Tag Archives: expat

Too hot to sleep

25 Jun

At the risk of sounding completely British, which I know that I do from time to time, the weather at the moment is just too hot. After this spell of hot weather surely no one in their right mind can deny the existence of climate change. 35 degrees in June. What is the rest of the summer going to be like? Weather like this means that I can’t sleep and me without sleep is not good news for anyone.

I have tried all different strategies. The first, a classic in anyone’s book, was to sleep with the window open. A grand idea until a mosquito woke me up while it was buzzing around my ear at 2 in the morning. Annoyed I trudge out of the bedroom and go to find the insect repellent. That will do the trick. Only it didn’t. I woke up with 5 bites on my right legs and three on my left wrist. I don’t know what was wrong with the rest of my body that the menace decided not to eat the rest of me.

So I can’t sleep with the window open anymore. I now have fans in the bedroom which I have found make no real difference either. They just tend to circulate the warm air around. Plus, they are loud and keep me awake at night.

Two nights ago in utter frustration, I convinced myself that the living room was actually cooler than the bedroom. (This was after a short period of about 3 minutes when I was on the balcony with my bed sheet in the lovely cool evening air. I suddenly realised that if they can bite me 8 times by coming through the window, advertising myself as night-time-alfresco-all-you-can-eat buffet to the insect was probably not the best idea I had even had.) Of course, the living room was no more cool than the bedroom. The heat is affecting my brain and impairing my ability to make sound judgments. I am not sure what my excuse is for the rest of the year.

thermometer-693852__340Being on holiday when the weather is so hot is no problem. In fact, it is the reason why we book holidays. When we have to cope with wearing business dress and going into the office, it is just not fair. I can’t sleep, think straight and I can’t run outside!

This morning was the first time that I have been able to go running outside because the weather had cooled this morning. I got the trainers on quick and got outside before the mercury was pushing towards 30 degrees again, as it was by the early afternoon.

Of course, there are advantages to weather, such as a BBQ every night, not having to remember to pick up the umbrella before leaving the house in the morning and the washing drying in super quick time. On Friday, it was almost dry before I had even hung it out!

It has just turned nine in the evening here and it is still 25 degrees. I am hoping that the combination of the heat and the run from this morning has tired me out and I will drop off effortlessly tonight but I am not holding out too much hope. It is still too hot to sleep…

The Road to Hell…

14 Jun

They say that the Road to Hell is paved with good intentions and if this is true, then I definitely have more than one foot on the cobbled stones. You see it was never my intention to have an extended pause from writing my blog when I got back from holiday. But it happened. It was an accident, an unintentional slip after I had tried so hard to continuing to blog while I was in Asia.

Sometimes when circumstances are difficult we manage to solider on regardless, like when I persevered blogging, without a laptop, but using an app on my iPhone which was made even more infuriating by my fat fingers mis-typing every second word. When things are infinitely easier, we tend to slip up.

I arrived back in Switzerland after my adventure (on reflection, it definitely was an adventure) and was straight back into work mode. It saddens me how easy it was to slip back into the work routine. Get up. Work. German lessons or hockey training (depending on what day it is). Home. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Within a few days and back into the frustration of daily work trivialities, it is easy to forget how big the world is, how many possibilities there are out there and how amazing my experiences on the other side of the world were.

So in the last six weeks that is what I have been up to. It’s nothing very exciting but it is what it is. One of the things that I am terrible about doing, when I get back from holiday, is sorting and organising my photos. I take thousands and thousands of photos. A lot of the time, I take pictures of things that are not even that interesting but I was determined this time to sort them properly and make a picture book so have to look back on. The actual organising of photos took at least 3 days (I did say I take a lot) and in the end I got bored so there are some that are not yet sorted properly.

Making and editing the actual book was like reliving the whole holiday: things I have seen, things I have eaten, things I refused to eat (they have some quirky things that are classed as food in Asia). It already brought back some great memories and as they say a picture paints a thousand words.

