Adventures in hair: My natural hairstory, style inspiration and how I went from hating my hair to loving it!

This is my hair story. It is a journey through trends, styles, major fails and finally learning to care for and love my natural hair.

Everyone has their own hair story and I would love to hear your experiences so please feel free to comment!

Abena at 5vintage

The beginning – relaxers and desires for European hair.

There I am at about five years old at home in a small town in England.  My favourite thing to do at this age was to wear a t-towel on my head (like a shepherd in the school nativity) because it gave me the feeling of having long, straight hair that moved.

In those days my mum did my hair, usually in cornrows, so I was not allowed to play with it. Mum used to say: “That hair on your head is mine so don’t touch it!”

As a result,  I played the girls’ hair at my school. Everyone was white. I wished I could fit in and have nice blonde flowing hair like theirs – it was easy to plait, comb and style. When it came to playing with each other’s hair my friends loved it when I plaited in French braids like a pro.

At 14 I got a perm. Mum took me to a home hairdresser who relaxed my hair once a month with a cream relaxer. It made my hair easy to manage so, for the first time in my life, I styled my own hair. This mostly consisted of lathering on tonnes of gel that weighed down my fine strands and felt greasy. I would never let anyone touch it.

Relaxers are dangerous. They have harsh toxic chemicals in them. I discovered how bad they are when my brother asked me to relax his hair at home. He went out bought the chemicals from a store. I read the instructions and went about relaxing his hair. My brother trusted me completely so when his head started burning and I said he had to keep the creme on for a few minutes longer he endured the pain. The relaxer burnt his scalp, patches of his hair fell out and I was in big trouble. He was lucky no permanent damage was done…

After relaxers came braids!

1934270_1164548566738_5643341_n

1934307_20143474858_979_n This is a memory clear as day – I was sitting in my bestfriend’s kitchen with my boyfriend. He was stroking my friend’s thick, dark and long caucasian hair marvelling at how gorgeous it was. He looked over at me (who was feeling left out, awkward and jealous) and said: “Don’t worry, you’ll have your braids put in tomorrow.”

I wore single braids for the first time when I was 18 and have continued to wear them at some point or another up until now. Those first braids gave me that feeling I was searching for at five years old: being able to feel my hair move.

222824_1038305770747_7960_n

Is an Afro socially acceptable?

I went to see my extended family in the north of England, wearing my natural hair in an afro. My auntie thought I was crazy.

She was going to plait braids into my hair and COULD NOT BELIEVE I would go outside amongst people with my nappy hair ‘out’. We drove to the hair shop to get braiding hair and I was pretty sure she was embarrassed to be seen with me.

I worked as a journalist for the local newspaper. My boss was intrigued by my natural hair and one day he asked me to write a feature about the afro hairstyle. I went out on the streets and took pictures of people who wore their hair in afros and included a picture of myself. After that more and more people in the town, black and white (but mostly white because hardly any black people lived there), sent in pictures of their afros. I had no idea there were so many! We ran another story featuring all the pictures. It became a celebration of natural hair and boosted my confidence.                 230549_6207301409_6939_n

I wore that style for a year until I suffered from bad breakage because I was not looking after my natural hair properly and using the right products. I used a hairdryer on high heat everyday! A big no no for kinky hair, which is super fragile.

223254_6207296409_6312_n

47421_462396266409_8337436_n

Getting other people’s hair and sewing it in mine!

Crazy thing happened.  A black hairdesser opened up into my town! This was a big thing and meant I didn’t have to travel a minimum of 10 miles to get to the nearest hair salon that catered for natural hair. I decided to try a weave. I bought some expensive human hair (that probably originated from India where women shave their heads and donate it in a religious ceremony, unbeknown to them it ends up on the heads of black women who pay top dollar for it) and I had this hair sewn in. It went ALL THE WAY DOWN MY BACK! I felt so glamorous and got a lot of attention with my tumbling waves. People said they prefered it to other styles I had tried, some said: “You look so much better!”

55567_440031002881_3109789_o

After a while I didn’t appreciate the excitement because the weave wasn’t my real hair so not the real me. I started feeling disappointed when people told me how they prefered me with a weave – ‘but this is not how I really look’ I thought.

