After a crazy five months in Asia, I was sad to say goodbye but pretty excited for the next part of my travels which would take me straight to the land down under for some Aussie good times. I was pretty excited to be heading back to somewhere more western, I'd loved my time in Asia but I'd had my fill of dodgy toilets and humidity for a while and was ready for something new. I nearly didn't make it to Australia when I was supposed to fly back at the end of May - I had applied for my work travel visa about three weeks beforehand but for some reason it hadn't dropped into my emails. Now most people I know have received theirs in a matter of hours or just days, I don't even know anyone whose application for a work travel visa has taken the full week to come back. So as you can imagine, I started to be a bit concerned when it hadn't dropped in after a week, but thought I'd give it another week to be safe as my internet was so unreliable in Cambodia.
By the time I reached Thailand, a week before I was due to fly, it still hadn't arrived and I was starting to worry so I contacted the embassy by email and by phone to check up on it. Cue a week of frustrating, panicked emails and phone calls as I try to establish what the hell has happened to my application. Long story short, I think my application must have slipped through the system because it was finally approved just six hours before I was due to fly - I was actually about to move my flight because I didn't think I would make it. By this point I think I had already convinced myself I wouldn't make it to Australia before my birthday, I had accepted I would be staying in Thailand for a bit longer - so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to finally get it through! I was crazy excited to be moving to a new continent to start my new Aussie adventure and breezed through the airport with the biggest smile on my face. I couldn't even sleep on the nine hour flight, I just stayed up buzzing with excitement and enjoying having three seats to lay across while I watched movies for the first time in six months!After my long flight and arriving in Sydney, I was a dizzy mess of sleep deprivation and felt terrible - I stumbled through the airport and collected my bag then headed on the train to Central where Wake Up Hostel was waiting for me. I chose the hostel after lots of great recommendations from friends who had stayed there when they travelled through and wasn't disappointed. It's a great hostel, although very expensive for a night at $37, while you do appreciate paying for a really clean and well-run hostel that is dead centre of Sydney, you can't help but resent paying so much and having to pay an extra $15 a week for wifi which isn't always reliable. Despite this, the hostel has a great social life and lots of events on every single day and night to encourage people to make friends and mix with each other - in my time there I took part in a walk around VIVID, a light show that brought the city to life at night, which was great and helped me to meet lots of new friends. The evenings saw pool competitions, wine and cheese nights, beer pong tournaments and much more filling up Side Bar, which lay below the hostel. It was great, but I have to say I did feel the hostel was missing just a nice chill out room with sofas for those who didn't want to sit in the kitchen or reception. Plus, it had a hell of a lot of rules for someone who had just spent five months in Asia where the only rule is there is no rules!
Despite this, I have to say, I stayed in the hostel for a month when I first arrived in Sydney - I had a great time there and made lots of friends I'm still in contact with now, and really enjoyed myself. Sydney was just what the doctor ordered, walking out of the hostel after some sleep was a pretty strange experience. All these skyscrapers and glossy shops were a far cry from the dusty roads and street markets of Asia, but a welcome change. Sydney really is a beautiful city and despite not being much of a city girl, I loved it there - I loved how much effort had been put into the tiniest details, how clean it was, how calm a city it was. It was just lovely and never felt so big it was going to swallow you up, other cities like London or New York have a habit of being quite overwhelming but Sydney was just right. Staying in central was amazing because everything was right on my doorstep and I found myself flitting between days at the beaches of Bondi and Manly, to nights in Surry Hills and Newtown - but more about that in posts to come. For now, just enjoy some of my first pics captured in the city - and the moment I first laid eyes on the Royal Opera House and Harbour Bridge, less than 24 hours after being convinced I was stuck in Bangkok. Trust me, it was a pretty surreal first day there...
Have you been to Sydney - what were your first impressions of the city? Any other hostel recommendations for me - or what did you think of Wake Up Hostel?
