So I refer to my sister’s a lot in my vlogs and blogs, so I thought it would be nice to introduce them properly. I filmed this whilst in Lanzarote for my 21st birthday…
It’s just me, Dammy, loving having sisters
So I refer to my sister’s a lot in my vlogs and blogs, so I thought it would be nice to introduce them properly. I filmed this whilst in Lanzarote for my 21st birthday…
It’s just me, Dammy, loving having sisters
So it has been over a year since I wrote Don’t Trust a Black Girl and even longer since I wrote The Everyday Racist. Collectively, those have been my most read posts and I am constantly surprised that they are still getting so many views and shares so long after they were written. I think it is so great that sharing my personal experiences of “blackness” have garnered the most interaction, because those type of posts are always the ones I tend to be the most nervous about and I spend the longest time hovering over the “publish” button.
But honestly, I am tired. I am so done with needing to talk about being black. Don’t get me wrong, this blog makes me so unbelievably happy and the “big issues” I tackle are my favourites. Yet, it is so tiring having to constantly think about being black. I genuinely (probably a little naively) thought that since writing The Everyday Racist, I would be done.
I was of the mentality that I could just be like, “Yo friends, racism still exists, these daily microaggressions against black people are harmful. Please stop doing these things. K, thanks, bye”. And then I could go about my merry way and dance into the sunset (well, I wasn’t quite this idealistic but you catch my drift).
That was until exactly 12 days ago and I had one of the most eye-opening racial experiences I have had in a long time. And this was when I truly realised the importance of instigating dialogue and utilising this platform to discuss race despite how uncomfortable it can and does make me feel.
So, it was by sister’s birthday and my family had come together to celebrate over the weekend in London. I made a vlog of the weekend here, and as you can see we had such a great time. We are hardly ever all together at the same time, so occasions like this are always so special.
Yet this one white American man nearly tarnished the whole memory for me. We were staying at the Hilton Hotel on Edgeware Road and I had gone to knock on my parent’s room to see if they were ready for breakfast (lol, they weren’t, classic mum and dad). And then on my way back to my hotel room, I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by the aforementioned white american man.
I am met with two towels which are thrust in my face. He then mumbles something about needing new towels, blah blah blah…
I stare at him confused. He then proceeds to place said towels in my hand and tells me that I need to come clean his room and change the towels. It still takes me a while to process what is going. Surely, it could not be, could it?
So I tentatively ask him: “You don’t think I am the maid, do you?”
He stops in his tracks, looks puzzled and then begins to laugh. He laughed. In between his guffaws, with a shrug of his shoulders, he merely asserts that he just assumed I was the maid.
As I sit here a couple of weeks after the incident, I can still feel the echoes of the burning behind my eyes and the heat on my skin as this man continued to laugh in my face at this “funny” situation. A laugh that evoked images of colonialism and slavery. A laugh that whispered the memory of subservience and the diaspora of a nation.
I boldly responded, “what about me made you assume I was the maid? Am I wearing a maid’s uniform? Am I pushing a maid’s trolley? What made you think I was a maid in the hotel rather than a guest”.
He had no response. No shame. No apology. Nothing. He just stood ambivalent to the magnitude of what he had just done.
I am not your maid…
The whole situation frustrated me and made me question how some people might perceive me. The issue was and is, what about seeing a young black woman approaching, made this white man jump to the conclusion that I could not be a guest at the hotel so I had to be the maid?
Interestingly, the following weekend it was my mum’s birthday and I met up in London with my family again (this time, staying at the Hilton hotel in Paddington) and in the afternoon we watched the movie Hidden Figures, about the black women who helped NASA send John Glenn into space.
It was such a great movie which I would definitely recommend for everyone to go and watch. In the movie, there was a similar scene where Katherine G. Johnson brilliantly played by Taraji P. Henson comes in for her first day at NASA and is handed a trash can to empty by a white man. She poignantly whispers: “I’m sorry. I’m … not the custodian.”
Of course, this black woman could not actually work at NASA in an academic capacity. Surely, she had to be the cleaner. Hidden Figures was set in 1961, it is now 2017. Whilst so much has changed since the 60’s, the journey is not over. If equality is the destination, then we are definitely not there yet. Usually racism today is not as overt as it used to be, modern day racism is much more nuanced as I wrote about in The Everyday Racist.
Yet, how can a situation so similar to one that happened in 1961, play out in 2017? I may be allowed to use the same bathrooms as my white counterparts but that does not mean I am equal. Whilst assumptions are still being made because of a persons skin colour, equality will never truly exist.
So don’t be that guy at the hotel, do not stereotype people. Stereotyping is harmful because it leads to largely unjustified and discriminatory decisions being made about a person solely because that person belongs to a certain demographic.