2817_80343901409_4739280_n

I did love wearing weaves. The versitility in colour and textures you can get from them is great. Also they can be good for your hair so the breakage I had suffered before this time grew back.

291964_2131121570459_1270613_n

190188_10150160137831410_4970116_n

The ‘weave hawk’ was my last weave style. After that I fell back in love with my natural tresses.

556055_10151016388291893_1845668282_n

Fierce natural styles

This time around I felt more on trend because more people were going natural. I saw the frohawk for the first time at the Afro Hair Show in London, in 2011, and rocked that style all the time. People always wanted to take photographs of me. These pictures (above and below) were done by street photographers.

561316_10151122762051410_1664726299_n

Despite being completely natural one major problem was I still never did my own hair. I always went to a salon, as a result I had no idea how to look after my own hair.  No idea what shampoo was best, or any products for that matter, no idea about techniques to use, no idea what was good for my hair and what damaged it…I got to 30 and didn’t know how to care for my hair.

10300270_10152417752746410_5720514837910403217_n

No self confidence = no Fro

When I moved to Thailand, I reverted back to my old ways of hiding my kinky hair and stuck to this one style for three years! It was cornrows in a pineapple and then I would add a synthetic hair ponytail. ALERT!!!The combs that kept the ponytail attached caused severe breakage! I had a bald patch on my crown 🙁

Get this though…I found black hairdressers in Bangkok!

Black hair salons in Bangkok

11081476_10153178457551410_5189940106310157059_n

When a black woman has no hair salon to go to nearby, panic sets in. In Thailand some women approached me in the street, with desperation in their eyes, asking where I had got my hair done.

It just took a little out of the box thinking, which happens easily when one is desperate. I flew to Singapore for my first Asian hairdresser experience.

One day I read a magazine article about an African restaurant opening in a trendy part of Bangkok so I called them up asking if they knew anyone who could braid hair – I always trust that my African sistas can braid hair well.

I have never been wrong and wasn’t this time either. The African restaurant had a chef who braided hair! Genuis!

I also found a salon on Soi 17 opposite Central World shopping mall.

I thought the tame ponytail and braid style would increase my chances of getting a job. I felt like I would be the new kid on the block and needed to ‘fit in’ again.

487228_10151680206496410_2047596666_n

This was my usual look for teaching. I could have worn an afro if I wanted to. There were three other black teachers; one wore dreadlocks and the other wore an afro.

13239202_10154224080591410_900056670263537948_n

A natural hair frohawk I did myself!

Love me, love my hair

I would love to say that I learnt how to take care of and style natural hair because I thought it was about time I did. This would be a lie. What really happened was, I moved to Germany, I couldn’t find a decent hair salon in the Frankfurt area, where I live. Yes there were salons but I found them so unprofessional it was a joke.

I learnt how to do my hair myself through Youtube bloggers Naptural85, LiveNaturallyLove Jessica Pettway, Nappy Fu, Protective Princess, Chizi Duru, Geraldine the Great and Living With Osa. These women are a part of the natural hair movement.

Natural Hair Movement? Yes, It turned out that I was not alone in my hair journey. Millions of black women around the world have ‘gone natural’ after having similar experiences to mine.

It is so liberating to hear that women now put aside weaves, relaxers and hot curlers to instead wear the natural hair they were born with: out loud and proud.

12369214_10153805174376410_9099870425380517231_n

First attempt at natural hair heatless curls

1043932_10154026424351410_203929566777716714_n

Natural hair wig

My hair lived happily ever after

So now I give my hair a lot of love as well as simply loving it. I only use natural products in it so I make my own shampoos, conditioning treatments, gels and creams from raw ingredients in my kitchen! I love talking about it, playing with it and wearing it in a multitude of styles. Now when I choose to ‘fake it’ I tend to wear a wig that is just like my hair but a lot bigger and bolder!

Day out: Wiesbaden Museum

I decided to beat the rain and go for a day out at Wiesbaden Museum, which I found out exhibits some super cool pieces by popular contemporary artists.

