Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Counting down

Today is the last day of my gap year; day number 365. Three hundred and sixty five days of doing something new for the first time, but today I’m also doing something for the last time. This is officially my last post for 2013 :)

I re-read my post from December 31st 2012 where I wrote that I will post up new things that I did which made me grateful for the day.I think I can say that I've achieved this. Some new things I did were just insanely amazing and I was grateful that I had the opportunity to do each of those, but on the days where I did something small, I was grateful that I'm lucky enough to have some down time. So many people in the world can't enjoy life's simple pleasures like going to a park and reading a book, or watching a movie so I'm thankful that I am able to do this.

I hope all the readers out there know how much I appreciate all the encouragement and support over the year. Thank you to everyone for letting me be myself on this blog and for letting me write the way I do without any criticism or put downs. On that note, I should probably say I'm sorry for all my spelling and grammar mistakes. 

A huge thank you to all my wonderful friends and family who were so willing to go along and do new things with me. Seriously, thank you thank you thank you! All those experiences were made so much better by having you beside me to share the experience with. Thank you for giving me your time and for being so patient with me as I go full tourist-mode and take photos of everything. Thank you for letting me take photos of your food...while it sat there and got cold (I'm sorry!). 

This has been an incredible journey. I hope you enjoyed following my adventures as much as I enjoyed having them. More importantly, I hope you all had your own adventures which made the year memorable for you :)

In that same post from the 31st December 2012, I wrote that I wasn't sure what 2013 would bring. Now that it has come to an end I can see that it brought me incredible new experiences which have brought me even closer to those I love so dear, a better insight into what my home town of Perth has to offer, a taste of what the world outside of Perth has to offer, a better sense of myself and what I'm capable of and of course, a mother ship of amazing memories.

I don't know what 2014 will bring, but whatever comes, good or bad, I’ll take it all. I’m putting all my trust in God’s hands. Faith and my relationship with God plays a huge part in my life. Without it, my feet would stumble wherever I walk. So, I'm grateful to all that God has given me, for all the blessings, but also all the obstacles that I faced and the lessons that I learnt from them.

So I was doing a bit of procrastinating just now, and I found out that one of my favourite Tumblr sites has also come to an end. It's called Just Little Things. It's a blog that lists little things that we do and/or should appreciate. I've been following it for a few years now and even one of my suggestions was approved and posted up on the blog (i think it was "the chocolate at the bottom of an ice cream cone")! I had no idea that the blog was counting up to 1000 little things. However, now that the blog has reached number 1000 "Counting your blessings and realising just how amazing life is.", there won't be as many new posts put up. Instead, past posts will be put up so that the blog remains active. 

Blogs can be pretty amazing. Just Little Things and 1000 Awesome Things was where it all started for me. I read these posts daily and it helped me to appreciate my life. As a result, I wanted to take that appreciation of life and time to the next level and do something new everyday and therein my blog came to be. 

I really do believe that happiness is a choice. I don't remember the exact day or anything, but years ago I just decided to Google some blogs that might encourage me to see life through happier eyes. And because I was proactive, I found two amazing blogs that have completely changed me for the better. Even though these two amazing blogs have ended, and my gap year blog will end too, what's important is everything that happens next. What really matters is that I can still wake up everyday from now on and be able to appreciate how great life can be. 

So let's count down to the new year and I wish you all the best for each and everyday :D Don't be scared to try new things!












New Year's Eve

We leave for our tour of north Vietnam in the early hours of tomorrow morning, so today was a free day for us to explore the part of Saigon that we’re staying in. All the women in the tour group went out and got manicures, pedicures and our hair done. Pampering is definitely something everyone needs to do on holidays, and what’s better than being pampered for a fraction of the price that would be charged back at home.

Afterwards we went out for lunch at a place called Bánh xèo Ăn Là Ghiền. Banh Xeo is also known as Vietnamese pancakes. They are more like a crepe than a pancake, but are much thinner. The edges are crispy and is thicker towards the centre. It's filled with any fillings you like; generally pork and shrimp. It's yellow like an omelet but the colour comes from the turmeric which is added into the batter mixture which also contains rice flour, corn flour, coconut milk and water.  

I was happy to see that they had a vegetarian section on the menu which took up a full page! Cool man! There were heaps of different vegetarian fillings, but I ended up going with the mixed mushroom one and the cassava one. They were even good enough to give me some vegan dipping sauce, which is pretty much like nuoc cham, except they substitute the fish sauce for soy sauce.  

What I also liked about this place was that they cooked the banh xeo behind a counter out the front of the restaurant. I ordered some take away for my mum and my friend and I had a good time watching them being made. They had special skillet type woks. They poured the batter along the edges so that it would pool into the centre. This way, the edges are super crispy. They had take-away boxes for the banh xeo, and put that all together in a big bag with the fresh salad that you traditionally eat it with, and of course the nuoc cham. So cool! I don't think take-away banh xeo will ever become a thing in Perth. But I'll cross my fingers for it to happen. 