I did head to less humid climates in May – Manchester. It was a trip I had planned in October last year with a friend. The reason was the 25th Anniversary Take That tour. Unfortunately, due to circumstances that were all too tragic and well documented. The concert didn’t take place. It made me realise that we are living in a time when violence and terror is now on our doorsteps, whereas just a few years ago was confined to places that we can’t spell or would never ourselves visit.

Nevertheless, I flew back to Manchester because it was time to see friends and family: People who I am separated by distance on a regular basis. Time at home can sometimes be extremely time pressured but it also gives some unexpected surprises, like bumping into my godmother at the supermarket.

The next month will continue to be high paced as a trip to Edinburgh is planned and I have my German exam looming on the horizon at the beginning of July. For those of you who know me this is good enough reason to give me a wide berth until the afternoon of 8th July. Before exam stress levels =off the scale.

Until the panic sets in, I am happy  sit on the balcony, watching the sunset over my little garden while updating my blog. This feeling may not last long. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

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Last few nights before home

1 May

After the Farewell dinner and drinks, I did not get up early on Thursday morning. I got up and transferred to my next hotel in the city, which happened to be the one where I had stayed for the first two nights in Bangkok. I hadn’t planned anything specifically for today because I knew after being on the road for so long I wanted to have time to relax and just do whatever I wanted. Also, from experience, the Farewell drinks on these sorts of trips never finish before midnight so I had already taken that into account.

I spend the day trying to stay cool and doing some shopping. One thing about the shopping centres in Thailand is that they are well air-conditioned and huge. The main shopping centre near to my hotel was Terminal 21 and each floor has a theme. The London themed floor even had a double decker bus parked on it!

The next day was an early start as I had booked to go on a trip to see the Bridge Over the River Kwai. This was a film that my dad had made us watch countless times when we were growing up so it one sense I felt obliged to go and see it. To get there we got into some motorised boats and were given life jackets that would have been useless in an emergency. The scenery en route was lovely and the river itself seemed relatively clean.


If I am brutally honest I was a bit disappointed. For some reason, I had it in my head that it would be a lot bigger than it actually was. The bridge was original but was reconstructed after the allied bombing shattered the bridge.

After the viewing of the bridge, we went to the museum which told the history of the Thailand-Burma railway and what the conditions were like for the POWs who were forced to build the bridge. Again, this was an eye-opener and part of history that I never learnt about in school. Something else to go on the history reading list when I get back home. The facility is also continuing research into the POWs who were detained and forced to build the railway and, if you have a relative who was a POW, you can receive all the details that you have about them for the cost of the print out.

There was also a cemetery to visit where more than 6,000 of the POWs who died are buried. The cemetery is impeccably maintained and even while we were there there were 6 gardeners tending to the lawns and flowers.

We drove for about 40 minutes and then took the Thailand State Railway from Nam Tok to Tha Kilen. The scenery was stunning along the way as we crossed over the Tham Kra Sae Bridge. It was interesting to travel through the countryside and see a bit how local people live. The carriage was nice but even in our “expensive” carriage for tourists who pay slightly more than the locals for nicer seats, it wasn’t so comfortable. The seats were wooden and across the train tracks you could feel every bump and divert along the way.


We transferred back to our hotels. This took longer than expected, partly because it was Friday evening. The Bnagkok traffic really is crazy. It seems that there are more rules in Thailand than in Cambodia or Vietnam but the vast quality of vehicles is mind blowing. It takes so long to get anywhere. The problem is that the public transport, like trains and metros, are not part of the infrastructure in certain parts of the city but as there is no alternative people have to sit in the traffic.

The next and penultimate day I had a bike tour of Old Town Bangkok. It seems crazy to be cycling round in Bangkok in the heat but this was why I had booked onto the morning tour. Luckily, the weather had cooled down a bit and it was a bit cloudy. It was still hot as we were cycling though. The tour was not quite what I expected but in a good way. We cycled along through back streets and residential streets. It reminded me a little bit of the opening credited of Naked Gun. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a Go-Pro because I am sure that it would be interesting to play it back and see the whole tour again. We did get some strange looks when we were cycling around.

