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British mummy blogger and travel blogger

The guilty remnants

I'm a bit obsessed with new US series The Leftovers - in fact I'd go as far as to say it's my favourite… [more]

The guilty remnants The guilty remnants

Chased by monkeys and blessed by a monk

There are  A LOT of temples in Cambodia, some ruins, some beautifully kept and still used regularly.… [more]

Chased by monkeys and blessed by a monk Chased by monkeys and blessed by a monk

Visit to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

      If you get up really early (say, 4am) you can get to Angkor Wat in time… [more]

Visit to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom Visit to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

Guardians of the Galaxy review

I've had to wait a full 24 hours to blog this Guardians of the Galaxy review because it was under embargo… [more]

Guardians of the Galaxy review Guardians of the Galaxy review

Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

I've wanted to return to Vietnam ever since visiting Ho Chi Minh city a couple of years ago; it's such… [more]

Off to Vietnam and Cambodia Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

Our Michael Collins connection

Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they're somehow connected to the Irish freedom… [more]

Our Michael Collins connection Our Michael Collins connection

The guilty remnants

I’m a bit obsessed with new US series The Leftovers – in fact I’d go as far as to say it’s my favourite TV show since Lost. It focuses on a small town, after a rapture-like happening where 2% of the world’s population have disappeared. Anyway, there’s a sort of commune (or possibly a cult) in the show: they dress in white and smoke a lot and upset people. They’re called The Guilty Remnant.

Why am I telling you this? Well the theme of today’s Gallery is ‘family.’ Those of you who read my feature in The Guardian a while back will know that something I’ve always struggled with was knowing my younger sister and I had grown up with our much loved daddy, while the children from his first marriage didn’t really have any contact with him (not his or my mum’s choice).

My oldest sister


I’ve described my older siblings as the brother and sister I’ve never met. But over the years I have managed to glean some information about my older sister. I know that she had a son – a nephew I’ve never met, either – and that she was married at one point.

And I also know that she left her family when her son was very small and ran away to join a commune, or possibly a cult. Which is perhaps why The Leftovers has such resonance for me.

My big sister












This crumpled newspaper cutting is a photo of my sister when she was a model. She looks so beautiful. We still have no idea where she is, or whether she’s alive or dead and it’s possible we’ll never know. When someone disappears, apparently off the face of the earth, the guilty remnants are the ones left behind.


The Killing Fields and the amazing Cambodian people

It may seem strange that the Cambodian Government encourages tourists to visit the Killing Fields; but it’s an essential element of any visit to the country, because the fact is that from 1975 to 1979 an estimated 3 million people – 30% of the population – were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Nearly everyone you meet in Cambodia was affected by what happened, in some way, whether that’s the legacy of growing up without a family member who was murdered by the brutal regime, or struggling to survive in a country that has been scarred by genocide.

Choeung Ek














We visited the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek just as the sky was starting to darken and rain pour down; the suddenly bleak weather a fitting backdrop. We walked round silently as we were shown pits where victims had been buried alive; a tree where infants had been smashed to death; and inside the Buddhist stupa, the skulls, divided into age and sex, each with their own coloured sticker to indicate the way they’d died. You have to force yourself to look, and to read: you owe it to them all.

barbed wire Tuol Sleng











From here we moved on to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where 20,000 were tortured and killed. Many of their photos are on display and it’s impossible to tear yourself away from the harrowing images, so many faces, wondering if they could have known what terrible fate lay in store for them; some of them foreign tourists who were in the wrong place at the wrong time; some of them children. Most distressing is the photo of a woman holding a baby, knowing she’s about to be tortured.

Among the Khmer Rouge’s victims were intellectuals, those who wore glasses, the middle classes; a whole section of society was wiped out in their efforts to control the population and break their spirit.

Souk Cambodian schoolgirl











Ensuring children get an education is now a major priority in Cambodia, and we visited a school and village sponsored by Viking Cruises where the kids used to have to walk two or three miles just to get clean water. Now, they have a water pump and fresh water, and they’re talking about going to university and returning to help their village: kids like Souk, who is 14, loves geography and is looking forward to what the future holds.


