#TRAVEL – Wales: 4 Waterfall Hike

Croseo I Cyrmu!

Wales.

My home. 

No better place to re-ignite my #TRAVEL series with.

With a population of just over 3 million people, and almost 10 million sheep (I’m not joking), Wales isn’t exactly ‘on the map’. 

Well, it should be…

Wales boasts vibrant green landscapes for as far as the eye can see.

Hidden amongst the hills, collieries and trees are many concealed gems that can be sought out…

Waterfalls!

In fact, there are hundreds of waterfalls scattered throughout this mountainous country.  The scenic environment and wet climate have bred these rapids for thousands of years and their offspring is spectacular.

Just north of the infamous Pendryn Whisky Distillery lies the ‘Brecon Beacons 4 Waterfalls Walk’. This scenic little hike takes you along a picturesque path through the woods were you’ll be greeted by 4 of them –Sgwd Clun-gywn, Sgywd y Pannwr, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gywn and Sgwd yr Eira.

The path begins close to the little village of Ystradfellte.  It isn’t too strenuous, but some parts of the track can be quite slippery, so wear appropriate footwear.

There is a National Park car park that charges around 4GBP per day.    It’s located at the beginning of the path.  From there, you just follow the winding path which will eventually loop back around on itself.

Depending on your speed and fitness, the Brecon Beacons 4 Waterfall walk should take no longer than 3 – 4 hours to complete.

Have fun, be safe & Enjoy Wales!

Welcome Back!

Hellooo!

How is everyone?!

I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since I last posted on tefltravelling.

I’m back!

I just wanted to write a quick post to explain my absence.

Life.  Life happened. You know how it goes…

That said, not much has really changed in 4 years.  I’m still teaching and travelling the world.

However, I now teach from my mobile phone and fund my travels that way.  I love it!

I will be back posting teaching and travel related content for the fore-seeable future 🙂

I’ll keep this short!


Happy New Year!  I am looking forward to re-connecting with you all again!

If you’re interested in teaching English from your mobile phone, download the Palfish app and insert invitation code – 45012005

I’ll be more than happy to talk you through the stages step by step and help you get started on your journey.

Private messenging me through Instagram is the fastest way to get in contact.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend.

I’m so happy to be back!

Liam

Teaching in Thailand vs. Teaching in Japan

Teaching in Thailand vs. Japan

by Rachael Hornsby

Having started my TEFL adventures in Thailand, I have now spent a year teaching there, and another 6 months teaching in Japan (with a year back in the UK in between). If you might be considering either of these countries to teach English in, or are deciding between East and South East Asia in general, here’s my brief take on how these countries have compared so far for me. Enjoy!

The dosh

It’s of course not all about the money, but, in terms of bare numbers, in Thailand my teaching wage was 30,000 baht per month (around £ 700), whereas in Japan I earn 250,000 yen (~£2000). In both cases it is pretty much the standard amount for an inexperienced teacher.

My Thai wage obviously wasn’t a lot in UK terms, but the cost of living is so low in Thailand that it’s PLENTY to live on. My rent was about £80 (although my friends’ were cheaper!), and I could eat out every night for as little as 25 baht for a Pad Thai (about 50p!). Thailand and S.E. Asia as a whole is SO cheap that my Thai wage managed to take me on tonnes of adventures, such as tripping around Vietnam in my school holidays, and numerous weekends around Thailand, to Chiang Mai, Bangkok etc.

Living expenses obviously all cost so much more in Japan. My rent is 45,000 yen per month (over £ 350), (although I know in big cities like Tokyo it can be MUCH higher), and bills and food add much more on to that. Again, I seem to have spent a lot of spare cash so far in Japan travelling, and unfortunately just exploring mainland Japan can be really pricey- a bullet train to Tokyo from my island of Kyushu is about £170 (as opposed to a train I took to Laos from Southern Thailand for £15!).

In short, the main difference is, if you are strict with your money, and don’t go off travelling every spare minute (it’s just so tempting!!), your savings in Japan will stretch much further if you take them elsewhere, especially to other economically rich countries, like if you wanted to pay off debts in the UK (with the pound plunging, at this rate you could go home with a small fortune!). My friends have also taken extra tutoring jobs on the side if they really wanted to fill up their wallet, although this might not be allowed in your contract. And if you’re really looking for the big bucks, jobs where the company actually pay for your flights or accommodation, like ones in South Korea, might be an even better bet.

(*WRITTEN OCTOBER 2016! The pound is changing so much these days, so god knows how long these currency conversions will be accurate. A couple of days!?*)

Culture

If you’re not hoping for a culture shock, then you’re in the wrong game! There are obviously hundreds of wonderful/fascinating/infuriating sides of Thai and Japanese culture, but here’s a few:

Although there are reasons not to get on the wrong side of Thailand (in a rare case some people I knew had a pretty rough time being deported…), the country generally really does live up to its reputation as the “land of smiles”. From the random people I’d find to help me when my moped got a flat tire (more than once!), to the chatty monks on the train (let them talk to you first, don’t just go barging up to one!), it’s a great place for restoring faith in humanity. It’s also VERY laid back. The famously slow pace of pretty much anything there can drive many people absolutely up the wall- a train that should take 2 hours, ends up taking 5 hours, etc.-, but you will start to adopt the local “mai pen rai”, care-free attitude, and pretty much all of my friends left Thailand a less uptight person than when they arrived (who couldn’t do with giving themselves that gift?).

