Germany: Oktoberfest, Beer Tasting, Castles & Surfing

Having already visited Germany a couple of times, I was really excited to head back to visit Munich and Nuremberg; two cities I hadn’t explored yet. Our main reason for visiting at the end of September was of course, Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival (known as Volkfest).

oktoberfest

A few of my friends I was travelling with had been to Oktoberfest before, but the closest I’d ever come to it was dancing on a table in Sheffield’s Bierkeller with a stein, so I was very excited to finally experience the real deal!

The main Oktoberfest festival site is in the centre of Munich, and it’s definitely worth going to if you want the full Oktoberfest experience. With several beer halls to choose from, food stalls and fairground rides, it’s easy to spend all day there. On the weekend days, you have to arrive pretty earlier to bag yourself a table (some people spend lots of money reserving them too, but we were happy to just turn up and join someone else’s table). The festival itself shuts about 10pm each night too, so it’s definitely worth getting up early and making a day of it.

Walking into the first big beer hall was certainly a sight to behold as I hadn’t envisioned quite how many people they could fit; in total, there were around 6,000 people! Inside there are rows of benches, a Bavarian band and thousands of steins clinking together. The best part of these halls is how sociable they are, as you join other people on the benches. We met people from all over the world, and it’s the best atmosphere getting to celebrate together. The highlight of this for me is the tradition of someone having to down their stein if they stand up on the table. While they do this, everyone hurls food at them and chants. I felt like I was stood watching a medieval play or something seeing radishes fly threw the air!

Outfits are another huge part of Oktoberfest, and I was glad we’d purchased lederhosen and dirndls in advance. We bought these for quite cheap online, but many of the locals had beautiful, traditional versions which were certainly something to show off.

My favourite hall inside Oktoberfest had to be Hacker, as the beer is particularly tasty and the rowdy atmosphere was perfect for my friend’s birthday. And yes, he had to down his stein on the table!

munich

As Saturday was looking to be the busiest day for Oktoberfest, we decided to head explore the centre of Munich for the day. The architecture in Munich is absolutely stunning, and even though a lot of attractions were closed during the festival, it was still enjoyable to explore the city. We visited the Oktoberfest Museum to find out more about the history of Munich’s breweries, before taking part in a beer tasting in the museum’s cellar of all the festival’s featured beers.

If you want to get a good view of the city, the Englischer Garten is a must. The garden itself is huge with a beautiful lake,  a Chinese Tower and a viewing stand on top of the hill. We enjoyed some great street food, steins and Bavarian music in the garden’s marketplace, before heading to the surfing wave. Known as the Eisbach, this river in Munich features a man-made wave which permanently flows throughout Munich. This spot is popular all year round with surfers practising their moves,  and tourists watching in awe.

While I got a great feel for the city, I’m keen to head back to Munich outside of Oktoberfest to explore the museums and other tourist attractions.

nuremberg

As we were flying back from Nuremberg, we opted to leave Munich on the Sunday morning and head straight to Nuremberg to explore the city. We had an Airbnb apartment booked for the Sunday night, much to our relief after four nights of camping!

Nuremberg felt wonderfully calm and peaceful after the bustle of Munich and Oktoberfest. Like Munich, the architecture is beautiful, and the city looks like a traditional Bavarian town. We walked along the castle walls, enjoying the stunning views of the city and the pretty gardens near the top of the castle. As it was a Sunday and renovation work was taking place, we couldn’t go all the way to the top of the castle, but the views were still great just the same.

We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon grabbing tasty food from Nuremberg’s food market and enjoying yet more steins in some of the bars and beer halls. The permanent beer halls in Munich and Nuremberg are still great options for drinking if you’re wanting a more chilled atmosphere than that of the main Oktoberfest site.

A must-see in Nuremberg has to be the Ehekarussell fountain, which features disturbing statues depicting the poem Bitter-Sweet Married Life by Hans Sachs.  It’s certainly not like anything you will have seen before!

Similarly to Munich, I would like to visit Nuremberg again to visit the numerous museums and cultural attractions it has to offer. All in all, it was fantastic to visit Germany again, although I I think I’ve had enough steins and pretzels  to last me a while!

 

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Malta: Forts, Cathedrals & the Silent City

Admittedly, the island of Malta has never been at the top of my bucket list for travel destinations, and I knew next to nothing about its history, people or culture. This made it evermore exciting to visit however, as I got to travel there with little to no expectations of what to expect. Sometimes this can be a refreshing alternative to planning an itinerary or checklist of what you want to do or explore.

As it’s quite a small island, although not as small as its sister island Gozo, it’s very easy to get around Malta and visit several cities on the island. For just €2 on the bus, you can get around on a budget, whilst taking in the beautiful scenery of the harbours, coastlines and vineyards. However, these buses can get very cramped and do not always show up on time!

St paul’s bay / Buġibba

We stayed in St Paul’s Bay, which is a short walk away from the city centre of Buġibba, one of the most popular tourist towns on the island. I’m really happy we stayed here, as you’ve got ample choice of restaurants, bars and cafés to choose from, yet it’s a quieter area for when you want a good night’s sleep. If you’re wanting somewhere more lively, then St Julians/Paceville seems to be the most popular choice. We got the bus to Paceville for a night out on one of the nights, and although it was fun for a night of dancing, I probably wouldn’t choose to stop there!

