Travel

Week 1: Blazers to Beaches

**This post is about five weeks behind schedule. A post that I started with the best intent in week two, and let slip until now. I’d apologise, but I’ve made slowing down, relaxing and working on healing a top priority in my first few weeks of travel. In the next month, I’ll be slow travelling (spending more time in destinations), and will be making an effort to catch-up.**

Week one down.

Writing this update from the guise of week two, it’s crazy how different things feel to even a few days ago. Week one felt chaotic- going from place to place in Spain, rearranging flights to get to SE Asia earlier than planned, and then hitting go-go-go mode in Singapore and Malaysia to see as much as possible in the limited time I had in each.

This post isn’t about Thailand (that’s next week’s update), but four days of being in the Land of Smiles and I’m starting to feel like I can breathe again. Don’t get me wrong, my first week of travelling was wonderful in so many ways, but I felt anxious, uncertain, frustrated with having to change things, disappointed I wouldn’t get to see my sister in Dublin or good friend, hi Jessica, in Stockholm,  irritated with how many things were still on my ‘before you travel’ to-do list, and above all else, deeply exhausted.

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Looking back at it all, I probably should have taken a few days in London to relax. Or, even Scotland. Somewhere semi-familiar where I could unwind after leaving a job and work towards tying up the dozens of loose ends that’ve followed me on this trip.

But, that’s life. You live and you learn. The first week felt crazy busy, but there were also moments in Spain where Le and I agree time seemed to stand still-

Sitting in the flower patios of Cordoba, listening to crickets and inhaling the scent of orange blossom wafting through the air.

Perched cliffside in Nerja, watching the sun set over the sea and listening to the sound of church bells in the distance, intermingled with lazy evening flow of conversations around us.

Driving through Andalusia and gasping for breath every time we rounded a corner and somehow had an even better view of the mountains than we did before.

And in SE Asia, despite running around trying to see as much as possible, I couldn’t help but pause to enjoy the fact I was even in Singapore and Malaysia. Both places I wasn’t sure I’d make it to in 2019 even six months ago.

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The overall peak and pit of my first week?

One in the same: Leaving for travel immediately after my last day of work, and feeling burned out from trying to do so much so fast.

This post is coming to you from Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. It’s a day I’m hanging out in cafes, writing and catching up on the dozens of things on my to do list. I won’t get through all of it today- hardly even a fraction- but, progress is progress no matter how small. And, at the end of it all, I can’t help but marvel in wonder at the fact I’m even sitting here typing this to share.

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Dates Covered: 

  • Sunday, 10 March – Saturday, 16 March
    • Technically, my travels started on Saturday, 9 March but I’m choosing to start the journalling on the next Sunday because that Saturday saw me in London in the am, and then flying to Andalusia in the late afternoon/evening. By the time we rented a car and checked into our hotel, it was time for bed

Places Visited: 

  • Andalusia, Spain: Frigiliana, Nerja, Granada, Cordoba, Ronda, Malaga
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia: Kuala Lumpar

By the Numbers: 

  • Flights: 4
  • Passport stamps: 3
  • Taxis / tuk tuks: 15
  • Beds slept in: 6
  • Cars rented: 1
  • Cups of cold brew: 4
    • Lower intake than usual because cold brew is simply not a thing in Southern Spain, so most days I went caffeine free

Andalusia, Spain Peaks + Pits

Peaks:

  • Spending this time in Spain with a beautiful human who I don’t get to see nearly as often as I’d like
  • Driving southern Spain, we just could not get over how beautiful it was. Mountains and stretches of ocean appeared seemingly endless
  • Discovering small Spanish towns as we drove through them, quaint and quiet
  • Questioning whether we were in Spain or Greece while wandering the sloping streets of Frigiliana- white washed houses, potted plants galore, blue hued doors and winding cobblestone streets- an actual dream
  • Coastal views in Nerja, absolutely incredible. Watching the sun rise over the ocean brought on the most magnificent shades of pink and orange, and we were able to enjoy in relative silence with only chirping birds and swaying palm trees as our companions
  • No words could ever do The Alhambra justice- expansive gardens and rooms were intricate details were next level. And, can’t forget to mention the brightness of the city below, the contrast of the pure white homes against the mountains and bright blue sky- it was mesmerizing
  • The patios of Cordoba blew us away. Dozens upon dozens of flower pots, no detail overlooked. It’d be a serious dream to sit in them each morning and meditate or sip coffee to start the day
  • Witnessing the blend of architecture styles and religions in the Mesquite Cathedral in Cordoba- unbelievable
  • Munching on Manchego as we traversed the narrow streets of Cordoba’s Old Quarter, something about that cheese and its salty smoothness makes it an ideal snack
  • The views of Ronda from the bridge, city streets and valley below. Simply can not believe a place like this was built without the aid of modern technology
  • Watching the sun set on our last night in Malaga from the beach, and finding a grocery store for an impromptu tapas picnic- such a nice change of pace to the few days prior

Pits:

