Explore | Halong Bay, Vietnam

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SONY DSCHalong Bay always seemed like one of those places other people go to. You know, those people who take extraordinary photographs, have Condé Nast Traveller raving about them, have seemingly never taken a bad photograph and who are so naturally at ease with everything they encounter within the world. The more I live, the more I realise these people don’t really exist; they’re just like you and me. Halong Bay seemed otherworldly in the most wonderful sense but fear still held me. Fear of the unknown, of fulfilling the words of caution others had ‘offered’ without experience.

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Coming from a busy city I haven’t spent much time at sea or in the water in general. Occasionally I go swimming but then I get freaked out about germs, rush home and spend longer in the shower than I did in the pool! As soon as my bus pulled up at the harbour, I started to feel a little anxious. The moment I put the life-jacket on, I felt nauseated, sweaty and I just kept thinking about drowning.  I just wanted to get on the main ship for some sense of stability though, secretly, my initial thoughts all related to getting back to dry land the following day.

SONY DSCI made my way onto the main Junk boat, and to my little cabin with comfortable little bed with crisp, cool white linen. The awe-inspiring views as the boat made it’s way through Halong Bay. Hundreds, no, thousands of islets surrounded the boat, giving me goosebumps – each one seemingly more lush than the last. It was a place of firsts: I kayaked around the islets, slept on a boat and, most importantly, realised that my dreams are all attainable. I wanted to push myself, to live outside of my neatly planned life of books, manicures and stained glass window ogling; to live what I read, to explore the impact of formal education, my beliefs and to confront my fears. The kayaking was a mistake; it was one step too far outside my comfort zone and something I will never do again. I couldn’t enjoy the view because I was too scared about dropping my oar and, naturally, the fear of my kayak drifting into the abyss as a result. Petrifying.

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SONY DSC SONY DSCThe adventure was only beginning. We docked at one of the islands for a little mountain climbing, as one does in sandals and a bikini… There, high-above sea level, in the company of ravenous mosquitoes I spent a good hour just staring out at Halong Bay’s beauty, patiently waiting for the sun to set.  I soon headed back to my boat for a strong martini and the silence of life at sea.

SONY DSC SONY DSCI awoke feeling refreshed and calm. It turns out sleeping on a boat is a pretty blissful experience. I still recall my morning boat shower; it’s amazing how quickly we become desensitised to the seemingly-new and strange. Having survived the previous night’s shower, with surprisingly-good water pressure, the morning was a breeze. I stepped up on deck, sat down with The Economist and started to cry. It was a magical moment of feeling connected to our universe and myself. I hope I never forget that sense of possibility. Just me, my favourite magazine and nature’s beauty. It was definitely one of the best moments of my life thus far.

SONY DSC SONY DSCIt turns out that my Halong Bay experience, my second and third days in Vietnam, not only opened my eyes to a new part of the world but also set the foundation for my entire trip. Vietnam welcomed me; its people exude warmth and curiosity, the food is spicy and delicious and everywhere you look, even in the main cities, there is an abundance of greenery. Once again, I realised that as expensive and exhausting as travelling is, nothing enriches your life more. I’ve only been to Vietnam once, so I am clearly not an authority on the country.  However, people with lives vastly different to mine, citizens of country deeply scarred by war and Western greed yet with a culture of kindness, education and learning from history. People who affirmed that our differences exist to unite us, rather than divide. I have met never people who have experienced the horrors of war, mass rape, violence and oppression yet whom, astonishingly, show openness and forgiveness.  I would return to Vietnam in a heartbeat but first I think I need to visit other distant lands – China, Iran and India – which have long since been calling my name!

Explore | Halong Bay, Vietnam

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SONY DSCHalong Bay always seemed like one of those places other people go to. You know, those people who take extraordinary photographs, have Condé Nast Traveller raving about them, have seemingly never taken a bad photograph and who are so naturally at ease with everything they encounter within the world. The more I live, the more I realise these people don’t really exist; they’re just like you and me. Halong Bay seemed otherworldly in the most wonderful sense but fear still held me. Fear of the unknown, of fulfilling the words of caution others had ‘offered’ without experience.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

Coming from a busy city I haven’t spent much time at sea or in the water in general. Occasionally I go swimming but then I get freaked out about germs, rush home and spend longer in the shower than I did in the pool! As soon as my bus pulled up at the harbour, I started to feel a little anxious. The moment I put the life-jacket on, I felt nauseated, sweaty and I just kept thinking about drowning.  I just wanted to get on the main ship for some sense of stability though, secretly, my initial thoughts all related to getting back to dry land the following day.

