A Few Weeks in NOM

My taste buds were happy in Vietnam. VERY happy.

Not only is the food fresh, tasty and healthy it’s also extremely photogenic. So much that I couldn’t resist being one of those people who gets snap happy with dinner the whole time.

But don’t judge me too harshly, at least I didn’t Instagram it.

Here’s what I’ve been feasting on. NOM.


Posh boiled eggs


Noodle salad with nuts and a sprinkling of pork scratchings


A little like Russian roulette – what’s inside? This one was beef. Phew!


One of the best breakfasts ever. Pork and prawn pancake with peanut dipping sauce


Delicate rice pancakes filled with mushrooms and bacon. Party in your mouth.


Behind the scenes


Got to love that French influence..


Winner of Miss Natural Beauty 2014 : El Nido in Pictures

If ever such a coveted prize was awarded the rightful winner would surely be the collection of limestone cliffs, turtle green lagoons and white sand beaches found off the coast of El Nido, Palawan.

Untouched for what looks like thousands of years, I couldn’t think of a better personification of paradise if I tried.

It had taken Gabriel and I a bum shattering 8 hour journey to get there (the bus even started to fall apart) but as the boat turned in to the star attraction, Big Lagoon, all was forgotten.

But you don’t want to hear me bang on about how great it was, a picture does after all speak a thousand words.

Welcome to paradise








Too much to take in!


Can I stay here forever please?


A Deserted Beach and the 10 Year Letter

Im not sure there is anything more evocative than a deserted white sand beach.

Discovery of such can lead a person to do strange things, like run with jazz hands, sing loud and dance like a mad man. If this wasn’t strange enough it can also stir buried feelings deep within the soul and maybe, on occasion cause you to act on them.

This happened to me last week, and after I’d done with singing and dancing I sat down to do something that I have been meaning to do for the last 10 years.


I have not spoken to my mother in ten years.

When I tell people this they are often surprised, maybe not just by the duration but by the objective manner in which I can talk about it, like it was a different life to my own. They wouldn’t be wrong in making this assumption. It was such a long time ago, a lifetime ago caused by events outside of my control, and in the years that passed it didn’t trouble me too much, buried in a Pandora’s box I had no desire to open.

But as got older I started to think differently about the problem. With experiences of my own I could reflect on what happened and perhaps try to understand why she acted in a way that she did. But even though these feelings came and went I sat on them, afraid of what may come if I roused the issue.

Travelling however brings such experiences in abundance. Amongst them buried in a book I bought in India, I read that whatever happens to us at any present moment, be it joyful or painful, is what we are supposed to be experiencing in that moment.

At first I found this hard to get my head around, how can we accept something that is painful? But of course we can’t see in to the future, and that thing of pain may also bring us to a place of joy which we wouldn’t have attained were it not for the pain.

Applying this logic to the beach I’m sure some of the people I’ve met, books I’ve read and kindness I’ve been shown had led me to what I was about to write. I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment.

I never saw your red

Though there have been a number of conversations and situations that I could attribute to bringing me to this point it was recently that the sentence above got me thinking, over a conversation about colour blindness no less.

“Tell me what you see when you look at red” I asked
” I can’t, I never saw your red”

Now maybe I shouldn’t read in to things so much but that sentence sounded so lovely to me and I thought about how it applies to people and disagreements, how can we cast judgement on a problem if we don’t know why someone acted in the way they did? How can we know how they see their red?

And then on the beach it dawned on me that I had been waiting for an apology, acknowledgment or similar for years without so much as expressing my side of things. That and I had no idea of what the reasons were behind the situation which led to the events that followed.


So how do you write a letter like this after ten years? Gripping a box of tissues and watching screwed paper balls pile up? No, not at all. I sat and wrote the whole thing, (six sides of A4) in an hour straight without so much as crossing out a word. It flowed out of me, effortless, like it had been there all ready to come out for years.

The tone wasn’t angry and with that came the most important words I put on the paper: I forgive you wholeheartedly and hope you can forgive me too. And I meant every single word of it.

