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After spending a month exploring the wild landscape of Sri Lanka, we were keen to relax and spend the next two weeks on the beach soaking up every last bit of sun before heading back to a European winter. It had been a month of constant movement and amazing adventures, but after a while you really start to need some time to just chill and we were long overdue for an actual holiday. Originally we had planned to spend two weeks exploring the Maldives but sadly bad weather put paid to those plans. So when the team at Ammatara Pura Pool Villas invited us along to stay with them in Thailand where we were promised a lovely 30 degrees, we quickly snapped up their offer. Now if you guys remember correctly, I was actually in Thailand three years ago so it felt amazing to be returning to the country that started off my three years of travelling and to be doing it with my boyfriend who was visiting for the first time. I couldn't wait to share my experiences with him and to relive some of my favourite moments with him by my side.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandThe last time I was in Thailand - despite spending three months exploring the country - I never made it to Koh Samui and always wondered if I had missed out. Arriving on the island, we were glad to see the sun shining after a particularly stormy few days on Koh Tao where the roads had been flooded more thank ankle-deep with rainwater. I couldn't believe the sheer size of the island, compared to Koh Tao and Koh Phanang it seemed huge and a lot more commercialised, but we quickly moved out of the busiest areas as our minibus made it's way to the resort. The island is very much made up of resorts from the budget-friendly to the utmost in 5* luxury, but there is a trip to suit all. We were excited for our next adventure to be taking us to quieter area of Lamai Beach, where the extreme luxury of the Ammatara Pura Pool Villas awaited us. Arriving at the gates, we were instantly bowled over by the incredible palatial buildings and knew we were in for a real treat. As you can see from the photos, it really was an absolutely beautiful place, a real oasis in the midst of busy Koh Samui.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandImagine waking up in the morning in your enormous princess-worthy bed then wandering out of your own private garden villa to find your own private pool with jacuzzi waiting just outside. Just metres away you can glimpse white sandy beaches, palm trees and fresh coconuts, and the sounds of the ocean wash over you. Styled after a 1,200 year old Thai palace, the villas and restaurant are set around a stunning temple, swimming pool and gardens for the exclusive use of the guests. With just 18 of these incredibly luxurious private villas on the property, the boutique resort offers complete privacy and a chance to really unwind on the holiday of your dreams. After so long spent on the road, we were very much in need of a real treat and a chance to just relax and we couldn't have found a better place to do it. This amazing getaway gives visitors the chance to live like royalty during their stay, designing their perfect holiday with an attentive staff who are always on hand to make it a reality.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandI won't lie, I felt like an absolute princess during our visit. The enormous villas are the epitome of luxury and have everything you need and everything you never dreamed you might have. From the beautiful outdoor rain shower and the huge jacuzzi bath, to the walk-in wardrobe and the gorgeous bed draped in the softest sheets which overlooks the swimming pool. With a choice of the sea view villas or the garden view, each had it's own private area complete with a patio, balcony, swimming pool with jacuzzi. We spent our days basking in the sunshine, splashing around in our own private pool overlooking the ocean or dining in the resort's beachfront restaurant on the most delicious Thai cuisine. Can we just talk about the food for a second? We're talking not just some of the most delicious Thai food I have eaten, but amazing Western options, plenty for vegetarians and even halal. We were greeted with fresh juices and breakfast each morning was an international feast of delectable delights from all over the world.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandFinding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandThe Thai owners pride themselves in the resort remaining a truly independent hotel and ensure the friendly staff are there for your every need during your stay. For guests who are looking to be pampered, the resort boasts a stunning open air yoga centre, complete with a panoramic ocean view, a fitness room equipped with state of the art machines and a spa with a huge range of treatments. The resort lies just a short and complimentary tuk-tuk ride away from the centre of Lamai, which is filled with restaurants, bars and entertainment. We had a great night when we went to watch Thai boxing at a bar in town for free, and there are plenty of opportunities to book tours or trips from the travel agents. For those who wish to explore further afield, the island lies just a couple of hours by ferry to nearby Koh Phanang and Koh Tao.Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | ThailandIt really was a perfect way to round off our time spent travelling around Asia and I can't imagine a more luxurious place to treat yourself, and your partner, to a romantic few days by the ocean. Fancy a taste of luxury? You can book a villa for your next visit to Thailand here.

Where is the most luxurious place you have stayed? Where was your favourite place in Thailand? Did you like Koh Samui?