There’s a nice coast line and rocky beach in Buġibba, which in the evening, looks very beautiful alongside the lit-up restaurants and bars along the seafront. We were told that the best beaches in Malta were in the north, a bit further up from where we were staying, and in particular, the best beaches were Paradise Bay and Golden Bay. So we opted to visit Golden Bay for the day, and I was thrilled to be back in the sea at last! With it being mid-August, the beach was very busy as you’d expect, so I imagine it would be much nicer to visit these beaches during the quieter months.

I was hesitant about finding vegan eating options in Malta, but I was pleasantly surprised to find many restaurants not only having dishes that were accidentally vegan, but actually having vegan listed on the menu. Personal favourites for me in St Paul’s Bay/Buġibba have to be The Chef’s Table, Mezzaluna Pizzeria and SALT Kitchen & Lounge.

Valletta

No trip to Malta would be complete without visiting the capital city of Valletta, where most of the historical tourist attractions are found. Upon arrival, it was clear to see why Valletta gets compared to Italy, with its stunning architecture and narrow streets.

We visited Fort Saint Elmo and the National War Museum, which is a fantastic way to learn about Maltese history, including the Order of St John and Malta’s Independence. You can walk around the fort which still has cannons and giant anchors intact.

If you really want to see some stunning architecture, St John’s Co-Cathedral is an absolute must. We ended up visiting here an hour before closing so it was very busy inside, however, it was worth it to see the beautiful baroque art and architecture inside, including paintings from acclaimed artists such as Caravaggio. I don’t think my picture below does the cathedral justice! With your entry ticket, you’re given a free audio guide which gives you very detailed information about the history behind the paintings and features.

We finished our sightseeing with a trip to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which overlook the Grand Harbour. The garden itself is quite small, centred around a beautiful fountain, and features a café/bar and some war rooms, which we didn’t pay to visit in the end. The panoramic views from the gardens are breathtaking; you can practically see the whole of Valletta from up there. I’m surprised how quiet the garden was, and it was nice to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while taking in the views of the city.

Valletta is also a great choice for an evening out; there are plenty of restaurants to choose from and lots of bars and cafés offering happy hours. Although the city appeared to quieten down later on,  there are still some great options for evening entertainment, although we didn’t stay late enough to explore these fully.

MDINA

Known as the Silent City, Mdina is a medieval walled city with many of its historical buildings and features still intact. On quieter days, I imagine it feels as though you’ve stepped completely back in time. The city is quite small, and doesn’t take long to look around, and as it’s up on a hilltop, you can enjoy lovely views from various tearooms within the city. It features a few museums, two of which we looked around; the Museum of Torture, which informs you of the many grisly forms of torture that took place throughout history, and the Cathedral Museum, which connects to St Paul’s Cathedral and displays artifacts such as coins, paintings and religious relics. Like St John’s Co-Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral features baroque architecture, but I found this cathedral to be much quieter and more pleasant to look round.

My highlight in Mdina has to be the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum. The house looks as though it has been frozen in time, with all the rooms and artifacts displayed in their original form. The most recent owner of the Palazzo was Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher, who was a proud collector of art and antiques. The visit includes an audio guide which is very interesting and informative as you explore each room in the large house. The house has been restored and maintained very well, and I particularly liked the pretty outside courtyard pictured below.

There really is something for everyone to do in Malta, whether you’re looking for sandy beaches to lie on, or historic towns to look around, it’s an ideal location for a combined cultural and relaxation holiday. I love how the size of the island allows you to visit so many cities, and I’m definitely keen to come back and explore the even smaller island of Gozo.

 

 

Amsterdam: Bicycles, Coffee Shops & Brass Bands

I’d heard so much about Amsterdam that I felt as though I’d already been there and could already picture the bike-cladded streets winding around the canals. For years I’d been desperate to see the city for myself, so me and a few friends decided to head there for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday.

Amsterdam has an amazing transport system – car, bike, boat, tram, train or bus – you can take your pick! Even though we were staying a while out of the city centre, our weekend public transport passes were a fantastic way of getting around the city.

As we arrived quite late on the Thursday night, we grabbed some food for breakfast and a couple of beers and relaxed in our hotel apartment.

FRIday

In the morning we headed off to the the museum quarter with pre-booked tickets for the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Having studied art at school, I was really keen to see his work in person and learn a bit more about his back story. One thing to note with attractions like this and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is that most places require you to book tickets and a time slot in advance.

Having a time slot worked well with the Van Gogh museum and the floors feel very spacious, giving you lots of time to explore each section and read the information about each piece. I’ve been to a few big art galleries in the past, but this is the first gallery I’ve been to which focuses entirely on one artist’s work. And you can truly see why Van Gogh holds such fascination for many people. I was already familiar with his post-impressionist style of painting, but it was interesting to see the other art styles he experimented with over the years, such as pencil drawings and peasant character studies. I also particularly enjoyed the self-portrait section, as I feel as though it’s unusual for an artist, who you’d usually expect to distance themselves from the subject of study, become that study themselves.