Japan is in some ways the opposite of Thailand’s laid back attitude. From the notoriously prompt trains, to the meticulous dividing of household recycling, everything is fantastically organised and reliable. I’m constantly amazed at how efficient things are and by the different things Japan has come up with to get stuff done! As in Thailand, people in Japan are exceptionally polite and friendly, and the hospitality in Japan is second to none, to the extent that I admittedly found myself feeling a bit aggrieved without it in on a recent trip to Hong Kong, making me appreciate Japan even more. The level of politeness did at first it come off as a bit oppressive (train carriages are often silent, etc.), making it seem hard to ‘break in’ or really socialise, but of course with a little more patience you get to meet more people, and make amazing new friends. I think you could say Japan is more like the UK in that way!

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“mai pen rai” life on Koh Samet vs. ingenious conveyor belt sushi

The job



As far as the job goes, each school can differ widely depending on the age you’re teaching, whether it’s private or government, etc. etc., but there are a few general trends, which seem to be mainly extensions of Thailand’s “mai pen rai” culture vs. the super efficient Japan.

Although I had textbooks for some of my classes at my Thai school, this wasn’t that common, and it tends to be a “do it yourself” kind of attitude to the curriculum/ teaching in general. This can obviously be a bit scary if it’s your first time teaching, and can be frustrating if you feel like you’re not getting the help or direction you’d like, but it’s also great as it gives you freedom in what you want to teach, allows you to experiment with your teaching style, and is a great challenge to get you tuck into the job. You also pretty much never know what’s going on- most weeks I’d turn up to work with all my lessons planned, only to find out at least 1 was cancelled for some random reason I didn’t know of, like the day we found ourselves ushered onto a school bus first thing, with kids all prepared wearing traditional outfits, and we spent the morning sitting in front of monks in a temple listening to them chant!

Japan, on the other hand, is a lot more organised in its approach. In my job teaching at a private kindergarten, I have tonnes more support, like a curriculum, weekly meetings, many of my lessons already planned for me etc. In comparison to Thailand, my job feels so much more coherent, although I’ve heard that other jobs for the larger companies can be even more structured. In a way this means you can’t use as much creativity in your teaching, and aren’t being pushed quite as hard. And I do sometimes miss the manic spontaneity of Thailand (in my first month here, I was actually thrown into presenting an assembly without notice, and secretly loved it!). I also have to work evenings this time, like many other language schools, but I do have a lot more free time in the day that I don’t have to spend planning lessons, and generally feel a lot less ‘at sea’.

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Thai assembly 

Things to see and do



You obviously can’t spend all your time gallivanting around if you have a teaching job, but you can pack plenty of sightseeing into your free weekends and holidays if you fancy (and why ever not?!). In Thailand you’ll find more elephants, street markets, and idyllic beaches, and it can be more of a wild party scene if you land a job near a tourist area (I’ve had more ‘buckets’ of cocktails than I’d care to remember…). Japan has more impressive mountains and hiking  (being made up of volcanic islands), there are hot spring baths and karaoke bars everywhere, and you can go skiing in winter (which I’m 99% sure you can’t do in Thailand!). It also has its share of good nightlife (especially in the big cities), and even has gorgeous beaches and great scuba diving spots down in balmy Okinawa. Basically, Japan and Thailand are both popular tourist destinations for good reason- they both have beautiful scenery, endless temples, fascinating festivals etc. etc. So, unless there’s something you’re absolutely itching to do, like climb Mount Fuji or rave at a full moon party, you’ll find plenty of weird and wonderful ways to keep you occupied in both!

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Beach in Koh Chang vs.  Hike in Nagasaki

Getting down and dirty

Thailand is by no means a third world country, but Japan is miles ahead of it when it comes to things like infrastructure and sanitation, and feels even more developed than the UK in some ways. Japan is probably the cleanest place I’ve ever been, and they have technology for everything, from heated toilet seats to shoe vending machines (probably the name for it!) at the bowling alley. Thailand, on the other hand, can take a little getting used to for a Westerner. Rather than having heated toilets, we had to flush the loo using a bucket in our Thai school, and if you’re doing things on the cheap (which you might as well!), then you’ll find yourself, for example, sitting on plastic chairs at a food stall in street, with stray dogs wandering around you whilst you eat your dinner. There are also more critters around in Thailand- I often found cute baby geckos living in my shoes, I was never without at least 1 mosquito bite (although I am especially attractive to the buggers!), and my town happened to be overrun with mafia-like monkeys.

The things in Thailand that seem so alien at first really don’t take long to feel normal, and to be honest I’m grateful for the experience of living with a tiny bit less luxury, for helping me appreciate how lucky we are at home, and showing me what I can actually live without. So if you want this type of challenge, I’d have to recommend Thailand, but if you want a more easy transition (dealing with a brand new Asian culture can be enough in itself!), then go for Japan. I myself am glad I did both in the order that I have, since I can appreciate the wonders of Japan even more!

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Critter friends in Thailand vs. Super sleek Shibuya 

The language

Both Thai and Japanese are a world away from English, and I can’t profess to be much of an expert at either, but here goes. The Thai language has 1 ‘alphabet’ (or set of characters,) and uses lots of different tones. These can be seriously hard to pick up (“ma” can have a whole host of meanings depending on your tone), but luckily Thais often understand what a farang (foreigner) is getting at without them. They often drop unnecessary words from sentences (as in Japan!), so I wasn’t too paranoid about having bad grammar either. The little Thai I learnt came in very handy and was really appreciated, especially in tourist spots (I was all but given applause just ordering pineapple in Krabi!). To be honest you can get by with very little Thai if you wish, and it’s surprising how many Thais speak some English anyway, even in remote parts of the country.

