Studying, Partying, Graduating, Travelling & Grad Job-ing

$2 Massage, Angkor Whaaaat?!?

We arrived into Cambodia at half 9, got our visas and headed straight to the Mad Monkey hostel. The most shocking thing we found once we were outside is the number of bugs that are flying around everywhere, there is just so many. It’s not just little mozzies or flies they are huge flying crickets (gross) which meant I flinched every time something flew past my head or landed on me.

After checking in to our room we headed to the roof terrace beach bar which had sand on the floor – not too practical if you ask me, sand gets everywhere. There we had a couple of cocktails before heading to bed.

The next morning was another early one; we left armed with sun cream and Jungle Formula, dressed in our Lara Croft attire ready to explore the Angkor Temples.
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The level of detail carved into the stone was incredible, and the whole site was so picturesque.
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Lozzy spent pretty much the majority of the tour ‘being Tomb Raider.’
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That evening we headed to Pub Street in search of food, as the name suggests it was full of pubs, bars and restaurants so we had plenty of choice. Pub street resembles a Malia or somewhere like that, with young backpackers stumbling out of bars and clubs at 4am. We had our fun, and headed back to the dorm for some well needed rest.
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The next morning our hangovers were awful, the mixture of sun, dehydration and drinking didn’t go quite so well. This meant that we wasted a day chilling out, eating and sleeping before heading to Pub Street for a 45 minute massage for $2! Bliss. Then it was back to bed for an early night before we make our day-long journey to Bangkok.
All in all it was a fab couple of days; the people were great, the nightlife was fun, Angkor Wat was beautiful and the hostel was nice. The only thing that puts me off Cambodia is the size and volume of all the bugs, no amount of Jungle Formula can help.

More fun in the Philippines

Our first evening on Mactan Island we spent getting manicures and pedicures, just because we are the worst travellers ever! But we only spent a few pesos, so all was OK. We ate at Tokyo Joes that night, and had the Japanese equivalent of a KFC box meal – it was quite nice to be fair.
The next morning was a very early start, we were up at 5.30am (yes that’s only 10.30pm in the UK) to get a boat to Bohol at 7am. The ferry was interesting and resembled more of an aeroplane than a boat.
Our tour started by looking at a rather large (300kg) python that had been captured (in 1996) – yes, it’s bloated; it had a whole goat for dinner.
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Then on to a butterfly farm – look here’s a butterfly.
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The tour included a riverboat lunch, which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to. However, it was surprisingly good (even if the food wasn’t) the water was smooth and the views were beautiful.
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After lunch we were then led onto a hanging bridge (that didn’t look particularly stable), on the other side was a man that could open a coconut with his teeth – it was pretty amazing, but I don’t have a photo because he was going to charge to 200 pesos for letting me take one.
The next stop was the Chocolate Hills, the reason we came to Bohol. They are called Chocolate Hills because in winter when the grass dries/dies it becomes a chocolaty-brown colour.
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Our last stop of the tour was the tarsier enclosure; these little primates are incredibly cute. But get stress easily and commit suicide, so no noise, camera flashes or holding the tarsiers was allowed.
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On Sunday we flew from Cebu back to Manila for our evening flight to Cambodia. We had a whole day in Manila before our flight so we put our bags in storage and headed to the safest place we could think of – The Mall of Asia. The third largest mall in the world – imagine 3 Meadowhalls. Being the world’s worst backpackers we wandered around some shops, we could have been in the UK with the amount of British retailers there, before catching the 1.40pm showing of ‘Man of Steel’ (luckily in English).
After the movie we still had so time to waste so headed to TGI Friday’s for BOTTOMLESS Mojito’s before getting our flight to Cambodia.
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Our favourite airline, we were gutted when they said they no longer did the safety dance.

So all in all, the things I have learnt about the Philippines are as follows;
• Everyone will call you ma’am or sir – thus we felt obliged to do the royal wave from the back of the taxi.
• Everyone will look at you if you have ginger hair and/or are Caucasian – we grew to love our new found celebrity status.
• The local people tend to understand the northern one – I’m not sure why, but no-one could understand Lozzy or me. We had to get Tom to translate.
• The line markings on the road are just general guidelines – feel free to drive wherever you like as long as you are only centimetres away from the car in front.
• When plugging in electrical items to charge the sockets will spark – if you tell someone about it they will either laugh or give you a ‘yeah, so….’ look, it’s completely normal.
• Mutya Buena from the Sugababes is in actual fact a Filipino, and her family lives on the island of Bohol.
• The tour guides have some sort of obsession with asking to take a photo of you on your camera, like the only reason we came is to take photos – weird, I don’t understand.

