Our Top 10 Picks for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos

We packed a lot into six weeks and three countries; Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Barely touching the surface of Thailand, we spent just four days in bustling Bangkok before heading to Vientiane, the beautiful, weathered capital city of Laos. After 2 and a half or so weeks in Laos, we ended up in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where we frolicked amongst temples from sun rise to sun set. Another 2 and a half or so weeks in Cambodia, and it was time to leave for Australia, while still feeling as if we had only barely scratched the surface of our Asian adventure…which is true, really. During those 6 weeks, however, we did more than we might’ve done all year back ‘home’…

We met so many people; travellers and locals, and shared memories we’ll hold with us forever. Our lives and perspectives were changed, and we learned so much about not only the countries and their histories, but of their people, cultures, religions, superstitions, beliefs, and ways of life. We learned about each other, and we learned about ourselves. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried…or laughed until we cried! We danced and sang, smiled and frowned. There were things that shocked us to our core, things that stopped us in our tracks, and things that bought us closer together; things that made us fall in love with the world, and things that made us feel ashamed. We made friends and made memories, and fell madly, deeply, completely in love with Asia. Asia grounded us, she pushed us to our limits frequently, she gave us perspective, and taught us lessons we can take with us for the rest of our lives. Asia also gave us the time of our lives…

So, after so much thought and deliberation, a million good memories, and hours of pouring through photographs of our trip, here are our Top 10 South East Asian Picks: Part One (There will be a part two… and probably three… maybe four.)

1. Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos! As hard as it is to pick a winner, Kuang Si Falls has to take the spot. A highlight; awesome tuk-tuk ride there, sweltering heat, amazing hike UP the side of the falls, over the falls, and DOWN the other side… then a cool dip in the crystal blue fall pools. One of the most amazing times in our lives. We would recommend it to anyone, however, the hike up over and down the falls is very steep and slippery and there is little to hang on to. It’s also not the easiest of hikes/climbs but SO worth it.

2. Bike Riding Tours! We did them in Bangkok – Thailand, Vientiane – Laos, Battambang – Cambodia, and Phnom Penh – Cambodia. We thoroughly recommend them to people of all ages and abilities! Grasshopper Adventures is a fantastic company, as well as Soksabike tours – both companies were so well run and real highlights, and they also look after the locals, which was important to us!
We also hired bikes in a few different places; it was always really cheap and a fantastic way to get around! Just be careful of the sometimes chaotic traffic!

3. Temple Hopping! From Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm, Bayon Temple and Pre Rup, Banteay Srei, we tuk-tuked and hopped around, over, in, through, and under historic temples and stone carvings and marvelled as we saw the sun rise, the sun set, and the colours change over these incredible temples. They took our breath away countless times.

4. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia! Not a place we ‘loved’ going to, but a place we needed to go to. It’s haunting, gut wrenching, and I was on the verge of tears, if not crying, most of the time while I was there. But I learned so much, and when I left these two places, I stepped out into the sunlight and saw smiling Cambodians. This is a country rising from sheer torment and torture, with a new attitude and way of life. They are inspiring people and gave us perspective, and the saddening visit to these two memorials was something we had to do, and are glad we did.

5. Luang Prabang, Laos! What an awesome place! It’s got everything you want and need. Amazing temples, pagodas and stupas, bike friendly, beautiful river scenery, a fantastic night market and masses of interesting street foods, a relaxed chilled-out atmosphere, a cool morning market, friendly people, interesting architecture, and lots to see and do! How we wish we could go back there…right now!

6. Cooking Schools! Yep – we donned the daggy looking aprons and got cooking in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia! You’ve got to do it; be brave and add that extra birds eye extra spicy chilli, explore those markets and try those very foreign looking herbs, fruits and vegetables! It’s amazing, and even if you don’t cook them back home, it’s so much fun, a great way to meet other people and it tastes so good!

7. Kampot, Cambodia! What a cool, dusty little town to spend some down time in. Find a cool guest house, wander the streets, hire a bike, take a trip on a tuk-tuk to Kep, eat some good food, wander along the river bank, buy some little hand made treasures from a local craftsperson, eat some feel good food for a good cause, and take a tour to see and eat the famous and amazing KAMPOT Pepper!!! So delicious! We’ve still got it in our pepper grinders!