Japanese seems harder to me. This may just be because I’ve put more effort into learning it, and so have realised what a mountain it is to really learn a language. Thailand’s “alphabet”, once learnt, can get you reading any Thai for good (I’ve been told!). Japan, however, has 3 sets of characters, and I can read the 2 basic ones (very handy for things like Western food menus), but the 3rd set of Chinese characters feels like it may take me an age to tackle (I’m sure Japanese people can’t even read them all!), and I still can’t read that much when I’m out and about. Unlike Thai, Japanese isn’t tonal, so once you’ve learnt words or phrases, it’s pretty easy to catch them and pronounce them, but Japan also seem to have many more ways of saying one thing, depending on different situations or who you’re speaking to. This can make it more daunting when trying to use it yourself, or frustrating when you don’t understand something you thought you knew! Basic English also seems less widespread here, so there are certain things I’ve simply had to drag a Japanese speaker along to help me do, like buying a phone contract, but you manage!

I’ve been frustrated at times by my lack of skill at both languages, but really learning either can take years, and many TEFL teachers get by fine speaking very little, if any. It will of course enhance your experience whatever amount you manage to learn, so you might as well give it a bash, and if you really want to get the hang of it, just get yourself a local boy/girlfriend (seems to work every time!)

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Japanese vs. Thai (Jibberish vs. nonsense??) 

“Konichiwa, Japan!” or “Sawadee Ka, Thailand!”??

The beauty of a TEFL job is you get to spend months in a country that many people only spend a fortnight visiting on holiday, which teaches you so many beautiful/ ridiculous things about a place, and so there could be a billion more ways I could use to compare these two amazing countries (I could write a whole post on types of beer! Actually I might do that…). But in super brief, Thailand and Japan are like riding a Tuk Tuk vs. taking the bullet train. One is a bit more of a slow, bumpy ride, and the other is more sleek and a bit more predictable, but they are both brand new experiences, that can be equally thrilling (you’d be surprised how fast a Tuk tuk can go!), and will take you to places to never expected! Both countries are amazing, so if there’s anything at all drawing you to one or the other, just pick that one and GO! You won’t regret it.

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Tuk tuk or bullet train?

Why I Hate Teaching Kindergarten

Why I Hate Teaching Kindergarten (…and why I love it)

Today my class staged a full-on rebellion. Crayons were thrown; blocks were spilled. “No,” their 20 little minds simultaneously decided, “Now is not classtime.” Trying to round them up was about as successful as herding cats.

The first month is always the hardest, especially with kids who are attending school for the very first time. Not only do they need to learn to understand you, they need to learn what school is and how it works. It can take weeks before the routine begins to sink in and they understand, “Okay, now is the time to sit, now is the time to eat, now is the time to play.” For a good while, you’re just the bad guy who interrupts their never-ending playtime to repeat the same strange sounds over and over again while pointing at pictures. In an ESL school you may look strange, you’ll definitely sound strange, and it’s normal for some kids to be terrified at first. Many kids cry for their parents during the first week of preschool anyway and it’s bound to be worse if their teacher looks and sounds like an alien. The concept of learning (“Oh, I’m supposed to repeat these words, draw these symbols, sing these songs…”) can only begin to be absorbed once the sensory overload subsides.

One of the most frustrating things for me is starting from scratch every single year. You spend 12 months getting these kids to the point where they understand instructions, can express their wants & needs, know the rules, and have a basic foundation of letters, phonics, numbers & vocabulary on which to build. You teach them how to hold their pencils, zip their coats, and make a line; you work on sharing, helping, and apologizing. Then you send them off to their new teacher and have to start back at ABC, 123.

There are times when it feels like all that hard work was for someone else’s benefit—as if their next teacher is getting off easy. But you gotta remind yourself that it’s not about you, it’s about the kids. If you feel you’re passing off a class of students whose skills have greatly improved, who have shown huge progress and learned a great deal, then you should take pride in that. Seeing them learn in leaps and bounds is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Getting to know the huge personalities bursting out of little bodies, coaxing out their strengths, bolstering their weaknesses, and admiring their unbridled creativity is what makes it worth the tantrums and tears.

I’m not saying kindergarten teachers have it the hardest. It’s true that the older grade levels have their own challenges: Instead of the alphabet, it’s complex grammar and more abstract vocabulary. Instead of nose-picking and pants-wetting, it’s social drama and raging hormones. Instead of crying for mom and pouting in the corner, it’s testing boundaries and challenging the rules.

If anything, I’m lucky that popping in loudest, most colorful video I have can turn a room full of rampaging toddlers into slack-jawed zombies. With today’s uprising quelled, they morph back into their wide-eyed playful selves—cuddly little balls of raw emotion and unlimited potential—and I know I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

-Ashley

Village Life in China – Brain Scans & Bamboo Weevils

Traveling Tales: Village Life in China—Brain Scans & Bamboo Weevils

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I first met Ting selling fruit along a busy highway in Leshan. Streetwise with a slight build and dark eyes, she’s a jack-of-all trades: a receptionist by day, fruit stall worker by night who also sells plants online, educates on winemaking and collects lamps from around the world. At this point I’ve been in Leshan a few days and quickly found myself running out of things to do, so when Ting invites me to spend the day with her family I jump at the opportunity.

