8 Travel Essentials

As I start to think about packing for my trip to Thailand, I’ve put together a small list of the essentials I have come to love, that at one point, hadn’t crossed my mind.

When packing for a long trip, you need the fine skill of covering every eventuality; packing for all conditions and preparing for the extremities that Mother Nature may throw at you.

So, while you’re battling over what 5 outfits your going to be rocking for the next month, don’t forget these essentials.

 

  1. A Travel Towel

Super compact and light as a feather, these towels don’t feel so good on your skin, but they dry incredibly fast; ideal for those early check-outs.

One of the best things about these towels is how small you can fold them; buying you some time before the inevitable battle when packing your rucksack towards the end of your trip.

 

  1. A Light, Waterproof jacket

Newsflash; it rains, everywhere.

As much as you think you may be escaping the miserable weather by traveling to more tropical parts of the world, no matter where you go, rain will soon follow.

Don’t be caught out!

It may not be glamorous; some countries don’t do drizzles; re-usable ponchos are advised.

 

  1. Mosquito Repellent

Over the last few years, cases of mosquito related diseases have risen to devastatingly high levels. Staying protected, particularly in notably dangerous areas, is essential.

DEET will do the job, but if you have sensitive skin, it burns. Aside from the burning sensations, your hostel bunk-buddies will not be your friends for much longer if you gas them with the smell, so you might want to consider an alternative.

Citronella essential oil based mosquito repellents are completely free of chemicals, protect you and smell so much better, so everyone will be happy.

In addition to the repellents, keeping a low salt diet and avoiding floral perfumes or moisturisers is strongly advised.

Should you have aches and pains, a fever and/or a rash, seek medical attention immediately.

 

  1. A Hoodie

If you are headed for the sunshine, don’t overlook this one!

Tropical countries are also known for having some of the most powerful air-con around.

During the day, you’ll be sweating like crazy wandering the streets in 35 degrees, but everywhere from coffee shops and supermarkets to the bus to your next destination will be blasting Baltic temperatures.

If you feeling a bit on the tired side after your travels, this is a one-way ticket to sickness, so keep your hoodie close by.

 

  1. Sun-cream

May seem obvious, but re-application is the key!

Red is definitely not a good colour, for anyone. So save yourself from pain and embarrassment and apply regularly.

I always get caught out after swimming, so keep an eye out for that one.

Remember, the closer to the equator you are, the hotter it is and the stronger the sun, so leave your factor 8 at home.

 

  1. Waterproof Wallet

A friend introduced me to these beauties that are ideal for solo travelers.

You might think that you look like a tourist holding a ‘rob me’ sign, as it’s a bit too close to sporting a fanny pack, but these little cases are a wonderful invention.

Pop your phone, keys and money in and wear it like a tiny cross-over handbag and say hello to carefree swimming and forget about your things being snatched; genius!

 

  1. A Waiter’s Friend

If you’ve ever worked in a bar, then you will understand the true value of owning one of these, and traveling is with no exception.

Whether you are looking to fix, cut, make a hole or help out the one guy who brought a bottle of wine with a cork to the party; a waiter’s friend is always the answer.

 

  1. Scarf-sarong-style piece of material

When traveling light, the problem of how many towels you should take is a big issue when it comes to compromising space in your rucksack.

My answer to this; you only need one (see essential number 1).

When looking for something for the beach, go for a scarf-style piece of material, available in all markets across the world; light, soft and easy to air, so it doesn’t stink.

It’s hot, the sun can dry you, and after a little shake you needn’t worry about getting sand in your bag.

Problem solved.

 

What are your essentials for traveling? Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Things You Don’t Think About When Moving to Asia

Moving abroad is an exciting and stressful time. The time between making the decision and leaving flies by; before you know it, your right in the thick of it, in a place you’re not familiar with and wondering where to start.

With all the stress of preparing documents, organising visa’s and getting immunisations, thinking about the smaller implications of living in a country that is not your own is the last thing on your mind; you probably didn’t think about the following things when packing your bags.

 

What do I eat if I don’t like the food?

If you’ve never been to the country before, how do you know if you like the food?

The world is full of strange and rather acquired tastes and you’re not going to like all of them; Asia is home to some of the smelliest.

Cities are tourists first stop when visiting an country. With this, comes a variety of foods from surrounding country’s and Western food to accommodate all those fussy foreigners who are scared of noodles and chilli. Western food comes at a price, and it’s difficult to find the quality to match that. There’s a good chance you will find yourself paying $10 for the worst burger you have ever eaten.