8. ‘Phare Ponleu Selpak’ Circus, Battambang, Cambodia! – A school of performing and visual arts for anyone who wants to attend. These kids are off the streets and working and studying hard, and their talent is incredible! Look at the visual art on display, look at the school, and make sure you do not miss the circus! An absolute highlight of our trip, Battambang was an amazing place…and then we went to the circus. Can’t wait to go there again and see what these incredibly talented kids have to show off!

9. Plain of Jars, Phonsavan! We did a day tour here, to see the Plain of Jars as well as local villages, bombed fields (with live cluster bombs still sitting in the ground!!) and a waterfall trek. The whole day was amazing, run through the guest house we stayed at. Plain of Jars is a must see! Amazing to ponder what they were used for, why there were there, and how they got there…It was also just as amazing to see the landscape of a country once, and still littered with bomb craters and bombs. It’s shocking, confronting, and opened our eyes.

10. Zip Lining at Tad Sae Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos! So much fun, but not for those afraid of heights! A trek UP and UP and UP will find you in the tree tops high above the group. You get clipped in, you pull back, you hold on at first, take your feet off the ground and scream with delight as you literally zip through the tree tops, over rain forest and waterfalls. Amazing, and SO much fun.

It was SO hard to limit it to only 10 (and in some cases, we’ve disguised a number of things under the one heading) because we just had the time of our lives, but hopefully this offers you some insight into the best experiences we had abroad in Asia…
Do you have any to add to the list?

Home is… Where Your Backpack Lands?

I’ve always sort of liked change. Although I love my comforts, and am pretty habitual at times, I find it easy to frollic from here to there, adjust to new, places, homes, jobs, people, surroundings…I get bored of things quickly; they seem to become mundane and I crave new things to keep myself enthused.

Perhaps that’s why I crave travel so much; I have a severe case of wanderlust that keeps me needing more and more of it, to keep me on my toes; to challenge me at every turn, to shock me and surprise me, to educate me, and to excite my senses constantly.

I’ve always thought of Melbourne, Australia as home; Jake too – we were born here, and we love our beautiful big city. We love it’s old buildings and sprawling gardens, it’s passion for food and for good coffee. We love it’s sporaddic four-seasons-in-a-day weather (most of the time), it’s rumbling trams, and spectacular Flinders Street Station. We love black-coat clad commuters in the Winter, and hot beach days and gelato in the Summer (mmm…maybe not so much Jake, with his fair skin, but I do!). We love the various markets, the festivals and events, and the live music scene that never stops. We just love Melbourne. It’s our home…

But, then again. So is my backpack. I love that sensation; your backpack is bulging – you prepare yourself for the lift onto your back. Knees bent, you brace yourself, arm through one strap, then comes the all important lift swing and you heave and haul it onto your back. Other arm through, wiggle wiggle wiggle, adjust yourself and shake a little, then stand, hitch your pants back up, make yourself comfortable and clip yourself in for support. I love my backpack; it feels good, and it makes me feel all the more like a traveller, not just at heart but in reality too.

It feels so good, when hot and sweaty, tired from travelling and untimely, overcrowded transportation, crowds of people and little sleep, you enter your new hostel for the first time…check in, find your dorm and dump your pack down. You’re home…for now. It’s nice. Even if there are sometimes strange types of dorm mates and ‘not so nice’ rooms… it’s all part of the experience, and it makes you more grateful and appreciative of the ‘better’ homes..

Well, at least that’s how I feel.

As long as I’ve considered Melbourne my home, I’ve considered somewhere else home too. Everywhere else; wherever I go, I make it home. In the past I sometimes mightn’t have liked it as much as other homes I’ve been to, but… still.

Knowing in a few short months we are leaving Melbourne behind for some time, I think we are loving it even more!… or at least, appreciating it more-so. But, I don’t think you can really ever stop being a Melbournian, regardless of where you go. So, we’ll take her with us when we leave, and make Sri Lanka our home… and then India for a few months… and then Burma, then Thailand again. Then spend some time at home in Vietnam before going home to Malaysia and Singapore. Finally, I think we’ll end up dumping our packs back down in old Melbourne town, and be able to say “we’re home”.

Where is home for you?

What were you doing 12 months ago today?

The moment we set foot in Asia for the first time, we fell inlove with the place, and it’s never left us. The assaults on every sensory level, the amazing, the astounding, the surprising, and then the other bits too!..

