Surfing in a cyclone (kind of) in Byron Bay

After a 13 hour night bus we arrived in Byron Bay a little dazed and confused. Who’d have thought that you’d get more sleep on the night buses in Southeast Asia with their fully reclining seats? Amazingly there was someone from the hostel waiting to give us a lift so we didn’t have to walk to the hostel – result. They gave us a mini tour of the town along the way which was handy, even in our tired state. The three of us checked in and managed to book two extra nights which was really lucky; if we’d headed further north we’d have been stuck in cyclone Debbie! This ‘surf n stay’ was our first experience in our Oz experience cruiser package so we got one night accommodation for ‘free’, a surf lesson, breakfast and dinner. So we booked our surf lesson for the next morning and walked into town to explore and get some food supplies.

I really liked the atmosphere in Byron, a small and vibrant surfer town, with lots of hippy clothing shops and cute independent eateries. Like the typical backpackers we are however, we headed straight to Aldi to get lunch and other supplies instead, including an ice-cream for the walk back to the hostel in the sun. As the hostel was right on the beachfront, we made sandwiches and headed out onto the beach to eat them and soak up some rays. Below is a photo of the lovely beach. That evening we had a barbecue provided by the hostel, made some friends with some German backpackers and played cards.

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Byron Bay isn’t too shabby

The next morning we had our included surf school breakfast of toast and cereal and got into our swimmers ready for our surf lesson. If you’re wondering what the conditions were like for our lesson, our instructor described the waves as ‘teachable’ and the pouring rain that accompanied this was in fact the tail end of cyclone Debbie. Great. We were all first time surfers so we were daunted by this but still determined to have a decent go at it anyway. We plodded down to the beach with the boards and had a pep talk teaching up how to stand up on the board. I can safely say it’s a lot easier when you’re stationary on sand! As I couldn’t wear my glasses I had to leave them on the beach but because it was pelting it down with rain nobody else could really see that much more than me. It was fun but a lot of work – if I want to be a professional surfer I’d need probably 90% more arm strength than I currently possess! I sadly didn’t get to stand up fully, more of a crouch, but Rhianna did and I think Katie did too. Though for me the hardest bit was battling against the waves to get back into the sea! I definitely want to try again in calmer weather though.

When we got back to the hostel, everyone else was sheltering undercover or inside and looked at us like we were mad! Strangely it was warmer in the sea than on the beach (only in Oz!) so we all really needed a long hot shower to warm up. Funny story, I did get stung by a jellyfish on my hand (if you’re wondering no-one had to wee on it! 🙈), all it needed was to be run under really hot water in the shower to bring out the sting. It was a bit sore for the next couple of days but I survived to tell the tale.

That evening we went to get our free meal from the surf school. Usually the hostel put on a food option like the barbecue we had the previous evening, but tonight it was a meal out in a bar called Cheeky Monkeys. It was still raining so we got the shuttle bus (yes this bar had it’s own shuttle bus) and we got to order what we wanted off the menu and the surf school paid for it, and we got some free drinks vouchers too. I had a huge basket of calamari and chips, Katie had a massive burger, and Rhianna went big with a steak. We were all happy and pretty full in no time. We headed back to the hostel to make ourselves more presentable before getting the bus again to make the most of our free drink vouchers. At this point the wind was picking up and the rain wasn’t stopping either. We carried on with our evening, having some free fizz and a bit of a dance.

When we decided it was time to go back to the hostel, we got our raincoats from the cloakroom and headed out into the deluge. Debbie had definitely arrived! It was raining so hard that by the time we were under shelter a few metres down the road, we were completely soaked. The main crossroads in the town centre was flooded, so to cross we had to wade through the shin-height water to get to the other side! It was crazy. The funny thing was that the next day everything had drained and you’d never have know it was flooded at all!

 

Wading back to the hostel
So much water!

However, flooding further up the coast in meant we were having difficulty booking our experiences, particularly Fraser Island and the Whitsundays. So as there was a Greyhound office in Byron, we headed there to try and get things sorted. It turns out that the head office in Brisbane was also shut due to flooding so we had to make a few trips to get everything booked when the office re-opened. We used the rubbish weather to our advantage and sorted out as many buses as we could using the computers in the office and eventually we managed to get our Fraser Island trip and Whitsundays trip for the dates we wanted – phew!

 

We also made use of the cinema that doubled/tripled up as a brewery and an arts centre! We went to see Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams; whilst it definitely wasn’t a laugh a minute film, the acting was good and it was poignant and well executed.

Our last night in Byron was a more relaxed affair. We made spag bol and chilled out in front of the telly. Katie and Rhianna went to the beach for a walk but weren’t out for long as it was apparently pretty scary in the pitch black. The next morning we checked out of the hostel but we still had a few hours to kill before our coach up to Brisbane. Luckily this wasn’t cancelled because they’d just re-opened the highway. As it wasn’t pouring with rain we went on a walk up along the coast to the lighthouse.

Heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags, we walked into town and stopped by the bakery on the way to the bus stop. I had a delicious carrot cake slice, yum. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed Byron Bay, despite Debbie paying us a visit!

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To the lighthouse

Chapter two: arriving in Aus!

