imageToday 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.imageI 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?


imageThere 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.imageimageAfter 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.imageimageI 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.imageimageI 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.image imageI 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.imageimageimage

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?



imageI'm so excited to share this post with you guys, and I warn you in advance its going to be a long one, because it's all about one of the most amazing places I have ever been - a place of healing, of peace and of happiness. Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat was the only reason I stayed in Cambodia for as long as I did, and it was the only reason I didn't immediately book a flight to Bangkok after that crash. I was devastated after the crash, worried I wouldn't physically be able to cope with a week of yoga and exercise but it turned out there was so much more to Hariharalaya - and that week turned out to be one of the best of my life. I have never felt more welcome than at the moment we pulled up through the gates, it was like coming to a sanctuary, like coming home. And for one week, the staff and the small group of us who had signed up for the experience were a little family, supporting each other through and helping each other to deal with personal problems, get back to basics and focusing on what is really important, and just building new life-changing habits. I can't thank Leah, of Roots and Toots, and Christine, of Don't Forget To Move, enough for the recommendations - this place couldn't have been any more perfect for me at this point in my life.imageimageLeah actually said something really interesting to me after the crash about how perhaps all those struggles leading up to it and finally arriving at Hariharalaya were supposed to happen - to make it an extra special experience when I actually made it there. And I think she's right, because it really did make it all the more amazing to know what I had been through to get there - it made me really value every single second of the days I spent there and I really took a lot away from it. Being there, in the Cambodian countryside, completely cut off from technology and the outside world, I really had the opportunity to focus on myself and to live truly in the moment. When leaving the retreat five days later, I cant even begin to express how much had changed - I was a completely different person. I walked in there completely disheartened and basically a broken person from all this travelling - I was exhausted from moving so quickly between places and I was tired of feeling unsafe and victimised by the country. Then, thanks to the crash I was physically broken as well - my body had had enough of it all and was screaming stop. In just five days I was bouncing off the walls, happy and comforted by the amazing individuals around me, I regained my excitement and passion for travelling. I felt strong again, my body responded so well to the programme of yoga, meditation, great food, massages and even acupressure thanks to another guest.imageimage

So what did we actually get up to at Hariharalaya?

Our programme started daily at 6.50 when we were woken by a gong that gave us ten minutes until our morning yoga and meditation session, this took place in an open studio where we could see out across the lawns. The morning session consisted of an hour of yoga, which varied daily depending on who was taking the class, followed by 30 minutes of meditation and sometimes we also led into this with chanting led by the owner, Joel. It was a peaceful start to the morning during which no one communicated other than the teachers - it was a time for self-reflection and preparing for the day ahead. After this, we would enjoy a super healthy, vegan breakfast - I cannot rave about the food enough, it was just out of this world and I have never missed meat less in my entire life. Every mealtime we were piling our plates high with all this delicious, nutritional goodness and knowing we were fuelling our bodies for the day instead of poisoning them with oils and fats hidden in usual backpacker fare. After a break during which we could read, play chess, use the gym, cycle around the village or do whatever we wanted, we would have the opportunity to sign up for extra afternoon sessions after another delicious meal.imageThese afternoon sessions included body language workshops, movement workshops, one-to-one yoga sessions to develop a personal programme, or even massages with experts. I took the body language workshop with Sean and found it really interesting to learn from someone who is also the most well-known magician in the whole of Cambodia and uses body language in a lot of his tricks. The One-to-One session with Maike was fantastic, she talked with me about what I wanted out of yoga and helped me to develop a personalised programme that worked towards my goals and used moves I had grown to love over the week - it was so good that I'm still doing it over a month later! And the massages - oh the massages! There were two to choose from and I simply had to indulge in both the four hands massage - which was fabulous and very invigorating - and the blind shiatsu massage, which was my favourite. The blind massage was done by a gentleman who actually massages Angelina Jolie at a flash hotel in Siem Reap for hundreds but I had the chance to try it for just a few dollars and oh my word it was easily the best massage of my life - it also really helped my bruised legs.imageAfter, we would be called in to our sunset yoga and meditation session which was timed perfect to catch the last rays and really was quite powerful for all of us. We all loved this wind-down session before dinner because it totally relaxed us all and gave time for some real peace and quiet. The evening meal was always something to look forward to and it was always so lovely to all sit round the table together discussing everything from the yoga sessions to heavy metal music - it all came up and it was great to spend time really getting to know each other and laughing, a lot. In those final hours before bed, we would spend the evenings being wowed by Sean's magic by the pool, watching movies, playing table tennis and pool in the games room, playing card games or dancing the night away as musicians from the local village played. It was a beautiful way to round off the days and we always fell into bed shattered from the day. image

Why should you experience Hariharalaya?

This point is one I have mixed feeling about - on the one hand, I loved it so much there that I just want to be selfish and keep it as a secret all for myself. But the other, much bigger part of me is so filled with love for this place that I can't bear to not share it with you. Hariharalaya is such a special place filled with love, it really helps you see things clearly and to change your view of the world. It's not just the incredible team of staff who work hard to make your experience everything that it could possibly be, but also the guests who really teach you something. Coming from all different backgrounds and ways of life, I made the closest friends with people I probably never would have met outside in the real world, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity. Hariharalaya draws a whole other crowd of travellers, completely unlike those you will meet anywhere else and that is what makes it so amazing. It provides a home, a shelter, for anyone in crisis, and even those who aren't, to come and feel safe, to take a break from the outside world and to rebuild. Whether you just love yoga and want to break the trend of doing it in fitness clubs, or whether you just need to reassess everything in your life, this is the place for you.imageimageimageimageThat doesn't convince you? Well, while I was there, I was lucky enough to share my experience with one girl who connected with Hariharalya much more than any of us, she was already on her second visit in just a few months, and before the week was out she had signed up to do her third week from the following Monday, with hopes of training to become a yoga teacher the following year. I'm so happy I could be there to see how she drew as a person in just days, and that I had the chance to be a part of our little family. I know that no matter how far we are scattered around the globe, that we will all be friends for life after sharing that time together. You can find out more about Hariharalya, and how to sign up, at the website.

