The Adoption

The Adoption

Usually I’m all about a bit of banter with the locals. But not when I’ve been sat in my own sweat for the previous 12 hours. Not when I have spent the day being crushed up next to other people; baking on the hottest and busiest day of the year; suffering from the effects of a bad hangover; and dealing with a possible overdose of Malaria tablets. In this situation, the last thing I want to do is make conversation with people I don’t know. Especially in a language I don’t understand!

Becky, Francis and I were seated with a Vietnamese Family…and considering the sorry state we were all in, the arrangements were a little too close for comfort. I watched closely as the serious but smiley gentleman across from me stabbed at an unidentifiable sea creature on the dull silver platter. The creature hovered mid air, expertly positioned between wooden chopsticks. Its spindly legs given a new lease of life as it surged forward in a movement dangerously close to my bowl. PLOP. No!! NOOOO! The bloody thing was swimming around in my soup! I know the table was only small but surely this Chopstick Olympian could reach his own bowl considering his years of practice? He had to have at least 50 years up his sleeve!

Shit. What the hell was I going to do? Maybe I could somehow flick it out when nobody was looking. But then there was no saying where it might land. What if I flicked it out at such an angle that it hit the little man pouring out beers square on the nose?! It would just have to stay there. I tried not to look into its eyes as I hastily went in for a spoonful.  

Mr Serious but Smiley was at it again; stabbing away at more unidentifiable creatures. Again, he expertly lifted a slightly squished cockroach type thing this time, and then…sure enough… flung the bloody thing straight into my bowl! He threw me a large toothy grin after catching my no doubt icy expression. Poor Becky received the same treatment. Although being vegetarian made it all the more awkward.

 

Is that a bowl of soup? Not exactly...

Is that a bowl of soup? Not exactly…

 

The guy with the beers was clearly feeling flash as he happily shared them out with us foreigners. It’s practically a sin to drink beer from a bottle in many Asian countries, and Beer Man went around filling our glasses to the brim. However, he soon came across a problem. Becky and Francis were glass-less. Beer Man paused. Stroked his chin several times. And then proceeded to pour Becky and Francis’s share of beer into their empty soup bowls! My friends looked on in disbelief. They would have just asked for another glass if it were up to them. Slightly baffled, the two of them picked up their beer bowls, shrugged their shoulders…and downed them in one! This was met with cheers of applause from the Vietnamese side of the table. They looked to me expectantly. I realised they were waiting. Despite really not wanting to sink a pint of beer, I kind of felt obliged to. The pressure of all those eyes and smiles of encouragement had got to me! I lifted my glass to them and drank the lot. Probably not the best decision, but at least it would help me deal with the octopus and cockroach that were now swimming together in my soup. The Vietnamese Family clapped and cheered. They spoke in chattered tones of which we understood not a word. We exchanged smiles and gestures, and accepted the crazy looking food they kept flinging onto our plates. It was official. We had been adopted.

The problem with being adopted is that this essentially binds you into an unspoken contract. You take on certain responsibilities and obligations. You stick by your family through thick and thin. Whether that be eating a specific kind of food, or having a fist fight in the middle of the street as we were soon to discover…

Beer man with his new adopted son

Beer man with his new adopted son

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Seafood Lunch

Seafood Lunch

seafood lunch

I had chosen a less than favourable spot on the bus to Halong Bay. Directly behind a snobby looking American man who had interestingly favoured a long-sleeved shirt and trousers in the 100 degree heat. A loud and arrogant attitude with the voice to match, I could hear him moaning about the ‘incredibly busy’ vehicle to a man on the neighbouring seats. This immediately confused me. There was only one person to every available seat. How was that ‘incredibly busy?’ Had this guy not seen three or four people squeezed onto one seat on the local buses? Not to mention the planks of wood that would randomly pop up and fit into the aisle to create extra seating?!

“Excuse me! Excuse Me!” he bellowed harshly, clicking his fingers in the air.

The tiny Vietnamese tour guide scurried down aisle with a concerned look on his face:

 “Yes Sir…what seems to be the matter Sir?”

WHAT SEEMS TO BE THE MATTER?! This is hardly the luxury trip I paid for! I was promised a private transfer” he huffed indignantly, wrinkling his nose as he studied the rest of us inferior lot he’d been forced to breathe the same air as.