They had works by Thomas Bayrle, Eva Hesse, Winston Roeth, Mark Rothko and Christian Boltanski and the museum is beautiful too.

Check out the video above and don’t forget to like, comment and share it with your friends!

eva hesse

Eva Hesse

art wies

Thomas Bayrle

inside wiesbaden museum

The museum’s private event room. Very posh!

inside wies museum

To find out more about Wiesbaden Museum. Click here

 

The ulitmate tip in budget dining in Germany

Germany can be an expensive place to eat out in, especially Frankfurt, which is multicultural bussiness city with high-priced restaurants and wine bars.

I love to head off the beaten track into the nearby Rheingau region where local wine producers open their doors to the public to offer their wine and hearty meals for rock bottom prices.

Wine taverns or straußvirtschafts are where it’s at! ……Check out my video where I visit one in Wicker and give you all the details you need to find one when you’re next in the area of Hessen. 🙂 Enjoy! You can also head to my Youtube channel click here to see more travel videos.

 

Songkran water festival in Thailand is just one month away!

 

Check out my feature on how to survive Songkran – one of the world’s craziest parties.

I wrote this one for Jetstar Asia inflight magazine for all those people heading to the festival and in need of travel hacks to make sure they have the most bodacious time ever! 🙂 Go to the feature by clicking below.

Click here

I’m all excited about the Luminale 2016 light exhibition all over Frankfurt this week

Abena at the bar

I only heard about this light/art at night event while I was scrolling through Meetup.com checking out who and what was happening in Frankfurt. I saw a photography group were meeting up at Luminale 2016 and as always were ready to welcome newbies so I signed up and charged my cam.

When I checked out the website (click here) for the event I was pretty overwhelmed with the sheer amount of exhibits around the city. The programme was over 100 pages!

The event kicked off on march 14 and, as is happens I had to send my apologies to the photography lot because (Lord only knows how this happened) the train was late and then cancelled! For those of you who know Germans and Germany, lateness is just not an option so I was totally baffled while standing, freezing me bits off at the station.

I was also meeting some new buddies, who were very understanding. One was also running late… Obviously this friend was not German 😉

I digress! ..The light show.

Luminale 2016 is a city-wide light exhibition, on until March 18, when as soon as it gets dark the whole city comes alive with light and sound art installations, projections and interactive art at various different venues.

exhibit

I made another video! I think this is a slight improvement on the last one but still, I have a long way to go….. 😉

We wondered into the Trianon Light Show near Taunusanlage S-bahn.

Taunuslaunge1

In the S-bahn station we found a hologram of grafitti and artistic lighting.

station

After a while I was mesmorized by all of the city lights. There was something magical in the air.

Em and Varun1

Red light district

Even the red light district became art.

8 of the kindest ways to experience elephants in Asia

Riding an elephant was one of the biggest regrets I have from my travels. I was new to the whole thing and wanted to experience elephants in Thailand so I booked a cheap tour that included an elephant ride. BIG MISTAKE.

The worst point was when I was sitting on a chair atop an elephant that was bleeding from the head because the handler kept on poking it violently with a metal stick. The elephant and I were in the middle of a muddy stream and I had to decide whether to protest and get off or shut up and deal with it. I chose the latter because I didn’t know where  I was or how to get off. It was a sorry sight. I was a bit tearful because the elephant was being abused right in front of me and it was all my fault. I just wanted it to be over.

This was my first and last experience of elephants getting a rough deal as a side effect of tourism in their countries. I later learnt that they are often drugged, beaten and put through horrible ordeals in order for tourists to enjoy a ride. Their spirits must be broken to bring on submission. There is a name for this process. It is called ‘phajaan’. Rather than me explaining in words I found this video on YouTube for you to see for yourself.

Click here for video

There are so many other better ways to enjoy these majestic animals while travelling Southeast Asia. Organisations that protect elephants let tourists visit and help care for the elephants and an increasing number of elephant camps are transverting to this conservational style of tourism. Yes you will have to spend a bit more money but that is the cost of keeping them happy. Scroll over the project names in this article to find links for booking and more information. Enjoy!