Water-borne disease is still an issue in many communities and we saw kids actually swimming in rainwater with cattle. There is a long way to go.

Phare Cambodian Circus














All the people we met were warm and welcoming, so gentle, with wonderful smiles and an extraordinary generosity of spirit. The Killing Fields happened nearly 40 years ago, but there is still a long way to go until this incredible country is healed. There are huge issues with ‘orphanage tourism’ and exploitation; but there are also extremely positive things, like the fantastic Phare Cambodian Circus – a group of young acrobats who with the help of NGOs have come together to create something absolutely awesome.

These are some of the amazing people of Cambodia we met while we were there. Humbled, actually.

Elderly Cambodian woman













We met this elderly lady when we were walking round a village. When I asked if I could take her photograph she put down the very big knife she’d been carrying and insisted on removing her headscarf…

Elderly Cambodian man














…this charming elderly man invited us into his home…

Little girl CambodiaCambodian schoolboy














…..this little girl was just delightful…



…this little boy goes to the same school as Souk. So cheeky, fantastic character…

Mother and daughter Cambodia















…this mum and child were very relaxed on their hammock,next to their cattle…

Mother and baby Cambodia















…and this mum and her baby had such great smiles…
Cambodian kids















…and this group of kids kept wanting me to take their photos and show them the results. Very funny. Just like a group of kids anywhere in the world, in fact.

Chased by monkeys and blessed by a monk

Phnom ProsThere are  A LOT of temples in Cambodia, some ruins, some beautifully kept and still used regularly. It was on our excursion to Kampong Cham, to the Twin Holy Mountains of Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei, that we encountered some spectacular temples and Buddhas.

But what caught our attention first of all were the monkeys running wild everywhere. They’re macaques, and as you can see they’re rather gorgeous…

macaque monkey Cambodia












…I loved the expression on this one’s face…

monkey sticking his tongue out














…and then he stuck his tongue out…

sitting monkey Phnom Pros













…and this one…

sleepy monkey Cambodia














…and this sleepy one…

steps at Phnom Pros Cambodia












but they’re utterly fearless. If they cotton on to the fact that you’re watching them, they will leap on top of you or even chase you… which is why we found ourselves running down these rather steep steps…

monk with reclining Buddha Phnom SreiSo safely away from the monkeys we found ourselves surrounded by giant – and I do mean giant – Buddhas…









I think this photo puts the size in perspective…

Temple at Phnom Srei






I’m not remotely religious, and I find it difficult to see lots of gold and jewels when there are people living hand to mouth and begging within spitting distance. I like the idea of Buddhism but I can’t really get past that. But inside this beautiful temple, there was a shrine and the sobering sight of hundreds of skulls, victims of the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields. So maybe it’s about what helps you to get through whatever cards life deals you, and I do respect that.

Udon temple













On our visit to Udon, a monastery near Kampong Trolach, we saw the most astonishing temples, all glittering in the sunshine against the azure blue sky…

Children on the steps of Udon temple












…these kids were sitting on the steps, trying to take our shoes for a few dollars (giving money like this is really discouraged, and I couldn’t possibly inflict my smelly Birkis on them)…

ceiling Udon temple









…and then inside (this is the spectacular ceiling) we were invited to sit in the lotus position (well, cross-legged at least) on the floor and close our eyes while two monks chanted at us, apparently something about long life and happiness…

monks Udon










…at one point we were pelted with what I thought was water but turned out to be lotus flowers. And then when that was over we were invited (after we’d given over a few dollars, of course) to receive our amulets – red wool bracelets, blessed by the monks. Of course the monks aren’t allowed to touch women and both my monk and I found it funny as he tried to tie the knot without touching my wrist.

