Coronavirus, China and me

Fear is contagious and spreads quicker than any disease.

I’ve been living in China for more than two years now, and the last week or so have been completely overwhelming for me and so many people around. Just weeks into the new decade and the world finds out about a new strain of coronavirus that shakes the country that I call home. When things first got serious, I was sitting on a beach in the Philippines, and like most of you, just reading things from my phone. Then came the memes, then the tweets, then the texts, and then the constant headlines. It did seem scary. After coming back to China, and seeing things first-hand, I realise how worse it seems from the outside looking in. The mass hysteria and moral panic caused by some of the headlines that I’ve seen from social media and western news is absolutely damaging and draining. I am SO tired of it already. So, I’ve done what I do best. Read, researched and ranted. Welcome to my myth debunking and personal source of living in China today.

“Leave the country or you’ll get coronavirus.”

I understand the fear and why the Wuhan coronavirus is scary. It’s new, we don’t know the origin and there’s no known cure. I get why there is a fraction of fear. However, Zika, Swine Flu and even Influenza have all been declared public health emergencies in the last 10 years. Swine flu spread across the world and killed more than 200,000 people, infecting thousands more. We didn’t flee our countries from it.

The same can be said from the flu. People are saying that it’s different because we have a cure for that, we have vaccines to prevent the flu! Yet, in this winter season alone, more than 15 million Americans have been infected and more than 8,200 have died. The USA have also had their first human-to-human confirmed case for coronavirus. People aren’t fleeing.

China is my home right now, just like millions of others. And it’s a big old country who have taken precautions and measurements to prevent the spreading. In fact, WHO have even praised their actions, and thanks to the resources and power that the country has, they’ve seemed to cope and control things better than predicted. The situation could be much worse for a developing country and that’s the main reason why they’ve announced a health emergency.

The virus started because Chinese people are dirty and eat weird stuff.

Firstly, this is completely racist. Secondly, people all over the world eat things for different reasons that you may not. Thirdly, nothing has been officially confirmed. Just wanted to share these other recipes for you foodies out there…

Haggis in Scotland! Sheep heart, liver and lungs stuffed in a stomach. Guinea Pig found in South America. Dogs and Cats found in multiple places. Black pudding from UK and USA – blood stuffed in sausage skin. Fried pig brain sandwich in USA. Italian Casu Marzu cheese with live insect larvae…

I could go on….  But just because you’ve watched one video of an Asian man eat a rat, does not mean everyone in the whole of Asia eats rat. From my circle of friends and family, only a handful are vegan or vegetarian, so if you’d happily eat a big fat beef burger, then please stop sharing and calling out others for eating animals. It’s hypocritical and a whole other big boring debate. Got a problem? Stop eating animals.

We’re all going to die.

Okay, this obviously can’t be confirmed yet, maybe this is how the world will end. If that’s how it’s meant to happen, it’s gonna happen. But for now, most people that have died already are elderly, those with weakened immune systems or those who have underlying and pre-existing conditions. Except, the news isn’t talking about any of this. If you’re reading this, then the likelihood that you’re like me, young, fit and healthy is high, and so you probably wouldn’t die even if you were to ever catch the Wuhan coronavirus.

To say things like this in a time where people have died and families have been broken is insensitive, entitled and just plain stupid in the current situation. Know that if you’re sitting on your sofa with a cuppa in hand 9,732 miles away in the UK, this does not affect you right now. Think about what you’re saying over social media.

EVERYWHERE IS A GHOST CITY!

Okay, this is one of the headlines that is bugging me the most. Let me start by telling you something about the Chinese. They are some of the hardest workers ever. And once a year, they get a well-deserved break. Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration, most important and longest holiday period.

CNY is also a mass migration, the biggest in the world at one time in fact! With a population of more than 1 billion, people travel and leave the bigger cities so their families can come together and loved ones can visit their hometowns and villages after months apart. My city, Shenzhen, is a massive migrant city which means that EVERY year at this time, things close down. It’s not new to see shops, restaurants and homes shut… for the holidays… not for a virus. Yet still, I’ve been food shopping, went for an Indian last night and heading to Hong Kong for the weekend! I can’t say the same for Wuhan which is the epicenter, of course, I haven’t seen it for my own eyes, but life continues! It’s quiet, of course, but people need to live and eat still.

But the media said….

Don’t be foolish. The media, whether it’s the Sun, CNN or the Guardian, is never 100% reliable. With anything. ALWAYS do your own research before you reiterate and share the news that you read, see and hear. Especially when it spreads fear and affects peoples lives. Do you even know what coronavirus is? Are the images used real and updated? Question things and beware of the language used in any situation. Using words like “escape”, “fleeing”, ‘BREAKING”, “Coronavirus City” is toxic and used to create panic, clicks and engagement. Look at the numbers and compare things realistically. Wuhan has a population bigger than London, with more than 11 million people, so the figure of 9,692 people infected is still relatively small when that’s countrywide and over a population of more than 1 billion. The media are going to hype it as much as they can if it keeps us all talking and tweeting.

Just be cautious and responsible when you’re online.

  • Omg do you have to wear a mask? China is a mask wearing country, similarly to Japan and Korea. The bad air and billion people mean it’s not an uncommon sight. The country has made it necessary to wear in public places, a very smart and simple move.
  • BA have cancelled all flights! How will you leave?! No one flies British Airways, plus they’re just one of many. Flights have not stopped, and we’re not stuck in China… yet.

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How to be safe: Wear a mask. Clean your hands regularly and properly. Contact your doctor if you’re feeling the symptoms. Do your research and listen to the experts.