  1. This is more like it. Rather than ride an elephant people are opting for washing them and caring for them at sancturies, such as The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.

6816174702_3e357afb71_o

Bathing_elephants._Udawalawe_National_Park._Sri_Lanka

2. You can volunteer as a conservationist with Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. This is more like being a scientist. You get to work with scientists and local people to help collect information, care for elephants and find solutions to help elephants and local people to live together without conflict.

Pinnwala

adventureswithbea.com elephants

3. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage , in Sri Lanka, is one of my favourites. It has the world’s largest population of captive elephants. The experience here is observatory, while relaxing with a snack.

4. You can actually go an see wild elephants roaming around Khao Yai National Park, in Thailand, which is just three and a half hours outside of Bangkok and easily reachable by minivan from Victory Monument Skytrain station.

5. One of the biggest elephant camps in Thailand, Sai Yoke Elephant Camp in Kanchanaburi, has transitioned into a conservation camp. Now called Elephant Haven, tourist trips include feeding, bathing and walking beside elephants.

6. You can emerse yourself in the Gwi culture by volunteering in a remote village in northern Thailand where The Surin Project provides economic sustainability to mahouts (elephant keepers) so that they don’t need to rely on elephant shows and riding.

703381_10152011034616410_1342372963_o

1400928_10152011032226410_537276344_o

1413126_10152011024931410_1924428183_o

7. If you are visiting Chiang Mai pop into the Elephant Parade House where you can buy a painted elephant sculpture or even paint one yourself. There are no live elephants to see but your cash goes to support elephants conservation projects in India and Southeast Asia.

ElephantParade2010_39

8. Also see the Elephant Parade Exhibition in Bangkok at Asiatique from December 20, 2015, to January 11, 2016, and at Lumpini Park from Janury 18 to 31, 2016.

Featured image source

Six must-do cultural experiences in Bali

I love Bali and in particular Ubud. I have travelled there alone, with friends and I have even acted as a tour guide there for my parents. These are my top tips for the best cultural experiences.

Tirtal empul adventureswithbea

Join the locals in a water blessing at the Tirta Empul Temple

Bali is about 90 per cent Hindu and water is so important to the religion that its people even see it in different grades; normal, holy and healing.

adventureswithbea Tirta Empul5

Cleansing and purifying, Bali is surrounded with water and that is why it is affectionately called  ‘The island of Gods’ or ‘The island of 1,000 temples.’

 

I don’t think I had ever experienced a spiritual connection until I visited the Tirta Empul Temple just outside a town called Tampaksiring. Tirta Empul means holy water spring and some people refer to it as ‘the Ganges of the East’ because the local Balinese Hindus, who go there in their thousands, believe the waters to have the power to heal illness as well as purify the mind and soul.

adventureswithbea Tirta Empul4

The waters are distributed throughout a number of pools in the temple complex. For visitors there are changing rooms and a place where you can hire a robe and sash required for the water blessing.

I was taken through my blessing by a spirit guide. There are quite a few who offer their services at the temple for a very small tip. I would definitely recommend using a guide because they show you the customs, help you avoid faux pas and explain the history and meanings of things in the temple.

My guide took me on this amazing meditative journey. After dressing in the sarong and sash, I went inside the main pool area where locals worship. I discovered it was not a simple jaunt into the waters. No. One must make an offering, pray, meditate and wash in a particular order.

adventureswithbea Tirta Empul

It’s a ritual that starts with a meditative prayer to the spirit of the sun. I sat on the stone next to the pool with my offering of flowers in a banana leaf bowl in my hands and my eyes closed. My spirit guide showed me the way through thoughts of happiness, love, important people in my life, my hidden depths, the beautiful environment, the earth, the cosmos, the sun and the universe. I opened my eyes in a daze and he guided me into the waters.

The water was cool and there were huge koi fish swimming around. I could feel soft moss-covered stones under my feet and there were scores of locals and a few tourists queing at the fountains, having a chat and bathing.

