Boy Swallows Universe

~ You’ll be into this if: Aussie books pull at your heart strings just that little bit more ~

I’m a softy for a killer Australian author, and Trent Dalton is exactly that and so much more. Boy Swallows Universe was the perfect book to get me back into my reading groove, as I really couldn’t put it down and when I did, I was so excited to pick it up again. Boy Swallows Universe is set in the 1980’s in Brisbane and revolves around the life of Eli Bell, his mute and mystical brother August and the life of crime that they have been brought up in. It is also about love enduring the darkest moments, one boys journey to find what it takes to be a good man and rising above the life you were born into. This book is truly great, and very trippy for those of us living in Brisbane and reading about its history of crime. Read this!

Mornin’ Vietnam

Gooooooooood Morning Viiiiiietnam (if you’re not imagining Robin Williams saying that then WHO ARE YOU). I won’t lie to you, getting to Vietnam on a budget was a total shit show – I highly recommend not being a broke biatch and just getting a direct bloody flight. You’ll lose some money but you might just save some of your sanity. When we finally did land in Hanoi and were on our way to our hotel, we for some reason couldn’t keep the smiles off our faces and kept looking at each other as if we just knew we were going to love it here. Our hotel was located right in the centre of the Old Quarter – no question, the best place to stay – and were greeted by smiling faces and recommendations on where we could get a traditional feast (usually our first question upon arrival). Our dinner this night did not disappoint, proven by the fact that we went back to the restaurant (okay, it was an all you can eat buffet) another three times. If you’re a hungry vegetarian, then An Lac Chay is your best friend – think rice noodles, Vietnamese salads, fresh spring rolls, sweet potato… and I’m drooling. We spent three days exploring the streets of Hanoi, getting a VERY bizarre pedicure and indulging in spring rolls, which for us was a pretty perfect way of spending our days. From Hanoi, we caught a sleeper bus (the whole bus is made up of single beds and unusual disco lights) to Sapa where we spent the next few days. Sapa is an extremely beautiful town surrounded by hiking trails and rice paddies – if you’ve ever been to a ski village you’ll understand the sort of atmosphere this town has… minus the snow. As the independent (broke) women we are, we opted not to get a tour guide for trekking… I highly discourage you from doing this. You’ll see way more of the mountains and villages if you have a local showing you around and it’s a good way to support them also. Basically, we fucked up. Sapa also has a bunch of really beautiful shops selling clothing and antiques which are worth a looksie for sure, as well as some freakin’ delish restaurants – we may or may not have had noodle soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After Sapa we made our way back to Hanoi for a couple of nights, partly because we loved it and partly because, to be honest, we really hadn’t researched enough to decide where else we wanted to go. Making our way south, we headed for a place we actually had done some research on and were very, very keen to get to – Hoi An. As comfortable and affordable as the sleeper bus was, a top tip would be to either sleep with one eye open, or to sleep with your possessions down your undies – my poor friend got her phone and credit card (AND backup credit card) stolen whilst she was asleep. Not the best thing to wake up to. Being the trooper that she is, we got on with our trip and fell in love with Hoi An. Our home stay was recommended to us by a family friend and did not disappoint at all – Minh Phat is owned by a beautiful young family who will go above and beyond to make sure that you’re comfortable, as well as providing free bikes to ride around on as it is the best way to see the town. Hoi An is known for it’s tailors and there’s one basically everywhere you turn, which makes it tricky to know which ones will actually do a good job and not leave you looking like a kid who’s mum made them a spare of the moment Halloween costume. We lucked out with a company called Two Ladies – check out their website, they posted our pictures as they wanted customers to know that they can make “sexy” clothes too. I’m not sure what they were insinuating by that, but nonetheless they did an incredible job! Hoi An is also known for it’s cooking classes and if you’re a big fan of Vietnamese dishes then it should definitely be on your list – most restaurants offer them but I can totally vouch for ‘Karma Waters’, friggin’ delish. If you’re up for a decent bike ride, the beach at Hoi An is beautiful also and much needed in the humidity that is Vietnam. Learning from our mistakes, we opted for a one hour flight to Ho Chi Minh instead of a nineteen hour bus trip – you’d think we would never have made that mistake in the first place. To me, Ho Chi Minh was great for couple of days, particularly if you are a bit of a history buff – the war museum is one of the most interesting, full on and informative I’ve ever been to, and if you’ve got a full day free I highly suggest going and experiencing the Cu Chi Tunnels (not for the faint of heart or the claustrophobic). If neither of these interest you, there’s some pretty damn tasty restaurants goin’ round. Ho Chi Minh was my last stop with my beautiful buddy Tasch before we went our separate ways – her to Japan to meet up with her sister and myself to Thailand with my mamma. I just want to say here how completely grateful I am for Tasch – she’s a friend that feels like home, has a heart of gold, loves to laugh with me (and at me) and inspires me in so many ways. Don’t let the horror stories of friends travelling together discourage you from doing so, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Also one of the best things I’ve ever done – seeing my incredible, hilarious, beautiful mum walk through my hotel room in Bangkok. Brb, cuddling the heck outta her!

