Category Archives: Laos

All travel posts from my time in Laos

Travel | My top 5 gadgets for backpackers

10488281_10152577516412617_3157113265465079401_nWhen packing for an extended trip, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the serious lack of space in your rucksack. Whether you’re someone who wants to squeeze in their entire wardrobe, or someone who just can’t stand to leave behind those chunky books, it’s never easy to decide what makes the final cut. I remember when I was first packing to come away and had no idea what to bring – luckily I ended up vetoing a lot of things because when I reached Asia I started to wish I had left it all behind and bought it cheap out there! I have met so many people on the road who have told me all their travelling secrets for packing light and keeping things simple – so many of these pieces of wisdom have had a huge impact on my journey. From rolling your clothes and stuffing your socks in your shoes, to finding multi-purpose gadgets that will cut back on the weight of your bag – there’s so many ways to slim-line your life when cutting it down to a 65l bag. Trust me, any shortcuts you find at the beginning will change your life further down the road.

Gadgets are a great way to make your life easier when on the road and a whole range of fantastic products are now available from travel and outdoor shops. I’ve tried out a few since travelling and felt conflicted over others, but I can’t deny that some of them have been a godsend when it comes to last minute packing, overnight bus journeys and any little crisis along the way. Here are some of my favourites, and a few that I’ll be investing in next time I’m on the move:

International Adapter

The most valuable item you will ever pack – not only will it work in every country so you won’t have to pack several different plugs, but they are usually very streamlined to fit neatly in your bag. It’s a good idea to get one that offers surge protection as quite often the power is unreliable or can overpower items plugged in, this will stop any of your electrical from being damaged if there is a storm or surge. Check out this one from Gap Year Travel Store for just $5.99.

Travel Towel

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I bought a travel towel when I first left home and absolutely loved it – it was lightweight, dried me twice as quickly as a regular towel and never felt damp. It made it all the way round Asia with me and was a fantastic space saver in my bag, friends who were carrying bath towels always felt a bit foolish when comparing the size of it to mine. They always come in cute colours – my first one was purple and I’m loving this new pink Solotrekk Microfibre Travel Towel that was sent to me by The Gap Year Travel Store. It’s going to make a huge difference to my packing when I get rid of the beach towel I’ve been using since Sydney, despite it being the same size, and I love that it comes in this neat little travel pouch. At just $8.99 it’s one of the cheapest and best additions to your travelling gadget collection.

Weighing Scales

I’ve never owned a set of these but have luckily always run into someone who did when I needed them most. It’s the sort of item that only one person has but the whole hostel borrows when they leave for the airport. Particularly in Australia, I’ve found certain airlines are a bit tight when it comes to hand luggage allowance and stick to the 7kg rule, even weighing to check. I’ve had o move a few things into my big bag before – and we all know how embarrassing it is to dig through your bag in the airport queue. The good thing about these is it’s just a hook so it can pack away nice and tiny when you’re ready to move on. Here are scales for just $6.99.

Waterproof Camera

My waterproof camera has been one of my favourite and most treasured possessions since coming travelling. From snorkelling and swimming with sea turtles, to splashing around in waterfalls and tubing down rivers, it has been everywhere with me capturing every moment. On so many occasions I have been the only one with a waterproof camera and afterwards all of my friends have been over the moon to see photos of all our hilarious and beautiful memories. My particular camera is a Nikon Coolpix which I would really recommend if you don’t fancy a GoPro. I actually had a GoPro as well and sold it because I found this camera a lot more quick and effective to use, plus I much preferred the picture quality.

Kindle

I’ve been conflicted over Kindles ever since they came out, I’ve been an iPad girl for quite a while so that I didn’t have to take a laptop while travelling. But I’ve always hated reading off a screen, I’m more of a traditional girl who likes the feel of a book in her hand. I’ve spent much of my time in Asia relying on book swaps, but I have to admit the books I like to read are often pretty chunk and weigh a lot. Even my Australia travel guide is huge, it would be great to cut back on the weight and space by having a Kindle to read on.

It’s amazing how such small items that seem so insignificant at home can have such a huge impact on your travelling life, but going prepared with items such as these can really help you from the second you step off the place. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to buy a cheap adapter in Bangkok as your phone battery is dying then getting one back to the hostel to find it doesn’t even work! Gadgets are one time when it is good to go prepared or make sure you buy them from a reputable company – leaving them to the markets in Asia can often mean the quality is less. Packing just a couple of these items could save you a lot of backpack space, plus a lot of time and stress later on, and who doesn’t want that? Looking for something that could make your backpacking life run more smoothly – look no further than Gap Year Travel Store for all the essentials.

What gadgets have helped you on your travels? Which items would you suggest leaving at home, and which ones should you definitely not forget?

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*This post was a collaboration with The Gap Year Travel Store, but all views remain my own.

Happy New Year | My 2015 highlights and what I’ve learnt | 2015

imageWow, I can’t believe 2015 is finally at an end. It’s been a hell of a year and I still can’t quite believe I didn’t dream some of it. It’s safe to say, this has been the best year of my life yet and I am happier than I’ve ever been before – if you knew how I was feeling at the end of last year you’d realise what an incredible change a year has had on my life. I ended 2014 with my life totally up in the air, I’d just quit a good, steady job, I’d put all my money into a plane ticket to the other side of the world, and I’d just broken off a nine year relationship. Pretty dramatic eh? So although I was beyond excited about my plans for travelling across Asia, Australia and New Zealand, I was also questioning whether I had made the right decision, whether I could really do this. Whether I could do this all by myself. I had a bit of a wobble in the airport over a glass of wine when I read all the amazing messages of support from friends and family, but then I realised it didn’t even matter if it all went tits up – I had the best people at home to pick up the pieces. Knowing that gave me all the strength I needed to realise it would all be fine and I was going to have an incredible adventure. So that was exactly what I did. In just five days it will be a year since I boarded that plane and set out on the trip of a lifetime, which should have been ending in just a few days but instead is still going strong with no real end in sight.

