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imageI may have been living on a budget since arriving in Australia, but travelling through Asia, there was something I never scrimped on. Even when we’ve given up all our worldly possessions in favour of a super-saver life on the road, we all have to admit that there are times when all us backpackers dream of a little luxury. One thing in particular I miss since being down under is massages – back in the UK my mum and I always made sure we had a little spa break booked in to treat ourselves. Both working pretty stressful jobs with constant deadlines, it was so nice to have a full day dedicated to relaxation and pampering every now and again. Even when I couldn’t afford a day at the spa, I’d often have an evening dedicated to facials, manicures and pampering at home. It’s important to look after yourself and to allow yourself the time to really unwind. So when I arrived in Thailand, I was over the moon to realise quite how cheap and incredible the massages were – I’m not gonna lie, at one point I was getting one every day for a week until I realised I was getting addicted. You really notice the difference as a traveller, especially when you’re sleeping on rubbish bunk beds with springs in your back, or when you’re spending all day walking the streets of Bangkok or up all night dancing at a party in the jungle. Trust me, that leaves your with sore feet and a few too many knots in your shoulders, plus, if you’ve just left a stressful job and life behind, it’s nice to treat yourself and not break the bank.

Travelling across Asia, you really start to notice the similarities and some of the differences between the massages you experience – you really become an expert in knowing when you’re getting a good massage or when you’re getting one from someone who has no idea what they’re doing. I actually walked out on two massages because the masseuses clearly had no idea what they were doing and were starting to hurt my feet – but that doesn’t even make a dent in how many incredible massages I had over the five months I spent travelling Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The further afield you go, the more you get to experience slightly more unusual types of treatment which are often quite an experience in themselves. In this post, I’m going to focus on five main types of massage I experienced while in Asia – I’m sure there are many more but these were the most incredible and the ones I would seriously recommend you try for yourself when you pass through Asia.image

Foot/Neck Street Massage

It wouldn’t be a trip to Thailand without at some point experiencing a massage on the street as you watch the world go by and let the craziness of Bangkok wash over you. I love to people watch and this was a great place to do it after a long day of walking around the city. It was heaven to slip into one of these comfy chairs while a Thai man or woman massaged your feet, or shoulders. At only around 150 baht (around £3) you can’t really go wrong can you?! My favourite place to stop was right next to a little bar that always had live music playing and it was usually the perfect accompaniment to the massage.

Thai Massage

Now this one is an acquired taste – some don’t enjoy this vigorous massage and prefer something more relaxing but Thai massage has a great effect on the body. I always left a Thai massage feeling invigorated and revived, and it is great if your muscles feel tight from lots of activities – a bit like a deep tissue massage. I personally wouldn’t have this one very often because I found that sometimes my muscles ached afterwards because it was quite rough compared to other types of massage, but if you get the right masseuse it can be amazing! This one cost around 400 baht (£4) when I was there.

Full Body Oil Massage

My absolute favourite is the one with coconut oil – this was my special treat every few weeks. I loved the way the oil felt on your skin as you were massaged and it stopped the massage from being as rough as in Thai massage. Plus the smell of the oil was just divine, your skin felt incredible afterwards because it was so soft. My favourite coconut oil massage was the very first one I had where I lay on a platform facing the ocean just after sunset on a tiny Thai island, it was beautiful watching the clouds go all shades of pink and blue as the sun slipped further below the horizon and the waves lapped against the shore. This one cost 5-600 baht (£10-12) depending on where you were.

Four Hands Bliss Massage

This one was a pretty unique experience and one I couldn’t pass up. When I was in Cambodia, I stayed at a yoga retreat where they offered this type of massage and I was urged to give it a try. Two specially trained massage therapists would mirror each other’s movements and rhythm on your body to overload your sensory capacity and send you into deep states of bliss and relaxation. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m so glad I tried it, at just $20 USD it was a bargain! Many came out of this massage in a real daze they were so overwhelmed by the sensations, I personally found it very invigorating and was bouncing off the walls!