The little man wiped away a bead of sweat that was forming on his forehead.

“I PAID FOR A LUXURY TRIP! I was promised a SEAFOOD LUNCH!”

The tour guide gulped loudly.

“Nnn nn no sir…….you will be having prawns and urrm… fish for your lunch…. on the boat”

But I was promised a Seafood Lunch!”

No Sir…..you….you….you will be having a fish….and a prawns…on the boat….for the lunch”

“I have PAID for a SEAFOOD LUNCH!!”

“Fish, prawns, and the salad…..on the boat”

“But I was TOLD it would be a SEAFOOD LUNCH!! I want to speak to your manager immediately”

At this point, the following thoughts swam lazily through my mind.

  1. Fish sounds suspiciously like seafood to me.
  2. Prawns sound suspiciously like seafood to me.
  3. How many more times can this guy possibly say the words ‘seafood lunch’ without me cracking up laughing or punching him in the back of the head?

To those ‘elite’ few who believe they are rightly entitled to special treatment just because they flash around a bit of cash…. GET A GRIP! Yea you are likely to be ripped off. You are likely to be expected to pay double the amount anyone else does. But you know what? You can probably afford to. Be a little more streetwise if it bothers you that much. Do your research! Listen carefully when people read out the lunch menu! And for God’s sake, stop complaining when directly outside your window is one of the most beautiful places on Earth!

halong2

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Unite and Bike Against Cancer

logo 

Please help me to raise money for the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG)

Although childhood cancer treatment is rightly regarded as a great success, it should not be forgotten that, still today, three out of ten children diagnosed with cancer will not survive their disease. The ultimate aim of CCLG is to maximise cure while minimising the early and late side effects of treatment. Research is essential in order to advance understanding and knowledge, and for improving diagnosis, outcome and treatment of all children with cancer.

In October, I will cycle 400km across Tanzania in an attempt to raise over £3000 for this well worthy cause. This is a challenge that is very close to my heart. I am doing this for some very special children whom I have been lucky enough to spend a significant amount of time with during the past year. A courageous and smart little soldier who never once lost his wicked sense of humour despite all that he had to endure. A beautiful but fragile little angel whose smile could light up an entire room. A cheeky and cheerful five year old girl who refuses to give up the fight and just wants to be mummy’s little helper again. A football maniac, who still manages to have more energy than me despite all his operations; and a brave young girl with the biggest imagination I have ever known!

These children go through unimaginable distress on a daily basis, and I cannot bear the thought of any more of them losing the battle. Please help me to raise as much sponsorship as I can for my mad and perhaps slightly ridiculous decision to cycle 400km (250 miles!) across Tanzania in just 5 days. Did I mention I have not set my bum on a bike since I was about 7 years old?! I am yet to set foot in a gym. And I am slightly fearful of being chased by a pack of lions whilst over there! Yes, I know it’s going to be a tough week. And I know it’s going to be tough to raise this money. But the bravery of these young children has inspired me to stay positive, to stay hopeful, and to never give up. This is for them. Over the next few months I will organise some fundraising events and set up a Just Giving page for online donations. If anyone has any great fundraising ideas, I would love to hear them. Any support/ideas would be much appreciated!

UBAC

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The Kindness of Strangers

The sky was a miserable grey. Raindrops pounded the pavement, splashing furiously at my badly made shoes. A large red bus screeched to a halt beside a puddle. The three of us hopped through the doors quickly in an attempt to avoid a bucketful of rain to the face. I had to smile at Kristin hauling that huge pink bag of hers up the steps. How that tiny girl is able to handle luggage five times her own size will forever remain a mystery.

Shuffling our way through the aisle, we studied the interior of the vehicle. This was just a normal bus…yet something was not quite right. A string of flashing fairy lights twinkled through the dusty windows. The sweet smell of banana lingered in the air, and a giant glittering mirror ball hung from the ceiling.  (Just like the ones from school disco days!) What was going on? Was it the bus driver’s birthday? Slightly puzzled, we hauled our bags onto the back seat. A red leather sofa with jazzy cushions! Who needs seatbelts?! “How ace is this?” giggled Antonia.