Do not be lazy. Stereotypes are the cowards way out of thinking critically and actually being present in situations. People naturally categorise people all the time based on arbitrary factors. I am acutely aware that I sometimes mentally do the same thing myself.
But just because we frequently do something does not make it the right thing to do. Together, we must unlearn these biases we hold against one and other. Regardless of whether they may seem to be a superficially positive entity or not.
All that hotel guest had to do was open his eyes and look at me, look beyond my skin colour at the actual situation and it would have been so clear that I was not the maid.
I get it, talking about equality all the time gets tiring. Trust me, I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to write about racism anymore. I wish being black did not feel like a heavy load that I have to carry everyday. Likewise, I understand that being constantly reminded of your privilege can be a tough pill to swallow.
In some ways, I definitely experience privilege myself – not everyone has the benefit of having two supportive and loving parents or can have cute weekends away so I know I have a lot to be thankful for. But it’s 2017 and black lives still matter, so let us keep moving forward.
It’s just me, Dammy, and I am not your maid
So today is International Woman’s Day. What a time to be alive! I have loved seeing people posting all over my social media accounts celebrating all these inspirational women, sharing their own experiences and pushing for a more equal society.
I had been wondering if I had anything to contribute to the existing rhetoric and all day these 2 sentences have been floating around in my head:
After all, before you there was a me, and she was okay.
So right now I will learn to love myself first. Because being on my own does not make me alone.
Those are actually quotes from a spoken word poem I wrote last year called “Closure” (by the way, if you are interested in listening to my poetry, then just hit me up and I’ll send you a link – they’re currently unlisted on YouTube)
So round and round, those sentences have been spinning in my head which was was weird as they are from a poem I wrote so long ago and had completely forgotten about. In lectures, in seminars, whilst I was making lunch…I couldn’t push these words I had written out on my mind.
Before YOU there was ME and she was OKAY
As I sit in bed towards the end of the day, I consider the importance of these words in relation to International Women’s Day and realise that there is a lot that can be learnt from them.
It seems as though from a young age, women tend to be painted this idyllic picture of a husband, marriage and a family. Now, don’t get me wrong – I can see why this can be conceptually appealing to some. However, this can often lead to women prioritising the wrong things in their life and often their happiness is dependent on a man.
Michelle Obama once touched on this subject in an interview, she said: “A lot of times we slip pretty low on our own priority list because we’re so busy caring for everyone else. One of the things that I want to model for my girls is investing in themselves as much as they invest in others.”
I feel as though women are often expected to serve others and are taught to be nurturing and empathetic. These are all ostensibly positive traits. However, if they do not go hand in hand with self-love and empowerment, then I don’t believe a truly egalitarian society can ever truly exist.
Similarly, when “feminism” is depicted in the media, women are shown as these strong almost caricature super-hero type women. Whilst, this often has good intentions and can be great for empowerment but it can come at the expense of allowing women to be “human” and show weakness.
It can be tiring always having to consider others first and I can tell you from experience the “strong black woman ” mantra gets old after a while. Empirical evidence shows women’s mental health is deteriorating. Likewise, it also shows that women are more likely to prioritise their partner over themselves opting for the “mummy track”.
I do appreciate that not all women have the same ambitions (hey, would you believe that, not all women are the same. Shock, horror!). And I am certainly, not saying women who choose more traditional pathways are any less powerful. But in all spheres of life, it truly is important for women to begin to prioritise themselves.
I know for sure that my mother did not carry me for nine months so I can just be a shell of a woman or a ladder that others can climb up to boost themselves up.
So I guess this is just a call to action to all women. Whatever your situation. Your worth should not be dictated to you or be in relation to any man. Learn to prioritise yourself because after all, before him there was you, and she was okay. You are the key to your own happiness, no man can save you from your life and your worth needs to come from within.
It’s just me, Dammy, happy international women’s day!
So after what was the most amazing summer of my life, I am now back at University for my third year. It feels like only yesterday that I was writing about freshers on here and now I’m nearly finished.
All my fellow musical theatre lovers will have noticed the ‘Hamilton’ reference in the title. It’s an amazing soundtrack but this post is not about theatre but rather, the importance knowing yourself, how best to utilise your time and the importance of saying “NO”.
I was recently having a conversation with a flat mate where I was explaining why I get so upset when people are late in replying to messages, attending meetings or just fulfilling any plans we may have made. In all types of relationships, academically and professionally, for me, being late is a deal breaker.
Whether we assign a pound value to it or not, time is so valuable. Think about it: How much of your typical work week do you spend stressed about not having enough time to complete a task or reach a goal?
