Tribute – First of all, I would like to pay tribute to Leandroo Narciso, a deaf guy and a friend from Brazil. He was very kind in taking time out as a volunteer guide and he took me to the Christ the Redeemer statue, Favelas, and many other places in Rio. It was such a short time to know this young man but it felt like we had known each other for years. I never forgot how he made sure my friend and I were always safe on our trips and ensuring we arrived at the hotel safely because he always told me how dangerous it could be outside.
With great sadness I learned the news of Leandro’s passing while I was on holiday in the south of Thailand. Apparently he was killed by mobs for his mobile phone, he fought for it when he should not have. It’s hard for me to believe he died so young at 23 years old, just like that. My sincere thoughts & prayers are with his family and friends.
Credits – It didn’t really hit me that I visited these exotic destinations over 6 weeks. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my amazing family, friends and understanding bosses.
2 weeks volunteering, 17th December 2016 – I thought about volunteering abroad after my travels. Not many organisations provide a BSL interpreter on-board, but then i saw a VoluntEars advert which was the perfect opportunity. Last year, I experienced South America on a tour with hearing people, but I felt there was a bit of a communication barrier.
VoluntEars create worthwhile, exciting and safe experiences. That helped me to develop my skills while abroad to give something back to the deaf community. Their projects combine practical hands-on renovation work at deaf schools, activities with local students and local sights with an experienced BSL Communicator and Trip Leader
Renovation – We were the third volunteer group designated in Colombo. Our renovation project was for the girls’ dormitory in a local school called The Ceylon School for the Deaf & Blind. I didn’t realised there were sections to work on before we could paint as I had no previous experience.
Day 1 – brush off cobwebs, wash with water.
Day 2 – scrape off old paint with a scraper.
Day 3 – fill holes with filler and cement.
Day 4 – sand walls and paint the edges of the room.
Day 5 – more cutting in of walls then paint the rest of the wall.
Day 6 – painted three doors green. Painting 6 windows with a glossy yellow.
Day 7 – masking floor to paint the bottom of walls black.
Day 8 – paint to cover up any splashes.
Last Day – design and paint butterflies onto central walls.
We were happy with results; it was a shame we won’t be around to see the students’ reactions when they started in January.
Voluntears also have other projects on-going in Ghana, Sri Lanka, Nepal or Ghana to work with local deaf students there. If this project inspires you, have a look at their website link here: www.voluntears.info. There are video interviews from ex-volunteers and a gallery of volunteers’ work. Previous group worked across other deaf schools in Sri Lanka as in the picture below.
Sri Lanka cruise – Our lovely chef set us up for a cookery lesson, using various spices to put in cooking, literally like 2 teaspoons of chilli, dried chilli, turmeric etc. Now I know why I struggled to eat. Thankfully chef put less spices after my fifth day here.
Sri Lanka curries are known for their fiery hot dishes. There was lots of rice and curry 24/7 but they were bursting with good flavours. Can you imagine having spicy gravy for breakfast? They eat most of their food with their hands, they don’t need knife, fork or spoon. (well I do! 😊)
Traditional Carroms Game was like a pool game (using your fingers!) of eastern origin, interesting to learn about. I found it was not for me but I was surprised that the team couldn’t stop playing the game for hours.
Several markets next to the ocean – there are also food markets in Galle Face. I loved the view of the Indian Ocean and the chance to try more Sri Lankan food, as well as going for a relaxing stroll!
Supermarket – how awesome, these vegetables and fruit that were quite big in size. I imagine the amount of sunshine allows people to grow them easier and harvest them straight to supermarkets.
Sri Lanka sign language class – it was very interesting, completely different from international sign language and British Sign Language. These are regional variations originating from the 25 Deaf schools in Sri Lanka.
The Kandyan dances – sri lanka’s classical dance style – Kandy in Sri Lanka is famous for the Kandyan Dance. These shows entertain at hotels, churches and street parties. At the end of the show, they round off with fire swallowers and people walking on hot coals! For info: http://www.themindfulword.org/2013/kandyan-dance-sri-lanka/
Christmas – Great way to spend Christmas Eve at Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation project! Their program aims to protect sea turtles and increase hatching rates. They also treat disabled turtles.