SONY DSCI made my way onto the main Junk boat, and to my little cabin with comfortable little bed with crisp, cool white linen. The awe-inspiring views as the boat made it’s way through Halong Bay. Hundreds, no, thousands of islets surrounded the boat, giving me goosebumps – each one seemingly more lush than the last. It was a place of firsts: I kayaked around the islets, slept on a boat and, most importantly, realised that my dreams are all attainable. I wanted to push myself, to live outside of my neatly planned life of books, manicures and stained glass window ogling; to live what I read, to explore the impact of formal education, my beliefs and to confront my fears. The kayaking was a mistake; it was one step too far outside my comfort zone and something I will never do again. I couldn’t enjoy the view because I was too scared about dropping my oar and, naturally, the fear of my kayak drifting into the abyss as a result. Petrifying.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC SONY DSCThe adventure was only beginning. We docked at one of the islands for a little mountain climbing, as one does in sandals and a bikini… There, high-above sea level, in the company of ravenous mosquitoes I spent a good hour just staring out at Halong Bay’s beauty, patiently waiting for the sun to set.  I soon headed back to my boat for a strong martini and the silence of life at sea.

SONY DSC SONY DSCI awoke feeling refreshed and calm. It turns out sleeping on a boat is a pretty blissful experience. I still recall my morning boat shower; it’s amazing how quickly we become desensitised to the seemingly-new and strange. Having survived the previous night’s shower, with surprisingly-good water pressure, the morning was a breeze. I stepped up on deck, sat down with The Economist and started to cry. It was a magical moment of feeling connected to our universe and myself. I hope I never forget that sense of possibility. Just me, my favourite magazine and nature’s beauty. It was definitely one of the best moments of my life thus far.

SONY DSC SONY DSCIt turns out that my Halong Bay experience, my second and third days in Vietnam, not only opened my eyes to a new part of the world but also set the foundation for my entire trip. Vietnam welcomed me; its people exude warmth and curiosity, the food is spicy and delicious and everywhere you look, even in the main cities, there is an abundance of greenery. Once again, I realised that as expensive and exhausting as travelling is, nothing enriches your life more. I’ve only been to Vietnam once, so I am clearly not an authority on the country.  However, people with lives vastly different to mine, citizens of country deeply scarred by war and Western greed yet with a culture of kindness, education and learning from history. People who affirmed that our differences exist to unite us, rather than divide. I have met never people who have experienced the horrors of war, mass rape, violence and oppression yet whom, astonishingly, show openness and forgiveness.  I would return to Vietnam in a heartbeat but first I think I need to visit other distant lands – China, Iran and India – which have long since been calling my name!

Mind | Letting Go Of The Unnecessary

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In the last few weeks I have been packing away items I no longer use, fit in or desire. I had dresses I last wore 8-9 years ago when I was younger and my hemlines were scandalously shorter, presents people kindly gave me but I never used and bottles of unused toiletries.  All packed away and off to the charity shop. I like this concept of being possession-light and free of unnecessary material goods. I unfollowed dozens of social media accounts, unsubscribed from various newsletters and had a bit of a frenzied delete/throw-out moment. Those pesky remnants of my younger, superficial life when I cared (yikes) about labels, society pages and other forms of ridiculousness.

After years of heavy suitcases filled to the brim with items I would never wear on holiday, I try to travel with hand luggage now. I still remember the look on the bell man’s face when I checked out of my Istanbul hotel: I had 1 over-the-shoulder carry-on bag for 5 days. We both laughed about it. I don’t buy souvenirs or very much when I travel so, if anything, my case gets lighter. I am trying to apply this to future trips too.