  • Woke up sick my first day of travel. Blaming it on drinking too much at my leaving drinks, and just generally being burnt out. Luckily, it was only a sinus infection, but still made for a few challenging days trying to cram things in while visiting Andalusia
  • We talked at length about tourism’s impact on small towns like Frigiliana- it’s got to be jarring for locals who’ve lived there for decades to see what the town is becoming. An interesting thing for me to think about as I head to SE Asia- responsible tourism (if such a thing does even exist)
  • Attempting to drive in cities. I’m so proud of myself for insisting I drive the entire trip (something I’m normally not comfortable doing), but trying to navigate the twisting alleyways of Spanish cities and chaotic intersections that didn’t quite match Google Maps proved frustrating at times
  • The overall pace of the trip – go, go, go – was a bit much. We knew it would be, but I’d slow down next time. There’s magic in the unplanned

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Singapore Peaks + Pits

Peaks:

  • Breezing through customs in Singapore, always a win. Also, had an entire row to myself on the night flight from Helsinki- what could be better?
  • Making it just in time to see the last nightly showing of the Spectra light show at MBS. Touristy? Yes, but a beautiful display of light, water and sound against the city skyline (also free!)
  • Starting to explore Singapore and form initial impressions – so clean, very futuristic- even saw an automatic orange juice machine
  • Waiting too long to have dinner out on my first night and having to resort to a food court, where I just so happened to discover excellent custard buns, boba and great noodles
  • Spending a morning in Gardens by the Bay- they’re so lush and the towering structures are cool to gaze upon. The Cloud Forest can’t be missed- it’s so relaxing. Above all else though, I love the sustainability mission the Gardens stands by
  • Popping by the ArtScience Museum and watching children explore each room with unabandoned joy- a reminder to appreciate the simple things in life, like the way a ball bounces across a room
  • Seeing historic architecture on Koon Seng Road, so spectacular, each home like a pastel rainbow. Wish I could see the insides of the homes, I’m envisioning them as just as colourful (even though I know they’re likely not)
  • Perusing Little India and eating at my first hawker centre (mango lassi and cheese prati). Everything in this part of town felt so vivid and loud, which was a bit much for me in the midst of the afternoon heat
  • Finding excellent cold brew, strong air con and a puppy friend to play with at a cafe in Chinatown (Free the Robot)

Pits:

  • The heat. Oh, the heat. It felt relentless, especially with clear skies and strong sun
  • Being nervous to order things at a hawker centre (because food allergies). If I’m back in Sing, I’m going to work up the courage to try things that are more adventurous
  • Cost of getting around the city- so expensive using Grab (relative to the rest of SE Asia), but also the only way to check off as much as I wanted to do. And, if I’m being honest, the aircon in cars was a saviour
  • Jet lag. With only one day in Sing, I wanted to see as much as possible and probably took on way too much. I’ll be heading to KL very exhausted

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Kuala Lumpar (Day 1) Peaks + Pits

Peaks: 

  • Being shocked by how affordable Malaysia is. Would be interested to see how this stands up outside KL- e.g. if smaller cities are even more affordable
  • Gawking at how green this country is, feels like it should be the national colour
  • The vibrant reds, orange and yellow colours of Theon Hua Temple, and dozens upon dozens of lanterns strung across the courtyard to welcome visitors. It feels like the temple is showing off in the best way possible
  • Hiking (albeit a short one) an eco-park near city centre. Love that KL has this space available to walk high among the treetops and escape the hustle and bustle of the congested highways below
  • Checking out a massive mall near my Airbnb. Malls are such a cultural thing in SE Asia, a gathering place not just for shopping but also great food and hanging out. Fun to observe the differences and similarities between the malls I’ve visited here so far and what I grew up knowing
  • An incredible Airbnb with a great rooftop pool, something that feels like a must for surviving Malaysia’s heat if you haven’t acclimated to SE Asia yet

Pits: 

  • Only having two days to explore- there’s so much to see and do! Definitely hope to make it back to Malaysia one day, if not on this trip
  • An early morning flight meant I got to watch the sunrise from the airport, but also felt like I was sleepwalking for the first half of the day (all the caffeine, please)
  • The heat and humidity- I thought Sing was bad, but man, it was nothing compared to KL. Most of the palm trees I saw were short and thick- at one point I whimsly wondered if they’re too tired from the heat to keep growing
  • First instance of men following me around and asking for a photo- I know it’s a ‘seeing a Westerner thing’, but as a woman travelling alone, I’m not down with it
  • Being too tired from the heat and lack of sleep to make it to some of the city’s night markets. Silver lining: Found a Nando’s and bubble tea for dinner near my Airbnb, so no complaints on the delicious front

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Next up in Week Two: Day two in Kuala Lumpar, one day in Bangkok, three days in Chiang Rai and an introduction to Chiang Mai

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Have you ever taken a long trip to unfamiliar lands and places? What advice would you give to someone who is at the start of her journey? 

PS. The idea for a peak and pit comes via Disasters of a Thirty Something, who inspired me with her travels through SE Asia, NZ, Aus and Africa last year. She’s a fabulous, funny Brit who you should absolutely follow on Instagram.

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