A long day and night of travelling and a delayed flight behind us, we arrived in Sydney! After being in Southeast Asia for the past month it was strange to be somewhere that seemed familiar – there was a WHSmith in arrivals and a big poster with the Queen’s face all over it! We headed into the city on the train, getting ourselves an Opal card (Oyster card equivalent) so we could get about for the next few days. Our hostel ‘790 on George’ was just around the corner from central station, funnily enough on George Street, so it wasn’t too difficult to find. We couldn’t check in yet as we were there too early so we dumped our bags and went for a wander. All three of us were pretty tired from our overnight flight and all we wanted to do was sleep, but we needed to power through to make the most of our time in Sydney.

The weather wasn’t particularly nice considering we all thought Aus was going to be gloriously sunny all the time! Instead the skies were grey, the temperature cool and accompanied by the occasional drizzle of rain. Safe to say Katie in particular was not happy! We walked through Tumbalong Park (great name) where there was a festival going on – lots of food stalls, music and people soaking up the atmosphere. We went to see what was going on and it turned out to be a Thai festival which was hilarious considering that’s exactly where we’d just arrived from! I couldn’t even comprehend buying anything from the food stalls knowing how much cheaper the food was in Thailand. Continuing towards Darling Harbour we walked along the waterfront. We had a few things to pick up so we went to the Harbourside Shopping Centre for a bit of retail therapy. It was here that we discovered the a clothes shop called Cotton On and the amazing Typo (a shop that is basically Paperchase and therefore I wanted everything they sold). After a while looking around the shops we got peckish and looked for some lunch. I settled on some yummy chicken pittas from a place that was similar to Nandos. It was strange going from the dirt cheap prices of southeast Asia as everything seemed like too much money, but obviously we just had to get used to Australian prices. It also felt strange to not stand out as much as tourists (apart from the accent) and not be approached by people trying to sell you something every five seconds.

The following day was more like what we expected from Australian weather as it was hot and sunny again. Thankfully the weather was nowhere near as humid as Southeast Asia so the heat was a lot more bearable. After a nice lie-in we took this opportunity to take the ferry over from Circular Quay to Manly Island, which my lovely mum recommended as you get the best view of the Opera House. Moreover we picked the right day to go because on Sundays all travel using Opal cards is capped at $2.50 which included the ferry journey, brilliant. Evidently everyone else had the same idea as us because when we got to the ferry terminal there was a huuuge queue stretching on and on – we were very lucky as we were the last people to be let on the boat. Here’s the fab view of the Opera House I snapped from the boat, with not a cloud in sight:

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We spent a lovely day on Manly Island perusing the craft market, choosing new sunglasses for Katie, walking along the promenade looking at the sea, getting ice cream and picnic things from the supermarket and eating under a tree with the beach right in front of us. The weather was brilliant so Katie was happy again! On the way back we caught the ferry just in time to see sunset as we were heading back into the harbour. I was so lucky to get the beautiful picture below, it really looks like the sun is coming out of the bridge:

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The next day in Sydney was also a glorious one, and today we had decided to head out of the city to the Blue Mountains, getting the train out to Katoomba and walking through the town to see the Three Sisters. Along the way we did a supermarket stop to pick up some fruit snacks and sandwich stuff for lunch. It was about a half an hour walk from the train station to the Queen Elizabeth lookout, but it was certainly worth it for the views!

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Here you can see the Three Sisters and a tiny stretch of the national park. The eucalyptus gives the trees the blue colour you can see, hence the name of the mountains. We took in the view and had our lunch looking out across the mountains – lush! We then did a cliff walk along to the funicular (I think that’s what it was), pausing at different viewpoints  along the way for photos and to look at the amazing views. At the end of the walk the sun was starting to set so we decided to head back to the train, but not before we payed a quick visit to this pretty waterfall we found.

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So it was our final day in Sydney. We did a quick look around the shops in the town centre, getting a jumper for Rhianna before using our Opal cards once more, getting the bus out of the city to Bondi Beach. To be honest I’m not sure why it’s as famous as it is. Although the weather wasn’t the best, it was a little grey and chilly, it looked like a beach that could have easily been in the UK. There were lots of surfer shops and cafes: we went for a coffee in a cafe called Swell that had old silver teapots on each table with cutlery and napkins – super cute.

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We headed back to Sydney city centre and went straight to an area called Newtown for dinner. We had heard great things about this vegan restaurant called ‘Lentil as Anything’ from someone we met on our travels in Vietnam (shout out to Bianca!) so we had to go and try it. There was a queue outside and everyone dined together, squeezed in whatever space possible, and that the menu changes daily depending on who is in the kitchen. The idea is that you pay what you can afford, supporting the refugee community – great stuff. Here’s a slightly blurry photo of the scrummy curry plate I had:

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We had time for a quick drink at a rooftop bar, where I also learned what a schooner is (essentially a half pint), before we got the train back into the centre in time for our night bus up the coast to Byron Bay.