When I remind my friends of their intrinsic value and try and make them understand that their happiness should not be dictated to them by someone else, I would be hard pressed to find anyone to disagree with me. However, when I talk about the value of time most people get offended as though I am suggesting their time is less valuable than my own.
This not the case however, time is limited. We have a certain amount of hours in a day therefore, when people are late they are wasting my time and are essentially wasting my money. Obviously, there are exceptions to this. However, understanding the importance of our time, how we spend it and who we spend it on, is a massive step in truly appreciating your self worth.
Ultimately, I have reached the point where I am able to value my time in terms of people and plans. Yet, when it comes to assigning myself to roles of responsibility, I don’t seem to have the same awareness. I find it difficult to prioritise what’s best for me and struggle to stop being the self-proclaimed “yes man”.
I feel as though in a university setting and often, this is also applicable in general society, people take on too much which can have a knock on effect on that individuals well being. Everyone needs time to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, though, many of us don’t get enough of it. Between university/school/jobs, family responsibilities, errands, cooking, most of us are hard-pressed to find even 10 minutes to sit and do nothing.
That is why it is so important to learn how to say no.
There are lots of different ways to tackle the issue of time management — you can download apps, adjust your sleep time, create lists, etc. I did all of this but this still did not make me a good time manager. If you don’t fully understand why it’s important for you to better manage your time, those apps and lists aren’t going to help you. If you don’t have the motivation to use them, you won’t.
People take on too much for a variety of reasons. I found it so hard to just say “NO”. Often, it can be difficult as you do not want to let people down. However, if people truly love and value you they will respect your decision and it won’t affect relationships.
Alternatively, sometimes I do too much due to misguided arrogance, I think I am the best person for the job therefore, I have to do it. There are good intentions behind this thinking however, often there are better ways to handle it.
For example, learning to delegate better and become a better leader can be helpful. It is not necessary to micromanage people all the time. Also, sometimes just taking a step back and giving other people the chance the shine can be good. They may do things differently to how you would have but will probably reach the same outcome. Realising that the whole world would not crumble without me was a painful but important step in managing my time better.
Likewise, it is important acknowledge that whilst doing lots of things can appear to be temporarily impressive, in the long term having fewer commitments can actually be better. Especially if it means that you are less stressed. Being busy does not equate to being successful.
What is the point of being present but not really there?
Surely, it is better to juggle really well with five balls and know those five balls inside out, be able to do amazing tricks with those five balls rather than being mediocre at juggling twenty balls. It is like that saying: Jack of all trades, master of none.
Likewise, saying no to certain things and making good choices with your time can also lead to better opportunities in the future. Discriminating a little more in what we say yes to can be a positive thing. It does not make you lazy.
Ultimately, your CV can only be so long and you will eventually have choose the important stuff. If you are not doing things for a purpose e.g. they make you happy/you enjoy them, they’ll help you develop a skill or lead to further oppurtunities then you may just be wasting your time.
This is something I recently realised and this led to me being more selective. I have cut back on a lot of things I do that were just repetitions of stuff I had already done before in order to make space for the new and exciting stuff that would actually challenge me and allow me to grow.
However, for some people it is actually more effective the other way round – cutting back on new stuff to get better and have more time on the old stuff you do. What is actually important is that you think about how you are spending your time.
Being busy is a part of who I am as a person and I genuinely enjoy being involved in lots of different things. However, it is so important that we also prioritise time management.
It’s just me, Dammy, taking a break
So the wheel has come full circle and I’m back in Thailand where all my backpacking adventures began! I’ve been travelling for over a month with my sister and so far we’ve been to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and of course – Thailand!
From Laos I crossed the Border into Chiang Khong. It had been three days since we last had access to a shower so it was so nice to finally get clean and have a proper bed.
We had an early start the following day as we traveled by bus to Chiang Mai. On the way we stopped off in Chiang Rai to visit the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Over the past few weeks I’ve seen soo many temples but this one absolutely blew me away. As the the name suggests the temple is completely white which in itself is unique. Walking up to the entrance in the midday heat as the sun was reflecting off the building, the walls appeared to shimmer and it was incredible.
And inside was even better! The artist who decorated the inside had payed homage to all the traditional Buddhist designs however, he had also mixed it up a bit with images of animated characters such as Spiderman, Thor, etc. Everything about the premise didn’t seem like it should work but the juxtaposition between the traditional art and popular culture was actually amazing.
Throughout the temple we could see more and more of how popular art had inspired the design. It was really random – one minute you would be looking at a shrine to Buddha or a wishing well. The type of thing you would expect to see in a temple….