Recently I’ve been listening to The Minimalists via their podcast (Technology and Education are particularly pertinent to my life) and I realise they constantly articulate what I have been struggling to accept: sometimes we need to declutter our relationships just as we do our wardrobes.  I know someone who only contacts me to talk about herself, often not even asking about how I am. I mean, basic etiquette. If you ask her a question, she will never respond without “my boyfriend says” interjected into her answer, she complains constantly yet does nothing to address her issues and, most importantly, I feel really low after I’ve interacted with her. Some people just drag you down. Look, we’re grown ups; our relationships are an important facet of who we are but I struggle with people who speak through the opinions of others. I try to be empathetic towards other people. I know (and love) that we’re all different, I just struggle with people who complain yet do nothing. We all have down moments but, come on, let’s stay positive, focused and move on to better, happier times. I’m more of a let’s-encourage-and-soar-together rather than let’s-be-miserable-forever kind of person. My life has had some lows, and there were times when I didn’t think I would make it. I did. I have nothing to complain about, just gratitude for where I am and the possibility of going further. Not everybody is the same, and that is okay. One of my favourite quotations from The Minimalists essay entitled Goodbye Fake Friends (not sure where it originates from) is

“You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.”

I guess it wasn’t until last weekend when my friend Amber was in town that I realised how bad this actually is. We met for coffee and discussed everything: university, our relationships, the brilliance of Timberyard, future goals, politics, living abroad, the perfect lip moisturiser and that as long as cake exists, we will keep eating it for breakfast. I felt happy, light and motivated as I headed off to my Japanese class, and sad that my dear friend wasn’t staying (but excited about her life abroad). It really made me think about my interactions with other people, and how I spend my time. As an introvert I do not choose or like to spend much of my time around others so, in those limited interactions, why would I choose to be be around negativity? I am doing this to myself.

Change is challenging but necessary. I’m learning that things and people should bring value to your life, not weigh you down or clutter your shelves. As one of my favourite yoga teachers – Andrew McGonigle – always says in class

“Let go of what is no longer serving you.”

Explore | Imperial City, Huế, Vietnam

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The Imperial Palace complex, a designated UNESCO site since 1993, designed with the principles of Chinese geomancy (yes, finally my Asian Art background makes sense!) was home to the Nguyễn family, is surrounded by mountains, lush greenery and locals selling delicious rambutan.  Surrounded by a moat, the main buildings are set within 2.5km-long walls, which make for difficult navigation but, trust me, it is worth it.

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Rooms filled with original blue & white porcelain, mother-of-pearl adorned tables and artefacts the royal family themselves used. Weaving between buildings, I came across countless gardeners happily tending the sumptuous flora as I sought refuge from the humidity in ornately decorated rooms. They’re all wearing 3-4 layers and are working away: I had 1 layer on and almost melted.  To enter some rooms, you must cover your shoulders, remove your shoes and refrain from photography as a sign of respect to the ancestors

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The complex was devastated during the French and American bombing of Vietnam, with only 20 buildings surviving. However, in 2012, the government approved a US$61 million restoration proposal. By the time I visited, the majority of the complex had been restored to its intended glory. Hue, which until the mid-20th century served as the capital of Vietnam, was my favourite city in the country, and I would happily return.

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Eat | Afternoon tea at The Connaught, London

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DSC09547-edited One rainy London afternoon, we found ourselves back at The Connaught with a glass of rose champagne in our hands and plenty to catch up on. And where better?

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Fresh, hearty yet elegant sandwiches, particularly the Coronation chicken and the smoked salmon, raised the expectations (and there may have been a second serving…). My vegetarian, gluten-free friend was well-catered for – none of that goats cheese and spinach nonsense.

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Warm scones, topped with lashings of clotted cream and a choice of jams: orange and ginger, wild strawberry and fig. The crowning glory was the orange and ginger jam. I could feel a delicate heat from the ginger whilst the orange tantalized my taste buds.

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Dessert was typically French: exquisitely-presented, delicious, a touch of sugar and, as always, had me thinking that I really need to start dating a pâtissier!

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Listening to a talented harpist, we relaxed in the sumptuous surroundings of the Espelette restaurant discussing how these moments of friendship are so important, and particularly enjoyable in such plush surroundings and with finest service possible. Yet another moment of gratitude for this sweet life of mine.