In the last 12 months I’ve been through so much – I’ve met the most incredible people and seen the most beautiful things, I’ve stayed up all night to watch the sunrise in the most amazing places, I’ve faced my own mortality and I’ve realised so much about myself and what I want out of life. It sounds cheesy, but getting away from life as I knew it has really taught me a lot about the way I want to live my life and it definitely doesn’t fit into any boxes society has carved out for me. The last 12 months has been about breaking all the rules, setting new ones and living the dream. Looking back, all the pain leading up to my decision to travel was more than worth it now because it led me to this part of my life and I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I’ve never felt freer and being trapped at home while I raised the cash to come and do this was totally worth it because I have appreciated every second since then all the more. I feel so incredibly proud of myself for doing this all alone – it’s the first time I’ve done anything truly independent of friends, family and a boyfriend so that is a huge achievement and it has been the biggest boost to my confidence. I know now that if I can survive a year of travelling solo and not only smash it, but have the most incredible time, then I can do anything!

I’ve done so many amazing things in the last year; from racing round Bangkok in tuk tuks to trekking through jungle to waterfalls, I’ve volunteered with elephants and gone hill tribe trekking in Northern Thailand, I’ve partied insanely hard down on the Thai islands and eaten copious amounts of curry and pad Thai. I’ve swam through caves and kayaked out on a lake in the centre of a 180 million year old rainforest at sunrise, I’ve hiked up to a temple to watch the sun rise over Phuket, I’ve bartered at markets and lived my days in tie-dye, I’ve clung to my friend as we raced around on motorbikes and persuaded friends not to ride elephants. I’ve spent two days on a slow boat to Laos singing annoying songs, I’ve swam through waterfalls pretending to be a mermaid, I’ve gone bowling in weird places in Laos and been tubing with a load of nut cases as we drank our way down the river bars and created chaos. I’ve fallen in love with Vietnam from the history to the food, I’ve been on cycling tours, visited waterfalls, worked out on the beach, explored markets, had clothes made for me, abseiled down waterfalls and jumped off cliffs.imageI’ve seen the beauty in rural Cambodia and the genuine kindness of the locals, I’ve been healed by yoga, meditation and the beautiful people around me, I’ve been pampered and massaged by experts, I’ve learnt all about a history I never knew happened and I’ve watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat. I’ve celebrated my 25th birthday surrounded by friends old and new in a brand new country, I’ve realised what Australia has to offer, I’ve seen cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin and I’ve travelled for two months with another person. I’ve seen what the East Coast has to offer; I’ve 4WD around Fraser Island, I’ve swam with sea turtles on Whitsundays and been white water rafting, I’ve kayaked with dolphins, surfed in Byron Bay and been whale spotting, I’ve cuddled a koala and fed a kangaroo. I’ve found the best travelling family a girl could ever ask for and spent three months partying and raving my heart out with the best friends you could find. I’ve experienced the outback in Darwin and seen the Northern Territory. I’ve travelled solo across the country to live in the bush and work alone for three months.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all be amazing – there have been rough bits too. But as one of my best friends always says, “you take the rough with the smooth”. There have been times I’ve been scared and felt horribly alone, when it’s all gone wrong and I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been robbed by taxi drivers and had to punch my way out of an argument, I’ve had to look after more than one friend after they were attacked in the most unlikely places, I’ve had to look after another friend when all of her money was stolen out of her bank account by someone we thought we could trust, and I’ve faced my own mortality three times. It’s not all smiles and sunlight when you travel and in particular those three serious crashes left me pretty shaken up. Until that point I think I always thought in the back of my mind that everything would be okay and that I was invincible but suddenly I realised that it could all come to an end quicker than you can say bye. But all of these experiences have taught me quite how important it is to live every second like it’s your last. I always have done anyway, but now it seems even more important than ever. I’ve realised that even when you’re thousands of miles away from your friends and family that there are people, good friends you meet along the way, who will come drop everything and come running to save you. And most importantly, I’ve learnt how to save myself and not rely on anyone else to do it for me.

2015 has been a year of growth, a year of triumph and success. I’ve never been prouder of myself for all I’ve achieved, and I’ve never been more excited about what the future holds. I’ve already changed my plans countless times and instead of heading home in a few days like I was supposed to, I’m staying in Australia to keep living the dream. I’ve already made travel plans for the following 18 months and I can’t wait to start living them. Instead of being the end of an incredible year and the beginning of reality kicking in, I’ve made this my reality and it feels like just the beginning of another incredible adventure. It might be egocentric but I don’t really care, this last year has shown me how amazing, strong and brave I am and it seems only right that someone who possesses these qualities would want to take on the world – so I shall. Thank you all for being with me every step of the way and I hope you’ll be sticking around for the long haul as we’ve got a long way left to go!

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Backpacking | Top 10 most useful items I packed for travelling

imagePacking is one of the hardest parts of preparing to go travelling. In your mind you dream of gallivanting on a beach with your slender, tanned frame draped in gorgeous, floaty fabrics looking like something out of an advert for Free People. The reality is, there’s just not much space for outfits like that in a 65 litre backpack! Suddenly your dreams are shattered when you realise how little space you have to pack up your whole life and carry it around with you for the next year. There’s a reason I never wrote a packing list until now, and it’s because I really do think it is difficult to provide a general one for all as each person values different items at different amounts, plus if you’re travelling to different places it makes it difficult to pack for all weathers. I had an easy job at first because I was packing for South East Asia where I knew I would be needing just very light clothing, swimwear and sandals. I packed extremely lightly and decided to buy stuff along the way if I needed more clothing, and most of the items I took with me were ones I already had instead of buying new when I knew it would be cheaper in Asia. But when it came to arriving in Australia I was totally unprepared – I had no clothes for city life just hippy tie-dye dresses and flip-flips. I had to buy jumpers and even a coat just so that I could stay warm in the Sydney winter. But I didn’t mind this too much because it just meant that I hadn’t needed to carry the items around Asia for five months with me.

I’ve definitely noticed over time that there are some items that I packed way back when I first set out in January that have stayed with me ever since and remain as useful as ever, while a lot of other things I brought with me have since found their way to the bin or charity shop. These are the things I want to talk about because some of these things are the ones you might not think of when packing your bag, but they might turn out to be the things you need most. Check out my list below:

  1. One pair of leggings, jeans and tights. These have been a saviour and are still used all the time – the jeans were my saviour when I arrived in Sydney and it was freezing, while the leggings are the comfiest thing ever to travel in on long bus rides or flights when the air con gets a bit much. Tights are just great – they can go under any dress, playsuit or shorts and help to make them look a bit smarter or just keep you warm but take up no room at all in your bag.

