Hong Kong Hockey

April 29, 2018 at 4:15 pm (Travel) (, , , , )

A9BAC1CC-05D2-4599-BEFF-EA369DE46DD5-202-00000003A54D5481_tmpAfter much deliberation I decided to head to Hong Kong for the Hockey Sixes once again this year.  The Shanghai Dragons were nice enough to allow me to join their team again even though I did not make it to a training in Shanghai once since last Easter.  That really is unacceptable and I now have big plans to make sure I get up to some trainings before the summer.

My weekend was simply brilliant.  I was once again reminded about how much I miss the sport, and more importantly how much I miss the community.  Team sports are fantastic for getting people together and having fun.  I see that in my Gaelic team even if my heart isn’t really in the game.  It’s why I go to training even though I can’t kick or catch most of the time.

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The most beautiful hockey pitch I have ever had the pleasure of playing on!

I enjoyed playing much more this year because our team gelled really well together.  I got my touch in early, even scoring in the first game.  Everybody enjoyed playing both on and off the field and I don’t think I stopped smiling all weekend.  We ended up second in our pool and lost a tough final match to be runners up in the plate division.

Of course, we were also notorious off the field.  We danced the night away, participated in some hockey themed races and paid the price on the hockey field.  Exactly the way a tournament should be!  A special mention must go to my amazing roommate Onny who took me on without even meeting me, and to Giles and Silass for a very memorable walk home.

I feel so extremely lucky to be a field hockey player and part of a wonderful community that has branches all over the world.  I am looking forward to being part of a regular team again and continuing to add and contribute to this amazing international hockey community.

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I’m hoping that wherever my travels and my career take me, that I find myself back at this competition with the Shanghai Dragons again next year.  I simply had a blast!

xoxo

P.s  More Photos?

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Cambodia continued…

March 30, 2018 at 4:55 pm (Travel) (, , , , , , , , , )

I left Jen for a night and made my way down to the small seaside village of Kep.  My main inspiration for visiting was to do some walking in Kep National Park and my plan when the minibus pulled in was to get to my accommodation, drop my things off and head straight there.  It turned out that Stuart, who was also on the bus, had exactly the same plan.  He’d booked a hotel right next to the park and mine was miles away on the other side of the town.  He kindly offered to share a tuk tuk to his hotel and suggested I leave my stuff there so we could explore together.  It was the perfect plan!

IMG_6827We planned to do the 8km circuit but did manage to get distracted at a few points.  The park has signposts yet these are curiously marked, often pointing towards one thing but not actually telling you when you get there.  We particularly liked the Remarkable Tree, which was actually remarkable and easy to spot along the track.  It was lovely to spend a day out in nature and Stuart was a fascinating companion.  He spent a whole year cycling around India with his wife!

For dinner we headed to the Crab Market and ate at a recommended restaurant.  The food was to die for, especially the lemongrass coconut squid!  Of course we also tried the Kampot pepper crab which the region is known for.

IMG_6867We decided to team up again for the next day for a tuk tuk tour around the local area.  I wanted to see a pepper farm and we included some caves as well.  We visited Phnom Chhnork and Phnom Sorsia and it was another grand day.  Part of the trip had us tuk tuking past farmers working on their fields.  We saw boys as young as 12 watering the fields using two old fashioned watering cans.  It really gave us an insight into the current farming techniques for many local Cambodian farmers.

IMG_6882Jen joined me in Kep and the next day we headed to the island Koh Rong Sanloem.  It took us a whole day to get there, as well as a jungle trek across the island, but when we arrived at Sunset Bay it was all worth it.  The beach was simply stunning, with beautiful clear water, sandy slopes and only a handful of people to share it with.  We stayed in a fun glamping style tent and enjoyed not having electricity or wifi for a couple of nights.

