THE ASIA DIARIES 11#: BANGKOK

Sunday, 29 May 2016

 //all photos taken on my 35mm film camera// 

001. We left Laos with heavy hearts and a slight anxious feeling as we boarded our flight to the biggest and busiest of all the Asian cities we had visited so far- Bangkok. Apprehensive as we had heard lots of stories of Bangkok not being very enjoyable at all. We had a week to kill in the city though before we moved on down to the islands. By this point it was around New Years Eve, so prices in the south were through the roof- we opted to explore Bangkok for awhile to save some vital funds. Luckily, as a little present Mum had paid for a hotel for us- a luxurious modern looking room, with a kitchen for less than $40 a night! At over two months into the trip this was super fancy for us, though secretly we did love the thatched bungalow life maybe even more.  

002. By this point we had been all tourist-ed out. Meaning the endless palaces and temples of Bangkok didn’t interest us. I’m sure they are beautiful but we had seen 374923791 already and weren’t keen on battling the crowds just for another peek. The vegan scene in Bangkok is really taking off. We visited Veganarie, an entirely vegan bakery/dessert cafe/heaven. I can honestly say that I was in a sugar coma for the next 24 hours. No regrets, it was incredible. We also visited a little American style diner called Bonita Cafe and Social Club. I had bolognese and Ben had a full cooked breakfast (vegan sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs and all!). Number one tip is you are a vego too and travelling abroad is to download the app called ‘Happy Cow.’ You simply write in your location and up pops every vegan and veg friendly eatery in the area. Honestly though despite being in Bangkok we weren’t adventurous with food. Our little hotel room had a kitchen and a supermarket 5 minutes away. We were totally content with finally being able to cook for ourselves again and enjoyed our oats for breakfast and homemade Mexican feast on the balcony watching the fireworks as 2016 rolled in. 


003. No Bangkok trip would be complete without shopping. We checked out loads of the mega mall complexes which were ENORMOUS and a little overwhelming. But my favourite place we went without a doubt was the Chatuchak Weekend Markets. I loved them so much I dragged Ben back with me to go a second time on Sunday. These markets are only held on weekends and are huge. I’m talking over 8,000 market stalls selling every item you could possibly ever imagine. If you needed a kitchen sink I can guarantee you would be able to find one here. It is split into about 27 sections with my favourite being the vintage section. Everything was piled high and dirt cheap. I scored perfectly fitting vintage Levi jeans for less than $10! AMAZING. I would go back there in a heartbeat just for those markets man. A true vintage and op shoppers heaven. 

004. Sorry for the lack of Bangkok photos it was just so busy wherever we went and I just didn’t grab the camera out. Despite saying that though we really did enjoy Bangkok, busy but still enjoyable. It was jam packed with people but not chaotic. The train system there is amazing and so easy to use for travellers too. Bangkok is transport hub of Thailand, which made it super easy and affordable to get to our next destination down south in the sunshine. 

Lena x

THE ASIA DIARIES #10: NONG KHIAW

Sunday, 22 May 2016

//all photos were taken on my 35mm film camera//

001. After the bustling Luang Prabang we headed a few hours north bound for the little village of Nong Khiaw. This little place is nestled in between misty mountains, with smiling locals and a comfortable cool temperature. Though secretly our favourite thing was the fact that out of the handful of restaurants, TWO of them were Indian PLUS it was the cheapest and most delicious Indian food we had come across in Asia thus far. Samosas, naan and dhal for breakfast, lunch and dinner- yes please! 

002. In all seriousness though Nong Khiaw was beautiful. It is a popular spot for many treks and tours to take off from, however, they are expensive so Ben and myself preferred to go for a DIY mode. We were only in town for about 3 days and didn’t really get to see everything properly, but of what we did do we thoroughly enjoyed. Without a doubt my favourite part was hiking up a mountain to get to the view point. It was quite challenging but the view from the top was magical. We were literally standing on top of this huge mountain IN THE CLOUDS! The clouds were passing through us as we stood there. Such a surreal experience- so cool and calming and perfect. I really didnt want to to leave that mountain top (partly because I wasn't looking forward to the trek down, and partly because I felt on top of the world- quite literally and figuratively). I’m doing a really bad job at selling this town. It was so quaint and sleepy and magical- just the dose of nature we needed after being in the city for a week. 



003. If you are in Laos, go further north than the main cities. Not that the cities aren’t worthwhile-  but the REAL Laos is further north. I wish we could have gone even deeper into the northern lands, but our visas had run out and we needed to get on the move again. Next stop was Thailand- Bangkok and island hopping here we come! 