We think about it all the time; Asia comes up in so much of our conversation and our ‘daily life’, and the memories we made whilst travelling there often offer us laughter and smiles, perspecive and insight. Fantastic, really…

So many stories, so many memories; life experiences well beyond our imagination, and some experiences we are still trying to get our head around, almost a year later…

It’s February 20th today… “What were we doing one year ago today?” For the past few weeks, and for the next 11 days or so, I’ve been trying to think back to what we were doing this time 12 months ago to the day. We spent 6 weeks travelling in S.E. Asia, and in that short time we did so much, we look back on that time as one of the best in our lives to date.
I like to remind myself, and us, of those moments in which we loved, laughed, smiled, sympathised, cried, learned, shared, gave to others, showed bravery, forgave, understood, made friends, and travelled… (and then also, some of those moments we didn’t love so much…)

So, where were we 12 months ago? Let’s go for a little walk down memory lane…

We were in Cambodia. We’d been to Thailand and Laos, and already spent around 10 -12 days in Cambodia before this date (We’d been in Asia for over a month by now). And then, at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, just before we were about to leave and take a 4 hour bus journey to Kampot, I got suddenly sick. Not just with some little travel bug, but a big, violent one. I was severely ill, suddenly and violently. Within a few hours I’d gone from being fine to vomiting non-stop, unable to move at all without being sick. I was unable to move, unable to stomach any sort of water or fluid, and was unbelievably weak. Had I been home in Australia, I would’ve gone to hospital immediately, but in Cambodia… well, going to hospital was my last resort… and I was seriously considering it…

It was 48 hours before we could make the journey to Kampot; I needed to get away from that potent smell of polluted air, fermenting food and stale urine that was overbearing.
Weak and sick, I made it with Jake to little Kampot and then we fell inlove. With the town, the people, the green peppercorns, and a trashy Cambodian karaoke pop song (which we STILL sing all the time!)
We made the most of Kampot and spent a while there pottering around, reminiscing and hanging about, sweaty and barefooted in the scorching heat. Still so sick, my favourite thing was Oishi Iced Tea, and we spent our next few days wondering about and drinking bottle after bottle that $0.70c liquid gold.

Slowly, I got a bit better, and we continued on with the last 11 days of our Cambodian adventure together. Even sick, we managed to have so much fun and experience all that we possibly could. We ate Kep crab and carried (tried to) 50+kg baskets of salt. We met new people, shared stories and laugher, shared tears and trashy karaoke songs. Ate amazing food, swam in crystal clear ocean, drank from young coconuts, and danced around like travel-high fools.

And though I was so sick, I got through it. Largely becuase of Jake… He looked after me and made sure I was okay. He saw me at my absolute worst and loved me for it. He gave me strength, protected me, and forgave me for being such high-maintenance for those last 11 days… We had the best time together, and I realised how important he was to me, and I to him.
Without my travel, and life partner, I wonder how I actually would’ve been able to manage and survive those first 48 hours.
Travel made us strong when I was so weak. It brought us closer together in the oddest of ways, and we are so much better because of it.

Oh. And becuase of Oishi Iced Tea. Let’s not forget that hero drink…

So, over the next 11 days, I’ll be more aware of ‘where were we 12 months ago?’, and where we are today… We are planning our 7 month journey back to Asia, and I know we’ll be just as strong, and the best of friends throughout. (For the most part)

…And I seriously, absolutely, can not wait for everything it throws our way… except travel bugs. They can stay far far away.

Incredible, Exciting, Overwhelming, Terrifying India

India.

It’s a place I often try to imagine, but I doubt very much my imagination will prepare me for what India will throw at us in reality.

The thought of India is overwhelming for me – so much comes to mind. Where do I start?

India seems tantalising on every sensory level. It’s enticing and repulsive at the same time, and just so endlessly fascinating for me… I imagine exotic markets and bazars selling everything and anything, goats and cows wandering through busy alleyways, pots of spices, noise and beeping horns, lethal traffic and jaw-droppin architecture, bare feet and sweating skin, the smell of foods, spices and chai mixes with offensive and pungent scents, smoke and insence, light, smells, and oh so much colour…

India does so much for me, without even so much as stepping into the country. It feeds my thoughts with colour and light and life and sound, and it fills my nostrils with scents and smells; burning insence and the smells of smoke, curry and chillies. It delights my tastebuds with new culinary discoveries, and sets my mouth on fire with spices. It surrounds me with millions of people, and takes my breath away with its beauty and spirituality. It humbles me and challenges my perspectives, and it changes my view of the world…

It also terrifies me.