Have you been to Hariharalya? Tell me about your experience. Can you recommend any other yoga and meditation retreats in South East Asia?


imageNow many of you who follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram will already know what happened to me while travelling from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, but for those who don't, it wasn't pretty. I was in yet another crash - they do say these things come in threes - but this one was the most serious of all. The minibus I had paid extra for in the hopes it would be a safer ride than the buses was run off the road by a lorry and ended up in a ditch on the other side of the road. It was a bad crash and it all happened so fast, in true Asian style there were no seat belts so it was sheer luck, and the quick reactions of the driver who grabbed me, that kept me from being killed when I was thrown against the windscreen of the vehicle. An Australian guy who was motor biking past and saw the crash pulled me out of the minibus and said he couldn't believe he wasn't pulling out dead bodies. I won't go into loads of detail because you can read more here, but my legs were so badly bruised and cut that I could barely walk, and one of my legs now sports a fabulous huge scar from where it was cut open. It took me over 36 hours to complete the journey and I finally arrived in Siem Reap and made my way to Downtown Hostel. I spent the next few days resting and letting my body heal, and shopping to replace the items that were lost in the crash.

I went to Downtown Hostel after recommendations from friends but to be honest I wasn't that impressed. I had messaged them ahead of time to let them know about the crash and my injuries because they were supposed to be picking me up when I arrived, I could barely walk but they had put me in a top bunk on the top floor. Now I'm not normally fussy, but they weren't even bothered about helping me with my bags when I had blood running down my legs fm my cuts and was covered in mud from the ditch, not a good first impression for a hostel run by westerners. I just went to bed and lay there trying to sleep without thinking about the day. Eventually I went to sleep and woke up to find the power was out - there was no lights, air conditioning, no electricity and barely any water. I couldn't even have a shower or clean my cuts because they didn't have a back up generator - I appreciate that Cambodian power is unreliable but that's when you should prepare for these situations. I had to hobble down the street to find a cafe round the corner where the power was working so I could contact my family to let them know I was okay. These power cuts happened every single day I was in Siem Reap but only seemed to affect the street where Downtown Hostel stood, round the corner and in the centre there was no problem.imageI really liked Siem Reap, I didn't arrive there in the best frame of mind, but it was the first place I felt completely safe in Cambodia and felt like I actually wanted to explore. I was pretty upset though - I had really been looking forward to having a few days here to visit the temples and Angkor Wat and I was supposed to be doing a yoga retreat the following week but I could barely walk! I was really worried my time there would be completely wasted but my determination won over and I made sure that I had a few days to heal before taking on the temples and everything I wanted to do. I started by treating myself to some real TLC - plenty of sleep, gentle walking to stop my legs from seizing up and lots of good food - something I'd been missing while in Cambodia. I went for a couple of treatments including a fabulous facial that was easily the best one I've ever had at a little salon off the main strip. I can't remember the name of the place now but it is worth paying slightly more for treatments in Cambodia and not just picking a $1-3 massage on the street - they're definitely not as skilled or good quality as Thailand and you can tell most aren't trained. I had one or two painful massages while there and I wouldn't go back to the really cheap places. Unfortunately I was never really well enough to enjoy Pub Street but I would love to go back to see what the nightlife is like.

There are so many great places to eat in Siem Reap but my favourites were Amok Restaurant, which advertised itself as offering the best Amok in the area and it was easily the best one I have had - and the best Cambodian dish I have had at all. I also loved Chamkar, which was a vegan restaurant down the same street - after a week of vegan living at the yoga retreat it was a perfect leaving meal. There are also loads of other amazing street food restaurants including a huge corner one in the night market that does amazing food with loads of choice. The night market is fantastic here and I just wish my bag hadn't been so jam packed by this point so I could have shopped more, but I was saving myself for Bangkok. I stayed in Siem Reap for around a week overall, spread either side of my yoga retreat, and loved my time there. After the retreat I refused to return to the hostel so instead I booked in to stay at Popular Boutique Hotel which was even closer to the centre, had luxury rooms - mine was a double room - plus a swimming pool and restaurant - I paid just $18 for a night - a serious treat in Asia but nothing compared to at home. It meant I had two days by the pool to relax and reflect on what had been one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and to get a good night's sleep without being woken for yoga at 6.30am. Priceless, if you ask me.imageI would definitely return to Siem Reap in the future and I would love a chance to experience it without injuries because there is so much more I would have liked to have seen and done. But that's a plan for future Lucy - in the meantime, it meant I could leave Cambodia on a high which is something I'm really happy about. It didn't sit right with me to dislike a country so much and I'm glad I was able to see another side of Cambodia.

