An isolated island 


As the year nears to an end, it appears that 2016 has been overshadowed by politics. Brexit is one episode that Brits won’t forget in a hurry. No matter which way you voted, Brexit is probably still a sore subject. The referendum tore through the nation and left a gaping scar that will take a long time to heal. ‘Remainers’ were heartbroken at being ripped away from Europe, and leavers have yet to see the repercussions of their vote. The whole escapade has left the nation questioning what is going to happen as 43 years of treaties are unravelled to remove the UK from the union.

            The six months that have followed the referendum have been spent in a precarious limbo. No one seems to know what will happen between the UK and the EU over the next few years as they are untangled from one another, and the timeline is extremely ambiguous. News sources still rage about Brexit and the slow, uncertain pace that it is taking. The outcome is still hotly discussed, but it seems that many people have started to see that the grass will not be greener when Britain re-establishes itself as a lonely island nation. In fact, many of the claims that were made in the Brexit campaign have been proven to be completely ridiculous.

            Immigration was a defining issue of Brexit, and the main reason that many people voted to leave. Prior to the referendum 330,000 people moved to the UK every year, and around half of those were Europeans. As the campaign reached its climax, many news sources ran the stories of the refugee crisis perpendicular to those about Brexit. People began to fear the deluge of refugees, many of them Syrian, that appeared to be racing towards the British border. This fearmongering led to the victimisation of innocent refugees who were fleeing from oppression in their native countries. Brexit campaigners increased paranoia about the flow of migrants; asserting that they would wash away British identity, and this was something that many voters wanted to protect. Therefore, they attacked free movement to the UK, and claimed that if we left the EU this would be restricted. Due to this irrational paranoia about immigrants, many people surmised that leaving the EU would completely resolve the issue. However, the campaign failed to highlight that the refugees were not fleeing countries in Europe, and therefore leaving the union would not affect their migration to Britain.

The EU has asserted that the UK will no longer have access to the single market if they don’t accept free movement of its members. Theresa May, who voted to remain, has the preposterous task of negotiating the terms of Brexit with the EU. She has two options: soft Brexit, where the UK will remain in the single market and Europeans will be granted free movement; or hard Brexit, where there will be no compromise. The terms of her proposal must be accepted by all 27 countries of the union. It is no wonder that May appears paranoid about unveiling her plans; with the country so divided on this topic, neither option will please everyone.

            As we look to 2017, many people feel that not much is going to change. Brexit will gradually be implemented, but many contemplate that the proposals will be edited and altered so that they hardly change anything. The referendum has left a distinctly bitter taste, and it has raised the question of why we voted and were our voices even heard. There is also uncertainty about the EU, as the second country to leave the union (Greenland left in 1985 after their own referendum that mirrored Britain with 52% voting to leave), many speculate that other countries might follow suit further rupturing the EU.

Reverse Culture Shock


During the 27 months that I spent living and travelling around Asia I had a lot of time to speculate about returning home. It was a common topic amongst fellow travellers and migrants; many had been home at some point and grimly recounted the adjustment issues that they suffered. Their woe painted my image of home, and I began to agonise over reverse culture shock. The possibility of no longer fitting into the place that I left, and consequently feeling isolated loomed over me. I sought out blogs that narrated tales of bleak acclimatisation in a place that was once normal. When the time finally came for me to return to the UK I was torn between ecstasy and anxiety.

I really shouldn’t have distressed myself about returning home because it hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as I imagined. My family and friends are still here, and it feels like I’ve only been away for a week. We have so much to catch up on; many of them are starting families or settling into homes and it’s lovely to see their lives unfolding. Living at home is not as bad as people make it out to be; I get to be around the people that I love and have missed so much. Also, England has many special quirks and so much beauty that I was blind to when I lived here, but now my eyes are wide open.

Of course I miss lying on the beach and spending balmy nights drinking local beer. I yearn for the butterflies in my stomach as I sit on a long bus to a new, unexplored town. I’ve scattered my heart like Hansel and Gretel along the roads that I’ve wandered. I find myself feeling homesick about so many things, because I love a multitude of places, but really there’s no place like home.

