Where I Was, And Where I'm At

28 December 2018

Where I'm at right now.

Literally: on the sofa at my boyfriend Will's house with a hot water bottle on my lower back (hi, period) and a cup of tea that his lovely twin sister just made for me.

Figuratively: it's all a little bit up in the air, to be honest.

If you saw my recent video entitled Why I Stopped Uploading, you'll know that this year (and last year also) haven't been the easiest. Mental health struggles crept their way into an otherwise happy mind and life, and my seemingly never-ending stream of positivity surrounding my chronic illness ran out. Throw in a few traumatic life experiences, and I've been left feeling battered and bruised both physically and emotionally. 

Keeping up with work, relationships and being an adult in general felt impossible a lot of the time - Kacey Musgraves's lyrics "it's hard to breathe when all you know is the struggle of staying above the rising waterline" sum it up well - and as I'm finally (thank god, finally) coming out the other side I wanted to update you on where I'm at right now.

On the date that I'm writing this, it's exactly one month until Will and I leave our lives in the UK and embark on a nine-month trip around the world. The flights are paid off, the travel vaccines are booked and we've only a few weeks left to pack and sort any remaining life admin before we say goodbye to our loved ones. The decision to go was a very spontaneous and liberating one, and one that I'm equal parts nervous and excited about. Life has become monotonous for me and the thought of hopping on a plane and experiencing new places, cultures and people alongside my best friend has been a constant source of hope through the recent darker days, but it always felt so far away and now that it's so close, the reality is starting to set in!

I'm a homebody who won't be at home so there'll be that to contend with, and understandably it's weighing on my mind that I am chronically ill and it's an ambitious trip to undertake. I've been living a 'half-life' of sorts ever since I became poorly however, and it feels right (and necessary mentally) to shake up an existence that has been relatively unshaken for far too many years.

In classic Meg fashion I don't have everything ready (my inclination to leave everything until the last minute is something that annoys myself as well as everyone around me) however the basics are down, and we've both been saving our pennies since we put down the deposit on our flights in December of last year.

In terms of work, the industry I'm in is ever-changing and I don't think I could leave for that long and expect to come back and still have an audience - nor would I want to! As a textbook over-thinker I've let my second vlog channel fall by the wayside for worry that it's not interesting or fast-paced enough to warrant any interest, so the idea of being in a new place virtually every day and getting to share that is really exciting. Will shall, of course, be my partner in crime and suggested we do weekly vlogs together (cue great surprise from me, as he isn't a 'social media person' at all!) as well as updating our accounts along the way. I guess my channels will become travel-focused, but I'd still love to keep doing my usual chilled videos on YouTube about random lifestyle topics and chatty beauty content.

Here's to the adventure, I guess! See you on the other side.

Well, hello from the other side! If you managed to read that without your brain immediately belting out an extremely similar Adele lyric, I salute you. When I started writing this post ten weeks ago at Will's house I intended to take an accompanying blog photo and post it up before we left, but life got rather crazily busy and it got lost in the mayhem. Rather than letting all these thoughts be lost with the quick click of the 'delete post' button, I thought I'd let you know where I'm at right now - again!

Literally: sitting propped up on the pillows in bed, having just got back from the emergency room, in our little bungalow in a backpackers resort in Pai, Thailand.

Figuratively: it's still all a little bit up in the air, but I'm on the right track. And it feels so good to be able to say that!

I'm really not very well (hence the hospital visit) and it's four sleeps until Christmas Day so the timing isn't perfect to say the least, but our trip so far has been wonderful beyond words and throwing myself into the deep end in such a way has forced me to confront a few fears and let go way more. It sounds ridiculously cliché, but owning only what you can carry on your back and meeting new people from all walks of life every day puts certain things into perspective and makes other things crystal clear. Will and I are absolutely loving spending so much time together and know each other on a whole new 'argh, I've just realised there's no toilet paper in here, can you pass me some please' level - plus we just announced some exciting news over on my Instagram...