The next morning I meet with Ting, her aunt, her cousins, and her grandfather—a gaunt man with paper-like skin, who seemed so fragile even the wind could make him crumble. In his quaking hands he carries recent scans of his brain to deliver at our first stop, a village hospital an hour away. We somehow manage to squeeze 8 adults into a car meant for 5 and we take off. Once past the highways of Leshan we find ourselves on narrow winding dirt roads which had been previously closed and blocked off by concrete barriers, many of which had been crudely deconstructed by locals leaving behind piles of rubble and broken hammers. Expertly navigating the maze of roads she’d grown up on, Ting gets us to our destination with relative ease.

The hospital itself is a depressing site—the entrance is devoid of doors and visitors ride their motorbikes and scooters directly into the dark, somber hallways. It’s here that the family works to settle their patriarch into a stained bed to receive an intense-looking cocktail of IV drugs. It all seems so routine to them, as it turns out they make this trip fairly often for treatment. Though he lives in the city now, he is only insured at the hospital nearest the company he worked for years before.

After ensuring he’s fully prepared for his hospital stay, the family meander through the nearby market greeting old friends and doing some light shopping. Resting along a curb with bowls of sweetened douhua, the cousins are getting a bit giddy recalling their childhoods while watching the local kids run through the streets. A few feet away a pair of toddlers in kaidangku chase a rooster among the food stalls while their mothers have their nails painted. Behind them, a man works to jerry-rig an outdoor kitchen with a few car batteries. At first glance it seems like we’ve stepped back in time a ways, an illusion quickly shattered by the persistent ringing of message tones and snapping of phone cameras. Our douhua quickly turning soupy in the summer heat, the group decides it’s time to head out to the countryside and so we pile back into Ting’s car for another trip through the serpentine roads.

In a matter of minutes we’re deep into the surrounding farmland, arriving at the farm that supplies their fruit stall in the city. The farmers greet them like family before immediately entering negotiations for bushels of limes. The business side of things concludes almost as quickly as it began and the women of the house begin to prepare dinner while the guests pitch in on the field work. The afternoon is spent harvesting jujubes and grapes. Our baskets full and the sun sinking lower in the sky, the cousins decide enough work has been done and that we’ve earned ourselves some playtime.

The whole group—aging aunt included—take off for the dense trees and bamboo surrounding the area. As I’m unsure of what we’re doing, Ting hands me an empty water bottle and informs me we’re going to make fans with giant bugs (none of which made any sense to me). Following them through woods filled with massive spiders and occasional snakes, I watch in awe as they spot bamboo weevils from 10 yards away. We spend nearly an hour tearing the beetles from their hideouts and slipping them into the bottles.

Back near the farmhouse, we plop down in the middle of the road next to a pile of sticks and proceed to make strange, bug-powered hand fans often constructed by children as a summer pastime. In the simplest terms, this involves:

  • Connecting two very thin, light sticks into a cross
  • Removing the bottom half of the legs on two bamboo weevils
  • Inserting one arm of the cross into the front right leg of one, and the other into the front left leg of the other.
  • Placing the long end of the cross into a hollow piece of bamboo

As the panicked insects fly in opposite directions, the cross spins like a helicopter creating a fairly strong breeze. If you can get big enough bugs and light enough sticks, they can sometimes lift out of the bamboo like a chopper. I realize many people will find this practice cruel, and while I’m apt to agree I’ll admit I did learn a great deal from the experience and that the overall vibe was light-hearted and playful. Still, there’s something surreal about seeing a little old lady in a pristine dress, hair done up just so, squatting in the middle of a dirt road ripping the legs off bugs.

The sun setting and our fans beginning to slow down, we headed into the house for dinner. The homes, while spacious and clean, are essentially bare. Often one finds a large open room with a table for eating, and unfurnished bedrooms with sleeping cots and a pile of clothing. If not for the food in the kitchen, were someone to stumble upon such a house they would assume it unoccupied. The lack of belongings and creature comforts is a strong testament to the hardworking nature of the countryside—they have little need to furnish their homes because they are rarely inside, spending their days in the fields.

Following a hearty meal of duck and eggplant, they load the trunk with limes they intend to sell and we head back to the city. A day of nostalgia for them was rife with new experiences for me. Seeing one day in the life of a single fruit-stall worker from a city of millions reminds me that the world is filled with an unfathomable number of stories and experiences, each rich & complex in its own way.

-Ashley

Everything You Need To Know About Teaching in Hong Kong

By Livvy Hill

 

TEFL Life in the “Pearl of the Orient”

After two years of living and working abroad, it only took a few weeks of being back home unemployed that I got my usual itchy feet and started looking at moving away again. Having taught English in Thailand before, I decided that teaching somewhere in Asia again was a good option as there are plenty of opportunities. This time though, I was taking my boyfriend along for the ride!

So we started looking at the best options for ‘TEFL couples’ and originally, South Korea was our choice. Plenty of ‘couples’ opportunities, good money and of course, a new exciting experience. However, I then received an email for an opportunity in Hong Kong and it seemed like an awesome deal. We hadn’t even considered Hong Kong, and if I’m honest, I barely knew anything about it beforehand! I got straight online and did more research into the city and other teaching opportunities on offer. After reading plenty of blogs that sold Hong Kong to me and my boyfriend, we jazzed up our CV’s and emailed lots of language schools. One week later, we landed jobs with Hong Kong’s largest English language center and had 1 month to get everything organized and begin our new life chapter.