We sprawled across the sofa, taking full advantage of the rather odd seating arrangement. All was well until a formal looking gentleman with a briefcase was forced to squeeze in between us. Followed shortly by an elderly lady with a terrible cough. It just doesn’t seem natural to share a sofa with strangers. Especially when those strangers are staring at you!

red sofa bus

And we were off. The engine started with a splutter, followed swiftly by….the ‘music’. It was the frightfully feared….the deeply detested…the horrifically horrible….Thai Karaoke!  The only equivalent sound I can imagine would be an old cat drowning in a deep well. Whilst being electrocuted!

“What sick person would think to do this?!” groaned Kristin.

There was a reason we avoided the Karaoke bars here. And now we were stuck on a bloody moving one with a grooving, coughing granny and Mr Briefcase. Oh life. After spending about an hour trying to block out our surroundings it suddenly occurred to me that we had no idea where we were. We were supposed to be going to see Becky in her Thai Town. But we had never bothered to ask when to get off the bus!

“Shit!” I cried jumping up from my spot on the sofa. “Shouldn’t we have got off by now?!”

“Crap!” swore Kristin, rubbing her eyes. She’d been asleep. God knows how in that racket.

Antonia looked up briefly from her phone. “Don’t worry guys; I’m sure it will be fine”.

“Ban Son?” we hopefully asked the grooving granny. She simply shook her head.

“Ban Son” we tried again to a group of middle aged men. Our pleas were met with peals of laughter.

We’d missed our stop.

“What are we going to do?!” I wailed.

The news of the Farang’s ridiculous mistake appeared to have spread quickly down the bus, for a group of school children keen to practice their English raced down the aisle to our sofa.

“Come on…come with us! We help you!”

There didn’t seem to be many other options. So we followed them off the bus…into the middle of the night…into the torrential rain. We expected to see perhaps a town…some shops…at least SOMETHING. But there was nothingness.

 “Where we go?” asked Antonia slowly.

 “Follow” said a short girl with a long plait in her dark hair. She was beckoning us past a puddle.

 We reluctantly followed the children down the roadside, hauling our huge bags of luggage over our shoulders. They were taking us to a building in the distance, but as none of us possessed the ability to read Thai, we had no idea who this building might house.  

The local police it turned out. Why had these kids brought us to a police station?! How awkward was this! We couldn’t communicate with them, they couldn’t communicate with us. We stood back slightly as words were exchanged. All we could do was smile and nod, and hope that the children weren’t telling them we’d committed a murder or something!

 A stern looking policeman nodded solemnly in our direction. The children skipped off merrily into the distance waving their goodbyes. Shit. We’d now lost our translators! He indicated for us to move to the doorway of the station. My heart was racing as images of ‘Banged Up Abroad’ came flooding into my conscious. As we stood hesitantly in the doorway, the stern man reached slowly into his pocket. Oh god did he have a gun?! Was he going to shoot us? What the hell had those kids told him? I closed my eyes. Waiting.

 “Yim Yim!” cried the policeman. A flash of light filled the sky. I opened my eyes slightly, peeking through my lashes; to see that pointing directly at us…was…a camera. I then noticed that two more policemen were stood beside us, grinning wildly for the shot! Slightly unexpected. My nerves were in pieces. We sat down at the table in the station and shared a much needed cigarette with the officers.

 “We go Ban Son” Antonia tried to explain.

“Ahhhhhhhh”.

 It was then that we were bundled into the back of a patrol car. I heard the doors click firmly shut. We were locked in and being driven down the road at a ridiculous speed, with no idea if we were being rescued or arrested.

“What the frig is going on?” Kristin clutched at her pink bag for comfort.

The crackle and beep of the radio echoed around the car. Muffled attempts at English blared out through the sound system. “Your friend BanSon where??”

“KFC!” we shouted back immediately. We knew her house was somewhere near KFC. We knew all Thai people knew their local KFC!

“AHHHHHH KAYY EFFF SEEE!!”

Thirty minutes later, those kind policemen (who I had initially suspected of attempting to shoot us) delivered us safely to the doors of Ban Son’s local KFC. They waited patiently for us to be reunited with our friend. They refused our money and brushed off our gratitude. Leaving simply with a smile and a wave, it occured to me then, and not for the first time, that Thailand really is the friendliest place on Earth.

