The past 30 days have been full of surprises, with the biggest one being my arrival in the UK!

Summer in England: always a pleasure

Summer in England: always a pleasure

But let’s backtrack a little first.

At the end of my previous update, I had just arrived in Chiang Mai and was settling into my new apartment. Like all of my visits to my Northern Thailand home, I soon found peace and routine like I can nowhere else in the world. My month there was all about getting healthy.

I joined a gym and went five times a week. I worked less and hung out with friends more. I explored cute coffee shops and overhauled my diet, cutting out all drinks but water. I stopped eating candy and fried food. I tried working at a stand up desk. I treated myself once a week with a pizza and wine date night.

It worked. I left Chiang Mai feeling better than ever, even with a hectic freelancing schedule that saw me writing something like 15,000 words in a week.

And then it was time to relax.

Sri Lankan train ride

Sri Lankan train ride from Galle to Colombo

Sort of.

From Chiang Mai, I flew to Bangkok, where I spent the night in an airport for the first time. I don’t know how I managed to make it this long on the road without pulling an overnighter!

It turns out I wasn’t missing anything exciting. We found a sleepworthy area of the airport (head down to the lowest level where the trains leave from — it’s darker and quieter at night) and settled down for some uninterrupted snoozing.

Then the snorers came.

I’m usually a very calm and laid back person, especially since I started travelling — it takes a lot to give me rage. Not being able to sleep and screaming kids are the two main ones. As several of the people sleeping close to me began to snort and wheeze like asthmatic megaphones, my anger bubbled up inside me. I stuffed my fingers into my ears, I wrapped a scarf around my head, I coughed loudly, and I punched the back of the chair where they were sleeping.

In the end, though, I used the free Wi-Fi to complain on Twitter about not being able to sleep.

I’m British. Anything to avoid confrontation.

My first view of Sri Lanka

My first view of Sri Lanka: the train station outside Colombo airport.

I’d place Sri Lanka in my top five countries in the world. What a wonderful place!

Galle Fort was our first port of call, and it was somewhere I fell deeply in love with. It was gorgeous! Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site it reminded me an awful lot of places like Penang and Hoi An in Southeast Asia. The colonial buildings were crumbling and haphazardly placed along narrow alleyways. The gleaming white lighthouse and mosque along the water stood out as the main focal point and was where we spent most of our evenings.

Galle Fort was incredibly touristy and it was also incredibly expensive — as you would expect. But I loved it for its beauty and didn’t begrudge having to spend twice as much money to explore it.

Lighthouse in Galle

Lighthouse in Galle

Next up, it was time for me to see some of Sri Lanka’s famous beaches. Our first stop was Mirissa, a laid back beach town that’s famous for its fishermen on stilts. Now, however, those fishermen are all a bit of a sham to extort money out of tourists.

In Mirissa, we spent our mornings eating enormous Sri Lankan breakfasts, our afternoons sunbathing on the beach and eating seafood at one of the nearby restaurants, and our evenings eating cheese, tomato and avocado rotis. So, so good. We didn’t do much in Mirissa but there wasn’t that much to do. It was all about the beach, which always makes me happy.

Beach in Mirissa

Beach in Mirissa

Our original plan was to head inland to Ella to hike in the tea plantations but we soon changed our minds. Getting there and back to Colombo in three days was going to include a lot of travelling for me — including a 12 hour train journey followed by a 10 hour flight — so I’d much rather return in the future to do it justice.

There was a cricket match taking place in Galle and I had been longing to return since we’d left. Meeting another couple in Mirissa who were headed back that day helped to convince us to do it. We returned to Galle.

Monsoon in Galle

Monsoon in Galle

Over the next couple of days, I immersed myself in the old town of Galle once more, soaking up everything I’d loved the first time around. I even developed a love of cricket, and spent several hours a day in the cricket grounds watching Sri Lanka Vs. Pakistan. It was free to get in, which meant that we could wander in for a few hours, go grab lunch and then head back for some more cricket fun.

Sunset in Galle

Sunset in Galle

It was with a heavy heart that I left Galle behind, with Dave waving me off before returning to watch more cricket. I boarded a train back to Colombo, and began my journey back to the UK.

Unfortunately, I had a scammy experience that meant my final moments in this beautiful country were soured by a taxi driver. I’ll be writing about this in more detail soon but to summarise, he pulled over half-way to my guesthouse, when it was dark outside and insisted I had to pay him double the money or he’d push me out of the taxi and onto the side of the highway. I shouted at him in return, amazed at how quickly I forgot my passive, quiet roots when faced with someone trying to take advantage of me. I yelled until he backed down, and when we finally arrived at my guesthouse, he took my money out of my hand and raced off without giving me the change.

Asshat.

I'll miss you, Sri Lanka!

I’ll miss you, Sri Lanka!

I then boarded a plane home in an attempt to pull off the biggest surprise of my life. I’d had flights booked back home for my mum’s birthday since May, and I’ve been trying to throw her off the scent for months. I kept pretending to forget where she was going to celebrate (Cornwall) and how long she was going away for. I sent her detailed itineraries of my time in Sri Lanka. I told her I’d be on a train journey and without Internet for the 24 hours before her birthday in the hope she wouldn’t get suspicious.

And then I was at Heathrow.

My sister picked me up from the airport and drove me back to my parents’ house. I fell straight asleep thanks to jetlag, and the next morning took a five hour train journey down to Cornwall.