Have you been to Siem Reap - how did you think it compared to other parts of Cambodia? Any hostels or hotels to recommend?


imageWhen I planned my trip around South East Asia, I spoke to a lot of friends, colleagues, and random strangers who had all travelled there previously - they turned out to be a wealth of information about where to go, what to do and where to stay. I have countless notes on my iPad they sent me of their favourite places and advice, and one place they seem to have in common are loving Cambodia. Well we've already established that I was more than disappointed by the country as a whole and rarely felt safe while travelling there, so I hoped that a trip to Koh Rong would change my mood. Koh Rong sounds like paradise when you hear about it - long, white sandy beaches, swings and hammocks overlooking the sea, those perfect sunsets. So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to it after seedy Sihounoukville - I was ready for a few days of swimming in crystal clear waters and relaxing. What I found after the two hour ferry ride over there was a beautiful island which has clearly been rapidly built up around the pier - so much building work was going on as I arrived and the locals were clearly doing everything they could to expand up, out and everywhere to accommodate the ever growing numbers of tourists.imageSadly, these ever growing numbers were in short supply when I went there - it seems that just before Songkran pretty much everyone who was passing through headed to Thailand or Laos to celebrate, then headed home so Cambodia generally was seriously lacking in travellers. Perhaps this is what added to me feeling so unsafe when travelling through the country - by being one of the few travellers passing through I was just that much more of a target to those wanting to rip off or harm tourists. But I definitely expected Koh Rong, as a bit of a party island, to have a few more people around. It seemed a bit like the dregs of the travelling world were left behind when I arrived, and although I met some great people including bumping into two guys I had met in Vietnam, not many others were very impressed with the island either. It no longer held the appeal of a deserted island as I'm sure the other, smaller Koh Rong Samloem of nearby Koh Ta Kiev would have had. But the trashy puke-stained hostels, blocked up toilets, terrible music and waster atmosphere meant it missed out on having the appeal of a real party island. It reminded me of Koh Phi Phi and I really didn't like Phi Phi - mainly because it reminded me of an extended episode of Sun Sea and Suspicious Parents - there are far better parties all across Asia in my opinion.imageI gave it my best shot - I found somewhere to stay that didn't make me want to throw up by avoiding the main strip of dirty hostels and managed to get a room to myself for $10 a night after refusing to pay $30 - a huge bargain considering some of the outrageous prices on the island. I think I only got lucky because it was so empty at the time. I actually ended up meeting the production team of Survivor as soon as I walked off the ferry and once I had found a room somewhere I headed back out to meet them and party before they left. I had a pretty hilarious afternoon with them and it set the tone for a great time on the island, especially when I bumped into the two lads I met in Vietnam and they invited me on a nighttime fishing trip/boat party that night. I figured why not, it's something different, and we had a great time with around 16 of us trying to catch grouper. I actually was one of the few people to catch a fish! And then swimming with the glowing plankton before eating BBQ'd fish on the boat. It was a great trip and a really fun first day - but as we headed back to shore about 1am I started to see the real Koh Rong with my rapidly sobering up eyes. The music was pumping even though nobody was there, the bars were pretty much empty except for a few small collections of sad looking souls who looked like they'd been partying for far too long and just needed a good mother. One particularly dirty girl looked like she'd been on the island for months in this pretty delirious state of confusion thanks to whatever she'd been taking. Now I have no problem with partying, anyone who's read my posts on Koh Phanang, Pai or Laos will know I love it. But I just can't enjoy party places like this - they remind me of the sad cousins of Zante, Magaluf and Malia - all places I came travelling to avoid.imageI took enough money to stay for a week (there's no ATMs) but after three days of sunbathing and people watching I was bored solid. It seemed impossible to have a conversation beyond "I was soooo wasted" on the island and the nights out were terrible. Plus one other factor played a huge part in me wanting to leave early - SANDFLIES. Otherwise known as the demon bug that was trying to eat me alive. Over a month later, I still have marks on my legs from where the horrible little buggers were biting me every time I lay out on the sand to sunbathe. Locals recommended coconut oil, others said bug spray, I covered myself in everything I could think of and yet they still kept coming for me. For those who don't know, sandflies are flies that live on certain beaches and they love to bite and drink our blood. While sunbathing, they will swarm all over you in certain places and this was the first place I had come across them. Now I can cope with mosquitoes, bed bugs and all the rest because you can soothe the bites and deal with them. There is no way of escaping sandflies and trust me, nothing soothes these itchy bites - I tried everything and they still itch now. After three days of being eaten alive and having the most boring experience of my time in Cambodia, I was done and caught the ferry back to Sihounoukville for a night before heading to Otres Beach for a few days for some real relaxation. imageI do make allowances for the fact that I went in serious low season and that will have affected my visit, and I know many people who have loved the island, but for me it was a huge disappointment. I would always tell anyone to go and experience it for themselves before making a decision but for me, I don't think I'll be bothering to head back anytime soon when there are so many better party places out there. My rule is that if you like Koh Phi Phi then you'll love this place, but if you're on the same page as me, you might also be disappointed. If you do go, I would recommend trying to get a room at Smile Guesthouse, which is just at the right end of the main strip of hostels and guest houses at the end of the pier. You'll find it just before you start hitting the bungalows on the beach for extortionate prices. This place was very basic but the bathrooms were much cleaner than most I saw and the rooms were a good size, plus it felt a lot more secure. Plus the restaurant downstairs does a nightly BBQ and offers anything from fish like snapper and fresh tuna to lamb, beef and chicken - all served with fresh salad and potatoes. It was easily the best meal I had on the island - although the competition wasn't great. Also, although I didn't get a chance to go over there, apparently Long Bay is far more beautiful than the side I stayed on, plus it's empty with nowhere to really stay, although you can camp if you fancy sleeping with the sandflies.

