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!
I’m going to put it out there. Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, has been my least favourite place I’ve visited during my Southeast Asia adventures so far. It may be that I’m biased as I am a bit sick of huge cities by now, having spent most my life living in London. Or it may be that we simply overstayed there, visiting for 3 nights (a rookie mistake!). Or maybe Phnom Penh is just a ‘love it or hate it’ type of place, as I have met people who really enjoyed their visit there, happily embracing the hectic madness of the city.
So, to show that travelling isn’t all lounging on white sand beaches and meeting lovely friendly locals wanting to exchange tales about their country, I think it’s also pretty important to highlight some of the places that didn’t feel so amazing. The places that you wouldn’t rush back to visit again in a hurry.
Battambang, a city a couple of hours’ drive away from Siem Reap is a spot that is often left out from a typical traveller’s itinerary of Cambodia, overshadowed by the spotlight of the temples of Angkor and the bustle of Phnom Penh. However, after reading up about it in my trusty lonely planet guide, I was pretty keen to at least spend one full day there to explore the town’s surroundings.
We hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day (only $18 between 6 of us!) and we did indeed have a great day out. There was certainly lots to do. We spent the day journeying on a bamboo train, exploring various different temples, wandering through a vineyard and visiting a former interrogation centre and ‘killing caves’. These were used by the Khmer Rouge back in the 70s and although it was sad to see and learn about, it was also very interesting.
But it was something else that really for the first time during our trip honestly left me open-mouthed. Bats leaving their cave for the night. Literally millions and millions of them!
For our first stop in Cambodia, we travelled straight to Siem reap with the remaining members of our Thakhek loop gang we had met in Laos. The predominant reason most people visit Siem Reap is to check out the magnificent ancient temples of Angkor, and many will agree that no trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit.
Warning: This post is very image heavy!
Laos has so far been one of the most beautiful countries I’ve visited on my travels. Throughout our three weeks spent there, I was constantly having to reach for my camera to take a quick snap of my surroundings. So, to celebrate the beauty of the lovely country that is Laos in all its glory, I thought I’d put together a photo post of the 25 most stunning views I came across. Enjoy!
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.
After spending a good few weeks in Thailand it was time to enter Laos, and I was pretty excited to say the least. I had looked forward to beautiful landscapes, learning about a new culture and getting involved in the vast amount of activities on offer (including the infamous tubing in Vang Vieng!)
After a two day slow boat journey through Laos, we finally ended up in Luang Prabang. The cultured city is renowned for its world class French food, its atmospheric night markets and the gorgeous Kuang Si waterfalls. On our second day in Luang Prabang, we decided to visit said waterfalls. I had seen friends’ photos of the falls and had seen posters of them plastered all over the town, but I was absolutely blown away as soon as I set eyes upon them.
A three hour drive from busy Chiang Mai, the relaxed hippy town of Pai in Thailand is a much more laid back affair. When people have asked me what there is to do in Pai, I have to stop and think for a bit as nothing really springs to mind immediately. We stayed for 6 nights and spent a lot of our time relaxing, eating (of course) and exploring the small town and its surroundings. To be honest after a lot of crammed days and late night partying in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, some chill time was very much welcomed!