Finding a little piece of paradise on Koh Samui | Thailand

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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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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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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imageSince travelling across Asia I've been on my fair share of buses, trains, motorbikes, tuk tuks and ferries - but one of my favourite methods of transport so far had to be the slow boat from Thailand to Laos. It was one of the most effortless, chilled out journeys I have had since first coming away all those months ago and I would really recommend it to anyone who has the time and inclination to spend two days on a boat floating down the Mekong. It's a completely different and relatively stress-free way to cross the border while combining a chance to meet fellow backpackers, travellers and locals with seeing the true beauty of the Laos landscape. Now I won't lie to you, I have heard other backpackers say they have tried this route and have had rather less fun boats - one couple spoke of a girl who decided to get the boat when she was tripping her nut off on some kind of hallucinogen. Others said the people on their boat were boring or not very friendly - I like to give a balanced view where I can but my experience was the best it could have been.

For a small price (I'm sorry I can't remember exactly how much, but it's great value) you get a bus from Pai (with a terrifying driver) to the border town where you spend a night in rooms at a guest house. Breakfast is included then you head to the border where you are pushed through like cattle, pay any fines for overstaying and get your new visa. Our group were also given a chance to swap any leftover money for dollars and to sort out our paperwork ahead of time. After a couple more buses and arriving at the port, we grabbed some food for the ride and some beers, then climbed aboard the longboat. It was made up of a long line of comfy seats and we all squeezed in up at the front, meeting some loud Australians and English along the way. That first day was a blur of singing silly songs, chatting about where we had all travelled, laughing at one of the guys who got sneezed on by a local and a few beers along the way. It was gorgeous to watch outside of the boat where the landscape was empty except for rolling hills, deserted beaches, rocky cliff faces and occasionally some naked, local children playing and giggling in the river.

I was pretty lucky with the crowd I had on my boat - I had the opportunity to spend two days with some of the most intelligent, artistic and talented individuals I have come across. I spent my time flitting between conversations about literature and plays, to playing silly games and singing along to the guitar that was constantly being played. One amazingly talented woman, who was backpacking with her daughter, sat quietly in a corner sketching and painting the scene at the front of the boat without us even realising until I spotted her hard at work. She had been doing this series of paintings along her travels and kept them as a kind of travel diary - a beautiful and original way to hold on to the memories that I wished I had the artistic talent for. It was so lovely to see how in a situation where there is no wifi, everyone reverts back to the ways we entertained ourselves as kids in the 90's - by reading, being artistic, playing games and not instantly turning away to plug ourselves into music or a TV. It was so refreshing.imageAfter we spent six hours on the boat that first day, we arrived at a tiny town where we would spend the night at another guest house (not included in the price but cheap options available just no,d on for arrival rather than taking the first one offered). It was lovely and I ended up with my own double room with private bathroom! The gang headed out for dinner which I won't lie was a pretty disappointing meal, and chose an early night - all exhausted from our time in Thailand. The next morning, our breakfast was included in the package, and we could pay extra for lunch to take with us. Heading back on to the boat, this time we had a different one with a more comfortable layout and bigger seats - this was even more chilled out than the day before and I had plenty of time to finish my book. We expected to spend around 8 hours on the boat this day but were pleasantly surprised when we had arrived after just six hours. We all parted ways for our guest houses and headed into Luang Prabang by tuk tuk.

A two day boat trip isn't everyone's idea of a good time but it does offer you a totally different perspective of Laos that you don't get otherwise - you get to see the country in its raw, natural state. A rare treat for those who stick to visiting Vang Vieng and Vientienne. For those who get sea sick, this is not an issue. The boat moves to smoothly and slowly that you would really struggle to feel ill - plus you are well distracted while on the boat. You can buy beers and snacks on the boat but go prepared with lunch and cheaper snacks, and don't worry, there is a toilet. If touchable a choice of sticking to the roads or doing the journey by boat, you're a hell of a lot safer and more comfortable by boat. Trust me, those drivers are nuts and you won't get a moment of rest or sleep on those buses. The slow boat offers you a good chance to slow down for few days, because no doubt you partied as hard as I did in Pai, and to rest before starting again in Laos.

Have you travelled by slow boat - what did you think of the journey? What is your favourite mode of transport when you travel?

