After two weeks of being boring Lucy, eating rubbish noodles and working every hour I could get, I'd had three glorious pay checks which had put me back in the green. I was so happy to not be clinging to every dollar for dear life any longer - don't get me wrong, I was still living like a seriously poor backpacker but I could afford to eat and sleep, and even treat myself to the odd $5 bottle of wine. The beautiful thing was that I had a whole gang of friends around me who were all in the same position - some had been lucky enough to find work straight away - others were working for the hostel in exchange for a tuppence and free accommodation, others were just living off nothing while they applied for every job going. I was the lucky one. But as the weeks went by, everyone managed to find jobs - some of them just casual and others full time and permanent. As that happened, our priorities changed. We had a big group of new friends and we all wanted to celebrate. The hot weather made everyone feel the good holiday vibes and even though we were all working crazy hours we were determined not to let it stand in the way of having a good time. As one of my friends said: "We left the UK so we wouldn't be those people who are living for the weekend, I'm sick of living for the weekend, I want to live for every single day." I guess it's the party animal in me, but luckily I was surrounded by people with exactly the same attitude to life as my own. They wanted to have the best time, to grab every moment with both hands. They wanted to spend their evenings laughing hysterically with new friends, dancing all night and creating memories, then finishing the nights when the sun was rising with our feet in the sand as friends for life.Darwin is a great city for nightlife - it lacks all of the formality and rules of Sydney and Melbourne and attracts a totally different and totally wild crowd. Everyone is friendly as hell and game for anything, it was outback nightlife and we loved it. From acoustic live jam sessions at a little bar called Nirvana on a Tuesday night to crazy Friday nights and $5 drinks at Throb, the gay club down the street. I spent way too much time in Monsoons considering I worked there, but I think most people who go to Darwin can say the same, and Thursday nights were never fun unless I was at Ladies Night! And don't forget Wisdoms, which was just a few doors down, and had great live music on, plus it was great for an early evening drink. Or if you fancy something a bit classier, there's always cocktails and wine at Rorkes, a 1920's inspired bar and restaurant through the town centre, plus there's loads more down by the waterfront. The only place I wasn't so impressed by was Lost Arc (also known as Discovery), I know others who had a good night out there but I never really felt the music or the bar was that much fun.Regardless, there is something for everyone and we spent our weeks rolling around every venue in town with the infamous Sunday Sesh kicking off at Shenanigans (fondly known as Shags) the Irish bar, which would be packed every Sunday with live music, before everyone headed off to Hotel Darwin at closing time for more bad behaviour. Sunday Sesh was the biggest event of the week in Darwin - it never mattered how hungover you were from the night before, everyone who wasn't working made it out and partied like they didn't have work the next day. For us, we started to create our own Sunday Sesh at the hostel - we had so many friends at our hostel that in the end it made more sense to all chip in $10 to buy everything we needed for a huge BBQ and beers. We had a pool and everyone we wanted to hang out with, a bit of food and way too much glitter and excitement - some of the best Sunday's I have ever had have started out as a BBQ at the hostel and ended up as a naked pool party. There so many stories from my three months at that hostel, so much cheeky behaviour and so many laughs, I think I'll have to write a book one day of all that went on with the Dingo Mooners.Of all of these nights, there are some that really stand out in my memory - some of them somewhat hazy - but all of those are the parties that didn't take us to any of these venues. Darwin was rave central while I was there and luckily I made friends with all the right people who just happened to know the people who were sitting up these wild parties on Mindil Beach, out at abandoned quarries in the bush and even on the esplanade. The great thing about the Northern Territory is that there is a little bit more freedom, I can totally understand why raves can be harmful at home because they damage land, property and disrupt the wildlife in our smaller country. But up here there is nothing but desert, dust and open space, it's perfect for parties out under the stars and that's the best kind of party to me. Plus those organising the parties were so responsible and organised clean-ups as well which really impressed me. Even the police were happy that the parties were not bothering anyone so they would keep an eye in case if things got out of hand but they never once shut down a party that I was at. There was at least two months when there were raves every weekend, alternating venues between Mindil Beach and the quarry - both were amazing and featured great DJs, some local and others travelling through. And just before we all left, a special rave was held on the esplanade as a goodbye to everyone who had partied hard all dry season, just as the rains were due to arrive.Whether you agree with the idea of hundreds of youths raving from sunset to sunrise or not, I won't deny the memories I made there will last forever, and that many of the friends I went with will without a doubt be friends for life. Even now, thinking back, every second of those nights puts a big smile on my face. As far as I'm concerned, getting to dance to great music and watching the sun rise over Mindil Beach as dolphins played in the waves and a horse rode through the surf is more than just special. We saw the real magic of the Northern Territory in those nights, from the red dust that covered us from head to toe as we made our way home the next day to the reflection of the stars in our eyes the night before. I'll always remember the night we all lay on a sandbank at the quarry exhausted from dancing our hearts out, without realising how close we were to the airport when suddenly a plane flew overhead, looking almost close enough to touch. Or that perfect sky filled with fire as the sun rose above us the morning after, and the long walk we faced through the bush that morning when it took us three hours to get a taxi and get home, but the jokes that kept our spirits up and the memories that remain. Darwin, you were something special alright.
Have you been to Darwin? Which is your favourite bar? What did you think of the nightlife?
Now 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.I 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.I 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?