The pool has 13 fountains and at each fountain I was to say a prayer, wash my face three times, rinse my mouth three times and dunk my head under the fountain and and let the water into my eyes to cleanse them. Despite my journey into self, I was still holding on to my vanity quite tightly. I went into the pool wearing my hair piece, which promptly disappeared under the water as soon as I dunked my head! I kind of stood there waist-deep in holy water grinning sheepishly as the locals surrounding me giggled.

So, I placed my offering on the head of the fountain and did the ritual and continued on making wishes and prayers under each fountain. When I had completed the ritual I felt refreshed, revitalised, serene and somewhat hopeful for the future.

Learn Batik in the countryside.

adventureswithbea batik

Batik making in Indonesia goes way back and is most famous in Java.

Basically batik is wax-resist dyeing. You pour an intricate wax design on fabric and paint on dye in various colours.

Surrounded by gorgeous batik prints on sarongs and cloths, I felt inspired so I went to try my hand at the skill at a Widya’s Batik Workshop in Ubud.

adventureswithbea Bali batik painting

He has a simple studio where people go to get creative. Backpackers, artists and families spend days surrounded by fields, his pet dogs and friends while they concentrate on their designs.

I’m no artist yet I have huge artistic desires that never turn out the way I want. Luckily Widya had a variety of stencils I could mix and match to help me create a workable outline of for my ‘masterpiece’.

He demonstrated how to do each step. It was quite simple really.

Batik is very detailed and takes patience. I spent a whole relaxing day on my 50cm x 50cm cloth design, which featured a lotus flower and plenty of dots.

adventureswithbea Bali batik 1

Live with the locals.

Gusti Kaler House adventureswithbea

The architechture and temples in Bali are amazing. I was told every home has a temple and while I was staying in Ubud I noticed that this was actually true. I walked down the streets and peered into the open entrances to people’s homes and saw temples and shrines standing centre stage.

This is what makes a Bali homestay special. You get to live with local people, who give you a real insight into local ife and great tips on where to visit and what to eat. I stayed at Gusti Kaler House in the heart of Ubud and it was very cheap (about 14 euros a night, which I shared with a pal).

advetureswithbea Gusti Kaler House Ubud

adventureswithbea Bali Gusti Kaler

I spent my time there exploring its religious shrines and monuments. The rooms were basic but our needs were simple. We had huge wooden carved beds, cosy mattresses and a space for yoga and reading.

Stop and say hello.

adventureswithbea Balinese ladies

The people of Bali are really welcoming and curious about foreigners. As I wondered around Ubud, lots of ladies wanted to take a photograph with me! I was like famous…

I totally embraced the warmth of the people. The women are very touchy feely and affectionate. They wanted to stroke me and even wanted to feel my bloated belly for movement after a I ate a huge meal! I had to explain that I wasn’t pregnant, just ‘with food’.

Eat babi guling and ayam goreng in a warung.

adventureswithbea babi gulling Ubud

And when I say this I mean eat local. Babi gulling is suckling pig and one of Bali’s most famous dishes.

babi gulling adventureswithbea

Like many Balinese dishes, it comes served with rice and spicy vegetables. You can have any part of the pig you want as the Balinese leave very little to waste. I chose crackling and belly meat. I went to the very popular Ibu Oka, which has two locations: one on Ubud high street (best to go at 11am) and the more elegant version, just outside Ubud, called Ibu Oka 2.

adventureswithbea Babi Gulling2

Both are great warungs. A warung is simply a tax-free eatery and it is where the locals go. If you’re worried about trying foreign foods, go by my rule – if an eatery is packed with locals enjoying food, it’s good and safe.

ayam goreng adventureswithbea ubud

While driving down the street I asked my driver where he goes to eat so he took me to a roadside warung for ayam goreng. Ayam is chicken. Most people will say ayam goreng is friend chicken. Mine came shredded and mixed with spicy vegetables and it was served with a chicken kebab and  a chicken drumstick.

Watch the traditional dances.

adventureswihbea dance ubud

From about 7pm every night there is a selection of traditional dances taking place all over Ubud. There are more than 10 locations that host different styles of dance and performance, including fire dance, bamboo dance and puppet shows (see here for a full schedule) .

I love the backdrop at Cafe Lotus in central Ubud (below).