We spent the afternoon exploring the city by foot, which I could honestly spend hours doing! The architecture is so beautiful in Amsterdam (reminding me very much of Paris at times) and there are so many cute cafés and shops to look around. We ended up venturing into one of Amsterdam’s infamous ‘coffee shops’, where you can enjoy legal marijuana. We picked one with a cat called Bowie who is pretty popular with tourists!

In the evening, we ventured out to De Pijp, a popular strip full of bars. As it struck midnight, we celebrated my birthday with some shots and sparklers before heading to a Jazz Bar called Bourbon Street Music Club. This is a fantastic venue if you want to get away from the busy, touristy bars and we joined a few locals dancing to an awesome Blues band.

Saturday

Despite being a bit hungover from the night before, we left the apartment bright and early to visit the Anne Frank House, as we’d already booked an early time slot. I knew that this visit would be tough, but I’d heard very good things about it. The museum didn’t look how I expected to from the outside, as I didn’t realise that they had built it around the original annex. The tour takes about an hour and you are provided with a free audio guide, which I found very informative and moving. There is no furniture left in the annex, but you do get a feel for the enclosed space that the Frank family shared with the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer during their two years in hiding. At the end, you hear some accounts from Otto Frank and others survivors who had been close with Anne. It’s a sad but very moving experience, so I’d definitely recommend it. Upon recommendation of a friend, we then stopped by the pancake house outside the Anne Frank house to enjoy some traditional dutch pancakes, which were really delicious!

Then it was time to head home for a quick nap, before heading back out into the city centre. We took a little ferry from the train station to the A’DAM Lookout, a tall building with a panoramic view of the city. The cost to go up the  tower is quite expensive and you do have to pay extra to go on the swing. I didn’t realise that the swing slots also book up in advance, and as there was a two-hour wait, I decided not to do it. However, the view from the tower is stunning, and we enjoyed the rooftop bar and music in the sunshine.

Me and two other friends bought a bundle ticket for the tower and a canal boat ride afterwards. However, we spent 45 minutes queuing in the heat and as it was getting on a bit in the evening, we decided to head back to the apartment instead. It was a shame to waste the money, but I think you’re better off paying for a smaller, independent boat company, rather than going for one of the big ones. The smaller boats themselves also looked much nicer to ride on when it’s sunny, as the big ones we were waiting for all had roofs on.

In the evening we headed back to De Pijp for a Mastino Pizza, which we had read rave reviews about. I had a really tasty vegan pizza with vegan-style brie! As it was a lovely day and the restaurant is quite small, we took our pizzas to a nearby park and enjoyed them with a few bottles of wine. Later on, we explored the infamous red light district. I’d heard lots of stories about it, yet I still found myself feeling surprised and disturbed. We had a few drinks in one of the bars around there, but soon decided to head out of the district! We finished the night in a really fun club called Club NYX, which had a drag queen show on. The music and atmosphere was great in this club, but don’t be put off by people dancing right next to urinals on the second floor!

SUNDAY

On Sunday we decided to explore the city by bicycle and make the most of the hot weather. We cycled to Vondelpark, which has beautiful lakes and fountains. In the park, we also stumbled upon a Dutch brass band called Gallowstreet. They were so much fun and really got the crowd dancing. As well as being extremely skilled with their instruments, one member even used four different seashells to play music! The atmosphere was amazing and this was easily the highlight of my trip.

We enjoyed a pleasant cycle home before getting ready to head back out for the evening. After a few drinks in the flat, we got an Uber straight to a club that sounded like it had a good night on. However, once we paid loads to get inside, we found it to be completely dead and playing terrible music. I think that’s the quickest I’ve ever gone in and out of a club! We headed back to the apartment instead to take some ‘magic’ truffles, which you can buy from various shops in Amsterdam. I think they truly rounded off the Amsterdam experience!

I was sad to leave Amsterdam on Monday morning but I definitely intend to return in the future. While it’s close enough to travel to just for a weekend, there’s so much to do there that I think you’ll end up wanting to stay longer!

Another year gone

Every year it seems that almost everyone I know is ready to leave behind the year and begin the new one. They start reeling off the usual resolutions and promises to themselves to eat healthier, join a gym and stop drinking so much. While I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to bring, for the first time ever, I don’t feel quite ready to let go of 2017.

It feels strange thinking that this time last year I was getting ready to embark on what was to be the best four months of my life, backpacking around South East Asia with my friends. And while I feel sad that I’ve got nothing as exciting planned for 2018, it’s fantastic to look back at the year I’ve had. It’s unbelievable how fast the year has gone, but as it turns out, time really does fly when you’re having fun!

As well as it being a fun year, I also feel as though I’ve learnt a lot in 2017, so I thought I’d round up a few.

The unfamiliar world really isn’t as scary as you think

Before getting on that plane, I was absolutely terrified of flying by myself to an unfamiliar country where not everyone speaks my language, and I remember worrying that everyone around me was going to try and mug me. Of course, a few days in I soon realised that this was not the case at all and that in general, most people are good and want to help! This goes for lots of countries of course, and it’s sad that the news is constantly making us feel as though the world is out to get us. And while there is still a lot of bad in this world, there’s always a lot more good outweighing it.