Jen only had a day and a half on the island so we made the most of it.  For our full day, we hired a kayak and paddled around the bend to Lazy Beach.  Lots of people we knew from school were staying there and Jen wanted IMG_6891to see them.  It was fun turning up in the kayak and well worth the sunset we had as we paddled home.  I spent the day sunbaking and swimming, while Jen caught up with old friends in the sunshine.  It was a magical day.

After dinner back at Sunset Bay, we headed into the water to see the plankton.  I had seen these years before on Koh Phangan in Thailand but it was Jen’s first time.  I don’t think it matters how many times you swim with plankton, it’s always a magical experience.  The plankton light follows your fingers around they swirl around you in a dizzying almost out of body experience.  It was the perfect end to a wonderful day.

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We spent the rest of our time together chatting, sun baking and enjoying the sunshine.  Sunset Bay was truly a beautiful destination and one of the most relaxing places I have been to.  Somehow, I am sure that I will spend time there again.  My trip was made all the better for the precious time I got to spend with Jen. Thank you for your hospitality, the laughs and most importantly, your friendship.

I spent two more nights on the island at a Mad Monkey hostel, where the beach was nowhere near as nice in comparison.  I didn’t even bother to take any photos!  It was a good place to meet people and socialise though.  Backpackers always have interesting stories to share.  I didn’t appreciate being asked if I wasn’t interested in having a partner by one 18 year old though!

My original plan had been to go from the island to Kampot but after the long bus ride through from Kep I cancelled my original booking thinking I would either stay on the island or in Sihanoukville.  I’d forgotten about Chinese New Year though and hadn’t had any internet during my time on the island to organise anything.  When I finally got to Sihanoukville, there was no accommodation to be found and I ended up back on my way to Kampot with a new accommodation booking at Kampot Oasis.

This turned out to be perfect.  The guys running the place were all expats and I had the best breakfast in Cambodia there.  They were super friendly and helpful and I had a room to myself in a really chilled out backpacker like atmosphere.

IMG_6913I decided to take it easy and do a tour the next day.  We visited Bokor National Park, with its colder climate and mist that brings an eerie light and atmosphere to the abandoned buildings from the 1920s and 30s.  I loved the artwork on them and the juxtaposition to the jungle and mist that swept in and out so creepily.  We saw some wildlife on our way up the mountain a highlight being when our guide stopped to pull out his drone to take pictures.

We were all looking forward to seeing the the abandoned Bokor Hill Station, which the French had built atop Phnom Bokor (1080m) in the 1925.  The pictures we had seen promised a large eerie building perched upon the clifftop and we were disappointed to arrive to a restored building that looked nothing like what he had expected.

The whole area is being redeveloped, although nobody on the tour was sure why.  There’s nothing up there but mist and gloom and it is little surprise that the station was abandoned twice.  Yet, there is a huge new Chinese hotel and casino on the site with plans for more buildings.  Quite a mystery to us.

IMG_6937After arriving back in Kampot, we had a couple of hours to spare before a sunset river cruise that was included in our tour.  I was lucky that there were two guys on the tour close to my age.  Jake, Kyeand I set ourselves up with some beers and french fries and the time flew as we swapped travel stories and experiences.  I really enjoyed the time with them because we connected with our love of travel and all had different experiences and memories to add to the conversation.

The sunset cruise ended up being much better than any of us expected.  I think the boys were actually quite thankful that I conned them into waiting around.  The sunset was phenomenal and the trip relaxing in the dying light.  We saw fireflies on the riverbank and were mesmerised by their beauty.   Our conversation continued right through to dinner and evening drinks and their company was much appreciated.

Last stop was Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat.  I only had a day and a half so it was off to the temples for me, no matter the weather.  I shared a tuk tuk tour for the day with Mike, who I had met in the Mad Monkey hostel.  We began in the pouring rain and had a very disappointing sunrise.

IMG_7013It did clear though and we weren’t subjected to rain during the day.  We did the small tour loop and visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.  They were all spectacular in their own right but Bayon in Angkor Wat was my favourite.  This temple has 216 faces carved into it.  Among these faces were two familiar ones as I bumped into Jack and Sue from school!  I also loved Ta Prohm were the temples and nature seem to be entwined together in a loving embrace.  I can’t say I loved all the Chinese tourists though.