It'll be the big day on Tuesday, and I'm not sure whether it's the lack of family or the hot weather, but it doesn't feel like Christmas at all here. For the first time in my life I don't feel merry or jolly (in a Christmassy way - if you know me you'll know that I'm practically half-human, half-elf) so that's a little strange, but we're planning on making it a cute one anyway by finding somewhere that does a roast dinner, playing games and watching our favourite festive films. We'll miss home, of course, but it's only one Christmas out of a lifetime of family ones so yolo, and all that! I haven't actually bought anything for Will yet which, I won't lie, is stressing me out - I know he'd understand as I've been bedbound, but I'm gonna make it my mission to find him something lovely to unwrap.

Will told me earlier that there's a friendly joke in the resort that he's made me up, as we've been here for a fortnight and nobody has met me yet. At first it made my eyes prick with tears, as obviously I'd love nothing more than to be by his side making friends and enjoying our time rather than being stuck in bed unable to join in, but it quickly passed as we chuckled about my 'grand reveal' when I'm finally better and everyone can see that I'm actually real and not a figment of Will's imagination!

Life is, as of right now, quite a boring cycle of trying not to be sick, being sick, sipping tepid water with rehydration salts, painkillers, sleeping, turning the fan on because I'm in a hot sweat, turning the fan off because I'm in a cold sweat... you get the gist. However, in the spirit of not ending this post on a negative note (and let's hope I'm not ending 2018 on a poorly note!) I'll focus on five positives.

1. We're staying in this lovely airy bungalow that's got high ceilings, with a big cosy white bed and an en-suite. Imagine if we'd decided to book into dorms instead - a tiny bunk bed, people constantly coming in and turning lights on, a big communal shared bathroom... yep, thanking my lucky stars for a private room right now!

2. It's quite clear that I've been doing some serious self-sabotaging and feeling quite lost when it comes to my YouTube channel and blog, so today I made a 'content calendar'. I started pencilling in ideas that truly excite me, came up with a realistic schedule and can't wait to get cracking.

3. Even though I feel utterly awful (and you're allowed to feel sorry for yourself when you're this unwell and Christmas is just around the corner - ain't nobody having fun with that), I've got so many things around me that are helping and shouldn't go unappreciated! Netflix now have every season of Modern Family, I've got my favourite VS pyjamas on, I have water and medicine and snacks... it could be worse.

4. Will. Oh, that lovely, lovely man. He's always taken the best care of me but when I'm poorly the Florence Nightingale in him really jumps out and I couldn't be more grateful for him. People say they don't know what they'd do without their partners but honestly, what would I do without him? I haven't been able to step outside in two weeks, and there's him: fluffing my pillows, sending my photos of menus on WhatsApp to see if there's anything I fancy then waiting for it to be cooked and bringing it home, watching cheesy films like The Princess Switch without complaint, still calling me 'beautiful' when I know I look like a tired old hag... he's a saint and I don't know what I did to deserve him.

5. Being able to go through life's experiences and share them with you - whether they be good, bad, happy, sad, mundane, exciting... writing has always been my favourite thing and I often realise that I love it so much that I'd genuinely still do it whether anyone read or not, but the fact that you do means the absolute world. I hope this little 'sharing' thing we've got going on brings you something, whether that be laughter or entertainment or joy or comfort (or a tiny bit less boredom on your commute).

So, that's where I'm at!

5 Best Places To Stay In Siargao, Philippines

14 December 2018

After flying into Siargao from Cebu on Halloween 2018, we thanked our lucky stars we’d made no future travel plans in the Philippines. Booking internal flights in advance doesn't always work out as sometimes you end loving falling in love with a place and not wanting to leave, which is exactly what happened with Siargao! Previously we’d move on after 2-3 days, but we decided to make it our home for two weeks.

During our time there we discovered five amazing places to stay, so if Siargao is on your list of places to visit in the Philippines (and if it isn’t, what are you playing at?) then here’s a breakdown of hotels, hostels and Airbnbs you’re sure to love.