Travelling can have one of two very different effects on your body - half the backpackers out there seem to lose weight from not eating properly while the other half watch their beer bellies grow from night after night on the booze. It's a difficult feat, maintaining that lifestyle while not piling on the pounds, particularly when you are constantly on the move and unable to get into a routine for working out. I loved working out when I was at home and could be found at the gym at least three times a week, sometimes more. I definitely got a bit addicted at times and loved the way it made me feel stronger, fitter and healthier. So as you can imagine, the gyms is something I've missed hugely since travelling, not just the physical part but the mental side as well. It's great for giving you goals and keeping track of achievements, it's great for de stressing (granted, not something a backpacker really needs) and it's great for giving you more energy. The lethargy among backpackers can sometimes become quite contagious - I've noticed in certain hostels it can become easy for everyone to just do nothing and to have no energy to even organise a cycle to a waterfall or temple. Of course, this can be nice for a few days, but when you're travelling long-term it's important to realise the effects this will have on your body, and in turn your health. And nobody wants being ill to stand in the way of a good time!
So what can you do to avoid becoming a bloated, beer-bellied backpacker? How can you eat healthy while on the road? Here are my top tips:
- Don't forget your fruits and vegetables - in Asia, enjoy a fresh fruit juice or smoothie a day and fresh pineapple or watermelon, even a fresh coconut! The fruit is so good and so fresh, there's no excuse!
- Eat spicy. A spicy curry cures all and kills all germs as my dad always says!
- Eat a varied diet - it's difficult when cooking for one and you often end up eating the same thing for days but it is important to make sure your body gets all the different vitamins and nutrients it needs.
- Make sure you are eating enough and aren't just getting your nutrients from alcohol, it's easy to not feel hungry when in the heat all day but it's important to get enough food inside you and don't skip breakfast - it really is the most important meal of the day!
- Line your stomach before going out by eating a good dinner of pasta or curry and rice - something that will fill you up so you are less likely to binge later on greasy street food
- Remember that what you eat directly affects how you feel - if you eat greasy chips and fried food you will feel and look like crap. If you're eating fresh and healthy food full of vitamins, your skin will be glowing and you will be full of energy.
- If you're cooking in a hostel in Australia, throw some fresh veggies in your standard pasta
- If you're eating veggie to save some money, or because you actually are veggie, remember you need protein as well or you will become sick so make sure you're getting plenty from other sources
- Drink plenty of water - I felt really under the weather when I first arrived in Australia because I was too cold to be drinking enough water after Asia - dehydration affects you hugely
- Avoid beer, cocktails and fizzy drinks - instead drink white spirits with juice as a mixer
- Don't always give in to yourself over burgers on a night out and hangover fry-ups the next day
- Avoid pot noodles and 7/11 toasted sandwiches like the plague - they're packed full of salt, sugar and lots of other nasties
Staying fit while on the road - top tips!
- Walk everywhere - also great for those on a budget
- Get out and get active - you might not be able to get to a gym but the great outdoors is waiting and it's free! Hike to a temple or waterfall, spend a day exploring the city on foot, surfing or kayaking.
- Don't be afraid to have a night in - you've got plenty of time to party and your body needs a rest sometimes. Willpower - remember how much time you have to live the dream
- Can't resist the pull of the bar? Head to a club and dance the night away, drink less and burn off those calories while having a blast
- Take advantage of free gym trials everywhere you go. I spent a month in Sydney using the gym every other day and always for free, I even scored free boot camp classes twice a week and all because I took advantage of the deals that are always on offer.
- Use the hostel facilities - many of the hostels have stayed in have had some kind of sports facilities available - whether it's bikes or surfboards to rent or borrow, a basketball hoop, or volleyball and a tennis net, some even have a pool! Why not get a gang together for an evening game of volleyball? A great way to bond and stay fit, or play tennis one sunny afternoon.
- Going to Asia? Do what I did and invest in some cheaper running shoes, then use them to death! Running is something you can do anywhere so take advantage of that. Another great one is yoga - just get yourself a little yoga mat.
- Do a week of volunteering at an animal sanctuary - you're so busy working hard all day long that the love handles simply melt away and you don't even realise how hard you're working because you love it so much.
- Sign up for a yoga retreat or boot camp and give it your all, focus on fitness for a week or two.
- Workout somewhere beautiful - a friend and I headed to the beach for an intense cardio workout by the sea, and let me tell you, the beautiful setting definitely eased my pain!I could go on listing top tips and ideas for staying healthy, but there are so many. Once you start making changes to your lifestyle, it becomes easier and easier to see ways of improving. Don't be heard on yourself, it is hard when you are a backpacker and temptation lies all around you. You always tell yourself, it's okay, I'm on holiday! But five months down the line, you're still using that excuse and you can't understand why you're exhausted, you're getting sick and you have no energy or drive to explore and see the country you're visiting. Backpacking is a lifestyle, and it's important to strike a balance that suits you and the way you want to live - if that means having a fresh coconut when everyone else is on the beers then that is okay. If you fancy a salad when everyone else is snacking on greasy noodles then that's fine too. Your body relies entirely on what you put into it, so if you put rubbish into it, you will find it a bit rubbish when you're relying on it for a good time. Treats are most definitely not off limits, but they remain just that - treats.