My visit to the Angkor National Museum the next day, made me appreciate the history of the temple complex much more as well as the timeline for completion.  I spend the remainder of my time shopping, spending the last of the money and finding products at the Made in Cambodia market.

The time I had for Angkor Wat was simply not enough.  Next time I plan to hire a bike and explore properly, or perhaps to complete the Angkor Wat Half Marathon which takes place every year in December.  The race would be hot and stuffy, but the views would more than make up for it.

xoxo

P.s  More Photos?

 

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Exploring Phnom Penh

March 26, 2018 at 4:42 pm (Travel) (, , )

I was super excited to escape the Suzhou winter and embrace the sunshine in Cambodia for my Chinese New Year break.  It was a new country for me and it meant some backpacking time as well as catching up with my friend Jen who I spent last Chinese New Year with in Vietnam.  She now lives and works in Phnom Penh so I organised my flight to spend the first weekend entirely with her.

My airline had other plans.  After a cancelled flight, much confusion and lot of waiting around, we finally boarded a flight to Cambodia the next day.  We ended up staying the night in Shanghai and I didn’t arrive in Phnom Penh until 11pm Saturday night.  Making the most out of an annoying situation, I did make a new friend, Amanda, who is an absolute superstar.

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I had an absolute blast hanging out with Jen in her new city.  We made the most out of our Sunday together by visiting Wat Phnom before heading to the Sunday hash.  Wat Phnom is regarded as the only ‘hill’ in town and was first erected in 1373.  The area was beautiful and we managed to see Jen’s first Phnom Penh monkey.  🙂

IMG_6785Afterwards we headed to the hash which was an awesome experience.  We got herded out about forty minutes on a cattle truck to the start of the trail.  The group was heaps of fun and the trail had us running through paddy fields and small settlements.  I loved seeing a more ‘authentic’ Cambodia and am very thankful that I was welcomed into their hashing world with such friendship.  I hope that my travelling will enable me to have many more similar experiences in the future.

The next day I met up with Keith who had also hashed and we visited the Russian Market and the Royal Palace together.  I also dragged him along to a couple of fair trade shops.  The city is always bustling and you can’t go very far without being asked about a tuk tuk so it was fun having someone with me to explore it with and not quite as daunting.

IMG_6802The Royal Palace is a beautiful structure near the riverbank.  It very much reminded me of the Grand Palace in Bangkok although I remember the visit there being much more awe inspiring.  The Palace compound has classic Khmer roofs, ornate decoration and lovely murals.  We visited the throne room and the Silver pagoda Complex where we saw both the Emerald Buddha and the life sized Gold Buddha embellished with 2086 diamonds!

After a wonderful day and some sunset cocktails, the evening finished on a sour note.  Keith had his phone stolen right before my eyes as he was checking something on the curb.  I had stepped back with my phone to call Jen, and as she answered a motorbike rider pulled in close to Keith and snatched the phone straight out of his hands.  I screamed and was quite shaken, as was Keith.  We had been warned about the crime in the city and had been careful all day with our belongings, yet all you need is that one moment.  He took it well, and we were both thankful that it in the end, it was only a phone.

We had planned to meet up again on Tuesday to go to Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes and the Killing Fields but understandably, Keith didn’t feel up for it and I ventured out on my own.  It was a humbling day and in some ways I am glad that I spent it alone.  I have seen many examples of human atrocities in my travels an everyone of them change and move you in different ways.

The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide is on the site of the Security Prison 21 (S-21) which was established in 1975.  This is where Pol Pot’s regime tortured victims until they admitted crimes, many of which they did not understand.  When the required information had been extracted, the victims were sent to the Killing Fields.  In the three years the prison was in action, over 17,000 people lost their lives.

