Dropped off at the side of a dusty road in Vang Vieng after the most traumatic journey through winding, mountainous roads, I won't lie and say my first thought wasn't "oh God this place is a hole." It looked like the back end of nowhere and it was blisteringly hot - grabbing our bags we walked towards the centre to find a place to stay. After checking out several and consulting with our Lonely Planet and Google Maps to get as close to the centre as possible. We finally ended up staying at Viang Vilay Guest House. It wasn't great, but it was cheap and we didn't plan to be in the dorms much. We ended up in a giant 30 bed dorm that was spread across three rooms in open plan style - it worked in our favour because after the first night everyone else moved out into private rooms and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Plus we were right in the centre of everything, right next to the tubing station, and we were paying less than anyone else we knew, which quite frankly is the only important thing when booking accommodation in Vang Vieng.
From the moment we arrived, we could see it was a dusty ghost town and we wondered where the hell everyone was. At around 6-7pm it became clear, as the tuk tuks rolled in with some of the drunkest people I have seen in a while, that everyone had been off on the river tubing. Now I apologise in advance, this isn't going to be the most cultured of my posts but hot damn this was a fun few days, and if you like a good party, you'll love tubing! Vang Vieng turned out to be an awesome time for us because there were so many people we knew there - some from travelling Thailand, others from the slow boat and some even just from Luang Prabang. It was a great reunion and everyone was in a party mood - you can't really go to Vang Vieng if you don't want to party. I have to question those older couples who were clearly just on holiday there when other than the Blue Lagoon and a couple of caves, there isn't really much else to do, but each to their own. It's not even a very welcoming place as you can tell that the people who live and work there can't really stand the drunks and have a very low opinion of us - they were really rude from the moment we arrived - but who can blame them when we show up and get wasted.In terms of food, I have to be honest and say the food in Laos disappointed me and everywhere I tried it I just found it tasteless and overcooked. So I gave up in the end and enjoyed a tasty spicy pizza at Milan Pizza (lots of spacier variations are available if you fancy that kind of thing) and lived off baguettes from the stalls in the street - it was cheap and I was hungover a lot of the time so it was perfect for lining my stomach for tubing. I keep teasing you with mentions of tubing but you'll have to wait for my next post for my tubing guide. Instead, let me tell you about the lovely part down by the river where you can chill out on decking with your feet dangling in the water and the sun beaming down on you. It's such a perfect place for relaxing in the day, and apparently attracts a lot of ladyboys on a day out, who were all enjoying posing for photos. I would really recommend heading down there at one point or another for the afternoon, there is also more accommodation including bungalows down there. For bars in the evening, Jaidee's is good for chilling out and getting a little freaky or head to Sakura and the Irish Bar for free drinks and partying after tubing.
If you're looking for something to do, the main two things we came across were visiting caves and the Blue Lagoon. The caves were supposed to be a couple of kilometres some thought we would walk and get some exercise but it was definitely further and the heat was ridiculous. We finally arrived and paid to go in, after being told to go through so we would find the Blue Lagoon, we that never happened. We got lost in the caves, one of us nearly lost her shoes and the head torches they gave us were useless! We ended up having to try and retrace our footsteps out the same way because we couldn't find anyway through the caves - there was devotedly a moment when I thought I would never see daylight again - around the time I tripped and hurt my foot. If you visit these caves (which are signposted from the river) wear proper shoes because there is climbing involved, take a better torch because the ones they give you are terrible, and be brave - I have never been in caves that dark before. It was like a scene from a horror film!The Blue Lagoon was much better but definitely wasn't where we were told it was - get a tuk tuk or hire quads as it is quite far and the road is pretty bad for a scooter. It's so worth the trip, the whole section of water is a rich blue colour from the calcium pigments and looks beautiful. There are loads of rope swings, high points to jump off into the water and sunbathing spots - it may have taken ages for us to get there but we were so glad when we finally did. You'll probably want a few hours there to relax and jump around so indulge your inner kid and take along your friends for a fun afternoon getting over your tubing hangover before starting all over again. If you're too hungover to make it that far, there's a whole series of restaurants that have Friends playing on repeat all day opposite Jaidee's which is great when you feel rubbish and it's as humid and hot as it was when I was there. You don't notice the heat quite so much when tubing as you're out on the river and cool off in the water, but in the town it's a very intense heat that leaves you with little energy to take part in other activities on offer like rock climbing - we really wanted to do this but it was too hot while we were there.