What are your best healthy backpacker tips? How do you manage to stay fit while travelling? What are your favourite healthy backpacker meals?
Travelling is one of the greatest learning curves you will ever have. You learn so much from heading outside your comfort zone, and doing it solo is one of the biggest character tests you can face in life. There is so much out there to experience, see and feel, and it really can change you as a person by bringing out that version of you that has always been waiting in the wings for your time to shine. There are so many reasons not to travel - money, commitments, relationships... The list goes on. But what about all those reasons to pack your bags and leave? What will you gain from it that you just won't get from staying at home and working that 9-5? I know travel isn't for everyone, and it holds no appeal for some people, but I do think that the values and personal lessons you gain from that time spent independently chasing your dreams are crucial to becoming the best version of yourself - however you choose to do this. So what do you learn? Well here are 10 things travellers have told me they have gained from heading off into the great unknown:
What have you learnt from travelling? What else have you gained from your travelling experiences? Tell us about the greatest learning curve you've faced on your travels...
I love to read. I've blogged about books I've loved before and writers who have fascinated me. I've made it more than clear that despite Kindles being so much more efficient in this day and age, that I really can't bear the thought of losing the suspense of turning the page to find out what happens next. I love the feeling when you reach that final page, the satisfaction of slamming the book closed on the table and that temporary feeling of not knowing how you'll fill the void now it's over... Until you pick up the next book in the pile. Perhaps it's something to do with studying for a degree in English that really makes me a traditionalist when it comes to reading. Whether it's a crisp new copy from a bookshop, or a battered old classic from the library - they each have their place and are all welcome on my bookshelves. It was a pretty sad thing to say goodbye to a whole box of books before coming travelling - I sold them at car boot sales and online to pay for my trip - a worthy swap to get them a new home - but I do always feel sad to say goodbye to books. I'm a bit of a hoarder and I can't lie, I've always had a dream of having a library of my own one day. A place of peace and tranquility to escape the madness of everyday life in the pages of a good novel.
The only problem is, loving books in paper form just isn't very practical for travelling when you only have a backpack to hold all your worldly possessions. When packing I had to be realistic about how many books I could justify slipping in my bag when I knew how much I would have to carry it around in Asia - in the end I packed just three books including my Thailand travel guide. It was a heartbreaking decision for a girl who used to pack half a suitcase of books for a two week holiday, but I comforted myself in the knowledge that I would have my iPad and could read online if I became desperate. I made myself read slowly, which wasn't hard with so much going on around me to distract me from the books, and for a while it didn't bother me whether I had books with me or not. But once I settled into travelling life and started having all this time to fill, I dived straight back into the pages of my books for entertainment. But when I ran out of books, that was the moment I panicked.
The good thing is that there are so many other travellers out there in the same position, so, if like me you are a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to holding a good novel in your hands - don't worry! If you're planning a big trip to Asia you'll find countless books piled up in hostels that have been left behind by travellers past and you'll find book shops all over with huge collections of books available for purchase, or even for book swaps. There are lots of options for refreshing your collection and as well as picking up books from these sources, you'll also meet lots of travellers along the way who will be looking for other travellers to swap books with, or even those who just want to give books to a new home to save from carrying them further. I found that I met several travellers along the way who were about to visit countries I had just spent weeks passing through, while they had just come from my next destination - often we swapped travel guides and provided each other with top tips and hostel recommendations to go with them.When my books came to an end, I was in Thailand and desperate for something new to read so I swapped one of my books and picked up a new one, which I later left at hostel for someone else to read. Another time, when I was in Vietnam, I spotted a book I had wanted to read for ages in a hostel and got so excited about it that the guy who ran the place told me I could have it. My best book swap actually happened when I was in Cambodia and stumbled across a tiny little bookshop attached to a cafe and couldn't believe my luck. I struck gold and found copies of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - both books I had been wanting to read for a while and just days after I had been reading an article about the man himself. Then after a bit more digging, I found a perfect copy of Shantaram, which is based on a true story and is one of the most beautifully written books I have read for a while. It's my book of the moment and one I had been eager to read ever since chatting to a guy in Vietnam who was reading it and hearing his rave reviews. I'm just a few hundred pages into it and I'm gripped by the amazing use of language and imagery, and it even has me curious about what it would be like to visit India, a country which hadn't really been on my radar before now.