What did you think of Koh Rong? Can you recommend any other good places to stay or eat? Would you go back?


imageAfter a crazy month of travelling and partying full throttle across Laos and Vietnam, and after an emotionally draining couple of days in Phnom Penh, my body was crying out for a break. So after doing a bit of research, I decided to head for the coastline and to spend a few days relaxing on a beach somewhere. Sihanoukville seemed a natural choice being just a few hours from Phnom Penh, and a perfect place to spend a few days before heading over to Koh Rong which had come highly recommended from so many other travellers. I arrived in Sihanoukville around five hours later than planned after discovering quite how shocking the transport is in Cambodia, and as I mentioned in a previous post, was robbed as soon as I arrived. So I didn't arrive in the best frame of mind and when the heavens opened and a huge storm crashed around my hostel - One Stop - I decided to write the day off and go to bed. I woke up early and was pretty disappointed to see cloudy skies outside, but went out for a walk to explore the town with a girl I met in my hostel. I'll be honest, I don't know what I was expecting but the Sihanoukville was a drab, dirty place with way too many tuk tuk drivers lining the streets and leering at us. I spent a couple of days there but it was a power cut that finally made me switch hostels to a cheaper and better equipped one - Led Zephyr bar - down the road. I was really unimpressed by the social side of One Stop and the fact that they were the only place to not have a back-up generator and yet charged the most was ridiculous - even the pool didn't make up for it.imageI spent the next couple of days escaping each day from the town and heading to nearby Otres Beach with Naomi, here we could get away from the sleazy nature of Sihanoukville. Otres Beach is beautiful - it is one of my favourite places in Cambodia and one of the few places I actually enjoyed. I actually returned from Koh Rong early to spend the best part of a week staying at Otres Beach because it was one of the few places I actually felt comfortable and could avoid the hassle of staying at the other end. Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville is pretty disgusting, with broken glass and various other treats lurking in the sand, and some really persistent touts who just won't leave you alone to sunbathe. I walked on the beach once and that was more than enough for me, Otres is far more untouched and is only really starting to be properly developed now so it offered the peace and quiet I was craving. For around a week I stayed there at Indigo on Otres which is one of the first accommodations you will find along the strip. I decided to treat myself a bit and paid for a bungalow to myself for the week which was a teensy bit more expensive but worth it to have my own space and a lock on my door - it made me feel a lot safer than I had previously.imageI spent my days lounging on sun beds outside hippie bar Blame Canada, which had the perfect combination of great food, tunes and a laid back atmosphere. I loved spending my days there chatting to backpackers, those on holiday and the guys who worked there. Being there in low season had a few downsides elsewhere like the lack of people to party with, but that was perfect for Otres - it meant I had the whole beach mostly to myself. My own Cambodian paradise! The days were spent swimming in the crystal clear waters and trying to avoid the odd jellyfish, eating fresh fruit and chatting to the ladies who wandered along the beaches offering massages. I can't deny I indulged a few times and found one woman in particular who gave the best massages. Followed by a fresh coconut - it was pretty perfect. My evenings were spent blogging, visiting the local market with some friends I met in Laos, and relaxing - something I hadn't had time to do for weeks. It was really great to have some time just to read and listen to music, to watch the stunning sunsets and take long walks along the bay. The weather was amazing, baking hot days usually with the entertainment of a crazy afternoon storm to cool things down a bit. I'm so glad that I made the decision to leave Koh Rong early so I could really appreciate Otres Beach.imageAnother highlight was going to the market one evening - just a short tuk tuk ride away from the beach, it was a special event held on Thursday nights in the village. There was a huge selection of delicious food on offer including some great vegan and vegetarian options, pizzas, Mexican food and more. There were also some fabulous cocktail bars plus am absinthe bar, along with a few clothing stalls dotted around - one even offering to cover you in glitter and sparkles for a small donation. All of this was soundtracked by a fantastic collection of live bands and acts under a huge sky full of stars. It was a pretty perfect night and I would really recommend you all check it out if you visit. I would also recommend that you eat at Friends Forever at least once during your stay - it's an all white restaurant next to Blame Canada and it does amazing food. Apparently the pizzas are incredible, and if the pasta I had was anything to go by they must be pretty damn good. I'd also recommend my favourite dish - the spicy Asian salad was so tasty! Just a word of warning, although I felt this was one of the safest places I went in Cambodia, be careful on the road between Sihanoukville and Otres Beach. My friend was catching a tuk tuk back to Sihanoukville alone after we spent a day on the beach and a man jumped into the back as it went along the road and tried to rape her. She had to jump out of a moving vehicle to get away and the tuk tuk driver didn't even bat an eyelid. Don't get too comfortable and end up putting yourself at risk, always remember you are in a very much still developing country and travel with someone. Safety in numbers.image

Have you been to Otres Beach - where did you stay? Can you recommend any other good places to eat and things to do?