If your homecoming is approaching and you’re starting to feel anxious, don’t believe all the negative stories you hear!

Beguiling Bagan

Unfortunately, the historical city of Bagan, Myanmar was wrecked by an earthquake in August 2016 that annihilated over 400 of the buildings. Whilst the community is obviously trying to repair the damage, there is still visible signs of devastation on many of the temples. However, this didn’t temper the resplendent aura of the town during my visit in October 2016. Since the catastrophe there has been a tremendous effort to restore many of the buildings, and there is even hope that Bagan will regain its title as a UNESCO heritage site. 

More than 4,000 religious buildings abide in Bagan, and despite the destruction of the recent earthquake, there are still plenty that remain untouched by the natural disaster. The older architecture suffered far less than those built more recently, so the ancient structures are still relatively intact. Personally, I even enjoyed the appearance of the temples that were defaced by the earthquake; the red bricks that have crumbled away from the once grandiose edifice portray a somewhat macabre picture. 

As there are so many buildings to visit, the best way to navigate the town is by e-bike (10,000 kyat for one day). Zipping down the narrow dirt tracks, and stumbling upon deserted sanctuaries is thrilling, and by far my favourite part of Bagan. Also, there are a few temples that offer perfect viewing points for sunrise and sunset. Obviously, the more popular ones tend to be very busy, so if you prefer a bit of peace whilst you watch the sun, go off the beaten track in search of a quieter area. Many locals will direct you to good viewpoints, but these often entail climbing up crumbling, ancient structures that were recently hit by an earthquake, so be careful. 

Entrance into Bagan is 25,000 kyat, and this ticket lasts for five days. The town is well connected to the rest of the country, so you can get a bus from most towns.

Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake 

A common activity for travellers in Myanmar is to walk from Kalaw to Inle Lake. You can either choose a 2 or 3 day venture. I booked my two day hike through a company called Ever Smile in Kalaw (32,000 kyat which includes transport, accommodation and food), and there are plenty of other companies who offer this service in the town. The company will transfer your luggage to the hostel you will be staying at in Nyaungshwe, and if you are not staying there you will be able to pick it up after the trek. 

Day one begins with an 8am pickup and then the trucks drive about 30 minutes away to drop the travellers to the start of the trail, (apparently 3 day trekkers just follow the driven section on day one). Our group consisted of nine people and one guide. Personally, I was anticipating a more strenuous, jungle trek, but I was pleasantly surprised by the meandering pace we adopted as we strolled through rolling hills that reminded me of the English countryside. 

Most groups seemed to stop at a little village where we were offered tea and watched the local women hand weaving scarves that they wrap around their heads. These things can often feel quite touristy, but it had a more relaxed vibe. They didn’t encourage anyone to buy their products, and even allowed some people to try them on. After a spectacular Burmese lunch we continued the trek. At this point parts of the trail started getting quite slippery, and it was difficult to enjoy the scenery as you were constantly watching your footing. I found a sturdy stick to support myself during this section. 

After 18km we arrived at the village where we were staying. You can request to stay in the local monastery which is a very basic affair, but our guide told us that it was quite unhygienic in there. We stayed in a simple homestay that was comfortable for the one night, but it didn’t have any running water or western toilets, so I was glad that it was only a fleeting visit. Dinner here was the best Burmese food that I have ever tasted, and after the strenuous day it was well needed. 

Breakfast is served at 6am, and by 7 you will stroll out of the village. Life begins early in Myanmar, so many locals will already be well into their working day. Day two consists of a 14km walk, and by lunch time you will have reached the end of your trek. From here there is a short boat trip included which will ferry you over to Nyaungshwe where most foreigners stay. Alternatively, some guides will offer you a tour of the surrounding sites for an additional 3,000 kyat. 

I did this trip just at the end of the wet season in October. Luckily, all of the terrain was lush and green from the rains which made it even more picturesque. Also, we only had one little downpour during lunch. However, I am certain that conditions would be very different depending on the season. 