Sending peace and love to you 🖤

Vanisha

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Follow my adventures on Instagram at @vanishamay

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Travelling my new favourite country; Myanmar

Myanmar is the biggest country in South East Asia yet remains pretty mysterious. And I always do research before I travel, you know, what to see, where to visit etc., but Myanmar’s travel tips were either super outdated or scarce, zzz…

… which is why I had no idea what to expect for my 10-day trip.

However, Myanmar is now one of my most favourite countries and the trip was incredible! I loved every single day. Travelling around is cheap and relatively safe, the food was amazing, and the people were genuinely the nicest I’ve ever met. They’re truly beautiful inside and out.

Explore the city of Yangon

My trip started on a Monday when most of the museums and markets are closed in the country’s biggest city, not so cool. So, I spent a few hours just riding the Yangon Circular Railroad and it was really cool. Hanging off the side, surrounded by locals, being in the middle of their daily routines and seeing the slums built around the railway, really gave a look into life for many in Myanmar. Though, there are museums and things to do, I’d definitely recommend a few hours on the train.

For food, I wondered around and found the Muslim Quarters and “Little India”. The streets are filled with people sitting outside and cables hang high above your heads. I ate some amazing indian fusion food and walked to the nearby Shwedagon Pagoda.

  • Start from Yangon Central Railroad with a ticket for just 300kyats (£0.15) super cheap! At the top of the line, you can visit the market and Insein Prison.

Beautiful Inle Lake

Inle lake is surrounded by the mountain and home to thousands of people who have built their lives around the lake. It’s unbelievably peaceful and full of natural beauty.

Take a boat for the day with a local. I spent the day on a boat with a local man where we skipped some of the more known places and he took me to all the places I wanted. We spent the whole day on his boat, chatting, sitting on the lake, watching the other locals, we had a traditional dinner together and it was a brilliant day. Visit Red Mountain winery or explore the ancient town of Sagar. Cycle, boat or tuk tuk to the other sites around the lake, like the pagodas of In Dein, the bridge and water village at Mine Thauk, and learn about the floating gardens.

Ancient Bagan

Ride around the North and see the 2,000 temples. Bagan is a dream land filled with dirt dust roads and temples from the 9th and 13th century. It’s really beautiful and super peaceful. Although many of the temples are now closed off for climbing due to conservation and safety regulations, you can find a local and they’ll show you to the few good spots. It’s the best way to see the hot air balloons at sunrise. I rented a bike for £2.50 a day and felt super safe on it because it was electric, and the roads are small and quiet. End each day with the sunset, try Nyaung Letpet Hill, open temple by Hitlominlo  or the field of Buledi Pagoda.

  • Eat at The Moon (Be Kind to Animals). There are two spots, one in New Bagan and one in Old Bagan. They’re both real cute with low prices and a mix of traditional Burmese and vegetarian foods.
  • Check out Sanon, a Non-profit restaurant that trains underprivileged kids to work in the hospitality industry. Good food and a good cause!

Beach at Ngapali

Ok, so reviews said that Ngapali had some of the best beaches in Asia which shook me because I’ve seen some incredible beaches before. Taking a flight is the easiest option and completely worth it. Not only were the beaches beautiful, but the place is untouched too. Locals spend their days fishing and the vibes are natural and sincere. I visited some local markets where I was the only foreigner and sat with some of the women there. Super, super chill and stunning scenery. Happy days.

Things to consider;

Buy from the locals, eat in the smaller restaurants and dress appropriately around the temples. Bagan is a great place for souvenirs, clothes and gifts. Most of the websites that I read expressed concerns with money and ATM machines. I had no issues getting money, with ATM’s now available in most tourist-y areas. In Myanmar, you can use USD and the local Kyat, I used mostly Kyat. Minus the visa, which was £50, everything is very cheap, food, drink, travel and places to stay.

How to get around:

I took a mix of overnight buses and flights, but I’d recommend the buses if you have time or want to save on a night’s stay. I’ve heard they’re the best and safest way to travel and they’re the main mode of transport. Myanmar’s trains and air travel are basic and more costly.  Use JJ Express Buses – you can book these in most places and online too; https://jjexpress.net/

Here is a list of the hostels and hotels I’ve stayed at,

I stayed in a mixture of budget hostels and pricey resorts (all were soo nice, especially the Serenity Inle Resort which was on the lake at Inle):

  • Bodhi Nava Boutique Hostel & Café, Yangon
  • The Serenity Inle Resort, Ywama
  • Ostello Bello, Bagan
  • Jasmine Ngapali Resort, Ngapali

Use the link below to receive £10 off when booking any of my hotels and more!

https://www.booking.com/s/vanish15

Lastly, I want to start this by saying that Myanmar was one of my favourite countries in Asia, the trip was incredible, and the people were the nicest and most welcoming that I’ve ever come across. Before visiting any country, I do feel that it’s important to understand, research and know about any political and current situations that may cause concerns regarding ethics, safety and culture. Myanmar (what used to be known as Burma) is currently in a crisis with many fleeing from genocide, persecution and rape. It’s a serious conflict that many don’t know about. As a humanitarian, charity worker and traveller, I was obviously conflicted about visiting, but I’m SO glad that I did and would encourage others to do so too. Not only did I learn and grow in understanding, but I also saw the importance of “the people are not the government”, spreading stories and causing more good than harm. You can read my deeper post about why I’d encourage travelling to Myanmar here (it’s in progress still, patience people patience)…

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Thanks for reading guys!