Man down, changed plans and no more Ha Long Bay

So we’d all had a great time in Phong Nha National Park and as planned we had booked a night bus to get us up to Hanoi and then to Halong Bay for our last remaining days in Vietnam. However, a few hours before our bus was due to leave disaster stuck(!) as I suddenly felt really ill and ended up throwing up… Safe to say I wasn’t getting on a night bus!  Luckily the woman in the hostel was lovely and looked after us as soon as she took one look at me. She gave us a discounted private twin room for the night and had my bag taken to the room for me as well as managing to move our bus tickets to the following night for no extra charge. I really didn’t want to be in a dorm room when I was unwell so this was a blessing, and we were running out of time to get to Hanoi so unfortunately this meant I had to skip out Halong Bay.

Katie however did go on the night bus to Hanoi with Bianca and Tom as she really really wanted to see Halong Bay, and Rhianna kindly stayed behind with me. Although I didn’t have the best night for obvious reasons, checkout the next day was at 12 so I was able to have a lie in and not worry about disturbing other people too. 

Thankfully the next day I felt much better and managed some jam and toast for breakfast (despite being very jealous of Rhianna’s huge stack of pancakes I did restrain myself). We wondered what to do with our day as most places you need a motorbike or car to see but we decided to rent bikes and go for a leisurely bike ride. This turned out to be a great idea and we cycled along the river through the national park towards the Botanical Gardens. Here’s a snap from a sun cream and water stop:

Visiting Marble Mountains and the beautiful Phong Nha National Park

Our original plan was to go from Hoi An to Hue and then up again to Hanoi but we decided to go with  Rico, Bianca and Tom to the Phong Nha national park – home to the world’s largest cave that has its own ecosystem in and Asia’s longest cave! The discovery of these cave systems are relatively recent so who knows what else is in there somewhere? 

Anyway, back to Hoi An for a minute. The five of us got the 
bus to Danag together. Getting on was much easier than getting off as the conductor essentially threw  people on and off the bus! On our arrival we looked at a map for a nearby hostel and headed there with the intention of leave our heavy bags there for the day before our train that night. We had a quick stop for a drink before the others rented motorbikes and went for a drive and the three of us went to the marble mountians.


The Marble Mountains themselves were really cool, and as you might be able to guess they were mountains made of marble. You could get a lift up to the top of the mountain before exploring pagodas and caves with huge Buddhas. So we were looking around and the three of us got effectively ambushed by a whole class of Vietnamese students who wanted photos with us and to interview us for their project on foreigners! Questions ranged from what do you think of the weather here to what are your dreams! They left us very bemused and confused. We felt like the attraction instead!

We headed back to the city for dinner at an average vegetarian restaurant before meeting the others back at the hostel, collecting our bags and heading to the train station.

After negotiating the busy train station and almost boarding the wrong train, we were on our way to Phong Nha. Unfortunately the train was probably the worst train I have ever been on: it was smelly and dirty, with rags instead of curtains. Lush. Thankfully it wasn’t a long journey so going to sleep made it better. At least we had soft seats rather than hard seats.

We arrived from Danang at 5:30am and we walked very sleepily across the town to the bus station to get transport into the national park. The six of us lay across the bus station waiting room seats waiting for the first bus. When it was finally time to go the bus took another hour to get to our final destination. We jumped off, got to our hostel and ordered big breakfasts all round.

Rico was catching a flight the next morning from Danag (where we’d just come from) so it turned out he could only spend half a day with us before he had to leave 😧 we tried to make the most of it by exploring the small town and trying to see the Phong Nha cave. Unfortunately the trip would take too long so we had to skip that for the moment, and just went for lunch/smoothies instead in a great cafe called Bamboo.

Soon it came time to say bye to Rico and we waved him off onto his bus. The remaining five of us then went back to the cave and did the boat tour through the cave. It was awesome to see inside though we were getting super tired on the boat as we had basically not slept the night before. Here’s a snap of the boat and caves :

Nha Trang then onto Hoi An (rhyming unintentional!)

Waking up in Nha Trang we had breakfast on the rooftop looking across the town. Unfortunately  everything seemed to have eggs in it so I had tofu with tomatoes and green beans for breakfast – unexpected but better than I thought! We went to the beach and lay under a palm tree for the day. It was nice but it was so hot and it was pretty sad to see lots of plastic in the sea. Later on, to get a break from the heat we got some pizza between us for lunch and I had a tiramisu flavour ice cream too which was incredible!


Later in the day we headed back to the hostel to de-sand and shower before our night bus. I sadly had to leave my converse behind as they had come to the end of their life and smelt awfully of the lake we went canyoning in. Not a pretty smell so it had to be 😦 
—- Hoi An —-

The night bus we took from Nha Trang was a bit of a mixed experience for the three of us. It seemed fine to me as I went to sleep straight away and didn’t really wake up much. However, Katie and Rhianna were slightly concerned when the bus kept stopping every few minutes. The driver would get off, make some banging noises and get back on the bus wiping oil from his hands – eek! I think the phrase ignorance is bliss comes into play here as I had no clue this was going on!

