Confessions of a solo-traveller

No, I did not watch ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ before I decided to hop on a plane (well, three to be precise) and head to the beautiful tropical island of Bali.

I was intending to go to Tokyo with friends but then decided I’d make an epic trip, ending in a surprise visit to London  (some have raised suspicion to my motives, with a new S7 at home the alleged reasoning, and to them I’d say that such self-interested and capitalistic maneuvering never occurred to me). Rather, following a late insomnia-driven Internet search I stumbled across Bali and a plethora of organic vegan food. So, that was that, bye bye Tokyo (sorry, I’ll come one day) and hello solo self-development and vegan food adventure! 

Solo travelling is often deemed to be scary, the Internet warns female travellers to be armed with pepper spray and to stick to well-lit streets (gee, thanks for the patronising 101 Big Brother). 

Our thoughts are limited to that of white bourgeoisie backpackers with dreadlocks and tie-dye shirts, jasmine encrusted gems lining their necks and a TripAdvisor guide in hand. 

And, to be honest, that crowd is around the trendy vegan hotspots and the latest yoga craze (namely, community yoga dance classes). But for me, Bali was an incredible solo trip: a sanctuary of meditation and mindfulness, creative delicious vegan food and the friendliest people I’ve met. Solo travelling is more than just a means of galavanting around the world while you ‘figure yourself out’ (whatever that means), it’s a way of challenging yourself, meeting awesome people you would not necessarily speak to otherwise and being at one with your own company. 

During my one-week stay in Ubud I explored beautiful temples, saw the sunset along the rice paddies and had many massages- my favorite was a Balinese full body massage! Also, I woke up before the sunrise and headed to the zoo, eating a vegan breakfast with orangutans and elephants because merely going to the zoo is not enough. I even tried a reflexology foot and hand massage, believed to pinpoint reflex areas which link to parts of your body and thus cause a physical change to your body. In reality, it just felt like the lady spent an awfully long time massaging and stretching my toes in every possible way. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I’m sorry for crushing your hopes before you booked that inflated reflexology appointment…. 

On every cobbled corner there is a fresh juice bar, Luwak coffee (cat poo- a must try) and a vegan café. I highly recommend Soma in Ubud, it has a creative and unique menu catering for all food preferences and tolerances out there! But the noble vegan café winner goes to Paradiso and Earth Café: the world’s first vegan cinema, need I say more?! I watched Cardboard Boxer, and with tickets priced at 50K (rupiah) and going towards food or beverages you easily have a free ticket! There is a raw vegan bar with protein balls, chocolate fudge slabs (they were massive) and blueberry tarts. I had the Seitan steak with mash and broccoli and a maca java soy milkshake, followed by palm sugar popcorn and raspberry cheesecake at the cinema. Oh yh, and everything is vegan! 

Life lessons I’ve learnt: 

1) Try to avoid travelling during Chinese New Year or ensure you have longer layovers! 

2) Don’t waste all your Polaroids on pictures of food. They come out blurry anyways. 

3) Don’t attend acroyoga- it is painful and sweaty. 

4) Book a longer visit next time. You’ll want to try out more vegan cafés. It eases the pressure on the whole 5 meals a day shmidt. 

Thanks for reading! 

Suzhou: The Venice of the East

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To make the most out of the Chinese National holiday  (and prolong going back to my Politics textbooks) I headed to Suzhou, after my visit to Hangzhou. Having heard that it is a tranquil paradise with quaint canals, Buddhist temples and gardens dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasty (and listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites) I re-packed my bag and went!


There was some dream-like quality about Suzhou- the beautiful garden architecture and quirky coffee shops (and roast potato street food) that picking key places is difficult. But, for the sake of not turning this post into an essay I have listed a few of the best places I visited.

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1) Lion Grove Garden.

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Suzhou is renowned for its abundance of gardens consisting of traditional architecture  (all worth a visit) but Lion Grove is arguable the best one to go to if you are short for time. Built by a group of Zen Buddhists during the ruling Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); the garden has an ambience of peace. The garden has huge bouldering rock formations (hence the name Lions’ Grove) and ‘you-will-forget-to-duck’ low-level caves; perfect for a game of Hide and Seek (to keep the children entertained, of course). All in all, the garden with its labyrinthine rockery is stunning and grasps Suzhou’s architectural and cultural development well.

2) Tiger Hill.

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A well-advertised and explored tourist destination, Tiger Hill is as exquisite as it appears on TripAdvisor. The name dates back to the (perhaps mythical) legend of a white tiger crouching on top of the hill to guard it following the death of King Helu. Whether or not this tale is factual, Tiger Hill is as poetic in its appearance as its lyrical construction. I spent the day watching Chinese performances, mesmerised my the elaborate masks and costumes, synchronised street dance moves dissonantly followed by traditional Chinese ribbon-wand motions. The whole show was a bit bizarre to be honest, and even involved a Chinese dragon appearing mid-performance, hovering for a few seconds before disappearing backstage.

3) Suzhou Museum.