  2. Sportswear and a good pair of trainers. You might not be the sportiest person in the world, but when you’re walking everywhere, you’re trekking through jungles or up mountains, or you’re walking on uneven ground, trainers are a godsend. They do take up a big of space in your bag, but if you get super cute and comfy ones you’ll end up wearing them most of the time when you’re travelling, or just tie them on to the bag. Sports shorts, yoga pants and sports bras are great because they not only look really good, they’re comfy for travelling in and for doing all kinds of activities. (M and M Direct)

  3. A scarf or pashmina. Pick up one in Bangkok’s markets, they’re gorgeous. This is such a fantastic item to have in your hand luggage or handbag at all times – throughout Asia I never left the hostel without it. It’s so good to have one on a flight or bus when the air con gets too cold, or just to have it to sling around your shoulders as a mark of respect if you stumble across a temple or shrine you just have to explore. With so many religious sites in Asia, it’s always good to be prepared.

  4. Padlocks. I say plural because it’s always a good idea to have one larger one and a few smaller ones – it was so important to have a larger one to lock up your valuables in Asia because there were thieves around and your money/passport/iPad is worth a lot more there. But it’s also good to have some smaller padlocks for your bag when travelling on buses or trains. It gives you peace of mind more than anything.

  5. Memory cards. Always pack a few of different sizes just in case one is unreliable or decides to let you down when you’re in the middle of nowhere and see something incredible. You don’t want to be stuck without enough storage when you’re travelling – there’s just too much to capture.

  6. If you’re travelling in Asia, you might not arrive with it but you should definitely pick up some coconut oil. It’s amazing stuff and I swear by it – you can use it for anything, your skin, face, hair, nails, lips… And it all comes in one bottle. Trust me, when backpacking the less bottles you have weighing you down the better, plus it’s cheap over there.

  7. More than one adapter – luckily I packed three because when I arrived in Asia, I found that one of them would only work in certain plug sockets while the other would work in all of them, and my other one was specifically for Australia. Now remember you can buy them along the way so don’t carry them unnecessarily, but it’s always good to have a spare.

  8. When I first went travelling I packed make-up remover wipes, now I swear by baby wipes. They’re cheaper, come in bigger packs, better for your skin and you can use them for anything. They’re so great for when you’re travelling long-haul on a flight, bus or train and just want to feel clean again.

  9. Tiger balm or bite cream – just accept it, when you go travelling everything will be trying to eat you alive. Mosquitoes, midges, sandflies, bed bugs and all the rest – you’ll get to a point where you’ve been bitten so much your legs are a mess and you wonder what it was like to not feel itchy. It’s unpredictable and annoying but always best to be prepared – depending on where you are, you will use different products but carrying them with you is a must.

  10. Medical kit – now I’m not talking swabs and gauze, but plasters, Imodium, painkillers and antiseptic wipes can be such a saviour if you fall off a motorbike or are in a car accident and have to clean yourself up, if you become ill or get food poisoning. Just having basic supplies with you can mean the difference between infections and smaller scars, it can mean avoiding an uncomfortable night spent squatting over a train toilet.

When it comes down to it, these are definitely the items that have been used the most out of my backpack and interestingly only two of these items are actually clothes – the most practical. Bear that in mind if you’re packing for a long trip, I know it feels like the most important thing is to look the part but you can buy clothes all over the world and not many people actually care what you look like when you’re travelling – they’re more interested in the smile on your face and the stories you have to tell. I know girls who rocked up to Australia with their hairdryer, straighteners, curlers, a shedload of makeup and a whole wardrobe of going out outfits – I’ll be honest and say you don’t need it. It’s nice to have some of that stuff so you can actually make an effort sometimes, but you don’t need a suitcase full of the stuff, why not save the space and make your bag lighter for travelling further? Plus when you’re moving between places so often, nobody ever realises you’ve been wearing the same outfit on the last 10 nights out. When you’re camping in the outback and haven’t showered for a week, it really doesn’t matter what label you’re wearing. Get back to basics and enjoy it. My best advice, if you plan to travel to Asia, just pack as light as possible and buy everything there – you’ll save a fortune and you’ll only end up buying all the clothes anyway!

What are your most useful items? What do you wish you had packed on your last trip? What do you never leave home without? 

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Saying Goodbye | 50 Reasons Why You Should Go To South East Asia

imageBy now, any of you who are following me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook will know that I have been living it up in Australia since the end of May. I’ve had so many posts to share with you that I never had a chance to say goodbye to South East Asia – a place that I hold very dear in my heart after such a life changing experience. It’s such a wonderful part of the world and I’ve learnt so much during my five months, I’m already planning to return as soon as the opportunity presents itself. But why was it so amazing? There are so many reasons why I fell in love with Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia – and there are even more reasons why I am now desperate to visit countries like the Philippines, Burma, Taiwain, Singapore and Malaysia. It is a part of the world I think everyone should visit at least once, if only to get a taste of what the rest of us are all talking about – it is one of the few places in the world where you can really witness poverty, live in luxury and still learn from and absorb the culture without being sheltered from it. There’s so much we Westerners can learn from Eastern culture, and once you have a taste of that way of life you’ll find it hard to go back to reality. So why should you go?