But… I still haven’t taken it off. I’m not sure if there’s anything in it but I’ll take all the help I can get.

monks Udon monastery













Afterwards, we were free to explore the monastery. We saw this procession of monks, off to get the food offerings from the neighbouring villages – they have to eat before midday every day.

elderly monk Udon













There was an old monk…

baby monk Udon














…and a young monk. Apparently boys/young men can try being a monk for a week if they fancy it and then go back to their everyday lives when they’ve had enough. No, me either.

Monks sheltering from the sun Udon












…I love this shot of the monks sheltering from the sun – they’re almost camouflaged..

Nuns at Udon













…and we also saw nuns…

nun's house Udon














…this is a nun’s house.

children playing Udon






…and kids playing hopscotch and climbing trees.

Buddha at Udon




















Our visit to Udon was a fascinating glimpse into a world that had been, until then, totally alien to me. Did it make me more centred, or calmer? Oh, for about five minutes.

amulet and a Strawberry Daiquiri







(Here’s my amulet. And a Strawberry Daiquiri, natch.)



Visit to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat




If you get up really early (say, 4am) you can get to Angkor Wat in time to see the sun rise; you and thousands of other travellers. We didn’t do this. Instead we arrived at a more civilised 8.30am, when the moat and temples seemed to be the same bronze colour…

Lotus bud temple Angkor Wat












…and the ruins were bathed in hazy sunshine.

Boy selling hats and postcards Angkor Wat
















As we made our way across the bridge which runs over the moat surrounding the temple we were accosted by this cheeky little boy, who was selling postcards and hats. I bought a packet of postcards (I didn’t haggle, I’m rubbish at haggling, and besides, he was just a kid) and he put on all his hats and gave me a big smile.

Angkor Wat ruins








And then it was in to Angkor Wat, which was built as a Hindu temple but later became a Buddhist temple. As you walk along past the ancient stone you can’t help noticing all the bullet holes, remnants of the Khmer Rouge occupation – a poignant reminder of Cambodia’s troubled past. Once inside it’s straight into Indiana Jones territory.

horse angkor wat






I met this horse dressed in traditional costume, who was very happy to have his forehead stroked. And then tried to eat my top (which was green).









The challenge at Angkor Wat is to climb as many levels as you possibly can. A few of us decided to force ourselves to climb the very narrow steps to the highest level – not easy in the blistering heat, we’d all run out of water by that point and although many scenes for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were filmed in and around Angkor we couldn’t have looked less like Angelina Jolie if we’d tried. Coming down was even worse, because the steps were shaky, the rail narrow and the whole time you’re focused on not slipping. Glad I did it, wouldn’t do it again.

View from the highest level Angkor Wat




But the views from the top were absolutely stunning.

Siem Reap river






That afternoon we drove to Angkor Thom. The entrance is located on the banks of the Siem Reap river, which is wonderfully peaceful…

four-leaf clover Cambodia





and it’s here where we found actual four-leaf clovers. All my times to Ireland and I’ve never seen a four-leaf clover before, and there were just loads of them growing by the river, amazing. There MUST be something in that, right?

giant statues Angkor Thom









The entrance is lined with giant statues…

temple angkor thom
















…and there was a temple with a monk inside…

Bayon temple









…and then it was in to the ruins of the Bayon Temple. It really is stunning…

children playing Angkor Thom














…I spotted these two girls playing in the ruins….

Woman recycling Angkor Thom












…and outside this elderly lady, who collects bottles for recyling for a living. She has the most fabulous, dignified face, doesn’t she? She is half-smiling for the camera, which I love.

Our day at Angkor had been exhausting physically (I don’t think I’ve walked so far or climbed so many steps in my life) and full of unforgettable experiences. But it was only the start of our extraordinary journey through Cambodia.

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review and day at Thorpe Park

So this summer as part of their #100daysoffamily campaign the lovely people at Samsung sent us a Galaxy K Zoom phone to review; and they also treated us to a day out at Thorpe Park, known for its water rides, the idea being that we’d use the new phone to film a lovely sunny family day out, with us getting a bit wet, hah hah.