For the good stuff, areas that are more focused on the ‘expat life’ will cover you when it comes to decent burgers and the type of Sunday roast your Nan would be proud of. Foreigners have been moving to Asia for years, but it has taken some time for them to be able to re-create and sell their food.

 

Where’s the big size?

Asian people aren’t built like Western people; there is a science to it, people from tropical country’s don’t need to have big bones like foreigners.

In every day life, this means that even if you are 5ft nothing and a size 8, you’re still going to struggle to find your size.

The main problem for men is that boxers are a strange alien thing Western guys always talk about and for women, jeans don’t look like they will accommodate one of your legs, so your hips are out of the question.

Over the years of development, Asian city’s have become more accommodating to ‘big size’ clothes. For the good quality, long lasting clothes you have to be willing to pay; with shops like Zara and H&M cropping up in shopping malls, you can shop as you would in your home country, but the import tax will make you want to weep.

If you are a woman with larger feet or just an average man, then stock up on strong, sturdy shoes before you leave your home country, and make sure you like them too, you’re not going to find that aren’t flip flops for sometime.

Where do I go to get clothes then?

Bangkok has more options than most other cities, with big markets such as Pranutam and Chatuchak, they have a great variety of sizes and prices to match.

In Ho Chi Minh City, you can find the rejects from factories of companies such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara on the streets of Distrct 5 and Tan Binh; be prepared to bargain.

 

Where do all the foreigners go and how do I meet them?

You’ve done it; you’ve got your house, a rough idea of how to get around, your settling back into work; heck, you’ve got time on your hands, so where can you meet people?

Good question.

Hunting out local bars in city’s that aren’t quite up on the marketing front is damn near impossible

You try to find out where bars are is by doing a little search on Facebook and hoping for the best, but having a look for local English publications and finding there recommendations will get you to the right place.

Alternatively, find out where the expats live in the city and check out the area; people love convenience. While this is not the most local or authentic social experience, it will give you somewhere to start.

Do you have anything you wished you thought of before you moved to Asia?
Comment below!

 

 

 

Traveling around Vietnam: Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

Travel on local transport

Traveling on local transport seems like a foregone conclusion when traveling around a country, but many services offer ‘international’ standard services that are more expensive and specifically aimed at tourists that make it difficult to do as locals do.

When it comes to trains; you’ll rarely see a foreigner on one. It’s easy to understand why when you discover that the train stations are far from the main attractions and have little information on how to get there. To add to this, you may find yourself walking half-way up a train track to get on the train, but that’s the fun of it – right?

Trains are easily bookable online, with the option of hard or soft seats and beds.

If you are traveling for a long period of time take snacks, however there is a food cart that will be pushed around at meal times.

When it comes to getting to and from the train stations: city’s are fairly easy to navigate, however in smaller areas it is best to ask locals how to get there.

 

Try all the food

In Vietnam, you can forget your idea of what a restaurant should look like; eateries come in all shapes and sizes, especially in the mornings, when you will see plastic chairs and tables outside formal restaurants.

‘Street food’ is a way of life in Vietnam and if you want to get the good stuff, you not only have to be an early bird, but you have to be prepared to take a risk; it’s not always clean, however there is a simple way of finding the good stuff.

You’ll often see crowds of people sitting around street corners or on roundabouts getting their fix from their favourite street food vendor. There are no dodgy dealings here, just really good food for the equivalent of 80p. As many a seasoned traveler will tell you, if the place is packed with locals, pull up a chair.

 

Take locals advice

With Saigon and Hanoi now ranking as having the best English in Vietnam, many Vietnamese people take to the streets to find foreigners to practice their English.

You can expect to be stopped while walking around or accosted when having a drink in a street bar. During your free lesson ask lots of questions; find out where the best places to eat are, ideal day trips and weekend getaways.

You never know what might happen, you could end up at a wedding or if you’re staying long term, taking English classes for a company.

 

Break your big notes in chain-stores

Shop vendors don’t expect you to have the correct change, but if you are whipping out 200,000VND for something that is 10,000VND, then you’re going to annoy people.

In Vietnam, the smaller the shop; the smaller the change you must have.

If you’ve got 500,000VND a chain supermarket such as Family Mart or Circle K will give you small change without the evil eye.

