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!

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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 to be added to the gallery soon).

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’s 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 my friend splashed out on a cup and assured me it was delicious!

Now, the best waterfall in Dalat has to be Elephant Waterfall – it’s 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 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 South East 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 my friend 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 to visit 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), my friend 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 it’s 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 backpacking through South East 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.

 

Laos: Trekking, Tubing & Mushroom Shakes

Laos was the one country I was visiting in South East Asia which I knew next to nothing about, (other than my friends telling me how much fun tubing was), so I really didn’t know what to expect.

While most of our friends in Thailand were booking the longboat straight to Luang Prabang, we hopped on a cheap bus to Huay Xai, a tiny town found right at the Laos border, along with a fellow backpacker from Sweden.

As  the Lonely Planet put it, in Huay Xai, “the only things trafficked through are travellers en route to Luang Prabang.” We were unsure of our next move, so after chatting to Sophie the other traveller with us, we chose to book a bus with her further North to Luang Namtha.

Luang Namtha

Located right next to the beautiful Namha National Park, which is popular with tourists for jungle trekking, we were eager to get our hiking shoes on and see some amazing scenery. We opted for a two day jungle trek and kayak tour along with some friends before trying our first Laotian dish – Jao (I believe this is how it’s spelt!) This has to be one of my favourite Asian dishes so far. It may vary in other areas of Laos, but the one we had consisted of two sauce based dishes of your choice (I opted for peanut and tomato) and a big basket of sticky rice – delicious is an understatement for sure.

Jungle feast!

Trekking in the jungle has to be one of the most memorable and rewarding experiences of my trip so far, and I’m really glad I took part in it. The day of trekking was certainly challenging (our tour guides Hak and Mi were literally cutting some form of a path with machetes!) Having grown up in a local village nearby, Hak and Mi were experts in jungle life and it was fantastic to get off the beaten track a bit and see some awesome scenery. My favourite part of the experience was definitely the food. Our guides bought a few bits from the market beforehand (such as rice and vegetables) but also picked some fresh ingredients straight from the jungle. We ate with our hands straight off banana leaves and even drank out of cups freshly fashioned from bamboo! In the evening, we slept on the jungle floor, underneath a shelter made from sticks and banana leaves and enjoyed playing some guitar around a fire. This is also when we got to try the infamous ‘Laos Laos’ whiskey – now I’m not usually a whiskey fan, but a shot of this was just what I needed to warm me up and send me to sleep!

We welcomed a day of kayaking after a long day of trekking, and it was so much fun steering our way through the rapids and cooling off in the midday heat. Hak and Mi also took us to a local village there and told us all about the village lifestyle. It was wonderful to see so many excited children (6 of which attempted to fit on one bicycle!)

Luang Prabang

I was ready to get back into a thriving city with hot showers after a couple of days in the jungle. We arrived in Luang Prabang early the next day, after the craziest overnight bus ride of my life (think broken seats flying off from underneath you and people being sick into bags as you bounce along really windy roads). Confident that we’d be able to check into a hostel as soon as one opened, we grabbed some breakfast and a hot drink as we waited.

However this proved to be more difficult than we’d anticipated! Due to the Chinese New Year, pretty much everywhere had been booked up by Chinese tourists who go away to celebrate. Luckily, a group of four tourists overheard us asking a hostel if they had rooms and told us they were just about to check out and could have their beds – success!

For a relatively small sized city, Luang Prabang has a lot going on, so I can see why it’s a popular choice for Chinese holiday-goers to see in the New Year. Every evening, one of the main streets turns into a massive night market, full of tasty food and cheap goods. After a few beers at the night market, we’d usually head over to Utopia – a popular bar with backpackers. Once Utopia closes for the night, the crowd all descend to a nearby bowling alley (the only venue open after hours). If you’ve never seen a room full of drunken bowlers, then you need to get yourself to Luang Prabang, as it’s one of the funniest sights I’ve ever seen.

As it’s a small city, one of the best ways to get around is by bicycle, as you can follow a pretty route along the Mekong River around the city. We took our bicycles across the river to go visit the Pottery Village, however be warned, these city bikes are not designed for the bumpy dirt tracks and hills found on the other side!

A local showing us how to make a pot

The most popular tourist attraction in Luang Prabang is the waterfalls, which you can get to by tuk-tuk. We ended up missing this out, opting for some free attractions instead. Although I’ve heard amazing things about these waterfalls, so I’d definitely visit them if I came here again.

Highlights for us include the Wat Tham Phousi temple of Phousi Hill (great views of the city, especially at sunset) and the UXO Laos Visitor Center. While it’s easy to miss amongst the beautiful temples and riverside views, the UXO Visitor Center is a must-see for anyone who wants to understand the harrowing effects of bombing in Laos. Little did I know before visiting, that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. The center tells you all about the history of the bombing and the devastating effects its had and continues to have on many communities and families across Laos. It as an eye-opening visit which I will not forget.