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The Suzhou Folk Museum provides a lovely insight into Suzhou’s rich and diverse traditions, including the clashing urban and local landscapes. I particularly enjoyed visiting the ‘Lucky Traditions’ hall, reflecting people’s ideas regarding how to avoid bad omens and have a fruitful life. The displays included the Marriage God (denoting China’s marraige markets and nuclear family structures) and Burning Incense in Donqvue Temple and praying for good fortune.

Suzhou has a distinctive character, bridging the urbanised metropolis of China and the rural agricultural cities.

It really is the Venice of the East.

Hangzhou, home-stay and 101 selfies

The crescendo of phlegm rising from the depths of half a dozen Chinese peoples’ throats heightens as I approach Ningbo train station. The mighty mucus-drawing abilities of locals permanently etched into my brain, I stare at the never-ending zig-zag ‘queue’ questioning my decision to go to Hangzhou during the national holiday. However, despite my initial reservations, visiting the capital of China’s Zhejiang Province was delightful.

Continue reading “Hangzhou, home-stay and 101 selfies”

I’ll be Vegan, I’ll be Vegan…

‘Oh no, what will you eat?! Vegetarians struggle enough, veganism is unheard of in China!’ This was the standard exclamatory response I was met with when I first came to China and mentioned my eating habits. I mean, vegetables and fruit are bioavailable in most places, and I could always get a side of rice/potatoes, I thought… Flashback to both my vegan struggle and survival in Hungary this past month…

But those people who cried China=vegan struggle were nothing short of accurate. In China, meat and fish are often at the centre of every dish. Even a tofu dish with rice/noodles (which in the West often equated to the vegetarian option) was generously topped with some minced meat. There is not even a word for vegan in the Chinese vocabulary; resulting in me weirdly declaring “I eat vegetables” to a confused Chef one too many times.

However, this post is not some exhausted and meat-deprived cry for help (Vitamin B-12 pills are really a savior) but how I stayed/will stay vegan in China.

1) Always carry food! Wherever you go carry some nuts and seeds or fruit with you. For the first week or so I carried a bag (possibly verging industrial size) of dried bananas. Not only are they loaded with fibre, potassium and carbohydrates, it satiated my sweet tooth! Once I broke my dried banana addiction I moved onto dried mangoes and almonds, great for on-the-go snacking and protein packing (gotta get those protein gains in). Now, I try to mix it up a bit and every day I have some form of fruit (dried/fresh) along with nuts in my bag.

2) Learn how to ask for tofu without meat- a guaranteed meal-changer! I for one love tofu, either grilled or baked with some rice and soy sauce and I am happy! It packs a mean nutritional punch providing you with a source of calcium, iron and amino acids (perfect for a post-gym protein meal).

3) Sushi! I often get fresh cucumber or avocado sushi (minus the mayonnaise dressing on top) with tear-inducing wasabi paste. It is one of my favourite fail-safe vegan eats. Mango and banana sushi (I’m sure you can guess my favourite fruit) sounds like an odd flavour combination but is very refreshing and light!

All in all, it is hard out here for a vegan with limited Mandarin speaking abilities. However, it just requires a bit more effort and forward thinking. And, when I do find good vegan food I do end up eating my body weight in food. So, you know, survival and some is possible!

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A View from China

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Just a month ago I eagerly anticipated and counted down the days (and hours) to my “Great Chinese Adventure”. I was full of naive but comforting assumptions about China, mostly limited to that of martial arts movies, Chinese take-away and a perplexing dialectic language.

I carried such child-like Western views through my 13 hour, 3 plane arduous journey to the very gates of my accommodation block. However, despite my presuppositions (which were quickly debunked) I did not feel the massive culture shock that previous exchange students mentioned. Even now, I can’t help but love the clash of culture and Chinese tradition. From urbanised modern skyscraper apartments to rural parts of Ningbo where locals sit by the lush green trees and fish all afternoon. From Western favourites like Starbucks and Burger King and huge shopping complexes (rivalling Westfield London) to local Chinese cuisine (serving dumplings, glutinous rice rolls and fresh sushi). From adopting the West’s love of consumerism and technological gadgets to maintaining the Chinese work ethic and focus on repetitive learning.

My highlights so far involve visiting Ningbo Historic Museum: a must for those keen to learn more about Ningbo’s rich port economy and traditions. The museum (which has English translations) contains authentic wooden carvings often intricately etched into furniture during the Qing Dynasty, portrayals of the commercial streets in Ningbo and a food stall selling local Ningbo delicacies. I recommend the sesame moon cakes!

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Visiting Jiufeng Mountain in Beilun District is another great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Just a stone’s throw from Ningbo, Yinzhou District the mountain is surrounded by peaks, beautiful waterfalls and bamboo valleys. I must admit, the stifling humidity and steep incline did make me think about giving up (no less than every 10 steps) but after mustering up the little willpower I had left, I made it to the top.

If you ever need motivation when trekking up a mountain, just think about the potential instagram picture!

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Stay tuned for my weekly ‘View from China’ edit!