Ab Lucy sign off

imageWhen I booked my trip and started reading up on Thailand and all the places I wanted to go, Pai was a name that came up again and again. I remember saying to friends after just reading up that Pai was somewhere that sounded like heaven to me - high up in the mountains, surrounded by hot springs and waterfalls, full of hippies and great places to eat. Perfect. This was part of the reason I decided to leave it until the end of my time in Thailand - as a treat because I was so certain I would be leaving on a high. It was a good decision, and just as I expected, I ended up staying longer than planned. A week in fact, instead of the four days I had booked. I could have easily stayed longer, but I knew if I did that I would still be there two years later. It was such an easy way of life to slip into, I was so happy there and met such amazing, interesting people. You simply cannot compare any other part of Thailand to Pai, anyone who doesn't make a stop there is seriously missing out on a completely different experience to the rest. Trust me.imageI booked in for a few days at Pai Circus School, which instead of sitting down in the town, sits high up on the mountainside overlooking Pai. For those who don't know, Pai sits high in northern Thailand and in the centre of a stunning mountain valley. Surrounded by towering mountains, the valley is sheltered from the storms, but high up on the hill you are completely exposed. We watched some beauties - the first real weather I had seen in months - rolling in over the mountains during the afternoons and at night. Spectacular to say the least! Circus School is run by an English company who expands to Thailand and now welcome backpackers - mostly English - to their stunning grounds for a break, a chance to release their inner hippy and learn some badass circus skills. I won't llie, the facilities are basic, I booked a bungalow at 300 baht a night while dorm beds were 200 - at this point I couldn't bear sleeping in another dorm for a while, needing a good night's kip. I had my own double bed, fan and mosquito net, plus shared bathrooms and toilets at the bottom of the hill - it might have been basic but I loved it and had everything I needed. There was also a pool and a chance to learn circus skills, trampoline or play games. It was such a social place and many of those staying in town came to hang out in the day.imageI would really recommend booking in before you arrive to be on the safe side, although I know plenty who didn't, just so you don't miss out when it does get busy. I would also recommend that everyone stays there for at least a couple of nights - even if you then move down to the town after. Staying there is such an experience, you meet so many people and I can guarantee some serious fun! Plus you get to hang out by the pool all day! I loved it there and would definitely go back. I would also recommend going to the canyon while you are in Pai - sunset is the best time and it is really beautiful to walk around. The landscape in this part of Thailand is remarkable. I wanted to go to the hot springs but never got round to it - they are awesome by all accounts just make sure you don't pay 300 but as there is a cheaper 80 bht one across the road that is just as good apparently! If you are staying at circus school - take advantage of learning circus skills - it's so much fun! I was trying my hand at Poi (fire dancing), slackline and hula hooping. It was so much fun and although I didn't have enough time to progress much, others did really well! You can also pay a small sum to have private tuition from the experts there who will coach you through it. imagePai was lovely because it was the first place in a while that was completely undemanding on my time. As you can gather from my blog, I've been a busy girl up to this point and haven't missed any opportunities to get involved and go full throttle, so it was nice to relax and indulge a bit for a few days. Sometimes you just need a break from travelling! I spent the week hanging out with two fabulous girls I met in Chiang Mai (and who I ended up travelling the whole of Laos with) plus some others we met at circus school, it was so much fun. We spent our days chilling by the pool, practicing our mad circus skills and eating some of the many delicious foods on offer in the town. It was a really beautiful place to just relax and spend time with people. Our gang had plenty of time to swim, chat, laugh and even hold our own art classes for fun, we played cards at sunset, went for street food and cocktails, shopped and then held hut parties with cheap booze, drinking games and silliness. If was the best and well deserved after a week of volunteering and a hill tribe trekking tour! imageOne of the biggest attractions to Pai was the food - which came at the perfect time. I had spent pretty much the whole three months in Thailand eating Thai food for breakfast, lunch and dinner so I was getting sick of it by then. I had some mad cravings for salad, pasta, smoked salmon, pitta, hummus, and various other delicious foods - western foods. Pai didn't disappoint - it actually had the best selection of food choices I have seen in any part of Thailand so far. My favourite restaurants were Ohm Garden - holy cow it was amazing and used all the best, freshest ingredients for salads, shakes, vegetarian food and sensational breakfasts. To put it in context - this restaurant was the furthest away from circus school, and meant walking down then up the mountain to get back in blistering heat - but we made that trip pretty much every single day because it was so worth it! Witching Well was also amazing and even served apple pie with cream for dessert, plus there was a great Thai place further along the street. I also ate a delicious Greek dish at another restaurant - you would be hard pushed to find bad food here! imageDefinitely make sure you eat at the night market a few times as the food is freshly prepared and delicious there also, then head to some of the bars. Yellow Bar was usually busy earlier and fun, then head to Why Not? and Don't Cry for a bit of dancing, music and more booze. Everyone ends up at these bars and they are a lot of fun! There's plenty of others which are quirky and offer live music including jazz - I went to two but don't know what their names were - both were great with a fun atmosphere and lush music. Spirit Bar was fabulous, such a cool hidden bar but sadly it never really got that busy with the right crowd and the live music was pretty naff. For something a bit wonkier, head to Sunset Bar which has a lovely atmosphere, friendly people and is really comfy for hanging out - it is a bit of a trek so get a scooter there then walk back. Bamboo Bar is one they try to drag you to for a rave but the party never happens, although I did find the cutest dog in the world to play wth there! Whatever you do in Pai - be safe, have fun and enjoy! It's one of my favourite places in Thailand as many travellers say - take care of it and don't let it get ruined.