The view from my hotel in Saigon :)

I also had a boiled jackfruit seed today (the two things in the front). I love jackfruit (the yellow thing on the left), and now that I know the seeds are edible, it just makes the fruit even more awesome. The seed tastes pretty good too! A bit like a chestnut :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Two days til New Years

We went to one of the temples in Bangkok today. You'll have to excuse me for not remember the name of it, but I know that it's not the famous golden Buddha temple. They're quite strict in the temples. You're not allowed to wear any bottoms which are shorter than knee length, and everyone must take off their shoes and hats before entering. For all those in short shorts and skirts, they have sarongs which you can buy to cover up the legs. It was quite lovely inside, and I was surprised at how crowded it was. 

For lunch today we ate at The Royal Dragon Restaurant which was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1992 as the world's largest restaurant. As in, it has enough seating for about 5000 customers. It's a lovely restaurant with both indoor and outdoor dining, and heaps of karaoke rooms. The food is delivered by guys wearing roller blades, which I though was quite cool. The service is friendly, and the food was pretty good too :)

Today was also the last day of our Thailand tour. It has been wonderful opportunity to go and see parts of Thailand. At the beginning of the year, I certainly wouldn't have guessed that I'd be on this tour, soaking in the Thai culture, tasting all the delightful food and meeting all the lovely people that I've met. I really am privileged to be able to just go on holiday like this. It certainly has been a pleasant new experience. A big thank you to Vietravel, the touring company that organised our itinerary and took us around! The next leg of the journey is Vietnam again for another tour. Goodbye Thailand :)

The beautiful view this morning from the Prince Palace Hotel. It's a really gorgeous hotel. I would recommend it to everyone!
I also wanted to share with you something that made my day. When my dad was booking the tickets for the tour, he forgot to notify the airline of my dietary requirements so that I can have vegan food on the plane. I was pretty lucky on the flights to Vietnam because they had spare vegan food, but on the short plane ride today, they didn't have any spares. The meal consisted of a dessert dish which I thought was cake but actually turned out to be jelly, an Asian chicken salad (luckily the chicken wasn't mixed in with the salad) and water and juice. 

When I told the flight attendant about being vegan, she tried her best to make some adjustments but in the end she said that I could eat take out the chicken of the Asian chicken salad and she gave me a two packets of roasted nuts. The meal was actually pretty filling, so I wasn't going to go hungry or anything, but the flight attendant came back about 10 minutes later and gave me the container of fruit that she was given for her meal. She said she wanted me to have a good meal. It was such a lovely act of kindness and it made my already good day, a million times better. I think it's those nice things that people do unexpectedly that really reach inside and tickles the part of you that feels. I think I make a bigger deal out of acts of kindness more than other people do, but that's just the way my brain works. It's incredibly touching when someone does something nice for me. Over time I've made conscious effort to not take anything anyone does for me for granted, and as a result, even the smallest of things makes me gush with maximum levels of joy and appreciation. 

Thai airlines everybody. Fly Thai airlines. One good experience is enough for me to want to tell everyone to fly with them :P

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Three days til New Year

 It's day four of our five day and it feels like we've been here for a week. We've just done so much in such a short amount of time that it feels like more time has gone by. 

The first on the itinerary today was a place that sold medicines make from snakes. A lot of Asian cultures use herbal and animal medicines to cure ailments and improve the body. There was a cool snake show going on as we walked through the door. They loved scaring the audience by pretending to throw the snakes at us. As they were bringing the snakes around for us to touch, one guy grabbed my hand and tried to scare me that way...didn't work though. Better luck next time :P

The guy trying to scare me by grabbing my hand

Today was also our shopping day. We headed over to a new department store called Isetan in Bangkok. It was about 4 storeys high and was just filled with really high-end and fancy stores. Lots of brand names. It was fun walking around and having a look at everything on sale. The prices weren't that much cheaper than what you'd find back in Perth, but there were plenty of stores I've never been to before so it was refreshing to see all the different styles of clothing. 

For dinner we went to the Baiyoke Sky Tower in Bangkok. It is the tallest tower in Thailand, measuring in at 309 metres tall. There are a total of 2 060 steps from the bottom to the top, and it takes over an hour to reach the top by foot. That would be a great workout. Calves of steel after doing that. The tower is a hotel which includes a whole list of other attractions. There are heaps of buffets (including a fruit buffet!) and restaurants, fitness club, a roof top bar and there is a gold range nearby. There is also a revolving observation deck at the very top that we went up to after dinner. The view of the city was great. It was a windy night, but it didn't spoil the view :)

Lastly, I just want to mention that the buffet we ate at was amazing. It was an international buffet. The variety of foods was amazing, and all of it was well cooked and delicious. One new thing that I tried and absolutely loved was the deep fried taro. I have so much love for taro, and when it's deep fried, it's just magical :P I think I should experiment more with deep frying. There could be so much more fatty goodness out there ready for me to discover. 