Blind Shiatsu Massage

Another experience I will never forget was my hour spent with Leab at the Cambodian retreat, he is actually the person who massages Angelina Jolie at a five star hotel not far away when she visits the country, but I got to experience the deep tissue massage for just $15 USD. This was just one week after a bad bus crash left me limping and in serious pain throughout my legs and especially in one knee. I didn’t even tell Leab about this but in seconds he could tell where the pain was and set to work, we barely spoke as his English wasn’t very good, but his hands were an absolute miracle. They made an incredible difference to the pain and stiffness in my legs, I walked out of there not limping for the first time in over a week. The whole experience, just being in his peaceful presence was so healing and I was gutted when it was over! If you ever get a chance to experience type of massage – do it!

imageEven just writing this I’m desperate for a massage – the last eight months of working and partying flag out, plus three months in the bush, haven’t done much for my knotted shoulders and aching back. My mum and I are already planning a mother-daughter spa day for when I return, and I can’t wait for it after working what was probably one of the worst jobs of my life. If you don’t already have a spa day planned or can’t spare the time and money to try these Asian delights – why not put aside some money each week and treat yourself a little closer to home? You could check out Urban Retreat’s Moroccan Hammam experience at Harrods which offers a centuries old full body experience to purify and revitalise the body and soul, including exfoliation. Anyone who’s tempted to book a massage after reading this post should have a look around and definitely consider treating themselves!

Tell me about your favourite spa experiences – were they in the UK or abroad? Have you tried these massages – what did you think? 

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* this post was a collaboration with Harrods

imageI had a pretty intense chat with a friend recently, he was going through a bit of a tough time and had lost his travelling way for a little while. It happens to us all when we get settled in one place for too long – we get antsy, frustrated, feel the need to escape but don’t know where to turn next which can leave some people feeling pretty alone. I know because I went through the same thing at around the same time – it’s the trouble with having a travelling soul, you’re always looking for the next adventure. Most of the time that’s amazing, but if that feeling hits you when you’re stuck working somewhere and have to wait to leave, it can be a killer to your mood. After several people I was really close with left Darwin to start their next adventure, I was pretty down and sick of life there – don’t get me wrong, the city had been an amazing home for me for three months and is full of memories for me. But it was the longest I had spent in one place since starting travelling – while that was just what I needed to start with, it soon became suffocating as more and more people left. I know my friend felt much the same, he was struggling to see why he was still there because he too had never planned to stay as long – he had just fallen in love with the place and the people, as had I.

At the time, I found our conversation hard to hear and talk about, but now – since moving on, it keeps coming flooding back to me and I can’t help but remember one phrase in particular. “When you’re travelling, you’re never alone, but you’re always lonely.” The way my friend came out with that really surprised me, he’s the life and soul of the party and everyone loves him so much, he always puts in every effort and will do anything for his friends. But it just shows you that even the ones who are the centre of so many people’s worlds can be lonely and struggle sometimes. I could totally understand what he was talking about after speaking to another close friend who said: “You form these intense and beautiful bonds with people, but you never really have a lasting connection with those around you because people always leave.” I couldn’t put it anymore perfectly myself – I’ve felt this so many times when I’ve met people and fallen in love with their character, personality and soul. I’ve fallen head over heels for the moments we’ve shared and the things we’ve experienced together. Then just days or even hours later, we part ways and sometimes never see each other again.imageIt’s a hard thing to adapt to and I think that’s why me and my friend were feeling down – we were both so used to being the people who leave and go on to something more exciting to distract us from the sadness of what we have left behind. This time, we were some of the last ones of our gang there and we felt the pain and the loss of every single bright spark who made our time in Darwin as special as it was. I totally understand where my friends were coming from but I can’t help but disagree about the part after people leaving – it can feel like that at times when you’re constantly moving from place to place and don’t get a chance to spend more than a few days together. But there have also been so many times where I have seen it proven how amazingly travellers can come together to create a family that cares for each other no matter what. I saw it when I was in the crash in Cambodia and friends who were scattered across Asia and beyond went out of their way to check I was okay and to even come and look after me until they were happy I was safe enough for them to move on. I saw it in Darwin when something awful happened to a friend of mine and the whole gang rallied around, they did so much by just being there and it just showed how close we all were after just days of knowing each other. I know that I could call on so many of my travelling friends day or night, if every I were in trouble, or just needed a chat, they would be there.