TEFLing in Hong Kong

          Like most places in Asia, when it comes to teaching English you have two choices here. You can work in a local, private or an International school, or you can work in English language centers. I can only really offer advice on the latter, as this is the route my boyfriend and I chose. However, if you hold a PGCE or equivalent, I highly recommend looking into the first options or the NET scheme, as there are some pretty incredible opportunities to be had. I had my TEFL certificate and one years experience and my boyfriend had only recently just gained his TEFL, so English language centers were much more likely to hire us.

We both landed jobs with Monkey Tree English Learning Center, Hong Kong’s largest English language school with over 40 centers. We work at separate centers (which we like…living AND working AND traveling together is a little intense) and we currently live on Hong Kong Island.

Our experience so far is very positive. However it is VERY different from what I was used to in Thailand. Creating my own lessons, teaching 18 hours a week to the same homeroom kindergarten class of 30…oh no. This is nothing like it. The work ethic in Hong Kong is extremely high, and even as a TEFL teacher, our hours are long. We work 9.30-6.30 3 days a week, and until 7.30 2 days a week, teaching a maximum of 30 hours. However, the center we work for provides everything for us. There is no lesson planning involved, all materials are provided and classes are small. I teach a maximum of 8 children at a time, and the ages range from 2 years old to 12 years old. The center offers a variety of classes too, so I might teach a kindergarten style lesson in the morning, with some phonic lessons in the afternoon and then reading or grammar in the evening.

There are pros and cons to this style of teaching, as in Thailand it was slightly more relaxed and I had the chance to be super creative with my lesson planning. However, sometimes I would be up until 2am designing worksheets or preparing crafts. Whereas now, I turn up to work and everything I need is there, and I can come home and not even think about work. Work stays at work. Nevertheless, sometimes I miss the mental challenge and creative side of things.

If you think an English language center could be the route for you, I just recommend researching the company and other teachers experiences there. However, always read a variety of opinions, as one persons experience can be very different from another. We are over 6 months into our contract now and have had a very good experience so far. Monkey Tree is a well known language school here, other centers I have heard of are Excel English and Jolly Kingdom. Many companies interview over Skype, so if you wanted to secure a job before you landed here like we did, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

The pay as a TEFL teacher here is good and most companies will offer a bonus on completion of your contract. Contracts are usually 12+ months and if you are looking at saving money like we were, it can be done!

Bijou Living

         In Thailand, I had my own studio apartment with a huge double bed, and then in Sydney my boyfriend and I had a master bedroom with plenty of space. So moving to Hong Kong was a little shock to the system as living spaces here are TINY.

There are two options when it comes to where one lives in Hong Kong: on the island or off. Living on the island means easy access to the centre and all its bars, restaurants and entertainment, but living off the island generally means getting more value for money from one’s accommodation.

We live on the Island, in a very small 3 bedroom apartment and share what can only be described as a miniature double bed (it is not a regular size double bed). We live with 2 other teachers from Monkey Tree, and it has definitely been a challenge living in such a confined space. However, we are in such a good location and we live above the food markets, it has so much character and the apartment itself is fairly modern.

Property prices in Hong Kong are among the highest in the world, and to rent you usually need to be able to afford 3 months up front for your deposit, and the size you get for your money can be a little sickening. However, our company actually organizes housing for those who want it and you just have to pay 1 months deposit. We took this option as it was much more financially doable for us. You can of course, find your own apartment to rent and have the choice to not have housemates and there are plenty of really fancy places you can live, but a BIG price tag will be attached. Our main goal is to save to travel here, so staying in Monkey Tree accommodation and apartment sharing, plus being a couple, makes it a lot cheaper for us and easier to save!

Hong Kong Lifestyle

         Life in Hong Kong is really what you make it. People working in Hong Kong often live their social lives with the same speed and efficiency expected of them in the business world. After long, demanding days at the office, locals and foreigners alike have a bewildering array of opportunities to enjoy ostentatious luxury or to absorb the city’s natural splendor and cultural allure.

A lot of expats here seem to “work hard, play hard”, however for us it’s more like “work hard, save hard”. This isn’t to say that we have not made the most of our time here! Hong Kong has stunning mountains with plenty of beautiful hiking trails and pretty beaches to see, and all of this is free, so we like to get outdoors on our days off and explore outside of the city. It isn’t always necessary to pay top dollar to enjoy yourself. We have sought out some great cheap eats and we know what bars offer happy hours and what cinemas offer cheap tickets on certain days. So it really is just finding out about all the little deals that can save you a fortune.

Exercise and gyms are such a luxury here too. If you want to join a gym or yoga club, expect to pay at least 700HKD (70GBP) a month for a basic gym with an attached hefty joining fee. Or you can pay up to 1500HKD but the facilities of the health club will be outstanding and you will get an incredible view too. For me, this just was not in my budget. So I have taken up running. We live very close to the harbor where there is a fantastic 3km promenade that overlooks the Kowloon Island with the mountains in the background, it is truly stunning. I can do my own circuit training exercises in the local park and as a yoga addict, who cannot afford the price tag attached to the yoga clubs here, I have managed to always find out about charity classes and free events and I even found a yoga teacher who offers a pay as you go scheme with no contract, which is perfect (and the classes are great!) I am probably the most physically fit I have ever been and it is the first time I haven’t paid to be a member of a gym, so I am saving a ton of money and keeping in shape! So I suggest people looking to save here but who like to workout, just head outside!