Keep up with my adventures on Instagram @vanishamay and

have a good day wherever you are

Vanisha

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Travelling Thailand

My first trip to Thailand was three years ago, when my best friend and I backpacked around Asia. Assuming the country was just one big tourist trap, steaming with hen parties and lads on the sesh, my expectations weren’t very high and I was just happy to flitter through and use it as a starting point. Never assume though eh? After a short weekend back this month, I was reminded of all the reasons why I love Asia. Thailand is back in my good books and I realize how much more the country has to offer. So, what’s good and where is best to go?

 

Explore the islands down South

Hike Ko Phi Phi. The island itself isn’t too big, but it’s got plenty of trails and walkways for you to hike around and enjoy the viewpoints from up high. It’s so pretty to see the two colours of the sea where the bay separates them.

Visit the beaches because Thailand is pretty well known for its beautiful bays and movie landscapes. It’s a great place to island hop and see which one suits you best! Koh Tao for diving, Koh Phangan for partying and around 8,000 others for everything else!

Surround yourself in the culture, amazing food and people

Visit the markets which are all around the country and the best places to buy all your clothes, food and gifts from. The food in Thailand is soooo good! I’ll recommend some places down below. Remember to haggle down in the markets too!

Never have I ever had a massage or watched a famous ‘show’…

Bangkok is full of weird and wonderful things, including their famous shows, markets and massages. Personally, I’m not a fan of massages wherever I am, but everyone I know who has been to Thailand has had a massage so, if I was you, I’d do some research and stick it on my list of things to try. Along with the rest of it…

Meet the tribes.

It wasn’t until after my visit that I read some mixed reviews about this experience. People said how visiting the tribe felt like a ‘zoo’ where the women had been put on display just for tourists to come and take photos. The tribe are a group of Burmese refugees who came to Thailand and weren’t originally able to work, be educated or live outside certain areas due to their status. Like many refugees around the world.

However, now they’re given choice. To go to school, to work outside or to carry on the tradition and earn a living through tourism. Like many in Thailand. And I think the most crucial part to the debate of them being in a ‘zoo’ is connection. There’s a difference between literally turning up, without conversation, without interest, without asking questions about the tourism and their welfare, taking photos without permission and not helping their tourism to doing the opposite to that. To making a connection, building understanding and appreciating their lifestyle, choice and culture. To treat and talk to them like humans.

This gally is 4 years old and liked being tickled. She is THE cutest. She laughed when my hair got tied to my hairband. Another lady laughed at me because she’s 23 and I’m 26 and she’s already married with children and I don’t even have a boyfriend…..

Little connections. That’s how we all benefit. 

Ride around the North and hit the temples

Learn about The Golden Triangle, the history and the global drug trade. And do it in a day trip! Thailand is home to thousands of beautiful temples. After a while of exploring them, you might feel like it’s the last thing you want to see, but make Wat Rung Khun an exception and visit the amazing white temple! Go earlier or late evening to avoid the crowds and be sure to wear respectable clothing or cover ups.

Meet the elephants! Do your research and visit the amazing Asian elephants at the numerous parks and sanctuaries around Thailand.

Things to consider; Thailand is a tourist hotspot for full moon parties, animal visits, cheap sex and cheap booze. The country is trying to recover from the tourist damage but it’s still so apparent in the ruined corals, the littered beaches and the high amount of trafficking that occurs. I’m also pretty wary about riding my own motorcycle, literally everyone I know has had an accident and I just don’t see the point when transport is so cheap. However, do whatever you need to do! Before visiting places, do your research, be respectful and do your bit to make life easier for the locals who live there.

Here is a list of the hostels, hotels and places to eat I’ve stayed at:

Lanna Oriental Hotel, Chiang Mai

Freedom Hostels @ Phi Phi, Ko Phi Phi

Good Souls Kitchen, Chiang Mai

Fern Forest Cafe, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Use the link below to receive £10 off when booking any of my hotels and more!

https://www.booking.com/s/vanish15

Thanks for reading guys!

Keep up with my adventures on Instagram @vanishamay and have a good day wherever you are!

Vanisha

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Life in China

So, I’m officially more than 6 months in to my latest adventure of living back in China and life is flying by. Some days it feels like I’ve just stepped off the plane, and others it feels like I’ve never left. China can be a crazy country, that’s for sure, and I still see things that make me mutter ‘wtf’ under my breath, but let’s be real, coming from a small town in the countryside of England, most places around the world will seem daunting and strange!

 

          People ask me, “Why China?”, and to most people back at home, it seems like a ridiculous choice where everyone eats dog and the government watches your every move. But actually, China is a fairly easy country to live in (once you get the hang of chopsticks and you get past the visa process all you brits). And for the first time in a while, I feel pretty settled.

 

 

But what’s life really like? Here she goes…

  1. I’m surrounded by cheeky little monkeys

Chinese babies and the children in general are of course, the first things that come to mind when I think of China. THEY SO CUTE. The kids are potty trained by the special pants that they wear, so you’ll see lots of little chubby children walking around with their saggy baby butts out, and it’s SO CUTE. The kids I work with are cheeky, funny and pretty darn clever. Their lives as Chinese children aren’t always easy and there’s lots of societal and family pressures, which is why I admire them every day for learning a second language that’s so different to their own. Something I can’t manage to do….

 

  1. I’ve fallen back in love with my hobbies!

China is full of surprises and life in the mega city of Shenzhen is completely different to my village life when I was here 4 years ago. There’s a huge art area, as well as a huge mix of cultures and different events, which has meant painting classes, salsa and dance lessons and meeting people from all around the world who all have similar interests as me. Having the time to do the things I love and being around like-minded people makes me happy and is so good for ma creative soul.

