Goodbye 2018!

Looking back at my posts I realised my last one was much longer ago than I thought. So here’s a summary of my year of no shopping and various other bits and pieces along the way.

I started 2018 with a pledge to myself not to buy unnecessary things. Essentials and replacements for things like clothes, shoes and bags, were fine, as was money spent on experiences and travel. Although I haven’t been as good at keeping track of exactly what I’ve been spending since the summer, I have kept to my pledge of not buying unnecessary things. I’ve bought no jewellery, no books, no electronics and no makeup this year. And I’m no worse off for it. I’ve also tried to become more ecologically inclined, so I have bought a bamboo toothbrush and metal straws as well as soap, solid shampoo and conditioner from Lush to try and cut down on plastic.

Dinosaur hoodie I knitted for my friends’ baby boy

As for travelling, I’ve had a great year! This time last year I was in Hong Kong with 3 great friends, having watched the fireworks display in the harbour by boat. For Chinese New Year I met my best friend from home in New Orleans where we celebrated Mardi Gras, then had a day in Miami before heading to Costa Rica for 8 days, which was fantastic. We had one more day in Miami before she flew back to the UK and we got awesome hummingbird tattoos at the shop where the tv show Miami Ink was set. I then flew to San Francisco to stay with my aunt and uncle for a few days in Bolinas before going home to Shenzhen.

Giant cocktails in Miami

After CNY we had a really long semester (15 weeks) with no proper break other than a couple of long weekends. However, I was lucky enough to be able to attend my good friend J’s wedding near Atlanta, USA, in April. It was really lovely to be able to attend and after the big day we all did fun touristy stuff, like visiting a gold mine and Rock City.

See Rock City, Georgia, USA

My summer holiday was jam-packed. I didn’t have a single day of doing nothing, but it was all great stuff: catching up with friends and family and adding a few more countries to my list. I had a spa weekend with my sister in the UK; a few days in Cyprus with one friend; a few days in Ibiza with two other friends; a week in Dubrovnik, Croatia, with my Mum, during which we did day trips to Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina; a week in Bath, England, studying for my MA with my friend T who I work with in Shenzhen, and while we were there meeting up with another friend we used to work with and has now moved to Peru; and finally a few days in Paris with my friend O from Finland as well as catching up with another friend who lives there. My friends joked I was coming back to Shenzhen for a rest!

View from a castle, England
Sunset in Cyprus
Ibiza
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Paris, France

August and September were back to work as usual, ending with a lovely long weekend near Pattaya, Thailand, visiting good friends J & N and their little boy with my friend T. The first week of October is a National Holiday in China and I went back to a different part of Thailand (Railay Beach) with a different friend for more of a beach holiday. This included scuba diving, paddle-boarding at night and getting two bamboo tattoos. Awesome stuff!

Railay Beach, Thailand

The week after that I went back to the UK for a funeral. Although it was a really sad reason to be going home, it was also really nice to see friends and family at such a difficult time. My birthday was not long after that, and while I was home I had surprise birthday drinks with my friends organised by my sister, and a surprise birthday meal for me and my Mum (as her birthday had been at the beginning of October) organised by my sister and her boyfriend. It was amazing, and so thoughtful.

Joint birthday family meal

Back in Shenzhen my awesome friends threw me a surprise fancy dress birthday party. It was the best birthday ever! 70s theme, free flow drinks, 70s music, everyone sang happy birthday to me as I walked in, an amazing birthday cake in the shape of the world with a little icing model of me and a panda, and a video made by friends and family from around the world.

In typical China fashion, however, things never go completely according to plan. My friends had booked out a room in a hotel for the party, but some Chinese people decided they wanted to take over one end of the room and of course the staff let them. At around 11.30pm we were told by hotel security that we all had to leave (not the Chinese people though, just us foreigners). As we still had a load of alcohol we couldn’t go to a bar or club so we decided to go to a local park and continue the party, because, well, why not! A while after that I invited the remaining partiers back to my apartment to finish off the night playing card games and having a dance. The last ones standing left about 7am! Although it didn’t quite go according to my friends’ plan, it was still the most epic birthday ever. The perfect way to celebrate a significant decade.

In November I spent two consecutive weekends in HK; one for HK Pride and the other for a fab music festival called Clockenflap, which I’ve been to for the last 6 years. Both weekends were brilliant and spent in excellent company.

Clockenflap festival, Hong Kong

To finish off the year myself and T went to stay with J & N and their baby boy for Christmas, which was really lovely. Much food was eaten, games were played (including a brilliant Jurassic Park board game), drinks were drunk and laughs were had. We bade them farewell on the last weekend of 2018 and saw in the new year on the rooftop of our hotel in Bangkok, watching the fireworks.