Have you been to Pai? What did you think? Did you stay at circus school? 

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imageBefore discovering my love of journalism and writing could actually lead to a career, I had planned to become a teacher. An English teacher to be precise. When I went to university to study English literature with language and communication, that is what I wanted to do when I finished. I loved the idea of becoming that teacher who really inspires you, I was lucky enough to have a few like this who really spurred me on and inspired my love of learning from the very beginning to my last days in education. With two parents who both ended up working as lecturers in healthcare at a university and college near where I live, it seemed inevitable that I would inherit some of their teacher ways.

But I have to be honest, there was one thing in the back of my mind that put me off the idea of teaching, something that became a pet peeve of mine throughout later education - it was the attitude of students in the UK. Now don't get me wrong, I know there are many wonderful students out there who are eager to learn and develop. I also know there are many incredible teachers out there, some of them are friends of mine who stuck it out and are now working in schools across the country. But there are two factors in the UK that seem to be putting an extortionate amount of pressure on both sides, preventing them from being the best they can be and in some cases, stopping them from loving their job or learning.imageMy concern lies with the government who are putting such ridiculous pressure and demands on teachers that they barely have time to notice when there are concerns over wellbeing of their students. The sheer amount of paperwork and time spent on fulfilling guidelines means often, as I have heard from some teachers firsthand, they don't feel they are doing their jobs properly and are sometimes expected to lie in order to fulfil certain criteria. It is ridiculous and I can't imagine I would cope well with such pressure, I have huge admiration for those who do on a daily basis.

The other big issue lies with the sense of entitlement in the UK - it really hit me when I came away and met so many people from various countries. I realised how much more dedicated they seem as students - how the majority of people I have met speak three or more languages fluently while most English people I meet seem to have only mastered English in their 18 years of education. How some people have gone to such lengths to achieve an education - like the Vietnamese woman who searched at length to find a scholarship programme so she could study in America for her PHD, studying in a different language, culture and on a new continent to become a doctor. It's inspiring to meet such people out here, but I can't help but feel a bit embarrassed when you think of the naughty students at home who used to disrupt the classroom and refuse to learn, who don't see the value in learning languages or maths and don't think past finishing school.imageWhile staying at Elephant Nature Park, we were asked to take part in an education programme run by the sanctuary by giving a morning up to go to the local school and teach English. The Park is very involved in the local villages as many of the men and women work at the Park and staff there make sure their children are sent to school, it's not just about the elephants - it's about ensuring a better way of life and a future for all involved. I jumped at the opportunity - teaching English abroad is something I've wanted to do for a while after knowing so many who have raved about the experience and how amazing it was. I chose a day in the middle of the week and was really looking forward to it. On the day, four of us volunteers headed out on a minibus to the village school where we were welcomed by the headteacher who was warm and friendly.

The school was a bit of a building site with construction ongoing in the middle, but the classrooms were laid out around a giant courtyard, they were bright and colourful. A quick decision was made, we would be spread across three classrooms and I was thrilled to have a class all to myself - I would be teaching students ranging from five to 18-years-old with the help of a local teacher who spoke minimal English. I love being thrown in at the deep end so this suited me perfectly, after checking out their workbooks for a clue of where they were up to in their studies, and after meeting the adorable, giggling students, I was ready to start. We ran through simple concepts they already knew slightly such as colours, foods, verbs, basic phrases and conversation, and had a good sing-song ones like head, shoulder, knees and toes, twinkle twinkle little star, the alphabet song and a few others. I was really impressed with what they already knew, it suggested their ability was much higher than I had anticipated which was great. The older and more fluent speakers were helping the younger ones to understand which meant we worked well together as a group and gave me the chance to try some trickier stuff with them later on.imageI had the most amazing time with the children that morning and felt like we were making so much progress that I couldn't resist staying for the afternoon when the other volunteers went back to the Park. After a lunchtime spent meeting the other children at the school, joining in a jam session with them, playing ping pong and chatting to the young girls, we were ready for round two. The classrooms were a lot stuffier in the heat of the day and you could tell the children were getting tired, but that didn't stop them for a second in their determination to learn and impress me. It was lovely to see how dedicated they were when I know full well that children in the UK would have been far more disruptive in the heat.