  1. It’s super safe

There’s not many places that I can walk around at 4am, home from the club with my headphones in, phone out and not be looking over my shoulder, but here in China. It’s one of the safest places I have ever been. Overall, crime levels are quite low as repercussions are so severe. Which great news for us girl travellers where safety is always a concern! The Chinese sense of community and culture has meant that I’ve never felt threatened or even uneasy around pretty much anyone.

  1. I ❤ people

Culturally (and in many other ways), the Chinese are quite different to us Brits, and people still do things on a daily basis to shock/annoy me. BUT when you get to know each other, they’re some of the most hospitable and welcoming people who just want to help you, feed you and make you happy. I even have my regulars! Regular dumpling man, regular bread guy, regular BBQ couple, friends behind the bar, you get the jist, it’s the little comforts that make you feel at home! Shenzhen also has a big international community, which has meant that I’ve made some great friends from all over the world, including here in China. And they all love KTV. They’re not a bad bunch.

 

 

  1. My diet of dog…

Not gonna lie, I miss Chinese takeaway and lots of other food because, believe it or not, Chinese food in actual China is so different to Chinese food back at home. The things I’d do for a chicken ball…. It’s not all bad though, they do eat some bizarre things here, but overall it’s generally healthy, there’s an abundance of fresh fruit and veg, and in my city, there’s a tonne of Mexicans, Italians, Indians and delivery places to eat from. And I found good cheese and chocolate! What more could you need?

  1. Learning Chinese is hard but it’s okay

It’s not a language you pick up quickly, actually, it takes a lot of practice and learning, especially when you don’t really need to use it so often. I get by with the use of hand gestures, minimal language and all my fab apps like translator, maps and translator. HURRAH TO 21st CENTURY LAZY LIVIN. But I love living in a country where no one understands you and where you don’t always understand them either.

  1. Shenzhen is fab

The city itself is only around 30 years old, and home to over 10 million people already. It’s super green, clean and modern, and just across the border from Hong Kong! Travel is super cheap, you can ride the metro for like 30p and the buses for 20p. Amazing. You can buy dinner for £1 and there’s mountains here, the sea, huge skyscrapers, you can bike everywhere and there’s so much to see and do. It’s a nice place to live fo sho.

 

 

  1. China has it all

They have cheap buses, high speed rails and cheap flights which means travelling is so easy and you can see and do so much around the country. From huge modern cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, to rural rice terraces in Guilin, pandas in Chengdu, fishing villages, the Avatar mountains and Inner Mongolia, you literally can get sun, snow, mountains and beaches, and everything in between! The country is pretty impressive.

  1. Life is sweet

The Western media and outside views on China are as usual, mostly skewed. It’s not all bad air, over-populated spaces and scary harsh laws. In fact, I live really comfortably here, the skies are blue most days (with the exception of typhoons lol) and although there are many rules, people here make their own, and you know what? It works. China, thanks to modern day technology and apps, is one of the easiest and most comfortable places I’ve ever lived and been in. Sure, it’s a culture shock if you’ve never been to Asia, but generally speaking, life here is pretty sweet.

 

       Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing, but nothing worthwhile ever is, right? It’s far from home and always a risky decision to just up and leave. It’s not where I want to spend the rest of my life but I’m definitely happy here at the moment and that’s worth something. If you’re thinking of packing your bags, I’d say, GO. What’s the worst that could happen? That you hate it and decide to head back home? Be brave and live wildly wherever you may be my huns. And if I still haven’t persuaded you, then at least come and visit me here in China!

 

Get in touch if you have any questions about travelling, living abroad or China!

And catch my adventures on IG @vanishamay

祝你有美好的一天

Vanisha

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Tips for living in China:

  • Download A VPN before you arrive. China’s Government blocks most things that we use (IG, Facebook, Google), so be sure to unlock your phone and get a VPN. I use ExpressVPN 🙂
  • Do your research and don’t get scammed whether it’s with your visa, housing or shopping.
  • Use WeChat for everything. It’s the Chinese version of WhatsApp but 10x better. I pay my rent, find out about events and talk to my friends all in the same app. They’re one step ahead of us.
  • Salaries can be higher and cost of living is lower which means China is a good place to save money if you’re smart about it.
  • Make use of the places around you within China and visit the countries around too! Flights and transport is pretty cheap, and you have to try a sleeper train!
  • Have fun, eat the street food, prepare for squat toilets and don’t drink from the tap huns.

 

For more travel related blogs, check out what it’s like dating in china, my top 10 fave countries ever and many many more in that travel section up the top! Enjoy!

 

Finding home.

 

This year, I’ve found it challenging to define the word ‘home’. After travelling year upon year, with endless amounts of moves, I couldn’t be further from finding ‘my place in the world’.

The last five months, I’ve been living back in my hometown. And most people in the small town that I grew up in have lived in the same four walls for all their lives. I’ve had a total of 6 addresses just in that town alone. On top of that, I’ve spent a year of my life from my backpack travelling Asia, South America and unpacking my bag for a few months in China and Mexico. And more recently, I made my move to London where I stayed for 3 years under 3 more different addresses. And now I’m back ‘home’ but I’ve never felt so unsettled. *update I’m now back in China where I’ve semi-settled, found a new place, have a daily route to work and now have another home address. Deep breath*

So, in my head (and to you), I’ve been trying to work out what and where ‘home’ is. What does home really mean? Have I come home? Do I have to build a home in just one place? Is home even a building? Is it a place? Is it a feeling? Or a person? (I know, cliché). Where is my place in the world and why am I struggling so hard to find it?