After I’d got all the serious stuff out of the way it was time to say what I’d been doing for the last ten years, on the one remaining side. Without thinking too much I found myself writing all kinds of random things, like how I still don’t like cucumbers or going upside down but do have a love of baking and earrings. Of course I could have written more, but the sun had set leaving me in darkness and I had no more paper left.

I couldn’t think of a better place to write something like this and the fact that I’d run out of light brought a nice end to it. I couldn’t even read it back to myself until someone switched the generator on later.

And so there it is. It’s called a journey for a reason and this is part of mine. How it ends I’m not sure. But it doesn’t matter, because whatever it is I’m sure it will be where I’m supposed to be. For that moment anyway….

Journey to the Centre of the Earth…..Permit Permitting

Soaring above the Visayas I was ready for my next destination: the rural palm fringed island of Palawan. Bouncing out of the airport I’d reserved a bed at OMG House, as the name made me giggle and I thought anyone staying there must be a good laugh.

Luckily my gut didn’t let me down this time, though I wouldn’t encounter anyone for a few hours yet. In the meantime if got myself in a travel flap trying to navigate palawans barely there infrastructure. Undeveloped roads, one bus a day, sold out tours and no electricity between 6am – 6pm was going to make this an interesting journey.

In light of this I had a bit of a face on me! So when I met Janica and Gabriel I must have come across a bit of a miserable cow.

Slumber party!

Full of energy with an infectious smile, Fillipeno Janica was staying one night as part of her job as a poverty researcher. Gabriel on the other hand was at the start of his Palawan trip, with another big smile and hard to place accent (French Canadian) I warmed to him immediately. It was just the three of us in the room and we chatted like teenagers, almost all piled on to the same bed at one point, nattering very late in to the night about a whole manner of stuff, life, passions, peoples expectations of us! All that was missing was the sweets and face packs.

It was a really nice moment. One that makes you realise that no matter where you come from we’re all the same really with the same hopes and dreams.

The following morning I decided to join Gabriel and Adrian, a funny as New Yorker returning to his home land after 23 years (and author of aptly named ‘Da Prodigal Son’ check him out here) to see the underground river in Sabang. I had planned to go to Port Barton alone to chill out, but a bit of spontaneity was about to go a long way as it was to become one of the best days I’ve had on my trip.

Do we need visa for this place or what?!

First on the agenda: get a permit to see said river. I thought I’d left my days of beaurocracy behind in India but oh no, the town hall in Palawan takes the red tape crown.

We had to present ourselves very early, with our passports and be first in line as a set number of permits were issued per day. For a minute it looked like our luck may have been out, but Adrian saved the day with evidence of a flight and some smooth talking in Tagalog. Then there were stamps to be collected, fees to be paid, times lots to be allocated…. I swear I’d had less trouble getting in to the country!

But finally we got our permits and emerged triumphant from the office.


Winding our way to Sabang it became apparent just how rural, untouched and beautiful Palawan is. Miles of jungle, green rice paddy fields and as we got closer, souring limestone cliffs made the whole place feel like Jurrasic Park. A terridactal soaring above the cliffs would not have been out of place and we sat glued to the windows going, “ah man look at that! And that! Whoooooah! WHOOAAAH!”




At 2000 years old and 1.5km long it’s one of the longest underground rivers in the world. As we approached we were awestruck by the clear green lagoon and wide gaping entrance, a perfect compliment against prehistoric surroundings and nothing like the model we had seen at the town hall earlier that morning!


This may need a bit more work..


As we got going on a paddle boat I felt that I had left this world for another.

I will let the pictures speak for themselves.





Emerging alive..


Piling back in to our van we headed back to Puerto Princesa for celebratory beers, amazed at what we had just seen. Unfortunately Adrian wasn’t lying about the flight and we had a good few rounds to see him off. As we drank my face ached from smiling all day with such great people. But luckily the night (and Palawan) was still young for Gabriel and I, and we vowed to have a few more beers in Adrian’s honour before setting off for another early start to the seascape of El Nido….

Almost too intrepid: Cycling Gulimaras

When your first encounter of the day is a leather clad man who casually throws out that he’s killed a man, it makes you wonder whether you should really be taking a trip to a remote island to cycle on your own. Yes, that and the fact I’d watched a nasty documentary that morning on how you can contract Ebola from the jungle had me a bit on edge as I sat on the ferry en route to Gulimaras with a rented mountain bike.