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Space Cake

Space Cake

A sweet and hazy cloud floated out onto the street, daring us to creep closer. Carefully peeking around the open doorway, I sussed out the surroundings. Anxious not to end up in some local stoner central, it was important the atmosphere felt right.

The cafe was more jazzed down than up. A mashed up mix of bright colours tatooed the darkened walls. Graffiti was scrawled on the chairs, scribbled on the tables; it decorated the flooring, and livened up the ceiling. How it got up there, one can only imagine.

A young woman lazily swayed along to the Bob Marley beat. Adjusting her funky purple bandana, she rapidly (with both skill and style) threw together a strange assortment of ingredients which happened to create the most amazing Mint Choc Mocca known to man.

“Lets get some of that chocolate cake…Im bloody starving”

“We’ll get the banana one as well…that looks tasty”

As we munched our way through the delicious goodies, the sweet scent of chocolate lingered faintly in the air…

2 hours later

Tucking into the most mouth-wateringly delicious cheesy pizza at a prestigious restaurant down the nice side of town, the strangest sensation invaded my thoughts. Fizzy bubbles from my innocent coca cola flew through my nose and zoomed off down each one of my hair follicles; causing a mass growth of illuminous green grass on the top of my head. Trying to remain calm proved impossible. Somebody sneezed.

If you have never laughed at a sneeze, you cant have been listening properly.

I bit my lip. Hard. But it was too late. A huge grin exploded across my face. Followed by a spluttering attack of the giggles. And i wasnt the only one. I tried desperately not to look at his face. But it was just too tempting. As I caught his eye, Don burst into the girliest fit of giggles I have ever heard. This did nothing to dull my laughter. I then somehow managed to bang my head on the side of my plate of pizza. Smooth.

Upon retrieving the stray pepperoni from my fringe, we sensed an attitude shift in our fellow diners. It was perhaps time to leave. Is this where we went wrong? Events were about to take a terrible turn for the worse.

“OH my god! Why do you keep disappearing?!” shrieked Don in despair as he clutched frantically at my arm that had most definately not disappeared.

We were now wandering aimlessly through the streets of Amsterdam. Lost, not only because we didnt know where we were, but because our minds had kindly decided to up and leave for a while. So what do you do in a situation like that? Well I can tell you what you dont do.

You do NOT:

a) freak out and say your lip has fallen off

b) freak out and claim that you are paralysed

c) freak out and decide you may possibly be dying. Or already dead.

I really had my hands full with Mr Un-Hardcore. And the fact that they were fizzing like sherbert lemons in an icy-cool glass of champagne was not helping matters.

Amazingly we somehow made it back onto the bus, through passport control and onto the ferry complete with sexy bloodshot eyes. We passed out in the room. Phew! We’d made it. Lesson learnt. Never again. Thank God it was over!

But it wasnt over. 2 hours later, I woke up with the most incredible thirst that even the juciest orange in the world couldnt quench. I desperately needed a hot chocolate. Nothing else would work. Nothing else could compare. After sitting and consuming an entire bag of minstrels, two bananas, a bunch of sandwiches as well as a giant orange, I was convinced this was the only thing that would work. Just one little hot chocolate. Just down one little flight of stairs. I just knew I couldnt do it alone.

“Don!” I whispered loudly, “Don…wake up!”

“What the hell is wrong with you?!” he grunted as he saw me sat cross legged on the floor with the tell tale signs from my secret feast littering the carpet. “How can you possibly have eaten all that?!”

“I need a hot chocolate!” I whined “I have to have one or I’ll have a heart attack!”

Knowing I wasnt going to give up, Don reluctantly got out of bed and began putting on his high top trainers. WITH PYJAMA SHORTS!

“You cant wear them with shorts, you look like an absolute idiot!”

As out of it as I was, even I knew this would be a fatal fashion error. We settled for just socks and pyjamas and floated down to Costa Coffee with BedHead hair and eyes like zombies. The world was staring at us as we desperately attempted to hurry the whole sharade. Why was noone else in their pyjamas? Why did no-one else look like they had consumed an entire batch of brownies? Oh god how did we not realise Don’s PJs were on backwards?!