I asked our guide why more of the locals didn’t cycle around the city. She explained that Thai people are a bit lazy and that it was dangerous! But not so dangerous that tourists can’t go around the city. I had already checked that the company had comprehensive insurance(!)

On the tour, we saw the hotel where Hangover 2 was filmed, tasted Roti – a sweetened version of the Indian dish, which is served with condensed milk and sugar and bananas, cycled through Chinatown and visited Buddhist, Hindu and Chinese temples. What I didn’t realise is that 60% of Thailand’s population is descended from Chinese and you can see this in the influences on food, religion and in the faces of the people (That sounds a bit racist but that is not how it is intended).

At the Buddhist temple, which was a temple dedicated to friendship and partners, the guide gave us a lotus flower and showed us how to fold it. I can’t remember if I mentioned but on the night Tuk-Tuk tour I previously did, they showed us how to fold the lotus flower but this was a different technique. Being the smart arse that I am I did two different folds on my flowers. We actually went into the temple and left the lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha. I’m not really sure how I felt about this as I’m not a Buddhist but I thought it was a nice touch anyway.

The last stop was to feed turtles at another temple. There were so any turtles it was unbelievable and the greedy things would come straight up to you and eat the lettuce leaves out of your hands. Some of them were big bullies and would literally push the other smaller turtles out of the way. All’s fair in true love and war.

All in all the tour was great: it exceeded my expectations and was a great last thing for me to do in Bangkok. In the afternoon, I wandered around some shopping centres and had a manicure and pedicure which I never do at home and was unbelievably cheap in comparison with what we pay here.

The next morning it was time to pack my bag and head to the airport. At the airport I had a Thai massage. It was more expensive that you could get for it in town but I had Bhat to use up! Thai massage is fully clothed and involves the therapist pressing on pressure points. I was seriously concerned I was being assaulted. It felt so awful and really hurt while she was going it. She was slapping me about and kneeing me in the back while pulling my arms until they cracked. I was convinced that I would have bruises all over me the next day. When she was finished it did actually feel ok and I felt a lot better. The price we pay for relaxation!

I arrived home in Switzerland to a lovely 18 degrees which was great because a few days earlier I had heard it had been snowing and I only had sandals to wear home. My trip had been a lot more than I had expected but I was sure that a night in my own bed was going to be like a dream come true…

Battambang and onwards to Bangkok

28 Apr

We left Siem Reap behind and headed to Battambang, a 3 hour drive away. Battambang is a very quiet town and not aimed at tourists in the same way that Siem Reap. It was a shame that we would only be spending a night here.

The weather was a bit stormy and I decided to have a swim before it started raining. I was faced with a green pool (just like the diving pool in the Rio Olympics!). It turns out that it was green because it was saltwater and not that there was anything wrong with it in anyway.


A short time later we went to take the Bamboo train. The bamboo train is a very basic trainlome which is was originally used to transport goods to the surrounding areas and for local who don’t have access to cars. Nowadays it is more of a tourist attraction. 

The strange thing is that there is only one track. If two carts are coming in the opposite direction, one of the carts has to be taken on the track so that the other one can pass. There are rules determining which cart needs to make way for the other one. Apparently, if there are multiple carts then these take priority. Then the number of people, how heavy the carts is etc etc. It sounds complicated but it is probably a lot easier than building a separate track for the other direction. 


After this we went to a see a bat cave. I was really excited about going into a cave but it turned out that we were going inside anywhere. There was a opening in the mountain side where the bats flew out of. There were hundreds of thousands of them swarming out of the cave and disappearing into the distance to find some insects for dinner. We then took 4x4s up the mountain to take in view. In the distance we could still see the swarms of bats making their way into the evening.

We later went to have a home dinner. The wife of one of the Tuk-Tuk drivers cooked for us at their home. He told us he married her after knowing her for only one month and I could see why. It was hands down the best food I’d eaten in Cambodia!