My group and I washed the sea turtles’ tanks; the regular staff does that fortnightly in order to prevent infection from fungi and bacteria. These turtles weigh between 20 to 90kg which was very heavy to carry over to fresh clean tanks. I tried to lift that big turtle but he flapped his arms so much it felt like a hard slapping (Ouch! That hurts).
There were several tanks, one of which had baby sea turtles, only 3 weeks old! They were smart when I was picking them up by playing dead, but once I put them back in they would swim happily everywhere. It was such a hands on experience and a great chance to work with all different types of turtles native to Sri Lanka.
This is from a Google review, a message from the owner: Welcome to the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Conservation project! Back in 1988 we started our project. We’re very proud to be able to say that we are one of the first conservation projects in Sri Lanka.
Since that time we have become famous nationally and internationally for the real conservation work this project performs. At our centre it is possible to learn how we conserve these animals that are currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Conserving the turtle population helps to maintain the health of the coral reefs and sea grass beds which benefit commercially valuable species such as shrimp lobster and tuna.
Turtles also provide tourism value and have major cultural significance. Our main conservation effort involves purchasing eggs from illegal egg collectors, who take the eggs from nests created by the female turtles. We rebury the eggs and protect them until they hatch, before releasing them into their natural habitat – the Ocean. The work we do here is a continuous and ongoing job ensuring the future prosperity of the turtle population for our children, and our children’s children to enjoy.
Whilst at our centre please enjoy the turtles, but please be mindful of the wellbeing of the turtles. 1. Please avoid touching or holding the turtles as they have very delicate skin which can be easily irritated by any naturally occurring oils or chemicals we have on our hands, such as perfumes, creams, sun tan lotions, etc. The turtles also have a very strong and sharp bite; don’t let one of your fingers be an easy snack! 2. Please do not feed the turtles, they have a carefully controlled diet and are fed regularly. 3. Flash photography is very disturbing for the turtles; please check the flash is turned off as you enter the centre and before taking any pictures.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants. It was absolutely fascinating to see the elephants; one of them stared right at me! I think this is the only kind in Sri Lanka, government owned, and all proceeds go to supporting the orphanage.
This location had lots of space for the animals to roam around but I had to remind myself that these animals are rescued from the wild either from being sick or left alone and outcast by their parents/herd. Not much to write about but all I can say is that if you get close up and see this large host of elephants frolicking in the river, it makes them quite happy! They trumpet loudly and clearly and when one stops the other starts.
Kandy is a large city in central Sri Lanka. It’s set on a plateau surrounded by mountains, which are home to tea plantations and biodiverse rainforest.
Famed for being one of most sacred Buddhist temples in the world, where the “Buddha tooth” is kept. I was confused about why a tiny tooth was kept in a box since 543 BC, that seems very important to the people and that was hidden and moved around a few times.
I copied some information from wikipedia which made some sense of it – it says ‘According to Sri Lankan legends, when the Buddha died in 543 BC, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre at Kushinagar and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre by his disciple, Khema. Khema then gave it to King Brahmadatte for worship. It became a royal possession in Brahmadatte’s country and was kept in the city of Dantapuri.
A belief grew that whoever possessed the tooth relic had a divine right to rule that land. The Dāthāvamsa recounts the tale of a war fought over the relic 800 years later between Guhasiva of the republic of Kalinga and a king named Pandu.’
Also you can see this huge mummified sacred elephant, because it has special characteristics that no other elephant has. I would recommend seeing the outside of this monument and not paying the money to go inside. It is incredibly busy with locals who pay homage to Buddha.
Geragama Tea factory – dating from 1903 in a lovely location not far from Kandy. It was an interesting visit, and the factory had some popular Gold tea which is expensive and quite hard to come by. I was surprised that the price was still quite expensive (Rs.1,400 – £16.8 for 50g so roughly two-thirds what we would pay in UK!)
We had a lovely lady to show us round the factory with its hundred year old machinery. Then we came back to the beautiful tea room (cool, airy and nicely furnished with labelled tea samples inset into the tables) and tried a pot of B.O.P. (Broken Orange Pekoe), nicely served without milk.