View from Wat Tham Phousi

Vang Vieng

Home to the infamous tubing I’d heard about, Vang Vieng was the city I was most looking forward to visiting in Laos. However our visit didn’t quite get off to the best start, as we discovered late at night that our booked hostel had given our beds away because we were an hour late! After discovering that most hostels were either closed for the night or booked up, we managed to find one with one bed available. My friend kindly let me take it, while the hostel owner let him sleep in a hammock outside for free – much to my friend’s delight! We also got treated to a late night meal from the owner and free breakfast the next day. Unfortunately my friend had gotten pretty ill in Luang Prabang and so we temporarily said our goodbyes as he hopped on a bus to Vientiane to go to hospital.

Suddenly I found myself feeling as nervous as I was in Bangkok and the thought of turning up to a hostel all on my own was frightening! I returned to our booked hostel, who luckily had beds available again, and the owner was very sympathetic; offering me a free night’s stay to make up for it. It wasn’t long before I got chatting to people in my dorm room and headed out with one of the girls to explore the town.

Before we knew it, we were heading back to the hostel to change into our bikinis to go tubing! I can definitely see why tubing is a popular activity in Vang Vieng – who doesn’t like the idea of floating in a rubber tube on a sunny day with a nice cold beverage in hand? The tubing takes place along a river where several bars are situated. You can choose to stop off at any bar you like for a drink before carrying on back down the river towards to town. It wasn’t long before me and my new friend were playing beer bong and downing numerous shots. That’s when the tubing becomes more challenging, especially with the slight current! It was in the next bar when we discovered that our ‘dry bag’ wasn’t quite so dry after all…

We hastily rushed back to the hostel and whacked our phones straight into a bowl of rice.

Ziplining in Vang Vieng

But not to let that ruin the night, we joined others in our hostel and took advantage of the free whiskey provided by our hostel between 7 and 10pm. After drunkenly losing a few games of foosball and pool, myself and a few others headed to one of the bars offering the infamous mushroom shakes. I hadn’t yet tried magic mushrooms, although I’ve heard a few good things about them from friends, so I was excited to give them a go. Usually I detest mushrooms, but they were pretty much undetectable in the pineapple flavoured shake. It was a fun and wonderful experience, and I actually woke up with make-up smudged under my eyes from laughing so much!

Other than activities like kayaking, tubing and ziplining, there isn’t much else to do in the center of Vang Vieng besides drinking and enjoying the sunshine. On our last day, my friend and I went ziplining over the forest and river before getting back in a tube to go through some caves. It was an awesome adrenaline-filled day, and we finished off with some cocktails at Smile Beach Bar on the riverfront.

View from Smile Beach Bar

Sadly we didn’t have time to visit the South of Laos, which I’m pretty gutted about after having such a blast in Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. I was pleasantly surprised about Laos, and even though I’ve only seen a snippet of what the country has to offer, it’s definitely up there with one of the best countries I’ve visited so far.

 

North Thailand: Temples, Elephants, Waterfalls & Fire Shows

When I think of Thailand, I’d always just pictured beautiful white beaches, drug-fueled Full Moon parties and close encounters with elephants and tigers. 

Knowing what my terrible sense of geography was like, my dad sent me on my way with a Lonely Planet travel guide, making me promise him that I’ll do some research and not end up on the wrong flight.

Bangkok

I arrived in Bangkok in the late evening, and was already full of fear; what if I can’t find the hostel? What if I get mugged on the way? And what if some dodgy taxi driver drives to kidnap me?! But within minutes I was chatting away with my taxi driver and my nerves soon turned into excitement. 

After a few failed attempts at teaching me how to say ‘thank you’ in Thai, we made it to my hostel, where I was reunited with my friend, who had already made a few other friends in the hostel. 

Despite being exhausted from the journey, we soon found ourselves wandering down the infamous Khaos San Road; a chaotic jungle of street vendors, bars and restaurants selling everything from cocktail buckets and scorched scorpions to handmade ‘I love pussy’ wristbands and ping-pong shows. 

Somehow the scorpions didn’t quite have the same appeal as the buckets, so we bought some mojitos before calling it a night!

After the mayhem of Khao San Road, we decided it was probably time to explore the sights, and prove to my dad that I wasn’t just going away to get drunk all the time. 

I’d been told by friends who had been to Bangkok before that ‘it was a shithole, but a loveable shithole’, so it’s safe to say that my expectations of the city hadn’t been that high. However there are loads of wonderful things to see without venturing too far out of the city. 

We splashed out on the Grand Palace Complex and Wat Phra Kaew, which the Lonely Planet insists is the must-see attraction in Bangkok. Both of course had stunning architecture (although you couldn’t get very close to the palace itself) but we found ourselves enjoying some of the smaller attractions much more. 

It was a massive relief to be greeted by a calm and relatively empty Wat Pho/Reclining Buddha after the crowded palace complex, and the Buddha was overwhelmingly impressive in size.

Another highlight for us was the Golden Mount, which situated atop Bangkok’s only hill, gave us a fantastic view of the city.


On our last day, we decided to have a break from the temples, and visit the Chatuchak Market, one of the largest weekend markets in the world. The market is far bigger than I ever imagined, and features several different sections, including food, clothing, pets, electronics and more. 