I’d left paradise reluctantly the previous day to take the trip as I’d heard it was a wonderful cycling destination and I was missing Bianca. However after 7 hours on a bus, a guesthouse that didn’t exist and an escort by two lovely policeman just to get to Iloilo City, I was starting to wonder. But I had committed to the idea and even though Mr leather gave me the heeby jeebys I thought things could only get better as I got off the boat.


Registering at the worlds smallest tourist office, (so they could send a search party in case I got lost perhaps), I set off for the first part of my 20k trip to San Miguel, main town of the Jordan district. Trundling along on the main road I was glad I had a bike with suspension as the road was so gravelly and bumpy it made my teeth jingle. I bumped along for a few kilometres before feeling really really hot, like I may spontaneously combust hot. The scenery may have been amazing but my planning was dismal and I realised I was cycling in the mid day sun with hardly any water.



Looking around at the deserted jungle road I figured that to get dehydrated here would be bad, very bad.

The island had an almost eerie feel about it too, like the island in the ‘The Wickerman’ and I felt vulnerable, way more than I ever had cycling through Sri Lanka. In the midst of my worry though another human showed up, in a Jeepney no less and I flagged him down to take me and the bike up the hill to the town.


My ultimate destination was the beach but I stopped in San Miguel next to the most inviting mango display I’ve ever seen. Gulimaras is famous for its mangos, hyped as being the sweetest in all the Philippines. Biting in to the sweet yellow flesh I was not disappointed, it was SO good. And I could totally understand why they had gone to town on capitalising on it, with mango juice, sweets and even ketchup for sale.


Mangos are a serious business here


With a couple of mangos in my bag (I resisted the ketchup) I pressed on to the next district of Nueva Valencia, a toy tiki town of little palm tree thatched houses and bamboo huts. People smiled and waved as I passed by and I started to ease up and enjoy the ride.


After getting a bit lost the next stop was the beach, accessed through a small resort which was all but deserted. I started to get that eerie feeling again, even more so when a tricycle driver showed up who I’d met earlier that morning at the port. I hoped it was coincidence and not that he had been following me all day.

A lesson in intuition

Mr tricycle seemed to know where I was going. Though I met him on the road he turned up again at the beachside report I stopped at for a dip. A little over friendly maybe I wasn’t too worried at first and thought that given the lack of tourists on the island he was probably just after my custom to get back to the port. But my gut was niggling me a little and telling me something was not quite right but I ignored it because I was running out of time to get the last boat.

About 10 minutes in to the journey though I started to kick myself. Starting with the usual ‘are you married’ line of questioning it gradually got more suggestive. Now a firm word and glare normally does the trick, but here I felt really vulnerable as we were in the middle of nowhere. When he started to slow down amidst a flurry of compliments my adrenaline levels shot up and I started to feel really freaked out for the first time in my trip.

But I was not going to let anyone mess with me now, I had a boat to catch and I’d dealt with bigger weirdos than this one.

Thankfully he kept driving after a ‘don’t even think about it mate’ look and stern word, but inside I was still feeling a bit wobbly. Boarding the boat I breathed a sigh of relief to be leaving. Whilst I’d enjoyed the mangos, people and scenery this was a learning curve that some experiences are best shared and that you should always always always listen to your gut.

Oh the Goodlife: A weekend in Boracay

I always thought I was more of a mountain person. Until I went to Boracay.

As far as beaches go this place is beyond words, it quite simply blew my mind and I’ve been to quite a few beaches in my time. With crystal clear water and sand so white you need sunnies to look at it, Boracay is what you imagine when you close your eyes and picture paradise.



But not only was I in a truly world class place I was due to meet some world class people to make this one of the best weekends I’ve had on my trip, or in that fact ever.

Let me start from the beginning..

No longer forever alone

After been asked incessantly all day ‘why are you alone ma’am? (see In search of paradise and the lonely hearts club) I arrived full of energy and ready for a good night out. Dumping my bag I headed for the bars, hoping they were not exclusively full of couples having a quiet drink. Thankfully I was in luck.