And you’re probably thinking why it’s so important. What on earth is she talking about now?! But seriously (when I was writing this over the Christmas period when families are supposedly all gathering in their ‘homes’ to spread joy and festive love) I couldn’t help but wonder that this word that people find so much comfort in, this word that’s meant to mean everything, the word we go to when we’re lost or run to for safety. What if someone doesn’t have this word? What do they have? Where do we go? I’m doing all the running, in fact I constantly have one foot out the door, why can I not just bloody settle? *and these thoughts caused me so much anxiety at the time I started this blog but it’s always in the back of my mind as I travel and try to find new places to be. The idea of being ‘lost’ and the pressures to ‘find your place’ can be overwhelming ok. Hence my brain going into overdrive*

Perhaps it’s because in my hometown I feel surrounded by ghosts of people that I left in my past, and memories that I don’t want to revisit, and versions of me that I don’t want to remember. My hometown will never feel like a home for me. And I think that’s the same for lots of people. You never know what people have to go home to. Home isn’t always a happy place. It’s not always safety or comforting. Home can be something we run from.

Or perhaps it’s because I’ve travelled and moved too much. Maybe settling will never be an option for me and that might be okay. I can’t think of one place that I’d want to spend even 5 years yet alone my life. Maybe I just haven’t found the right ‘home’ yet.

Or maybe it’s because home is a feeling. A few months after I started writing this and I’m in a strange place of between. But I’ve come to more of a conclusion now and feel a lot less anxiety lol. Home is a feeling. A feeling of familiarity, comfort and safety. A few months ago, I thought my childhood and choices in life meant I’d always have the feeling of instability and lack of safety, but, it might not be so bad. Maybe I’m still hunting for my ‘home’, someone to share this beautiful life with and he’ll remind me it’s not the about destination “it’s about the journey Vin”, he’ll say as he commits to a lifetime of journey-ing around the world with me…

Right now, for me, I feel at home in many countries, with many people. I walk around my new city in China and feel familiarity and warmth in people, like the last time I was here was four days ago and not four years. Every day I look forward to the day I’ll fly back to Mexico, the home of Mision Mexico and the people whose lives are still joined with mine. It’s the feeling after a Skype session with my loved ones then seeing them and hugging them after months of being apart. I’ve been on the run around the world leaving parts of myself everywhere. And now, my place in the world is all over the world and that is such a blessing. My home is in me and in my people.

Some food for thought and it’s a good watch!

Ever felt lost or need a chat? Give me a shout!

Have a fab day and follow my IG adventures @vanishamay

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p.s miss you kiss you huns and fam ♥️

My Top 10 Favourite Countries Ever

“To land in foreign worlds, where everything is new and exciting and scary, where you communicate through smiles and hand gestures, where you taste amazing foods and discover new smells, where you make the most life-changing experiences and learn the biggest life lessons.”

As many of you know, I LOVE to travel. And by travelling, I mean backpacking, exploring, fully immersing yourself into new cultures, countries and experiences. Reminiscing through these adventures for this blog has made me feel super lucky and grateful for my life of travel. I’ve worked hard and am super proud of my travel accomplishments and experiences. This world is incredible. And people always ask, “what’s your favourite place?!” which is the most impossible question to answer ever! So, in no particular order, I have managed to roughly give you guys my top 10 favourite places (so far) in the world!

1. Philippines

The Philippines was a dream. The islands were some of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen and there are hundreds of them! The people were super friendly and there was so much to see and do. I’d definitely consider going back soon as it’s probably in my top 5 and I feel like there’s much more to explore! One thing in particular that I loved was the lack of tourism and tourists, and because of this the Philippines had so much beauty and authenticity still. It was also pretty cheap!

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2. Mexico

Mexico holds some of my most personal and best memories. It’s full of beauty, colour and great food. People seem hesitant to visit certain areas but I would encourage everyone to visit the country. Every place has it’s dodgy areas but as long as you’re reasonably cautious and vigilant, you’ll probably be fine! Cancun was great if you like resorts and package holidays but because of this and the over-westernisation, it was my least favourite. Tulum was a gem but slightly overpriced, Playa Del Carmen was full of fun, Mexico City was incredible and I loved the city but of course, my favourite was Tapachula; the home to some of my favourite people and Misión México. If you’d like to volunteer, donate or have any enquiries about the refuge then please don’t hesitate to message me 🙂

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3. Italy

Italy will always remain one of my favourite European countries and I’ve loved every city and town that I’ve visited. The food and wine is obviously a winner in itself, but it’s the romantic vibes that make the country a winner. Some of my silliest memories with my fave gal are here, like the time we stayed in an old monk’s monastery, the time we nearly died because we accidentally hiked onto a ski slope, when we bought items rhyming with Pisa for our photo-shoot at the famous tower… I won’t go on.

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4. India

Obviously on my list because of my heritage but also because it’s an incredible and insane country. It has absolute manic and diverse city scopes along with some of the most extreme poverty that I’ve ever seen, alongside absolute beauty, beaches and tropical landscapes. The culture and religion here is deep and adds to all of the beauty. Plus the food is obvs amazing too, which seems to be a running theme here in my top ten!

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4. Malaysia

Malaysia had it all! Beautiful islands, clear waters, culture, great foods, jungles and big cities. It had an incredible vibe and mix of cultures which was just beautiful. I’d definitely recommend visiting Penang, trekking in the Taman Negara jungle, volunteering a couple of your days with these munchkins and visiting some of the islands too.