Anyway, we eventually arrived in Hoi An safe and sound early in the morning around half 6. Bleary-eyed we found an open cafe for some tea and to search for a hostel as we didn’t have one booked for that evening. In hindsight I have to say we lucked out as we stayed in Tribee Kin which turned out to be one of my favourite hostels on the trip so far. It was the right balance of chilled and sociable, with clean rooms, no bunk beds and they had some super cute puppies too. If you’re ever in Hoi An I’d thoroughly recommend. 

So we now had a hostel, next it was time to explore what the place is known for, its Old Town. We walked down passed loads of tailor shops and old buildings to the river.


That evening we dined in the market, eating super tasty and super cheap noodles as pictured below. We were crammed round this lady’s food stall on tiny chairs as she cooked the food in front of us whilst also trying to fit in as many customers as possible.

We spent quite a few days in Hoi An which was lovely as it’s such a nice town. I’m our hostel we bumped into Bianca and Tom again who we’d met in Dalat, and Rico who we’d met in Saigon and again in Dalat also joined us the day after. 

We rented bikes for the dayfrom our hostel and braved the roads to get to the hidden beach. This tuned out to be not so hidden but it was lush all the same 🙈


As you can see there were sun umbrellas and loungers so Rhianna and I in particular were pretty happy in the heat! We also stopped on the way back into town in this amazing bakery where I had an incredible sandwich (sausage, caramelised onions, tomato and mustard on ciabatta bread: YUM) 

As well as the beautiful lanterns, Hoi An is also known for its tailor shops, and after a lot of consideration I decided to get a playsuit made and Katie got a jumpsuit made too. After choosing the fabric, the shape and getting measured, the tailors set to work. I had to go back a couple of times over the next few days to get adjustments but this is the finished result:


Overall I really loved Hoi An and I would definitely recommend a visit! 

Canyoning out of my comfort zone 

All things considered our bus to Dalat wasn’t actually too bad. This was our first night bus so it seems like an adventure. Coaches in South East Asia allocate you certain seats when you book so you don’t have a choice where you sit, much to my delight after being told we were right at the very back (woo travel sickness). But in reality once I was asleep this made no difference thank goodness! We had three out of five red seats at the back which were pretty packed in and reclined to your chosen degree (my seat did get a little stuck but we got there in the end). I put my headphones in and eye mask on and was ready for the journey. 

The only thing that wasn’t so great was how early we arrived: there’s not much open at 4:30am! We found some wifi to get our hostel address as well as using the brilliant offline map app Maps.Me that has come in handy countless times on this trip. We started walking towards our destination in the dark and by the time we arrived it was light because it gets light so quickly. We did have a bit of a navigation issue and Rhianna hurt her foot tripping over a metal pipe sticking out of the ground, but we got there eventually! It’s now 6am and we’re greeted with Vietanmese tea and biscuits and sleepily got shown to our room. Safe to say we clambered straight into bed and fell straight to sleep.

We had a gloriously long nap before heading out to explore and see the Crazy House, a Gaudi-esque creation. On our way we realised we should probably eat so found a restaurant  busy with locals and filled up on delicious beef noodles and chicken fried rice before continuing on to the crazy house. In my guidebook it was described as ‘if Gaudi and Tolkien dropped acid together’ and I can see why! 


That evening we had a family dinner with the other two people in our hostel. It was a proper spread of Spring rolls and rice with noodle broth. Here’s a snap of the food :


Went to get ready and meet our friend Rico that we’d met in Saigon but we got temporarily locked in the hostel(!)  So had to email the manager to let us out – more of a palava than we planned. Awkwardly we had to do the same when we came back as were then locked out! Not the best when you advertise yourself as a hostel without a curfew, not that we were out too late anyway. We met Rico and some other people from his hostel and went to this place called Maze bar with which is indescribable. It really was like a maze with stairs and ladders going up and down leading anywhere and everywhere, it was so cool! You really had to make sure you didn’t lose your friends though because you definitely wouldn’t find them again. We had a fun evening exploring the maze and on the way back we shared some cake from the bakery on the way back to the hostel, top end to an evening 👍

Dalat is famous for its adventure trips – canyoning, cycling, hiking – and in a mad moment I agreed to go canyoning the next day. So we got up early, along with the other two people in our hostel who had booked on too, and had a bleary eyed breakfast of warm bread and homemade strawberry jam before getting picked up in a mini van and taken to our destination. We were bundled out of the van at the side of the road (not as bad as it sounds!) and given all the equipment we needed: an oversized wetsuit, harness, knee pads, life jacket and helmet 👌 They briefed us on what was going to happen that morning and set us up to practice abseiling going down a slope in the woods. Whilst apprehensive at first we each had a couple of goes to get to grips with the ropes which made me feel better about what was happening next! 
Throughout the day we abseiled down one dry cliff, one wet cliff and another, shorter wet cliff nicknamed ‘the washing machine’. I was absolutely terrified during all of them, particularly the last one for fear of losing my glasses at the bottom(!) but I’m so proud of myself for completing all three 💁🏻💪🎉 The first abseil was dry so we kept our shoes on for this, holding onto a rope as we clambered over rocks to the top. The guide clipped us onto the ropes and helped guide us as we walked slowly backwards down the cliff. The strangest thing to wrap my head around was that the more you lean back the more stable you are, this seemed alien to me! Here’s a picture of me feeling terrified as the guide held my ropes:

Much to my delight walking down (most of) the dry cliff was manageable (I did slip slightly and scrape my elbow at the bottom) and the sense of achievement I felt when I got the bottom was so high! Looking up at the others at the top who were so far away seemed crazy. Not naturally an adrenaline junkie I was pretty proud. 