The next morning (after the best breakfast buffet of the whole trip!) we made our way back to Bangkok where the trip would end. It was a long drive and we had to navigate the border crossing and immigration procedure. This was hands down the most bizarre border crossing I have ever experienced – and Botswana was pretty special. We left the bus, put our bags in a wooden cart and left The Kingdom of Cambodia. While we were lining up to clear the Thai border our bags were being scanned and processed somewhere. There were people who were doing this by themselves without a guide but it wasn’t straight forward about what to do and where to go so I was glad we had the guide to help us. 

It was still a long way until we reached Bangkok and it seems that the evening traffic in Bangkok is far worse than the M25. It was time for the farewell dinner and some drinks on Khao San Road. Our guide had a habit of finding the best bars and tonight was no exception. The street was definitely lively and a bit crazy. I actually did something a bit crazy myself – I ate a scorpion! Ok it wasn’t the whole thing just a few of the legs and it didn’t really taste of anything. 


It was sad to say goodbye to the group but it was worth the memories! Just a few more days on my own and then it’s time to head home, where I believe it’s been snowing…

Miss Saigon – Part 1: Vietnamese Food

17 Apr

After swapping my Swiss Miss (via Thailand) for Miss Saigon, I was eager to get my teeth into something tasty. I’m not sure I could name one Vietnamese dish, apart from maybe a noodle soup.

At 6pm, only a few hours after I booked into the hotel, I was collected for a Street Food tour which also included a tour of the the most famous places at night. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting for the guide to turn up on a motorbike, pass me a helmet and tell me to get on the back!

I’ve never been on a motorbike before and from my limited experience so far I’m not convinced that Vietnam was the best place to start. Ho Chi Minh City has a population of 10 million people and a motorbike population of just of 5 million. If Holland rode motorbikes instead of pushbikes this is  exactly how the Netherlands would be like. It doesn’t seem that there are too many road rules. People go where they want to. Roundabouts are a logistical nightmare. You round a corner on a main road and in the middle of the road is a man in the road struggling to push a cartful of mangoes up the hill. Gulp!

Luckily my guide was a careful driver and didn’t drive too fast or wildly. At first, I was hanging on to the poor sod for dear life but I soon got used to it. He left me outside a shopping centre while he parked up the car in the multi-storey. It wasn’t long before 3 children came up to me. Instantly, I put my guard up: I wasn’t sure if this was a trick to somehow distract me while an amigo helped themself to my bag. In the background, I could see a woman smiling ear to ear and I realised these were her children. The children simply wanted to practice their English with me. They told me they learn English at school and they practice as much as they can with foreigners visiting the city. One of them asked me if I was sad because I was on holiday alone? I said, no, I was having a great time anyway.

My guide took me to enjoy broken rice and poor spare ribs in a small restaurant. Broken rice is very common in Southern Vietnam and the grain of the rice is actually very small. The food was tasty as was the apple and grapefruit juice. We wondered around the main plaza which was alive with people. There are water fountain displays and lots of people were out enjoying the weather because it was Sunday. In the middle of the plaza and in front of the government buildings is a statue of Ho Chi Minh who the city is named after. I had no idea that the city is named after a person and I’m not sure there are many cities in the world that can claim that. 


After we met with a friend of his, who is also a tour guide. I think she wanted to practice her English, which was fine with me. We set off on the bikes again and crossed the Saigon River. On the bridge we made a quick stop to collect some corn that is typical Vietnamese. It was warmed with chili, spices and onions. Next stop was a few minutes away and was where the action was happening. In the evening young people gather on the bank of the river and barbecue. We found a street seller and had some fish kebabs, sausages (a bit like a German wurst), deep fried eggs in batter and a Vietnamese-style lemonade that had passionfruit in it. After stuffing myself to bursting point (as usual), we drove home in the tunnel going under the River and was back at the hotel.

The next morning was an early start. I had a cooking class to go to! Because of the bad traffic I was left waiting in the hotel lobby for 40 minutes, but the tour company had phoned in advance to tell me they would be late.

After getting stuck in traffic and arriving even later, I arrived for the class. I was in a group with four other ladies (2 Swedes, 1 from Portugal and a British lady who has been living in South Africa for almost 30 years). To being with we went to collect our ingredients and learn more about them. All of the produce is grown or produced at the site, with the exception of sugar and oil which they buy from the local market. It was so interesting to pick my own lemongrass and see how it is grown. They also grown their own oyster mushrooms in a really unique way in rubber plant shavings and plastic bags. 