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6. Peru

Peru was a country like no other. One of the worst bus journeys I’d ever experienced but some of the most incredible adventures. Trekking Machu Picchu, the salt mines, alpacas, the colourful culture and the mega cities, me and B both fell in love with the place. And Cusco was just magical! Literally, it felt like there was just magic in the air at times. We also felt pretty safe here which I know is an important factor if you’re travelling as a girl or alone. You can read more about this trip here.

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7. Brazil

Full of colour, happiness and beauty, Brazil was fun from the get go. Me and B visited a good mixture of places and loved them all. The cities, the islands, it all just got better and better. And there are black beans on every corner! My fave. We went to Rio, Sao Paolo and the heavenly island of Ilha Grande. Safety here is obviously a slight issue, be sure to stay in the touristy areas and don’t just wander accidentally into a favela. Common sense really people…!

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8. Indonesia

Indonesia was a right little adventure. Me and the girls did the usual Bali, Gili T islands, got our diving certificates and did yoga in Ubud, but we also visited some of the non-tourist islands like Sulawesi. Me and Ana did a work exchange there for two weeks, where we stayed with a Muslim family in their traditional home and were really immersed into their ways of life. I learnt so much on this trip. There’s also a place nearby called Tana Toraja which still remains to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It felt like I was an extra in a movie, it was so surreal. You can read more about that trip here!

 

9. Vietnam and Cambodia

Okay, I know technically these are two countries but I feel very similar for both so I’ve grouped them. I also visited both very briefly and at the same time, we managed to get a cheap coach across the border and back! Both countries are beautiful with fascinating and very recent dark histories. The countries are both re-building themselves but you can feel the pain of the past like no other countries that I’ve been to. They both really moved me. And they’re both really beautiful! Cambodia has Angkor Wat and Vietnam is full of beaches, beautiful mountain scenes and pretty little towns. The culture and religion is deep and that’s one of my favourite things to see and feel.

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10. China

China holds a big place in my heart because it was my first solo adventure, and my first working/living experience abroad. As a travel destination, it compares to no other. It’s full of variety, full of unusual sights and a one-of-a-kind culture (which will always surprise you and also make you think wtf on a daily basis!).  There’s so much to see and do, with the North being completely different to the South, plus everything in between. The country is so huge, you could spend a while visiting even the main sights, and that’s on their sleeper/fast trains! Also, you know what else bangs? The food. And of course, I’m back here again, because it’s a great country to live and work too.

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Pretty tricky to come up with just 10 because there’s been so many places that I’ve loved and every place leaves you with a different feeling for different reasons. Travel is one of the only things that I’ve ever been truly sure about and there’s not one moment that I regret. It brings you highs, lows, the biggest life lessons, the best experiences and all sorts of people. Think you aren’t lucky enough to travel? Think again (read more here… ). I encourage anyone to jump on that plane, do not be afraid to leave your hotel room and truly travel and immerse yourself as much as you can! It’ll always be worth it. The world is incredible.

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Special thanks to every single person who has made every single moment in my journeys so special. You da best for crossing ma path.

 

Thanks for reading guys! Give me a shout if you have any questions! Go book that ticket, live ya life to the bestest.

V

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And follow me and my adventures here on instagram! https://www.instagram.com/vanishamay/

The troubles of travel. Do you have what it takes?

Thanks to social media and mobile phones, it’s easy to see the glam side of travel. But what you don’t usually see or hear about are the downsides. And although there are many beautiful positives, there are of course many downsides to choosing a life out of a backpack! 


So in my 32nd country and new home of Mexico, I present to you my 3 main pros and cons of travel:

Lack of connection to life back home vs a connection to the world 

Although it’s easier than ever before to sit down in front of your laptop and see your mum from the other side of the world, the connection and life from back home is definitely lost and missed whilst travelling. Being around your friends and family is completely different to constantly being surrounded by strangers and new people. While you’re planning your next trip around the world alone and what backpack to live from, your friends are growing up, settling down with partners, children and in homes for life. Life doesn’t stop back at home and the daily conversation and closeness to the people that I love is one of the only things I miss while I’m away. 

However, you do gain a whole new connection to the world and countries you travel to and people you meet along the way. People change your life and ways of thinking on a daily basis (as well as the few the completely test you!) which is amazing, and inspiring and so worth missing a Sunday dinner or drink down the pub for a while!


The constant need for adventure vs the absence of normality

My last three years in London was the most settled I’d been in a long time and it still wasn’t very settled with a summer in Asia and three house moves! But I loved my routine of work, uni and social life. And it was something I really took for granted before I travelled. It’s a lovely feeling being settled and having a routine, knowing what you’ll be doing next week and having an unpacked room with all your belongings in it. It’s normality that you miss whilst travelling. The ease of being able to pop down to costa for a coffee or doing a food shop in Morrisons, and the little things like a proper duvet and going to the fridge for food! (Lol that my main normalities revolve around bed and food). And then the big things like a monthly pay and regular income…!

But during these days I’d find myself longing to get on a plane again. I loved my life in London but the need to see a new city or two, to be around more exciting and inspiring people, the need to try something new always takes over my need for normality. And so again, I venture across unknown streets and into new shops for cups of coffee. I walk the streets listening to people speaking unknown words and wonder what will happen today. Whether it’s excitingly life-changing   or completely bad luck, every day brings something and someone new which is worth the risk surely?