I was sad when the volunteering project was over and I had to say farewell to the group after we spent much time together in shared accommodation, during work and trips. It was a great bonding experience and I have fond memories with Stephanie, Andy, Kimberley, David, Omar and Richard.
Negombo Introductions – My friend and I travelled to Negombo, West Sri Lanka to meet a deaf crew who were happy to guide us around for a few days in their local area and meet more people in the deaf community there. We were thankful for our guides Kelum, Wasim, Ishanka and their friend, and also thankful to Sanoj who lives in the UK and organised us meeting up with his brother.
Airbnb – I used Airbnb for 9 nights, these owners had a beautiful and BIG garden and lots of fruit/vegetable trees. Kelum showed me around pointing out each tree such as cashew, banana that I have not seen before. I drank fresh real coconut which was bliss!
Motorbike – First time on a motorbike with Kelum, my paranoid mind wandered a bit but then after trying it, I realised it was a lot of fun. We passed lots of beautiful streets with lots of cars and lorries alongside – I felt like I was in a Bollywood movie! However I felt very safe with Kelum, he is an excellent driver.
The best way to explore Sri Lanka is by driving your own motorbike! If you’ve never ridden one before, don’t worry, it’s like riding a bike. Just take a spin around the block a couple of times to get used to it and you’ll be fine!
Negombo – Fish Market – At the crack of dawn, Kelum took me to a local fish market, the biggest one in all of Sri Lanka! I saw a great documentary where a deaf traveller named Joel Barish met two deaf men who work as fishermen!
Those men gave us insight into their jobs with the manta rays and sharks.
Have a look at this (captioned) video https://joelbarish.com/video/sri-lanka-negombo-fish-market/
I found the fish market fascinating. There was a wide variety of fish from mackerels to marlins along with crabs and shellfish next to the beach, mind you it did smell strong! Negombo is known for its huge and old fishing industry with busy fish markets and sandy beaches open from 6am to 9am every day, fresh from the sea.
Fishermen leave freshly caught fish to dry in the sun and the wind removes water from the fish, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and extending the storage life of fish by a couple of years. Dried fish is then salted and sold right there in the market. Some sea turtles are alive when sold there!
Sigiria Lion Rock Fortress – The view is amazing, this is a world heritage site. Basically a fortress and a palace built by King Kashyapa in the 5th century A.D. on top of a 400-metre high rock set in a beautiful grassy location. It is an absolute MUST SEE for anyone who is capable. Kelum explained why the lion’s face is not completed in the video:
The story is about King Kashyapa who murdered his father and escaped punishment. That is why he created a lion rock to live in isolation. The lion rock was built between 477 and 495AD; consisting of lush gardens, palaces and pavilions. As a powerful king, he also had a huge workforce of highly skilled labourers and artisans to do his bidding. There was a sculpted lion’s head above the legs and paws flanking the entrance, unfortunately the head collapsed years ago. Also there are over 1,000 hand written poems on the wall, all written between the 7th and 14th century.
http://seelanka.net/sigiriya/ – about abandonment of Sigiriya and rediscovery of Sigiriya. This confirmed that is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning in the world, also acknowledged as the 8th Wonder of the World.
Hold onto your ticket. You will need to purchase a pass to climb Sigiriya which costs 23.53 British Pound and you will need decent walking shoes! It was definitely quite the challenge to climb up 1,200 steps, roughly equivalent to climbing 60 flights of stairs even in extreme heat!
Sri Lanka Warnings and Dangers – On some roads, particularly near national parks, you will see signs warning you to slow down and watch for wild elephants crossing the road. You don’t want an accident with an elephant!
We saw two completely wild, undisturbed elephants just doing what they do and completely oblivious to us as we slowly drifted past, but we had to keep in mind that at any time they could turn and even tip cars over. If you’re a passenger on a bus, hold on tight and brace yourself for both high speeds and sudden stops. My leg was slightly bruised after one of these sudden halts.
Jaga Food restaurant (Polonnaruwa) really a hidden gem! – I read good reviews but I didn’t expect this place to blow my expectations out the water! I loved it! We had the most memorable homemade dinner in the middle of paddy (rice) fields in Polonnaruwa.