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  1. To find the paradise beaches your dreams are made of…
  2. To eat amazing foods packed with those eastern flavours of chilli, lemongrass…
  3. To live that hammock life…
  4. To dive and snorkel with tropical fish, sharks and lots more…
  5. It’s cheap – live like a king, or queen, on very little money…
  6. The massages, oh the massages…
  7. The people are some of the friendliest you will find anywhere in the world…
  8. To challenge yourself to learn another language…
  9. To do yoga with real masters…
  10. To party all night and watch the sun rise…
  11. To get lost and find yourself again…
  12. To complete the Bangkok Bucket List
  13. To ride tuk tuks across the cities..
  14. To eat delicious street food for pennies…
  15. To drink cheap booze at sunset with newfound friends…
  16. To watch the sunrise at a temple overlooking the city
  17. To get chased by monkeys
  18. To look after elephants instead of riding them
  19. To meet some of the most interesting and exciting people you will ever stumble across
  20. To live in bikinis, hippy trousers and tie-dye…
  21. To hike through 160 million year old rain forests
  22. To witness poverty and to become truly grateful for all you have
  23. To get ripped off and realise that not everyone is your friend in the world
  24. To be shown time and time again how kind and generous strangers can be
  25. Did I mention the massages?
  26. To eat curry for breakfast and not be judged
  27. To skinny dip in the moonlight with friends you just met
  28. To fall in love with people, places and moments, and to hold them in your heart always
  29. To see monks with badass tattoos and beanies visiting temples and taking selfies with Buddha statues
  30. Just because there’s nowhere else in the world like it, and there’s nowhere easier to travel in the world
  31. To learn about a culture and religion completely different to your own
  32. To learn about a history that will horrify you and leave you with a new respect for the country
  33. To witness countries like Cambodia and the Philippines in recovery from mass devastation and attempting to rebuild for the future
  34. To teach students to have such a thirst and excitement for learning, who really want to be there
  35. To visit stunning waterfalls in Laos and pretend to be a mermaid
  36. To flit between lush green rainforest and white sandy beaches
  37. To spot wild monkeys, elephants and snakes
  38. To experience sleeper buses and real Asian transport
  39. The shopping!
  40. Because you can’t get a fruit shake like these anywhere else in the world
  41. To try your hand at Muay Thai with a Thai professional fighter
  42. To cover yourself in UV paint and dance at the Full Moon Party
  43. To go on a night time fishing trip and BBQ at a moment’s notice
  44. To be in the middle of nowhere and know that at that moment, not a single person knows where you are and what you are doing – complete freedom
  45. To get adopted by a Thai woman who decides you need mothering
  46. To make a difference by volunteering, giving up your time, teaching or in some other way – to make your trip count
  47. To make memories that will stay in your heart and mind for a lifetime
  48. Because you can get away with so much more than when you travel to other areas – trust me, Australia has a lot of rules!
    50. Because – can you really think of 50 reasons why you shouldn’t?

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Can you think of any other reasons to visit South East Asia? Which country in SE Adia is your favourite and why? Are you planning a trip there soon? 

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Accommodation | My Top Hostels | South-East Asia

imageI’ve been waiting a while to share this list with you guys, and I can’t wait to tell you about my favourite hostels. I’ve now finished my Asian adventure, at least for now, and during my six months I stayed in all kinds of accommodation from huge hostels to bungalows on the beach, to family-run guest houses and hotels. I’ve scored well on getting luxury for a serious bargain and sometimes had to suck it up and stay somewhere nasty for a night, but it’s all been part of the journey. I know so many of my readers are planning their own backpacking experience or short break over in South East Asia, so I thought it would be good to share my favourite hostels for various different types of break scattered across Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. All of them were fantastic value and were places that hold logs if memories for me, and I hope they will for you as well. So which ones made the cut?

BEST BANGKOK BASE: Suneta Hostel Khaosan, Bangkok

This quickly became one of my favourite hostels in the whole of Asia – a little known gem that I only discovered after finding NapPark was fully booked and spotting it on TripAdvisor’s list for the city. The hostel is amazing, one of the cleanest and most welcoming I have seen, with great facilities and even a free breakfast. But what really sets it apart from the rest is the cabin dorms, sharing a dorm with 15 others can be a bit much but at Suneta you get your own space in a cabin of your own, a big bunk with your own door to close on the rest of the dorm. You have your own light, air conditioning fan, plugs and even a TV to watch a huge range of movies on. Despite you being able to close a door on the rest of the dorm, it was still one of the friendliest and most sociable hostels I stayed in the whole time travelling, and being just a few minutes walk from Khao San Road makes it so convenient. I actually chose to stay there twice over a hotel and would stay there every time I return to Bangkok in future. £12 a night roughly, but worth every penny.

BEST HALF MOON FUN: Baan Tai Backpacker, Koh Phanang, Southern Thailand

I was glad I booked ahead for this one, a great find by some of my friends for our Half Moon Party reunion, because it meant not only did we get a great dorm up but also had a cheeky upgrade to an even nicer dorm. This was a fantastic hostel but purely for those who really want to party and have fun – we were there for just that and had an amazing five days of partying with the hostel owners and everyone who was staying there. We all partied together as a gang and our pre-party for the Half Moon was actually more fun than the festival itself! The dorms had comfy beds and slept about six per dorm with an ensuite bathroom, perfect as no one was ever waiting. Most importantly of all, I left that hostel with a little family and some incredible memories and I would really recommend that any Half Moon ravers stay here for the time of their lives. You’re so close to the festival and get free drop off to the party, plus the after parties are just a short walk from the hostel, and the beach is just metres away. Around £6 a night.

BEST VALUE FOR MONEY: Pak-Up Hostel, Krabi, Southern Thailand

I’ll be honest, there’s not much in Krabi itself but you can do day trips to Railey Beach and Koh Phi Phi from there – when I arrived I had already done these so I was just passing through on my way to Phuket. I had only planned a night there but stayed for three because I just couldn’t tear myself away – it was the most amazing and welcoming hostel you can imagine. I’m talking the sort of place that is welcoming new guests on a daily basis, but the staff all remember your name and want to k ow how your day is going. I’m talking about a p,ace where you have an instantaneous family to eat, drink, sightsee and just hang out with every night and all day long. Also one of the cleanest hostels with the best facilities – definitely comparable with Suneta – and a real treat to stay at for just £6 a night.

BEST FOR INDULGING YOUR INNER CHILD: Pai Circus School, Northern Thailand

The dorms and bungalows are pretty basic and the bathrooms are nothing to write home about, but the fun is endless here in northern Thailand. You soon form close-knit families with those who just can’t seem to bring themselves to leave and before you know it you’ve been there a week longer than planned – I don’t know anyone who stuck to their plans and actually left when they were supposed to. The days are filled with attempting to master circus tricks like fire dancing, slackline, unicycling, juggling and more on the sunkissed lawns, or lounging by the pool overlooking the stunning mountains. The evenings are filled with family meals, drinks by the pool and a late night saunter down to town for those in the party mood. In short, the simple life was a good one and tearing yourself away is a hard job. £4 for a 12-bed dorm, £5 for a 5-bed dorm, or bungalows from £6 a night.