Depending where you are this can be a big deal, so be prepared with your ‘pennies’.

Quick Tip: Don’t be alarmed when someone walks away with your money without giving you change, they’re going to find someone with the smaller notes they don’t have; promise.

 

Don’ts

Take shit from a taxi driver, especially outside airports

Taxi drivers can be ruthless. When you’re looking for a taxi outside the airport, it’s unnerving. When you arrive, you’re greeted by people shouting at you from all directions and what appears to be aggressive demands for dollars; not the best experience when you’re jet-lagged and don’t speak the language.

With the number of tourists coming into Vietnam, airport taxi’s rely on naive travelers who don’t know that the journey is actually half the price.

However, the development of apps such as Grab and Uber, have created fierce competition: not only do they have customer services who are at hand to give a rude guy the boot, but they can pick you up from the airport for a fraction of the price.

Alternatively, with the exact address, ignore anyone that tries to ‘help’ you and go straight to the nearest official looking taxi rank, these guys are normal taxi drivers; ask for a meter before you get in.

Important things to remember:

  • all taxi drivers should have their registration card clearly displayed on the dashboard, get out the car if they don’t.
  • Mai Linh or Vinasun tend to be the more reliable, avoid any variations of these names
  • There is an extra 10,000 VND charge to get out of the airport, unless you are in a Grab or Uber, you may have to pay this to them before you leave.

 

Say no to an invitation

Socialising is part of every day life in Vietnam and when it comes to big events, it’s an all out feast with every member of the family you can possibly imagine.

With this, Vietnamese people love to invite people, especially if you are a foreigner, they want to invite you into their way of celebrating.

The most important thing in all of this is if someone invites you to something and there is no reason for you to refuse; you cannot.

For example, it’s traditional for Vietnamese people to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death. One day, I notice big preparations for lunch in the house I am living in: enough food for 30 people, crates of beer and Aunt’s and Uncle’s arriving and the family I live with are rushing around frantically – they’re preparing to celebrate their Mother’s life. As I make my way through the house to my room I’m stopped and invited to sit down by the ‘father of the house’ – I cannot say no!

Instead, I sit with the family and celebrate their Mother with them, and I end up drunk by 3pm.

 

Wave your expensive possessions around

As with any city, crime is to be expected, so you have to keep your wits about you.

No matter the time of day, if anything containing or worth money looks easy to grab, someone might just do it. Secret wallets hidden under your t-shirt are an excessive Western idea of safety when visiting a developing country; it’s unnecessary.

There are some tried and tested ways to avoid loosing your things when out and about:

  • Keep your possessions in a zipped bag, close to you.
  • Try not to purchase flimsy strapped bags, there are people out there with scissors and they are not afraid to chop your straps.
  • Separate your money by having big notes and small notes in separate compartments.
  • Try not to flash your cash.
  • If you can, don’t take your phone out when in markets or in the backpacker area. If you do need to check it, hold it with both hands.

 

Do you have any advice for travelers visiting Vietnam?

Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Ultimate Bucket List: A Traveler’s Dream

The travel bug is contagious.

The more we explore, the more we want to see, and as that curiosity grows and suddenly the world’s not as big as we once thought it was.

We’re lucky enough to live in the age where we’re only ever a day or so away from being on the other side of the world. With tourism being one of the leading contributors to country’s economies through-out the world, it comes as no surprise that whether you go away for one week a year, or it’s part of your life; we’re constantly craving an escape from the everyday life we know.

The big question is, where to next?

So having a list always helps.

This list is a compilation of my top 10 destinations I cannot get out of my mind.

 

1: Island Hopping in Indonesia

This was my childhood dream and still is. With between 17 and 18,000 islands, there is much more to the country than the ever popular island of Bali. The country really spreads itself out, both globally and culturally. To discover the wonders of Indonesia, you can take your pick of destinations stretching from the south of Thailand to Papa New Guinea.

As much as I love to plan ahead, with Indonesia I would like to feel my way around, spend some time here and there, and then work out where to go next.

As a water baby, the most important thing for me when traveling is getting to swim everyday and Indonesia is a beach lover’s paradise.

Indonesian islands to explore:

  • Lombok
  • Wakatobi islands
  • Flores
  • Sumba
  • Pulau Weh
  • Gili Islands

To name but a few.

 

2: Mangoes and Chocolate Mountains in the Philippines

This is the newest addition to my bucket list, and probably the most likely to happen in the next few years.