Thorpe Park in the rainUnfortunately we chose the wettest day of the summer. It was so wet the rain was coming off our eyelashes and we a) had to invest in disposable electric blue cagoules and b) we could barely see through the rain to photograph or film anything. Still, being British of course we battled through, and oh how we laughed.

Angry birdsI couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for these very wet Angry Birds or whatever they are, although frankly, we were soggier.

Anyhoo, No 1 Son has fallen completely in love with the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom – particulary the camera – and nabbed it for himself, so when you’ve finished watching this (very) brief video of Saw at Thorpe Park then do read his rather comprehensive review of the phone. And remember, if you’re planning a day out at a British theme park in the middle of August, even if it looks perfectly fine when you leave the house, for goodness sake take cagoules ;)

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom review

Samsung Galaxy K Zoom cameraThe Samsung Galaxy K Zoom is Samsung’s effort to combine a proper functioning digital camera with all the features of an android smartphone. It arrives in a well packed wood-themed box which deceives you as to the size of the phone. It is massive – the camera at the back dominates and makes it very uneven (though it does retract when switched off). It can be a bit too big for pockets and quite heavy, but you’ll never misplace it.

Samsung Galaxy K ZoomHowever this does mean it has a massive screen (4.8”) so you’ll never have issues with tapping the wrong thing or squinting to read something. Its size might strike you as a battery drainer but the opposite is true, with up to three days of life and exceptionally fast charging. It runs very quickly and smoothly with two processors totalling six cores – more than you’ll find on some notebooks.

The camera is the main feature and clearly what the phone is designed towards. Samsung provide an impressive studio and a shop for more features, but the wealth of options at your disposal are enormous anyway. The camera can zoom to 10x with perfect quality, operating at a staggering 20.7 megapixels, with an additional 2 megapixel front camera for facetime and similar apps. You can take superb quality pictures and video and edit them to your heart’s desire – making this the perfect phone for the budding photographer, and even professionals will love it.

All of the features of an android phone are on here too, every app you could ask for. It comes in a variety of colours and looks very stylish despite its size, making this a great choice for those who want a big, powerful smartphone – and a digital camera all in one.


Mekong skies

The Mekong




I’m a huge fan of sky and cloud porn, and so I’ll often stand for ages taking photos of sunsets and moons and storms. One of the best things about taking a river cruise along the Mekong is that the scenery changes constantly, from jungle to villages, small towns and cities. When it’s calm and the sky is blue it’s absolutely stunning…

Storm on the Mekong











at times the water looks muddy and golden (it’s actually silt causing that), which accentuates a stormy sky (and it really does get stormy, and also choppy)…

Sunset on the Mekong









and the sunsets are spectacular – I loved the drama of this one….

Another sunset on the Mekong











…and this was the sunset on our final night, when the water was calm and tranquil again…

Morning on the Mekong











…the following morning we woke to brilliant sunshine and blue. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen the sun that shape before. I mean, it’s oval, right?




*This is my entry for The Gallery and the theme this week is ‘the sky’. I took these photos on the Mekong last week using my iPad mini with absolutely no filter whatsoever.

Hanoi rocks

I know, I know it’s been over two weeks since I blogged, but if you follow me on twitter and instagram you’ll know I’ve been seeing some extraordinary things in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was a mind-blowing trip and it’s taken me a few days just to come down from all the highs. There’s so much to write about, I’m just going to have to share my experiences gradually, chronologically. Bear with me.

So, we arrived in Hanoi after a 14-hour-flight via Bangkok, and straight away every sense was assaulted by noise, smells and lots of things to look at. This was my second time in Vietnam but my first in Hanoi and we couldn’t wait to discover what this city has to offer.

Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi bedroomOur hotel, the Sofitel Legend Metropole, has a fascinating history, and during the Vietnam war artists including Joan Baez sheltered in its bomb shelter. It has a wonderful colonial feel – I loved my bedroom…

…but more importantly, it also has a cocktail named after author Graham Greene (which the menu listed as a Green Graham, but we think this was probably a mistake). Apparently Hanoi is where he got the inspiration for The Quiet American when he was a foreign correspondent, and so the Graham Greene cocktail was invented at the hotel in 1951. It rapidly became my favourite and then I got everyone else hooked. It’s basically a Crème de cassis martini served with a sorbet, which you can empty in to the martini or just eat separately. It’s sweet, refreshing and utterly delicious. Also, lethal. I recommend no more than two in one evening *cough*. Even if you’re not staying at theGraham Greene cocktail, having a Graham Greene is one of my Hanoi must-dos. Official.

Hanoi trafficWith two full days in Hanoi this was our chance to go out and explore. But the first challenge (and honestly, it was a challenge) was to cross the road and stay alive, because the Vietnamese tend to get around on motorbikes and scooters (as they’re cheaper than cars) and they pay no attention to things like traffic lights or crossings whatsoever.

In the end, after feeling a bit like chickens trying to cross the road, we discovered all you can do is brazen it out – walk swifty (or in our case run, screaming, holding hands) across the roads. The fact that so many Vietnamese people seemed to be openly laughing and pointing at us gave us the sneaking suspicion jay-walking tourists are a national joke.

Hanoi opera houseIt was insanely hot, at least 90F, and we quickly got lost in the side streets and then discovered we’d been walking round and round in a big square. Oh how we laughed. This is the Opera House, which we passed several times.

Chinese lanterns HanoiOur first night we decided to go for dinner at a local outdoor restaurant. It was so pretty with all the lanterns outside…

Vietnamese buns…and inside (well, still outside really) we were delighted to discover it was a bit like street food, with lots of different dishes to try, including fried buns which were absolutely incredible. It was dirt cheap, too, and of course there was time for a Graham Greene before bed.

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleumThe next day as part of our Viking River Cruises Magnificent Mekong itinerary we were up early to join the tour to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. This was a slightly bizarre experience. You’re not supposed to laugh or take photos (#mybad) and you queue for quite a long time in the hot sun before trooping in, silently, to go and see Ho Chi Minh. I mean, actually Ho Chi Minh. He’s perfectly preserved, with four guards surrounding his body and two flags – the hammer and sickle and the Vietnamese star – hanging above him. It’s rather creepy, to be honest, and you can’t help wondering why the Vietnamese decided to spend so much money on a ridiculously large memorial when so many people seem to be living hand to mouth.

Particularly when we visited Ho Chi Minh’s former home, and discovered that he rejected the opportunity to live in a palace or big house and chose instead to live in a simple two-room apartment. Go figure. Still, it was utterly fascinating.

Street seller HanoiOutside I spotted this lady selling delicious-looking baked goods which I managed to resist but every time I look at this photo I wonder what they tasted like…

Morning in HanoiThat evening we ate at the Press Club before enjoying a few more Graham Greenes. Somehow the next morning we managed to get up for one of our Hanoi highlights: a trip to the street markets in an electric car. It was pouring with rain, but even though it was only 9am the markets were buzzing. If you want to get a real feeling for Hanoi, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Also, a cagoule.

Vietnamese flowerAnd then it was time to leave Hanoi for our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While Hanoi hadn’t captured my heart in quite the same way as Saigon, the memory of all those Graham Greenes will definitely stay with me *sighs wistfully*.


Off to Vietnam and Cambodia

I’ve wanted to return to Vietnam ever since visiting Ho Chi Minh city a couple of years ago; it’s such an intriguing country in terms of history and culture: endlessly fascinating. And of course Cambodia, too, has always been on my wishlist.

Viking MekongSo this morning we’re catching a flight to Bangkok and then another one to Hanoi on an epic adventure to Vietnam and Cambodia. We’re staying a few days in Hanoi before travelling to Cambodia, where we’ll visit Siem Reap. Then we’ll be going to Phnom Penh and boarding the river ship Viking Mekong, which looks like this – isn’t it awesome?