Beach, Food, Beach, Food, contd.

Sri Lanka, you have my heart. My soul. And my money because I spent it all on peanut butter smoothie bowls. No regrets, living on less than $10 a day is a good challenge. If you’re thinking about Sri Lanka, stop ya bloody thinking and just do it. As we were travelling in July, the east coast (represent) is where it was at for us – Nillaveli Beach, Trincomalee and Arugam Bay. Nillaveli beach was an awesome way to kick off our coastal journey, with it being very secluded we were able to warm up our pasty bodies with a little sun before we showed them to the world – there’s not a lot in terms of restaurants/other human beings here but it was perfect for our first stop. Trincomalee is much the same in terms of quietness but definitely more options when it comes to restaurants and shops. Hot tip, in this area of Sri Lanka they don’t serve rice at night so highly recommend daily carb loading. Or, if you are as lucky as we were, your hotel owner may just cook you up a Sri Lankan feast that you will tell everybody about for the foreseeable future. You will also eat so much the other people at the hotel will congratulate you, with undertones of judgement. Moving on. Our next stop quickly went from staying five nights to ten because we were just having too much dang fun – Arugam Bay. However, the fun started AFTER the six hour bus trip it took to get there and walking around in our togs at 9pm trying to find accomodation because we unknowingly booked a hell hole of a hostel. This turned into finding an incredible hotel for not that much more $$$ – if you’re travelling on a budget like we are, we’ve realised that being less of a cheapskate when it comes to accomodation is worth it, nothing beats coming back to a nice bed and air conditioning after a sweaty day. And all days are sweaty in Asia. On our second day in A-Bay (what us locals call it) we met some pretty incredible New Zealanders who we would end up playing cards, eating food and laughing with everyday. I’ll also add food poisoning to that list that we all got from a bloody donut. Who would have thought that such a delicious food would betray us like that. Obviously I’ll still be eating donuts, it’s just going to take some time. Nevertheless, super grateful for our NZ’ers. Day 10 meant onward and inland to Ella, which we splurged and got a taxi to in the event that I vomit on other bus passengers. The first day I was bed ridden but pure jealousy of my friend sight seeing brought me out of my funk and we set out to the Lipton Tea fields with our friends and hiked a hike I’m sure I wasn’t ready for but somehow made without passing out in a bed of tea leaves. Not a bad way to go. Day three meant hiking Little Adams Peak at Sunrise (must do) and day four meant hiking Ella Rock which was absolutely stunning, and I absolutely was not mentally or physically prepared for it. However, old ladies and children were doing it so maybe this says more about my physical health than it actually being very taxing. For food, deffo check out Guru Cafe, Chill Cafe and one we didn’t get to but heard great things about called Matey Hut. Heaps of different options but it’s hard to go past the classic Sri Lankan rice and curry. Next stop, Vietnam baby! And it only took a nine hour train ride to Colombo, two hour train to the airport, four hour plane to Kuala Lumpur, seven hour lay over and another four hour plane trip! Simples! Touched down in Hanoi and we already love it here. Check ya later!

Jasper Jones

~ You’ll be into this if: reading To Kill a Mockingbird in school secretly changed your life ~

I say this because, this is the only other book I’ve read that tackles small town racism in that same relatable/make-you-wanna-do-better kinda way. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me to question the system, and Jasper Jones reiterated this for me. This book is an Aussie classic that took me way too long (I’m talking years) to actually pick up, but I’m a firm believer that books come to you when you’re ready for them and I’m so glad this one did. It’s a murder mystery set in a town full of gossip and prejudice, it’s eye opening and funny and beautiful and the brilliance of the way it’s written makes me feel smarter just reading it. This book will stand the test of time in the same way that Atticus Finch will always be my one true love (right?). I can’t recommend Jasper Jones highly enough, hop to it

Let me catch you up..