The Philippines is infamous for having some of the best mangoes in the world – they even have a mango festival! Despite what most travelers think, the Philippines is a very green country. One of the best sites, that, simply cannot be missed are the chocolate mountains famed for their quite strange “rolling” shape.

It would be rude not to hop on a boat and venture around the 7000 islands that are waiting for you to explore. The Philippines has a strong cultural grounding that remains unique to each island, with open hearts and open minds, most people speak a minimum of three languages; pretty impressive.

Islands of the Philippines to explore:

  • Boracay
  • Batanes
  • Sumilon
  • Bohol
  • El Nido, Palawan

 

3: Hiking in Mongolia

When visiting Mongolia, it’s obligatory you trek through the country. With a culture that lives for its nomadic lifestyle and being in touch with nature, this is the best way to ‘do-as-locals-do’ and get to know the Mongolian people.

Personally, I would prefer to go on foot, maybe hitch-hike a little along the way, but rumour has it, horseback is the way to go.

Guess it’s time to kick my fear of horses.

Trekking routes around Mongolia for beginners:

  • Khangai Mountains
  • Khagiin Khar Lake
  • Khan Khentii Mountains

 

4: Learn About Rum and Speak Spanish in Costa Rica & Puerto Rico

Noticing a theme? I love the beach!

The best way to learn a language is to throw yourself straight into it, so what better way?

Costa Rica and Puerto Rico have everything you can think of when it comes to travel: trekking through jungles, great waterfalls white beaches, and of course; rum.

Rum has attracted my attention for it’s diversity, coming from the land of whisky, I learned to really appreciate the craftsmanship of the spirit, with it’s similar processes and interesting blends, I want to develop that same appreciation for rum.

Being an avid Hunter S. Thompson fan, I cannot deny that the idea of coming to these particular destinations came from reading his books. His writing style has this emphatic way of making you want his life, in spite of it’s recklessness; it captivates the wild side in you and leaves you wanting more.

 

5: Meet Beautiful People in Micronesia

Part of my love of being a traveler is the people you meet along the way.

Wherever I go, I try my best to get in with the locals and discover their way of life, it’s how you really come to love a country. Alongside sightings of coral reef, Micronesia has a fascinating and deeply rooted culture that’s widely celebrated across it’s islands. While the islands are becoming increasingly popular, with mass chains such as Hilton. There are, of course, always alternatives that allow you to establish a connection with locals.

Top Micronesian islands to explore:

  •  Pualau
  • Pohnpei
  • Kosrae

 

6: Do Everything I Possibly Can in Chile

From the vineyards to largest pool in the world to glacier’s and islands: Chile has it all. Cutting a thin slice down the side of South America, the country is far more diverse than the white sandy beaches and desert lands you would expect. So it would be rude not to try and see this for myself.

My top locations across Chile:

  • San Marcos Cathedral: Monsieur Eiffel sure did get around the world! Located in Arica, Northern Chile, the church is quite typical of his style, with a more gothic approach to French colonial intricacies that are fitting to the landscape.
  • Elqui Valley’s Cerro Mamalluca observatory and the surrounding area: In the daytime, enjoy the valley itself, home to famous Chilean wines, local food and quaint villages, serving an all round relaxing experience. In the evening, you have the opportunity to do some star-gazing at the observatory. The North of Chile is to have clear skies that offer some of the best sights of the universe.
  • Trekking in Aysen: One of the most remote regions of Chile, Aysen is a traveler’s wonderland, but it’s not for the faint hearted. Choose your travel style; by boat, on foot or horse, and you can discover the infinite landscapes, glaciers (particularly the Andes), and stumble upon the few humble people of the region. It’s best to plan your trip well with this stop, as accommodation is limited.

 

 

7: Trek Through the Islands of Greece

After meeting a friend who has family in Greece, I started exploring the possibility of traveling here and was blown away. White on blue in two of my favourite ways: nature and architecture.

The islands are home to some of the best Greek food, restaurants and also offer trekking, sailing and lazing around on the beach; the perfect holiday, really. With increasing tourism, comes the expected chain hotels, but if you are willing to take a chance, you can find cheaper accommodation upon arrival.

Top Greek islands to visit:

  • Milos
  • Karpathos
  • Santorini
  • Mykonos

 

8: Explore the Coffee Shops and Markets of Marrakesh

Steeped in traveler’s history, Morocco’s central city is a maze of wonders: intricate designs, sand stone buildings, trinkets and carpets galore – not forgetting the food! I can only imagine the winding old streets of the medina, around market shops spilling onto the streets with a distinct aroma of coffee, cooking and shisha.