When Phenom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese in early 1979, those still working at the prison did their best to get rid of as much documentation as possible.  The current victims were led to bleed to death.  They did not shoot them for fear of the shots being heard and arousing suspicion.  It took them three days to find the prison and when they did they found the people as they were left.  The photos of the bodies found are gruesome, especially when it is clear that the photo was taken in the very room you were standing.  In some rooms you can still see the blood on the floor.  Everywhere echos mistrust and the human capacity for cruelness.

Perhaps, this visit hit me so hard because before becoming the prison, Tuol Sleng was a school.  It looks like any other Asian school with its courtyard and double story buildings facing into it.  Some play equipment still stands.  It too has a story to tell in the torture that happened.  Now, it is eerily quiet, even with so many visitors.  As I passed people, I realised that we were all sharing this experience through our grim faces and reflection.  We were sharing the burden of what had happened, what will hopefully never happen again.  Yet it does, the cycle of our cruelty is possibly never ending.

Already quite shaken, I made the trip out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where a similar experience awaited me.  Now a beautiful memorial, I was glad I had not eaten.  The land should be flat but instead seems to bubble from the bodies that are hidden beneath it.  As you walk around, you can see remnants of clothing and sometimes even bones that have raised to the surface due to rain.

They played revolutionary music to mask what has happening at this site.  Often, bullets would not be spared and the victims were killed in any way possible with whatever materials were on hand.  The memorial stupa pays tribute to this by housing the remains of some 8985 people.  The bones are categorised into types and the skulls into cause of death.  It is haunting yet also beautiful in its own lopsided way.

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Sunset from Jen’s place

On my return, Jen listened to my thoughts and feelings.  She buffered my experience and I am eternally grateful for her responses and ability to bring me back to reality.  Phnom Penh will get under your skin.  Between the motorbikes, the mix match of architecture, its frightening history… it is not a city that one forgets easily.

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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Braving the Golden Week Crowds in Beijing

October 8, 2017 at 1:17 pm (China, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

IMG_5602Every time I got asked what I was doing for October break, people would look at me as if I was crazy.  They didn’t mean to but it is a well known fact that Golden Week is a ridiculous time to be travelling within China.  Basically everyone gets time off so the big tourist destinations are SWAMPED.  Check out some photos here.

It wasn’t an ideal choice, but it made the most sense with my old school friend Erica visiting China.  Luckily for me, my good friends Tim, Lukman and their son Banyu decided to join our Beijing adventure.  They were lured to Beijing with the idea of camping on the Great Wall.  Tim needed my encouragement, support and crazy positiveness… I needed his organisation, booking and Chinese language skills.  It was a match made in heaven and resulted in a memorable trip.

35D6C3F7-5246-4CB4-8B74-C348ADF3CAFF-535-0000004BD62C6FEB_tmpWe caught the overnight train from Suzhou to Beijing and then met up with Erica.  Most of our first day was spent organising accommodation after our Airbnb fell through but in the afternoon he headed to the Hutongs for a casual stroll around the area.  There was a lovely community atmosphere and we loved peeking behind the distinctive red doors into the hidden courtyards.  I wish we had had more light to explore as it’s definitely somewhere I would like to wander through again!

I really enjoyed meeting Tim’s friend Amelie.  They met while teaching French in Beijing many years ago.  She fell in love, married and is now running a beautiful children’s clothing line Tang’ Roulou here in China.  Her clothes are a lovely mix of western and Asian styles and I can’t wait to see how cute my niece looks in the summer dresses I bought her.  Nearly everything she had for little girls I would wear myself, such a pity she doesn’t make adult sizes!  It was interesting hearing her talk about her business and the market here in China and internationally.

IMG_5617Since we were in Beijing, I was determined to have Peking duck so we had it for the first nights dinner.  Under Amelie’s recommendation, we went to a very local restaurant where we were the only foreigners.  We over ordered but had a wonderful meal and I was able to tick it off my bucket list.