It’s been nearly four months but I still speak to friends I met on the East Coast on a regular basis and am even making plans to be reunited with some of them soon. It’s been nine months since I met one of my most special gangs back in Thailand and I still speak to them every few weeks and even FaceTime despite us all being scattered around the globe now. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have so many connections across the world and is easily one of my favourite things about travelling – these friendships are so special and I treasure them so much. This morning I woke up to around 30 messages from old and new friends and it really showed me that even when I’m working in the middle of nowhere, these friends don’t just forget you. Yes, there are lonely times when travelling – but they’re also the times that really shape you as a person and teach you the important life skill of being on your own and actually enjoying it. There is no light without dark, and as much as there are times when you will feel completely alone, there are times when you will be overrun with people and friendships that will last a lifetime. The important thing is to recognise in other travellers what point they are at in their own journey – be kind and be what others need you to be. When we’re on the road it is more important than ever to look after each other and to support each other – don’t leave anyone lonely, don’t push anyone away. We all need a little family sometimes. The sights are important, but it’s the people that make the real memories.image

 

Have you struggled with feeling alone while travelling? Have you found that perfect travelling gang of friends? Do you manage to stay in contact with other travellers along the way? 

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imageSometimes horrible things happen and we just don’t know why. It’s a common part of everyday life and one we deal with on a daily basis – whether it’s someone we love getting sick or injured, someone getting screwed over by a job or partner or some kind of loss. But when backpacking, it’s a lot stranger to have these sharp pinpricks of reality piercing through the travel bubble you find yourself in. When you’re constantly on the move and everyone around you is living every day like it’s their last, everyone is happy and content. There is no need to screw each other over, instead we work to build each other up and help each other to be the best we can be. Perhaps it’s all that vitamin D, but we all manage to avoid drama and pain for the most part, and even when it finds some way of filtering into our lives it is that much easier to shake it off.

When I first came travelling, I was dealing with some dramas in my own life which had actually pushed me to leave and travel in the first place. It turned out that living among such amazing people and experiencing such incredible things was exactly what I needed. It gave me perspective and a fresh look at the situation so I could plan for my future. Travelling made it that much easier to deal with the situation and to brush it off, which had been nigh on impossible while still at home. Being away changed my attitude and made me realise how little it all mattered when it came to the story of my life, and how I just needed to live each moment like it was my last instead of worrying and stressing.

Anyone who’s been reading Absolutely Lucy for a while will know I didn’t have the best time in Cambodia and was pretty disappointed by the country. But what they might not know is that I still met some pretty awesome people while I was there, in particular two lads who were the very best of friends travelling together. The pair were quite frankly some of the funniest people I have met and they kept me laughing all night as we celebrated one of their birthdays. We all met, along with several of their friends, after all being invited on a nighttime fishing trip which ended up being hilarious. One of the boys had insisted on going on the trip for his mate’s birthday, forgetting that he couldn’t stand the smell of fish – to the point he spent most of the trip throwing up over the side of the boat. Despite this, he still managed to keep us laughing the whole time and did it all for his friend. These two lads had known each other for a hell of a long time and were a fantastic double act, I couldn’t imagine one without the other.