But you still need to be careful

When I first got back to England, I felt pretty confident and safe being back in familiar territory, surrounded by friends and family. Yet it’s easy to become naive and forget that danger is still out there. I recently moved back to Sheffield, where I hold fond memories of university life and the city has always felt like a second home to me. However, I recently experienced a pretty scary incident with a strange man, who catcalled and chased me through one of the underpasses. I’ve never ran so fast in my life and it’s safe to say that the incident left me pretty shook up after. Luckily, I happened to run past a van full of police right around the corner, who were so helpful in helping me to file a report. They even drove me around the area to try and find the man, before dropping me off all the way to the door of the pub where I was meeting my friends. It upsets me how much this has knocked my newly gained confidence and has made me realise how vulnerable I still am. However, it’s really reassuring to know that the police force are really understanding and keen to help.

No one’s life compares to yours, so you shouldn’t compare yours to theirs

I feel like this is something I have to continually tell myself every year, yet it’s something many of us are often guilty of. With apps like Instagram constantly showing us pictures of our tanned friends travelling the world, it’s easy to wish your life was like theirs. Even when I had the privilege of travelling for a few months, I ended up being envious of my friends who were travelling for a over a year. It was hard to come back to reality and know that they were still out there experiencing incredible places. Yet I’ve also had friends tell me how jealous they’ve been of my travels, and so I keep stopping myself to think about how lucky I’ve been to experience a few months.

You will always find a job, even if it feels as though no company wants you

As expected, I had some pretty bad holiday blues once I was back in England and I soon got pretty down when I was job hunting and struggling to find work. Eventually I secured a temp job at Nottingham Trent University, which I really enjoyed. Sadly it came to an end though, and I was back to job hunting. At first I felt quite positive, as I secured several interviews after months of applying. When I didn’t get job offers after the interviews however, it really knocked my confidence. As anyone who’s been in that situation can tell you, every rejection really hits you hard, especially after you’ve put so much effort into an application and interview. You start to wonder if you’re really good enough and you take it very personally. However, as I was down to my last two interviews, one of them offered me a job back in Sheffield where I was keen to move back to. Suddenly I had a hectic couple of weeks finding somewhere to live and  getting ready for the new job, but that just made it ever more exciting! Now, I’ve moved in with some lovely housemates and have found a job I really enjoy going to each day, so it’s important to remember that you will get there in the end.

Setting goals for 2018

So after an awesome year (despite a few lows), I’m welcoming 2018 with open arms. I think I’ve learnt to like myself more throughout 2017, so I won’t be adopting the ethos of ‘new year, new me’. Instead, I’ve just set a few personal resolutions, which I fully intend on achieving!

  1. Complete Veganuary (and see where it takes me) – As you may have seen in one of my previous posts, I went vegan for a week in summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy I found it and so I’ve decided to try a bit longer this time and go vegan for the whole of January.
  2. Learn to do 1-5 pull-ups – I’ve been a regular gym-goer with a keen interest in weight training for a couple of years now, yet I’ve still never been able to do a single pull-up without the help of an assisted machine. So I’ve set myself this goal to see if I can finally achieve one.
  3. Be on my phone less – This one is slightly harder to measure objectively like the other two, but it’s something I’m keen to try and keep up. When I was travelling, I enjoyed the freedom of not being on my phone all the time and when I came back, I continued to not be on it very much. Yet after a few weeks of settling back into my old lifestyle, I found myself on my phone more and more. So I’d like to try and take this back a notch.
  4. Visit two countries – Of course the temptation of further travel is constantly niggling away at me, yet I want to stick with a job for a little while yet and save up some money. However, I’m keen to plan two trips away in 2018, whether it’s a long weekend or an action-packed two weeks.

Happy New Year!

 

South Thailand: Scuba Diving, Songkran & Full Moon Parties

It felt strange to be back in the hot streets of Bangkok where we’d began our journey. Although this time around, I arrived feeling at ease and like a more experienced traveller than I once before. It felt odd to be the one dishing out tips to tourists who had just arrived at our hostel, rather than being the one receiving them!

But we were only back for the night, and we soon met up with our friends Stacey and Joel again to book a bus to Krabi. I was excited to move away from the cities and enjoy some time with the sea and sand.

Ton Sai & Railay Beach

Instead of exploring Krabi Town, we hopped on a tiny motorboat to Ton Sai Beach where we’d booked two bungalows on stilts to stay in. It truly felt like we’d finally arrived on a remote island as we carried our huge rucksacks over our heads and waded our way through the sea.

While a lot of people choose to stay at Railay Beach, (which is about a 20 minute walk from Ton Sai), we opted to go for the latter, as it’s cheaper and less busy. The island is so small that there are just a few places to eat and stay, and all the electricity gets turned off at about 10pm. But that just makes it the perfect place to relax and it was nice to enjoy a few days completely disconnected.

While Ton Sai has some great rock climbing opportunities, there isn’t a great deal more to do, as you can imagine for most islands! So we enjoyed a nice hike to a viewpoint before cooling off in the beautiful sea. You can tell that Ton Sai is a haven for travellers, and we almost felt like we were back in Pai when we spotted the hammock-clad bars adorned with psychedelic mushrooms on the walls.

On our last day we took a walk over to Railay Beach, which is great for snorkeling around the rock pools when the tide is out. Drinks are pretty pricey there though, as we’d expected!