Lena x

A GUIDE TO ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE SHOPPING

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


001. Ethical and sustainable shopping has become a big deal to me in the past year and this is the first time I think I have officially mentioned it on the blog. Ethical fashion and sustainable fashion are two slightly different issues, however they do overlap and correlate to each other very well. I'm going to try my best to give you a run down on WHAT ethical and sustainable fashion is and WHY you should shop ethically and sustainably. There's lots to talk about but I will try to keep it as simple as possible. As consumers we NEED to know the facts about these issues if we want to be conscious shoppers, which is why I think it's such an important issue to talk about. 

WHAT IS ETHICAL FASHION?

Ethics are morals and beliefs we follow. Therefore as human beings it should be simple for us to realise that unethical fashion is something that is morally wrong, strips workers of their rights and isn't a fair system. Sweatshops are the first thing that pops into my mind when thinking abut unethical fashion and it is sadly the real life situation of many struggling workers in developing countries. As the consumers though we can stop this. You vote with your dollar. Where you put your money is where you have your say. 

The True Cost is a 2015 documentary showcasing the people around the world who make your clothes. This documentary addresses human rights, ethical issues, the environmental impact and how we can buy better. The film really hit home from me when it showed the harrowing juxtaposition of footage between the desperate, poor workers and the disgusting behaviour of greedy Westerners flooding shops for a cheap deal. After watching this your new $15 summer dress isn't looking too great anymore... If you are at all interested in finding out where you clothes come from and no longer want to be a mindless consumer, you MUST watch it. 

Recently the 2016 Australian Fashion Report was released by Baptist World Aid. This resource is what you need if you want to find out if the brands you are wearing are ethical or not. It names and shames majority of Australian fashion stores and labels on scale from an A+ to a F-. With this vital information and rating, consumers can find out where they should and shouldn't be directing their shopping habits. If you don't want to supporting poverty, child labour, unsafe working conditions and the overall exploitation of workers then maybe you need to consider NOT buying that $80 sports bra. 

Another obvious ethical issue in fashion I need to touch on is the exploitation of animals. FUR is not cool. Wearing the skin of an animal for warmth or style isn't something we need to be doing. LEATHER is not cool. That is literally the skin of the animal stripped off and treated. IT IS 2016 FOLKS! Faux fur and faux leather are totally a cool thing! They are not hard to access, they look just as good (if not better), they are more wallet friendly PLUS no animals had to die in the making of it. I see that as positives all round- why on earth anyone would feel the need to go out and purchase animal skins to feel trendy is beyond me. We shouldn't be exploiting animals for the sake of clothes, just as we shouldn't be exploiting other human beings. 

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION?

We live in a society of consumerism; always wanting more, always wanting something new; never content with what we have. Fast fashion is HUGE issue. Trends these days come and go faster than you can blink, and consumers are just as quick to buy and throw away cheap clothes in order to follow these trends. This is the mindset our society is stuck in and it is causing huge ENVIRONMENTAL impacts to our earth. 

The fashion industry is the SECOND largest polluting industry. It follows right behind the oil industry. This is insane. Did you ever consider how your shopping habits could be polluting our earth? I for sure did not until more recently. According to the Danish Fashion Institute on top of all that pollution, 25% of chemicals produced worldwide are used for textiles and the industry is noted as the number two polluter of CLEAN water- after animal agriculture. 

If you are shopping ethically, YOU GO GIRL! That is an awesome step but it is time to start thinking about shopping sustainably and making your footprint on earth even smaller. If you are still buying brand new clothing and fashion pieces on the regular, you need to be reconsidering where you are sourcing them from. You still want to be trendy and looking fresh as hell? That is possible! Think about supporting small handmade businesses, vintage stores, sustainable companies, op shops and secondhand markets. There is no need for us to keep to producing more and more new clothes, when there is already racks and racks of groovy pieces hanging up everywhere in op shops and vintage stores all over the world! 

002. I hope this post has been educational, helpful and not too hard to swallow. We need to change our habits as consumers and we need to do it nowe. I have made a lifestyle change to align with my morals, values and beliefs while still being able to express myself creatively. If you love your earth as much as you love your clothes (which if you don't what the hell is going on!?), shopping ethically and sustainably is the only way to go. 

Lena x

PS. I think I'm going to make a series based around these ideas. Stay tuned for more specific recommendations of where you should be shopping and finding funky new threads!