Despite our frantic attempts to hurry up, Don decided to order a pie, which we sneaked upstairs with us back to the room. Immediately, he threw the butter knife and spoon into the bin.

“What did you do that for?” I protested.

“Its too dangerous” he replied, as though it were the most normal thing to do in the world.

Great. So I was about to have a heart attack. My arms and legs were fizzing. Grass was growing out of the top of my head. And now Mr Un-Hardcore had decided that eating a pie would be far too dangerous in our situation. Take me back to Hull!

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Tumbling in Style

Travel in true Vietnamese style in this exhausting bike journey in the sweltering 40-degree heat. Hold your nerve as you navigate past puddles and potholes and swerve to avoid mopeds and minivans at a pace that is anything but leisurely. 

OR

Experience the thrill of the battle for survival as you scale 30m waterfalls, jump blindly over a cliff edge without checking what lies beneath you, and allow random strangers to push you down river rapids.

The choice is yours…

“Oh my God they both sound so much fun!” squealed Becky in excitement, “How are we going to pick?”

See that’s the difference between Becky and me. She is an adventure-seeking lunatic who deserves a gold star in bravery. She sees a challenge like this and actually gets excited…actually looks forward to it! Me on the other hand, I would rather gauge my own eyeballs out. I see something like this and it’s all I can do not to throw up in fear. Especially since I knew the possibly more manageable bike ride had already been dismissed. “Battle for Survival” had Becky written all over it.

“Well…if we do the bike ride…we’ll end up in the place we want to get to next anyway…” I tried.

“Yea I guess…but the waterfall thing just sounds so cool!”

And so it was that I came to be nervously peering over the edge of a 30m high waterfall, trying hard to keep down my Philadelphia baguette. I looked on in dismay as a 6 ft tall man with broad shoulders trembled in fear. Suddenly, his foot slipped, and the gushing water dragged him under and down the drop at an alarming speed. He plunged into the freezing pool below. I had to look up again. I was too afraid the guy would not resurface.

A second man was now all strapped up and ready to go. Perhaps he would fare slightly better than Mr Footslip. Or not. The second man was even taller and broader than the first. He carefully lowered himself over the edge of the fall…and then proceeded to fall…quite spectacularly. I don’t think tumbling down and bashing into all those rocks was really part of his plan.

A third man now stepped up to the mark. Ok, so he wasn’t quite as tall and broad as the others, but at a guess I’d say he was at least double my height and likely to have weighed three times as much as me. He looked like he’d been warned of his imminent death; his legs literally refused to walk him over the edge of the crashing waterfall.

“JUST GO!” The guide screamed angrily at him.

“I CANT MOVE!! THERES NOWHERE FOR MY FEET TO FUCKING GO!” screamed the young man with even more venom, “ITS TOO FUCKING SLIPPY”

“You will be ok!” The guide laughed merrily.

The man slowly tiptoed down the fall. Very carefully, baby step by baby step, he edged his way over. But then…just as he predicted…he began to slip. Further and faster than either of the others. He twisted around; he bumped the rocks, he screamed out in pain, then finally plummeted into the freezing river below.

Now I was truly terrified.

“Becky…I’m not doing it!” I cried

“It will be fine!” she assured me.

Had she not just witnessed the same scene as me? Maybe the girl was actually suicidal and I’d failed to pick up on it until now.

“If they had so much bloody trouble with it imagine what I’m gunna be like!” I wailed

“You will regret it so much if you don’t do it” she insisted.

Our guide Bamboo looked over and smiled at us: “Who’s going first?”

I immediately pointed at Becky. I still hadn’t decided if I was going to do it or not. Brave as ever, my mental friend stepped up and adjusted her ropes and clips. Still smiling, she confidently lowered herself down the fall, battled against the gushing water, and NEVER SLIPPED ONCE! Five minutes later she was stood at the bottom, waving up at me with a huge grin on her face. How the hell had she made it look so easy? Maybe this was something girls were naturally better at than guys. Maybe I had a fair chance at making it down without the bumps.

“Your turn” Bamboo reminded me gently.