While everyone raves about Railay Beach, I think my personal favourite has to be Phra Nang Beach, as it’s a bit less busy, yet the sea is beautiful and there are awesome rocks overhanging the sea.

Phra Nang Beach is also home to a very unusual Penis Cave – yep, you heard me – a cave full entirely of wooden penises. Apparently this is because, “It is believed by the villagers that the spirit of Phranang (Princess Goddess) resides in the cave. Fishermen, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. With their wishes fulfilled, votive offerings would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually, the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams.” 

If you fancy a challenging hike, there’s a fantastic hidden blue lagoon right by Phra Nang and Railay Beach. Completely secluded by rocks and accessible only by a steep hike, the natural lagoon is simply breathtaking. Although we made it back covered in mud, it was certainly a highlight for me.

Phi Phi

If there was one island I’d heard about the most in Thailand it was Phi Phi. Although I’d heard wonderful things about it, we’d also heard about how expensive the island is (including the ‘clean up’ entry fee you have to pay to even step on the island)!

As soon as we stepped off the boat, we were hounded by salesmen trying to sell us accommodation. We spent a good hour asking around the hostels to find the best price, before settling on the cheapest one we could find – which despite being the most expensive bed we’d paid for yet on the trip, didn’t even supply bedding.

However we didn’t let that stop us – as we had cause to celebrate! It was Stacey’s birthday that night, and so we soon headed to the beach to start drinking before carrying on into the night. And there’s no doubt that the nightlife in Phi Phi is fantastic – there are so many drink deals, which certainly made up for the accommodation.

Like many people I know, I was set on going to Phi Phi so I could visit the infamous Maya Bay, which was featured in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. However, after some research, we found out that the location has sadly been spoiled by tourism, with tons of boats cramming their way into the bays and tourists having to fork out extortionate prices just to go there for a few hours. So we decided to give it a miss, as we’d already seen our fair share of dazzling beaches.

Koh Lanta

On the boat to Koh Lanta we were approached by a couple of men selling accommodation. We realised that this is something we’d probably have to get used to now that we were visiting all the touristy Thai islands, so we agreed what we thought was a good deal for a 4 person flat with one of the salesman. Although Joel was a bit suspicious over the good price, we couldn’t think of a reason why anything would go wrong.

The room had air con and a TV, and as we’d been hit with torrential rain the last couple of days, we enjoyed a cosy night in watching films. The next day, we made the most of what looked like a sunny day and rented some motorbikes from the hotel next door to head out for the day. We enjoyed a short trek to a waterfall before stopping off for a drink at a viewpoint overlooking one of the beaches.

However, it’s once we returned to the room where Edd soon discovered something was wrong. After both frantically searching our money belts, we found all of our Thai currency gone. Everything else of value in the room (like iPods, cameras etc.) were still there, it was just the money that was missing. As the whole flat was locked by key, we knew that it had to be the owners who were behind the robbery. After confronting them, it was clear that they were crooks and they’d already tipped off the police before we went there. We did some research and found that sadly it’s quite commonplace for tourists to get tricked into staying in these cheap rooms before getting robbed in Koh Lanta and some of the other Thai islands. As angry as we were about falling for the scam, we filed a police report anyway, packed up our stuff and got out of there as soon as we could. We booked a hostel at the other end of the island for the night, before making sure we booked another boat out of there the next day!

We knew that we couldn’t let something like this ruin our time in Koh Lanta, so before getting our boat we got a taxi to Koh Lanta Animal Welfare, a nonprofit charity for dogs and cats. The sanctuary aims to re-home the stray animals on the islands, and all the staff members and volunteers are fantastic at what they do. We got a guided tour round the sanctuary and got to play with the cats and dogs. Being massive animal lovers, this was the best way of cheering ourselves up!

From what I saw of Koh Lanta, I still definitely recommend visiting there. Just steer clear of anyone selling cheap accommodation on the boats and do your research beforehand.

Krabi Town

As we were leaving Koh Lanta a day or two early, we decided to head back to Krabi Town as we hadn’t actually explored the town properly before. On the weekends in Krabi, there’s a huge night market selling all sorts of food, drinks and souvenirs. So we enjoyed some beers and delicious veggie curry while watching some live music.

The best thing to visit in Krabi Town has to be Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea). Located atop a whooping 1,237 steps, it’s no surprise that the view is utterly fantastic. And while the walk up there is exhausting in the heat, it’s completely worth it.

A friend of Joel and Stacey’s was staying just down the road in Ao Nang, so I joined them to go pay their friend a visit. While Krabi Town feels a lot more like a traditional Thai town, Ao Nang is a lot more expensive and touristy. But it’s the place to go if you want some nightlife! We enjoyed a few rounds of beer pong at their friend’s hostel before finishing with some drinks on the beach.

Koh Tao

Originally we planned to go to Koh Samui next, however we found a cheap overnight boat straight to Koh Tao, where me and Stacey planned to do our PADI Open Water scuba dive course. So we enjoyed a pleasantly nice boat ride being rocked to sleep by the waves before arriving bright and early in Koh Tao.

