, and Brown Rice Balls.

I also used the books as the basis for a dinner party I hosted which was a roaring success. We enjoyed Haloumi and Sage Roasted Broccoli, a Smokey Pumpkin and Spelt Salad and a Spiced Kangaroo Skewers with Beetroot and Tahini Salad. All three dishes were absolutely perfect and were well received by the whole party.

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Pumpkin and Brown Rice Balls with Roasted Carrots
(and a zucchini, watermelon and coriander salad)

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Roasted Zucchini Lasagna

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Chickpea Gnochhi

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Roast Eggplant and Cauliflower Salad with Green Tahini Dressing

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Smoked Trout (DISCLAIMER: NOT HOME SMOKED LOL), Zucchini and Quinoa Salad

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Dinner Party Good Times
(they started eating before I could get a picture of the food… DEVO)

January has been a fabulous month of delicious and healthy food and I highly encourage you to check out these two amazing books!!

Happy cooking (and reading!)

Amy xx

Starting anew

This is probably the fifth blog I’ve started in as many years.

I’ve tried to start an education blog, a letter writing blog, a fat-shion blog, a fitness blog… but it’s never stuck. I get too busy, too preoccupied, too lazy, feel too inadequate when I look at other blogs in the sphere and then fall apart and neglect my poor blogger-wordpress-tumblr-xanga(lol) to the depths of the interwebz where it lies in wait for people to stumble upon it, ignorant of the antique status of the page they just dredged up.

But this time is different. It’s a new beginning. I’ve just finished up at my previous place of work and bid it and the lifestyle it demanded (or rather, that I demanded of myself) farewell.

For the last four years, I’ve been teaching Secondary English and History to students ranging from 12-18. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve loved it. However, it is exhausting and as I went from school, straight to uni, back to school I’m starting to feel it. To emphasise the feeling of being in the one system for a very long time, I was also teaching at the school I attended as a student. I loved it there and it was a sad goodbye but I know that it’s time to move on, explore other passions and gain some of that oft-lauded “life experience” everyone talks about.

This blog is to assist me in that endeavour. I’ll be writing on the various components of my life that really determine my identity- education, fitness, food, faith, human rights issues and other more personal posts. It may include snippets of my personal writing- poetry and prose have both been known to grace my page and it will definitely include what will seem like the ramblings of a mad woman.

I’ll be posting recipes, reviews, reflections and the odd rant.

The other thing which will help me in my attempt to gain life experience is what I’m dubbing My Ultimate Adventure.

Next year, I’m travelling over to Chiang Mai, Thailand to volunteer with Burmese Refugees and teach English in that setting. After the 6 month placement is complete, I’ll be travelling around SEA, specifically Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and (hopefully) Myanmar and Singapore (if I can stretch my funds that far).

The planning process and the experience itself will also documented on this humble blog as both an assistance to others who are considering similar journeys and also to spread awareness of the organisation I’ll be working with- Thai Freedom House.

So, we shall see. I’ve finished my year on a high note; I have a banging new hair cut, an exciting casual job, a great fitness routine, a lot of freedom, not a lot of funds and most excitingly, a deep trust that God will take me where He wants me and a willingness to go there- sans the feet dragging that I may have employed in the past.

Please follow along on here and interact with me as much as you so desire.

Keep smiling

Amy xx