But then you would stumble upon a robot or something! For anyone visiting Thailand – The White Temple is definitely a must see attraction. It looked like it had fallen straight from Heaven.
Once in Chiang Mai, there were soo many activities we could do and so much to see that it was almost impossible to decide how best to utilise our time there!
On the first evening we went out for dinner in a really fancy restaurant to celebrate one of our new backpacking buddies’ 21st birthday. After that we got a tuk-tuk to visit the “Night Bazaar” which is a combination of night markets, food places, live music, bars, spa’s and more. It had an amazing atmosphere and we had a lot of fun! We ended what had already been an great night with the most incredible Thai massage – I left feeling so relaxed and happy.
After seeing the White Temple the previous day, I wanted to see some more of the lesser known temples which I was told would be less touristy but equally beautiful. Frequent readers of my travelblog will know that I have a general aversion to other tourists so this sounded perfect for me!
So I grabbed a map, pulled on my hiking boots and went on an impromptu Temple tour. There were over 50 temples within about a 40 minute walking distance from our hotel so my sister and I set off bright and early with the ambitious mission of seeing them all!
We saw soo many different types of temples and they were all so beautiful. It was especially nice as a lot of these were “active” temples so they weren’t just for show and people actually regularly prayed in them. Unfortunately, they had really strict rules so as women we weren’t allowed to go everywhere.
But by about midday the blazing sun had got the better of us and we had to cut our temple tour short and take shelter inside- we still managed to see about 11 temples though! Not quite the full 50, but I’m still really pleased with that considering we did it all by foot.
After the past few hours of walking, I convinced my sister that we both needed a massage to relax, despite the fact we had only just had one the previous night! Whilst hunting for a nice looking place, we stumbled across one of Thailand’s “happy ending” massage parlours. It was really strange to just see the sign post unhidden in broad day light!
We eventually found a legit looking place to get a massage – this one wasn’t quite as good as the one from the previous day though. The woman kept on trying to get into a conversation with me which was really sweet of her but it made it difficult for me to relax and actually enjoy myself. She eventually gave up trying to talk to me and starting talking on her mobile phone! We did get given these really cool spa outfits to change into though which was nice.
Chiang Mai is famous for its elephants – in every single place we saw the Zoo advertised as a “must see” attraction. We briefly considered going but I really don’t like Zoo’s so we decided against it. I hate the way in which the keepers break the elephants’ spirit to passify them so that people can ride them – it’s simply just awful.
A week before we visited Cambodia, an elephant actually died in the streets of Angkor Wat from exhaustion after carrying tourists. I know that there are some elephant sanctuaries which actually do a lot of good work but it’s so difficult to know which ones! Instead we found a suitable alternative which we knew for certain had NO risk to animals at all…
From here we got an overnight train to Bangkok where we tried to pack in all the things we hadn’t got round to the last time we were here. We went to China Town, saw the reclining Buddha and went to MBK center which was a massive shopping center which had literally everything you could ever want!
One night we went to have dinner at a Sky Bar which was really nice. The food was so good and the scenery was amazing. We were right at the top of the building so had the perfect view to see the whole of Bangkok. At this point we were saying good bye to a few friends we’d been travelling with for a while so this was all really bittersweet.
We thought we’d say good bye in style and decided to go and visit the infamous Khoasan Road! And it was honestly even more mad than I thought it would be. There were people literally selling live scorpions on the street for people to eat and stuff! Music was playing so loudly, people drinking, even vendors offering laughing gas (and other less than legal substances) for sale.
The night did not end here though! From here we got a taxi with some of our friends to explore Silom Night Market. It was so busy that when we stopped for my sister to say hello to one of her friends from back home who we bumped into on the streets (small world, eh?), we lost the rest of the people we were with! This was the beginning of the craziest night of my life…
One of the street reps told us there was a free “Cabaret” show on a few doors down. Me being the musical theatre geek I am, was completely sold by this. Turns out this was not the stage show I had thought it was but actually a lady boy show! After realising that this was going to be strip show we ran out into the streets. Whilst trying to get our bearings and find the night market we had come here for, we stumbled upon what can only be Bangkok’s version of a red light district.
We kept on getting stared down by the “ladies of the night” who clearly were not impressed by us being on their territory – I think they thought we were trying to steal their business or something. This thought was confirmed when a man actually tried to BUY me! I heard him start to negotiate a price with what must have been the Pimp of that street before I informed him and his friends that I was most definitely not for sale…
It was actually really sad seeing some of the girls on the streets though, some did not look any older than about 13! I hated it even more because there was nothing I could do in that moment to help them without endangering myself. After all the wonderful Thai culture we’d experienced over the past week, it was really eye-opening to see the dark side to it all.