Having these books has been a bit of a lifeline for me on long journeys and lazy days, and I know many other travellers who feel the same. I always feel that the mark of a good traveller comes in the form of the book he or she is reading - often it is easy to misread people at a first glance. But a look at the cover of the book they are reading tells me all I need to know about a person. While travelling it is so easy to get lost in a repetitive lifestyle of laying in the sun all day and drinking all night, but never really stretching yourself, or challenging your mind. Just like it's important to exercise your body, it's so important to keep your mind active and how better to do that than by reading and delving into a whole new world in the pages you hold in your hands? Other travellers are a fantastic source of book recommendations - I now have a whole list of books I need to read and will have to pick up a couple soon. I'm intrigued to see how book swaps work in Australia - or if they are even a thing out here!
What are you reading at the moment? Any good travel book recommendations? What do you prefer - a real book or a Kindle?
By 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?
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?
Yes, that's right, I know your name. You might not remember me very well as you were two pills to the wind when we first met properly. Eyes rolling back into your head, slurring your words and generally embarrassing yourself. But I remember you, I remember sitting outside while my friend was having a cigarette and laughing at how ridiculous you looked and how wasted you were at barely 12am. I was laughing at you when you said the bar had been turning you away for an hour, but you refused to give up. I told you you were better off going to bed and riding it out, then laughed some more. I was pleased to see you took my advice and headed to bed, but when I went up to the dorm and went to the bathroom, I definitely wasn't laughing anymore.
Why is that Jacob? Well it's because I walked in the toilet to find you had pissed all over the floor! Thank goodness for you that I still had shoes on, because if your warm, smelly piss had touched my naked feet, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't still be living. 23 years old and travelling the world independently - something to be proud of right? But still pissing all over the floor at your age? Not so much. I thought that was it and I could cope until the cleaners came in the morning, but just an hour or two later I was woken up by the sound of you crashing around and staggering around the room to the toilet again, ignoring you and rolling over I closed my eyes. Sleeping peacefully until my ridiculously early wake-up call, I awoke in a rush and hurriedly got dressed. As I walked to the bathroom with my toothbrush in hand, I had the nastiest shock yet to find puddles of piss on the dorm floor outside the bathroom. It seems yet again, you hadn't quite made it.
Not impressed was an understatement. Perhaps this is acceptable in Denmark, but in my six months of travelling, I have never seen such disgusting and quite frankly, humiliating behaviour. Living in dorms for that long, you're exposed to some gross sights and smells. From the damp, sweaty dorm smell to unwashed towels, mould and stray pubes in the plug holes... But this was the most disgusting of all. Waking up to a room that smells like piss, having to jump across puddles and try not to gag as you brush your teeth - that's not what I signed up for. I think you could benefit from reading my post on how not to be a total douche while backpacking.
I was lucky until now, thinking of this as a bit of an urban backpacking legend. I always heard stories of the guy who pissed all over everyone's suitcases and backpacks in the dorm, or the other one who pissed himself in a top bunk and the poor girl who was sleeping below him. But, I'll be honest and say I never really thought of this as something that really happened. I mean, I've been pretty wasted but I've never managed to piss my pants, I just don't understand how it could happen. Jacob, you and these other guys really need to bear in mind when getting off your faces that you have to share a room with several other people who deserve a basic standard of hygiene and respect. I'm sure no one goes out with the intention of pissing their pants, but when you're popping multiple cheap pills of some random guy on the street until your eyes roll back in your head... You have to be prepared to lose some basic functions I guess.
Whatever your excuses, whatever your apologies Jacob, just don't do it again. You're lucky you checked out before we could come face to face, but next time you might not get away with it so easily. Hopefully next time you think of hitting the pills, you'll think of the poor cleaner who had to clean up your mess, and the dorm mates who had to put up with your stink.
Hopefully, there won't be a next time.