The next abseil was down a wet cliff around the same height as the first one. I was much more apprehensive about slipping on this one, even though they made us take our shoes off for grip, as the rock had a lip it meaning you couldn’t see the whole way down from the drop. I was scared but okay going down this one until the stream of water hit my face and I couldn’t see a thing let alone where my feet were landing. The guide holding the ropes at the bottom helped a lot by pulling on the rope to help me jump down, so I got there in the end! I think this cliff was around 30m so to look up from the bottom was pretty amazing. 

Once we were all down we headed to the final abseil. To get there we had a mini trek along the riverbank through the woodland, which felt strangely alpine. I don’t know what I expected from Vietnam but it wasn’t that! The landscape opened up to reveal the river running down a waterfall and into a beautiful lake, with another group of people ziplining into it. The last abseil of the day was straight down into the waterfall, you had to walk only for the first bit before hanging upright and easing yourself down into the water and then swimming to the other side of the lake. As I said before I was worried about losing my glasses in the so called ‘washing machine’ so this was the one I was most nervous for. Luckily I clung onto them and it was all fine despite plunging into the waterfall at the bottom! 


After everyone of the group had completed the abseil there was opportunity to do cliff jumps which I’m sorry to disappoint but I did not do any higher than 3m which was enough for me! However I did do a zip line into the lake which was pretty fun. After this we all got changed and headed back into town in the minivan where Katie and I were told Vietnamese ghost stories by one of the guides as we were sat at the front. 😂 We were driven to someone’s house and given a huge spread for lunch. There were spring rolls, veggie broth, rice, a surprisingly nice tofu in tomato sauce dish, and lots of other bits and pieces. There was so much food that the 10 people in our group couldn’t finish it all! It was super tasty though! Tired and ill we got dropped back off at the hostel with enough time to shower, change and recover slightly before our second family dinner at the hostel, for which we were still fairly full from dinner. Dinner this time was however particularly delicious as we had fresh pancake rolls. They provided us with the rice paper, salad, and shrimp pancakes (small fried pancake type things with shrimp and beansprouts) with a delicious dipping sauce that looked spicy but wasn’t. The hostel manager was a nice enough Vietnamese guy and had bought rice wine aka ‘happy water’ that he insisted we try. We were skeptical because it was in a plastic bag not a bottle but this kind of made sense given it was homemade by someone in the town and bottles cost more than the drink takes to make. It seemed to me a cross between a spirit and a wine, and I found the smell particularly vile! Safe to say I wasn’t a fan but I did try it. When in Vietnam ey? 

The next morning we were up early again to get our coach from the other side of town from The Sinh Tourist again at 7:30am to Nha Trang. Driving down through the mountains to the coast was beautiful with all the roadside waterfalls and far reaching views. The only thing was that it was super twisty and Vietnamese driving isn’t the smoothest in the world, meaning I didn’t exactly feel great. Luckily the journey was only 5 hours so I took some travel sickness tablets and pushed through. We made a stop halfway and coincidentally ran into Rico, Bianca and Tom so we said hello to them too.

When we arrived in the coastal town on Nha Trang we were undecided whether we would stay a night or push through and continue to travel north. However, as I still felt bad from the coach, we made the decision to find a hostel, stay the night and have some beach time. We had a refreshing shake in a nearby cafe and found a hostel round the corner so headed there. Min hostel had room for us – success! So we checked in and I went straight for a nap whilst Kate and Rhianna went to explore and visit the beach. Later on we went for dinner to a place called Lantern which our hostel recommended and was lovely. There was a queue outside so you knew it was good. Here I had arguably the best meal of the trip so far, a chicken coconut curry served in a banana leaf  – yum!

(Sorry for the delay in post and for the lack of photos , the wifi has been a bit ropey recently!)

Saigon’s rooftops and the Cu Chi tunnels

We arrived in the Vietnamese capital after a fairly odd bus journey. I say odd because crossing the border was strange. We were stamped out by Cambodian customs and we walked through a disused shopping centre to get to Vietnamese customs. We kept having to get on and off the bus and there was no explanation about what was happening! It all worked out for us anyway as we just followed the rest of the people on our bus! Reaching the bus station in Saigon our challenge was to now find a hostel (shock horror we were winging it) and to find a cash point to get some Vietnamese Dong. Luckily Rhianna already had some currency so we dived into a tiny cafe with tiny tables and chairs with our huge backpacks to have a drink and look up accommodation. It turned out we were really close to the backpacker area so there were loads nearby.