Some of the dessert section

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Four days til New Year

Today we packed up all our gear, checked out of the hotel in Pattaya and headed for Bangkok. Before going to our new hotel, we spent the day at Safari World, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok. We watched heaps of different shows with all kinds of extremely well trained animals. We also did a safari tour where we saw just a huge array of different animals such as zebras, giraffes, buffalo, deer (pretty much anything and everything with antlers and/or that resembled Bambi), and just about everything else you might see out on an African safari. Definitely a worth while place to check out.

This bear has what looks like a mane. I thought that was cool :)
Now, what a really want to brag about is a show we went to called Cookin' Nanta in Bangkok. This was hands down one of the best performances I've ever been to. I have never seen anything quite like this and it was so unique and refreshing. Cookin' is a show where kitchen utensils and props are used to create music and rhythm. I would consider this a comedy performance. There is little dialogue, with some of the most hilarious non-verbal performances I've ever watched. 

The plot of the show is that there are three chefs who work together in a restaurant run by quite a strict manager. One day he sets them the job of preparing a 10 course menu and puts his nephew in charge. Having a new cook in the kitchen disrupts it's normal dynamic, and so they have to find a way to work together to meet the one hour deadline. 

It really is just the most amazing show. Some of the talent is absolutely incredible! The musical talent is amazing, and they do so many tricks and stunts with the kitchen props. Truly great stuff. The show did a world tour in 2012, so now I'm going to be keeping an eye out for a second tour. Cookin' is so good!! I want everyone to experience how great this show is!! 

The set :)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Five days til New Year

Ermergherd four days til new year! I cannot believe how quick this year has gone, and yet some of the things I did at the beginning of the year seem so long ago. I'm struggling to get my head around the fact that this time last year I was on my holiday in America. I can still remember it so vividly. It's so weird that some things feel like forever ago, yet others are still so fresh in my mind. I've just done to many things that my perception of time has all been muddled. Brain, what are you doing?

Ok, back to my Thailand trip. Today we went to a lovely island called Koh Sak Island. It was about a 10-15 minute boat ride (speed boat, mind you) from the beach near where we're staying. It was a lovely day to spend at the beach. There were a few water activities for tourists to do such as scuba diving, banana boat rides and jet ski rides. My friend had told me about the banana boat so I gathered some of the other people I'm holidaying with together and we rode on that. It's a pretty fun activity. For this particular one, we had 5 people all sitting on an inflated tube which got pulled along by a jet ski. The aim is to not get thrown off. We all managed to stay on, but I think the guy riding the jet ski was going pretty easy on us. 

We didn't have a great deal of time allocated for the Island, so instead of doing all the water activities, we just swam in the ocean instead. It was seriously so lovely. The water was clear, not ridiculously salty, the view was gorgeous with some lush green cliffs in the distance and the sun wasn't scorching hot, and the water was perfect temperature. I'm not a fan of being out in the sun, but I could have stayed at this beach all day if I had the chance.

The rest of the day was super busy. We went to this elephant park where I took some photos with elephants and watched an elephant show. Don't get me wrong, they train these elephants to do some seriously amazing tricks, but a part of me felt so sad for these big fellas. I hope they get well looked after. 

Throwing a basket ball into a hoop
This is a baby elephant stepping over me
We then went to a lovely place called Nong Nooch Garden and Resort and had a bit of a walk around there. It was a lovely garden with lots of cute displays are beautiful flora. It was very serene. Next stop was the Alangkarn Theatre were we watched a performance about the origins of Thailand. The costume and set were amazing. They even had elephants up on stage. These creatures are so amazing. It was strange to see them so domesticated.

I love these pots. They were all around the garden. Each one with a unique facial expression.

Finally, we ended the night with a performance called Tiffany's Show. Kid you not, this was just an entire song and dance show with Thailand's finest transgender performers. It isn't a show that would suit every one's taste, but I guess the tour guides just wanted us to get a taste of what Thailand has to offer. Everyone on and off stage was male by nature but wow, some of these performers were hot. As in, they looked like extremely attractive women. There were of course the few that were obviously male by their face and physique, but most of them just looked so much like women. Gorgeous women. 

After the show, the tour guide was telling us that there are some women who walk out of a show upset because there are men who are prettier than them, but what he tells them is that these men get so much work done to their face and bodies that they're barely their real selves anymore. It's all just fake. At the end of the day. these guys remove their costumes and twenty layers of makeup and probably don't look anywhere as good a woman who still has her natural face. I totally agree with what the tour guide was saying. Anyone can look beautiful with the right makeup and clothing. A natural face is so much rarer these days, but it's what should be encouraged amongst women. 

It was quite lovely inside the theatre building.
This is a portrait of one of the performers who is dressed half as a man, and half as a woman. You can see the performer in the photo below on the left.