Waterfalls and Caipirinhas

The next morning we did some extreme bus riding out of Cebu city, the bus practically bounced the whole three hour journey to Moalboal. We checked into the backpacker hostel, which had the most uncomfortable beds I have ever slept on, a shower that was a hose and a toilet that you had to pour water down to flush – great.

We chucked our bags down and headed off to white beach, the water was clear but the sand wasn’t as soft as we had hoped.
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Regardless, Tom continued to build his reservoir/canal/general hole in the sand. We spent a couple of hours at the beach before going back to the hostel to ‘shower,’ change and get some food. A girl staying at the hostel had told us about a local restaurant called Chili, we weren’t expecting a lot, but walked in to find the most amazing views as the sun was setting. We ordered food and a couple of frozen margaritas (which had either melted or it wasn’t frozen in the first place) and chilled in front of the beautiful view.
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After a couple more cocktails, including a weng-weng which had every type of spirit in you could imagine, we were pretty drunk and in need of dessert so headed to another restaurant for banana splits. Realising that it was only 7.30pm and we were already drunk we went back to the hostel for a game of scrabble and a movie before bed.

The next day we went back to Chili’s for breakfast and milkshakes, which were surprisingly good. We then met the lovely Anne who was from the Netherlands and staying in our hostel and got a tricycle to the Kawasan falls. After an hour we arrived to the most beautiful blue water surrounded by jungle.
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At the falls there were rafts for hire, so we couldn’t resist and jumped on one. The raft drivers directed us under the waterfall for a ‘water massage’ and generally a bit of a wash!
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Anne made us do the Filipino pose – we feel it’s more Myspace circa 2002.

We then jumped in for a bit of a swim, until Tom told me that fish were swimming in the water – I then jumped back out. After the falls we came back to the hostel for a shower (we finally found the real ones!) and some food (Chili’s, obvs.) Our planned ‘few drinks’ became a bit more eventful than we thought. The first thing we did once getting to the bar was make a human pyramid because someone staying at our hostel had it on a bucket list that his friend designed for him.

Tom and I were drinking caipirinhas all night and still couldn’t work out how to pronounce them. Later on I realised I left most of the money in the hostel, so had to go back and get some more. Only the hostel was locked as it was 1am, the ladyboys in the bar next door tried to help Tom and I pick the lock, but it just wasn’t working. The only option was to get the woman behind the bar to trek with us through the jungle in the pitch black to caretakers room for a spare key. I had to put to the back of my mind all the animals and insects that were biting me to death during this trek (the caipirinhas made this much easier) but we got the key and all was fine. Back to the bar for a couple more before bed.

I also found out today that I will be graduating from The University of Birmingham on the 4th July with a 2:1 BSc Business Management degree with Honours. YAY!

Fun in the Philippines

We left Hong Kong on Monday morning and felt a bit nervous about boarding the Cebu flight to Manila, good old blacklisted airline. It was made worse by the turbulence during take-off, but once we were in the air the cabin crew started playing the ‘show me’ game where they read out items and passengers had to show them the item from their seat. Obviously we were well into it and won. Our prize was 3 different coloured pens (yay!) We then headed to our hostel in Makati City (which, like always, was difficult to find) but the room was big and the air-con was freezing so all was good.

Manila didn’t seem so safe, so we tried to avoid wandering round the city. In the evening we headed out for food. So, being the tight-budgeted, fresh out of uni travellers that we are, we managed to end up at the Hyatt hotel and casino. So, went to the bar for dinner and lychee martinis before heading downstairs to the roulette table where we managed not to gamble away our months budget (good result!) Off to Cebu in the morning, so it’s an early night for us…

We woke up early to get to the airport for our flight to Cebu. Another Cebu pacific flight, another Cebu pacific prize – yes we won again! The hostel we stayed in was ok, but the air-con wasn’t strong enough and we shared our first dorm room with 3 other strange guys. Cebu city is pretty boring so we spent the day booking trips and hostels for the rest of the week then went for food. And of course our travels would not be complete without the obligatory game of travel scrabble and a drink before bed.

I’m not impressed with the Philippines so far and can’t wait to get out of the cities and go off to Moalboal in the morning for sun, sea and sand!