Have you had to deal with any situations like this? Heard any horror stories? Leave a comment below and tell us all about it...
I'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.
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?
Today marks six months since I boarded that flight at Heathrow, feeling a bit tiddly from all the wine I had to drink just to calm my nerves and stop me getting emotional when looking at all the lovely messages you guys were sending me. Six months. I can't believe that's all it has been - it feels like a lifetime ago that I had my passport and ticket clasped in my hand as I made my way to the departure gate. So much has happened since then, I've seen and done so much, met so many amazing people, fallen madly in love with places, moments and incredible characters I've met along the way. Life will never be the same again. It's as simple as that, so much has happened that it is impossible for me to go back to the person I was and the life that I lived before and I'm so glad because I have built a whole new life out of my backpack. It might get annoying at times to live out of a bag and never have my own space, but I wouldn't give this up for anything. This is freedom and real happiness - even when times were tough. And boy, have they been tough. Travelling has nearly killed me on more than one occasion - there was a point when I wondered if Asia had it in for me, if my travelling luck was up - but I persevered and saw it through, and I'm stronger than ever because of it. And even though it might sound cheesy, I've never felt as alive as I have for the last six months.
There's something about being stranded in the middle of the Cambodian countryside after your minibus has been run off the road that is character building. I've always felt that it is only when things all go wrong that your true character shows and is tested, well mine has been forced out time and time again and I've dealt with and overcome all sorts now. I'm pretty proud of that because it has shown me just how capable I am and how much I can cope with. Knowing how much I have survived to reach this point, makes it all the more of a meaningful and incredible experience because I have really worked for it. Travelling hasn't just been handed to me on a plate, I worked five jobs to get here, I nearly didn't make it to my 25th birthday.. But as Elton would say, I'm still standing. A month ago, I turned 25, a big milestone and the first since I was at university - it really made me think about how much I have achieved since turning 21 and about how much my life has changed. To all those who think they need to have it figured out at 21, guess again. I'm 25 and I still don't know where my life is going, but the not knowing makes it pretty exciting.I wrote a post months ago about how travelling doesn't really change you as a person, it actually just brings out the person you were always supposed to be. Throwing off the shackles of society and "normal" life can really free you from fulfilling someone else's expectations and I still stand by that post. Six months later and I am more myself than ever before, I really am the happiest I've ever been and that shines out of me 24 hours a day. I remember a friend I made during my final days in Bangkok - he paid me the nicest compliment I have heard in a long time. He said, "you've got that glow, you know when you can just tell someone is having the time of their life?" He caught me totally by surprise with that one, but he was right, I see it in the faces of other travellers, the happiness that pours out of them like sunbeams and makes them beautiful in their own unique way. Getting away from life in the UK has been the best thing I could have done, I'm finally free to be completely myself without the stresses of work taking over my life. Now it's all about what makes me happy on a day-to-day basis - spending time with people who make me laugh until my tummy aches, doing things that make me shriek with excitement, and making memories that still bring a smile to my face months after.
It's not just that, the whole way I think has changed. Travelling has opened me up to a world where you can travel and work as a lifestyle, not just as a hobby. Meeting inspiring travellers has made me realise how easy it is to work abroad and to raise enough money to keep going and living this way. I've met some amazing individuals who have kept travelling by applying for work travel visas in different countries after each other, others have been teaching or au pairing around the world, and others have found themselves working their way from place to place filling in seasonal jobs, just chasing the sun. I never realised before quite how easy it would be to keep going. I think I may have mentioned it before but I have already extended my trip from January to May, and will now hopefully be visiting Fiji, Indonesia and LA as well as Australia and New Zealand. Every day my plans are developing and growing, and I'm so excited by how they are constantly changing - it's the prospect of the new adventures awaiting that I simply can't ignore. So bring on the next 12 months and all the amazing experiences that are just waiting around the corner.
Have you ever had a life changing trip? Where did you go, and how did it affect you? Do you know of other ways to keep travelling around the globe full time?