Eating

         Eating in Hong Kong has not really been a challenge. Hong Kong is the perfect mix of East meets West, and you can get all the western treats here if you want, or you can head to the local markets to eat some chicken feet soup if that’s your thing. For us, personally, Chinese food does not hit the spot, and we are not huge meat eaters, so we were a little apprehensive about what we were going to be eating out here. However, it has been fine, we occasionally buy chicken from the supermarkets, but we get all of our fruit and veggies form the food market below us, we have nutella in the cupboard, cereals, you can buy all the normal crisps and chocolate if you wanted. I can’t have dairy, so I was worried about finding other alternatives but it has not been difficult at all. I have access to soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, dairy free ice creams and yogurts, so food shopping really isn’t that different from the UK. It’s just a lot more expensive! So when we do go shopping in the supermarkets we usually just get essentials like bread and butter, but occasionally we like to treat ourselves. The food markets are very cheap to buy fruit and vegetables, and rice and noodles are of course very cheap and easy to come by. As I said before, we have found lots of great cheap restaurants, so we actually eat out about 2-3 times a week, as it can work out as the same price as cooking your own food.

Getting around Asia’s World City

         Transport in Hong Kong is incredibly efficient and cheap. The MTR system is fantastic, the buses are pretty good and you can even get the ferries between the islands which offer incredible views. Rarely have I ever had to get taxis, but when I have done, it’s been easy and reasonably priced. Hong Kong is also a great location to be visit other parts of Asia. We have already been to Taiwan, and have booked to go to Borneo over Christmas and to the Philippines in the New Year. You can get very good deals on flights here.

Hong Kong has the nickname “Pearl of the Orient”, which is a reflection of the impressive night-view of the city’s light decorations on the skyscrapers along both sides of the Victoria Harbour, and if you come here it’s easy to understand why it has this name. It’s a bustling city built on a stunning island, and it’s a very cool place to live and work! If you are considering teaching English here, I 100% recommend it.

 

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

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One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

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You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

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Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

#TRAVEL China: The Best of Beijing

As the capital of China, Beijing seems to have it all—history, art, culture, entertainment, innovation. While I’ve been a few times, I was always just passing through or filing paperwork somewhere.

At long last, my most recent trip through the city gave me a few days to actually experience the wonders it has to offer and I was determined to fit into 3 days as much as humanly possible:

Day One: The Great Wall

After arriving late at night on a long-haul train, I snagged a few hours sleep and immediately took off for the Great Wall. Having been to the tourist hotspots of Badaling and Mutianyu in the past and battling the crowds of locals, I finally had the time for a proper Great Wall experience. Many hostels and tour groups offer transport to more remote sections of the wall that are totally worth it. This was by far my favorite Great Wall visit to an unnamed section roughly 2 hours from the city.

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No Guides, No Guards, Not a Soul in Sight

In a group of 9 people, we were dropped off at an access point and given 3 hours to hike 7 towers to the edge of Mongolia and back. Being mid-August, we were lugging jugs of water in temperatures of 102°. The hike itself was beyond difficult—the wall is steep, the steps countless, the towers deceptively far apart. The thing is, it’s not supposed to be easy. There is a saying in China that “One isn’t a true man or a hero until he has climbed the Great Wall.” Truly experiencing the Great Wall means putting your heart and soul into it, and in this case pushing your body as well. By the time we were making our way back, whenever anyone stood still you could see their legs involuntarily quaking—a sensation that lets you know you’re giving it your all.

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The Turning Point, Peering into Mongolia

It really was the perfect day, too. The views were stellar, the people were amazing, and we ended the trip exhausted feeling as if we’d truly achieved something in our time there.

Day Two: Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square/Night Markets

The next day I woke up so sore that climbing out of my bunk made me audibly groan in pain but I was determined to beat the lines at the Forbidden City, so an early start was a must. Popping a few aspirin, I headed out only to find lines already forming at security. Not security at the Forbidden City, mind you, but on the sidewalks leading to the area, because just entering different parts of the city means bag checks and body scans in Beijing. Following the crowds of thousands, I eventually found my way. The City has a cap of 80,000 tickets a day and they do occasionally sell out in the summer (it is, after all, the most visited museum in the world), but once beyond the gates it’s easy to break away from the sea of people. The city itself is truly massive covering 180 acres with 980 buildings. The courtyards are huge and the architecture breathtaking, though I’ll admit that after an hour or so it just seems like more of the same at every turn.

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A Guardian at the Forbidden City

Leaving around noon, I headed back through Tiananmen Square to take in the monuments, then spent the evening wandering through some local walking streets. Like everything in Beijing, they looked small on the map but turned out to be enormous and had so much to take in!

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Follow the crowd in; Follow the crowd out.

Day Three: Summer Palace/Lama Temple

The next morning I hopped on the subway and took the hour-long trip out to the Summer Palace, nearly 750 acres of gardens, lakes, and temples. Dating back to the Jin Dynasty, winding trails snake their way through the trees leading to distinct temples hidden in the valleys while towering pagodas sit atop the highest hills. Truly the most serene place I’ve been in China, each turn reveals rippling koi ponds, footbridges rising over lotus leaves, or pebble-strewn paths to nowhere.