imageIt's taken me a long time to get round to writing this post and I'm not sure that even almost two months later I'm actually going to have the words to really do it justice, but I'll give it a shot. I arrived in Cambodia after a long old bus ride with my friend Jade from Ho Chi Minh - we'd been awake for around 36 hours by this point after catching a sleeper bus there the night before and were pretty desperate for our beds. After the best border crossing possible, we spent the first hour in Cambodia waving at all the Cambodians crossing the border after a long day at work in the factories just inside Vietnam - there were so many and they'd been at work for around 14-16 hours but still eagerly waved back at us. We finally arrived at our hostel, we had booked into Mad Monkey after hearing so much about it from other travellers and it certainly lived up to the hype. It was a great hostel and easily the best one I stayed in while in Cambodia, great value for money and really good facilities with a restaurant and a great bar on site. I only stayed two days but I would definitely stay there again if I went back, and it was a great place for meeting people - I actually bumped into a gang of friends I previously met in Pai, Thailand, so we had a great little reunion.imageimageI was in Phnom Penh for one reason - to learn about the terrible history of Cambodia, the events of which seem to have been wiped from our history books. It's amazing how we can be taught over and over again about world wars that happened around a century ago, and how we have to spend so much time learning about Russian history, the Holocaust or Henry the VIII, yet there are such huge gaps in modern history. I'm talking about more recent wars and persecution that we leave school with no knowledge of despite it happening within our parents' lifetime. To give you some background, a man named Pol Pot led a movement called the Khmer Rouge which murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians in the mid to late 70's - more than a fifth of the country's population. Almost an entire generation of Cambodians were wiped out and the country is still rebuilding itself - evidence of this is all around you as you walk the streets. The levels of education are shockingly low and, as I mentioned in my previous post, the extreme poverty is shocking, but there is light in those children I did meet who are eager to learn and are starting to see education as a way of improving their quality of life. There is a long road ahead, but moves are being made to build a future for the people.imageimageI won't go too far into the history, because I don't feel I know enough to do the topic justice, instead I'll share my experiences of visiting these two historic sites and the reasons why it is such an important place for you all to visit. I wasn't emotionally prepared for how harrowing the visit would be, I don't think anyone could ever be completely ready for it. But the Killing Fields is an incredible memorial that is devastating in the graphic portrayal of the Khmer Rouge, and yet manages to honour the victims' memory. Upon entry we were given an audio tour headset which was to be the guide for the whole experience, you are completely cut off from those around you for the visit and have the voices of survivors and those involved played to you. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most powerful audio tour I have ever listened to. I was so impressed with how sensitively it was delivered, while still managing to really convey the scale of the attack on Cambodian society. The tape was a mixture of personal recollections, music composed, and statements delivered in court cases that are still ongoing today, with various stops around the site. We expected it to take us around an hour and a half, but we're actually in there for closer to three hours because there was so much to look at and listen to. There were moments when we just had to sit in silence and take it all in, and it is important to let yourself take those moments to really take it all in.imageimageAs a warning to those who are quite sensitive, there are several horrifying sights around the grounds including several mass graves where hundreds of bodies of women, children and farmhands were found dead and naked. A sign marking where a storeroom containing chemicals used to dissolve bodies, sometimes of those still alive. Bones regularly start coming up out of the soil, especially after heavy rain. There is also the Killing Tree, which guards used t beat children to death against, while another tree was used to hold speakers that played music to drown out the moans of the dying. The memorial in the centre of the grounds is the final point of the tour, it holds hundreds, perhaps even thousands of skulls and pieces of bone belonging to victims who found themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. It's a lot to take in and it is gory in places for those who are a little squeamish, but what overtakes that is the immense power of what you are learning. The Holocaust is shocking enough because of the scale and the fact that it happened just under 100 years ago. Although Cambodia was on a smaller scale, it was a mass persecution of a country's own citizens and took place just 40 years ago, only 15 years before I was born. Those who visit will have a chance to visit the small museum onsite, this is something that really stayed with me because of one line that was written on one of the walls. It spoke of educating people about what has happened so that when, not if, it happens again, it can be seen in time. Because it will happen again."imageimageAfterwards, we went to S21 feeling utterly drained and depressed by the human race, wondering quite how much more we could handle. S21 is a former high school that was take over by the Khmer Rouge and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived. When you arrive and walk through the gates, you feel the silence as you walk through the grounds. No one smiles, no one speaks, it is as though the prison has drained us of everything, even our emotions. There's barbed wire around the buildings, gallows to the side and inside, cells, old torture equipment and a collection of images of the faces of those tortured there. I didn't know how S21 could possibly be more hard hitting than the sight of bones and skulls lining the Killing Fields, but it was. Especially when I walked out of one of the buildings where I had stood in a cell with the name Chum Mey written on the wall - I went inside and closed the door to see what it would have been like for the man kept in these four tiny walls. I wanted to know what he felt as he sat in this room, what he could hear, see, taste and smell - the journalist in me wanted to know his story. So imagine my shock when I walked outside and found him standing there, selling books containing his story and everything he went through. I spoke to his son-in-law, who translated Chum Mey's words and told me what had happened to him - he was kept at the prison and tortured for years, even having his fingernails and toenails ripped out. But it was his engineering skills that really saved him from being exterminated like the rest, he was able to fix the machines used there. Now he sells books in hopes of educating people of what happened to prevent it from ever happening again.imageAs I walked into the final building, I realised I was done, I'd seen enough and couldn't take much more. It had been a lot of information to take in and I don't think I was in any way prepared for quite how devastating it was - I don't think you ever could be. I walked out again without seeing the rest of the building but even without seeing that part, I know that day will stay with me for life. It doesn't matter whether you are interested in history or not, whether you care about Cambodia as a place or not, these two sites are so important to go and visit while you are there. You will learn so much, not just about Cambodia but also about the human race, and it is important for people to know what has happened. Just as it is important to learn about the Holocaust so it will never happen again, it is important to realise what happened in Cambodia, and the extent to which it was all covered up. It makes us realise quite how easily a nationwide extermination could actually happen without other continents even being aware - even in this time. It will shock you and leave you devastated, it will make you lose all hope in the human race and it will give you nightmares - but that's the only way we will learn and progress past a world where we can kill our own people like this.