Jaga (the owner) and his family run the restaurant and they grow most if not all of the vegetables in their garden right next to the restaurant organically! The food is delicious and very authentic, cooked by his family and presented in traditional clay pots. There is plenty of variety to please all taste buds.
I felt at home with their warm Sri Lankan hospitality. This is a must visit for a true Sri Lankan experience. After the meal we were handed felt tip pens and encouraged to write about our eating experience on the white surface of the dining area columns and ceiling, already full of appreciative messages.
The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was the kingdom from which Sri Lankan kings ruled the island from the 11th century until 1310 CE. You have to go barefoot on the sand/stone paths, which were very hot indeed! (Bring some socks!) I’d also recommend going with a guide as the information that’s around is limited, though there was not much to see, to be perfectly honest.
Dambulla cave temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla is a World Heritage Site (1991) situated in the central part of the country. It also houses one of the tallest Buddha temples, with caves located on top of a small rock that you can reach by climbing up around a hundred or so stairs (a 10 minute climb).
Sadly we didn’t get the chance to see that beautiful and cold city called Nuwara Eliya. It’s a resort city in the central mountain range of Sri Lanka, with a pleasant climate and breath-taking views. This is highly recommended by train from Colombo for the best view all the way.
Finally….off to paradise!! 🏝🍸👙💃🏻🐟
South Maldives for 5 days – When you arrive at Malé International Airport, the nation’s main gateway, you can take a public ferry, a speedboat, or a seaplane to go to the island you are staying. You can also take a speedboat transfer for resorts closer to the airport.
We arrived late at night and had to stay overnight to get to the south for transfers, since they run only one service a day at 3pm. We went to central Malé by boat then took a taxi to the western island for the Villigill public ferry. For islands far away from the airport this way of transport was much cheaper than the speedboat despite having a few tedious journeys. It cost around £250! We did however use a speedboat at the end of our journey because of our flight being at an earlier time.
Of the 1200 islands, only 200 are inhabited by local Maldivian people, as nearly 100 islands have been developed as tourist resorts and the remaining islands are uninhabited. Most of the resorts are in North Malé, South Malé, Ari, Felidhu, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls. We struggled with which island to choose, but after researching we avoided the more luxury resorts in order to avoid crazy prices like £869 or more per night!
We picked south Malé Atoll, a beautiful local resort run by Maldivian people. Gulhi island in particular was a traditional fishing village with plenty of locals unlike designated pricey tourist resorts. There was plenty of activity and we went for snorkelling! Please do watch out for the jellyfish, my friend got stung twice! The views were very beautiful though I felt as if I was on a different planet. With no technology to distract me, just a blue ocean and peaceful waves completely.
Night fishing activity – Unforgettable! Maldivian fishermen showed me and other people how to use the artful pole and line method of fishing. It was great experience from catching these to seeing them end up in the hotel kitchen where chef grilled them only hours later!
The sunset faded and it was a beautiful sight of the ocean and moon 😍. The boat crew will show you how to use the lines, hooks and sinkers. You will catch enough to fill your barbecue grill in about an hour’s time. 😎 Yes I was brave to eat that with these eyes stared at me and it is free dinner!
Beauty of Adaaran Prestige Vadoo island – After talking to my local village resort staff I decided I would like to visit one of the popular designated tourist resorts for the day. I went for a package they suggested that took me to Adaaran resort in north Malé Atoll. It was my first time at a luxury resort! If you can’t afford an overnight stay, you can opt for a day tour just like I did! I think it was around £77 for entrance, buffet lunch & tea break, but it was definitely one of my highlights.
They have a paradise garden with so many beautiful flowers and trees. You can just snorkel around as I have discovered there is many species of fish.
At my hotel, the staffs were great during my stay. They had lots of respect for our communication methods by writing and giving me their WhatsApp to make it easy to contact them if necessary. They were very kind to gift me and my friend farewell bracelets that made us feel as if we were special guests. I am grateful to them for everything and especially the amazing food they cooked! I will miss Ahmed, Hasitha, Yan and more.
On a different note you might have heard of these seven incredible underwater restaurants (££££) that offer the unreal experience of dining and drinking underwater—no scuba gear necessary. Though it looked interesting unfortunately it was far for us and on our budget it was not worth the spend.