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There are worse places to get lost, for sure.

The Buddhist Incense Tower, the most distinct pagoda of the complex, formerly offered awe-inspiring views of Kunming Lake & Nanhu Island, but the air quality in and around Beijing has all but made that a thing of the past. Still, the Summer Palace holds treasures like the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures, which is just as relaxing as it sounds.

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Finally–a shady spot to relax.

After a good three hours of exploring, I headed back into the city for a late lunch before exploring the Lama Temple. While one would expect me to be templed-out by now, I can’t resist a temple that’s actually active rather than a simple relic of the past. Hearing the drums & the calls to prayer, breezing through drifting clouds of incense—it’s a whole different experience. My visit was unfortunately quite short, as I was soon headed off for another long-haul train.

The train itself was a welcome relief, because after 3 days of non-stop walking, my legs had turned to jelly and needed the entirety of the 22-hour journey to even begin recuperating. If you have a chance to visit Beijing, try and give yourself at least 5 days so you can pace yourself and see a bit more of the city, but know that you can certainly power through it on a tight schedule as well!

-Ashley

Check out this Bejing Travel Guide –

Troubles Abroad: Life Without Peanut Butter

Ants on a Log. Fluffernutters. Classic PB&J. And who didn’t make a pinecone-peanut butter bird feeder as a kid?

We put it on bananas, slather it on french toast and of course eat it straight off the spoon.

No matter what country I’m headed to, you can be certain I’m tossing a couple jars of skippy in my rucksack. Whether it’s for a familiar snack, a quick spoonful of energy, or to tide me over til I figure out the grocery situation, peanut butter exists for me in the gray area between “luxury” and “necessity” when backpacking.

It’s one of those things you don’t realize how much you miss until you wake up with a craving for a nice PB&J. All of the sudden the idea of collecting all THREE ingredients at the same time seems an unbeatable obstacle. Decent peanut butter, fresh sandwich bread, and a jar of grape jelly just never seem to exist in the same place at the same time once you cross the ocean. If a simple sandwich is such a challenge, you can forget about chocolate-peanut butter ice-cream in the summer heat or that big bag of Reese’s cups come Halloween.

Getting peanut butter while living abroad can be a challenge—you can try to make that jar from home last as long as possible, but soon you’re scraping the bottom and praying someone will pay international shipping on a care package full of Jif. Still, sometimes it’s not as far away as you think, so long as you know where to look.

Below is a bite-sized guide to finding Peanut Butter abroad, compiled from both my own PB-hunting adventures and those of my fellow expats:

North America:

Canada & United States: In US & Canadian supermarkets it’s hard to miss—peanut butter is spotted taking up a good chunk of the aisle, with various brands, sizes, and flavors.

Mexico: While not as popular as in the rest of North America, PB is still fairly easy to find in Mexico, especially in big-box stores like Walmart, where Peter Pan and Great Value can be found at a decent price.

Asia:

China: IF a store has it, it’s often found in the sauce aisle near the mayonnaise. Since neither mayo nor PB are popular, they can be hard to spot—and smaller stores don’t care it at all. It’s hard to find western brands, but Chinese peanut butter is decent (if a bit dry).

Indonesia: This one’s tough, guys—despite boasting world-famous peanut sauces and peanut soups, I’ve yet to actually locate a jar of PB in Indonesia. If they’re out there, they’re hard to find.

Japan: Right where it should be, near the breads and jellies. You can even get the giant tubs at Costco in Japan!

Korea: Often found near the bread in the bakery section, surrounded by nutella & banana spreads. Korean peanut butter is actually pretty good and comes in both crunchy and creamy.

Laos: While difficult to find in the store, PB is a surprisingly common topping for roti pancakes (one of the best street desserts you’ll find in SE Asia). You’re best bet at finding it in the stores is near the nutella or by the actual peanuts.

Malaysia: Finally, another country that appreciates PB! Malaysia is one of few SE Asian countries that actually offers variety, often located near the sauces and seasonings.

Philippines: Boasting world-famous peanut spreads that rival American brands, the Philippines are a Peanut-Butter Oasis. Thinner than what North Americans are accustomed to, Filipino PB is a bit grainy and just as sweet.

Thailand: Perhaps one of the easiest countries to find PB in, Thai stores carry multiple US brands including Jif and Skippy, conveniently found near the Jams & Jellies.

Vietnam: Vietnam carries store-brand and local peanut butters which will often be found near the soups & seasonings, and while delicious they are often quite oily and runny.

Central & South America:

Argentina: So far, no one I know who has travelled through Argentina has been able to locate PB.

Brazil: Similar to Argentina, PB seems to be a near-impossible find.

Chile: Walmarts in Chile have Great Value (store) brand PB.

Costa Rica: Peanut Butter is often found in the “imported foods” section of the grocery, with many familiar brands.

Peru: While there are rumors that some expats have been lucky enough to find a jar of Peter Pan, American-style peanut butter is almost non-existent in Peru, and unfortunately I’ve never heard the local style described in a manner even close to edible. Your best bet is to look near the condiments.

It’s always exciting delving into foreign cuisine, but sometimes you just need those familiar tastes of home.

-Ashley

Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler

Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler

Sometimes inspiration can come from unexpected places. So don’t expect to see The Beach or Into the Wild on this list—great movies for sure, but I want to share the ones that really keep me going.

