62 days, 18 destinations, 27 hostels, 5500 miles, 3 countries, 1 motorbike accident, and of course, countless memories.
2 months in Southeast Asia was everything I’d hoped it would be and so much more, and in this blog post I’m going to go through my 5 favourite places and why they were the ones I least expected. So grab a cuppa and get ready for a serious dose of travel inspo.
We’re starting off strong with Pai because I could honestly write a whole blog post on this place (don’t you worry, it’s already in the works). I’d planned to stay 4 or 5 nights here which was a lot considering I only stayed 2 to 3 in most places, but after my first 24 hours, I knew that getting stuck in (what the locals call) the ‘Pai Hole’ was going to be inevitable. I spent 2 wonderful weeks there.
Situated an 80km drive and a total of 762 turns from Chiang Mai, Pai is a hippie haven hidden away in the mountains of North Thailand. This village is full of bohemian travellers and ex-pats, all in search of a slower pace of life and all-round good vibes, and if that’s on your agenda for your Southeast Asia trip, look no further.
There’s plenty of things to do, whether it’s taking in a fire show, watching the sun set at Pai Canyon, or trying the incredible food down Walking Street. However, it’s the people that make this place everything that it is.
I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about Pai that just doesn’t attract assholes.
Whether you spend 3 nights or 3 months here, you’ll meet some incredible people and make the best memories.
NINH BINH, VIETNAM
Having never heard of this place before arriving in Vietnam, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I wanted to see as much of this beautiful country as I possibly could, so I gave myself 2 nights in Ninh Binh as it was on the way to my next stop.
And boy am I glad I did.
Nicknamed ‘Ha Long Bay on land’, this is the perfect place to hire a scooter or motorbike and ride through the endless limestone mountains and take in the most incredible scenery.
A boat tour through Trang An will take you to some breath-taking spots, and if you’re a film buff like me, you’ll even step foot where Tom Hiddleston did whilst filming Kong: Skull Island. (Might not be your thing, but just thought I would put it out there for any fellow fangirls.)
Climbing up the 500 steps to the top of Hang Mua for sunrise is something I highly recommend. Most tourists tend to gather for the evening sunset views, which as you can imagine is just not ideal if you’re claustrophobic. (I’m not, I just try to avoid tourist traps like the plague).
It’s an incredibly peaceful place, mostly untouched by commercial tourism so if you ever find yourself in Vietnam, get yourself to Ninh Binh before it’s too late.
CHIANG RAI, THAILAND
Yet again, another place I wasn’t expecting to extend my stay but here we are! Chiang Rai is known for its White Temple, but when looking at the guide books (an old school technique that I soon abandoned for blog posts of course) it seemed that there wasn’t much else.
Some of my personal highlights included:
The Blue Temple – a more modern temple but filled with some of the most beautiful décor I have ever seen.
The Long Neck Village – a place of dwelling for the Karen Tribe, famous for their tradition that enables women to wear golden rings around their neck to ‘enhance their beauty’. This is a topic of endless discussion when it comes to unethical tourism, but after doing the research, I figured the only way I would truly know if it was right or wrong to go was to witness it myself.
I was lucky enough to visit with a native Thai speaker and was able to have proper conversations with the women. They make their living through selling jewellery, clothes and handmade crafts to visitors, so it’s important that tourists do come. However, it’s still questionable when it comes to the extortion of unethical traditions. Maybe I should do a full blog post on this…
-Bandaam Museum a.k.a The Black House – a quirky exhibition full of architecture and work created by artist Thawan Duchanee.
You can even make the journey to visit the cave where the Thai boys football team got trapped for 17 days last year – a place I never even dreamed I’d be visiting when it was in the news last summer.
With plenty of other things to do that would make this blog post way too long if they were all included, your visit to Chiang Rai is guaranteed to keep you busy.
KOH RONG, CAMBODIA
Koh Rong is one of several islands off the south coast of Cambodia. Who even knew Cambodia had islands? I didn’t, but hey, maybe I’m just clueless.
Home to the whitest beaches I have ever seen, this island is another perfect place to wind down after some intense backpacking.
With minimal Wifi and having to pass through possibly the ugliest city on the planet to get there (Google 'Sihanoukville'), it’s not a likely contender for my top 5 of this trip.
Once again, I met some great people – locals, staff and travellers alike. (Stay at 'Nest' hostel for some great parties and friendly doggos).
It was also a place that taught me some HUGE lessons about myself.
Struggling without Wifi (such a millennial, Jesus CHRIST) and just trying to do nothing was actually a big challenge and gave me a tonne of anxiety, especially with my depersonalisation disorder.
What would have taken me months to overcome back home only took me a few days. I don’t know, maybe it helps when you’re in… ya know… actual paradise. But it also definitely helped having some great people to talk it out with.
HA GIANG, VIETNAM
Last but not least, Vietnam’s northern treasure. A 3-4-day motorbike trek situated 6 hours north of Hanoi, Ha Giang is often skipped by people who aren’t confident on a bike – I don’t blame them, I came off 3 times and I was confident!
Home to probably the most insane scenes of my trip, the Ha Giang Loop is 350km worth of sketchy roads, but the views are worth every second.
I joined a group tour through Jasmine Hostel (highly recommend) and spent the next 4 days riding in a 20-person convoy around the mountains, often accompanied with some pretty awful weather.
Despite almost falling to my death rescuing my drone, being basically hit by a Land Rover, falling off my bike at 50kmh and getting food poisoning, Ha Giang is still in my top 5.
Well I’ve already mentioned the views. But what I wasn’t expecting was how great every other aspect would be.
We stayed in local home-stays each night where we ate some delicious food, drank plenty of rice wine (the local spirit also known as ‘happy water’) and partied until the early hours of each morning. All of that on top of riding for 7-8 hours a day, and I loved almost every second of it.
(Falling off my bike wasn't a pleasant experience.)
Turns out that getting absolutely drenched and looking like drowned rats is a great way to break the ice and get to know people. Oh and the spectacular views help as well.
And there you have it.
If I wasn't suffering enough from post-travelling blues already, I definitely am now!
Southeast Asia truly is an incredible place and I would urge everyone to add it to their bucket list whether you're a solo traveller or not. The culture, the landscape and the people will blow you away.
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