Wanting to go home VS never giving up

We all have bad days but it’s the home comforts and people around you that always seem to make things better. So, when you’re travelling, all these bad things are quite literally more complicated and harder (because you’re a million miles away!) and always feel 10x worse. Losing my debit cards and camera was tough, inconvenient and gutting, and being ill whilst away is incredibly testing too. Honestly, some days, all you want to do is give up, book that flight home and run into the arms of mum and dad. But at the end of the day, all that’s really lost is a few objects and a few days in bed which could happen back at home too. The experiences and memories that I’ve gained trump my GoPro pictures any day. And alongside that, it makes you realise what’s important, makes you 10x stronger and so much more independent. So, if you can get through these times with a smile on your face and the determination to keep going then guys, you’re smashing it! 

People rarely tell you that loss is a fundamental part of travelling. You’ll experience feelings of loss of normality, chances of love and settling down, opportunities of a normal 9-5 paid career. You’ll feel lost, alone and question what on earth you’re doing. But you’ll find new ways of living, loving and working. You’ll never get the experiences of travel by never leaving your doorstep. And so far, through all the tests and difficulties that I’ve faced, I’ve learned that it’s always worth the risk. 



Catch up with my adventures here on instagram @vanishamay

Thanks for reading guys!

Vanisha

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Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a land of beauty. Unlike India, Sri Lanka has all the wonder and culture but without the crazy busy and bustle. I visited Sri Lanka in 2014 after six months living and working in China. It had a perfect balance of relaxation and with enough things to do and see. Plus, it was incredibly cheap and luxurious!

Our amazing view from the hotel room, what’s not to love with this?!

Colombo

Colombo was the typical hustle and bustle capital you’d expect. I stayed in a cool hostel where the staff were lovely and helped me out a lot (can’t remember the name of it so not much good to ya) but Colombo itself was just okay. I went to the zoo one day, and that wasn’t a great experience, and I didn’t see much else to be honest! Maybe I missed out on stuff, but Colombo wasn’t one of my highlights. Also, as a young female traveler, I did feel unsafe at certain times and wouldn’t have felt safe wondering around at night. There was one incident in day light where a man followed me for a while after stopping me and trying to talk to me, I had to get in a tuk-tuk back to the hostel. People were otherwise pretty friendly!

 

Tangalle

Luckily, Tangalle and all the other places we visited changed it all. We stayed in an absolutely stunning hotel with the most amazing staff, but the area was secluded, there wasn’t much to do locally and the sea at that time of year was too dangerous to even put a toe in! However, if a perfect hideout is what you’re looking for, Lagoon Paradise Beach Resort is the place for you! We were warned by the staff to stay out of the sea and rightly so because one man almost drowned with his son and needed rescuing after going in, and I erm, also got caught by surprise while I was walking along feet depth, attacked by an under-current, swept away with a wave, fully clothed and wearing my backpack which had my passport, purse, phone and Ipod in it… not ideal but I can laugh now! RIP Ipod.

I was quite lucky making friends with our tuk-tuk driver, who arranged for me to visit a local school one day. The ride there was lovely, we passed through rice fields and beautiful scenery. It was a lovely little experience; the children and teachers were so welcoming and allowed me to sit in on some of their classes and played games with me. They were all so excited to see me, but so keen to learn still. It definitely puts things into perspective.

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Sitting in on a class at the village school I visited for the day.
Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary

The day at the elephant sanctuary was incredible. We got to see loads of elephants being washed, fed and walking through the towns and rivers. The scenes were just like from jungle book! It was lovely just to watch them and be around them, highly recommend this sanctuary.

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The elephants at Pinnawala!
Udawalawe National Park

This was another day trip, and it was spectacular, but a slight let down at the same time. We did see a black bear, mother and baby elephant and snakes in their wild habitats, which was amazing, but for a day in the scorching sun and in the back of a jeep, it was a pretty longgg day!

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Our beautiful hotel and them views….
Kandy

We just spent one day in the city, with a hired driver who knew all the sights, how to get there, where to eat and how much to pay. He drove us to the top of the mountain to the huge Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue which overlooked the city and Kandy Lake. We also spent time at the temple of tooth and temples around it, and watched a local show. The country is full of culture and religion, it’s beautiful.

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Buddha overlooking Kandy, Sri Lanka
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Kandy, Sri Lanka
All in all, Sri Lanka was lovely. For a chilled trip surrounded by beauty and culture, it’s perfect. I’d love to go back one day and explore more, I feel like it has so much more to offer still…

Me finally enjoying the sea! 

What is FGM? Everything you need to know to join the fight against it.

FGM is rarely spoken about, heard about or known about. But why is this the case  when it affects over 200 million women and girls? How can we have gender inequality when 200 million women and girls are violated every single day through the practices of FGM?

 

So what is it?
FGM stands for female genital mutilation. It’s the intentional harm, alteration and/or injury to the female genitals. Globally, over 200 million women and girls have been cut with many more at risk. FGM is a violation of human rights for girls and women. In countries where antibiotics are not readily available, like Sudan, 1 in 3 girls will die. But this isn’t just an overseas issue, in the UK, it’s estimated that FGM will affect 20,000 girls, even though it’s illegal.

WHO have identified 4 main types of FGM:
Type I – Clitoridectomy
This which sees partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

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Type II – Excision
Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. The amount of tissue removed varies from community to community.

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Type III – Infibulation
The narrowing of the vaginal orifice with a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and re-positioning the labia minora and/ or the labia majora. Can take place with or without the removal of the clitoris.

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Type IV
All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes.

Why is it performed?
FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality. It is mainly practiced in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but affects girls worldwide, including here in the UK. It’s supported and practiced by both men and women, with the common belief being that the cultural and social benefits outweigh the risk and dangers. (WHO 2008).