I also found out how peanuts are grown. Did you know they were grown underground? When you taste them before they are roasted (like we did) they taste like peas. Really! They do! That must be why we call them peanuts in English. Thinking about it some more in German the word is Erdnuss coming from Erd for earth and Nuss from nut, which is exactly how they are grown!

On to the cooking and I was so glad to hear that we were cooking 4 courses! The first was spring rolls with a homemade dipping sauce, which I have always wanted to have a go at but I was too nervous to give it a go. They are so easy to make and I will definitely be making them when we get home and no we didn’t make that rice paper! That would have been a step too far for this amateur chef! 

Next up was a papaya salad with fried beef with lemongrass and ginger! Delicious and more and so simple to make again! Luckily, the chili was mainly for decoration for this dish or I would have been suffering later. Next was a chicken and mushroom dish that was marinaded and cooked in a clay pot. Again deliciousness personified! It didn’t look as attractive as the other dishes but the smells and flavours were incredible. 

Dessert was a banana spring roll. I have never heard of this before and to say I was sceptical was an understatement. Served with coconut icecream (I’m not a huge fan of anything coconut), it was a dream and a perfect ending to a fantastic experience and meal. Throughout the day I had learnt a lot about marinades and sauces as well as ingredients and flavour combinations. 


Our chef for the day was Mi (pronounced Me) and she helped us to prepare the dishes and answer our questions. She was a great head chef and was knowledgeable and funny (even though she told me off for forgetting to put herbs in my second spring rolls). The whole operation is run by Chef Tan who has appeared in cookery programmes with Gordon Ramsey. He told us he has two restaurants in Melbourne as well as his cookery school. If you are in the area, I highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone. The atmosphere and staff are excellent and, even though the  course is commercially designed, it loses none of its charm and authenticity.

After the cooking class, I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a large network of connecting tunnels underground that the Vietnamese people used during the Vietnam war to evade capture from the Americans. It’s incredible that people lived underground with living rooms, workshops and medical quarters. It was also possible to go underground and see the size of the tunnels, which have actually been enlarged for tourist to see how life was like. The tunnels are narrow, dark and oppressively hot. I have no idea how much willpower these people must have needed to survive.


I don’t know very much about the Vietnam war but I will go home and read up about it. It’s a war on recent history that I never learnt about at school and is definitely a war that has shaped modern day Vietnam. History is important and it can helps us understand the world today.

Traffic jams stop me getting to the hotel in good time but enough time to relax by the pool with some very cheap beer before another long day tomorrow.

Happy Holidays!

13 Apr

When I booked this holiday in November, I think it was, it seemed like an age away. But it’s already here and I am ready for holiday. Big Time. I have been ready for a least a week. I really start to get excited and in the holiday mood when I collect the money that I have ordered from the bank and I start taking a look at the exotic looking notes. I genuinely have no idea if I have an average person’s annual wage with me or if it will all be gone in a few hours.

Everything is organised, planned and packed. Or at least I hope it is. People have been making me feel a bit anxious about travelling to Asia on my own. In the last 3 hours, two separate people have warned me about the Bangkok Hilton. I am not sure what this says about me if people are warning me not to deal drug while on holiday! Once I arrive and I get to the hotel, I will be feeling more confident and ready to enjoy myself.

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This trip (I have said this before and failed) I have packed as light as possible. I always start off with a list (something that my mum always used to do before our family holidays) of everything that I need and just before I finish packing I decide I must have forgotten something and end up throwing more stuff into my bag at random just so I don’t feel like I have forgotten something. I was very tempted to do this this morning. I have resisted temptation for a few reasons.

Experience tells me that being a light as possible while you are moving between countries (3 in 17 days in fact) has many advantages. I think that the day we travel from Vietnam to Cambodia we use public transport so the less I have, not just to carry, but also to keep an eye on the better.