After this we actually found the market we were looking for which was really fun. My sister bought a nice ring which she had been looking for and I bought my favourite thing – street food!
After this we went to see a live Muay Thai boxing match which was soo cool. We were sitting so close to the fighting, I could almost smell the fear from the “underdog” who was taking a serious beating from the other guy who seemed to be enjoying kicking his opponent in the face a little too much. I have always wanted to see a live match and this was such a good one to watch – the aforementioned underdog actually brought it back in the end and won!
We had initially wanted to stay in Thailand for another week or so to explore some of the smaller Islands but we had to come back as I have a really important interview for a Training Contract in London!
After living the nomad lifestyle for the past 5 weeks with just me and my backpack, I don’t think I am quite ready to trade in my flip flops for a suit but alas, the corporate law world is calling and I have responsibilities.
Luckily, I have some last minute stuff to sort out for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for The Improv Musical which I am the Marketing Manager and Co-Producer of which is super exciting. And then I am off to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 7 days time so I still have so much more to look forward to!
I’ll hopefully be posting vlogs of all my back packing escapades really soon so keep your eyes out for that! To get notifications of all my blog updates directly to your inbox, don’t forget to click “follow” at the bottom of the screen.
It’s just me, Dammy, drifting back to reality…
From Vietnam we flew into Vientiane. That night me and my sister went to go explore and stumbled upon a market where they were cooking all sorts of food on the street. We were welcomed by the most enticingly delicious smells that I was compelled to stop and taste everything.
In this area, there were mainly just locals so no-one spoke English. This provided the opportunity to find other ways to communicate with them and utilise the bits of the language I had picked up so far. Luckily, on my flight from Doha to Bangkok (nearly a month ago!) I was sat next to this really nice boy from Laos who taught me a few words and phrases.
The following day we went to visit a temple and looked around the Laos opera house. My sister and I were the only ones in the theatre so I used to it as an opportunity to fulfil my lifelong dream of being the star of a show!
There were also some lovely gardens which we went to explore. My sister was wearing a Dashiki (African print top) which drew a lot of attention. We are halfway across the world but are still representing our culture, giving the Laos locals a taste of Africa!
From here we travelled to Viang Veng. This was a very long bus ride but totally worth it as there was so much to do in this town! Firstly, we went to visit the Blue Lagoon. We were warned that the water would be brown rather than the infamous blue at this time of year due to the high water levels. But we were really lucky and it was actually quite blue.
We then climbed up the side of a mountain to go and explore a cave and it was honestly the most scared I have been in a very long time. About half way up the mountain, we realised what a big mistake we had made. The pathway was so uneven, we had no safety equipment and no tour guide with us – the recipe for disaster!
But we had already climbed so far that we decided to just fully commit to it. In addition, the journey back down looked even more dangerous. So we both braved it all the way inside the caves. Once inside we realised that we probably should have just spent the 10,000 kip (equivalent of $1.25) it cost to hire the head torches they had been offering at the bottom of the mountain. It was so dark inside that we could barely see, the floor was wet and the flash light on my phone seemed so impractical whilst trying to climb inside.
Then on the way back down it started raining which just made it so much worse. I was just slipping and sliding everywhere whilst frantically praying under my breath that I wouldn’t die. At one point I wasn’t even sure if I was just sweating profusely or if it was tears!
In the afternoon we had booked to go tubing in some more caves. This had been sold to us as a relaxing and fun experience where you sit in these rubber rings and are gently taken on a river by the current whilst you hold on to a rope to guide yourself. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It was like this for about five minutes before it all went horribly wrong.
We got into the enclosure of the cave and were told to get off the rubber rings by our tour guide. The next part we had to do by foot. I’m no stranger outdoorsy type activities, I’ve done my Gold Duke of Edinburgh award and I was a Scout for over 11 years but this was a whole different story. At one point the muddy floor started sinking so people started getting stuck. Then the ceiling started getting lower and lower so I had to get on my hands and knees and crawl. And the girl behind me just kept crying the whole time.
I kept on just waiting to wake up from the nightmare I was living, half expecting Ant and Dec to jump out of the corner because it felt like one of those Bush Tucker trials on the TV program, “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”. But worse. So much worse.
The next day we had a another really long journey to Luang Prabang. The roads were so narrow with really bendy sharp curves. The bus didn’t have enough seats for everyone so they installed make-shift pop up chairs. This situation was made worse by the bus driver who looked like he was going to fall asleep. Every so often he would randomly just shake himself to try and stay awake and the bus would sway off path slightly! If you didn’t think about the fact that we were on a steep cliff like edge and any wrong move would result in us hurtling towards our inevitable demise – then this would probably have been quite funny!