As soon as the dive schools opened, me and Stacey paid them a visit, before deciding on Crystal Dive, whose PADI course involves one day diving in the swimming pool and two days diving in the sea.Me and Stacey were both excited and terrified about scuba diving. Stacey had had one bad experience with it on holiday a few years ago and I had never tried it before, so I had no idea what to expect.

They say that you’ll never forget your first breath underwater, and it’s safe to say that’s true (although I don’t think my memory will be a good one)! My breaths instantly became shorter and quicker and I felt completely out of control. But as soon as I calmed down and took deeper breaths, I started to get used to the feeling.

One thing me and Stacey never got used to do however was taking off our masks underwater! It just made us feel so vulnerable but luckily our scuba diving instructors were so patient and reassuring that we managed to do it.

And it was all totally worth it! Words cannot describe your first experience scuba diving in the sea. I’ve snorkeled in some amazing locations before (including the Caribbean), and seen some amazing sea life, but it simply doesn’t compare to swimming alongside them. Although we didn’t see any turtles or whale sharks during our course, we did see some bluespotted stingrays and amazing fish.

Koh Phangan

Now we were fully qualified PADI divers, it was time to head to Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party! We stayed in an awesome hostel called West Side Story where we met fellow traveller Dan who joined us on a hike to a viewpoint before chilling at the beach.

We then headed out to the night market to buy some fluorescent Full Moon Party tops for the following night!

The Full Moon Party is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never seen so many people on one beach, and everywhere you look there are fire performers, water slides and cocktail buckets. Our friend Edd stayed out so long he ended up missing the boat to Phuket the next day! If you know what you’re going in for (expensive drinks, packed crowds and deafening music until the sun comes up), then you simply have to experience the Full Moon Party at least once!

Phuket

We decided to squeeze in a trip to Phuket for Songkran (the Thai New Year festival). During Songkran, the locals take part in 3 day water fight to celebrate the new year and bring in good luck.

We headed to a local 7/11 to buy the biggest water guns we could find, and as soon as we ascended upon the streets we were attacked left, right and centre by excited locals with water guns and buckets of water.

Instead of spending Songkran in the touristy part of Phuket, we spent it in the local area and it was the best decision we could have made. Aside from a few other tourists, we got to spend so much time with the locals and they took extra delight in soaking us with freezing cold water and covering our faces with coloured paste for good luck. The atmosphere during Songkran is truly unique and my cheeks genuinely hurt by the end of the festival from all the laughing!

Once Songkran was over, me Edd and Raquel explored the more touristy side of Phuket and visited the main town to buy some souvenirs. We also met Jori in our hostel who joined us for a relaxing evening on the beach and for some drinks in the evening. I felt sad knowing that this was the last time on my trip that I was going to see the sea!

Back to Bangkok

So after an amazing time exploring the Thai islands, it was time to head back to Bangkok for the third and final time. We had an extra two nights booked in Bangkok before flying home, so we stuffed our faces full of pad thai and bought some gifts to take home to our families.

And of course we couldn’t leave Bangkok without one last night out on Khao San Road, so we joined others dancing in the street before heading back for our final sleep before the flight.


Looking back at this trip as I’m writing the last post makes me feel so grateful that I got to experience so many extraordinary moments on the trip of a lifetime with my friends. From feeding elephants to spending the night in a jungle, to riding a motorbike through the beautiful Vietnamese landscape, to scuba diving among stingrays, it’s been quite the adventure.

I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets, swam in the clearest waters and met some of the friendliest local people in the world.

Until the next trip!

Vietnam: The Ho Chi Minh Trail, Part 2

The drive from Phong Nha to Khe San is simply breathtaking. You hardly ever see other traffic on the Ho Chi Minh trail, instead, you’re surrounded by forests and waterfalls. As much as we loved the Ho Chi Minh trail, we decided we wanted to take the quicker route to Hue so we could spend the afternoon sightseeing. So we said goodbye to our friends and agreed to meet that evening, before hopping back on our bike (which we’d named Sydney) to Hue!

Hue

One of my absolute favourite things to do when the opportunity arises is to visit abandoned places – I just find them fascinating. We’d heard from some friends about an abandoned water park called Ho Thuy Tien and of course I was absolutely desperate to go (photos can be seen here).

While there were a fair few other tourists around the water park when we went, it was still by no means busy, which was perfect for capturing some eerie photos of the place. The most distinct feature of the park has to be the massive dragon in the middle of lake, which has been completely overtaken by nature. Inside, you can see the remains of smashed up tanks which once encased reptiles, including crocodiles. I love the idea of these cases being smashed open, leaving the animals to live free in the water park and claim it as their own…

Around the park you can also find rusty water slides, a big amphitheater and even a 4D virtual reality Thrillrider machine. It certainly has to be the highlight of my time in Vietnam.

The city of Hue has a rich imperial history, and there are many things to explore including tombs, temples and pagodas. We visited the Thien Mu Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Celestial Lady, which is ‘regarded as the unofficial symbol of the city.’ Situated alongside the river, the Pagoda features a very pretty courtyard.

Our favourite thing we visited in the city however is the tomb of Tu Doc. While the tombs themselves are mainly remains, the site is surrounded by a beautiful lake and gardens. Unfortunately we didn’t get time to explore the Imperial City, although we’ve heard that those tombs don’t live up to that of Tu Doc, so we weren’t overly disappointed.