The city’s wonders sound truly enchanting, however the downside is that it’s not recommended for women to travel alone. While I am used to haggler’s and questionable claims that are frequently encountered across Asia, Marrakesh is quite well-known for being the next level up.

 

And here come’s the least hopeful’s; the more expensive options

9: Go Trekking in New Zealand

Most of my destinations come from others telling or showing me how wonderful it is; New Zealand is with no exception. New Zealand, in my mind, has always been like a more romaticised version of Scotland, made all the more mysterious by Lord of the Rings, which for some reason, gave many people a stronger spiritual connection than that of it’s indigenous roots.

Having met people along the way who have lived there, the sense of adventure, surrounded by astounding beauty is irresistible. Alongside this, and a reason many people choose to travel around a country, is the sheer variety of landscapes and activities that are available.

 

10: Be a Beach Bum in Okinawa

Believe it or not, Okinawa is home to 150 islands within it’s prefecture. However, the most populated and most visited is the largest; also called Okinawa. Easy to be confused there.

My main attraction to Okinawa is the peace and harmony that radiate from the islanders of Japan, the other is the –now very much evident– love for the balance of beach and mountains. As a traveler I am, perhaps a little obsessed with witnessing the diversity of landscape a country has to offer, and the nature that comes with it, Okinawa has all of that.

While it might seem like too much of a dream to visit some of these destinations, that’s why a bucket list exists. There’s a whole life time to get there.

My next stop: The Philippines

Where is yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Steps to Becoming a Minimalist Traveler

The world is a distracting place.

Whether we’re being force fed the latest product or told our wardrobes are dated; we are born and raised by the media with a a niggling urge to buy stuff.

What does this result in?  A heck of a lot unused possessions.

However, consumer-based companies are now freaking out.

Why?

Minimalism.

The minimalist lifestyle is a simple and cost-effective ‘trend’: buying only what you need and will use.

Having originated with the Japanese belief in maintaining peace and harmony in the home, minimalism has become a life-changing solution. This simple lifestyle offers the ability to live independently, save money, focus, and have freedom from the ‘need’ to buy into materialism.

That’s fair reason for companies to panic.

However, choosing a minimalist lifestyle isn’t easy, we have been brought up by generations of hoarders, with a family-home that’s bursting with possessions: the home comforts that make a house a home. Materialism is an obligation in the average household. So deciding to live with the bare minimum is going against the grain, by doing so we’re challenging the minds idea of what makes us feel comfortable or ‘at home’.

Minimalism forms itself in many ways; for example,  I’m a firm believer in having a clean space to work in, practicing a little feng shui to de-clutter the mind by having structure in my surroundings.  Not having much in the first place makes this easy, so it’s a great way to limit distractions.

For others, not having many possessions means more freedom and spontaneity in life, with the ability to to pack up your bags travel the world at your leisure, without the worry of how much you will have to leave behind.

It’s estimated that over 250 million people live abroad, while some families move everything, the younger generation are traveling alone with one or two bags. When you go solo, you have the choice to move around at your leisure, so minimalism becomes a foregone conclusion in your life, purely because of practicality.

Going minimalist when traveling is a way of detaching yourself from the clutter. You can’t expect to take everything you own, some sacrifices have to be made along the way. If you want to keep your expenses to a minimum, you’re going to have to really love what you have because you are going to have it for a long time.

 

Step 1: Maintaining the minimalist lifestyle – de-cluttering

 

De-cluttering is really satisfying.

When you’re brought up to love having things, it doesn’t go away,  having frequent clean-out’s keeps the habit at bay.

Having lived with just one bag of clothes for a year, when visiting my home-country I chucked out everything I never wore or used, giving what I didn’t need to local charity shops.

It felt so good!

If you forget you have something: why do you need it?

You need to ask yourself this a lot, and so we have step 2.

 

Step 2: Ask yourself 4 questions before buying something

 

Picture this: you’re out for coffee with a friend and they need some bits and bobs, so you keep them company.

Normally, you don’t go into shops unless you need something, but you can’t just leave, that’s rude.

You start browsing and immediately a blouse catches your eye: STOP

  • Do you have something similar?
  • Are blouses really your jam or are you feeling a little risky today?
  • Are you going to skip dinner tonight because you bought it?
  • Do you need it?