That afternoon we covered past, present and future tenses, complex phrases, adverbs and more conversation. We also worked on longer passages, firstly for pronunciation and then for meaning of longer and more unusual words. We translated a piece about a science experiment using rockets and worked on the hardest piece of the day - discussing a passage about April Fool's Day. Trust me, that is a hard enough concept to explain in English and it was nearly impossible to non-native speakers! But we got there in the end and I was so proud to see how well the children did - they picked up so much and helped each other to understand which was amazing. It actually mad me think that teaching English abroad might be something I would like to  try for a while in the future.imageIf you get an opportunity to go into a school while travelling and teach - whether English, music, maths or something else, snatch it with both hands. Even if you don't think you have the knowledge to do it, they can learn so much from you and it is such a rewarding experience. Often you don't need to have done a TEFL course and village schools will just have signs up asking for volunteers to come in, ask at your hostel and read notices. A friend of mine spotted a notice asking for those who can play musical instruments to come into a music course and help teach, he could play the guitar and jumped at the chance. Afterwards he said it was one of the best afternoons he has had travelling, that it was so much fun and they were wonderful students. It's a great way to give something back and if you choose to do the TEFL course, it's a great way to earn money while travelling.

Have you taught English while travelling? Tell me about your experiences and whether you would recommend doing it to others.

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imageSince volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, it has become a regular topic of conversation with friends, family, fellow travellers and complete strangers. Everyone seems to have elephants on the brain and its little wonder why, these majestic, intelligent and simply beautiful creatures seem to capture the hearts of most. Why? For me, it's always been something in their eyes. Elephants seem to have eyes that tell a story, much like humans, you can tell there is more going on in their heads. That they think and feel in similar ways to us - whether you agree of. It is another matter, but I've always felt that elephants have a lot in common with humans which is why it has always broken my heart to hear about cases of poaching and animal cruelty. The more I read about it all, the more it tore me apart to know that such amazing creatures could be so brutally targeted by my own species. Sad how you can feel so ashamed of your own kind at times, but I guess some brains are just wired differently.

Something that has come up again and again in conversations are the same questions about how to know if elephants are being treated cruelly, what is cruel treatment, whether elephant riding is okay and so on... Of course I answered all of these as best I could after learning so much firsthand at the sanctuary, but the journalist in me couldn't resist talking to the expert about it all. Lek Chailert is the founder of Elephant Nature Park, and during my week long volunteering at the centre I was lucky enough to meet her and to sit in on a talk she gave about her experiences, her work, Elephant Nature Park, elephant cruelty and tourism, and the future. It was simultaneously fascinating and devastating - within seconds she had the whole room captivated, and in less than five minutes she had the whole room in tears. I have never met anyone so passionate and true to her cause, and I have never felt so inspired by a single person. Lek has achieved so much in the face of great cruelty and adversity, she has never given up on her mission and remains stronger than ever and full of determination to make her dream of freedom for elephants a reality.

A week of volunteering left me desperate to do more and help in any way I can, and my best way of doing this is to write, to photograph, to interview and to share all of this with all of you. I know I have many friends and followers who are big supporters of the volunteering programme, who love elephants and are strongly against animal cruelty, so I thought it would be great to share my interview with Lek on here so that you can all hear firsthand from her of the reasons behind her work. By hearing exactly what is involved in domesticating elephants, you can make a decision for yourself about whether you really want to ride an elephant or participate in elephant tourism. As Lek says herself in the interview, the most important thing is educating people on why it is wrong. I hope very much that you are finding my elephant-themed week on the blog informative and interesting, I hope that you too will feel inspired to help by sharing this post with your friends, family and social media followers - you could be helping to save an elephant out there from being subjected to cruel treatment.

Check out the video below for my full interview with Lek Chailert. 

If you have any questions about Elephant Nature Park or the topics covered in this video, please do leave them below and I'll do my best to answer. I have a final post in keeping with the elephant theme coming up this Friday - focusing on my time as a volunteer and what I thought of the experience.