Have you been to Vang Vieng? What did you think of it and would you go back? What else did you get up to whole you were there?
This is probably going to be one of the hardest posts I've ever had to write, not because of some deep emotional turmoil, but because Koh Phanang holds some of the best travelling memories for me so far. How are you supposed to express that in words? Yes, it's happened, I've become one of those people who left their heart on the island. I went with high hopes but low expectations to the island, with plans to meet up with a few friends I had met previously in Phuket for the Half Moon Party. I arrived two days early and hadn't booked anywhere to stay, so it was just luck I happened to meet two lovely girls at the pier, Maggie and Steph - we ended up rooming together in a bungalow on the west side of the island and had the best time sunbathing and chilling out. It was really nice to see this side of the island and to realise there was much more to Koh Phanang than most of us realise - this side was more aimed at couples and families on holiday, which meant the beaches were far more untouched and we even managed to find one hidden away in a little cove which was just stunning.After a couple of nights it was time for us to part ways and after a round of goodbyes, I headed over to the other side of the island for a day of shopping in Hadrin with Steph before she moved to the other side of the island for a yoga retreat. After I checked into my new hostel - Baan Thai Backpacker - we headed into Hadrin for a browse round the shops and a peek at the beach. It was actually really lovely considering how touristy that part is, normally I wouldn't really like this kind of area, but it had a kind of charm - especially when I saw the beach! It definitely helped that in the heat of the day, many of the tourists were either still in bed or staying out of the intense heat so it was a lot quieter than I expected. Later in the day I returned to the hostel - which was one of the best hostels I have stayed in! I can't rave about these guys enough, Karen and Tristan are the coolest hostel owners ever and it was great having them join in with the partying and even showing us around. If you're in need of a place to stay, this is the best place for the Half Moon Party and is surrounded by lots of other cool parties, it is a short drive from Hadrin but would also be perfect for the Full Moon Party.I was finally reunited with my little gang and what lots of new recruits - everyone staying at the hostel was amazing. I don't think I've ever met so many friendly and like-minded people in one place, and it was perfect for anyone travelling alone but looking to make friends. That first night a huge group of us partied all night long at the Maya Jungle Party which remains my favourite party of all of them - the music was the best, I love raving in the jungle and we had a great gang that night. After dancing all night, we headed to the beach for a late night swim - perfect end to the first night. The following day, a group of five of us headed out on scooters to explore the island and some waterfalls - it was a perfect hangover cure and we had a great time. Koh Phanang is a good island for exploring on scooters and it's nice to get off the touristy part and explore by yourselves - just don't head down the gravel paths as one of our friends had a bit of a skid.That night was the Half Moon Party and we had the best time getting dressed up in our bright colours, getting our faces painted and of course, slathering each other in UV paint. Our hostel hosted a huge pre-drinking party that was actually even more fun than the Half Moon - it was brilliant having the whole hostel together getting painted up and partying. And one of the fun things about meeting people from different countries has to be learning different rules to the drinking games and getting caught out when you forget. We finally headed to the Half Moon Party (1,000 bt including a bucket) and the next few hours are a bit of a blur of crazy excitement, lots of dancing and buckets. Amazingly our group of five managed to stay together despite the queues to get in, and we ended up raving at one of the stages for what felt like hours. Everyone was in the happiest mood and was just going for it - that's what I love to see, people covered in sweat with UV paint everywhere having the time of their lives. We all had an amazing night and I'm so glad I got to experience Half Moon with these guys.The next day we all felt a teensy bit delicate but after forcing ourselves out for breakfast we decided to head to Hadrin to chill by the beach - it was just what we needed to gather our energies for that night. Before we knew it, a few cocktails by the beach and a bit of browsing the streets suddenly turned into a group tattoo. (Sorry mum and dad, meant to tell you but I forgot!) so now five of us have matching tattoos to remember the week by - don't worry it wasn't entirely random. We all wanted to try bamboo tattoos, well a few of us did, and we kind of peer pressured one guy jerk getting his first tattoo. But it was a fun thing to do and I love my tattoo, it was brilliant to see them do bamboo tattoos, which heal pretty much instantly and don't penetrate the skin as deeply lessening the chance of infection. If I had to have a matching tattoo with anyone, I'm glad it was these guys.That evening we headed to the Ban Tai Afterparty on the beach at around sunset, it was pretty damn beautiful to see the sun setting from the comfort of a hammock with some good music in the background. Each party had a very different atmosphere and different people, this one was much more chilled out with a trancey dance floor inside if you wanted it. We spent the night talking to a lot of randoms, attempting to tightrope walk and dancing our hearts out. It was really nice to party with a change of scenery after two nights in the jungle and we met some real characters at this party including a 74 year old who moved here from Norwich when he retired and goes raving four times a week - what a legend. The next night, after another day on the scooters, we decided to have a night in watching movies and spending some time together as we made plans for Koh Tao - we just couldn't bare to part ways yet so we planned to island hop the very next day.