Ubud lotus cafe adventureswithbea

Arrive early at about 5 or 6pm to get a front row seat and you can dine and watch the show. They do expect you to spend a minimum amount (about 20 euros/21 dollars) on the front row tables. I found once you order a bottle of wine and a meal for three you can easily cover the spend.

 

And that’s it. These are just a few of my favourites cultural experiences in Ubud. What are yours? You can share your tips and start a conversation in the comment box below xxx

Have you seen the Kostas Murkudis exhibition?

MMK2

It was a freezing cold day in Frankfurt so I headed out in the snow with my camera to the Museum of Modern Art 2 (MMK2) partly because I had to get out of the house and partly because it was the last Saturday of the month and most museums in Frankfurt, including this one, are free to visit. I had no idea what I would find. Now I love fashion. I love designers. To me they are the best artists in the world. I can gaze at creations by McQueen, Westwood and Lagerfeld all day long. This day, I was in for a treat. MMK2 is showing At Close Range, a Kostas Murkudis exhibition, until Valentine’s Day next year.

mmk2 4

MMK2 5

MMK2 1

I felt like I was looking at a modern art exhibition. Murkudis is one of the most important designers in Germany. He’s not what one would call ‘commercial’. You won’t hear some glamour puss talking loudly about how she can’t wait to get her hands on his signature blah blah blah. Murkudis has been experimenting with fashion independent of the industry’s obsession with shopping and shows for a long time. He donated two fashion lines to MMK2 in 2013.

MMK2 3

At Close Range is an exhibition of many different mediums and artists. Video installations, sound curtains, photography, mood boards, curiosities, paintings and installations all in a minimalist setting. The list of artists on show read like a who’s who in contemporary art; Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Arakisuch, French painter Yves Klein, German painter and photographer Sigmar Polke, experimental filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad, Italian painter Piero Manzoni, Americn painter Morris Louis, German painter Blinky Palermo, US artist and musician Steven Parrino, US artist Robert Longo, German photographer Juergen Teller and German artist Franz Erhard Walther.

I snapped Jack Goldstein’s Suite of Nine 7-Inch Records.

MMK2 6

And then I got arty with me piccies!

MMK2 7

The pieces from Murkudis’ spring summer 2009 -11 collection looked as if they were being worn by ghosts.

MMK2 12

MMK2 11

I walked in between and got up real close to examine the fabrics and the way they were manipulated to create the pieces in the 2012-14 autumn/winter collections.

MMK2 13

Snapshots from Murkudis’ picture archive on the wall reflected in the glass case where more of the pictures were displayed.

MMK2 15

Murkudis is a modern artist come fashion designer or the other way around…He produces objects like glass baseball bats and collects keepsakes on shelves. Yet still he has worked with Pringle of Scotland and Closed.

I popped my head around a walled-off corner and found flourescent tubes and purple hues coming from a creation by New York artist Dan Flavin.

MMK2 14

The sun came out in the city so I went for a walk around towards the bridge.

Frankfurt8

Hey 🙂 Did you like this post? Let me know your thoughts in the comment box or share it or follow this blog for more inspiration for stuff to do and places to check out or, whatever…

Best haunts in Paris to get your read on

These four places should get you started on a literary adventure in Paris.

Shakespeare and Company bookshop is not just an ordinary store that sells books.

© Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : Amélie Dupont

This haunt on 37 Rue de la Bûcherie is a major attraction for anyone who is even remotely interested in books because there is always some happening going on whether it is a famous author reading, a debate, party or workshop. One of the most fascinating things about this place is it allows writers to live inside for free. An estimated 30,000 travelling writers (affectionately called Tumbleweeds) have slept among the texts in the store since the 1950s when the late George Whitman opened it.The shop’s history goes back to 1919 when American expat Sylvia Beach founded the original business on 12 Rue de la Odeon. Back then it was a shop, library and home-from-home for great writers, including Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce, in fact Sylvia was the first to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Bouquinistes is where you rummage for a unique discovery.