 

This is where the discipline comes in.

No-one’s perfect, there will be a time where you ignore all the questions, we’re human after all.

 

Step 3: Finding home comforts in small things

 

This was a struggle for me the first time around, but a fundamental lesson to learn.

When I moved to Asia I brought 2kg of home comforts, some of which never left my suitcase.

We all need to make a house as a home and that usually shapes itself into useless things, the important part is getting the right ones.

Go for small, personal things that mean a lot to you, this can take the form of:

  • Postcards, birthday cards, photo’s – paper things
  • Small trinkets/jewellery
  • Thin fabrics (that’s a personal preference)

Main objective: not heavy!

 

Step 4: Discovering what you really need and cannot live without.

 

This is very much a gradual process.

Only having exactly what you really need can be both liberating and terrifying.

This is your life, so you are the only person that can make your list of what you need.

I think this is where the happiness in having a minimal life really is: respecting what you have.

Start with the simple things:

  • Clothes (but how many items?)
  • Underwear
  • Laptop/phone
  • Shoes
  • Home-comforts

You will work out the rest of the list over time.

 

Step 5: Quality over quantity – minimal maintenance.

 

When you are keeping your spending to a minimum, each purchase is a long-term investment.

While buying the same cheap pair of shoes three times over may seem less cost effective when you do it, splashing out on something that is good quality is much cheaper in the long run.

I know, the word investment is scary, but don’t panic!

Think of how much time and effort you will save when you only have to look once.

If your like me and hate shopping, this is fantastic.

 

 

What are your tips for a minimalist lifestyle?

 

Comment below!

 

Leith: Culturally & Creatively Free

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Edinburgh over the last few years, then you’ll know Leith is where to have your business right now.

10 years ago you’d be scared to walk down Leith Walk at any time of day, never mind at night. But recently, Leith Walk has become host to a lot more than a cosmopolitan approach to grocery shopping.

 

‘The TrainSpotting days are disappearing.’

 

Before Leith Walk came onto the social scene, Leith was only known for ‘The Shore’:(that’s actually the name of the street, it leads onto the Forth) an area that brings together fine dining experiences such as ‘The Kitchin’–internationally renowned Scottish chef, Tom Kitchin’s restaurant–alongside cruise ship eateries, fancy restaurants with a pub feel and nice bars. Of course, the old man pub was still an option.

‘The Shore’ soon expanded into it’s quirky, cobbled streets. The area was on the rise, with kitsch bars and restaurants such as Sofi’s and The Roseleaf, that together provide ‘a down the rabbit hole’ experience. The latter rolling with this as their main concept.

 

Then came Leith Walk.

When you say you are from Scotland to anyone from another country, they usually say “Oh, Braveheart!”

Leith Walk was more: “Nah mate, think Trainspotting.

However, the TrainSpotting days are disappearing. Leith Walk has always been a testimony to the multi culturalism Edinburgh takes pride in, with the street offering food from all corners of the world, proudly made by local people. Now, Leith is growing its own wings, with up-cycle shops, and an ever-growing selection of cafe’s and unique bars, accommodating to all ages, genders, musical preferences and artistic endeavours.

Had Leith not had it’s rocky past, the Walk would be  rammed with tourists and branded tat.

This is what’s so great: it’s not.

 

Most recently, Leith has become host to a growing arts scene, with new galleries, art studios and festivals: bringing creative people and their business to the area.

The cultural, spirited, creative freedom of Leith is what makes it such a unique place.

 

Over the summer period, Leith Walk showcases its creative talent with events such as Leith Late. Originally a one-off event, Leith Late is now a mini festival, taking on niche crevices of the street (think a book shop and the laundrette) to bring exhibitions, live music and talks.

Then we have the newbie, Hidden Door festival: still in its infancy as far as Edinburgh festivals go, but going from strength to strength each year. The week long festival most recently took over Leith Theatre, a derelict and unused building next to Leith School of Art, and transformed it into an creative haven.

Since Hidden Door took over in June, the theatre has become host to creative groups from across Scotland, hosting events for the first time in years. The festival successfully revived the theatre’s activity as a creative space, with The List putting it up there as one of Scotland’s best new music venues, should some renovations take place.