Located around twenty minutes from Siargao Airport in Pacifico, Bamboo Garden is a bar and restaurant that also offers lodging. We spent two nights in their Jungle House which sleeps five and is perfect for families, because it's across the road from Bamboo so the distance from the bar and restaurant means less noise and more privacy.

Unless you’re travelling in a larger group of friends or as a family, you can’t go wrong with a beachfront cottage. We stayed in the Love Shack! For 1500 pesos (around £22) per night you get to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of gently crashing waves, and the cottages are extremely comfortable with ensuite bathrooms. 

The communal areas make Bamboo as special as it is - the integrated bar within the restaurant is the perfect place to meet fellow travellers and there’s an amazing porch with sustainably made bean bags, dining tables and hammocks overlooking the Pacific ocean and white sandy beaches. Nothing beats watching surfers (from what’s essentially a double bed) knowing you’re only ten steps from a cold beer and fifteen from your own cottage. The owner George knows the island's best recommendations, plus he’s a pleasure to chat with thanks to his cracking stories and great sense of humour!

We often found ourselves staying in for dinner: partly because of the rain, but mostly because eating at Bamboo is a real treat! We’d recommend the omelette for breakfast, veggie panini (or one of the pizzas for two) for lunch and any of the curries for dinner - they do a divine vegetarian one, and the chicken mango is their speciality. 

Bamboo is home to an adorable puppy called Jake and three kittens which, along with the warmth and friendliness of the staff, makes you feel right at home. We found ourselves in a bit of a pickle as we wanted to head to General Luna but, having hired our scooter from Pacifico, couldn’t take it with us. George overheard us trying to figure out what to do and very kindly offered to drive us to the door of our new Airbnb the following morning!

One hour south from Pacifico lies General Luna, which is a popular spot for travellers (especially those who surf). Webb Brothers Residency is a family-run Airbnb business comprising of three houses, one of which is large enough for a family of six. Our stay, aside from the wifi being kinda slow and the shower pressure being kinda low, was absolutely perfect!

The host, Rebecca, is a gem - the kind of person you love within five minutes as she’s incredibly vivacious, and the chattiest lady you’re likely to meet in the Philippines. Her approach to the Webb Brothers Residency homestay was very much ‘if you need anything just shout’ and she even invited us for dinner at the house with her family the night we checked in. Along with her sister, she cooked the most delicious dishes and we had a fabulous evening with them, mostly spent laughing at all of Rebecca’s stories.

The house we stayed in is ever so comfortable - the air conditioning is superb, cooling the room down in mere seconds, and there’s a large fan in the lounge/kitchen area that worked really well also. You can hire a scooter from Rebecca’s for the going rate, which is ideal for nipping into town (this takes five minutes and is such a simple ‘turn right at the gate and keep going’ drive). It's wonderful to come home to the house as it's beautifully furnished and has a full kitchen as well as a dining table, so you get that lovely feeling that you're just as happy to stay in as you are to go out.

Next to Webb Brothers Residency is the Rum Bar which might be a noise concern for you, but General Luna operates its bars on rotation and it was only open one night during our stay. We’re in our early twenties and absolutely loved it as we got to have a dance and a few drinks with our friends without having to pay for a tricycle or taxi like everyone else did, and we even popped home for a twenty-minute disco nap in the air-conditioned room to cool down before heading back to the party. Pretty ideal for us but if that’s not your thing, it’s actually far enough away that the noise shouldn’t bother you too much.

The pool isn’t as big as it looks on the Airbnb page, but apart from that everything is accurately described and we couldn’t recommend a more homely and welcoming place. 

If you’re looking for somewhere livelier with a ton of personality, Footprints Hostel is a happy-go-lucky hub for those looking to make friends and it won’t break the bank, either. Especially good for solo travellers, the dorms cost between 890 and 1360 pesos per night and are really comfortable bunk beds with plenty of fans and a mosquito net each.