Espelette at The Connaught
Carlos Place
London
W1K 2AL
+44 (0)20 7499 707

2016 | In The Moment

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Embracing that 1st January feeling when everybody and their cousin is full of hope, determination and joy, and you jump on the bandwagon to wish everybody a Happy New Year. This is the feeling I want to take with me through the coming months.

For me, the 1st January (almost) marks the half way point of my year. My birthday is on 11th July and, with each additional year I am blessed with, I start anew. Last year, I spent my birthday strolling around a Buddhist temple, St. Joseph’s Cathedral (my fascination with religious architecture knows no bounds!) and the inspiring Temple of Literature in Hanoi. It was a life-changing moment: I had felt terrified that Vietnam would be unsafe (particularly as a solo female traveller) and people would be cold and angry. Instead, I discovered a people with hearts as warm as their climate, people who have suffered through recent and extreme atrocities yet somehow embraced the lessons of their past and resolved to share light, happiness and kindness to others.  It was a day I moved closer to the teachings of my yoga practice, of the true meaning of life and, most importantly, realising that my happiness is on me and my state of mind.

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So, in view of focusing on my happiness, I booked a trip to Istanbul.  I’m obsessed with religious architecture and ceramics and given the way our world currently works, I started to worry that a time may come when I wouldn’t be permitted/advised by the powers that be to go to Turkey.  With the exception of 1 person everybody advised me against going. And, thinking about it, the same people advised me against going to Vietnam and Cambodia in the summer too. A female friend who has travelled to the other side of the world by herself on numerous occasions told me “I’d never go somewhere like that by myself”. I sat there listening to her advising me to cancel my trip without being able to counter her point because, ashamedly, I too had doubts and worries.  I pretty much spent the fortnight leading up to my trip on the FCO website. In the end, I went, and now find myself wondering what a “country like that” is. Needless to say, I will enquire. I visited every church, mosque and synagogue that would let me in, I took over 900 photographs in 5 days, ate the best pickles in the land, met some interesting people and left with my heart full and my mind even more curious. The architectural beauty and diversity in Istanbul is unlike anything I have ever experienced and I would return in a heartbeat.

Recently I read an alleged proverb (it was on Pinterest so one never knows):

“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”

how very true. My explorations of 2015 only made me want to travel more. My dreams of travelling to faraway lands such as China, Iran and India and, much closer to home, Scotland and Italy have been intensified. I want to see the world. I want this feeling of being alive, of understanding and of human interconnectedness to continue.

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Yesterday I ended my year with a Vinyasa yoga class led by one of my favourite teachers – Rachel Okimo. Her classes make you think, work every muscle in your body and keep your mind calm. Yesterday Rachel spoke of letting go of the past, pausing our plans and just, for 75 minutes, being in the moment. An important reminder. Today, my 1st January treat to myself was attending Leila Sadeghee‘s “A year of divine enchantment” workshop. As I mentioned on Instagram, the woman is a light, an absolute light. My heart is heavy with joy, I feel focused and just so blissed out. There is definitely something to this yogi life. People come into your life for all sorts of reasons. Both ladies appear to be very different but this thread of radiance, humour, possibility and calmness weaves between them. What a pleasure and honour to mark the half way point of my year in their classes.

And so, 2016, will be a year of living in the moment, of being in touch with my actions and feelings and being kind to myself as they happen and focusing on giving my all to the moment.  Often we are concerned with caring for others, of being charitable, offering kindness and, of course, these are important qualities and actions but, at least in my case, I sometimes do so to my own detriment. I need to care for myself otherwise I cannot care for others. This is something to work on on a daily basis.  Naturally, I do have some plans: discard most of my material items I no longer use and head towards a possession light home, increase my yoga practice frequency and try different classes, volunteer at Pride again, spend more time with my nieces who will both turn 1 year old this year, travel to distant lands and, most importantly, be a better person for myself and our universe. The last 6 months have been pretty spectacular, and I feel certain it will only get better. Sending positive vibes to your and your loved ones. Happy 2016!

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