We spent our last night in Hue with our friends who had caught us up from Phong Nha. We found ourselves being entinced into Brown Eyes club for some cheap cocktails and dancing with the locals.

Hoi An

Now Hoi An has to be my favourite place in Vietnam. We arrived in Hoi An where we were staying at a lovely home stay, before we headed out to explore the town in the evening. After finding ourselves at the entrance to the old town we’d heard about, we purchased a ticket which allows you into 5 attractions in the old town (although the majority are free). We didn’t know what to expect, but as we crossed the Japanese Covered Bridge, we were completely taken aback by an endless show of brightly coloured lanterns lighting up the entire town. It’s honestly a sight to behold at night.

Favourite attractions we visited include the Chinese Assembly Hall and a photography exhibition from French photographer Réhahn. His photographs are absolutely stunning, and it was fascinating to learn all about the different tribes across Vietnam.

All in all, there’s plenty to do in Hoi An’s old town, both in the daytime and the evening. Full of bars and restaurants, we enjoyed more 12p beer and a pub quiz at the 3 Dragons Restaurant & Bar (we’re pretty sure we came last).

Dalat

As it’s a pretty long way from Hoi An to Dalat, we took Sydney the scooter on a night bus to Nha Trang to save some time. It’s amazing how much stuff they can cram onto buses, and we tried not to panic when we saw them dismantle the wheels and luggage rack from our scooter!

So we made it to Nha Trang to watch the sunrise over the sea and enjoyed a quick paddle before driving onto Dalat.

We arrived at Lucky D’s Hostel (which is ridiculously good value for money at £2 a night)! On arrival, we met the infamous owner Lucky who we’d read rave reviews about on Hostelworld. He invited us to join him for breakfast and we enjoyed a nice chat while we fussed his cute pet dogs. Lucky D’s Hostel is a really unique experience compared to other hostels we’ve stayed at. With just two floors filled with up to 10 beds, you get to meet all the other backpackers staying there. Every night Lucky takes everyone in the hostel out for a meal, and it’s such a great way of getting everyone together.

A group we met on our first day at the hostel invited us to explore Dalat with them, so we all headed into town to visit Hang Nga Crazy House, a strange architectural project which according to Lonely Planet is ‘becoming more outlandish every year.’  I personally loved the experience, with my family all being very interested in art and quirky architecture, but some of my friends found it to be a bit silly! Definitely worth checking out though if you want to see something a bit different in Dalat.

As there’s not much else to do in the city centre, Dalat is best explored by motorbike, so our friends rented some bikes and joined us the next day for some waterfall hopping. First we dropped into the weasel coffee plantation, where coffee is grown using, yep you guessed it, weasel poop! As a non-coffee drinker, this didn’t sound very appealing, but Edd splashed out on a cup and assured me it was delicious!

Now, the best waterfall in Dalat has to be Elephant Waterfall – its gushing waters are truly awe-inspiring. And if you’re feeling adventurous, (and up for getting drenched) you can climb down behind the waterfall for another view.

One thing I’d found out about online and was this so called ‘haunted house’, which of course I was eager to get some creepy photographs of. However, when we turned up to the house we were pretty disappointed. Instead of a decomposing, abandoned mansion, we found a relatively done-up house and a group of locals eating inside. A few other tourists turned up and tried to explore the house, but I’m not convinced they found much!

Cat Tien National Park

After hearing some bad stories about the police catching tourists on motorbikes in Mui Ne, we decided to skip it and head to Cat Tien National Park instead. Since we hadn’t done any trekking since Hanoi, we were excited to get back out into the wilderness again.

We stayed at an amazing lodge right next to the national park, so close in fact, that we could even hear the gibbons singing! Everything about the lodge was generous, from the massive food portions to the fact we had a room with 3 double beds in to ourselves!

The national park is absolutely massive, and while there are a few walking routes you can take, the majority of the park remains unexplored. On the first day, we did a short walking route before visiting the bear rescue sanctuary in the afternoon. The sanctuary has both black bears and sun bears who have been rescued from bear bile farms and poachers, and the guide was really helpful and informative.

On our last day, we set off at 6.30am to tackle the long route through the park, which takes you to Crocodile Lake and back. In total, it took around 8 hours and it’s safe to say I was absolutely exhausted by the end! However we did manage to see some gibbons high up the trees, which totally makes up for it.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

I’d heard relatively good things about Ho Chi Minh City, so I was excited to reach our final stop. However, we soon discovered that our very cheap hostel was on the busy strip of bars, bearing resemblance to that of Khao San Road. By the time we managed to find somewhere to park, we were keen to just grab some food and have an early night after such a long drive.

The main highlight for me in Ho Chi Minh is the War Remnants Museum, which informs you all about the history of American and Vietnamese war. It was an eye-opening experience to learn about such events from a Vietnamese point of view, and I was extremely shocked by the disturbing photographs on display showing the devastating effects of Agent Orange and the My Lai Massacre. It’s truly worth a visit.

Usually, backpackers will sell their motorbike in either Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi depending on the route they took. However, after some thought, we decided to drive Sydney the Scooter over the Cambodian border, for the next chapter of our adventure!