Wet Markets and Chocolate Martinis

Friday night we went to the night markets, it was nice to be about the hustle and bustle of the streets of central Hong Kong. After purchasing a handbag each (yes, even Tom) we stopped for dinner in Lan Kwai Fong and then went for a few drinks in some of the bars and clubs. We didn’t get back until 4am so laid in until 11am and then went for a hike in the jungle, were I was eaten alive by bugs – despite the copious amounts of jungle formula insect repellent and my suncream that also had insect repellent in.
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We then came back for a quick shower before heading straight back out for a dim sum lunch. Later on we visited a wet market that sold some, well let’s say ‘interesting’ things – pigs heads, black chicken, chicken feet and general fish guts. Lovely.
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That night we headed back into Lan Kwai Fong, we were sat in a restaurant when there was a torrential downpour – needless to say we stayed in there a while. We stayed out around the bars and clubs, including some really swanky ones where we had chocolate martinis, until about 7am – this bit is a little fuzzy.
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I do remember that we went to a fry up place for breakfast and pancakes before heading back to the house to bed – perfect.
After a long night we managed to sleep until about 1pm, before getting up and going to Hong Lok Yuen’s country club for lunch and dip in the pool.
In the evening we headed back to central for the light show, where all the buildings light up in time to the music.
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I couldn’t take any pictures as I was too busy concentrating on trying not to throw up – felt really sea sick. However, I was not as bad as Tom, who decided to spew his guts all down the side of the boat. Delightful. We then got off the boat and tried to settle our stomach before heading to the restaurant (name) which was on the 29th floor with fantastic views of the city.
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Hong Kong was so surreal, and such a travelling cop out. We have been in absolute luxury from the moment we touched down. Country clubs, posh dinners, lovely house to stay in and such great hosts – I could get used to this, but it’s time to get back to traveller reality!

Hong Kong and Rubber Ducks

Luckily a taxi appeared outside out hostel in Beijing at 5 in the morning, which meant we didn’t have to get a subway (yay.) So, after a shaky flight, and a landing we never thought was going to end we fianlly touched down in Hong Kong. The first thing we did was take the cable cars, with the most amazing views, up to visit the big Buddha, which was amazing (and pretty big.) We then stopped for lunch before going to visit the Tai O fishing village, which was so cute. It had little stalls, mostly selling dried fish, and it had houses that were on stilts.
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The next day we went to visit Hong Kong’s most famous landmark, the rubber duck, (duh!) and took some nice photos before heading to the tram up to the peak of Hong Kong, which had the most amazing views of the city. You could see all the terrace gardens on top of the high rise buildings, which was so cool. We then had a tour of the city before heading back.
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I think I’m in love with Hong Kong, it’s such a great city and it would be so easy to live out here – the sunshine, heat and amazing shopping is an added bonus!

At about 10pm we headed down to the night markets to do some bartering and pick up some ‘designer’ bags. After that we went into central Hong Kong for dinner and then went to some bars and clubs after, including ones where we could dance on the bar, and one that sold the most amazing peach and passion fruit mojitos!

Beijing – Lost-ness and Bikes

The 9 and a half hours to Beijing went pretty quickly – I think it was because they continually fed us, not that I’m complaining! We arrived into Beijing airport at 9am, and after a bit of hassle getting our 72-hour ‘transit’ visa sorted we were allowed into the country (yay – there were fears of deportation at one stage). We located our lonely bags on the baggage claim and headed into the smog (Beijing).

The easiest way to get from the airport into the city is via taxi, so we hopped into one outside and assumed the guy would know where we were trying to get to. After about an hour in the car, and many stops so he could ask for directions we got out in the middle of some small back alley. The hostel we were trying to get to was supposed to be around that area, yet no-one had heard of the place. Dragging our rucksacks around Beijing we followed maps, tourist information guidance, directions from Chinese teenagers but it was hopeless, the hostel was nowhere to be seen. The last resort was to head to McDonalds for WiFi and get Google Maps up on the laptop. It route seemed simple, but it wasn’t long before we were lost again.

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Eventually we stumbled upon the hostel after 4 hours of walking; it just so happens it was 5 minutes away from where we were dropped off in the taxi (great!) We then spent the rest of the day wandering around the gardens, and getting food (because we hadn’t done enough walking and eating for one day!)
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We started the next day at 7.30am, and walked to find the bike shop. Our excellent maps reading skills meant that after an hour and a half of walking we still hadn’t found the shop, so had to get the tour guide to meet us at the Apple shop.