We headed round the corner to Vietnam Inn and hooray they had space for us. All checked in and bags dumped, we headed out for some dinner and to explore. We stumbled across some kind of festival in the park; there was a stage with performers and lots of people watching surrounded by dessert stalls. As tempting as it was to buy a doughnut ice cream sandwich, we pressed on in search of dinner! Not really grasping how much we would be expected to pay for dinner, as we hadnt wrapped our heads around the currency yet (10,000 dong is worth around 36p) we picked a random restaurant which turned out to be alright. However our evening got better when we spotted a rooftop bar covered in fairy lights and lanterns and decided to walk towards it. As we got closer we got accosted by the staff working there who gave us a rose each in celebration of International Women’s Day and the promise of a free glass of champagne and entry into a raffle if we went up to the bar. Surprised but intrigued we walked through the hotel lobby and got the lift up to the pretty rooftop. We sat with our bubbly looking at beautiful views across the city, so pretty!

Lanterns at The View rooftop bar

The view from The View
After our bubbly we headed back to the hostel as they also had a nice rooftop with free beer for guests at a certain time. Even though I’m not a beer fan it drew people to the rooftop and made the atmosphere vibrant and sociable. The activity of the evening was limbo followed by a pub crawl with luminous, neon yellow tshirts. 

The three us wearing said luminous tshirts
View from one of the crawl pit stops
 

The next day we got up and had breakfast on the sunny rooftop – I had a lush pancake with pineapple jam. (As a side note, I am struggling with breakfast slightly as I don’t eat eggs or bananas, which seem to be breakfast staples on menus in south east Asia 🙈 ). That day’s plan was to visit the Cu Chi tunnels which we booked through our hostel.

A bus picked us up from the hostel for the two hour drive to the tunnels, including a stop at a shop where beautiful art is made by the ‘unlucky’ ones affected by the legacy of the Vietnam war. Our tour guide, who nicknamed himself John Wayne(!) explained their circumstances and how although he can’t help them directly, he feels he is now by bringing tourists to buy their art. After a quick marvel at their artistry we piled back in the bus and on to the tunnels. 

John Wayne took us round the tunnel complex, showing us different types of traps the Vietnamese used against the Americans. What amazed me is how much they did with such few resources – he told us about how they would make mines from unexploded American bombs (so dangerous). The tunnels themselves were tiny! And that’s when they’d even made them 30% bigger for tourists! You had to crawl or really crouch and walk. I can’t believe whole villages lived underground in such small spaces. We were also showed an original entrance to the tunnels which was even smaller. I really didn’t think my hips would be able to fit if I tried, the hole in the ground was so small! It was really interesting to visit the tunnels, but I felt prior knowledge was presumed for some parts, of which I didn’t really have.

Once we braved rush hour traffic we were back in Saigon and by this point it was 8pm so we headed straight out for dinner. It was then that I tried pho, traditional Vietnamese noodle soup, which was delicious! 

In order to fill in the gaps, the next day we headed to the War Remnants Museum. We got up early and booked a night bus to Dalat for that evening, had breakfast again on the rooftop, checked out of the hostel and visited a nearby market that morning before heading over to the museum. As museums go it was pretty good, telling all about the Vietnam War and the devastating Agent Orange. There was a particularly moving exhibit showing international photographers’ images of the war who died before they could be published. What was interesting were the statistics comparing American investment, bombs dropped etc, to World War Two. Though not tackling a light topic, I’d definitely recommend this museum a visit.

That evening we also got our first night bus to Dalat, a small mountain town north of Saigon. We booked with Sinh Tourist and overall it was a decent experience, though we did end up arriving early at 4:30am 🙃🙃🙃 so we were pretty dazed and confused when we got off the bus in the dark. 

More of that to follow on my next post. Thank for reading! xo

Vietnamese visas and a pitstop in Phnom Penh

When you’re travelling on as tight a schedule as we are, you’re continually being forced to think of the next place you’re going – how are you going to get there? How much does it cost? How many nights can I spend there? What’s there that I want to see? 

At this point in Siem Reap we were thinking about our next port of call, the capital Phnom Penh. Whilst we had planned to spend a couple of days there, some research and fellow traveller advice made us come to the decision that we’d rather get to Vietnam sooner and just use the capital as a stopover to break the journey between Siem Reap and Saigon. This meant we wouldn’t be hanging about in Cambodia for the sake of waiting until we could cross the border into Vietnam. Our orignal plan was to utilise the 15 day visa exemption for British nationals, but with a pretty tight schedule, even a couple more days in Vietnam would allow us slightly more breathing room. So we decided to pay the $45 (incidentally much cheaper than the £70 the Vietnamese embassy wanted back home!) and spend an extra day in Siem Reap until this was ready. And writing from Vietnam now, I’m glad we made this decision! 

Naturally we filled this extra day with a lazy breakfast, swimming in the pool and researching things to do in Phnom Penh and Vietnam.We booked our bus to The Cambodian capital through our hostel too so we would be all ready to go the next morning. 


This bus was a bit of an adventure as it was our first long distance bus journey of the trip and it turned out to be minibus rather then a full sized coach, and we’d been assigned specific seats – this wasn’t too bad for us but the two poor German guys who were over six foot and squashed in the back with the bags felt a bit hard done by – especially as the lady firmly refused to let them switch seats! It wasn’t too bad of a journey really, though it did take longer than the expected five hours because we stopped twice for a break. It was funny because everyone else seemed to get what was happening and how long the breaks were supposed to be, we just had to guess! 