We treated ourselves to some tasty fruit smoothies and street food before finishing off the day with a relaxing boat trip down the Chao Phraya river.

Chiang Mai

One overnight bus later we arrived in Chiang Mai along with several other travellers at 4.30am. Longing to get to our hostel beds, we hopped in a taxi only to find our hostel was shut for the night. 

Unlike the streets of Bangkok where you can buy cheap street food until the early hours, Chiang Mai goes to sleep around 12pm, so we resorted to buying a cheap pot noodle from a local supermarket.

The first thing I was keen to do in Chiang Mai was to get up close and personal with some elephants. As I was fully aware about the animal cruelty surrounding certain elephant camps in South East Asia, I specifically chose a sanctuary which didn’t offer riding and had good reviews online. I did the half-day tour, where you got to feed and wash the elephants before having a swim in a nearby waterfall. 

It was wonderful to finally see elephants up close, however I can’t help but still worry about the way they’re treated, although the staff did seem very caring towards them. I think next time, I will do further research and choose one of the proper care homes where you just get to see the elephants wander around rather taking part in the organised activities with them.


After a good night’s rest we visited a few local temples, including Wha Phra Sing before stumbling across a beautiful park in the heart of the city. With pretty flowers and fountains everywhere, the park is a popular spot for yoga, and we found ourselves surrounded by yoga and circus enthusiasts taking part in an acro-yoga festival. 

Sitting next to the water, it was a perfect spot to enjoy a bit of afternoon relaxing and reading.


Desperate to get out of the city and into the countryside, we rented a scooter and drove out to the nearby nature park for some trekking and sightseeing. 

On the drive up, we stopped off at the Phuphing Palace, next to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. While you can’t go into the palace itself, you do get to look around the beautiful gardens with the most colourful floral displays you can imagine. 

The nature trekking trail led us to a fantastic viewpoint where we could really appreciate the vast size of the forest. We decided to cool off with a dip in a little waterfall pool we found, which was certainly refreshing after walking around in the heat!

Pai

If there’s anywhere in Northern Thailand I was most excited to visit it was Pai. Promises of a hippy paradise did not disappoint, and as soon as we arrived we knew the windy and bumpy road journey there was worth it. 

In Pai, it’s a popular choice to rent scooters and explore the pretty scenery around the small town, however we opted to just do an all day tour which included bamboo rafting and exploring the nearby caves, a viewpoint, hot springs and a waterfall before finishing off at the canyon to see the sunset. 

I was surprised they managed to fit so many activities into one day, but it was a fantastic day from start to finish. Local tour guides took us through the caves, and although they couldn’t speak much English, they delighted in pointing out rock formations in the shapes of various animals like snakes, crocodiles and elephants. Our tour lady even giggled away after pointing out a rock that looked like a breast! 

The highlight of the day for me had to be the hot springs and the canyon – the sunset was just beautiful.

The following day we moved hostel to the Famous Circus Hostel, where we were eager to meet up with some friends from Chiang Mai. Circus is the perfect hostel for relaxing in the day and socialising at night. It was great to finally get in a bikini and enjoy some sun by the pool – although I made the classic British mistake of getting burnt to a crisp on the first day. But it was nothing a little after sun couldn’t sort out! 


The Circus Hostel features different activities every night, from fire shows to beer pong tournaments. 

On our first night, we watched a fire show, where performers did poi, staff and hula-hooping. Being a poi enthusiast himself, my friend performed some fire poi as part of the show as well. 

Like Chiang Mai, the bars in Pai close around 12pm, however one bar, Don’t Cry, stays open until the early hours. So most nights we found ourselves following the sea of glitter-clad travellers to Don’t Cry for some drinking and dancing.


Pai was the perfect place to rejuvenate after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and Chiang Mai and it is certainly my favourite place out of the three.

Although we only visited a snippet of North Thailand, it’s been the perfect start to my South East Asia travels and I’m already certain that I’ll be back here again! 

A Year Later

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Wow, hasn’t 2016 just flown by?! And with Brexit, Trump and a ridiculous number of famous deaths, it’s safe to say some of us are happy to see the back of it.

This time last year I was getting ready to begin my new job as a Marketing Executive and Content Writer. Although I was scribbling away on WordPress all year, my fingers were busy writing away for work and A Woman Of No Importance took a bit of a back seat!

But I’m determined to get this blog back up and running for good, and 2017 will be dedicated to lots of writing. I’ve just left my job to do a bit of travelling around South East Asia, and I couldn’t be more excited as I get ready to fly in two days! Ever since I graduated from university in 2015, I’ve had the travel bug niggling away at me as I desperately to save some money and clear my student overdraft. However a year down the line and I’m not any closer towards saving for a dream house, and with no man in my life tying me down, it seemed like the right move to join some friends in South East Asia and enjoy a well-needed break!

So it’s hello again from me, and a 2017 promise to myself that I will stick to this new year’s resolution: Write a blog post once a month. 

…We’ll see how long that lasts hey!

In the near future, you can expect some posts and pictures from my travels – which I’ll try and keep interesting!