Cambodian sunset

Happy New Year

Rikreay Chhna Thmei! (Happy New Year!)

2015 has been an incredible year for me. I’ve spent roughly seven months travelling to nine different countries and I have wonderful memories of people I’ve met and new things I’ve seen and experienced.

I’m writing this post from southern Cambodia, where I’ll be seeing in the New Year (in approximately three hours) with my best friend from home, Jeni. I’m certain that 2016 will bring even more crazy adventures, and can’t wait for a new and exciting chapter.

My New Year resolution is to make better use of my blog – I still have so much to write up on, including China, Dubai, Thailand and now Cambodia too. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my favourite photos from places I’ve travelled in 2015.

Let me know your favourites and where you’d most like to read about first!

 

Cambodian sunset

Cambodian sunset

Koh Chang, Thailand

Koh Chang, Thailand

The famous sunflowers - Lopburi, Thailand

The famous sunflowers – Lopburi, Thailand

Wat Mahathat - Ayutthaya, Thailand

Wat Mahathat – Ayutthaya, Thailand

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram - Ayutthaya, Thailand

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram – Ayutthaya, Thailand

Dubai Skyline - from the air

Dubai Skyline – from the air

A taste of home - Bibury, UK

A taste of home – Bibury, UK

Hoi An street, Vietnam

Hoi An street, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Dali, China

Dali, China

My challenge of the year - Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

My challenge of the year – Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

Old Town - Lijiang, China

Old Town – Lijiang, China

Carpets - Litang, China

Carpets – Litang, China

My favourite mountain - Hua Shan, China

My favourite mountain – Hua Shan, China

Terracotta Warriors - Xi'an, China

Terracotta Warriors – Xi’an, China

Playful Pandas - Chengdu, China

Playful Pandas – Chengdu, China

The Hanging Monastery - Datong, China

The Hanging Monastery – Datong, China

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, China

The Great Wall at Mutianyu, China

Chinese Lantern

Chinese Lantern

Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao, Thailand

A city I visited seven times this year - Bangkok, Thailand

A city I visited seven times this year – Bangkok, Thailand

Trekking in Laos

Trekking in Laos

Handicrafts - Hmong village, Laos

Handicrafts – Hmong village, Laos

Kuang Si Waterfall, Laos

Kuang Si Waterfall, Laos

The White Temple - Chiang Rai, Thailand

The White Temple – Chiang Rai, Thailand

Bear - California, USA

Bear – California, USA

San Fransisco Bridge - California

San Fransisco Bridge – California

Dog sledding - Lapland, Finland

Dog sledding – Lapland, Finland

Laem Sala Beach

Hua Hin – not just a beach resort

I left Bangkok again at the beginning of August and took a train four hours south to the coastal city of Hua Hin. Hua Hin has a slightly undeserved reputation as a has-been seaside resort (some say it was Thailand’s first tourist beach spot), but I really liked it and I didn’t hit the beach once! The night market there is especially good, and there are plenty of bars and a decent nightlife scene.

Hua Hin

Hua Hin

I stayed at the south side of the city, in a gorgeous and charming boutique hotel called Baan Talay Dao Resort. Situated directly on the beach and equipped with a cool water swimming pool, the hotel was perfect for a lazy afternoon.

From here it was just a ten minute drive past small fishing area to Wat Khao Takiab, a hilltop temple that has been overrun by monkeys. Having been in Thailand for two months I still hadn’t seen any wildlife, so these temple monkeys gave me hours of excitement and photo opportunities! The temple itself wasn’t particularly special, compared to others I have visited, but the views from the top were magnificent and the food stalls surrounding it were good.

Khao Takiab Temple Monkeys

Khao Takiab Temple Monkeys

Baby Monkey

Baby Monkey

Monkey Shower

Monkey Shower

Without question the highlight of my stay in Hua Hin, and one reason alone to stay there, was a day trip to Sam Roi Yot National Park. About 60km away, the drive there is through pretty rural areas and takes approximately one and a half hours. Khao Sam Roi Yot means ‘the mountain with 300 peaks’ and it was the first established coastal national park in Thailand.

On arrival at the park entrance, located literally on the beach, I hired a private longtail boat to take me around the nearby islands and then through a small fishing village. The scenery around the mainland is made up of beautiful white, sandy beaches, forest and stunning limestone mountains. The ocean surrounding this is dotted with karst islands, and I’ve read that pods of dolphins are regularly seen (unfortunately I didn’t spot any on my visit). The fishing village was authentic, quaint and super colourful, and the locals sailing by on their boats waved as they passed my boat.

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Sam Roi Yot National Park

Bang Pu Fishing Village

Bang Pu Fishing Village

Fishermen

Fishermen

After an hour or two of exploring the waterways I was dropped just offshore of a gorgeous beach, Laem Sala, which was literally deserted. During my full day at Khao Sam Roi Yot I only saw a handful of Western tourists, and very few domestic ones too. I spent a while walking along the beach, before heading in land to enquire about visiting the most famous attraction in the park, Phra Nakhon Cave.

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

Laem Sala Beach

The cave is located a 430m climb up some rocky steps from the beach and consists of two chambers, both of which are open from the top allowing rays of light into the cave. Inside the main chamber is a pavilion, built for King Rama V, and when the sunlight catches this it gives it an amazing, mystical feel. I hired a guide to take me up to the cave, but this really wasn’t necessary. The cave is easy to find and the path leading up to it, whilst hard work to climb, is a direct route. My guide was a Burmese boy, perhaps around 8 years old, who didn’t speak any English, so as a guide he wasn’t particularly useful!