The views on the journey were incredible though. It was exactly how I have always imagined heaven would look like with bright skies with lots of white clouds.
In Luang Prabang we stayed in these adorable little bungalows on stilts which my sister and I had to ourselves. The beds were massive and we had this cute little balcony with beautiful flowers. When we arrived the man at the reception looked really excited to see me and my sister. He said he had seen us on Facebook! Turns out that our bus driver, who had asked to take pictures with us when we stopped off to look at the aforementioned view, was related to the owners of our hotel! Such a small world.
That night we went to go explore and found a market with my favorite thing – street food! I actually bought (and ate) a whole cooked chicken that evening. My sister, being a Vegan, couldn’t really find anything suitable for her so bought two whole pineapples.
The next morning I went to go and watch the giving of Alms to the Monks. This meant a very early 5am start so my sister decided not to go and I went by myself but it was definitely worth it. I didn’t actually partake in the proceedings but it was really interesting to just watch.
Monks are only allowed to eat what people donate to them before midday so this procession is very important for them. Laos has a very interesting combination of Theravada Buddhism and Animism which focuses at ancestors and spirits etc. I’ve always been fascinated by this religion so I’ve really enjoyed learning more about it over the past few days.
After the main procession, everyone left but I stayed a lot longer which allowed me to just watch the Monks in the monastery just living their lives. I had this really profound moment when I caught eyes with a young Monk and we must have stood there for about 10 minutes perfectly still just staring at each other and smiling. There was no-one else around and the world seemed to stand still in that moment. It’s hard to explain but it felt incredible – you can’t pay for experiences like that! The memory will forever be etched in my mind.
After this I went to visit some of the local attractions. I considered climbing the Phousii mountain but I was alone and after that past few days’ activities, I felt all adventured out so decided against it.
Instead I went to visit the very beautiful National museum. It was still really early so it was gated off but I smiled nicely at the security guard and he let me in! This was so awesome as it allowed me to peacefully experience the place without it being tarnished by other tourists.
I also saw a few other attractions such as the Xieng Thong temple and the Lau Lau gardens. I did all this before 8am – talk about productive morning! It was such a treat to get to see it by myself as well. For someone who probably looks like the stereotypical tourist with my rucksack, fanny pack and camera always at the ready constantly vlogging – it’s actually quite ironic how much I actively avoid other tourists!
The following day we then embarked upon a two day boat journey on the Mekong River to cross the Laos/Thai border…
On the first day we travelled for over 10 hours before stopping off in Pak Beng where we stayed with a family from the Kamu tribe. The last time I stayed at a homestay in Vietnam, I had severe allergic reactions so I was really worried it would happen again. However, luckily this time I was absolutely fine!
The actual homestay was like nothing I have ever experienced before. What was immediately noticeable was the dichotomy between their seemingly stripped down living and my experience of the comparatively commercialised towns of South East Asia we had been to so far.
Everything was so basic – we slept on the floor, the toilet was a dug out hole in the ground and there was no electricity. They had just what was necessary to fulfil their fundamental needs – nothing more and nothing less. Coming from the West where most of your wants are so easily accessible, it really drummed home the inequality around the world.
Despite all of this, they had the most inclusive and welcoming culture. They were so kind and shared the best they had with us. My sister and I even stayed in the house of the Chief of the whole village. They also cooked for us what was definitely the most delicious food I had in my entire stay in Laos. With each mouthful I could almost taste all the time, effort and love they had poured into the preparation of the meal. A feeling not dissimilar to when I go home from University to my Mum’s cooking.
This whole experience just reinforced something I had already known for a long time – you really do not need material things to be happy. All these extra trappings of life are a so transient but it’s who you are when you strip all of that away that really matters. It’s so easy to be a “good person” in the right conditions – when you are comfortable, have enough food, etc. But what kind of person are you when the going gets tough? I think the Kamu people showed me how it should be done.
I always used to playfully tease friends who went on gap years to “find themselves” but honestly, I’ve learnt so much about myself and others in the past month I have been traveling.
Later that evening we watched the sun go down which was so beautiful (it’s so crazy that I had never actually seen a sunrise or sunset before I came travelling!)
We then stayed up and collected firewood and had a bonfire on the beach. This was such a lovely way to end the night.
The following day we had a really early start as the boat people wanted to be back on the river for 5am. We were going against the current and wanted to avoid as much of the forecasted rain as possible. Not going to lie, this wasn’t the most interesting journey but me and my sister tried to make the time pass faster by playing games. We play a variation of charades where one person has earphones in and listens to a song to act out to to the other. Hours of fun!
Fast forward 8 hours and we finally arrived in Chiang Khong where we completed the crossing border formalities. I have so many cool stamps in my passport now!