bouquinistes © Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : Marc Bertrand
Stroll along the River Seine at Les Bouquinistes, where more than 200 used booksellers offer their wares along a 3km stretch on both sides of the river.
Les Bouquinistes is a UNESCO world heritage site and feels like an openair bookstore, which is the reason the Seine is often described as the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves.
You can rummage all the way from the Pont Marie to the Quai du Louvre. Who knows, you may find something rare or you may find something useful – but what you will definitely have is a unique experience.
Follow in Hemingway’s footsteps.

deux magots
There has always been a popularity contest between Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots and which one is best is a matter of opinion, so if you have time best go to both. Why not, Café de Flore, on the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, is only a one minute walk away from Les Deux Magots on 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés. During the 1920s wordsmiths like Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre and James Joyce flitted between the two all the time.

The cosy place to read.

editeurs paris
You don’t even need company when you’re losing yourself in a book over lunch at Les Editeurs, which fuses café, restaurant, tea shop and library all into one space on 4 Carrefour de l’Odéon.
This popular spot is no stranger to holding book signings or prize givings, but what makes it special is you can reach out and pick one of 5,000 books that align the walls from floor to ceiling. They were donated by some of the many publishers who used to frequent the place when the area was central to the publishing business.

Loi Krathong in Bangkok – avoid the crowds!

Loi Krathong in Bangkok was the first and last time that I had ever been stuck in a traffic jam while travelling on foot.

Sounds crazy right? I didn’t even know it was possible to get stuck in traffic when you’re walking, but it certainly is in Thailand’s capital where about eight million people live and work.

First things first. Loi Krathong Festival of Light is a must-see sight if you’re visiting Thailand in November. People all over the country let off lanterns and float little banana leaf boats on rivers, lakes and ponds. In Bangkok there are illuminated boats, in Chiang Mai Lanna style lanterns fill the sky and in Sukhothai, where the festival originates from, you can see it on a backdrop of the historical park. This year the festival starts on November 21 in Sukhothai, 22 in Chiang Mai and 23 in Bangkok.

loi krathong traffic jam  Festival of light! A wonderful sight?

Take a look at this crowd picture I took while shuffling along at a snail’s pace on a Bangkok road. That was the year when I went to the Chaophraya River to join hundreds of thousands of people in the festival tradition of floating a krathong, which is a small boat fashioned out of banana leaves and flowers, on the river. It was my first time and I was such a novice.

I did what everyone else did – took the skytrain to BTS Sapan Taksin and transfered by tourist boat to Asiatique shopping village.

Big mistake. That particular shopping village doesn’t face the river so the views were impossible to see. It was so crowded we could hardly move. I could barely see my own feet and my delicate krathong got crushed in the madness.

My friends and I decided to just get out of the crowd and find somewhere quiet to relax with a Hong Thong (Thai whisky) but everyone was trying to either come or go by tuk tuk, bus, taxi, motorbike, car and on foot.

Three hours later and we were still in the same part of the city marvelling at how we had travelled such a small distance. We squeezed down an alley heading towards the river and found a party of locals celebrating Loi Krathong, letting off sky lanterns and krathongs in a car park.

So that’s where we stayed. It was cool watching all the different styles of lantern floating in the air. I counted so many heart-shaped ones! The Thais also showed their love of Manchester United FC by letting off lanterns displaying the logo. I wrote my wish on a latern, lit it and watched my dreams disappear into the sky. Then it was time for home… I kicked myself for not wishing for a helicopter.

How to celebrate without getting stuck in a jam!

After this crazy, frustrating and pretty cool experience I  asked around to find out where is the best place to celebrate and most of my Thai friends said it was best to find a local klong (river) or park and join a community festival. The most popular suggestion was Chatuchak Park (BTS Mochit or MRT Phahon Yothin), which ironically was five minutes from where I lived at the time!

This year all of Bangkok’s 29 public parks will be open for the festival. Yes they will be crowded but no where near as bad as anywhere close to Sapan Taksin.

Also, why not book a meal at a riverside restaurant? Yes prices will be bumped up for the festival but it’s what is expected.

My top picks for riverside dining.

The roof at Sala Rattanakosin

Arun Residence

Viva Aviv The River