Boy oh boy time flies when you… forget to blog about the last four places you’ve visited. Let me catch you up. TAJ MAHAL, yep it’s totally a winner. Really, it’s some kind of surreal magic getting the first glimpse of that big beautiful dome and it’s even better if you FaceTime your parents so you get to experience it together. I can’t/won’t let myself imagine what it would be like during peak season however – already you could barely move without wondering whether someone just groped you or it’s simply just very packed. However, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a celebrity, the Taj is the perfect place to visit – I can only imagine the hundreds of photos of me there are with strangers on Facebook, and one where I am holding somebody’s baby. I highly recommend going at either sunrise or sunset – less hot, less crowded, less paparazzi. One train, one bus and about fifty tuk tuk’s later we had arrived in our much anticipated destination of Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world and about 5 degrees cooler than Rajasthan (you’d be surprised how massive this felt to us). It’s hard to explain Rishikesh without sounding like a total douche bag and saying that it just has a ‘vibe’. I can’t help but think it’s because the majority of people that visit/inhabit this place hold a similar purpose and intention for being there. All I can say for sure is that it felt different, and special (and not in the way you describe your younger sibling). Our days in Rishikesh were spent with early morning yoga followed by cafe hopping and big walks to waterfalls where being in the water had never felt so good. To be even more of a d-bag, I got a massage just ’cause I felt like it. Up until this point we had been pretty braggy about the fact our time in India was nearly over and we hadn’t got the infamous ‘Delhi Belly’ yet. So of course, we got it three days out from leaving and it hit us hard. Turns out brushing your teeth with the tap water is ALWAYS a bad idea and that your stomach doesn’t ‘climatise’ no matter how long you’ve been in the country for. Huh, good to know. Let’s just say we felt very lucky that there was no one else in our hostel room/using our bathroom (too much? I thought it might have been). Rishikesh was the perfect way to end our trip in India. We left full of experiences we couldn’t have ever imagined and the feeling that we had only just grazed the surface of this extremely vast and contrasting country. And very ready for some sand, sun and salt water goodness – whaddup Sri Lanka!

We touched down in Colombo late at night, trusted a tuk tuk driver that in hindsight we shouldn’t have, spent a night in a hotel and were straight to Kandy the next day. By straight, I mean after standing for four hours on a completely full train where every stop was a little bit of false hope that somebody would get off. No one did. At the train station we were met by Raju the tuk tuk driver who we for some reason agreed to him taking us around the next day to see the sights – Kandy is inland and renowned for its tea plantations and incredible botanical gardens. Raju was right on time the next day, 9am sharp and we honestly had such a great day. So much so that we asked Raju to come pick us up the next day to take us to the bus station. Turns out implicitly trusting a tuk tuk driver to get you to your bus on time isn’t always a good idea – or ever. We were left waiting by the side of the road, in the pouring rain while Raju was with someone he had gotten a better deal from, laughing at the silly Australian girls. If anyone ever meets Raju, please tell him we’d like to retract the reviews we gave in his book and no longer think he’s ‘such a nice guy!!!’. An hour in after hopping on a bus we merely assumed was going to our destination, my buddy decided that she really, really had to pee and we were to get off this bus immediately. I’m not talking waiting until the bus stops like civilised individuals, I’m talking we jumped out of a bus that was only partially stopped in traffic. When you gotta go you gotta go, I guess. Somehow, we ended up safely arriving in Sigiriya, famous for the ‘Lion Rock’ which has an incredible history dating back many years – I don’t know what the history is, so I suggest googling. Climbing it was bloody cool though! From the summit, you could see for miles uninhabited land with so many shades of green I didn’t even know existed. If you’re scared of heights, this one’s a doozy.

I think that’s about all you need to know for now. We’ve just arrived at our first beach and I’m about to go jump in the ocean. Baiiiii.

All The Light We Cannot See

~ You’ll be into this if: learning about history makes you feel more aware and committed to the present ~

Or at least that’s what I tell myself – instead of the fact that I have a serious addiction to historical fiction and I need help. I just think that we can learn so much from the past by identifying and noticing patterns of what they did right or alternatively, what they did very wrong. This book ticks both categories – through the two teenagers that this story surrounds we are shown morality, sacrifice, courage and love at their very purest. And obvi through war, prejudice and hate we are shown what can happen when the wrong bloody people are in charge. This story is written so beautifully and powerfully through very succinct chapters that it almost feels kinda poetic. I would love to tell you to read this book – but I think that would be enabling an addiction? (Read it)