Chao Phraya River, Bangkok

That about wraps up my 2018. Let’s see what 2019 brings!

No Shopping Challenge Day 1

So I’ve made it through my first day of No Shopping!

You may think that’s not much of an achievement, but when you’re hungover after an epic New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong it’s very tempting to order takeaway. Especially when you live in a place where practically every restaurant delivers (including McDonald’s). 

But I resisted the urge even though my flatmate ordered food, and instead had a cup noodle type thing, salt & vinegar crisps (kettle chips, the best kind, bought in HK) and a daim bar (bought in Johannesburg). I know, I know, healthy and nutritious!

Now to try and sleep at a vaguely reasonable time so jetlag doesn’t get the better of me. 

A Year of No Shopping

After reading a New York Times article ‘My Year of No Shopping‘ I’ve been inspired to attempt my own ‘Year of No Shopping’. The main aim of this is, of course, to cut down on costs, but it is also to cut down on waste, cut down the amount of stuff I have and increase what I give to charity.

This is my plan:
Things I am not allowed at buy

• Clothes
• Shoes
• Electronics
• Books (unless for my MA)
• Jewellery
• Perfume
• Presents
• Scarves
• Bags
• Take away food

Things I can only buy when what I have runs out

• Food
• Shampoo, shower gel, etc.
• Cleaning products
• Wine, spirits, etc.

Things I can spend money on

• Travel
• MA resources (essential only)
• Eating out – once a week &/or special occasions

This means that any presents I want to give people this year will either be something I bought before 1st January, something I will make or a promise for time together doing something particular. I would be really grateful if my friends and family support me in this endeavour and do the same for me when it comes to my birthday or Christmas.

I’m also going to have a proper sort out of my clothes, shoes and stuff in general when I get home, and donate anything I haven’t used or worn for over a year to charity. In the grounds of my apartment complex is a container for donating clothes, shoes, bags and bedding, so I can put most things I don’t need in there. If there’s anything else, I will find a way to donate it!

So what do you think? Can I do it? Want to join me? Let me know in the comments!

My 2015 Review

Yes, I know, everyone’s been doing reviews of the last year. Well, I thought it was about time I did one too, especially as I had a notification from WordPress that I started this blog exactly a year ago today. And looking back, it was actually a pretty great year.

I began the year in Cambodia with two good friends and ended the year in Thailand with my sister, partying the night away in Koh Phangan at the New Year’s Eve Full Moon Party (see my guide to it here).

In between I did many amazing things. In February three friends and I went to South Africa for our friends’ wedding and made a trip to Botswana while we were there, which was amazing. I saw the sights in and around Cape Town – Table Mountain, Robben Island, a tour to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, Simon’s Town and The Boulders penguin colony, wine tasting near Stellanbosch, a tour of Langa and Khayelitsha townships, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and the V&A Waterfront. The four day trip to Botswana was stunning. We stayed in an all-inclusive resort (because there wasn’t anything else, we were in the middle of the Okavango Delta) called Khwai River Lodge and did two safaris every day during which we saw pretty much every animal you could see there. To name a few: hippos, wild dogs, giraffes, elephants, baboons, warthogs, vervet monkeys, tree squirrels, lions, impala, red lechwe, zebras, hyenas and many different types of birds. The highlight was seeing a mother leopard and her two cubs! We were very lucky. The last part of our trip was spent in and around Johannesburg, where my friends were getting married. As well as the amazing wedding day and spending time with friends and family, a large group of us also went to stay at a resort called Sun City via an elephant sanctuary. Whilst there we did a safari in Pilanesberg National Park where we saw rhinos – the only one of the ‘Big Five’ that we hadn’t seen in Botswana. For something completely different I also had the chance to do the world’s fastest zip line – two kilometers long and speeds of up to 160kph – it was awesome! (And completely got rid of my hangover!)

If you’d like to read more about my travels in South Africa and Botswana, check out my other blog entries here: Africa Adventure Summary, Cape Town, Botswana and Johannesburg and Sun City.

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I spent the summer travelling by train on the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian Railway from China to the UK via Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and France. I’ve written three blog posts about my summer travels so far – Beijing, the Trans-Mongolian Railway and Mongolia – but not completed the rest of them yet (they’re on my list!) because of the next thing that happened…

In addition to all this, I also got accepted as a writer for BASEDtraveler (B.emusing A.dventure S.ought E.very D.ay). This has involved a lot of work and it’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve enjoyed it all! I’ve got my website all set up – BasedTravelerShenzhen – and I’m gradually getting the hang of all this social media and networking malarky. I’m also working on the Shenzhen Primer, a book with all the key information someone moving to Shenzhen would need, which was something I very much could have done with when I first moved here. I’ll keep you posted about my progress and when it’ll be published – hopefully around the summer!