BEST GUEST HOUSE: Matata Garden Guest House, Luang Prabang, Laos

One of the smallest places I stayed in Asia but one of the most homely, with just three small dorms of four the staff all knew our names and welcomed us with open arms. We were constantly offered cups of tea and coffee, played with their dog, Hakuna, who loved the attention, and hung out with the staff. It was a lovely and clean dorm and the perfect size for me and my two friends, we ended up having a dorm to ourselves. The beds were ridiculously comfy and it was the perfect distance from everything in Luang Prabang, just around the corner from the bars which made our walk home a short one. I was unsure what to expect of accommodation in Laos after Thailand, but was really pleasantly surprised and even when we had to stay one night at another guest house around the corner found the standard of guest house far higher than I expected. We were really sad to leave at the end of the few days. Around £7 a night.

BEST BEACH WAKE UP CALL: Blue Wave Beach Bar, Koh Lanta, Southern Thailand

My favourite non-hostel accommodation in the whole of Asia – this was a reggae bar I stumbled across on the beach in just my first few days of travelling. After staying somewhere not so great, I moved to Blue Wave where I found a little slice of paradise and a lovely new home. The perfect start to travelling, I had a little bungalow right on the beach for £12 a night, expensive for Thailand but worth it to wake up to the sound of waves crashing on the shore and reggae music. The guys who ran the bar made my life the happiest it could be, in the day I’d have the beach to myself and cocktails on tap from the boys. In the evenings, we’d listen to jazz, reggae and other amazing music, then dance and sing the night away with any newfound friends who wandered past. I miss it every day.

BEST FOR COMFORT AND EFFICIENCY: Dalat Central Hostel, Vietnam

After staying in a whole mix of places and seeing all kinds of standards of accommodation in Laos and Vietnam, I was so excited to reach Dalat Central Hostel. We were lucky that our bus stopped right outside and after a quick look we were more than impressed by the home comforts on offer. The comfiest beds, each with their own light, sockets and even curtains around the beds for privacy and to block out the lights. The showers were the best I have found and were a welcome relief after canyoning in the freezing rain. It was a warm and cosy hostel which was perfectly positioned in the town – thank goodness considering how unpredictable the weather was there. The people who ran the hostel helped book us on to trips and offered lots of advice about the area, had tea on offer all the time and made us feel so welcome. Also, the wifi was amazing – the best I have found in Asia and that was really helpful for those of us who had blogging/work to catch up on. Around £3-4 a night for a 12-bed dorm.image

Can you recommend any of your favourite hostels from South East Asia? Which ones ho,d the best memories for you, and which ones were the best value for money? 

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Top tips for surviving a sleeper bus in Asia

imageAbout to take your first sleeper bus across Asia? Well this post is for you – before I went on my first one I had no idea what to expect and although my experience went horribly wrong, there are plenty of ways to ensure that yours runs smoothly. So what are you in for? Well there are a lot of different types of sleeper bus available – from the ones with older reclining seats and less leg room with no extras, to the space ships that offer your own pod complete with TV, leg room, air con, a bed and even wifi. Make sure when you book your ticket you know what you are getting so you can be prepared and will have the smoothest, easiest ride. Sometimes it is worth investing slightly more money if you will be a bit more comfortable over the 24 hour or longer journey. But always treat each booking suspiciously – there have been several times when I’ve ended up on a very different bus to the one I booked and often promises of wifi, beds, air con etc are just a way of making you spend more money. That said, I have also travelled on some amazing buses since being in Asia – those in Vietnam are usually of particularly high quality.

Regardless of which bus you end up on, there are a few things you can do to make sure your journey is as easy as possible – you’d be surprised what a difference some of these things can make when you’re trapped on a bus for 24 hours! Here are my top tips for surviving a sleeper bus:

  1. Always take snacks and water to see you through the journey, although the buses stop at rest stops for dinner and breakfast, the food on offer is pretty rank at some and there were cockroaches where we stopped. Plus they don’t stop very often.

  2. Try to travel with people, even if you are a solo traveller like myself, meet people at your hostel who are going the same way or make friends on the bus, it can be a bit lonely otherwise and it can help you if you need to leave your bags with someone while you pop to the loo or if something bad happens.

  3. NEVER leave any valuables in your big rucksack in the luggage hold – I have heard about far too many travellers whose bags were robbed of huge amounts of money, photography equipment and more. Keep it all in a small bag with you at all times, also keep your passport, visa, paperwork and phone with you.

  4. It is worth getting a local SIM card for your phone, just so you have the safety blanket of being able to access gps so you know where you are, how much further, and you can easily find a place to stay when you arrive.

  5. Make sure all your electricals are fully charged – your iPad, iPod, phone and the rest will be helpful in keeping you entertained, plus you can do like I do and use the time to write blog posts or organise all those photos.

  6. If you have a pathetic bladder, bear in mind the buses often don’t have toilets and you only stop every three to four hours unless requested, try to minimise what you drink and prepare for this. Similar, try not to travel when you are severely hungover or ill – both you and your fellow travellers will appreciate this.

  7. Wear comfy clothes – elephant pants are great for this because they are soft like pyjamas – don’t go for denim and don’t go for skimpy clothes because the AC can be a bit chilly and you might end up standing around at the border getting cold for ages. Keep a hoodie with you but go for flip flops which are easier to remove every time you get back on the bus.

  8. Keep your toothbrush and deodorant in your small bag so you can freshen up at some point – it can make you feel a hell of a lot better when you’re all smelly from travelling for 24 hours.

  9. Have somewhere booked or planned for your stay at the other end, sometimes you might arrive at random times and after just waking up you will be groggy and not in the mood to search. Make it easy on yourself and have a name, address and a screenshot of it on the map.

  10. If at any point something doesn’t feel right about your journey, don’t be afraid to speak up. Nothing could have been done to prevent my experience from our side of it, but if something goes wrong for you it might be easily prevented. Always keep the name and number of the booking agent so you can speak to them directly about any problems.

Happy travels! Have you been on a sleeper bus – what was your first journey like? Got anymore top tips to share – what makes your life a little easier when taking a long journey?

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The worst possible welcome to Vietnam and my first sleeper bus experience

imageTo say I didn’t have the best first experience of Vietnam would be an understatement. It was a sad goodbye I said to my friends as I waved them off in their bus from Laos to Chiang Mai for Songkran while I waited for my sleeper bus to Hanoi. After travelling with the girls for two or three weeks it had become a way of life, it was just normal to wake up with them there so it felt strange to strike out on my own again. I was excited for Vietnam and the chance to experience another culture, and to get away from the partying in Laos for a bit. But it was bittersweet, I would have loved to have gone to Songkran with all my friends but I only had two weeks left on my visa for Vietnam and I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to see the country. Plus who wouldn’t want to spend 24 hours on a bus to get there? Uhh… Me.