You feel completely safe, not only because of the security guard at the gate and lockers (bring your own padlock!), but because of the people. Every single person we met at Footprints was so genuine and kind, and we made such an amazing group of friends there that we decided to extend our stay in General Luna from two days to two WEEKS! The whole place has such a fun, chilled vibe and the cosy communal area is the perfect place to lay in hammocks, nursing your hangovers and laughing about the night before.

Eena, the current manager, is a total babe and always there to help with anything you need. Footprints has the most gorgeous golden retriever called Cerberus (aka Sir Bruce or simply Bruce), who you’re guaranteed to fall in love with even before you see him down at the beach in his little doggy lifejacket. Not kidding!

Make sure you book early, as Footprints is a popular place - we could only actually get one night there but we popped back every single day just to see everyone, hang out and make plans for the evening. A must-stay for anyone who loves their surfing and social life!

Siargao Residency is one of our highest recommendations, and if you’re cool with paying more for your accommodation then your money will be extremely well spent here. Staying in Ocean Breeze was so lovely - it’s the absolute perfect size for two people and, as with our Airbnb in Suquijor, our favourite part about it was the porch. With three big squishy sofas on decking, it was the perfect place to both eat our breakfast and chill in the evenings. Another personal highlight was the bedding, as the sheets were so soft and pure white that they wouldn’t have been out of place in The Savoy.

After one night in Ocean Breeze we were upgraded to the Two Queen house (£59 per night), and when the housekeeper Helen helped us move in my breath was honestly taken away! The place is huge (we had some of our friends from Footprints over one evening and the words ‘palace’ and ‘mansion’ were used a lot) and more than spacious enough for a group of five, maybe even six. The airy living space of sofas, tv, dining table and full kitchen with every utensil you can think of is great for entertaining and the bedroom doesn’t disappoint either, with two large double canopy beds and a big ensuite. 

If you require wifi, you won’t be disappointed with Siargao Residency - the internet was extremely quick in Ocean Breeze and we actually had our own router in the Two Queen house! Compared to literally everywhere else we’d stayed previously (and since) in the Philippines, this is a real rarity; not many places have it and even if they do, it’s usually extremely slow. Bravo, Siargao Residency!

All of the staff couldn’t have been more friendly, and there’s a security guard as well as CCTV so safety is paramount and the overall feel is a very relaxed and peaceful one. Our stay was genuinely faultless - we’ve nothing but positive things to say and again, if you’re looking for a Filipino Airbnb with more luxury then Siargao Residency is well worth a look. It’s located next to Siargao Bleu (say this to your tricycle/taxi driver and they'll take you right to the door) and countless lovely restaurants and cafés, as well as Jacking Horse which is a popular surfing spot with stunning sunsets.

To see a less touristy part of Siargao, head twenty minutes from the centre of General Luna to Dream Getaway @ Siargao Islands, an Airbnb site with four properties found in a village mostly surrounded by tropical jungle called Union. If the idea of living in the jungle (but with clean running water etc!) appeals to you, then you'll absolutely love this property - and it's only a five minute walk to Union and Doot beaches!

The owner, June, is extremely friendly and gave us all the help and advice we needed. When we first arrived we were told to ask for Pastor Choi - he lives on the site and is possibly the most cheerful man you'll ever have the pleasure of meeting! We stayed in the Bayai#2 hut, which looks like a Filipino version of a fairytale Disney cottage complete with porch and white picket fence. This hut sleeps four with two bunk beds which were really clean and comfortable, and there's also a dressing table (honestly adorable), small bathroom and kitchen area.

The word 'getaway' within the Airbnb's name is key as it really is an escape from modern life and that's worth noting - be prepared to travel via scooter or trike, not have any wifi and live in a bamboo jungle hut that's very 'open' to the outside. As a result, you might be sharing with critters (we had mice in our room and a few big centipedes in the bathroom!) and there aren't any mosquito nets so make sure you stock up on some insect repellant.

