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 twenty-two years old and two months into an epic eight-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.
As my time in Sydney and Australia slowly draws to a close, I’ve already started reflecting on my life here. All in all, it’s been an absolutely incredible and memorable year, full of wonderful highs as well as some heart-breaking lows (which usually involved me having to say goodbye to some of the amazing people I’ve met out here). I came to Sydney straight from travelling South-East Asia for 8 months, knackered from non-stop moving about and not entirely convinced that setting up in a city on the opposite side of the world from London, my home, was really a great idea. My friends I was travelling with were going back to England, and due to some health issues I had towards the end of my trip I wasn’t really in the mood to start afresh and make new friends.
Yet the opportunity was there, and I didn’t want to have any regrets so I swallowed my doubts and powered on. Turns out it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, I’ve met some really incredible people and my year here has been one of the best ever. And as I write this, I feel slightly sick to the stomach that soon I’ll be leaving this beautiful country.
Sydney has been my home in Australia for 10 months and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. The city is full of lively suburbs, incredible beaches and memorable spots that I will always hold close to my heart. Here are some that really stood out for me.
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.
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.
Oh Koh Rong, where do I even start? This small Cambodian island is about an hour’s ferry ride away from Sihanoukville on the mainland, and after hearing great things from many other backpackers, me and my travel buddies had been keen to check out the island for a long time. And boy were we impressed!
Back mid-February, as our boat pulled into the docks of Koh Rong, it immediately became blindingly obvious that I’d be enjoying myself there. The water was a dazzling hue of aqua-blue, the sand looked luxuriously soft and white and the teeny-tiny shops and restaurants along the beachfront were buzzing with backpackers. But that was just the beginning.
When I think about my time in Sihanoukville, I struggle to come to a conclusion on how I feel about the place. Described in the lonely planet as the party capital of Cambodia, I didn’t expect too much. Beaches, bars and booze – yup that’s basically what we got. After pretty much travelling mainland throughout our trip, at the sight of seeing a stretch of sand and some sea we were all keen for some sun and swimming. But whether I liked Sihanoukville or not? I’m still not sure. So, here’s what I thought of Sihanoukville; the partying and the beaches, which is, in a nutshell, all there is to do there!
After successfully completing the Laos Thakhek bike loop, some of the group decided to head down South for some chill time in Si Phan Don, more commonly known as ‘Four thousand islands’. We stayed on one of the more popular islands, Don Det, which is still a tiny little place very much backpacker orientated with a cool hippy vibe. We were there for four nights but again like in Pai in Northern Thailand, when I look back at our time spent there I struggle to pinpoint exactly what we got up to! It is very much a place to hammock-dwell with little planned. Many travellers we met said they had ended up spending a lot longer there than anticipated, simply enjoying the sunshine and having a chance to relax without rushing around doing activities and excursions.
So, what exactly did we do?