There are some travelling sights that you spend months imagining, planning and waiting for. Cambodia was a place I had waited so long to experience, see and feel - now we've established it was a bit of a disappointment, but there's one thing that really did live up to expectations. I've said previously that arriving in the country during low season really impacted on my enjoyment of Cambodia, but when it came to Angkor Wat, this was a time it really paid off. I went along with two girls from my dorm to check out the sunrise, and after rising early at around 4am, we jumped in our tuk tuk and zoomed off towards the temples. Now we've all seen the pictures of the sun rising over Angkor Wat and we all know what it looks like, but nothing can quite prepare you for getting to see this incredible sight with your own eyes. My pictures don't do it justice and I don't think I have seen any that do - it's about the feeling of the place. The hushed conversation amongst the travellers, the silence as the sun begins to climb up over the temple, and the gasps as its bursts over the top. I was a lucky girl and the crowds were not packing out the grounds like I have heard they do in high season, there was just a small crowd around the lake and one that could easily be blocked from view and tuned out while I enjoyed the sight of what lay before me.After the sun started rising higher in the sky, I said goodbye to the girls I arrived with as they headed off to catch their flight home, then wandered into Angkor Wat. I was really struck dumb by the incredible structure and the history that lay amongst its walls, it was beautiful and I was glad to be left alone at that point. I really love having time by myself when visiting ruins or such places of history, it was the same when I visited Ayutthaya and Sukhothai in Thailand, I just love seeing them at my own pace and really having a chance to imagine what life was like in these buildings all those years ago. While I wasn't overawed by Cambodia as a country, I was fascinated by the history of the nation and seeing this history right in front of me was amazing - it showed me something so powerful and strong from the same country I had seen left broken at the Killing Fields and S21. It was so interesting to see another side to the country's rich history and I loved learning about the architecture and what the different temples were used for - my tuk tuk driver was really helpful at explaining even when we struggled with the language barrier.I really appreciated the lengths my driver went to in order to help me get as much from the experience as possible. It cost $18 for a tuk tuk driver for the day, but by paying that standard fee, you had your own tour guide included in the package. As you'll know from previous posts, I wasn't in the best physical shape at this point - I actually visited the temples two days after my bus crash and could barely walk at this point. But, after hearing what had happened, my driver went far beyond the call of duty to drive me almost into the temples and even help me around himself a few times so that I could really experience them. He was so kind and friendly, a complete change to what I had experienced before and it really helped renew my faith in Cambodians. He knew exactly what I wanted from the day and took me around the main temples and structures, and also stopped off to show me a couple of his favourites along the way, as well as scoring me snacks of fruit and water for next to nothing instead of from the overpriced sellers hanging around outside the temples.I actually spent around six hours around the temples altogether, finishing at around 10am when the sun was starting to get too hot for all the walking. When visiting, it is definitely better to start as early as possible, especially if you are biking round as I wanted to, because by 10/11 the sun does get very intense and there is little shelter around these structures. You could easily spend all day walking round and I know a few people who actually went back over a couple of days, but personally I felt a morning walking round was well spent and I really felt like I had seen all I needed to. I visited Angkor Wat for sunrise and then my tuk tuk driver wound his way round to Angkor Thom, my personal favourite Bayon, Elephant Terrace and Preah Khan, along with a few smaller ones my driver recommended. I absolutely loved Bayon and actually found it even grander and more impressive than Angkor Wat, all those faces carved into the rock were just mesmerising. I was so impressed with the detail to the structures considering what kind of tools those who built these would have been working with. I won't whittle on too much, I'll let you take a look at my pictures instead, but just know that I can completely understand why tourists and travellers flock in their hordes each year to visit these ancient ruins. They are stunning and really leave you with a sense of awe, a respect for what came before us and what they were capable of. It is an absolute must-see in Cambodia and in the whole of Asia, and I can't recommend enough that you go for the first time at sunrise. The girls I went with had already been round the temples the previous day and had seen Angkor Wat in daylight before watching the sun rise over it and they were definitely slightly less impressed than I was. See the real magic of Angkor Wat when the sun is just peeking over the top and you'll really understand why it is so talked about. If you are going for a sunrise viewing, make sure you are there from at least 5am at the latest if you want to get a good spot, earlier if in peak season and be sure to check what time the su. Will rise as it will change throughout the year. I would recommend getting your park ticket the day before or leaving plenty of time to queue because even in low season the queue was huge - luckily I stood in the wrong place and ended up getting pushed to the front in double quick time! Above all, enjoy, be silent - don't spend every single second taking photos - and soak up the splendour of this magical place.
Have you been to Angkor Wat in high season - what was your experience like? What was your favourite of the temples? Can you offer any other advice to those going to see them?