A glass of cheap local whisky loose in my hand, I am deep in conversation with a group of travellers, bundled up close to a flickering campfire. A mix of nationalities, some of the group I have known for weeks and some only a couple of hours yet our mutual adoration of travel and adventure has bonded us instantly and we are all smiles, the conversation flowing effortlessly. I am 22 years old and two months into an epic 8-month long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Life is very good indeed and my new nomadic and unperturbed lifestyle is a welcome change after a difficult past year living in London.
Indonesia was one of my favourite countries travelling SE Asia, and that was mainly because there was so much to do and with so much variety. From delicious beaches to jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery, to action-packed activities, Indonesia seemed to have it all. And fortunately for us, we had a good chunk of time to spend exploring the culture-rich country. Java, home to the Country’s capital Jakarta, was a real treat to explore and we spent almost 2 weeks discovering every nook and crevice (well, not really, but it sure felt like it!).
I was extremely excited to head over to the Philippines 6 months into our travels. It seemed to be off the typical Southeast Asia ‘banana pancake’ trail and I’d heard through the grapevine that it had a completely unique vibe. But I had been warned that Boracay, known as the party spot of the Philippines was extremely busy and touristy. So, I mentally prepared myself for the ‘Brits abroad’ type of tourist, or perhaps a similar crowd that frequent Thailand’s full moon parties on a regular basis.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, Boracay was definitely a tourist hotspot. But, it seemed to be a tourist hotspot for those living in the Philippines and other countries in Asia, which was definitely new to me! So after settling into our hostel (MNL beach hostel – which was pretty good), I was keen to grab a beer and get to know some of the locals.
As soon as I arrived in the incredible city-state of Singapore, gazing up at the teeming skyscrapers and marveling at the fast-paced hustle of my surroundings, I was eager to explore. However after months spent indulging on the likes of £3 foot massages in Thailand and huge cheap-as-chips exotic spreads of food in Laos, when we arrived in Singapore things seemed… not so cost-efficient.
On a pretty strict travel budget, me and my travel buddies made sure to try our very best not to spend too much in Singapore. Here’s how we did it:
Our time spent in Malaysia consisted of visiting some really cool places, including the likes of the lush jungles of Taman Negara and the bustling atmospheric city of Kuala Lumpur. However, my favourite spot in Malaysia were the idyllic Perhentian Islands, hands down. Why was this, you may ask?
To put it quite simply, the small grouping of islands situated off the coast of Northeast Malaysia are absolute postcard perfect paradise.
Whilst planning my Southeast Asia trip, I have to admit that the idea of visiting Myanmar hadn’t even crossed my mind. I didn’t really know much about the country and in all honesty, my initial perceptions of it was that it was quite dangerous for tourists to visit. Of course, I was completely wrong.
However as I became more familiar with travelling Southeast Asia and I met more and more travellers who could only sing Myanmar’s praises, I became increasingly keen to visit this country that sounded so fascinating, so intriguingly different to anywhere else I’d heard of. I had been told that now is prime time to visit, as it is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that isn’t teeming with tourists, fast food outlets and commerciality. And being the curious little explorer that I am, I sure didn’t want to miss out!
I toyed with the idea for a while. It wasn’t originally part of my plan, so my time there would be limited, or I would have to sacrifice plans in other parts of Southeast Asia. As well as that, my friends weren’t willing to pay for the extra visa costs and flights to get there, and one downfall of the country being so uninterrupted by tourists meant that it would be harder to meet other backpackers.
But when did that stop me? With good timing, I made a plan to go with someone I had met back in Laos and we decided to go for 2 weeks. I usually spend about 3-4 weeks in each country in Southeast Asia, so I knew it would be a challenge to see everything I wanted in just 2 weeks. Here’s how we crammed it all in.
First of all, let me say that contrary to a lot of chitter chatter between some travellers (but usually from people who haven’t actually been to Thailand), I really don’t think partying is all there is to Thailand or even the main aspect of it. In fact, each time I’ve visited I’ve become swept up and fascinated by the rich culture and the stunning natural beauty of the country.
But, there’s no denying that Thailand boasts a lot of fantastic spots to enjoy a tequila sunrise (or five) and to dance the night away, and that is exactly what I did during my visit this year. Quite a few times! And compared to some countries I’ve visited on my Southeast Asia trip where I barely drank at all, Thailand is definitely the country I’ve partied the most in. And with its paradise beach islands, affordable booze, bustling cities and friendly locals it’s not hard to see why. So, here are my top spots to let your hair down in Thailand, enjoy!
I would call myself an adventurous person. I crave that adrenaline rush, whether it’s from riding a ridiculous 10-loop rollercoaster, swimming side-by-side with terrifying-looking sea creatures or speeding on the back of a motorbike. But when I agreed to go ‘canyoning’ with my friends whilst travelling through Dalat, a central highland city in Vietnam, I must admit I was pretty damn nervous. The name alone sounded alarming and I could visualize myself falling into jagged rocks pushed by huge, uncontrollable spurts of water and plummeting dramatically to my peril. The fact that we had met a girl a few days previous of our canyoning outing in Mui Ne who had passed out whilst canyoning and suffered from a rather worrying leg injury certainly didn’t help my concern.
Mui Ne is a charming little spot in Southern Vietnam, mostly known for its unlikely sand dunes. We stayed for a couple of nights, although I feel that Mui Ne can be easily and thoroughly explored in just one day and night, depending on how jam-packed you like your days to be!
Where we were staying, Mui Ne Backpackers Village, you could join a tour for $7 to take you to the best attractions in the area. However, we very cheekily decided to copy their itinerary and do it ourselves on rental mopeds. This allowed us to explore at our own pace and was also more cost-efficient – bonus!
This itinerary for us was in fact spread throughout a couple of days, but here’s how I would fit it all into one day and night.
I’m not sure exactly what I had expected before visiting Vietnam on a one-month tourist visa. Clichéd visions of beaming locals donning rice paddy hats and the stunning limestone islands of Halong bay sprung to mind perhaps. All I really knew was that I had heard many great things about the country and it had rapidly risen to the top of my list of countries to visit in South East Asia.
What I was not expecting was just how different parts of the country looked from one another, and how often I felt like I wasn’t even in Vietnam at all! So I thought it might be quite fun to do a little comparison photo blog post likening some of the different countries I felt Vietnam bore some similarity to.