THE ASIA DIARIES #9: LUANG PRABANG

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

//all photos taken on my 35mm film camera//

001. After finally leaving Vang Vieng and embarking on one the most picturesque mini-van rides I have ever had (I'm talking up in the clouds on top of mountains) we arrived in Luang Prabang. The city was busy and bustling with life, but it had such a nice feel to it. I can't really describe it- maybe it was the French looking architecture mixed with Asian features, the countless numbers of temples or just the clean and colonial feel to the town- it was very lovely.

002. By this time of the trip it was almost Christmas time- not a huge celebration in Asia but Luang Prabang is quite a big tourist town with a lot of travellers with a bit more money than the average backpacker also passing through. We didn't book any accommodation in advance so just door knocked around until we found somewhere nice and not too expensive. After paying $8 a night for the most beautiful little bungalow in Vang Vieng we were a little taken back by the prices in Luang Prabang. I can't remember where we ended up staying but it was a nice clean guesthouse, that wasn't over $20 a night. Compared to the rest of Laos, Luang Prabang is expensive. The accommodation and the dining options are all a lot pricier. My suggestion is that if you're on a tight budget don't stick around too long.

003. While in Luang Prabang we really enjoyed just getting our daily fruit fix at the morning markets, walking around town, and window shopping at the night markets. I went to a lot of night markets in Asia and I will say that the ones in Luang Prabang are definitely the most unique in terms of gifts and souvenirs. Being cheap backpackers we also enjoyed the fruit shakes, rolls and other nibbles sold along the streets. There is always ladies selling tiny little pancakes- I totally recommend them if you want something sweet! I honestly think it was the only time in all of Asia I found a traditional Asian dessert dish that was vegan and readily available- safe to say I made the most of it and ate some almost every day.  We were in Luang Prabang for Christmas Day, so naturally we decided to treat ourselves to a big vegan tasting plate of Laos delicacies. I believe it was less than $15 per person, but hey that was a splurge for us! On other nights we thoroughly enjoyed the all the can eat buffet for 10,00 kip (less than $2). We went heavy on the veggies and made sure we arrived early when it was fresh!

004. Luang Prabang to Laos is like the Chiang Mai to Thailand. There are literally temples of every street corner and lots of monks wandering around town in their orange robes. Quite beautiful and unique in my opinion. You can walk to the of Mount Phousi- which really is just a big hill in the middle of town with a temple on top. You do have to pay, but the views of the city are nice from the top.

005. Without a doubt though my favourite part of Luang Prabang was visiting the Kuang Si Waterfalls. Yes, this is a major tourist hot spot but it did not let us down. Honestly was so incredibly beautiful! You can walk all the way up to the top of the falls AND go swimming in the insanely blue water. Best of both worlds. Laos has definitely won the prize for magical crystal clear blue swimming spots.

Lena x

THE ASIA DIARIES #8: VANG VIENG

Sunday, 8 May 2016

//all photos taken on my 35mm film camera//

001. Up towards northern Laos lies a small town called Vang Vieng- dwarfed by huge limestone cliffs, situated next to a calm flowing river and among the endless fields. We stayed in Vang Vieng for almost two weeks, it was one of our favourite places in Laos. It was bloody cheap and bloody beautiful. We opted to stay over the bridge on the other side of the river at a place ironically called "Otherside Bungalows" for $8 a night, with clean shared bathrooms only 5 steps from the hammock strung up on our porch. For the price and sheer beauty of this place I cannot recommend it enough. Yes it is basic- but where else can you find accommodation that includes hot showers, a cute family of goats running around your field and uninterrupted views of giant cliffs nearby for that price?!

002. Food in Vang Vieng is really cheap too. We bought a lot of fruit from roadside market stalls, but also ate out all the time too. Along almost every street there are women with carts selling fruit shakes, and cheap rolls. Think along the lines of Bunnings sausage sizzle but 110% better and half the price. Amazing! In addition to these super cheap streets eats Vang Vieng is also a big fan of what I refer to as "Friends restaurants." Essentially on the main street there are at least 3 big restaurants serving up nearly the exact same menu and playing back-to-back episodes of Friends on huge flat screen TV's all day every day. Honestly, I love Friends but it is easy to get sucked into sitting there while eating and without realising you've watched 4 episodes. A very good spot to soak up free wifi or for hungover backpackers to recover.

