Tag Archives: backpacking

Southeast Asia Top 5

It wouldn’t be the end of a big trip without a spot of Instagram-heavy reminiscence. Here’s a few of my favourite bits from the past few months…

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Reverse culture shock?

‘How does it feel being back? Is it weird?’

Weirdly enough, it’s really not. I can say with some confidence that ‘reverse culture shock’, the readjustment upon coming home experienced by many a long-term traveller, really isn’t so bad the second time round. The travel gods must really be looking down on me because to top it off, I haven’t had one bit of jetlag either.
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Niepy: the sound of silence

We’re on the beach in Nusa Lembongan, an island just southeast of Bali. The weather was P1060885glorious for approximately one hour when we arrived yesterday, before it promptly turned (much, I’m sure, to the delight of people moaning about how cold it is at home) into a cold rainstorm which hasn’t stopped since.

Matt’s just flown here from Java where he spent two weeks with a couple of friends. He arrived covered head-to-toe in bites, nackered because of rats running around outside his room all night, with a shellshocked look in his eye because of what a barren wasteland Jakarta is. “Crap food, mean people,” apparently. To top it off one of our poor friends was struck down with typhoid the entire time. Travelling’s been a walk in the park for me in comparison! Continue reading

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Mae Hong Son Loop

sound advice from the loop road map

We’re back in Pai now, having sold our guide book for petrol money and dumping our big backpacks in Chiang Mai. The first time we came here was last week with two friends, on the first leg of the Mae Hong Son loop, a 600km tour around northwestern Thailand very popular with bikers. From the 3-4 hour drive up to Pai it was easy to see why; it was a challenge keeping an eye on the road when surrounded on all sides by stunning mountain views.

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Koh Tao Christmas

This was my most bizarre Christmas to date. It started horrendously…

At 6.15am on Christmas Eve we got off the night train from Bangkok at Chumphon, on the coast. Failing to get a sleeper we had to sit in seats for 7 hours, which wasn’t too bad- although Matt only got half an hour’s sleep. At the station torrential rain was lashing down, and luckily a woman from the ferry company was running around herding people up to get on the bus to the pier because we had no idea where to go. Continue reading

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Transport review: elephants vs. trains

This is what it looks like when an elephant treads on your foot:

Fortunately Matt was spared a more dramatic injury since we were in a river an hour outside of Chiang Mai washing said elephants at the time, and his foot sank into the sand below. Still, its massive toenail left an impressive mark. I was unaware of these developments as I was trying to tame my elephant at the time: being a young one it became overly excited when we reached the water and dived in head first. Whilst the others were sitting nicely letting their owners for the day give them a nice scrub, ours was rolling around with its legs in the air. This took place once we had learnt the basic Mahout commands necessary to ride the elephants, then fed them a gargantuan amount of bananas to sweeten them up to us doing so. Continue reading

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Cambodian inertia

The Nha Trang effect has struck again- 4 or 5 days in Siem Reap has turned into a mammoth 11-night stint. Our original plans to head up to Laos once our parents left from their two week holiday were immediately thrown out when we saw the horrendous journey we’d have to take: 10 or 11 hours on multiple buses just to get to the border, far away from where we needed to be. Instead, we decided to wait it out here until our Thai visas started…

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Life’s a Beach

There are some places which act as the traveller’s Bermuda Triangle, places which you can never seem to leave, and Nha Trang is one of them.

At first we took one look at the eurotrash-y nightlife and insane amount of Russian tourists acting like they owned the place and decided to stay for 3, maybe 4 nights. We stayed for 12.

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Heading South

We’re finally out of the capital! We ended up staying in Hanoi for various reasons- illness, poor organisation, extended beerpong-induced hangovers.. but the silver lining was that by chatting to one of the guys at the hostel we heard about the Phong Nha Farmstay. Since it’s only two years old it’s not in our slightly outdated Lonely Planet, and the combination of cool cave tours and a laid-back lifestyle sounded perfect. We booked in for four nights.

Phong Nha National Park

Within half a day I never wanted to leave. Rainy days were spent reading in a hammock, cuddling the puppies that run around, enjoying the view of rice paddies and mountains, and working on my pool game. The highlight of the second day was taking a bike tour through the neighbouring villages just as kids were coming out of school in the morning- their screams of “hello!! HELLO!!” and high-fives made us feel like celebrities. At one point a motorbike with one adult and no less than 4 kids whizzed past, the children just going mental at the sight of us. The tour led us to one side of Phong Nha Ke-Bang national park and into Dragon’s Breath cave, which was pretty cool. But that was simply a warm-up for the next day: an incredible tour through the national park and to Paradise cave.

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Hanoi highlights

Hanoi from Hong Kong was a shock. We got a hint of how mental it is here when the cab to our hotel came to an abrupt stop in front of a truckload of chickens parked across the motorway; from then on it was in at the deep end. The heat whacks you in the face, there is no discernible way to cross the heaving streets, and the language barrier made it nearly impossible to order that crucial beer on our first night.

If I’m honest, I hated it- and missed the order and cleanliness of Hong Kong. It probably had a lot to do with staying in a hotel away from people our own age, and we spent most evenings hanging out at the backpacker hostel down the road. The turning point came on the third day: tired and hungover from the hostel bar crawl the night before, we avoided the midday heat in Tamarind, a veggie cafe in the Old Quarter. We emerged after a good meal and a couple of mango lassis (and agreeing to come back and speak English with the friendly staff in exchange for our dinner) completely relaxed- suddenly walking in the path of oncoming traffic came naturally. It also helps a great deal that the staff, like most of the people we’ve met so far, are constantly smiling and keen to talk to you to improve their English.

A disproportionate amount of our time here has been spent seeking out Hanoi’s gastronomic delights, and we have two favourites. At Bún bò nam bộ you can get a plate of delicious crab spring rolls, noodles and a beer for around £1.50. For a DIY barbecue of beef and vegetables cooked with a mix of lime juice, sugar and pepper, 47 Ma May is the place to go.

The one thing I was looking forward to most was touring Halong Bay, and it didn’t disappoint. Kayaking, cave exploring, swimming and sunbathing in the afternoon, squid-fishing (unsuccessfully), karaoke and drinking at night- and that was just the first day. I’m pleased we decided to stay for 2 nights because next on the agenda was a trip to an oyster farm, more swimming and beach-bumming, plus a bike ride and jungle trek on Cat Ba island, where we stayed in a hotel. Our guide was brilliant and showed a couple of us round Cat Ba town after dinner, where we drank green tea watching kids beat drums and do the dragon dance in preparation for the Mid-Autumn festival that weekend. All of this set against a backdrop of looming rock formations making it impossible to stop taking pictures.

Now we’re in the downtown Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, and we’re taking full advantage of the chilled atmosphere and great nightlife. The one bad thing about staying in such a great place is that we never want to leave!

my view writing this..

Next up is Sapa, where we’ll be heading, walking boots in hand, on a sleeper train tomorrow night. Fingers crossed for minimal mozzie bites in the mountains…

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