Here’s an interesting comment from a google review I found – in 2004, a tsunami swallowed two-thirds of the country. As a result, over 20 islands were permanently erased from the map. If the trend continues, the Maldives may be completely submerged in few years’ time. One should start planning soon as the Maldives is disappearing under the ocean. The islands were formed from underwater volcanic eruptions. The year-round warm weather, endless white beaches and inviting water make the Maldives an exotic and scenic paradise on Earth and a perfect getaway for vacationers and honeymooners. Though it is a desirable place to visit, its resort fees do not come cheap.
I would love to see that glowing blue tide that I heard that is at night in Vaadhoo, Maldives. If you plan to visit, I recommend you to check that out. As well incredible white beaches that are fine like powder.
Central Thailand, Bangkok for 2 days – Khaosan Road is of the busiest streets of Bangkok even at 4 in the morning. Thailand’s famous for its street foods, bars, street parties. Food is everywhere!! (including stuff like fried bugs!)
I booked my hotel in this part of the town and man, I was so glad I did. Our taxi driver didn’t know where our hotel was and just dropped us in the area and said it was a two minute walk. (A lot of taxi and tuk tuk drivers do this!)
The famous Maeklong Railway Market -Within a few minutes of receiving the warning, vendors pull back their stalls before the train comes, sometimes only moments before. This happens seven times a day and it is crazy right down the middle and close enough to touch, about a foot to spare, both beneath and to the sides of the carts.
This is why the market is called “Market Umbrella Close.” Once the train passes, everyone goes back to normal as if nothing extraordinary happened and it’s hard to believe that tons of metal just rumbled its way through.
Make sure you don’t stand on or lean over the tracks to get “the perfect shot” or you may get perfectly squashed . It seems that the train has been passing through the market seven times a day for decades!
Damnoen Saduak is the most popular floating market in Thailand, great for photo opportunities, food, and for giving you an insight into Thailand’s unique culture. Nowadays the biggest attraction of a floating market in Thailand is the food that is cooked and served directly from a boat floating in the canal.
There are five floating markets that are worth checking out. It’s best to go with a trusted tour guide to help with transportation as this will make the experience a bit more pleasant. All in all, this is a true local experience, to see the houses built on water, business along the river and should not be missed.
Wat Pho – buddi reclining -This temple is famous for the reclining Buddha which is the largest of its kind in Thailand. You can’t tell the size of this Buddha from pictures but when you arrive, you’ll be surprised! 46m long and 15cm high set in the 16th century. The statue itself is absolutely stunning with amazing details and awesome intricate inlays on the feet. However it was a very hot and humid day so just be prepared for the heat (especially in May) and the crowds.
If you want to shop in a massive mall during your trip, there is the multi-storey MBK, probably Bangkok’s most legendary massive shopping mall. 😍 It has everything with 7 floors of shops!
If you want to shop in massive mall, there is the multi-storey MBK, probably Bangkok’s most legendary massive shopping mall, it have everything from 7 floors.
Chiang Mai, White Template – I found this temple spectacular and different from most I had seen. All the white and silver tiles sparkled in the sun; everything in this temple is white.
When you walk across the bridge, you can see there are loads of small skeletons underneath, which made me feel like I was in an Indiana Jones movie! The bathroom decoration is really amazing as well. It is easier if you sign up for a tour, as that will take you to all the popular spots in the area in one day even though it is very touristy. Also make sure you dress respectfully for any temples as the staff don’t allow people who show too much skin out of respect for the Buddhist statues.
National Artist Chalermchai Kositpipat began the White Temple in 1997. I liked his surreal visions of Buddhist teachings and he placed superheroes, movie stars and cartoons along the entrance for people to see as they make their way in. It is worth a visit!
Blue Template is worth a short visit if you happen to be close and it makes for a convenient stop while travelling from or to the White Temple. It has a unique design and the colours are amazing, lots of detail! It was construction completed recently.
Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai – 3 days in Chiang Mai, I can see why people fell in love with this city. Shopping is one of the great pleasures as they have a famously huge night bazaar. I wasn’t expecting so many things, great for low budget souvenirs. The live music in the food square was lovely and set a good vibe. You need more than one night to see everything!