Things to bring:

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Warm clothes for the evening
  • Insect repellent
  • Suncream
  • Good shoes for walking
  • Toilet roll
  • Towel
  • Soap
  • 1l water
  • Money for drinks along the route and the 12,500 kyat entrance fee to Inle

The Gibbon Experience 

There are plenty of companies worldwide that offer a similar adventure, but the general consensus is that The Gibbon Experience does it best. The office is located in Huayxai on the Laos-Thai border; a town that has very little to offer. Just outside of town there is a vast expanse of lush green jungle where the company has designed a course of zip lines. 

The Gibbon Experience offers three options; 3 day waterfall (only available during the dry season), 3 day classic and 2 day express. I opted for the express which cost £160 per person.  The longer your trip the higher your chances are of seeing some gibbons. However, I didn’t meet anyone who was lucky enough, and I would presume that the sound of travellers whizzing through the trees and shrieking is enough to put them into hiding. Don’t let the lack of wildlife sightings deter you though as the whole experience was amazing. 

The express begins at 9.30am with an hour drive out to the start of the trail. From here it’s a quick zip line across the river, and an hour and a half hike up to the start of the lines. During the trek you will stop a couple of times, including once for lunch. Then the fun begins with a succession of zip lines over the rich jungle. The longest line is nearly 600m, and it’s possible to reach 60km/h. Many of the lines require a bit of walking to get from one to the other, but it’s not too strenuous. 

At around 4pm you will reach the treehouse – the tallest of which are 40m high. It’s open air and offers spectacular views, and sunset is particularly breathtaking. The bathroom is not for the faint hearted as the slatted floor exhibits a vertigo-inducing glimpse into the forest below. A delicious dinner is provided, and mattresses are set up to sleep on with thick mosquito nets. Do bring lots of mosquito repellent and clothes that cover you as much as possible because there’s an abundance of them. Also, the accommodation was very basic; even though I enjoyed the experience, I was grateful of a hot shower and some AC afterwards. 

After a night of listening to the sounds of the jungle, everyone is up at sunrise to do five zip lines and visit the biggest tree in Laos before breakfast. Day two follows a similar schedule, and after lunch a van will bring everybody back to town for about 3pm (weather depending). 

Huayxai has two bus stations about 5km outside of town, and from here you can take a 24 hour bus to Vientiane or 12 hours to Luang Prabang. Alternatively, tour operators in town can arrange tickets to most places in Laos and Thailand. 

Things to bring:

  • Waterproof jacket
  • Clothes that cover you for the evening 
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Torch
  • Toilet roll
  • 1l water
  • Long socks
  • Good shoes for walking

Pepper Days – Kampot

Kampot wasn’t even on my list of places to visit in Cambodia, but I found myself with a couple of days to play with and decided to give it a whirl. Kampot is renowned for its production of pepper. The town is in an idyllic location nestled beside the river Kampot, and bordered by the impressive Bokor National Park. The scenery makes it a perfect place to relax, but there are still plants of activities to keep you entertained. 

A few companies offer sunset boat tours ($5 including complimentary drink) where you can soak up the peaceful atmosphere. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of he fireflies that embellish the trees bordering the water. 

A trip to Bokor National Park is a great way to escape the heat; the temperature drops dramatically as you make the incline. If you want to go trekking you must take a guide as there are still lots of unexploeded ordnance in the countryside. Otherwise, rent a scooter and pay $2 to enter the park. The mountains offer spectacular views of Kampot and the coast as you drive. There are also a few impressive waterfalls dotted around the park. 

In recent times there has been an uproar in the local community about the new casino that is ruining the park. However, this flashy building seems to mirror what the area once was under French rule. Abandoned buildings – including a church and a casino – sit majestically overlooking the town. It’s evident that this once was a grandeur establishment, but it’s not slipped into disrepair. 

If you do make it to Kampot there is a superb little Italian roadside shack called Ciao (722 street). It’s run by an Italian who speaks in his native tongue to his customers giving the establishment an authentic feel. There’s a magnificent array of homemade pastas to choose from and a large margarita is only $3; paired with cheap wine it makes the perfect evening. 

From Siem Reap there’s various bus companies who do the route for $7, and it takes about 3 hours. There’s also plenty of companies who go from Kampot to Sihanoukville for around $5, (for an extra dollar most drivers will drop you in Otres at your hotel).