3 Swedes

A vodka cocktail later and I was chatting away to three strapping swedes training in Mai Thai boxing who had been here for over a month. “You won’t want to leave” warned one, “I have to go home next week” said another, and he looked like a wounded animal. By his sullen face I was really starting to wonder what this place looked like in the light of day. But I soon put this to the back of my mind as there were cocktails to be drunk and dancing to be had, which continued on to a full moon party in the centre of the island.

Looking around the crowd was very different to other places I’d been, a real mix of ridiculously good looking people, yet without a jot of pretentiousness. I lapped it up and after the shaky start I rolled home at 4.30am having had a very fun valentines indeed.

“I’m wet. Can I sit here?”

The next day I took my hungover self for breakfast. As I sat down I was joined by Heidi, author of the line above who assured me she only needed to share my table to dry off. But I was grateful for the company and what followed would shape my time on the island.

U.S of A!

Loud, proud and hilarious Heidi was part of a group of Americans who had all travelled for their friend Roberts 50th, lucky owner of a house on the island. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a big group of Americans before and their sense of humor, welcoming nature and appetite for banter really tickled me. After chatting for a few hours they invited me to the big mans birthday party later that evening, an invitation I duly accepted.

“Shake it like the rockstar you are Becky!”

Approaching the party I was a bit worried they may have forgotten about the bedraggled girl they invited over breakfast, but I need not have worried as I was greeted by Roberts sister Ann like she had known me for years. Once we ate and drank ourselves through the first bar we headed to another where Ann whisked me off to the dancefloor, put me the podium and told me to shake it like the rockstar that I am. I couldn’t stop laughing and shook my tail feather all night until the last person went home, with another invitation to the birthday BBQ the following day.

When someone asks you to dance you should always say yes

My night was however far from over. As I sat by myself grinning over the fun I’d had I was asked to dance by a very flamboyant Filipino. It is at this juncture that I’d like to comment that the gay Filipino man is probably the friendliest most fun loving being in the world. I was twist, I was turned, there were dance offs and I left with a handful of names to contact the next time I was in town.

Finding Nemo

The next morning I met Stephen, a retiree from Melbourne who offers snorkeling tours a stones throw from the beach for an unbelievable 150 pesos (£2).

Here was a man who really loves the reef and knew every nook and cranny to seek out colorful Angel fish, glistening Parrot fish and giant blue star fish.

He even had his regulars, Eeney, Meeny, Miney and Mo, a collection of Nemo fish who lived in two separate nests. Though there was a sad story around Eeny, a real life Nemo who lost his parents a couple of weeks ago. Stephen had been coming to visit him most days and pointed out his dull orange colour compared to the other fish and forlorn expression, it was enough to make me want to well up!

It was a fantastic tour done out of a love for the reef rather than money. If you’re ever in Boracay check him out at the Tree House in Station 3.

A backpackers dream

Afternoon called for my next social stop at the Birthday BBQ. I was warned that the house was a little hard to find as it was up a mud trail (“I actually saw a goat give birth up there once” warned Ann) and followed a map hand drawn the previous night. With a new friend in toe, who also happened to be celebrating his birthday, we trekked up the trail to a beautiful house that overlooked turquoise waters and rolling hills.


A sly selfie..


And then there was the food. Brisket, home made southern sauce (the real deal from Mississippi), wings, ribs, a whole pig, STEAK! It was a backpackers dream. As we wiled the evening away sharing stories, I felt sad to be leaving the next day.

I was touched by the kindness of strangers who welcomed me in to their celebrations with open arms and vowed that if I ever had an paradise island house one day, I’d do the same for the first hungover stray I saw having breakfast alone.

“See you next year!”

I had time for one last coconut on the beach with my cheeky hotel security guard Alfie who I’d had many a late night chat with. I was torn, I really wanted to stay but had already made plans to move on.

As I went to leave Alfie called to me “see you next year?” I paused, looked back and called “I really hope so. I really hope so….”

In Search of Paradise and the Lonely Hearts Club

Hot footing it out of Sabang, sex tourist capital, before any more fluffy teddies and hearts lined restaurant tables (I could only imagine how that went down here) I went in search of a more acceptable version of paradise, on Boracay island in the Visayas.