I planned to book a flight to Hanoi to save time, but when I looked into it, not only was it ridiculously expensive but also the last two seats had just sold out! I had no choice but to brave a sleeper bus for the first time. I’d heard mixed reviews of those used across Asia, and while part of me was dreading doing the long journey myself without anyone to entertain me, but the other half wasn’t too bothered and just wanted to get there. Finally it was time to hop on the bus after a long drive in rush hour traffic across Vientiene in the back of a truck as a storm was about to break. We made it just in time, as we shoved our bags in the luggage hold and climbed aboard the black skies opened and lightning split the heavens. I should have taken it as an omen.

On that first evening we drove for hours in the dark, the rain and wind, finally pulling up at a rest stop for dinner and for the team of Lao/Vietnam guys to decide there was something wrong with one of the rear wheels and that they needed to remove it. We watched on, wishing we were back in the comfort of the bus instead of this damp, smelly, cockroach-filled rest stop. After 40 minutes of them staring blankly at the wheel, removing it and putting it back on again, it became clear there was a real problem but they didn’t bother to communicate this to us so we hoped it would be fine until we arrived. Back on the bus, we fell straight back asleep and didn’t really stir much until we arrived at the border and were rudely awakened by the driver at 7am.

After spending four hours standing around waiting in the pouring rain and cold of Vietnam, we were less than impressed at the lack of communication over why things were taking so long and why we had to unload, reload and unload all of our bags three times, check our passports about 10 times and go through five checkpoints. It was such a convoluted process and seemed highly inefficient compared to borders I had crossed previously. Finally it was over and we hopped back on the bus and were on our way, only to be stopped down the road by police twice, on both occasions half the Lao and Vietnamese people on the bus had to bride the police for some reason or another – fully endorsing all the stories I had heard about the corruption of the country.

Much later on, after we had been driving for closer to 48 hours with no explanation for why we were running so late other than assuming it was to do with the broken wheel. We were all half asleep when our driver suddenly swerved, almost tipping the bus over, then back the other way. There was a huge crash and a lorry was coming through the bus towards me, where luckily I sat near the back. Thankfully, all us tourists at the back of the bus had a split second where we saw what was going to happen before the impact where we could grab hold of something to stop us sliding forwards towards the crushed up front, otherwise we would have ended up like the guy who sliced his hand open or the other one who badly hurt his ankle.

After a second a pure confusion and panic over what had happened, people got their act together and we started to gather our things and climb out of a window at the side of the bus. The front was so crushed we couldn’t even get down the stairs. Once standing out on the side of a busy highway in the dark, we could see the full extent of the damage – as you can see from the pics it wasn’t good but amazingly the lorry was barely dented. We waited as the guys cleared the rubbish and broken bits of bus from the road and spoke to the lorry driver – we expected the police to turn up at any moment.

All of a sudden, the bus was driving off. We didn’t know what was happening, the guys hadn’t said anything to us and neither had the driver – who had clearly been drunk from the beer cans around the drivers’ seat and smell of vodka in the air. Our big rucksacks were still in the luggage hold and many people had left the money, passports and valuables on the bus – thankfully anything of value I owned I had the sense to pick up up and had with me. We walked after the bus thinking it would stop further flew the road, but it carried on so we started to chase after it until some bright shark had the idea of hailing a taxi and chasing it down. Luckily the taxi driver was on our side and pinned in the bus so it couldn’t drive off. After a lot of shouting and arguing, our bags were freed from the bus and another was organised to pick us up free of charge – a pretty amazing outcome considering how dire the situation seemed.

We finally made it to Hanoi around 50 hours after starting our journey, traumatised, confused and exhausted. Not great for a first sleeper bus experience. Why am I sharing my horror story with you? Because I had no idea this could ever happen to someone in real life, it wasn’t even something I considered. I don’t want to scare people but I want you guys to be aware that drunk and dangerous driving is a big issue in Vietnam and although you have no choice but to place your life in the hands of the driver, that you can make some checks to help you feel comfortable and safe. When travelling alone this is a must. Keep your wits about you at all times, no matter where you are travelling, and always keep hold of your passport, money and valuables.

Have you been on sleeper buses in Asia – what were your experiences like? Have you been involved in a crash abroad – what happened? 

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Traveller burnout: Don’t be afraid to say no

imageWhen you first pack your bags and head off into the big wide world on your travels, it’s a pretty exciting time. It’s been a long time coming and you’ve lost count of how many times you fantasised about being on that beach thousands of miles away from the stresses of home. It’s easy to get swept away in the excitement and say yes to everything, to everyone who invites you for dinner, sightseeing, or just to hang out. And why shouldn’t you? Hell you should grab every opportunity with both hands, make new friends at every turn and have an amazing time because you’re no longer holding yourself back. I certainly did – I’ve now been travelling for about four months by myself and it has been a truly amazing four months spent exploring Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and now Cambodia – it’s been more than I ever dreamed it would be.

Travelling by yourself means you have to give 100% every single day, you never have anyone else to pick up the slack if you’re hungover or tired, so it’s that much more exhausting than travelling with someone else. I know, how can laying on beaches be tiring – well consider the time that goes into travelling between places, the organising of transport, accommodation, the arguing with tuk tuk drivers, having to find new friends at every destination… The list goes on. There’s a lot more to travelling than just laying on beaches – I write this after travelling through the length of Laos and Vietnam in one month – that’s really not long and trust me I’ve barely slept for the whole time. Between late nights hanging out with friends in Laos and sleeper buses/trains throughout Vietnam, plus the constant movement, sightseeing, exploring, and all the physical activities like mountain biking and canyoning – it’s bloody knackering! I’ve actually had to take a little holiday from travelling and am spending a few days catching up on sleep on a beach in Cambodia.