The bike tour was amazing; we had so much fun, except for the poor bike riding skills on my part, and Beijing’s traffic system which can only be described as organised chaos. Everyone seems to know they are doing (organised), but to an outsider it looks like traffic is coming from every direction (chaos). Hero, our tour guide who was lovely, showed us around the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and other areas of the city centre. Our new found celebrity status became evident when everyone started taking pictures of us (Tom’s hair!)

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After the bike ride we decided to head to Ho Hai, but being exhausted from riding bikes we got a tuk tuk to take us. However, tuk tuks are only designed for two people on the back, so naturally Lozzy had to sit on our knees.

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We then had a couple of drinks near the lake of Ho Hai and then were stopped to ask if we wanted a massage – but for the equivalent of £1 we couldn’t refuse.

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We then left to head back to the hostel, but in Beijing it’s almost impossible to flag down a taxi and get it to take us to where we wanted to go (no idea why?!) – but with the help of a tuk tuk driver we managed to get one to stop for us.

More difficulties came later back at the hostel, when we realised that we had to be at the airport at 6am, which meant leaving the hostel at 5am (eurgh!) After slight panic and worry that we would never be able to get a taxi (and the hostel reception guy laughing at us) we planned a route via the subway. Fortunately there was a taxi ready and waiting for us outside our hostel at 5am…everything worked out and we made our way to Hong Kong.

Breakfast Wine and Stopovers

So we started in a bit of a rush, getting stuck in traffic on the m4 wasn’t ideal and left us feeling a little panicked that we would not be able to check our rucksacks into the hold. But it all worked out after having to explain the China 72 hours transit Visa (or lack of Visa) and our bags went off to wherever it is they go (we hope!) We got to security and had to spend more time queuing which meant we were a bit pushed for time, so we quickly grabbed a sandwich and had to run through Heathrow – I didn’t realised quite how big it was!

The flight to Vienna was only two hours and went pretty quick, the air hostesses came round with snacks and drinks. At 10am we obviously asked for the wine (I mean who can refuse free wine!?), and it was completely justified as we were travelling to Beijing and it was definitely 5 o’clock there.
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Our stopover in Vienna was 5 hours, so we headed out into the city. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, the rain made it impossible to sight-see. After wandering for an hour or so we headed back to the airport ready to catch our 9 and a half hour flight to Beijing – let’s hope it goes quickly!
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Tom’s rather appropriate top for the journey

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Today is the day.

It’s finally here! It seems like so long ago that Tom, Lozzy and I were planning our trip to Asia and today is the day that I make the Journey down to Lozzy’s, so we can jet off from Heathrow in the morning. SO EXCITED.
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I don’t know how but I have managed to fill a 65l rucksack full of things to take with me, but feel like a barely have any clothes in there…I don’t know what it’s filled with! I’ve tried to pack the minimal amount so it’s easier to lug around with me, but it’s far too difficult to travel light.

My trip to Asia also means I’m getting closer for my trip to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for Practical Action. After the carboot sale, random collection pots and a very generous donation from my Grandma (thanks Grandma!) I am closer to reaching my £2,650 target with just £1000 left to raise.

See my Just Giving to keep up with my progress http://www.justgiving.com/natalie-sharpe1

Let me know any tips you may have for packing light when backpacking (got a feeling I’m going to need them!)

The Restoration Project

If everything goes to plan, I should have the keys to my brand new house down in the south at the beginning of July and I’m so excited! (Eeeekk!)

Even though I don’t actually have my mortgage offer yet (come on Virgin Money!), I have prepared by buying small kitchen appliances, bedroom furniture and placed a deposit on the carpets and flooring that I want. Yesterday, I restored some old furniture from my mum’s house that had become a little worn on top.

Here’s what it looked like before…

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So I sanded it all down and (attempted) to paint it a lovely chocolate brown colour which isn’t far off the colour it should have been before.

I bought Craig and Rose 1829 paint from B&Q in the colour Clove Brown and used that to paint my furniture.

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The end result wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be, it looks more purple than dark brown, but I love it anyway and it’s going to look great in my new house (if I ever get there!)

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The picture isn’t very good because of the lighting, but i’ll upload some more when I can.

Let me know what you think, and have you ever restored any furniture?