With textbook white sand and voted the worlds second best island it’s hardly undiscovered, but after the strange crowd in Sabang I was looking forward to more traditional holiday vibes and rum coconuts. Getting there however sounded epic; two Jeepneys, a mini van, ferry and a small bangka. Leaving Javid behind I set off early doors for my first Jeepney of the day to Calapan.

Was that my jaw?

I’d already witnessed secluded bays, miles of palm and vivid green banana trees the previous day to Puerto Galara and didn’t think much could top it, yet as we left for Calapan it just got more and more beautiful.

It really was ridiculously stunning, like when you look at one of those Victoria Secrets models and think, how?

When we turned a corner to see a tall silver waterfall trickle down the hillside my jaw actually did fall open. How this place has only been discovered by the Koreans and old European men I’ll never know.

“You are alone. Why?”

Yes ladies and gentlemen, if there’s ever a sentence you want uttered to you on Valentines day it’s this one. Not one I was a stranger to of course, but it peaked in popularity today and I was asked about five times, by the old lady on the bus, the port security men, the woman in the coffee shop…

What’s even trickier is answering it.

Yes I have friends, no I don’t know why I don’t have a boyfriend, yes I will think about a Filipino suiter….

The only thing that made it ok was the charming way in which it was asked which followed swiftly with “because your beautiful m’am!” And I couldn’t be mad at that. No it seemed valentines day had brought a cheeky side out of many guys who waved, wished me happy valentines day and joked about me being their “Valentina”.

In all this joviality I felt relaxed about the fact the boat was three hours late and there was a good chance I wouldn’t get to Boracay. Still I held out hope that I’d be able to drown myself in rum before the night was out and settled down to watch the sun set perfectly over a sapphire sea.



I felt very lucky as I watched the scene play out, yet a tiny pang of aloneness crept in, it was just too beautiful to have all to oneself, it would be lovely to share it with someone. And just then as though he had a radar for it man number five landed the final bullet: why are you alone m’am?

“You know I don’t know” came my reply, “But I’m off to find some paradise instead!”. He laughed, “Yes well Boracay is very lovely. Maybe next year, you will have husband m’am?”

Mmm, yes, maybe next year…..

Oh my Manila! The Start of Something Beautiful

Touching down in Manila after a very bumpy ride I was already lol’ing to myself from the super sweet announcement that told me to:

‘Sit back and relax as we dim the cabin lights to give you an awesome view of the city’

Collecting my bag and heading out I was greeted by two of the friendliest immigration officials I’ve ever encountered. Big smiles, jokes and explanation of ‘no wang wang’ (no pushing in) later I almost forgot to take my passport with me.

Waiting for cash I was lucky to bump in to a few fellow travelers heading in to town and we agreed to share a cab to Makati, the financial district which I’d been told was the best place to stay.

What are you?

Driving away from the airport my first impressions were one of confusion. Am I still in Asia? Fast food signage at all angles, brightly colored buildings and Latino street names all gave me the feeling that I was in South America, even the local language Tagalog sounded Hispanic to my untrained ear.

I wanted different and I certainly got it…..

After settling in I took my eyes back out to the streets to try make sense of the place, only to be struck with a sense of wonder I’ve not had since I did the cycle tour in Old Delhi. This place was crazy! Wacky racer inspired tricycles (a motorbike with a car attached next to it) in flamboyant pink with names like ‘Sophia’ and ‘Lopez’ sat in a street named ‘7th Avenue’ which had a sign like the ones I remember from Sesame Street. It was like Cuba, Brazil and the US had had a love child.



You probably wouldn’t want a ride in this one..


And then there were the Jeepneys that I’d read about before coming, limo style silver Jeeps painted bright colors draped in a whole manner of slogans, two of my favorites being ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Thanks God’ on the rear.


Behind the wall

Taking a trip to Intramuros, Spanish for ‘behind the wall’ with Javid who I met in the airport, we were struck by the beauty of the old churches and Latino feel of the street life. Indeed it was here that I got my first taste of poverty which surrounds the city and the warmth of the people.




