Sometimes we choose a holiday where we do nothing but unwind. Then there are times when we choose one for adventure; where the sounds, smells and sights are foreign and intoxicating.
The second time I visited South East Asia I went for 4 months, starting in Vietnam. I’d decided to travel alone, much to the heartache of my parents. They were beside themselves with worry, but I moved ahead with my plans regardless.
I travelled into Hanoi, Vietnam from the airport with a sense of wonder and excitement. Mopeds whizzed past me, stacked high with boxes, people and animals. I opened my window and inhaled the smell of the city.
It was only when I’d unpacked my bag and begun strolling the streets around my hotel that it dawned on me. I was alone.
It was hot and the streets were chaotic. I stepped into the nearest restaurant, ate hurriedly and scuttled back to my room to sleep. When I awoke the next morning at 5am I could hear horns bleated, engines roared and somewhere in the distance, a rooster gave his morning call.
I went downstairs and found the receptionist sleeping on the floor by the locked door. I felt guilty waking him as he looked so peaceful. He rose slowly and moved to behind his desk, ignoring my apologies for disturbing him.
“What do you want?” he asked sleepily.
“I want to go on a tour please,” I answered. He looked at me strangely. This tall, pale woman was asking to book a tour at 5.15am.
“For when and to where?”
“This morning, if possible and I don’t mind where I go.”
He was clearly irritated, but I was clearly not budging. I’d awoken in a strange, noisy city with four months of solitude stretching before me and I needed to do something. I needed to book something, anything.
It took him ten minutes to arrange a trip. I’d be picked up in fifteen minutes and would be going to Halong Bay. I breathed a sigh of relief, gave him a massive smile and raced to my room to fetch my camera.
From that morning on I was never alone again. I travelled through Vietnam with friends I made on a trek in Sapa, into Cambodia, through Thailand and Malaysia.
When you travel through countries so different to your own you feel vulnerable, but you also feel alive. Your senses are awakened and anything is possible. You smile and strike up conversations with strangers, you do things you are scared to do and strangers become best friends in a matter of a day.
This is why I love travelling. I spent an hour yesterday looking at the photos of my trip. I smiled at all the lovely faces that beamed back at me and relished living my memories again. It was a happy and carefree time and while it was the scariest thing I ever did, it was one of the best. That’s what a holiday can be.
This morning on Ireland AM, I gave some tips for Thailand and Cambodia and all information is below!
If this is your first trip to Asia, prepare for noise, people, heat and crazy drivers. It will take a while to aclimatise to the city, but once you do, Bangkok is a great city to explore.
Those on a budget tend to base themselves in and around the Khao San road, a noisy strip, lined with restaurants, hostel style accommodation and bars that play music throughout the night. It is also the best place to book your onward travel to the islands if you’ve not arranged it before landing.
- Grand Palace – This spectacular building was home to Thai Kings for over 150 years. Dripping in gold, ornate architecture and grandiose buildings will capture the imaginations of even the most discerning of travellers.
- Floating Market – one of the best ways to see the floating markets is to take a guided tour on a boat of the markets. Try get an early morning boat as it’s less chaotic and you may see the monks arriving on their traditional alms round. If you don’t fancy a boat, watch the chaos from the safety of the pier.
- Chatuchak Market – (open friday evenings/Sat and Sun – 9-6PM) – Prepare for crowds, noise and plenty of random sale items. You can’t go to Bangkok without experiencing Chatuchak market. Here you will find everything and anything for sale, and it’s a good place to pick up items you may need down on the islands – hammocks, thai pants, extra bags and of course, items you don’t need at all. You can jump on the Sky Train or take a tuk-tuk. Wear light clothing, bring plenty of water and wear your money on a money-belt.
There is an island for everyone in Thailand, it just depends on what you’re looking for. Here are a few I’ve visited.
While not a small island, this island has retained its solitude in comparison to some of the other islands. There is a mix of accommodation here, but if you’re looking for something quiet, try Ta Nam Beach (Lonely beach) where you can get a hut for as little as €8 per night.
This remains a small, idyllic island, although word has spread of its beauty, however, it is chilled out and famed for the best place to do diving with its shallow, crystal clear waters and surplus of dive schools offering good deals on PADI courses. Even if you’re not diving it’s a great island to chill out and enjoy beachside bars and lack of all-night parties.
Koh Phi Phi
People rave about Koh Phi Phi and admittedly it has some stunning beaches, with the beautiful backdrop of lush jungle however it is built up and touristy with few quiet places to escape to. If you’re looking for beautiful beaches and a lively night-life then Phi Phi will not disappoint.
Hotel Accommodation from €50 per night
Go Hop – Bangkok and Koh Samui – €752 per person. Price includes: Return flights ex. Cork, 11 nights, taxes and charges.
Travel Mood – Bangkok and Phuket – €1019 per person. Price includes: Return flights ex. Dublin, 9 nights accommodation as stated, internal flights and transfers, taxes and charges.
Following the atrocities of Pol Pot in Cambodia, the country took many years to recover and still continues to do so, however, they have become a popular tourist destination with the number of tourists increasing from 180,000 to 3 ½ million in the past 20 years.
•Phnom Penh –is a city with a rich culture and history, beautiful architecture sitting on the banks of the Mekong River. It was once a city of great importance and affluence in Asia, but its demise was brought about by Pol Pot. However, the city has reemerged and become one of Asia’s most intriguing cities.
•The Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda
•The Killing Fields
Visitors use Siem Reap as their base from which to explore the magical Angkor Temples. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and was built in the 12th century by the Khmer King in Angkor, the Khmer capital. The monument and other surrounding temples and buildings were rescued from the jungle at the beginning of the 20th century and today is Cambodia’s biggest attraction.
Take a tuk-tuk early to the temples for sunrise, a magical time to visit.
Other places to visit:
Sihanoukville – chill out on the beaches and tour the islands off the coast in Sihanoukville. There is accommodation for all budgets ranging from €2 per night to €50 per night, it just depends on your budget.
Cardamon Mountains – trek through the lush Cardamon Mountains in the South West of Cambodia. Great alternative to Chang Mai in Thailand.
Hotel Accommodation from €30 per night
Gohop – Highlights of Cambodia – €1670 per person. Price includes: Return flights ex. Dublin to Phom Penh, 13 nights accommodation, transport.
Trailfinders – Ultimate Cambodian Adventure (14 days) From €1559 per person includes return flights, guide, accommodation, day trips