We are spending the night here and are then going to travel to Chiang Mai and then to Bangkok but I will write all about that in my next blog post which will be all about my Thai adventures…
It’s just me, Dammy, off to explore Thailand!
This is PART 2 of my travel blog as I backpack around South East Asia with my sister. Click here to read my first one all about my stay in Cambodia…
After crossing the Cambodian border we stopped off in Chau Doc as we had already been traveling for over 10 hours on a bus and we were so tired. This is probably the only bad moment of the trip where I had had enough of traveling wanted to come home. We stayed with a family in this home stay community literally in the depths of the forests…
And then I had the worst allergic reaction. My face flew up like a balloon and I woke up with my skin covered in hives. The reaction was so severe that my throat also started swelling up so it felt like I was suffocating.
I still do not know what exactly caused the reaction. But I suspect it might have been the sheets on the bed which weren’t clean. There was also a lot of dust in the air. It was such a frightening experience as it happened in the middle of the night and everyone was asleep. Luckily I managed to stay breathing until morning despite my swollen throat. Then I took lots and lots of allergy tablets. Thank God for Piriton! I must have taken about 20 over the course of the day which probably wasn’t the wisest idea.
It was actually a real shame as the family we stayed with were so lovely and made a massive effort cooking us all their special local dishes.
The next day we went to Mekong Delta town to visit the floating market. I had been so excited for it! You’re basically in a boat being taken down a river and all the sellers are on smaller boats and they paddle over and attach themselves to your boat to sell you stuff. It’s really hard to explain but it was very cool.
After this we travelled to Ho Chi Minh city/ Saigon. By this point I was feeling a lot better. In the evening we went out for dinner in this really nice restaurant to say goodbye to one of the guys we had met in Thailand and travelled with with who was leaving.
There were so many activities we could have done in Saigon but we chose to visit the War Remnants museum. After learning about the Killing Fields in Cambodia, I really wanted to learn more about about the Vietnam War.
As we explored more of the museum it became increasingly emotional. Looking at the outcome of the USA’s “search and destroy” missions and the effects of Agent Orange/ Napalm chemicals was very traumatic.
Most of the photos I took are too grotesque to put in here. However, despite the shocking nature of all the information it was a great learning experience.
We then got the overnight train from Saigon to Nha Trang. This took about 10 hours. Before travelling I had been warned about the trains in Vietnam and about how dirty they would be but so far, we’ve had a great experience of them. I found the toilets hilarious! They are basically just a hole in the ground that goes directly onto the train tracks so you’re essentially having a wee on the streets!
When we arrived here me and my sister and some other friends decided to go visit this mud spa spring thing and have a treatment. First of all you have a mud bath then shower off, then walk through this jet wall, then soak in a warm bubble bath and then go into another hot tub infused with minerals.
We then spent the rest of the day swimming in the most incredible pools and cooling off in the sun. After a couple of weeks traveling, it is exactly what we needed to revitalize!
We then explored what the town had to offer by night with some other people which was so much fun! We started off in a place called “Why Not Bar” which literally just looked like the breeding ground for poor life choices! As it was getting busier we left and went to this other place called “Skylight” which was a roof top bar looking over the whole town. It looked so cool but as it was nearing closing time we didn’t get to see much.
Someone suggested we went to a club called “Zimmer”. It looked great from the outside but was really weird on the inside. First of all, girls got in for free so my sister and I were fine. But the guys we were with had to pay. This should have been a sign – because the place was full of men! Some were wearing leotards and stuff. The people we were with wanted to stay on the beach and chill but we were absolutely shattered so we went back to our hotel. Which was a blessing in disguise because it took us forever to find it! We just kept on going round and round. Turns out the hotel had been gated off so we couldn’t see it. I started internally panicking considering sleeping on the beach but luckily the security guard woke up and let us in!
The rest of our stay in Nha Trang was spent doing what we do best – eating and chilling by the beach!
From here we got the overnight train to Hoi An and we checked into what was probably the nicest hotel we’ve been in so far!
We didn’t really have much planned for Hoi An so we just grabbed a map and were proper tourists exploring by foot! We went to the central market, the Japanese bridge and visited a few temples.
After this we got horrendously lost and were walking around for hours! This allowed us to see more of the town though. People still keep stopping us and asking for pictures. I still find it a bit weird. I’m sure there are loads of random pictures of me posing awkwardly with strangers floating around the internet somewhere! We also keep getting stopped by sellers. This one lady kept begging me to buy fruit, I really didn’t want any bananas but we offered to help her out with the selling! She found it really funny and I think I definitely have a future vocation selling fruit on the streets of Vietnam…
The following morning we did a cooking class and learnt how to make all the traditional noodles. It was at this really cool local project which helps the poorest kids in orphanages and puts them on an 18 month course where they learn culinary and hospitality skills and English. After this they gain professional certificates and are found jobs 5* star hotels and resorts.