The idea of travelling in India is overwhelmingly frightening. With all that colour and light, people and smiles, beauty and grace, sounds and smells…there is an unknown that scares me.

I worry about our travels there; our safety and our health…I worry about our security, transport, and how we can keep our health Dheli-belly free…

We plan on being in India for three months; almost half of our travels will be in the one country. We want to see as much as we can – see the diversity of the land, and what each part has to offer. We want to see the different natural landscapes, and taste the different styles of food in the South and the North. We want to experience the different weather conditions, the different people, the cities and the towns… We want to experience India; not just tourist India, but real India.

Jake and I are scared about India, yes; no doubts. But also so unbelievably excited. We look forward to everything; this whole new world – the good, the not so good, the challenges, and sometimes…even the frightening. We’ll go with open minds and open hearts, and hopefully leave with them full. I guess thats what travel is about… and why I love it so much.

We’re not quite ready yet, but with a little bit of planning and more research, I think we’ll be almost as ready as you can be for India…

And if not… then at least we’ve got 3 weeks in Sri Lanka before hand to ‘warm us up.’

What are your thoughts on India?

How many more days of work?

It’s now February, which means there is LESS than 5 months until we depart!

On Wednesday just passed (which was the 30th of January), I had a realisation that, “Holy crap! In exactly 5 months from now, we will be on that plane to Malaysia!” This of course then sparked the idea of killing some time by calculating how many days, weeks, and shifts left at my job there are!

Here are the stats I scribbled down:

5 months until we leave
150 days
44 more shifts in this place
65 more shifts at the other place I work
41 days off work to plan for our trip
150 days in which I should be not making excuses as to why I can not go to gym…

So, the count down has really started, and now it feels very real.

So. We are starting a list. A list of things we need to prepare for and do, before our big adventure. If you have anything to add, feel free to! This will be a work in progress.

Important Stuff:
– Open a bank acount and commit to a set amount to deposit each week
– Start a budget
– Save like never before
– Em: finish your studies before June!
– Jake: finish your thesis before April!

Travel Stuff:
– Travel Insurance
– Get more passport photos taken for Visas, and to have on hand
– Organise Visas, apply for visas, pay for visas, get visas
– Book the remaining flight paths
– Read like crazy every travel book, forum, guide, article etc… No, Jake, that does not include Manga!
– Photocopy doccuments for family members and each other
– Give flight itinerary to family members
– Read through guide books we purchased, and start planning the routes we want for each country
– Start planning and researching and finding out about the places we want to go to in each country.
– Start making a general time line
– Make a budget for when we are over seas
– Look at the travel gear we have, and then work out what travel gear we still need.
– Jake needs new travel shoes. And should probably stock up on thongs/flip-flops-jandals (whatever you call them) for the duration of the trip… size 16/ EU 51 feet are hard to accomodate for when buying shoes in Asia…
– Adaptor Plugs
– Finalise a Packing list and Pack backpacks

Medical Stuff:
– Dentist Checkups
– Orthodontist Checkup for Em
– Travel Doctor Appointment (February)
– Any outstanding jabs to be had, must be endured
– Prepare and organise all medication for travel, along with doctors letters etc. Photocopy this stuff too.
– ‘Build’ up a first aid kit
– Em – begin vetetarian diet one month before departure, book appointment with dietition.

House Stuff:
– Organise Jake’s car
– Sort through our belongings and try to get rid of the stuff that is clogging up so much of our space
– Store our good stuff – thanks mum!
– Try and sell the useless stuff – what we don’t actually need
– Give to the salvo’s the stuff we don’t want to keep and are too lazy to sell… and of course, because we are generous people.
– Finalise and cease renting

Other Stuff:
– Redirect Mail
– Mobile phones – whats happening with them?
– Call Plan International – organise a visit to Em’s sponsor child in India
– Buy AU netbook plug
– Quit our jobs
– Keep going to gym

…Well, with less than 5 months to go, and many things on that list which can’t be done until the last moment… is there anything else we can add?