Angkor WatWe will of course be visiting Angkor Wat; and the Killing Fields.

It promises to be inspiring and unforgettable trip. I’ll be sharing as much as I can while I’m travelling (depending on how good the wifi is) and will be posting A LOT when I return.

Our Michael Collins connection

Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they’re somehow connected to the Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins. We’d grown up hearing that we were related to ‘The General’, but no one seemed to know exactly how. When we were learning about him in history at school I tried to find out a bit more but of course this was a few years before the World Wide Web, and even recently it was difficult to trace your Irish family history online: so many common names, and so many parishes.

Michael CollinsThe weird thing was that we presumed the connection, if there was one at all, was via my grandfather’s side of the family, because his brothers had all fought in the War of Independence. Turns out this was a family story that had somehow become distorted. In fact, my mother told me that when she was growing up her mother and grandmother (my great grandmother) had spoken of being related to ‘The General’ many times.

So, a few years ago one of my cousins, who lives in Ireland, decided to do the research and find out if there was an actual Michael Collins connection or whether it was just one of those family myths.

It took him the best part of a year, with a lot of searching of parish records and so on, but eventually he got the facts he was looking for: Michael Collins’ mother, Marianne/Mary Ann (there are a lot of variants of spellings), had a sister, called Juliann O’Brien. One of Juliann O’Brien’s children was my great grandmother, also Juliann. Therefore, my great grandmother and Michael Collins were cousins.

Of course, Michael Collins had A LOT of cousins (these weren’t small Irish families) but it’s interesting to think that my great grandmother – also from Cork of course – would have known Michael and his siblings.

For us, it’s a weird feeling, knowing that we are – however distantly – related to such an important figure in the history of Ireland. I can’t say there’s a huge family resemblance – to me he actually looks a bit like Kenneth Branagh. Perhaps this family connection is where we all get our fighting spirit from though, who knows. But it’s a strange thing to see a statue of one of your distant ancestors in a square in Dublin. I should probably get round to watching the film Michael Collins, at some point. Not least because Liam Neeson is in it.


Our beautiful new carpet

After MONTHS of practically living with our builders, our house is finally finished, and it looks beautiful. There was just one final finishing touch, and that was to order carpet for the stairs, landing, No 1 Son’s room, the spare room and my room.

I’m very much a wooden floor type of person downstairs but the more hotels I stay at the more I appreciate the luxury of having bedroom in the carpet; when you get out of bed on a cold morning it feels fabulous to step on to a soft, warm carpet, and it’s the easiest way to achieve that boutique hotel chic look.

So a few weeks ago Man of the House and I went down to our local branch of Carpetright to order the carpet. He had already taken the measurements, and after quite a lot of deliberation we decided to go for an ivory-coloured carpet; which might seem slightly insane, given that Yoda the dog has no concept of how dirty paw prints affect light, clean material. But the advantage of the carpet we chose is that it’s stain-resistant and you can also, should you really need to, clean it with bleach. We decided to choose the same carpet for all the rooms and stairs and landing because if you go for the same colour it makes the house feel bigger.

The carpet we chose is made from polypropene, not wool. The reason we decided to go for this one is that if you’ve ever had wool carpet (we had it in our old house) you’ll know that modern-day wool carpets can attract moths, which is the last thing you want. My mum has wool and spends ages spraying the carpet with lavender spray, to no avail – the little blighters still appear. I wanted a carpet that was really easy to maintain, but still looks good and feels soft.

We ordered the carpet and the underlay from the assistant, who was highly amused by Man of the House’s terrible jokes, and then all we had to do was wait; the delivery was delayed slightly but they rang us to tell us what was happening several times, which I thought was very good.

new carpetThe fitters arrived yesterday and they worked LIKE LIGHTNING. It took them about two hours in total to fit all the underlay and carpet, and here are the results.

upstairs carpetIt looks gorgeous, doesn’t it? Exactly what I wanted. And it has that wonderful new carpet smell, too.


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