What’s my point in all this? Well, it’s suddenly struck me that if you are travelling for any length of time last a few months, you really need to take this into account when you plan. You need to realise that at one point or another you will hit a wall if you go full pelt every single day, you need to allow your body time to recover and to relax as well as trying to fit everything in. This is something I’m learning as I go, and to be honest I’m not great at – I just get so excited about everything that I want to do everything at once and don’t want to miss any opportunity! I’m the sort of girl who does three festivals in a row and works two jobs in-between instead of allowing time to recover – and I need to learn to change my ways. I’ve noticed lately that I’m getting tired so much earlier in the day and it is my body telling me to rest instead of organising the next stage of my journey – so as I’m coming to the end of my time in Asia I have plenty of R&R time booked in. I’ve made the decision to stay on this beach for a few days before heading to a yoga and meditation retreat for a week, followed by a few days of shopping, being pampered, going to the gym and relaxing by a pool in Bangkok before heading to Australia. Then I can arrived refreshed and ready to take on a new world of travelling.image

Have you got traveller burn out? My top tips for how you can beat it:

Don’t be afraid to say no. Travelling solo means often you feel obliged to take up every invite extended to you but that’s not always the wisest move – this can mean you’re too busy to really appreciate any of what you are doing. Sometimes it’s best to pick out what you really want to do instead of following the crowd on everything – after all, that’s why you came away by yourself.

Spot the signs. Feeling achy or getting ill? Tired for no reason, not sleeping well, can’t be bothered to socialise? All signs you’re getting burnt out and need a break – listen to your body, it knows what it’s talking about! Give yourself time to relax and unwind, eat properly, drink lots of water and don’t feel guilty!

Know that time spent alone is time well spent. I find it hilarious that actually in the time I’ve been travelling I have usually had to fight to get time alone rather than being surrounded by a gang of people – Cambodia is actually the first country I have predominantly been alone! But that does mean that often you lose the fight and end up spending all your time with other people, getting locked into a pattern where you feel like time by yourself is wasted. It’s not, it’s very important. If you can’t be happy in your own company, you never will be with others, so take time to get to know yourself and your own thoughts.

Get your priorities in order. Sightseeing is not the most important thing and if you don’t end up seeing some temple because you needed a lay in, fancied a leisurely breakfast or just wanted to lay by the pool – that’s okay! You don’t have to see every historical landmark, every temple, every bridge and every pretty viewpoint. Pick wisely and see just what you want to see, that will give you time in-between to chill as well – often if you try to see everything you end up not enjoying anything and that is why you are there! To enjoy yourself!

Remember what you did to get there. Think back to the time you were working five jobs to find this trip, to when you cried in the toilets at work because you were so stressed out over something that just didn’t matter, or to when you had spent 20 out of the past 24 hours working and we’re seeing double you were so tired. Now ask yourself why you’re pushing yourself so hard and demanding so much – you came here to relax and be happy. So do it and don’t feel like you have to achieve all the time. You’re free of that damned rat race and you need to enjoy it before you get sucked back in.

Have you had traveller burn out? How did you beat it? Any other tips for getting back on track?

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The backpacker’s guide to tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

imageOn the face of it, tubing sounds like one of the most rubbishy, touristy things you can do – something for the uncultured among us travellers. You couldn’t be more wrong, it’s a rite of passage for backpackers, something you simply cannot pass through Laos without taking part in and trust me, you’re bound to have an amazing time. I haven’t met a single person – travellers from all over the world, from all kinds of backgrounds – who hasn’t had a good time. The people of Vang Vieng seem to have little patience for us drunken tourists, and who can blame them, but quite frankly they make plenty of money out of us visiting and taking part so it all evens out. So what is tubing? Basically, you stick your bikini on, head to the tubing station to pick up a tube and jump on a tuk tuk which takes you to the river with your friends where you chuck in your tube and start floating down to the first bar. Now some of you may know there used to be countless bars open along the river before two Australians died, now it is just five at a time, but they alternate the bars to keep it interesting. I did tubing twice in my week there and ended up going to two different sets of bars – all boasting different drinks deals, different freebies, different music, and different games.imageBefore writing this post I did a bit of reading up on other blogs, news articles and other websites about tubing and the problems it has faced in the past – it seems there have been a lot of other deaths (full figures unknown but over 30 I read) plus a lot of injuries to drunk, drugged up and downright stupid tourists. So I completely understand why the police had to step in and close it all down – which as mentioned in a couple of blog posts, reduced Vang Vieng to a ghost town. But while most of them advised readers to just go for the scenery, the hot air ballooning, the caves etc instead of for a party, but I couldn’t disagree more. Now I do agree that all the partying is pretty bad tourism and there is no excuse for being disrespectful to the locals by walking around in bikinis or being wasted all the time, but I can also see the other side of it. The locals make a great deal of money off us tourists through food, drink, tubing, tuk tuks and the rest – without this, I’m sure the town would really struggle to make money. I think that as long as you follow some basic steps of human decency to avoid seriously offending anyone, and don’t take things to a stupid level, there’s no reason why we can’t all have an awesome time!image

 

How to survive tubing:

  • Don’t start the day much later than 12pm, by the time you have paid and got your tubes to the bar it will be 1pm and you want to make sure you get your tubes back by 6pm to get your deposit back – it takes much longer than the two hours they say to get round the bars.
  • Eat! You are basically going on an all day bender and you would be a bloody idiot not to line your stomach with something. By not doing this you’re just being a selfish idiot who will rely on their friends to pick them up and clear up their sick later.
  • Don’t pre-drink! You really don’t need to when you will be going around five bars, getting free shots, drinking all day then partying into the night as well. Perspective – you wanna make it to the end or miss the whole day cos you passed out?
  • Be respectful – the whole lads on tour thing might seem funny to you, but swearing and shouting at the locals, walking around in trunks or bikinis, none of this will help our relationship with the locals. It’s their country – remember that. Cover yourself up with a long vest (available everywhere) at all times.

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  • Get yourself one of the plastic wallets that go round your neck for your money and keys, or smokes, they’re great at keeping everything dry. I wouldn’t recommend taking a camera or phone unless waterproof. My camera was waterproof so I couldn’t resist taking it with me, but I know others who damaged their camera in the water when drunk.
  • Don’t take flip flops – you don’t need them and will only lose them in the water. The bars are pretty good for no broken glass or anything like that, just watch yourself on the rocks in the water. Trust me, it’s easier without shoes.
  • If you’re a bit tight for money, you can get away with taking your own booze with you to drink on the tubes or to add to mixers in the bars, I know a few people who did this to save on buying drinks. You do also get lots of free whiskey shots.
  • Join in all the games and have the best time – everything from mud wrestling to boxing, volleyball, basketball, football, beer pong, card games – the list is endless and so much fun! Some of the bars play organises games like flip cup and musical tubes but often you’re free just go do what you want. Some of the bars even had awesome music, something that was seriously lacking in the rest of Asia!