For the October holiday I went to the Philippines for the third time, which was a nice chilled out and relaxing holiday, making the total number of countries I visited in 2015 the grand total of 15! Maybe I should aim for 16 this year?

 

New Year in Siem Reap

Siem Reap was lively and welcoming, an interesting mixture of modern and ancient. After seven and a half hours on the bumpiest mini-bus journey ever, myself and my two friends arrived in Siem Reap.  Our hotel was lovely.  They greeted us with a welcome drink and scarf, gave us a seat while they sorted out checking in, bringing things over for us to sign so we didn’t have to get up.  Our room was also lovely – the first time we’d had a bed each since Vietnam.

The evening was spent wandering around, looking at the night market, having food upstairs in a cafe looking out on the bustling street and having a foot massage while ladyboys practiced for their show that evening on a little stage at the back of the night market.

The next day – New Year’s Eve – was a long one.  We were picked up by our tuktuk driver at 4.45am in order to buy our entry tickets to Angkor Wat (big queues even though the ticket counter opened at 5am – I would recommend getting your tickets the day before if you can).  My other advice would be to bring a torch (flashlight) as it is completely pitch black when you’re walking through the grounds to the temple – I had no idea we were walking along a paved walkway across a lake with no railing or barrier! We got there in plenty of time to watch the sunrise; in fact we had enough time for a cup of tea too. There are plenty of stalls selling souvenirs, food, drinks and the like right by the pond in front of Angkor Wat.  Despite the early hour there were huge crowds of people gathered around the pond, all trying to get the best view. Most people tried to be considerate of others, although there were, of course, a few that just tried to push in front of everyone or stood up and got in everyone else’s way. Angkor Wat itself was amazing, but I have to say it was the most colourless sunrise I’ve ever seen, which made it a little disappointing.

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Angkor Wat is actually just one temple in a huge complex of temples.  You can get either a one day, three day or seven day pass to visit them all.  We had one day on our whistle-stop tour, which ended up being enough for us.  I almost lost count of the different temples we saw; by late afternoon we were completely templed out!  Each one was almost equally breath-taking for different reasons; there was the temple of a thousand faces; the temple engulfed by trees; and many more.  My favourite had to be Ta Prohm; the temple which has huge trees growing through the stonework.

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After a full day of temple hopping we were fairly worn out, so we headed back to our hotel for a bit of a chill out (and a cocktail) before the evening event – a ‘compulsory’ gala dinner at our hotel. At first we were a bit dubious about this, but it turned out to be a really good night.

The hotel had gone all out transforming a grass area into a stage, seating, tables and buffet with decorations and party hats on every table.  Entertainment was put on in the form of a traditional apsara dance, a peacock dance, Cambodian martial arts (which was a bit like Thai boxing), a band, dancing and games (pop the balloons and musical chairs which one of my friends won!).  We were all given a glass of fizz for the countdown, by which time we were all on the dance floor – staff and guests alike.

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The party at the hotel ended fairly soon after midnight, so myself and one of my friends decided to check out the nightclub next door, ‘Titanic’.  They had a band playing songs we both knew well enough to sing along and dance to.  Somehow I ended up singing ‘I will survive’ with them!  After a lot more dancing we started chatting to a couple of guys who turned out to be friends of the band, and we managed to invite ourselves along to wherever they were going after the club closed at 2am.  What we didn’t know was that there are very very few places still open at that time in Cambodia, even on New Year’s Eve.  We ended up sitting at a little roadside stall with the band and their friends, where they very kindly gave us cans of beer.  It felt a little awkward but they were really friendly and made a real effort to talk to us and try and make us feel comfortable.  We didn’t stay long but decided it would be a good idea to go back to our hotel and get some sleep.

New Year’s Day was our last full day in Siem Reap.  After breakfast we went back to bed for a while to sleep off our hangovers (isn’t that what NYD is all about?!) then headed to Pub Street for food.  We had more of a wander around, explored the Arts Centre Night Market and while we were there got massages and manicures as a last treat before heading back to our hotel.

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When we left Camodia and flew back to Hong Kong, we had a seven hour lay over in Ho Chi Minh airport.  It would have been lovely to explore a bit of the city, but it would have meant getting another visa and at a cost of £50 we didn’t think it was worth it for such a short time.  I’ll just have to go back to Vietnam another time to explore further!

Laos and Cambodia made for a lovely holiday, and I would definitely recommend visiting them both (although not too much, as I don’t want them overrun with tourists and spoiled!).

Next trip: South Africa 9th-27th February…