003. Vang Vieng has a reputation of being a party town- you can easily find bars with free alcoholic buckets on offer and get black-out-drunk every night for literally next to nothing money wise. However, me and Ben weren't really into that scene, instead we opted to do more the adventure things around town and enjoy the picturesque landscapes. It was at this point in our trip that we discovered something called Hobo Maps- what a miracle. If you've ever been to Asia you may know that good directions and well-signed roads do not exist. Hobo Maps is a website that has easy to understand and EXTREMELY helpful maps of many destinations in Laos. Without this handy-dandy little discovery I have no doubt that we wouldn't have been able to find half of the things we did. If you're ever in Laos, go on the Hobo Maps website- you will thank me later I promise.

004. Our adventures in Vang Vieng consisted of a lot of walking, mountain climbing, trying to find non-existent swimming holes and cave exploring. One cave was so muddy and narrow, I didn't think I would make it out. But thank god I did and we continued exploring to other caves that were bigger than my entire house and completely claustrophobia free. We visited the famous Blue Lagoon- perfectly crystal clear blue and perfect for a dip. It is easily accessible by hiring bikes for the day and taking in the rural town mountain views on the journey. Honestly, it is very touristy but it was a unique thing to see and the bike ride made it even more worthwhile. One of my favourite parts was discovering a tiny little cave with crystal clear water that no one else was even swimming in. We had our own little mermaid pool all to ourselves- bliss! I'll let the secret out and tell you that it's located down the bottom of the Tham Chang cave, almost hidden in the edge of the mountain. If you are ever in town go check it out- a way nicer experience than the crazy Blue Lagoon.

005. Apologies again for another long post, but we loved this town so much I just couldn't help myself but try to tell you all how great it is! Vang Vieng is the most beautiful little town and has SO much more to offer than just a party scene- I highly recommend stopping by, you will not regret it! The next part of our travel journey takes us up to Northern Laos... so stay tuned.

Lena x

LAMINGTON

Friday, 6 May 2016


001. A little while ago Ben and I ventured down to Lamington National Park for 3 nights. Lamington is up a long windy mountain road in the middle of lush, green, rainforest. We stayed at the Green Mountain campsite, which had toilets and HOT showers, for only $5.95 each per night! Bush turkeys roamed freely and wallabies came out to play at dawn and dusk. A beautiful little affordable gem. While there we fully immersed ourselves into nature- waking up and falling asleep with the sun (an enjoyable side effect of having no electricity/technology). There are so many walks to do, waterfalls to see and animals to spot, we want to go back to do the tracks we couldn't fit in! Honestly such a beautiful little place that I would recommend to everyone. The power of mother nature is magic folks.

Lena x

LIVING ON $2 A DAY

Monday, 2 May 2016


001. This year I am participating in Live Below the Line, a challenge in which I will be living on $2 a day for 5 days in order to raise much needed funds and awareness for poverty. An Australian $2 is the equivalent of the extreme poverty line, meaning I will only have $2 a day to spend on food. However, people actually living in extreme poverty only have that amount to spend on EVERYTHING- this includes food, shelter etc. 1/5 of the worlds population is living on $2 a day. Helping fight poverty isn't just a nice thing to do- it's the right thing to do. Poverty is an issue of injustice. It isn't just someone going to bed hungry- it's someone not being able to access education, shelter and basic health care. These are all basic human rights! If you are reading this blog post on a computer, a smart phone etc. you are sitting in a pretty privileged position. Everyday we take how infinitely lucky we are for granted- I'm guilty of this too! Live Below the Line just isn't a challenge to raise money- it's also a challenge to raise awareness. Poverty is a real issue and we need to realise that we are the ones who are in a position to help make a difference.

002. The funds raised from Live Below the Line go directly to education initiatives in countries such as Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea. I believe education is the most powerful weapon you can give these children to help change the world. Last year I had the opportunity to travel through Cambodia.  For a country that has lost so much, the young generation and kids were all so happy, radiant and kind. However, it is a developing country. The schools, especially in rural areas are by no means perfect. The reality is that they are poor and can use every bit of support or resources they can to help give these young children an education. Due to the horrific histories of this country, today over one third of Cambodia's population is people under the age of 15. In Cambodia, many children are working to support the family or so their younger brothers and sisters can go to school. This isn't fair. Everyone should be able to access an education. The funds that are raised through Live Below the Line also go to directly to creating scholarships to help people break out of the poverty cycle and get the education they deserve.

003. The issue of poverty is something that is very close to my heart, especially after travelling through developing South East Asian countries on my recent adventures. These children deserve an education. Please dig deep and donate. Every single dollar counts!

004. PS. here is the link to my profile page... https://www.livebelowtheline.com.au/me/lena_bishop 

Lena x

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