Have you been to The Killing Fields or S21 - what was your experience like? Why do you think it is important for people to visit such sites? 






imageAfter days of stuffing my face with Hoi An's delicious food, me and the boys decided to catch a sleeper bus to Da Lat and to get physical. Da Lat is the place to go in Vietnam if you fancy getting a bit adventurous - there's no end of mountain biking, hiking, climbing, abseiling, canyoning and countless other outdoor activities. So it's the perfect place to release your inner Jungle Jane and to liven up your trip a bit. It was a great contrast to the culture, beauty and heat of Hoi An to arrive in the mountains in this rugged and exciting landscape with skies filled with angry storm clouds. We were lucky, our bus pulled up outside Da Lat Central Hostel, which normally I wouldn't trust as the first accommodation I see. But this turned out to be really cheap and fantastic accommodation - it was the cleanest and most luxurious hostel I had seen in the whole of Vietnam and if I were to return, I would definitely stay there again. Plus it was just down the street from the biggest bakery in Da Lat, which me and the boys frequented on a daily basis for coffee and delicious cakes - I was getting a bit addicted to the banana cake which I swear was the best I've ever had!imageWe only had a few days to make the most of Da Lat and we didn't want to waste a second - I'd been eager to get here ever since arriving in Vietnam and hearing about all the awesome things we could do there. We headed straight out to check out the Crazy House which is a pretty unusual sight you have to see with your own eyes. It's amazing architecture that belongs in Disney or some kind of theme park and the place has a great history I'd recommend you read about or ask about while there. You won't need long to walk around it, perhaps an hour or two at most... We had to be quick as we could see a huge storm rolling in across the mountains and this was not somewhere we wanted to be stuck in the cold and rain after a long overnight bus ride and no sleep. We did get caught in the rain, and boy did it rain! When it rains in Da Lat, it really rains - not for long, but bloody hard! We were soaked and had to get a taxi back to the hostel but we're so happy to arrive there where hot showers and our beds were waiting for us. After a nice nap, it was time for dinner and I headed out to the market down the road with friend Paul who has just as huge an appetite as me - we were determined to try as much food as possible. While he was wolfing down soup and barbecued meats, I plumped for a seafood platter of some delicious shellfish topped with garlic and herbs - all freshly caught and so tasty!imageThe next day we had booked in for what was quite frankly the best $20 I have spent since travelling - CANYONING! I had been waiting for a chance to do this ever since I was in Thailand - word had spread that far among travellers that I knew it must be good, but I had no idea how amazing it would be. We booked the trip through the hostel, but you can also go to the two main tour operators in town and book it through them - anyone will be able to direct you. We were picked up at about 8am and were whisked away in the minibus with our guides for the day who named themselves Tom and Jerry, much to our amusement. They were fantastic guides and really gave us all the support, help and encouragement we needed to take on free-jumping, abseiling and rock climbing without fear. I love stuff like this and was eager to throw myself off a few waterfalls and do something a bit scary. We were hooked up to harnesses and strapped on our gorgeous orange helmets and life jackets - we looked amazing. Then we were shown how to rappel down the steep cliff side towards the river, we then had to test our skills by actually abseiling down the side of the rock into the water. After that little taste we were excited to get on with the day and moved on to the first couple of abseils which took us into strong rushing waters where we skidded down natural water slides and floated down lazy parts of the river. We completed three huge challenges which saw us abseiling down the cliff and into waterfalls or the river.imageThe final one - the washing machine - was pretty scary because we couldn't actually see what the hell we were letting ourselves in for! My favourite was the second one where we climbed down a huge waterfall in our socks before letting go about halfway and dropping the rest of the height into the river. It was amazing - such a rush! We also completed free jumps including one from around 18m which nearly broke my face as I accidentally face planted the water - holy shit that hurt. (Don't worry - there's a smaller one to choose if you prefer!) But I'm so happy I did it and showed that I could - Tom, or Jerry, thought I'd be too scared but I wasn't! Definitely ended up with a fat lip though.. That'll teach me to be stubborn! It was an amazing day it one that luckily ended when it did as a huge storm rolled in and turned the jungle into a swamp with rivers running down the cliffs we then had to try and climb to get back to the van - I genuinely didn't think I would survive this climb, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I was one second away from giving up and sliding down the hill back into the river when we made it to the road. Covered in mud, scratches and practically drowning in the torrential downpour - after six months in baking heat it was a strange experience to see, hear and feel real weather! I can't tell you how amazing the hot shower felt after that day in the woods, and I can't tell you how much my body hurt after that day, but it was all so worth it and I can't recommend it enough!imageThe next day, we wanted to make sure we got out for a few hours before our night bus to Ho Chi Minh so we decided to ward off our aches and pains with a nice bike ride out to some nearby waterfalls. We hired mountain bikes for a few dollars and headed out in the sunshine for a cycle round the beautiful lake where boats and swan pedalos bobbed peacefully, then we stopped off at some lovely gardens where we bumped into a friend from our dorm in Hoi An - it was a great little reunion so he joined us to cycle to the waterfalls. We headed out of town and started out along the 7km ride, it was easy - all downhill and a great view across the rolling forest. Until it dawned on us we had to cycle back up the bloody hill to get back! We nearly stopped and headed back after suddenly feeling like we wouldn't have time to get back before the afternoon storm - but then we realised how close we were and couldn't resist.