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imageMy travels have been made up of several incredible, life changing experiences so far, but there is one that has stood out more than any other. The very second I booked my week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park, almost a year before I went travelling, I knew it would be one of my highlights. Now, after I've completed the week, I look back and wonder how any other travelling experience could top it. In just seven days I learnt, saw, experienced so much, it changed my view of the world, gave me a new passion and inspired me to write and share it with you guys. I can't thank the team at the Park enough for letting me be a small part of their mission, and I can't thank all the other wonderful volunteers enough for sharing the experience with me and making it the best it could possibly be. After meeting other travellers along the way and talking to them about elephants used in tourism for riding, shows etc, after hearing about the misinformation they have been fed and believed, it shows that it is more important than ever to educate travellers, holiday makers, tourists, backpackers and everyone else on what is really going on beneath the surface of a booming industry in Thailand and across Asia.Before travelling to Asia, I had read and researched a lot about elephant treatment which influenced my decision to volunteer at ENP instead of any other centre.imageDuring my week there, I learnt far more than I ever did reading, I saw firsthand video footage of mistreatment and torture captured by the founder, Lek, and met elephants that had been rescued from such horrors and heard their stories, saw their wounds. Some had been rescued from logging and had terrible injuries including broken hips from forced breeding, others from tourist camps where they were forced to give rides until their backs broke or were seriously damaged, many were blind from where trainers had stabbed them in the eyes for not complying with orders, others suffered mental illnesses from the extreme torture they had been put through. One story that broke my heart was that of an elephant who was constantly trying to care for and take the baby of another, she was traumatised because her own baby had died. She was forced into logging on steep mountainsides, carrying huge trees and enormous weights every day while pregnant. One day, she went into labour up a hill and when her baby was born it fell down the hill, it died in the amniotic sac and she couldn't save it. They say an elephant never forgets, well her heart won't forget the child that was taken from her through this disgusting treatment and despite it happening years ago, she clearly still lives with that pain everyday.imageThe centre was founded by Lek, who has led a life fuelled by her passion and love for these amazing animals and has dedicated years to campaigning, researching and more. Finally it looks like some governments are starting to listen and take note, but it has been a long hard road for her and her team. The centre started over 20 years ago with just one elephant, Hope, who still lives there today and is the big man of the park, but now they have 44 elephants to take care of. These range from elephants aged one to 80 and all of them have special needs thanks to their injuries, all of them have specific diets and personalities which must be catered for. It is a hard and demanding job, but one of the most rewarding I have come across. One baby elephant at the park is a shining beacon of light for the others and those who work there, Navann is the only elephant at the park who has not gone through the traumatic and horrifying Phajann Ceremony to make them usable for tourism and trade. This means he is a lot more boisterous and cheeky than the rest, but it is lovely to see the freedom and happiness of an elephant who doesn't hold this innate fear thanks to the ceremony.imageThis is something that needs to be clarified for all those who I have spoken to who try to justify elephant riding and tourism, the ones who say the elephants look well treated at that time. Every single elephant used in tourism, for trade or logging has been through a horrific process that can last a week, a month or even longer. The baby elephant is ripped from its mother when it is still immensely vulnerable and needs her care, it is taken away to the jungle where it will go through a process to break the animal's spirit. It is tied up, beaten and terrified, then it is forced into a crush which does exactly what it says on the tin. It is barely big enough for the baby, crushes its body and removes any power and strength it had to move and free itself. It takes away all independence and scares the poor creature beyond anything you could imagine. For days, weeks or even months in some cases - as long as it takes - the creature is shouted at, stabbed with hooks, has pins and nails driven into its flesh, burnt on its head and legs. The elephants is deprived of food, drink and sleep until it conforms to certain behaviours, loses all fight through fear and will eventually perform tricks you seen in shows like elephant painting, climbing through hoops, dancing, elephant riding, the list goes on. Whether they look like they have no obvious injuries at the time doesn't matter, by riding or partaking in these experiences you are funding and supporting years of mistreatment and an industry that still works on the basis of mistreatment.imageI'm not saying that those who have done this are awful people, I too have sat on an elephant, it is just a lack of education that makes us do this. People get caught up in the whole thing and forget to look past the initial excitement. When it comes down to it, most people I asked - just like me - found the elephant riding experience underwhelming and would prefer to have walked beside the beast to appreciate its full beauty. When you know what the ride is doing to the animal - because yes the weight is uncomfortable and can cause injuries for an elephant, especially when you consider that many of them already have bad backs from previous mistreatment and logging. And many of them are being hit by the mahouts, or have slingshots used on them while you are sat atop them, just because you don't see it doesn't mean then aren't doing it. The mahouts know we tourists don't like to see this treatment so they keep it out of sight, and out of our minds. But the problem is that we need to put it in people's minds, at the forefront of their minds when they go travelling, on holiday or visit these exotic countries. Our responsibility to these animals doesn't stop because we are on holiday and on a break from normal life. They are more important than ever.What can we do to help aid the work of Lek and the Elephant Nature Park? Share this post with your friends and family, make them understand what is behind the industry and educate them so they don't support it. So many don't know a lot of this information or have been fed misinformation, help me correct that and make a change.