Phra Nakhon Cave

Phra Nakhon Cave

With my guide and his sister

With my guide and his sister

Phra Nakhon Cave

Phra Nakhon Cave

There are opportunities for longer trekking through the forested parts of the park, and there is accommodation (luxury hotels and gorgeous beach huts) around the beach area and just outside the park grounds. During peak travel months (November to May) a huge variety of migratory birdlife, and also wildlife including antelope, various species of langur, porcupine and deer can be seen within the National Park. Although I heard the occasional monkey call during my hike to and from the cave, I wasn’t lucky enough to see anything.

Temple Monkeys

Temple Monkeys

Luang Prabang

A post, at last

First, an apology, to my family and anyone else who has been eagerly checking my blog whilst I’ve been away and found nothing from me, other than a couple of dated Istagram photos.

My first six weeks of travelling Southeast Asia have been incredible, emotional, and rather traumatic at times, but I’ve seen and experienced so many amazing things in a short space of time that I felt ready to start writing finally. I’m currently staying on the coast of southern Thailand, about three hours from Bangkok in a small city called Rayong. With a week to waste in Bangkok waiting for my Chinese visa to be processed, I thought I’d take a mini-break to see a different area, catch up with family over skype and start sorting through the tonne of photos I’ve taken so far. I’ve splurged on a slightly nicer hotel (I have a bathtub, desk and the comfiest bed I’ve possibly ever slept in) to ‘ahem’ assist with my plans.

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I’ll start with a brief overview of where I’ve been so far, and will follow up on the highlights with further blog posts later.

Starting in Bangkok on 9th June, I spent five days in the city before heading north. I packed a fair amount into my first few days, including Wat Pho, Jim Thompson’s house, a local boat ride through the city rivers, a bicycle tour around Bangkok and into the nearby jungle, an afternoon cuddling kitties at Caturday Cafe, shopping at Chatuchak and various night markets and three separate nights out on the infamous Khao San road.

Wat Pho

Buddhas at Wat Pho

Caturday Cafe

Caturday Cafe

Bangkok market

Bangkok market

Slightly over the craziness and noise of Bangkok, I caught a night bus up to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. The journey was nine hours of stomach-churning, panic-inducing, sleepless hell. Being seated on the top floor of a double-decker travelling way too fast through monsoonal storms, I would recommend to anyone else that the train is a much more comfortable, and safer option! My fear was confirmed last week when I met a couple whose bus travelling the same route toppled off the road into a small river.

I love Chiang Mai. Full of friendly locals, delicious street food and a lively night scene, I happily spent over two weeks there making new friends, visiting beautiful temples and eating, a lot. My list of highlights from here is huge, but includes seeing a local football match (Chiang Mai vs Ayuthaya), getting a bamboo tattoo, visiting my favourite temple at the top of Doi Suthep and watching a ladyboy cabaret show.

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That, Doi Suthep

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I also took two separate trips to Pai, a small hippie village set in a picturesque valley just three hours north.

Pai

Pai

After Chiang Mai I caught a local bus up to Chiang Rai and spent a day visiting the two strangest buildings I’ve ever seen. Built fairly recently by different architects, the White Temple and Black House are at opposite ends of the city, both geographically and architecturally. The Black House is full of dark objects, including animal skulls, crocodile skins and cages enclosing huge snakes and an owl. The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) is beautifully designed, with mirrored glass embedded into the stonework, although work on the compound is still ongoing.

Black House, Chiang Rai

Skulls at the Black House

White Temple, Chiang Rai

The White Temple

White Temple

Hands from hell

After a rather early start to cross the border into Laos, I boarded a two-day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, stopping overnight in Pakbeng en route. The scenery along the Mekong was stunning, but the boat was cramped and uncomfortable. Having spent seven hours on the first day packed onto a bench with no head rest or leg room, I spent the second day sat at the back of the boat with a few friends, several locals, two chickens and three freshly caught fish – a much more comfortable, and authentic experience.

Mekong River

Mekong River

Slow boat

The boat

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Countryside

The time I spent in Luang Prabang is almost certainly my favourite part of my trip so far. I didn’t particularly love the city, although the night bazaar was outstanding, but the countryside around was stunning. Spending an afternoon at Kuang Si Falls, the 40-minute drive there was through villages surrounded by rice fields, small rivers and mountain valleys.

Luang Prabang

Sunset in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

I took a two-day trek in the area just north of Luang Prabang, and spent the night in a Khmu tribe village.

Trekking in Laos

Trekking in Laos

Hmong Girl

Hmong Girl

Khmu Village

Khmu Village

After Luang Prabang I took a minibus to Vang Vieng, a small town once known only for its parties and drunken tubing. I’m proud to say that I didn’t even ride a tube down the Nam Song, and instead spent four days relaxing by the river, eating pie and mash, and shamefully watching at least two full seasons of Friends.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

After a short stay in Vientiane to visit the COPE centre, an extremely informative and inspirational centre established to treat victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO), I headed back to Bangkok. Taking a short train ride across the Laos/Thailand border, I then boarded an overnight train to the city.

COPE, Vientiane

COPE, Vientiane

Luang Prabang night market

Luang Prabang night market

My plans from here are to spend a few weeks on the southern islands, before flying over to China (visa-dependent, of course).