But sadly now, I have no choice. A cruel twist of fate saw one of the lads killed recently in a car accident leaving behind a devastated family and his heartbroken best friend. After hearing the news via Facebook, I just couldn’t believe what had happened. He was so young and had so much left to do in his life, he had barely been back from his backpacking trip a few months or weeks. I may have only known him for one night, but he made a huge impression on me – as everyone I meet when travelling does. Each person and each moment steals a little piece of your heart and leaves you with a little piece of theirs, whether you spend just a few hours with them or weeks on end. It just shows you how precious life is and how making every second the best it can be in case it is your last is so important. Nick did just that and lived every second like it was the last thing he would do and had just had the most amazing time travelling with his partner-in-crime, Will, and I’m so happy they have at least those precious memories.imageThe point of this post is not to rave on about how amazing travelling is, it’s just to say that life can change in a split second and it could all be over quicker than you can say ‘hey’. But we can’t live in fear of what could happen all the time, we need to just make the most of every opportunity and happiness in our lives so that if something does happen – we can be sure we lived every moment to the absolute fullest. So many sit around waiting for life to happen to them, but that’s not the answer – go out and make stuff happen for yourself! If travel is the thing for you, book a ticket. If it’s love, dive in head and heart first. You get the idea, now go do it – you won’t regret it.

RIP Nick.

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imageI 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.imageWhen 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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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? 

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To say I didn’t have the greatest time in Cambodia would be an understatement, it was one of the worst countries I have ever travelled to and much of my time there was spent feeling unsafe and really vulnerable. Now I know there are a lot of people out there who will really disagree with this post, and I totally agree that many will have a different experience of Cambodia to mine, but I have to be realistic and honest about my experiences. Despite this, I want you all to know that I would definitely return there in future and that I haven’t completely written off the country. I know that I had a particularly bad run of luck when I was there and everything seemed to go wrong, and I would always advise any traveller to go to a country and make their own mind up. So this post is not about putting you off Cambodia, it is merely about warning of all the horrible things that happened to me and what I would do differently next time to avoid these situations. Now you have to remember that by this point I had travelled throughout Thailand, Laos and Vietnam solo by this point and was pretty experienced and confident about handling things on my own. I was also extremely excited about going to Cambodia and had expected to like it more than any of the other countries I had been to. So how did it all go wrong?

I had read a lot about Cambodia, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for the country. Despite travelling across Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, the level of poverty in Cambodia was far more shocking than any other country I have ever travelled to. Even knowing about the history, I hadn’t fully realised how third world it would seem in comparison to other parts of Asia – I expected it to be on a par with Laos but was quite shocked to see the conditions in which many were living there. The level of poverty has a direct impact on the level of crime and it is clear that a lot of Cambodians do see tourists as a way of making money quickly by robbing them. Not all, but there are a large number who see us as a way of making their life easier – but not in the way we are used to in countries like Thailand where tourism is a real industry. The fact that the police are far more corrupt than the average man on the street means it is an even more dangerous place for a tourist because the police also see us as a way of making money and will often target us. I know countless people who have been robbed in Cambodia, and even worse, I know so many people who have been messed around by police who are often in on the robbery and are making money off it. Motorbikes are a big one for this, I’ve heard of several cases where bikes were stolen after tourists hired them, then police refused to help and the bikes mysteriously turned up back at the original owners’.imageArriving in low season (May), just after Songkran meant the country was empty of tourists and this played a huge part in why my experience was less than I’d hoped. There’s safety in numbers and numbers were seriously lacking anywhere I went – this also made it difficult to find travel buddies as most were travelling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh instead of the other way around. It meant that as a woman travelling alone, I was much more of a target and I certainly felt a lot more conspicuous when walking the streets. There were several times when I would walk a down the street and have to fend off the uncomfortable approaches of grubby tuk tuk drivers and strange, often drugged up, men who would try to follow me down the street. Some were aggressive with no provocation and others just didn’t seem to understand the word no. Their way of trying to encourage you to use their services was to hassle you non-stop, and not in the friendly way of the Thai’s or Vietnamese, it was intimidating. Areas like Sihounoukville and Phnom Penh were particularly bad, but in Siem Reap it was completely different and I actually felt safe for the first time in weeks. I think if I had started my time in Cambodia up in Siem Reap, I would have felt very differently, but starting at the other end really coloured my view of the country.