Vietnam: The Ho Chi Minh Trail, Part 1

If there was one country I was most excited about visiting during my trip it was Vietnam, after 3 different friends of mine told me it was their favourite place in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, it’s popular with tourists and backpackers to explore the country by motorbike on the Ho Chi Minh trail, which runs all the way from North to South (and vice versa). Me and Edd were both keen to buy a bike and see for ourselves what all the fuss was about!

Hanoi

I met Edd in Hanoi after a tiresome 35 hour journey from Vang Vieng on a cramped sleeper bus. I’d heard a lot about the crazy traffic in Hanoi and found that the city certainly lived up to the rumours as I was greeted by a sea of noisy motorbikes. As crazy as the city seemed at first, we soon discovered that Hanoi has some beautiful spots where you can escape from the hustle and bustle. This includes the Hoàn Kiêm Lake, where you can visit the Ngoc Son Temple, also known as the Temple of the Jade Mountain, situated on a small island in the middle of the lake. This has to be one of my favourite temples yet, as it’s surrounded by trees protruding out the lake.

Other areas of interest include the Temple of Literature, which feels like a very traditional Vietnamese temple, and the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, which gives you a very interesting and informative insight into the history of Vietnamese independence. As you wander around the prison cells and lay your eyes on the still in-tact guillotine, you get an eerie feel for what the prison would have been like for the unlucky prisoners who were trapped there.

After a busy couple of days exploring the attractions Hanoi had to offer, especially the harrowing prison, we were keen to sample the Vietnamese beer to see if it could compete with Laos. While Hanoi is not short of bars, we found ourselves returning every night to the same spot along with a group of travellers we met on the first night. Many locals brew their own beer, which they serve from the side of the street out of a big keg for around 15p a glass. For such a cheap price, we couldn’t even think of drinking anywhere else!

Before coming to Vietnam, I’d been told by some girls I met in Thailand that I absolutely had to try the infamous Vietnamese egg coffees. While this sounded like an extremely odd concoction to me (especially as I don’t like coffee), Edd was determined to give one a try. To my delight, the place we found also served egg hot chocolate, so we gave both a try. And that was it – we were hooked!

Cat Ba Island & Halong Bay

I’d already seen wonderful pictures of Halong Bay and its dozens of islands, so I was excited to get out of the city and onto a boat to Cat Ba Island. However, when we arrived in Cat Ba we found ourselves wrapping up in all our layers as the weather temperature dropped for the first time on our trip. On Cat Ba, the main tourist attraction is the big national park, which can be reached easily by motorbike. So we spent a day trekking in the national park, which offered the most amazing views of the mountains, before finishing off  with a visit to Hospital Cave.

As Cat Ba is such a small place, I decided to have a go on the automatic scooter we’d rented to see if I could handle driving one from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. After nearly crashing the bike in a ditch, it was safe to say that I was sticking to the back of the bike for the rest of the trip!

We finished our last day in Cat Ba on one of the 3 quiet beaches on the islands. I was happy to finally see the sea!

We booked a slow boat to Halong Bay so we could admire the spectacular views of the many islands protruding out of the sea. Luckily, the sun decided to re-emerge, and we were thrilled to roll our trousers up and enjoy the rays on the boat’s top deck.

Back in Hanoi, we bought an automated scooter from a couple who were also backpacking through Southeast Asia. They’d already driven the Ho Chi Minh trail but in the opposite direction to us. Then, we were off to our first stop on the Ho Chi Minh trail – Ninh Binh!

Ninh Binh & Vinh

After having trouble driving our way out of Hanoi (including driving on a car only road), we welcomed the peacefulness and serenity of Ninh Binh. Already, we could see why it’s so popular to travel Vietnam by bike as we swerved our way through the paddy fields. We had a quick stop off in Tam Coc where we got to explore an awesome temple surrounded by rock formations – giving us some amazing views of the Ninh Binh.

As we were rather pushed for time after spending so much time in Hanoi, we swiftly made our way to Vinh where we spent the night before getting up early to get back on the road.

Phong Nha

I’ve been told that if you don’t visit Phong Nha in Vietnam then you haven’t truly experienced Vietnam at all. Boasting some of the biggest natural caves in the world, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park truly is a site to behold. According to the Lonely Planet, the mountains in the park are oldest in Asia, formed approximately 400 million years ago. 

Some of the most popular choices of caves to visit include Paradise Cave and Dark Cave. Dark Cave costs around 450,000 dong for all the activities, including the zip-line and mud bath, while Paradise Cave only costs 250,000. After speaking to the one of the staff members at our hostel, we opted to just pay for the Paradise Cave as he assured us “You cannot say you’ve been to Phong Nha if you’ve not visited Paradise Cave,” and we were travelling on a budget after all. And the caves sure did not disappoint – they were huge! Unfortunately I didn’t take the best camera with me, so all the pictures I got of the caves did not do them justice.

As we were waiting to enter the caves, we bumped into our friend from Hanoi who was travelling with someone else from the Netherlands. We invited them for a drink at our hostel Easy Tiger before we all headed to the only bar that was open late in Phong Nha.

It turned out our friends had also bought motorbikes and were driving the Ho Chi Minh Trail, so we all left Phong Nha together and made our way towards Hue, stopping off in a small town called Khe Sanh on the way.