My beautiful friend Judy had helped me organise last minute tickets to the Forbidden City for the next day.  As of October 1st (i.e. last Sunday) all tickets had to be purchased online.  This is clearly explained on their website in English but low and behold, when you click to order tickets EVERYTHING is in Chinese.  I know it’s called the Forbidden City because it was off limits for 500 years, punishable by death… but why are they making it so difficult for non Chinese speakers to visit?  The site is limited to 80, 000 people a day.  Can you imagine?  But with Golden Week we didn’t want to miss out so we were really lucky Judy was able to help and that there were even tickets left.

IMG_5635We were prepared for the crowds so off we trotted with Banyu in tow.  He had decided he wanted to join us and as he’s just under 1.2m he gets free entrance.  The crowds were nowhere near as bad as we had anticipated.  Granted, getting out of the subway was crazy and there was no way we were going to brave the crowds at Tiananmen Square but once we actually got into the Forbidden City it was fine.  It’s the biggest palace complex in the world so we never really felt like we were in a throng of people.

The enormity of the complex was really something.  It just kept going on and on.  The initial courtyard alone can hold over 100,000 people.  As we walked around, we had to keep explaining to Banyu why there was a throne in every room!  We particularly enjoyed the Hall of Literary Glory as we were able to actually enter the hall and see the amazing painting on the wooden ceiling and the beautiful ceramic floor tiles.  It houses an impressive ceramic collection which was also interesting.  We also liked the Clock Exhibition Hall located in the Hall for Ancestral Worship, where we even found clocks made in Suzhou!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time for anything else in Beijing because of our camping plans.  Its a big city with a rich history… I will just have to come back!

xoxo

P.s  More photos?

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Part Five – Tiger Leaping Gorge

August 14, 2017 at 8:56 pm (China, Travel) ()

Day Eighteen

It was a relief to finally go walking in an area that was not stone paved!  Tiger Leaping Gorge took us through the wilderness on steep and crooked paths with the earth below our feet.  This river gorge is one of the deepest river canyons in the world with 3,790 meters from the river to the mountain peak.

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I struggled up the first incline but quickly got into the swing of things and thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely pace.  We were followed up by locals trying to convince us that horse back riding was the way to go.  They were quite persistent even when it was obvious that neither mum or I were having a bar of it.  We bought a snickers from a man and his hut perched on a lonely turn and were offered Chinese ‘marijuana’ at another makeshift stall.

IMG_2271We stayed the night at the Tea Horse Guest House and were allowed to have dinner in the family room away from the other Chinese guests.  It was cosy and warm with a big fire, and not quite as loud.  We got to share their Naxi style potato pancake, and much to my delight, home brewed Baijiu served from a big plastic canister.  It doesn’t get much more authentic than that!

Day Nineteen

IMG_5037We continued our walk taking in the scenery in our stride.  We have both done more spectacular walks in the past, but there was something truly wonderful about being out in the nature and walking far from other people here in China.  To our absolute wonder it didn’t rain THE WHOLE walk.  As a result, we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the gorge and surrounding landscape.

IMG_5041We stopped on our way out of the gorge at the place where the tiger supposedly leapt over the river.  Our tour guide said that normally they didn’t stop there unless the tourists insist but this time it was him insisting!  Even our driver came down to have a look at the thrashing river.  The power was quite something and well worth the ridiculous amount of stairs.  If a tiger really did jump over the gorge via a rock, I cannot tell you… we couldn’t even see the rock due to the amount of water.  At least all the rain we experienced helped us to see the river at its mightiest.

Day Twenty

We travelled back to Shanghai via plane and then braved the crazy train station and managed to get ourselves back to Suzhou.  Our last day of travel was spent having a lovely dinner with my little German family.  I’m glad mum got the chance to meet Oliver, Thorsten and Doris, and I finally got to meet Oliver’s wife Elke too.  They are such a big part of my Suzhou life and I am looking froward to another fun filled adventure seeking year with them!

xoxo

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