Apart from one in-case-of-emergency lipstick, I have not got any make-up packed whatsoever. I don’t wear a lot of make-up anyway and I figure that when the weather is forecast to be 37 degree with 95% humidity, a layer of foundation is the last thing that I will need. After my children’s Factor 50 suncream has been applied, it is not really worth trying to get an even coverage with my MAC make-up.

I took so many T-shirts with me to South Africa last year that I came back with 5 clean ones in the bottom of my bag that I didn’t even realise I had brought with me. This trip was a bit tricky because it involved camping and we moved every day so I didn’t have the luxury of being able to get everything out of my bag to see what was clean and what wasn’t.

There is one thing that I have been agonizing over – my electric toothbrush. If I was stranded on a desert island my electric toothbrush would be my luxury item. But only if it had unlimited battery life or was solar-powered because there would be nowhere for you to plug it in would there? My teeth never seem clean when I use a manual toothbrush but taking it with me means I need to take more cables with me and it is one more thing to forget or lose in a hotel room.

Discipline is the name of  the game! I do still have the niggling feeling that I have forgotten something. If I have it’s nothing that I can buy when I am out there or nothing that I can’t go without….

…. just had to quickly check that I had packed my glasses. I have! Panic over. Phew!

All being well, I will try to keep up with the blog on my travels but it is a bit fiddly to write on the WordPress app with my sausage fingers.

In the meantime, have a great Easter, whether you celebrate it or not. I’m not sure that my chocolate egg is going to survive the Asian heat…

A question of Time

26 Mar

Everyone seems to complain about the day when the clocks go forward. One hour less sleep is not a prospect that people look forward to. I am no different. I regularly experience an hour gained or lost when I fly to the UK. For some reason, I find it a lot harder to adjust to one hour than I do when I fly to America, for example, where the time difference is a lot bigger. Perhaps one of the reasons is because you would think that an hour less would make less of an impact than a 6 hour difference. This, I think, is just false hope.

The hardest thing about the large time differences and jet lag is that your body is hungry when it shouldn’t be in the new place that you have arrived in. I did read that the best way to combat this is to fast for 24 hours after you arrive so that your body clock is reset. But who has the patience and the will power to do that?

This method can definitely not be used for a one hour time difference. You just end up having a bit of an early or a late dinner instead. I wasn’t sure if there was a time difference between Switzerland and Norway or not. Through the power of Google I can confirm that there is none. It seems strange that a country so far away has no time difference with here but the UK does. Even more surprising was when I went to South Africa. I expected a horrendous time lag but it’s the same time zone as here in Switzerland. I know that time zones don’t work on how far away one place is away from another but I can fly from here to the southernmost part of Africa and the time is exactly the same.

When I fly to Thailand, the flight leaves early evening and lands in the morning so if I get a good night’s sleep on the plane, then I should (and I really am keeping my fingers crossed) have no problem with the time difference and I will be ready to start exploring straight away.

The question that I always hear, and I have also heard it today, is do the clocks go forward as well in Switzerland? The answer is definitely yes. This is a question I am constantly having to explain to family members. The time difference is always one hour and not two hours in front (when the clock go back in October) or the same time (because the UK has caught up). It’s worrying that after almost 5 years of being in Switzerland that I have to answer the same question twice a year.

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Technology makes the clock changes a little easier for us these days, with devices automatically updating to the correct time. I remember a time when I was at school when someone missed the start of a hockey match because they didn’t realise that the clocks had gone forward. The automatic updates from technology does not prevent the panic that preceeds after waking on the morning of the clocks going forward. I woke up and checked my Fitbit and wondered if it had already been updated. I looked at the clock on the bedside table and the time was the same. I had to get up to check the only “old-fashioned-analog clock” in the kitchen to discover that both the Fitbit and the alarm clock in the bedroom were already updated. It turns out that the alarm clock is also Wifi enabled so it had changed itself.

One good thing about the clocks changing is that there is one less hour in the day. So this makes me feel justified that I haven’t been so productive and my to-do list is the same length as it was yesterday. I will get back to completing it tomorrow when no one will be stealing an hour from me…