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“There’s this theory: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. That means that every event is inevitable, including those that are impossible. That’s as good an explanation for all this as anything else.”

More or less a roadtrip movie, Interstate 60 (2002) stars Jason Marsden on a quest to find an answer to his life as he travels down an unknown highway said to be where all the “roads not taken” converge. Guided by a Magic 8 Ball, he faces life-changing forks in the road in the peculiar towns he finds along the way. Genuinely creative and amusing, it’s a great upbeat-tale that stresses the importance of choosing your own path despite how unpredictable life can be.

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“You truly love each other and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the story books say. And so I think no man in a century will suffer as greatly as you will.”

If I need to tell you what this movie is about then you definitely need to go out and see the world, ’cause you’ve probably been living under a rock. The Princess Bride (1987) naturally appeals to your sense of adventure, offering tales of love, greed, revenge, and honor. A diverse cast of perfectly flawed characters draws you in and makes you yearn for a taste of their world where you play the hero, conquering the Cliffs of Insanity, surviving the Fire Swamp, or even out-swimming the Shrieking Eels.

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“That’s what everyone thinks. But kind people find that they are cruel; brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming.”

Of course, no list of inspiring movies is complete without a fantasy quest and you really can’t beat The Neverending Story (1984). Atreyu embodies what all travelers aspire to be: fearlessly stepping into the world alone and defenseless; finding the will to keep going when the whole world is falling down around you; trusting a new adventure is just over the next hill. Staying home and reading about another’s adventures is simply no comparison for getting out there and exploring on your own (even if it means trudging through a literal Swamp of Sadness).

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“I miss everything. I miss my friends, I miss my dog, I miss my family, my house. Everything. I even miss the things I hated at this point.”

Essentially another roadtrip movie, Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) takes place in an alternate afterlife peopled entirely by those who committed suicide. While the hero sets off on a journey to find his ex-girlfriend, he and his companions struggle to deal with perpetually broken headlights, lose everything of importance to a blackhole under the passenger seat, encounter insignificant miracles and desperately seek to regain their ability to smile and see the stars in the sky.

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“Ironically the loneliness gave me the chance to get to know someone.”

The Teacher’s Diary (2014) is a Thai love story about a school teacher who is moved from the city to a floating boat-house school in the middle of nowhere, where he discovers the journal of the former teacher and slowly falls in love with her. While not actually about travel or backpacking, this movie is really jam-packed with nostalgia for me, as so many of the situations the hero finds himself in are reminiscent of some of my first experiences teaching abroad, as well as my experiences in Thailand itself. If you want insight into teaching in rural Thailand, this is the movie to watch, and if you like sappy love stories and cute kids you won’t find a better film!

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“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Set in the 1950’s, Stand By Me (1986) follows four kids who set out on a quest to find a dead body. Traveling across the county on foot, they each learn to deal with the various troubles in their lives including loss, abuse, and neglect. This movie does a fantastic job portraying the strength of friendship and the importance of overcoming obstacles together. Beyond that, the time period helps inspire me to disconnect; those boys have the adventure of a lifetime with no cellphones, internet, or even cameras—just rucksacks, sleeping bags, and an old radio.

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“With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”

The Endless Summer (1966) follows two surfers from California on a round-the-world trip as they seek to live a perpetual summer of warm waters and great waves. Along the way they teach locals of different countries how to surf while experiencing new cultures themselves, all set to a stellar soundtrack. I’ve seen this document more times than I can count and the idea of a truly endless summer is all the motivation I need to keep exploring.

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“Hello, and welcome to Amsterdam’s finest and most luxurious youth hostel. We feature one medium sized room containing 70 beds which can sleep up to 375 bodies a night. There is no bathroom. Nor is there one nearby.”

Purely a teen comedy, Eurotrip (2004) follows four friends from Ohio who spend the summer before college backpacking Europe on a quest to find the main dude’s penpal/love-interest. This movie came out when I was in high school, and seeing those kids just take off for London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and even the Vatican with no rules or schedules really just clicked in my brain. It was one of the first times I remember thinking I could totally do that.

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“I took the trip because I wanted to get something out of my system…but it doesn’t work, because I think the one thing that’s changed about all of us, we take this trip, is that a normal life really doesn’t seem that attractive at all anymore. I can’t imagine not traveling again.”

A Map For Saturday (2007) is a documentary by Brook Silva-Braga following his nearly year-long backpacking trip in the early 2000’s. It gives astonishing insight into the life of a backpacker, the amazing types of people you encounter, the realities of hostel life and the highs & lows of long-term travel, as well as the realities of going home again. Whenever someone says, “I could never do what you do,” I tell them to watch this movie. For many, it’s the push they need to finally give up everything & hit the road.

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“Chester Copperpot! Don’t you guys see? Don’t you realize? He was a pro, he never made it this far. Look how far we’ve come. We’ve got a chance!”

One of my all-time favorite movies in existence, The Goonies (1985) is truly the perfect adventure story: outlaws, pirate ships, hidden treasure, wishing wells & first kisses. Sure, they may not travel the world but the Goonies have more adventure in their small town than most people have in a lifetime. Friendship, perseverance, understanding, and courage…I get more inspiration from those kids than any other movie I know, and not just from Mikey’s “Our Time” speech.

If you’ve got any films that inspire you to explore, feel free to share!

-Ashley