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.
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.
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.
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?
We had been told about the legendary Laos Motorbiking Loop from friends we had made back in Pai, but for some reason had brushed the idea aside. However when we met a group of like-minded travellers whilst tubing in Vang Vieng, we were very easily persuaded to shake up our original plans and embark on a 5-day detour partaking in ‘the loop’. The famous round trip lasts approximately 500km, and most riders tend to visit many of the sights along the way and stop off at tiny local villages overnight. We were a large group with a couple of less experienced drivers so had decided to spend a leisurely 5 days journeying the loop, although many finish it in 4 or even 3 days.
I wasn’t driving myself and instead was lucky enough to be able to hop on the back of my best friend Sophie’s bike. For that reason, my expertise on how difficult or extreme the actual driving route is quite limited, but I’ll give my thoughts on the ride and will mention some of the lovely sights we saw on our trip. Below I’ve included a copy of the map we were given of our route when renting our bikes.
When I’d previously mentioned that I’d be travelling Laos to people of a similar age group, the first thing they would tend to ask was if I’d be going tubing in Vang Vieng. Tubing in Vang Vieng basically involves floating down the Nam Song river during the day, surrounded by gorgeous scenery whilst stopping off at various bars drinking yourself into utter oblivion.
Over the years, I had read news stories and heard some rather interesting tales of the day-drinking phenomenon. Previously there had been a lot more bars open and tubing-related deaths were not uncommon. However the Laotian government made some huge changes in 2012, making tubing much safer and more controlled. With these recent changes, I was keen to check it out myself, despite the negativity surrounding it in the press. And as a Brit who enjoys the occasional (ahem) day drinking session, there was no denying that a day spent on a river stopping off at bamboo bars for frozen vodka slushies sounded tempting to say the least.