We also did a bike tour around Hoi An. For someone who has always been too scared to ride my bike on anything other than the pavement of my small town at home, I’m really proud of myself for surviving the hectic and bumpy roads of the Vietnam. I had to take the rest of the day off though as I had a really sore bum from all the cycling!
On the bike tour we went off the main roads and visited some of the village people and saw the Buffalo’s. We met this lovely old couple who showed us around their farm and they were so much fun to be around. They kept laughing, smiling and after all these years you could see they were clearly still so in love. They were definitely #relationshipgoals
They also allowed me to help them water their fields. I was definitely a natural and seriously think I’m wasted at University doing my Law degree! I feel like I should just stay in Vietnam and sell fruit or harvest the land.
We also went on two different types of boat tours. The first looked like a woven basket and you had to use paddles…
And the second was a proper boat with an engine so we could just sit back and relax. We had such beautiful views and the weather was amazing.
From Hoi An we travelled 4 hours by bus to another town called Hue. On the way to Hue we stopped of at the Hai Van pass near Da Nang and saw the most beautiful view over the town. This is the same exact location where Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear described this landscape as “a metaphor for Vietnam”.
In Hue we did a motor bike tour. We were on the back of it with a local guide so luckily I didn’t have to do any driving! This allowed us to go slightly off the beaten track and see some non-touristy stuff. I really enjoyed just seeing the everyday life of Vietnamese people in the area. No-one was putting on a “show” for us, they were just doing their own thing which was nice to see.
I also had the nicest tour guide! His name was Nhee and he drove really fast which I loved and talked to me all about his life and family. He also kept telling me I was the happiest person he had ever met!
On the motor bike tour we also stopped off at various locations. We visited the Pagoda, the Coliseum, the rice museum, the royal tombs and watched how they make their Vietnamese conical hats and incense sticks.
From Hue we got a 12 hour train through the night to Hanoi followed by a 4 hour bus to Halong Bay. Despite the long length this was actually a really fun journey, I stayed up all night with some new friends teaching them card games and playing charades. It felt like a standard Christmas day at my house!
We boarded on a private “junk” and did another boat cruise as we wanted to explore as much of the area in as little time as possible because we only had plans to stay in Halong Bay for one night only.
We were surrounded by so much beauty that I found it kind of hard to take in! Everything looks straight out of a magazine that it is almost impossible to believe we’re here. Every so often I burst out laughing because I’m just soo happy and have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming!
We stopped off on the boat tour and some of our friends went kayaking but we decided just to explore on foot and then we went Caving which was such an incredible experience. There were such intricate designs on the walls and all these lights illuminating every crevice.
The only dampener to the whole day were the other tourists! There were lots of groups of Chinese people who all kept pointing at me and my sister, laughing at us and touching our hair and taking pictures. They didn’t even ask which I found really disrespectful and rude! I felt like a monkey in a Zoo.
That evening we had an impromptu hotel room party which was so much fun. About 20 of us piled into one room and a balcony with music playing and we ordered in food and drinks.
The following day we returned back to Hanoi and took a sightseeing walk around the old quarters. My allergies have started playing up again which is really frustrating. Everywhere has been pretty clean and I haven’t eaten anything out of the ordinary so I have no idea what’s causing them. So my sister and I just sat in our hotel room watching National Geographic on TV and eating pringles! Some days it’s nice to just have chilled vibes.
The next few days were spent exploring some more. My sister has a Vietnamese friend from sixth form back in England who now works in Hanoi. She took us to this fancy vegetarian restaurant and treated us to lunch which was so lovely of her. The food wasn’t really my thing but my sister is a Vegan so she was absolutely in her element and she had an amazing time! It hasn’t always been easy to find food she can eat whilst travelling as she is also lactose intolerant so today was absolute treat for her.
After that we went to visit the central market and the Hoa Lo prison. This is the same prison John McCain (Barack Obama’s right hand man) was imprisoned for 7 years. It was interesting to learn more about communism, the revolution and the western impact on the rest of the world.
In the evening we went out to see Hanoi by night. A few of the people we’d met in Thailand who have been doing a similar journey to us were going back home the following day so we used this as an opportunity to say good bye to them. This was really fun but also emotional – it’s weird how close you can get to people in just 3 weeks and I’ll be sad to see them go!
From here we are going to fly from Vietnam to Laos for the third leg of our travels.
It’s just me, Dammy, off to Laos!