It makes a lot of sense too; in the dry season it’s so hot that it’s much more pleasant to shop at night! One of the interesting things I saw was the Garra fish rufa therapy, also called doctor fish, nibble fish. Please excuse my messy hair and silly expression… but after being reassured that the fish had no teeth I DID IT yay after putting it off a fair few times! It was fun and my feet were definitely softer afterwards.
Long neck tribe village – Their culture is famous for having heavy accessories all down their neck, and this fame is their only source of income to attract tourists. It is a good thing, however, that the new generations have a choice whether to put the accessory around their neck or not. It was a long journey for a short trip but was well worth it.
I brought this fridge magnet as it was handmade and I thought it would be nice to donate since they all work hard under the hot sun. They were so patient and convinced us to buy from them. I was surprised after reading the back of the fridge magnet pack which said:
The Hilltribes of Northern Thailand – Karen Padong. The Padong that are in Thailand originally came from Myanmar. They are considered aliens by the Thai Government.
My tour guide explained that in the past, when the first generations of Padong (the name of the long neck village) escaped from Myanmar to Thailand, they didn’t have passports or any identification. That is why they were considered aliens, though these days they’ve given birth to Thai citizens.
Golden Triangle – The golden triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet on a tiny island in Mae Kong river is where opium traders used to trade their goods and money.
If you take a cruise down the river, it’s really a pretty empty island with overgrown trees.
We opted out on a cruise and instead walked around in awe of all of the statues and monuments. I quite liked that golden background where I climbed to take a picture with the statue of the two elephants. It felt like I was in Aladdin!
Art in paradise – Chiang Mai – I remember seek the world mentioned this 3D art illustration museum during his travels. This place is so unique! The whole experience of optical illusion and taking pictures with them was a lot of fun.
Krabi Town, South Thailand for 3 days – My friend and myself landed in Krabi and we took a taxi to Krabi Town for a few days. We used a bus which was 3 hours travelling to Phuket, a very cheap mode of transport. If you are short on time then take the ferry, but you will need to book in an advance. Ao Nang is the main beach resort in Krabi that you might like to see while you are there.
Getting a massage was cheaper than Bangkok at only 250 baht (£5.73) compared to 900 baht (£9.17). They use milk, tamarind, coffee, salt, yogurt with their massages. I went for a hair spa treatment – http://m.timesofindia.com/…/Why-is…/articleshow/32967014.cms.
I brought OCASE Waterproof Phone Waterproof Dry Bag With Neck Strap from Amazon to protect my mobile from any splashes! It turns out it’s excellent, went swimming with it however don’t go down 30m!
For us it was perfect to start island hopping by book with Maya Bay Beach, which has become the main tourist attraction of Phi Phi since The Beach was filmed here in 1999.
Bamboo Island (known as Ko Mai Phai in Thai). You can snorkel here and see lots of different types of fish.
Monkey Bay is home to a colony of monkeys, not shy at all, who do not hesitate to climb onto the legs of their visitors in search of a banana. I only saw two monkeys so don’t get your hopes too high. Also don’t bring food or they may attack you! I love the fact the sand on this beach was soft and smooth just like talcum powder!
Viking Cave, here some painting were found that were believed to be made by the ancient Vikings. The cave has lots of bird nests that the locals collect for soup, supposedly of “high nutritional value and exquisite flavour”! I saw this in a jaw-dropping BBC1 documentary where they claimed it had the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. If you want to consume a bowl of woody twigs and bird crap/saliva, I think Hat Yai restaurant has plenty of birds’ nests and shark fins.
We also visited Phi Phi Don, Lohsamah Bay and Pileh Bay on our way.
Phuket – rainforested, mountainous island – Huge beach and very popular opposite restaurants, busy markets and resort town with nightclubs, bars, shopping centre as well as many beach spots across Phuket, if you want a private area and fewer crowds.
25th January 2017, my last vblog – it was the most amazing travel experience I’ve ever had. 6 weeks came to an end, now back to reality! I arrived back on British soil and have been trying to adjust to the relatively freezing temperature ☃ Don’t delay, start planning your holiday today, life is short! X🌡☃