Stumbling in to an alleyway where chickens ran free around children with no shoes, there was a light, jovial atmosphere as a family generations deep played a game of bingo round an old table whilst boys played on a makeshift pool table next door.

I had been reluctant to venture in at first, not wanting to intrude, but Javied led the way taking the initiative to act as ghost caller to the Bingo man. “Sit, come play!” gestured the guy in charge of dishing out the cards. And so I did, trying my best to use my fastest finger first to get us ahead in the game. But alas! We lost and the small bounty went to a group of grinning women across the table.

Heading back to Makati for dinner the contrast was stark; all flashy tall buildings and American eateries where we had just come from ramshackle houses clobbered together with corrugated iron and a network of cables so knotted it made the ones in India look like the gold standard of safety.

Yes, it appeared this was a city of extremes, with one half living the American dream whilst the other squats by the roadside scrubbing clothes and selling deep fried bananas to make a few pesos


Guiltily perhaps we headed out in search of Manilas famed nightlife. Whilst I was keen to see ladyboys we ended up in a glitzy club playing the latest tunes with students, expats and other well heeled clientele. And let me tell you the Filipinos are a glamorous lot, I felt way underdressed in my travel threads! Here on the dance floor I was taken in by Jan and his friends, throwing shapes and drinking from a giant fishbowl. It was tones of fun and we ended the evening at 6am at a local eatery.

Massive. Just massive

Stood on my hostel roof the following morning with a biiiiig hangover I couldn’t get over the size of the place. Manila is a metropolitan volcano that just keeps on erupting. It’s HUGE with skyscrapers and tower blocks that stretch for an eternity, I had to take four pictures just to get a feel for it, and that’s probably only covering a few districts.

About 2% of the city



With so much left of the city to discover and some new friends in my address book it felt like a shame to move on, but there was so much more to be uncovered, starting with Taal Volcano…

The Break Up: Moving on to Mr Manila

“Change your mindset, or change your situation”

The only real options available to us when we’re not content with something, right?

As my disconnection with Thailand trundled on in to it’s third week up in the hills of travel playground Pai, I began to wonder, why am I still here?

I hadn’t done any great acts of travel spontaneity in my three months aside from missing a few things off and staying longer in places I liked. I felt stuck, but in reality I was freer than I’ve every been, with a loaded credit card, passport and a world I could cart with me wherever I pleased.

“You’ll never be freer to make instant changes to your miserable circumstance.”

Insight from my friend Steve back home who had just arrived to work late in the pouring rain caused by the recent Tube strikes. I’m sure he was secretly hating me for my first world travel woes but he made a very good point and it helped give me some perspective.

So I started to think about what I wanted next. My plan was to work on my troubled mindset and escape the crowds on an organic farm offering meditation north from Chaing Mai. But the thought of staying longer in the area just didn’t appeal, even if it would potentially de clutter my brain and teach me how to grow radishes.

After that I had loose plans to head to Cambodia, or Laos, but why I could really tell you, just more ‘that’s where everyone goes when they come to South East Asia’ kind of thing. Given that was exactly what I was trying to get away from and I didn’t feel a burn of excitement about heading to either place (aside from seeing the temples at Angkor Wat, which I may regret later) my mind wandered further afield, and landed on the Philippines.

Flashy Jesus Jeeps, karaoke, pristine beaches, beer cheaper than water and real live volcanoes – where do I sign up?

On reading the first few lines of my guerrilla research I was sold. Manila sounded delightfully crazy and when I read that Filipinos have a deep love of eating and shopping for tat I was hitting the search button on Skyscanner.

Sitting with Khalil, my Canadian friend who I still couldn’t believe taught me how to ride a moped in 15 minutes flat the previous day, we plotted my escape. A few hours later I was booked on the next flight to Manila and felt what I’d been missing for a while, excitement, fear and curiosity about what I was stepping in to next.

As I left Chiang Mai the following day under a sunset so perfect it could almost be taunting me I thought it was a shame Thailand and I didn’t work out. Maybe he had had too many lovers before me and I couldn’t handle my jealously, or perhaps I just crave a different type of trail he couldn’t provide. We will never know. But now as I leave his shores I will be thankful of our short time together and cheekily look forward to diving in with my new boyfriend, Mr Manila.

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