How do you feel about elephant treatment in Thailand? Is it something you were aware of before reading this post? 

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imageA final part of my journey as booked by the Thai Tourism Agency was a hill tribe trekking experience in Chiang Mai - something I was looking forward to after a few weeks of cycling and walking, it felt good to do some exercise again and I was looking forward to a challenge of hiking through mountainous jungle. Because of this trip, I didn't actually end up spending much time or doing much sightseeing in central Chiang Mai, so I won't write a post on what I haven't experienced when I can tell you all about this instead. When I arrived in the city, I went straight to BMP Backpacker which is a cool little backpacker hangout, a places with private rooms at low to mid prices depending on what you want and the use of a lovely swimming pool in the grounds. It is near one of the Chiang Mai gates and very close to a fabulous food market that opens at night with all kinds of delicious snacks and meals for sale. After a meeting with my hill tribe trekking group about the itinerary for the next day and dinner with some travelling friends at the market, I headed to bed ready for what the next day would bring.imageI had a brilliant group made up of a mixture of German, Australian, Irish, French and Maltese travellers - it was great to have such a diverse group of different ages and travelling experiences and it definitely set us up for a lot of fun. We were put in a van and set out on our journey to the national park near Chiang Mai, with some of the boys feeling a little worse for wear after a big night out it was pretty funny to guess which of them would throw up first. If you've been following my travels on Facebook and Twitter (which you should for all the very latest updates) you'll already know what happened next. As we turned a sharp corner, another van drove straight into ours hitting it head on. None of us had any warning as we couldn't see through the partition between the back and front and luckily there was so many of us lacked in there we couldn't really move from the impact so no one was seriously injured. The other driver's fault, the accident had happened because he drove out at a junction when he wasn't supposed to, despite having seen us driving towards him at high speed, but it was too late, our van was a mess while the other was barely dented. Thanks to the quick work of our tour guide, we climbed into a new van, covered in bruises, just 15-20 minutes later and were on our way. Ironically the whole thing had happened on Friday 13th.imageOnce we reached the national park, we had a quick lunch and set out on our first trek of the three days, through the dried out jungle towards the hills and the village where we would spend our first night. The trekking was pretty easy to be honest, after the 16km hikes I was doing in Khao Sok this was nothing and was nowhere near as interesting because it was firmly the dry season at this point and everything around us was dead and desperately in need of rain. But it was fun with our group and within a few hours we arrived after a pretty steep last climb through smoky hillside where they were burning the jungle for farmland. We could feel the intense heat from the fires in that last section and hoped they had them under control when we saw the wooden huts just a bit higher up the hill.

The village was made up of a collection of huts overlooking the jungle with dried banana leaves forming their roofs and pigs, goats and dogs running around all over the place. It was great, totally remote and just what we were all after. After a sit down and a beer, we went off to explore the higher part of the village and found a local woman weaving, while others farmed. Later, we watched on as the tour guide and villagers prepared our healthy, delicious dinner over a roaring fire inside a wooden hut - gotta love Thai health and safety! The food was fabulous and after we spent a night round the campfire drinking beers to celebrate being alive, our Irish friend's birthday and learning Thai songs like Chang Chang Chang. We spent the night sleeping in a huge communal hut on what was pretty much a wooden floor with a few blankets, rustic and pretty uncomfortable but we woke up ready to start the next adventure.imageThe next day was spent trekking to the next hill tribe, which was actually the home of our very own tour guide, so that we could have lunch before beginning the next part of our journey. We hiked an easy route - except for the slippery, steep ascent at the end - and arrived at a beautiful wooden hut overlooking the fields and rice paddies, with smoke-encircled mountains I. The distance. Stopping for some noodles, we enjoyed a rest and the amazing panoramic view from the platform before continuing down the hill, into the village and onwards towards the jungle and our stop for the night. That night we spent eating more amazing food at the base of a stunning waterfall. We had low expectations considering the dry season, but this one was in full flow and a welcome treat after a sweaty last section of the hike.