Shit. I’m sure all the colour must have drained from my face at this point. Shaking like a bowl of jelly I made my way to the horrific drop and clipped myself onto the safety rope. It looked like I had decided to go through with it. Then it struck me how much I really needed the toilet. I felt like I was going to pee my pants I was that scared! Maybe I would pee myself. I didn’t even care at this point. I just wanted to make it down the drop alive!

“Ok you can go now,” said Bamboo

It was now or never. I closed my eyes and held on tightly to the rope before I began to lower myself down the tumbling water. I wasn’t slipping! I was still in control! Maybe I COULD do it!

But no. I couldn’t. With about as much style as a hippopotamus on ice skates I flipped up and bashed my bum straight into the slippery rock. My arms couldn’t hold me up and I began to slip down the rope, my poor bum bumping along with me the whole way. Being at this awkward angle meant that I was also trying desperately to avoid drowning. The thundering water pounded against my face. I held my breath, closed my eyes and allowed myself to slip until the water calmed down and I could finally find a foot hole somewhere. After what seemed like an eternity, I made it to the bottom and plunged into the icy-cold pool of rushing water.

“You made it!” cried Becky, evidently as surprised as I was.

“That was horrible!” I shouted, “Don’t ever make me do that again!”

“At least you can say you’ve climbed down a waterfall now” she pointed out cheerfully.

“Well…I can only really say I’ve slipped down a waterfall!” I reminded her, “And I think I’ve broken a bone in my bum! I can’t even stand up!”

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Gangnam Style

Gangnam Style

In the dark and dingy basement, a scent of stale smoke and sweat hung in the air. The walls vibrated dangerously as the pumping beats bounced rapidly from corner to corner. Becky and I clutched on to one another as we carefully backed away from the Iranian weirdo who had just paid for us to gain entry into the nightclub.

Balding, with a selection of creepy tattoos that wouldn’t put him out of place at a dinner party with pirates, he had an odd mannerism that appeared to repel people like a bad smell. Infuriated at our less than subtle slinking off into the shadows, an ugly snarl crept across his scarred face.

“We need to hide!” shrieked Becky

Our not so subtle slinking broke into an even less subtle run as we turned and fled to the opposite end of the dance floor. Bright green and white strobe lights illuminated the Iranian as he searched high and low in an attempt to locate his missing drinks.

“Great idea coming here” I laughed sarcastically.

“You don’t turn down a free club entry and a free drink on our budget!”

She had a fair point.

I just hoped that this decision wouldn’t end with us being chopped up into little pieces and dumped down a back alley with the rubbish and the rats. Blending into the shadows, we took cover by hiding behind a large group of smiling boys in sunglasses who appeared slightly less capable of murder.

“WHERE YOU FROM?” yelled Becky, trying to befriend our unaware protectors.

“SOUTH KOREA” the boys shouted back in unison.

Suddenly, the whole vibe of the nightclub was transformed. The pounding English dance music was switched for a sound completely foreign to me. My eyebrows crinkled together as I attempted to work out what I was hearing.

“Ahhh  haa” laughed a boy in a white t-shirt, who had possibly stolen a giant’s sunglasses, “K-POP”

The boys glanced at one another, nodded, and gave a knowing smile. They had somehow arranged themselves into a V shaped line and stood perfectly still…waiting…but for what?

The beat kicked in, and the boys kicked off with a rocking routine. Arms swung forwards and sideways in perfect synchronicity. Feet bounced wildly, box steps, side steps, spins, twists and kicks.

My jaw must have hit the floor as I stared on wide-eyed with amazement. This was truly something special.

“I LOVE THE KOREANS!!” I squealed loudly

“ME TOO!” shouted Becky, “THEY’RE SO COORDINATED!!”

Were they are boy band? Or were they just a bunch of ordinary boys who had a well-rehearsed dance routine especially for occasions such as this one? It didn’t matter. It was bloody brilliant. The two blonde English girls, try as they might to join in, were completely out-danced by the crazy Asian brilliance.

Seven months later, sitting in a cluttered living room of a dusty flat in London, I gazed on at the music channel as Psys ‘Gangnam Style’ popped up. And there it was. That mental dance routine again! Only this time it had gone global! In my own mind, I like to believe it originated back in that dingy Phuket nightclub with our Korean friends in the oversized sunglasses.

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