Datanla Falls are definitely worth the visit and the ride out there is great - we went on the little luge ride to get to the bottom and took a few snaps by the waterfall before luging our way back up, just in time to move the bikes out of the rain. We sheltered at the restaurant and had some of the worst Vietnamese food I've had while waiting there... But the views across the jungle were amazing! After the skies cleared and the rain slowed, we quickly jumped on the bikes dreading the journey ahead but despite some horrible uphill struggles, we actually made it back really quickly. Just in time to shower and catch our bus to Saigon. Now I spent all of 12 hours in the city and went to see the palace, but that was about it. Personally, I preferred to spent my time in Da Lat and Hoi An, and I'm glad I made that decision, but it's totally up to you what you choose.image


Have you been to Da Lat? We're you brave enough for canyoning? Where else have you been that you could recommend for outdoorsy types? 



imageNo matter where we go in life, no matter how far we travel or make it up the career ladder, it's impossible to escape the people who just drive us insane. I'm talking about the ones who are so annoying they make your teeth itch when they speak and the ones who you just can't seem to escape. When you're travelling, you're constantly meeting hundreds of new people each week and have to be open to making new friends at every turn. So what happens if you meet someone who just rubs you up the wrong way? Well I have to admit I've been pretty lucky so far and haven't really been annoyed by anyone I've met - bet all you travel friends were waiting to see if I'd pick on any of you haha - but I certainly know a few people who have been. It's definitely a lot easier out here to let things go and take a deep breath when you're surrounded by palm trees, sandy beaches and sunshine, but that doesn't eliminate the annoyance altogether.

Now you all know I'm not really one for negativity so this post isn't all about annoying people and how to deal with them. Instead, I thought I'd change it up by turning this into an advice post for all of us travellers to be a bit more mindful about our behaviours so that we aren't making life difficult for others. I always think it's so important to be aware of how we impact on the lives of others and that is especially true when you are behaving in certain ways around other cultures and personalities. It's very easy to forget that your friends at home have known you for years and have accepted your flaws, but new people along the road might be less forgiving if you're not respectful of their beliefs or choices. And let's face it, we all just want to make friends and meet people, so what should we avoid doing that could lose us this opportunity? So here are my top tips for avoiding being one of those travelling idiots nobody wants to hang out with:

Don't be... The one who does nothing but party

Did you come to see the world or have an extended lads-on-tour experience? You can do both in balance and have a great time partying with your newfound friends after a day sightseeing and soaking up the culture but people get bored of the person who never stops partying pretty quick. It's exhausting to be around someone who just wants to get on it all the time and you never get a real chance to experience the country around you - plus sharing a dorm with a roaring drunk is not fun when it's every single night. Don't use everything as an excuse to get wasted - from the Thai queen's birthday to managing to clip your own toenails. Some of the best travelling experiences I've had have been the more chilled out times spent with friends.

Don't be... The selfish one

This applies to all manner of traits and can appear in many different forms. All us backpackers have come across the traveller with a serious snoring problem who still insists on booking him or herself into the 18-bed dorm so they can keep everyone else awake all night. Those ones that even the most effective earplugs won't help with. Or there's the ones who rudely switch on all the lights when everyone else is asleep, the ones who come in rustling bags and packing up their stuff at 5am, and who could forget the ones who decide that is the perfect time to have a loud conversation about ragging some ladyboy or something equally polite? We all have to make allowances when sharing a room with up to 20 other people but there is a limit.

Don't be... The dirty one

There's always one person who just doesn't seem to wash and whose clothes smell far beyond the usual backpacker standard. The one who leaves the shared bathroom in a gag-worthy state. The one whose quick-drying traveller towel smells like something died on it. The one who only seems to ever wear that same pair of socks that must have once been white and are now a sickly grey colour with various stains you're scared to identify. The traveller who stopped at a place and loved it so much they stayed to work on the bars, party all day every day and steadily look more and more run down and unwashed.

Don't be... The naked one

This is something that has totally astonished me since arriving in Asia - the sheer number of travellers, backpackers and holiday makers who think it is acceptable to walk down the street in what are predominantly Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim countries in nothing more than a bikini/shorts. Usually accompanied by a hideous sunburn, these individuals are not only offending my eyes, but they are also hugely offending a whole other culture and way of life, and they are giving a bad name to the rest of us. I have to say that Brits are pretty bad with this, but it's not just us. I just think that if you are pulling up to a religious icon or temple on a scooter wearing just enough to cover your nether regions, you really need to reassess your priorities in life and learn some respect. Walking down the street is no different, think about what you are doing and do some research on the culture.

Don't be... The know-it-all

Sharing knowledge and tips acquired along your travels is a great part of travelling - I love meeting other travellers and having the chance to recommend hostels, activities and bars. Likewise, I love meeting travellers who have just come from my next destination - it's the best way to get up-to-date and accurate advice on where to stay and what to do. This is how I planned my whole journey through Laos and Vietnam. The problems start when you meet some individuals who love to talk about their experiences but don't seem to listen when you share yours - often they are the ones who are busy planning what they will say next. Not listening to people, or thinking you know best because you are older is really rude and definitely won't make people want to hang out with you.