Several beers and a campfire later, someone decided a midnight skinny dip was in order and we all headed bravely, or stupidly, into the water which was bloody freezing! After warming up by the fire we headed to bed where I slept in a bamboo hut by myself for the night - at least until I woke up with three cats spooning me, no idea where they came from as the door was firmly shut the whole night. Our final day was spent rafting around the river, which although low had enough water for us to enjoy, have water fights with locals and to race each other. This was followed by elephant riding, which I refused to do (see my later elephant posts) and actually after explaining why to my fellow trekkers there were only three people who bothered to do it out of over ten of us. It just shows that education can make a change. We spent time feeding the elephants instead.imageHeading back to civilisation, some were heading off straight away on the next leg of their journey, while I had the evening to relax before heading off to the Elephant Nature Park the next morning. We all had a fantastic time on the trip, and although it was a little disappointing because it didn't really feel like the jungle with it being the dry season, it was a fun experience and worth doing. We had an amazing group who still keep in touch and although I'm not sure of the exact cost as it was booked in a larger package for me, it can't have been a very expensive trip - well worth it for the experience, just don't expect any difficult hiking.

Have you been hill tribe trekking - what did you think? Where else in the world would you recommend for trekking? 

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imageAfter spending a few days exploring Ayutthaya, I was ready to move on and see how Sukhothai compared in grandeur. I wasn't disappointed, it had its own beauty that separated sightseers from the main roads and invited then into a beautiful natural park with temples set around a lake. Being much smaller than Ayutthaya, it didn't take long to get my bearings and after my first night relaxing in the guest house, I headed into the park to grab my bike and a map ready for a day of exploring history. Thanks to the smart woman at the Thai Tourism Agency, who organised this section of my trip, I was staying at a guest house right opposite the entrance to the park which was really helpful as I know that many of them are further away in the newer town. It was really helpful being so close, and I just felt you had a different experience when you slept with that much history on your doorstep.imageI stayed at Vitoon Guest House which has two halves, it has a slightly newer section that offers air conditioned rooms and slightly better facilities or the cheaper rooms I stayed in which to be quite honest were more than adequate for me. I had my own double bed, a fan and ensuite, which although wasn't luxury served a purpose and was pretty nice for a backpacker who is used to hostels. Those on holiday or travelling as a couple may have been less than impressed, but would also have more to spend on fancy accommodation even if you spend no time in the room. The family who ran it were friendly and helpful, there were a row of restaurants right next door and the guest house rented out better quality bikes than I had used in Aytthyaya. What more could a girl need?imageBy this point I was getting pretty used to cycling everywhere and was loving it, I loved how free you felt cycling around the park by yourself and it was definitely one of those times where I was grateful to be travelling solo just to have some well-deserved time to myself. It was so peaceful exploring the park and I made the smart decision to get up super early and have breakfast as the sun came up so I could be in the park before the crowds arrived. There are about four or five sections to the park and the first one you come to is the middle section, this gets really busy late morning when the buses of tourists pull up and they end up pretty crowded. I hate crowded temples, this is why I like sightseeing by myself, I love to walk around in quiet places and really get a feel for a place - it's impossible to do this with hundreds of tourists jostling for the best photo opportunity and failing to appreciate the beauty of what they are seeing firsthand.imageIf you're the same as me, I would recommend heading into the park by 9am at the latest so you have time to enjoy the centre, this way you can move further into the park and explore the other sections around midday and into the afternoon. Make sure you take snacks as out in these sections there is nowhere to buy food or water, I always took peanuts and water which I found were good for an energy boost. It is also worth taking a guide book as well as your map - I had the Lonely Planet Thailand book which gave some really good background on the temples I was visiting and recommended the most spectacular ones. I actually found that the route I had chosen to take around the temples was one that a group from my bus were paying for as a cycling tour so I saved myself a few quid there. They were also pretty impressed I seemed to know more about the temples than they were learning as well - definitely worth a quick trip to the museum before visiting the temples, although you can also find a lot of information online as well - it really helps to contextualise what you are seeing.imageIt depends on what you go there for, but I definitely preferred having three days of exploring completely new sections of the kingdom like I had in Ayutthaya. I still had an amazing time and I can't recommend visiting enough - I would say that if you have two or three days you should definitely go for Ayutthaya, but if you have just the one day it is better spent at Sukhothai. If you have enough time, please do go to both like I did - trust me, you gain a completely different experience from each. My favourite moment while I was there, had to be when I cycled back into the park at sunset to watch the last rays of the day cast over the still waters of the lakefront Wat Maha That as the sun dipped behind another temple across the lake. I had the whole place to myself but I couldn't understand why - it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen while travelling. Don't miss out.image

 

Have you been to Sukhothai - what did you think? What was your highlight of the visit? How did it compare to Ayutthaya? 

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