It was one of the more fun, rustic places we stayed and that made it so much more interesting - as much as it's nice to have a luxury plush hotel room, it's much more of an adventure to feel like you're sleeping under the stars in the jungle! The staff, particularly Pastor Choi and Jenn, are so smiley and have a really cute little social area where you can buy snacks and play darts, and they also did our laundry during our stay.

We'd visit Siargao again in a heartbeat, and hope these recommendations help you decide where to stay during your trip! If you have any questions, feel free to email me.

How To Spend: 48 Hours In Hong Kong

4 December 2018

The first stop of our nine-month long trip was Hong Kong, the vibrant southeastern city in China known for its neon night sky and for being a melting pot of oriental and western cultures. One of my good friends Rachel - check out her Instagram, her Glossier-pink aesthetic's a dream - is from there and sent us off with her ultimate guide to Hong Kong (as well as some eye masks for the plane, thanks Rach) so shoutout to her for being the source of most of these fantastic recommendations!

We booked an Airbnb in a district of Kowloon called Tsim Sha Tsui and were so happy with it! We've had nothing but positive experiences using Airbnb and the location on Granville Road was ideal, with great transport links and tons of personality. One of those places that you can stroll around and know your way home within a few hours! Tsim Sha Tsui is great for fancier shopping (e.g. the malls on Canton Road) but is also packed with cheaper little independent stores and really casual eateries.

The journey was pretty tiring as (after a nine-hour flight) we had a long stopover in Mumbai (before another six-hour flight) so we were dragging our little feet off the plane, but Hong Kong airport is wonderful and the tube-esque Airport Express makes arriving such a breeze, especially if you're disabled or have heavy luggage that makes stairs or platforms difficult. We decided to treat ourselves to a taxi to our Airbnb as we were so sleepy, and it couldn't have been clearer which way to go and which one to get - there are even boards before you get to the taxi ranks explaining how much you should expect to pay. Our driver was as eccentric and hilarious as they come, serenading us with a rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer before dropping us off outside our door.

Slightly delirious from travelling for thirty hours with no sleep and with a further three to kill until we could get into our Airbnb, we wandered down Granville Road and ducked into a place called Hungry Pug. I think we assumed we were hallucinating from lack of sleep and food as everything was pug-related: the crockery, the cups, the artwork - pugs as far as the eye can see! We ordered two beers (served in 'pug mugs', obviously) as well as the soup and salad of the day each with a Thai red curry to share (the rice was in the shape of a dog's bone, props for the attention to detail) and tea afterwards which came to about £30. The owner was super friendly and the place was packed by lunchtime.

After a five-hour nap at our Airbnb we headed out in search of noodles, ending up at Mak's on Wellington Street - they specialise in wonton noodles so Will had the beef and tomato and I had the spring onion with ginger and garlic. It came with a vegetable broth (so soothing on my post-flight throat) and we also shared a side of oyster sauce kale, which seemed like tenderstem broccoli to us. If you’re looking for a simple and traditional plate of food with attentive service, you won’t go far wrong with Mak’s!

One of the coolest (or I guess, warmest!) things restaurant-wise about Hong Kong was the tea experience, as we were given hot green/jasmine tea as soon as we sat down in every place we ate in. An evening favourite was HAKU for the coldest glass of white wine I've ever had in my life, served with a side of edamame in gorgeous puffer-fish pottery.

Make sure you stroll down to the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade on Victoria Harbour in the evening for a stunning view of the vibrant skyline (you’ll literally say ‘wow’ out loud when you turn the corner and see it for the first time) and take time to sit and watch the ferries coming and going.

We weren’t sure what the breakfast situation would be like and wondered whether we’d be slurping up ramen at 7am, but we found a great little joint called N1 with an interior that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Hoxton or Shoreditch. Our pot of tea came in the most beautiful tea-set adorned with golden birds for the handles! The breakfast menu was extensive and everything sounded amazing (especially the filled bagels) but we both went for the crushed avo on toast, and I ordered mine sans poached eggs. When they arrived Will’s was this mouthwatering feast with artisanal sourdough and a hefty rocket/tomato/balsamic side salad, whereas mine was plain sliced avocado on one piece of untoasted wholemeal - so maybe don’t go off-piste when it comes to the blackboard!