My mum had no idea.

I stepped off the train and onto the platform and could see her mind trying to process what was happening. I carried a bunch of flowers and a Coke bottle saying “share a coke with mum”. I wrapped my arms around her while my sister videoed it and my dad stood there with his mouth wide open. There were tears and laughter and it made everything worth it. I was so glad I decided to go home.

Lauren and Karen

Happy I flew all the way home for my mum’s 50th birthday. Hoping I look as young as she does when I’m 50!

Thrilled that I managed to pull off such an elaborate plan, I finally allowed myself to stop worrying about logistics and start concerning myself with being in a beautiful part of the UK.

Like many people, I’ve been shockingly bad at exploring my home country. I was one of those Londoners who rarely left. I’ve never been north of my London. I’ve been to the English coast when I was a kid, and a couple of trips to Brighton when I was a teenager, but other than that I’ve seen so very little of my homeland. I’ve never even been to Scotland, Ireland or Wales. And I’m part Welsh!

So I was looking forward to exploring Cornwall and seeing a part of the UK that looked nothing like London. Cornwall was beautiful, and actually reminded me a lot of the The Catlins in the New Zealand. It was all rolling hills and rugged coastline.

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Based primarily just outside of Padstow, I loved road tripping along the Cornish coast for a full week. We visited adorable villages, ate delicious cream teas, I devoured approximately 3191 mussels, and we wandered across dozens of beaches.

Of course, being the UK, it was far too windy to sit and sunbathe on any of them — and it felt very strange to be wearing a hoodie and jacket on most of them — but they were still surprisingly pretty. I’d always assumed that the UK was kind of unexciting.

Mussels on the beach

In my 2014 travel plans, my original itinerary would see me heading to the Kerala region of India for two weeks after Sri Lanka. I’d heard that getting an Indian visa was a nightmare, so I made sure to prepare. I spent a day in Sri Lanka filling in my Indian visa application form, and collected all of the documents I’d need. I made sure that I could mail my application to the Indian embassy on the day I arrived in the UK. All I’d need to do is spend my first morning in the UK finding somewhere that took Indian sized passport photos, and then mail off my passport to the embassy.

It was on that morning that I happened to see something on the Indian embassy website saying that tourist visa applications take a minimum of 15 business days to process. I was in the UK for 10 business days! However, I still wasn’t panicked — I’d just find a company that offered an expedited visa service. I’d used one for my Russian and Chinese visas before I first left the UK and it hadn’t been too expensive.

Well, it turns out that it’s very expensive to get an expedited Indian visa — it costs £175 to do so. When you add that on top of the £90 visa fee for UK citizens, I was looking at £275 ($450) for a visa when I’d only be spending 10 days in the country. (It’s surprisingly tough for UK citizens to get an Indian visa — for comparison, Dave, as a Kiwi receives a visa on arrival for $60.)

Because we were heading to India for Dave’s birthday, I let him make the decision. If he wanted to go then I’d suck it up and pay the fees. If he wasn’t all that fussed about going to India specifically then we’d take a look at going somewhere else. Maybe spend some more time in Sri Lanka? Maybe head to Malaysia? Or Cambodia? We weighed up all the different options and came to an unexpected decision.

We were going to the Maldives.

 

Onto the statistics for the month!

Month 37 travel map

Countries Visited: 3

Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom

Cities Visited: 8

Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Colombo, Galle, London, Mirissa, Negombo, Padstow.

Distance Travelled: 12,424 kilometres

Photos Taken: 663 

Highlight of the Month: Getting to see my mum’s face when I surprised her on the train platform!

Lowlight of the Month: Being scammed by the shady taxi driver in Colombo.

Money Spent: 

Accommodation: 

  • 17 nights in Chiang Mai: $113.39 ($6.67 a night)
  • 5 nights in Galle: $59.90 ($11.97 a night)
  • 3 nights in Mirissa: $52.50 ($17.50 a night)
  • 1 night in Negombo: $24.00

Transportation: 

  • Songthaew from Chiang Mai to the airport: $3.50
  • Flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok: $28.00
  • Flight from Bangkok to Colombo: $200.00
  • Train from Colombo to Galle: $2.00
  • Bus from Galle to Mirissa: $0.46
  • Bus from Mirissa to Galle: $1.00
  • Train from Galle to Colombo: $2.00
  • Taxi from Colombo to Negombo: $30.72 
  • Shuttle to Colombo airport: $11.52
  • Flight from Colombo to London: $368.00
  • Train from London to Cornwall: $100.00

Food: $491.82

Miscellaneous: 

  • Sri Lankan visa: $30.00

Total Amount Spent: $1518.81

 

The Next Month:

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I’ll be spending two weeks in total back in the UK — the first in Cornwall and the second in London. My time in London will be spent seeing friends from college that I haven’t seen in over two years, and taking my mum on a magical mystery birthday experience tour.

After my whirlwind visit back to the UK, I’ll be on a plane again and heading back to Sri Lanka. I have one night in Negombo and then I’ll be off again.

Next stop, the Maldives!

I’m incredibly excited to be visiting the destination I was convinced I’d never be able to afford. I’m determined to show you that it’s absolutely possible to visit this gorgeous country on a budget, and that it has lots to offer the independent traveller. We’ll see how it goes!

 

Looking to follow along with my travels through my monthly summaries? You can read the previous month’s summary here, the next month’s summary here, or head on over to the monthly summary page to read from the very beginning!

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