List: Unexpected lessons from traveling the world

I’m far from an expert, but after traveling for three months, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the world, different cultures and myself. I could write for pages and pages about all this, but here’s a quick rundown of the things that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

1: Bum hoses are the future

As anyone who has traveled to Asia might tell you, the whole toilet situation can become quite stressful, from Delhi Belly to squat toilets – but I’m here to tell you that it’s not all trauma in the little girls’ room. Something that I had never heard mentioned is a toilet hose, which you can find hanging beside any plumbed-in toilet in Thailand and Vietnam (and probably beyond, but I’ll stick to what I know). We didn’t know what it was called, but it looked like a hose for your bum – hence, bum hose. We were dubious at first, but by the time we flew to New Zealand five weeks later, we were bum-hose-converts – there’s nothing like the fresh feeling of … well, you get the idea.

But that’s not where it stopped – I soon found many uses for the trusty bum hose. It’s great for giving the toilet seat a quick clean before sitting down. If there isn’t a sink, use it to wash your hands. Been to the beach? Don’t traipse sand all through the apartment, bum hose your feet! I also once raged a war on a team of ants trying to get in about my shower with the bum hose. The possibilities are endless, and every toilet should come equipped with a bum hose.

A handy guide to using the toilet hose

2: There is such a thing as too many noodles/Buddhas/museums

I set off on my travels with an ambition: I was going to eat local food all the time, and I was going to see everything. The first leg went really well – we saw two Buddhas, celebrated the King’s birthday, shopped in Siam square and ate in a different place for every meal, all in just four days in Bangkok (when you take into account the two days we suffered with jet lag, this is pretty impressive). Cut to week four in Vietnam, and we were sick to death of noodles, and we were exhausted. We had looked down upon those who caved in and had pizza and full English breakfasts in Bangkok, but Oh-Em-Gee, were we craving bread and bacon now! On top of that, temples were no longer impressive, and museums were downright boring. We felt like we had literally seen it all, and where’s my pina colada on the beach already?

My advice to you: you can’t see it all, and sometimes you need home comforts. Choose the educational and cultural things you want to see, and remember to schedule in a few days to relax and really enjoy the 3/6/12 months you’ve taken off work – if you don’t, you’ll only need another holiday afterwards. And take your home comforts when you can! A lot of the smaller towns and islands won’t have real milk (how I missed tea!), and the menu options were noodles, rice, or noodle soup. Take some time to look after yourself, or else you’re going to burn out.

3: Pineapple juice is good for jellyfish stings too

Now I’m not a doctor, biologist, zoologist  or anything clever like that, so don’t take this as gospel. When we were scuba diving in Railey, Thailand, my boyfriend felt something zap him on the lips and had to stop. He never saw what caused the damage, but his trout pout was pretty impressive, and he said it was stingy. We’re still not entirely sure, but we reckon it was a teeny tiny jellyfish, or a bad reaction to a sea lice sting. Well, we all know the cure for a jellyfish sting, but for some reason he wasn’t really up for a wee in the face – each to their own, eh? So we got on Google (other search engines are available, but who knows what they are), and discovered alternative cures such as vinegar or pineapple juice. We met up with some friends at a bar, and Chris spent the night drinking rum and pineapple juice with plenty of soothing ice. Whaddya know? He felt fine in no time. Whether this was the rum or the pineapple at work, we’ll never know.

4: People are mostly good eggs

Throughout our travels, we had to rely on the kindness of strangers a lot. From asking a local in Bangkok where the hell we were, to politely requesting a jump-start not once, but twice in campsites in New Zealand, there were a lot of opportunities for people to double cross us, make fun of us or just be generally unhelpful. But they weren’t. We got a bus all the way across Vietnam with no-one who spoke English. We entrusted our worldly possessions to uncountable hotel receptions while we waited for transport/an available room. We let people know that we were totally lost, broke or homeless, and asked for their help. And, aside from one or two incidents, people looked after us. While I’m still sensible and cautious, it’s made me far less cynical about other people’s motives. After all, if you were on the other side, you’d do your best to help too, wouldn’t you?

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Thailand Diaries: The Grand Palace

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The Grand Palace

Picking up where I left off, on the 7th we headed out to the Grand Palace to see the Emerald Buddha. According to an old friend from school who is Thai, if we don’t see the Emerald Buddha, we just haven’t seen Thailand! The Grand Palace was beautiful – it puts Buckingham Palace to shame. The guards were rubbish though; they kept scratching their noses and laughing. It was blisteringly hot that day, the sun was splitting the sky! I was glad to whap out my maxi dress for the Grand Palace, but Chris wore shorts – not allowed! You can borrow long pants for free, but the queue was massive, so we paid 20THB and a 100THB deposit to rent some from outside the palace. They had elephant patterns on them, Chris looked very dashing.

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Thai guards – not quite as disciplined as what we British are used to

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Emerald Buddha – no photos allowed in the temple, but you get the jist!

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Elephant pants

At the palace we nearly fell for one of the common scams, which we actually read about in the guidebooks. We approached the wrong entrance (we didn’t know that at the time), and a guy told us that the palace was shut for prayer. He said we could go on a boat tour instead, and he would get us a tuk tuk, and we could come back later, all for 900THB. I fully expect we would have got our boat tour, but we decided to explore on our own, found the right entrance to the Palace and realised what had just happened. It is quite a common thing, these people just want to direct your custom to them and their own, albeit at a high price. We didn’t feel unsafe and the guy was really polite and not pushy at all, which is why we almost considered it! But as far as scams go, some overcharging and encouraging you to see other sights isn’t too bad – everyone has to make a buck!

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Walking around the temple of the Grand Palace

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Thailand Diaries: Bangkok and the King’s Birthday

The King’s birthday is on 5th December each year, and it is a massive deal in Thailand. As far as we could tell, everybody loves the King – one tuk tuk driver told us he would die for his King (a tuk tuk is a three wheel passenger carrying moped – the best way to travel in Bangkok). We started our King’s birthday with some Thai massages (a must – slightly painful, but totally worth it in the end), before heading out to explore.

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A tuk tuk

On this special day, the standing Buddha is apparently open for free to all tourists. We suspect that a guy told us that just so we would go in his pal’s tuk tuk, and that it’s free all the time – the tourist information place was giving free gas to tuk tuk drivers who brought tourists in, just for the King’s birthday. We were happy to oblige, we went in and asked for a free map (they had run out), the guy got his free gas and we saw the standing Buddha – win win win!

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Standing Buddha

In the evening, we just followed the crowds. Everyone was heading to the local park, Sanam Luang, where a stage was set up with some Thai Dancers. We didn’t really watch for long, because we were so distracted by all the lanterns in the sky! Everyone was letting them off – there was at least three a second going up in the immediate vicinity, and probably ten times as many or more all around the park; the sky was full of them all floating off, it was so beautiful.

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The King’s Birthday

The next day, we ventured into Siam – we got a boat and a sky train, so we saw some great sights along the river. It was so ridiculously mental when we got there – it made London look tame. You could hardly walk in the streets, and there are mile upon mile of back streets with stalls that would be great to haggle in. Unfortunately, because of our travel budget and backpacks, we’re not able to buy too much. There’s not much good food in Siam either – it was a great experience, but just the one afternoon was enough. Oh, and there were lots of Christmas decorations going up. Being used to a Scottish Christmas, it was odd to see Christmas trees and lights while we were dripping with sweat from the heat!

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Unimpressed in Siam