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  • Don’t do silly things like jumping off rocks where the water is too shallow or full of stones, your only ruining things for yourself and others. Only jump of you know it is safe – we made sure the water was deep enough and checked with the guy in charge of the bar before jumping. Likewise, don’t take drugs. You stand out a mile off because this is a pub crawl and it’s much more fun to drink and be on the same level as everyone else. Nobody wants to deal with someone who is tripping on mushrooms or acid as they float down the river – don’t be a liability or a statistic.
  • Always keep money for the tuk tuk back to town – the taxi drivers are pretty unhelpful if you’re a bit short and try to hold up the tuk tuks so you won’t get your deposit, so if you want it, give yourself plenty of time to get back and have the money.
  • When you get back – reward yourself for surviving with one of those baguettes, a good shower to get the mud off and head out for round two! Sakura will have free drinks from 8-9pm!

imageTubing was a brilliant day out – it wasn’t cultured at all and I got very drunk. But heck, that’s what life is about sometimes – you’ve read all about the temple visits, volunteering and sightseeing I’ve done, but sometimes a girl needs to cut loose and get wasted with her friends. For those who think tubing ruins Vang Vieng, I disagree, it’s just a different kind of travelling experience and I’m determined to enjoy them all. It was a great way to meet people and to have fun with a huge group of friends I had made, friends who have lasted long beyond one drunken day on the river. If that’s not worth doing it for then I don’t know what is!

Have you been tubing – what did you think? Tubing’s not for you – why not? 

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Vang Vieng – A place for badly behaved backpackers

imageDropped off at the side of a dusty road in Vang Vieng after the most traumatic journey through winding, mountainous roads, I won’t lie and say my first thought wasn’t “oh God this place is a hole.” It looked like the back end of nowhere and it was blisteringly hot – grabbing our bags we walked towards the centre to find a place to stay. After checking out several and consulting with our Lonely Planet and Google Maps to get as close to the centre as possible. We finally ended up staying at Viang Vilay Guest House. It wasn’t great, but it was cheap and we didn’t plan to be in the dorms much. We ended up in a giant 30 bed dorm that was spread across three rooms in open plan style – it worked in our favour because after the first night everyone else moved out into private rooms and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Plus we were right in the centre of everything, right next to the tubing station, and we were paying less than anyone else we knew, which quite frankly is the only important thing when booking accommodation in Vang Vieng.

From the moment we arrived, we could see it was a dusty ghost town and we wondered where the hell everyone was. At around 6-7pm it became clear, as the tuk tuks rolled in with some of the drunkest people I have seen in a while, that everyone had been off on the river tubing. Now I apologise in advance, this isn’t going to be the most cultured of my posts but hot damn this was a fun few days, and if you like a good party, you’ll love tubing! Vang Vieng turned out to be an awesome time for us because there were so many people we knew there – some from travelling Thailand, others from the slow boat and some even just from Luang Prabang. It was a great reunion and everyone was in a party mood – you can’t really go to Vang Vieng if you don’t want to party. I have to question those older couples who were clearly just on holiday there when other than the Blue Lagoon and a couple of caves, there isn’t really much else to do, but each to their own. It’s not even a very welcoming place as you can tell that the people who live and work there can’t really stand the drunks and have a very low opinion of us – they were really rude from the moment we arrived – but who can blame them when we show up and get wasted.imageIn terms of food, I have to be honest and say the food in Laos disappointed me and everywhere I tried it I just found it tasteless and overcooked. So I gave up in the end and enjoyed a tasty spicy pizza at Milan Pizza (lots of spacier variations are available if you fancy that kind of thing) and lived off baguettes from the stalls in the street – it was cheap and I was hungover a lot of the time so it was perfect for lining my stomach for tubing. I keep teasing you with mentions of tubing but you’ll have to wait for my next post for my tubing guide. Instead, let me tell you about the lovely part down by the river where you can chill out on decking with your feet dangling in the water and the sun beaming down on you. It’s such a perfect place for relaxing in the day, and apparently attracts a lot of ladyboys on a day out, who were all enjoying posing for photos. I would really recommend heading down there at one point or another for the afternoon, there is also more accommodation including bungalows down there. For bars in the evening, Jaidee’s is good for chilling out and getting a little freaky or head to Sakura and the Irish Bar for free drinks and partying after tubing.

If you’re looking for something to do, the main two things we came across were visiting caves and the Blue Lagoon. The caves were supposed to be a couple of kilometres some thought we would walk and get some exercise but it was definitely further and the heat was ridiculous. We finally arrived and paid to go in, after being told to go through so we would find the Blue Lagoon, we that never happened. We got lost in the caves, one of us nearly lost her shoes and the head torches they gave us were useless! We ended up having to try and retrace our footsteps out the same way because we couldn’t find anyway through the caves – there was devotedly a moment when I thought I would never see daylight again – around the time I tripped and hurt my foot. If you visit these caves (which are signposted from the river) wear proper shoes because there is climbing involved, take a better torch because the ones they give you are terrible, and be brave – I have never been in caves that dark before. It was like a scene from a horror film!imageThe Blue Lagoon was much better but definitely wasn’t where we were told it was – get a tuk tuk or hire quads as it is quite far and the road is pretty bad for a scooter. It’s so worth the trip, the whole section of water is a rich blue colour from the calcium pigments and looks beautiful. There are loads of rope swings, high points to jump off into the water and sunbathing spots – it may have taken ages for us to get there but we were so glad when we finally did. You’ll probably want a few hours there to relax and jump around so indulge your inner kid and take along your friends for a fun afternoon getting over your tubing hangover before starting all over again. If you’re too hungover to make it that far, there’s a whole series of restaurants that have Friends playing on repeat all day opposite Jaidee’s which is great when you feel rubbish and it’s as humid and hot as it was when I was there. You don’t notice the heat quite so much when tubing as you’re out on the river and cool off in the water, but in the town it’s a very intense heat that leaves you with little energy to take part in other activities on offer like rock climbing – we really wanted to do this but it was too hot while we were there.

Have you been to Vang Vieng? What did you think of it and would you go back? What else did you get up to whole you were there? 

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