Central Hong Kong is well worth a visit, especially if you’re staying in Tsim Sha Tsui as you get the pleasure of riding the Star Ferry - the views as you cross the harbour are stunning, it’s also the cheapest option compared to a taxi or the subway and you can also book to see a laser show. If you’re not using Octopus (pretty much Hong Kong’s answer to an Oyster card) make sure you take out some change to buy your Star Ferry token with, then enjoy five minutes of bliss taking in the sights.

The vibe in central felt way more corporate - think lots of expensive cars, groups of men in suits having after-work drinks and a ginormous glowing Apple Store. If you’re a fan of busy city centres filled with skyscrapers and modern wine bars, you’ll love central! 

Craving the laidback feel of Tsim Sha Tsui amongst the hustle and bustle we headed down a quieter side street and decided to eat at Hungry Korean on Wo On Lane, a chain restaurant promising “food that has been prepared with a little bit of love and integrity with no MSG or artificial ingredients”. As a vegetarian I’d been finding some places tricky, so we asked before entering and were assured by the friendly waitress that the vermicelli dish would be one of the best meals I’d have on the trip - and she was so right! It was absolutely delicious, as was Will’s pork bi bim bap which is their most popular dish. The waitress told him that the trick with bi bim bap is to keep stirring so you get all the taste and crispness of the well-cooked rice at the bottom. The panko breadcrumbing on the  shrimp was extremely light, and the laver rolls made a great seaweed-based vegetarian alternative with a slightly spicy soy dipping sauce. It’s happy hour after 5pm there too, so our mugs of beer were 2-for-1!

Lan Kwai Fong is a lively neighbourhood in central know for its nightlife - think the strips of bars you get in places like Tenerife! - with lots of people on the street enticing you into their joint with the promise of lurid green jelly shots. There's a more cultural side of it too however, like Tai Kwun which is a restored colonial prison dating back to the mid-19th century that's now the Centre For Heritage & Arts. Here you can see the original 16 buildings and read about the history of the prison as you explore, and visit a host of restaurants and bars. 

You definitely don’t want to miss out on seeing the skyline from an extreme height whilst you’re in central Hong Kong. We headed to Cé La Vi for a cocktail - it's not cheap (think £15+ per drink, so London prices basically!) but it is 11,000 feet high and a really special place to enjoy the stunning skyline with a tipple. When you come back down to earth in the elevator you'll find yourself on Lan Kwai Fong again where you can choose from the variety on offer. We went for a nicer (read: quieter) wine bar over the club vibes but found it pretty expensive at £50+ for a bottle of wine, so we bought one for £10 from a 7-Eleven and headed back to our Airbnb to watch a movie instead.

On our final day before heading to the Philippines we spontaneously jumped up on a bus and hopped off to Kowloon City in search of a nice breakfast, ideally somewhere with wifi so we could plan our next steps, In reality we landed slap-bang in the middle of the early morning market which in all honesty wasn't very pleasant, with lots of butchering going on and a really heavy stench of drains and fish. I think we might've gone to the wrong place and, with my wine hangover and a downpour of rain zapping my usually pretty endless stream of patience, we dolefully got a bus back to Tsim Sha Tsui. After the hugest portions of noodles at a Chinese eatery on Granville Road, we picked up our big bags from the Best Western opposite our Airbnb (they safely hold them there for a small fee) before getting the bus to the airport.

Now we've voyaged further (to Chang Mai in Thailand where I'm writing this, which funnily enough reminds me of Hong Kong!) and whenever I mention to anyone that this was our first stop, their reply is always "so expensive though!" I guess that comes from a backpacking standpoint, however even if you're on a budget I'd highly recommend visiting Hong Kong for a couple of days at least - you can cut costs by eating and shopping locally, finding free tourist spots etc - as you're guaranteed to leave emotionally richer than when you arrived, and who cares about the whole financial side of it then, right?