Don't be... The worrier

Some of us are naturally more inclined to worry and overplan than others. I used to be like that, always organising. But then I realised that no matter how well you plan and worry about something, it can still go tits up at the last moment and you just have to accept it. Worrying causes you a whole lot of extra stress and affects those around you. Now while it is hard to eliminate this trait entirely, it is possible to cut back on allowing yourself to stress over every tiny thing, which will also allow you to enjoy yourself more. Things like worrying about getting sick are pointless - yes you can be careful with food and drink and you can be cautious about using the water, but you can get sick from so many things and it is a fact of life for backpackers - deal with it when it happens. Don't stress about getting robbed or taken advantage of - yes, take precautions but there is no point worrying all the time as you may end up making yourself more of a target.


The most important message of this post is be yourself, that's the person people will love. But just be aware of how you come across - don't make life harder or less fun for anyone else, or for yourself. It's amazing how easily certain things can become a part of our character, but travelling demands you be the best you can be - so why not take the opportunity to work on developing yourself as a person?

Have you struggled to get along with anyone while travelling? How did you deal with the situation? Can you offer any other advice for being a good and conscientious traveller? 


imageYou were supposed to be reading a completely different post today from My time in Vietnam, but just a few hours ago I sat in the lobby of my hostel thinking about how amazingly everything had just fallen into place and how I was about to embark on a whole new adventure. It seemed only right to mark this moment with a special post on how far I've come and how much further I have left to go! Many of you wonderful people have been following, supporting and cheering me on since January when I set out on the trip of a lifetime, planning to spend a year travelling around Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and I'm so happy you've come along for the ride. Others have joined us along the way, either after we met somewhere in Asia or you just stumbled across my blog and happened to like it - but all have been so welcome. Today marks the end of my Asia adventure and I'm finding it really hard to believe my time on this amazing continent has come to a temporary end - I say temporary because quite frankly I can't bare the thought that I wouldn't be here again in the future! It's been an amazing five months and I don't think I've ever been as happy as I have while travelling Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Even when times were tough and I was robbed or nearly died in horrible crashes - it was still an amazing experience that has helped shape me as a person and has taught me something. I've come to realise I'm more capable than I ever thought I was and for that I can only be grateful.

I sit here with such mixed feelings - on the one hand I'm so sad to leave behind all the amazing people, places and memories I have collected along the way, but on the other hand, the last few weeks have really helped me realise that I have itchy feet and am eager for a new adventure. I never thought this feeling would hit, but I'm ready to close the book on this chapter of my life and start afresh in Australia from tomorrow morning - I'm ready for all the amazing places I'm going to go, the people I'm going to meet and the experiences we'll share along the way. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will know I've had a rough couple of weeks in Cambodia and I think that really helped me to look at Asia more objectively and to see the things I won't miss. I'm talking squat toilets, cockroaches, sleazy tuk tuk drivers, petty thieves, bed bugs and some really rather questionable food in some places. Of course there is so much I will miss - things like watching the sun rise over a deserted temple, the moment when you get lost and discover the real kindness of the locals, the amazing richness and spice of the food, the entertainment of trying - and failing - to speak the local language, the colours, flavours and smells of the countries, and so much more. So today is a strange day, a day of mourning in many respects mixed with feverish excitement over what is yet to come. I fly tonight and will wake up in the land down under for a fresh start.imageAgain, those of you who follow me on social media may have gathered I was a bit stressed out over the last few weeks after my working travel visa took a while to arrive. Two weeks in fact despite it being supposed to take just five days - it definitely made me nervous and I was bombarding the Australian embassy in Bangkok and the Australian Immigration Department with email after email to find out what the hold up was. Well I never found out what the hold up was, but thankfully when I woke up this morning it had arrived! Thank god, but talk about cutting it fine with just 12 hours until my flight! So to be honest, in my head I kind of hadn't accepted I was flying to Australia today, I was certain I'd have to move my flight, and now it's really happening I just can't believe it. I'm so excited to be surrounded by western culture again, although I think it will be a bit of a culture shock, and I have to be honest and say I can't wait to get working and settle somewhere for a while after a hectic two months blasting through also, Vietnam and Cambodia. At the moment my plans seem to be sticking around in Sydney for a few weeks then heading up to the north and working my way down the east coast with friends but who knows what will happen when I get there! I'm just going to see where the wind takes me and love every second - that's certainly been working for me over the last five months.

One thing I'm pretty excited about is that it is my 25th birthday in just a week - now I know some people get a bit funny about hitting their quarter of a century, but I'm so ready to celebrate. It's a huge milestone in my life and one that marks the end of what easily started out as the hardest and worst year of my life, but which has definitely finished as the best. In the space of 12 months my whole life has changed and it has only done so because I have taken control of my future. I took the initiative to cut out the loose ends, the idiots who were holding me back, and now I'm out travelling the world and living the dream. It's the best decision I ever made and I'm so proud of myself for being one of those people who made it happen instead of just talking about it. If that's not something to celebrate then I don't know what is! I've never felt more ready or more excited to take on the next five years with as much gusto as I have taken on the last 12 months - bring it on and here's to making them even more amazing! You guys can help with that by sticking by my side at every stage of the journey - and if you've been loving my posts then why not cast a quick vote for me in the travel section of the Simply Hike Blogger Awards? There's just one week left to vote and it only takes a second!

Any advice on what to see and do in Sydney? Have you been enjoying reading about my journey - what posts have you loved? How did you feel when you hit the big 2-5?


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? 


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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