Have you been to Koh Phanang? What was your experience like?
Of course, I couldn't leave the chilly shores of Ye Olde England without a good old shindig to party with all the people most special to me - and how better to celebrate that by taking them all back to the 90's?! I love a good party and I love when people go all out, dress up and have a fabulous time together - so I insisted on a nineties theme - with plans for decorations and all sorts. It was an amazing night, everyone made such a HUGE effort on the costume front, particularly all the boys who never do dress-up - it really made all the difference and we had some seriously good ideas. Among the costumes we had two Ginger Spice's, one half of Dumb & Dumber, some 90's chavs, a bit of grunge and Clueless, Mrs Doubtfire, Wayne's World, Hunter S Thompson from Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, The Big Lebowski, Ali G, Buzz Lightyear and loads more! Talk about a great mix, and I made sure the house was decorated with posters of music, TV stars and films from the 90's, some great cassette tape bunting I found on eBay. We had a soundtrack of pure 90's music and plenty of 90's sweets like sherbet dips, flying saucers and lollies. But what made it the most special was having so many of my favourite people there - I'm so happy so many could make it and to have spent a night partying with them all. Of course, I too dressed up for the party - finally achieving my wish of becoming Princess Jasmine from Aladdin (one of my favourite Disney movies from the era) - and if you can't be a princess at your own party, when can you? I found this great costume online for less than £20, despite it being exactly the same as a £70 version! If you have a party like this, or any fancy dress theme its always worth shopping around for fancy dress online - when I was at university I was a bit of a pro at this - so many shops stock exactly the same outfits under different names/labels and at very different prices - and there is always one with a sale on! I loved my costume, and added some gold sparkle make-up and a bit of bling and I was ready to go.Of course, there was also a sad side to the party - it was so hard to say goodbye to my closest friends and there were some tears. I was proud I actually managed to hold it together during the party, but was a bit of a mess the next day. It's hard to say goodbye to those closest to you, even when you know you are making the right decision. My mum keeps reminding me that it's a very different world now and when people go travelling, they don't really go away. That there's no waiting for the post to arrive with hopes of a letter saying all is well, now you can Skype, Whatsapp, email, text, write... You can be in contact constantly if you want - it is harder than ever to go off the radar and with social media it is so easy to share every step of your journey. She's right, I know that wherever I am in the world and however long I have been away, that I can instantly get in contact with my family or friends if I need or want to. If something happens and any of us need to talk or just to see each other's faces, it will be possible. Just because you're 2,000 miles away, doesn't mean you have any excuse to be a bad friend.
Have you had a 90's party? Who would you dress up as? What's the hardest goodbye you've had?
Just a quick post today to share with you guys how I spent my New Year's Eve - as you can imagine I'm completely up to my eyeballs in packing, organising paperwork and trying to find everything I need for the next year - yikes! So this post is just a little one to mark another Happy New Year spent with the boys - my last one for a while. We've been having a New Year's party together for years now so it will be strange to spend the next one away from them all. But we made sure this was a good one - me and Wolf whipped up some Mexican food and supplied the tequila - the boys brought the fun. We had a great night, all rounded off with some very bad dancing. Hope everyone else's New Year celebrations were as much fun.Of course there was talk of what our New Year's resolutions might be, but we all agreed there is very little point in making a resolution when we're all happy the way we are. Also - I certainly don't want to come back from travelling to find out they have all changed! All this New Year New Me rubbish... I think we're all getting a bit old for that - if we really wanted to make a change, we would just do it and there would be no reason to wait for the New Year. I made my change months ago and next week it will finally begin! Bring it on! I hope that however you spent your New Year, that it was full of family and friends, and plans for the future. Whatever 2015 has in store for you, make it a big year!
How did you celebrate New Year? What have you got planned for 2015?