The cultural, spirited, creative freedom of Leith is what makes it such a unique area, although a little rough around the edges, it has charm and potential. This is what separates Leith from other expanding areas, and what stops it from being gentrified to a point where cultural and creative freedom are no longer possible. The quirky edge and micro-national pride is what makes it so appealing: you won’t find anywhere else like it.

 

 

Away from the grime: the beauty of Saigon.

Just over a year ago I shut down my life in Scotland and went to Vietnam.

I quit my job, made a last minute trip to London to get a visa, and I was off. It’s the best thing I have done so far.

To many people, Ho Chi Minh City (District 1 being commonly known as Saigon) is a hectic, dirty place that is impossible to move around. As far as first impressions go, it’s not in my top five: it is exactly that.

Streets crammed with tacky souvenirs, over-priced food and elephant pants: the ‘backpacker district’ was once the poorest in the city, which is still quite shockingly evident today.

However, Saigon very quickly became my home: alive, thriving and filled with old buildings turned into quirky cafe’s, speakeasys and exhibition spaces. You just have to know where to look.

 

 

The People

When you are here for a while, people start to know your foreign little face. With that, comes the beauty of a friendly smile in return.

If you give a little respect, you get so much back. Vietnamese people are incredibly polite and deeply respectful (especially to their elders) just in a different way, of course.

In time, you become aware of the little, much more subtle gestures that go a long way: how a quick nod of the head can say a thousand words. It’s endlessly surprising how showing loyalty to your banh mi lady in the morning can lead to a great bit of banter that will make your day, even if your Vietnamese is not that great.

Life is quite beautifully simple here: these little interactions really make you fall in love with a city and allow you to develop a form of language without words.

 

What’s left of French Colonial Architecture

Sadly quite difficult to find, but hidden around the back streets of District’s 1, 3 and 5, there is a haven of old French-colonial buildings. Untouched, unclean and more often than not, overgrown with weeds.

This said: my favourite is right under the tourist’s nose and in perfect condition.

Not far from Ben Thanh market, as you venture up Nguyen Trung Truc you’ll find a building that could be plucked out of Hoi An’s ancient town. It’s more or less impossible to miss, standing bold in rich, golden pigment and beautifully contrasted with the soothing hue of classic Vietnamese blue.

Over 130 years old, it’s actually the People’s Supreme Court.  Well preserved, still being used and hopefully not going anywhere for a while. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes, and extremely significant to the city’s history.

 

Coffee Culture

Whether you’re stopping on the side of the street for takeaway or making a full-time job of it: coffee is an essential part of the day in Vietnam.

When you boil it down, it’s the same as any other country: a cog in the forming of social gathering, but on a much larger scale.

You can’t walk down a street in Saigon without seeing a coffee shop. At peak times of the day, it’s difficult to get a seat in the good ones.

It’s not just a casual stop off either, every coffee shop is a home from home to some who visit.

My top five are across here.

 

Endless Amounts of Food

Across the city, you can gorge on rice, noodles or mango at any time of the day. From your morning Phở to 3am Cháo: Vietnam has it covered. Fresh and packed with gorgeous subtle flavours that make you appreciate good, honest food.

Street snacks are not something to be missed, especially if working late. There are street vendors wondering the city at all hours of the day, some are infamous and known to stop by at specific times, you just have to catch them, they move fast.

Stop by, have a chat and snap up some deep fried banana, sweet potato fries covered in questionable dough-nut like seasoning or buttery corn: bắp xào tây!

There is a very good reason that Saigon is famous for it’s street food. Although sometimes a risk, I would never say it’s regretted.

24/7 city

Unlike the quiet countryside or seaside towns of Vietnam: Saigon wakes up at 5am.

I remember leaving early to travel to Nha Trang and meeting men sitting in the dark at the end of my alley drinking coffee, it was 5am. I found it bizarre, but they have the right idea; it’s the coldest time of the day.

Quite the opposite of this, you have the nightlife of the city.

Once you know where to go, Bui Vien is not your only stop for a late night on the town. Pulling up a plastic chair at a restaurant could lead to you still being there at 3am: it’s one of the charms of the city. It’s so cheap, you can’t say no.

Alternatively, you can head down to Little Tokyo: Japantown. A maze of small bars, questionable massage joints and delicious food; I’m not actually sure what time this area closes down, it might just keep on going.

It’s always easy to play it safe and go to that place with good music and the cheap beer, but venturing out of your comfort zone is the best part of being in the city.

That place with the good music and the cheap will still be there tomorrow.