So what actually happened to me in Cambodia? Why am I making such a point of writing a post like this? Well it all started when I was robbed. I’d just arrived in Sihounoukville and the first person I met was my taxi driver who managed to steal $50 off me – trust me, I’m never careless with my bags and he managed to still get into them without me noticing until he had the money. I caught him at it and shouted at him, so he decided to get aggressive with me. Big mistake as I punched him to the ground and ran off – probably not the wisest move but it was instinct and it got me away from a bad situation fast. Luckily it was only $50 – it could have been a lot worse as my passport and iPad were with my money. So I arrived on a bad note, then a friend of mine was nearly raped in the back of a tuk tuk and had to jump out while it was moving to get away from some creep who jumped in the back as it drove down the road near Otres Beach. Then there was the awful bus crash I nearly died in after a lorry ran my minibus off the road and we crashed into a ditch – I would have gone through the windscreen if it weren’t for the driver grabbing me as I was thrown forward. The crash was horrible and the lorry didn’t even stop, but it was dealing with the police, ambulance and bus company after that was the worst part. The police had no idea what to do and were more concerned about me being British than the Cambodian girl with a broken hip. The ambulance staff were embarrassingly uneducated on how to treat the injured, it was scary how little they knew of basic first aid and hygiene – to the point I refused to go to hospital. The bus company knew nothing of the crash and told me I couldn’t go any further than Phnom Penh without my ticket – which was in the ditch next to the crashed bus – until I really kicked up a fuss. These are just some of the worst examples, but it was enough to make me pretty miserable during my time in the country. imageNow it may not have been the best experience of my life, but I always try to take something good away from every experience and I learnt a lot from my time in Cambodia. So what are my top tips for travelling Cambodia?

  1. Think very seriously about travelling there solo as a woman – whatever the websites and guide books say, it is a very different experience to travelling solo as a woman in Thailand or Vietnam or even Laos. I personally would never travel there alone again, and the vast majority of people I know who have loved Cambodia have either traveled in groups or solo as a man.
  2. Plan ahead with your personal safety – don’t travel if you will be arriving late at night because you will be a victim of tuk tuk drivers and those loitering in the streets. Think about learning some basic self-defence moves in case anything happens because I was really glad I felt able to defend myself when that taxi driver started at me.
  3. Realise when planning your movements that Cambodian tourist travel is pretty unreliable and slow compared to other parts of Asia. Also realise that whether you go for the most expensive and comfortable or the least, you are equally at risk of accidents. They drive like crazy out here and seem to have no real concept of death or injury – if I were to return I would probably skip the buses and just fly from one end to another.
  4. Remember that you are a woman. It’s sad to say that this should even be an issue in today’s world, but when visiting other countries it is important to remember that your gender does play a part in how you are viewed. I’m not saying it is right, but you are at greater risk of harm in some places because men will see you as easy pray for rape or robbery because you are less likely, in their minds, to be able to defend yourself.
  5. Play the numbers game. Do your research and plan your trip carefully. Realise that events like Songkran could affect the numbers elsewhere in Asia as everyone flocks to Thailand and Laos. I knew that there would be less people, but never expected Cambodia to be as empty as it was but I think it had a huge impact on my time there. If I returned it would be in the middle of high season.imageNow throughout all of this I want you to remember that although I had a bit of a rubbish time in Cambodia, it doesn’t mean that you will. It is such an important country to visit in so many ways – the history is heartbreaking and horrifying but it is something we all need to know about. The people can be incredibly kind and welcoming – but sadly I only saw this in my final days there. Don’t be put off by my experiences, just learn from them and don’t let the same happen to you. There is so much to be gained from seeing this country, and you will be helping the people to rebuild their country by creating a tourist industry and giving them a future. I will have several other happier posts coming up on the parts of Cambodia I did like and the better memories I hold of the country.

Tell me about your experiences of Cambodia – did you love it or hate it? Why? What advice would you give to travellers passing through? 

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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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