The reasons given for practicing FGM generally fall into four categories:

Psychosexual reasons: FGM is carried out to control women’s sexuality, which is sometimes completely affected leaving women feeling no sense of pleasure depending on the cut. It is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure.

Sociological and cultural reasons: In some communities, FGM is a part of a girl’s initiation into womanhood, it’s a huge part of tradition. The myths that an uncut clitoris will grow to the size of a penis, or will increase fertility, help promote the practice.

Hygiene and aesthetic reasons: In some communities, the external female genitalia are considered dirty and ugly and are removed, ostensibly to promote hygiene and aesthetic appeal.

Socio-economic factors: In many communities, FGM is a requirement for marriage. Where women are largely dependent on men, economic necessity can be a major driver of the procedure. It’s also a major income source for the ‘cutters’.

Why is FGM different to circumcision for boys?
For women and girls there are immediate and lifelong complications. Immediate complications include:
– Severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or infection, urine retention, wound infection, urinary infection, and septicaemia. The haemorrhage and infections can be severe enough to cause death.
Long-term consequences include:
– As well as medical complications such as anaemia, the formation of cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and complications during childbirth, FGM has severe psychological effects.

Type III (infibulation) creates a physical barrier which makes sexual intercourse, childbirth, menstruation and even urinating difficult. Women are often cut open for sex and childbirth because there’s simply no space for anything to come in or out.

The procedure and effects of FGM are extremely harmful and severe. The hidden practice effects girls worldwide and is not spoken about enough. As well as protecting and supporting the survivors of FGM, we need to be raising awareness and providing the knowledge that FGM is wrong, dangerous and fatal.

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You can do your bit here:

– Look at Aida Silvestri’s ‘Unsterile Clinic. A project to help raise awareness of the practice of FGM.
– Watch Call The Midwife (Season 6, Episode 6).
– Read Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today by Hibo Wardere

– Sign a petition;

https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/52740

https://www.change.org/p/end-female-genital-mutilation-in-india?use_react=false

Learn more at

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/female-genital-mutilation-leaflet

https://mashable.com/2015/08/09/female-genital-mutilation/

Support organisations and NGO’s like
http://www.dofeve.org
http://28toomany.org/
https://plan-uk.org/about/our-work/fgm

https://www.instagram.com/hibowardere/

 

This topic is tough but thank you for wanting to read and learn more. It makes a difference.

Vanisha

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Follow me on instagram and twitter @vanishamay 

 

Indonesia: Living with the dead. Could you do it?

Don’t believe in magic? Never had a deceased person in your living room? Never watched an animal sacrifice? Visit Tana Toraja. It’s a land like no other. I’ve never had an experience like it. Tana Toraja is in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and although it’s far off the typical tourist track, it’s worth a visit for sure.

 

The villages of Tana Toraja sit between rice fields and jungle mountains, and is an icky few hours drive through spectacular landscapes from Belopa. Although many villagers now identify themselves as Christian, many still uphold animistic traditions, and are completely at one with the dead. Believing in reincarnation and connecting with their dead, Torajans still practice the ancient ways of dealing with the dead.

 

When we visited, we were extremely lucky to be invited to a traditional funeral ceremony. We had no idea what to expect, and it still seems hard to believe. I’ve been to many funerals, but none compare to this one… this is not for the faint hearted (and put me off meat for two months) … you have been warned.

 

Firstly, the funeral was for a lady who died aged 116. Amazing right?! She had 109 grandchildren and had died two years before (imagine all the names and birthdays?!). Unlike our funerals, Torajans believe that the spirit stays alive, so they embalm the body and keep it in the house to care, feed, clothe and look after it. Funerals can take years, and the body stays with the family until then. The whole village save money together, and the family move into traditional housing which is protected by white magic. Torajans believe that no funeral can take place while there’s negativity felt. If people in the family are not getting on so well, then the funeral will wait until all relationships are fully fixed again. If a daughter is studying away at university, they wait for her return. It’s an amazing commitment.

 

Funerals can last days, and this one was four days long. Living more simpler lives, Torajans save all their money for lavish funerals. They feed their guests buffalos and pigs which are considered to be holy. The buffalo and pig are killed at the ceremony, and given as a sacrifice to the gods. The more that are killed, the more wealth is represented of the deceased family. On our visit, we watched the slaughter of around 11 buffalo. Slit from the neck, bleeding out, then skinned in the main arena, family and friends watch and celebrate the sacrifices. I’ve never smelt, or seen anything like it. Words cannot describe.

 

And for someone from the West, who’s meat is purchased from a packet, and who’s dead are buried within days, it was completely shocking. But, thinking about it now, it’s remarkable and beautiful. Adults and children were at one with the dead, at complete peace, with no taboo or awkwardness. The children were not wrapped up in cotton wall, their eyes were not covered, and there was something so beautifully natural about their connection to the dead. After all, it is the most natural thing in the world, right?! We could definitely learn something from them.

 

Once the ceremony is over, the dead are buried in caves, trees and homes made for them. They’re never forgotten about, and are regularly given gifts of food, money and cigarettes by their friends and family. And every few years, they’re taken out of their caskets, cleaned, greeted, and celebrated all over again. Torajans believe that the magic of the land helps protect the community, and keeps the dead more alive.

 

Tana Toraja is literally a land full of magic, and celebration of life and death. The people were friendly, kind and so hospitable. I encourage every single one of you to visit this enchanting community at some point in your lives!

 

And here’s the latest BBC documentary which explores Tana Toraja for those who want to see more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08p0z6x/our-world-living-with-the-dead

 

Thanks for reading!

Have a good day,

V

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