So finally we made it to our destination, and bartered hard for a cheap tuk tuk for us and the two German guys who it turned out were staying near us. Fitting five people plus all our baggage in a tiny tuk tuk was a hilarious challenge, I wish someone took a photo as I was clinging to my bag for dear life! We arrived and checked in at our histel, Happy House Zone, dumped our bags and headed out to explore and find something to eat as we were ravenous. We ended up in a cafe having some delicious noodle soup and ice tea – Rhianna and Katie were determined to master their use of chopsticks so that was pretty amusing to watch 🙂 

We wanted to see the killing fields but in the end we didn’t have time as they were outside the city and would have been too difficult to get to under our own stream rather than as part of a tour. Instead we went to the just as significant S-21 for the afternoon: a school that was turned into a prison by the Khmer regime to house their enemies who wanted to revolt against them. The fact it was built as a school where children learnt and played really emphasised how harrowing it was. So many people were treated horrendously, tortured for information and killed. We got an audio tour which was really worth getting as it told you a lot of information as you walked round, including accounts from survivors. By all means it was a very heavy activity for the afternoon but really really interesting. Another thing that was lovely was a youth dance class going on in the grounds. It looked like contemporary to me but I could be wrong! It seemed fitting for the space to be used by the community again.

None of us were very hungry afterwards even though it was dinner time, and we’d had a late lunch, so we walked back across town to the hostel, showered, sorted ourselves out and booked our bus to Saigon for the next morning. We ended up going to a nearby restaurant and sharing a pizza between us and playing some pool in the hostel before hitting the hay ready for our 7 hour bus.

Angkor Wat temples and Cambodian market shopping

Firstly apologies for the lateness in the next instalment of my travels, surprisingly there’s lots of things to see and do out here, who’d have thought ey?

So back to where we left off…

We’d booked a flight from Phuket to Siem Reap to resume our eastward travels, but it was a very early flight and as we were on a tight budget we ended up staying in the airport for a cheap yet uncomfortable night. Luckily we were able to put our big rucksacks in storage for the night (though cracks began to show at 3am when Katie ripped up her bag receipt!). We prepared by buying some snacks and found a place to bunker down. my eye mask and sleeping bag liner really came in handy, and though it did get chilly in places, we saved some money and were there in plenty of time for our early 6am flight🙈 

Luckily when we got to the other side, getting a Cambodian visa on arrival was super straightforward and didn’t take as long as expected. Their system is a well oiled machine and isn’t too expensive at $30. We were able to easily get a taxi to our hostel at a set rate ($7) and when we arrived we were so grateful that we could check in straight away and go straight to bed! On a side note this hostel/hotel Naga Angkor had the comfiest beds on the trip so far – the extra wide memory foam singles were heavenly 👌

After our well deserved sleep (it was too long to be called a nap!) we decided to explore so as it was now late afternoon we headed towards to the night market which was just beginning to get started. Safe to say the three of us marvelled at how cheap everything was, between us purchasing tops, a dress, sarongs, shorts and bracelets the whole time we were in the city.Close by we stumbled across a restraunt we liked the look of so sat down for some yummy yellow noodles and spring rolls.

In Siem Reap we did some hostel hopping and we adopted two different hostels. We stumbled across Onederz hostel on our second day whilst looking for somewhere for food as our accommodation’s was quite expensive – well, expensive for how cheap food in Siem Reap turned out to be. Our adopted hostel did amazing breakfasts of toast/pancakes/museli and fruit and a drink for a bargain $2! And we ended up booking tours to the floating village and Angkor Wat through them too:

That same afternoon we went on an excursion to visit one of the amazing floating villages called Kompong Phluk. There appear to be three different ones you can go to but I read that one called Chong Knead should be avoided as your money doesn’t go to the local people and instead to a private tour company. I can highly recommend the tour we did though! We got picked up from the hostel in a minivan, given bottles of water and driven an hour or so out of the city through pretty villages. Though this was just a snapshot, you can see how the wealth of the cities isn’t distributed throughout the whole country. We arrived at a ‘marina’ where longboats boats were tied up together and guided down the riverbank towards one. We got to sit on the roof in the sun as we meandered downstream,  passing lots of houses on high stilts on the way. (Note: visiting in the dry season means there’s less floating going on 😂 but it was still incredible to see all the structures.)

Along the way there were lots of adorable kids waving and saying hello, so cute. Eventually the river opened up into a massive lake that went beyond the horizon, and we watched sunset from a floating pontoon come restaurant which was glorious! After sunset we headed back to the city where our evening consisted of the cheapest dinner we’d had so far: around ten dollars for spring rolls, three dishes and three fruit shakes, lush! Here’s a pic from the pontoon:

For the next day we’d also booked to go to the main reason we came to Siem Reap: the Angkor Wat temples. I really wanted to see sunrise above the temple, even if it meant leaving the hostel at 4:15am. Sunrise over Angkor Wat is THE iconic picture of the complex so of course that was a must-see at the UNESCO world heritage site. There are different ways you can explore the temples depending on your preferences – we booked a tuk tuk guide to take us round for the day though you could hire bikes and cycle or even walk, though personally I think it’s too big to walk as some of the temples are really far out. Anyway this is the (Katie’s) result of our early morning escapades:

Angkor Wat at Sunrise / Photo credit: Katie Vickery

Seeing these temples that are so ancient was something special. They’re continually crumbling and being restored, with lots of investment from countries round the globe to help preserve them.  As well as Angkor Way we also saw other beautifully old temples including Bayon temple which had a population of monkeys roaming about:

As well as the place they filmed Lara Croft which has this incredible tree woven into the surrounding stone:

We saw all this and more and were back by midday(!). We felt we could’ve stayed longer to explore but would have liked a tour guide to tell us about the history and significance of certain things to get the most out of the experience. So we headed back into town, grabbed a bite to eat and then went to chill out at our other adopted hostel Mad Monkey. It was somehow twinned with ours and so allowed us access to their swimming pool-  result! Though nowhere near as cultural as our morning, a lazy afternoon by the pool was exactly needed after a 4am start! 

A lovely few of days all in all, I’m definitely preferring smaller towns and cities to big capitals thus far. 

Spontaneous trip to Phuket and Koh Phi Phi

At the beginning of the trip we decided that we would book our first few nights of accommodation and then wing it from there, and whilst that sounded really daunting initially, this flexibility really paid off even in the first week! We realised we could spare a few more days in beautiful Thailand than we thought and although the southern islands weren’t in our original plan, we seized the opportunity! We felt our spontaneity peak as we decided to book flights to Phuket for the next day and see the beach before we soldier on to Cambodia as intended. And I’m so glad we did because just look at this view!
The flight down to Phuket was pretty decent:we flew with Nok Air, it didn’t take much more than an hour and we even got given a mini bottle of water. From the airport we got a minibus to Patong Beach where we were staying which took another hour- though it’s amazing how quickly time goes when you can nap! It was lunchtime when we arrived so we went to check into our hostel then explore. We stayed in Hip Hostel which had a great location as it was close to the beach as well as all the shops, restaurants and bars. It seemed to be a family run hostel and the reception/common area felt a bit like their front room with a sofa and Thai soaps on the tv!

For some reason the three of us were massively craving pizza, and I know that sounds bad given the amazing cuisine on offer in Thailand, but what can I say? After a week of chillies a little home comfort was needed so we set out in search of Italian, which was surprisingly easy to find. We demolished our pizzas and headed down to see the beach. When you think of Southern Thailand you picture clear blue waters and amazing landscapes, which is decidedly harder to see in a torrential downpour like the one we experienced. There seems to be no such thing as a gentle shower here as we all got soaked in a matter of seconds! It was actually quite nice being on the beach in the rain though, sheltering under trees whilst everything gets drenched for 10 minutes before the sun comes out like it never happened🌞


In Phuket there are lots of different beach towns you can stay in, and honestly I wouldn’t really go to Patong again I’d go somewhere quieter: it was too overwhelming. It had a resort vibe, packed with tourists and everything seemed more expensive than the rest of Thailand because of this. But the main reason why I wasn’t a fan was infamous main strip Bangla road. Safe to say it was not what I expected! One thing I did like we’re the other girls we met in our dorm who were lovely and we ended up going out for dinner with. Two Germans called Justine and Pia who found the British phrase ‘elephant in the room’ particularly hilarious 😂

For the next day we arranged through our hostel to get the boat to the island Koh Phi Phi and proceeded to have one of my favourite days (bar the elephant sanctuary) of the trip so far. This is what I expected of Southern Thailand hooray🎉 The boat to the island left from the pier just south of Phuket Town, around 45 mins from where we were staying. From there the boat took around and hour and a half and for us this was an event in itself as the sun was shining and the scenery so beautiful. This is a snap of Koh Phi Phi as we approached the harbour:

The island itself is incredibly idyllic, you can see why it’s got such a name for itself: turquoise water and golden beaches surround the island. As soon as we found our hostel (where we couldn’t check in as the receptionist had popped to the bank for the afternoon – island life ey?)  we grabbed the world’s smallest toastie from a nearby cafe (no crusts?!) and headed straight for the beach. The three of us admired the amazing view and had a much needed nap in the shade. It was so nice waking up to this:


We only had one night on Koh Phi Phi so we had to make the most of it. We finally checked in at the hostel and went out to explore. The main town part of the island is really compact and only takes around 15 minutes to walk from one beach through the town to the beach on the other side, and this is where all the restaurants  and bars are to be found. We walked along the beach and ate dinner in a cute restaurant at the end of the row. Behind us in the bar next door was an amazing fire show which kept us entertained for ages with twirling, throwing and tightrope walking. We even had a mojito cocktail bucket to share between us! 

The next day we hiked up to the viewpoint at the top of the hill – this was super steep and made us so sweaty and out of breath in the heat. Though I have to say it was worth it for the view of the whole island! So beautiful! 
We had a little more time to spare before our boat back to Phuket so we made a quick trip to the beach for a swim to cool off and dry out our clothes (we got soaked by another downpour as we walked back to the town.) I wish we had more time to spend on the island but it was fun what little time we did have. Until next time Koh Phi Phi!