Singapore #Top 5

  1. Poetry night

While it may not be the number one for everyone, as a poet, getting to read some new poems at a night in another country was an incredible highlight. It was just like any other night, but so surreal to think I was in Singapore. It was such a contrast to come to a country where you just slot in, and people don’t hold you on a pedestal. Everyone was so talented, and the content and perspective of the people there was so interesting, not to mention the range of different accents and the use of Singlish. I loved the area that it was in, and it made me feel I could live there, but I just don’t know what I would do there as English is an official language there. It’s nights like this that give you a real sense of the place, so I would recommend it to everyone.


  1. Gardens by the Bay

Singapore is clean and immaculately designed, including its gardens. We saw the sunset as these gardens lit up. There was a lightshow with the “supertrees”, but nearby there was also a light and water show to music, and that was pretty spectacular to see. The thing about Singapore is that there is also a relaxed vibe to it. The transport can get a bit crowded at times, but nothing compared to the over-crowding in London, where I’m from, and there aren’t nearly as many people in terms of the ratio to space, so just that feeling of it being more spacious makes you feel good when strolling around.


  1. Botanic Gardens

We went here on the morning of our flight, getting up at 6am in order to make the most of the little time we had in Singapore. Yet again, another aspect of Singapore that made me imagine living there. It was so peaceful and beautiful to walk around, sit and talk, and there were a few runners about too.


  1. Sestona Beach

What more could you ask for with a city but it having a beach? Whilst I didn’t get to swim in it, we had fun walking around the island and looking from the viewpoint there. There’s also a theme park there, which we didn’t go to. We tried to spend as little money as possible, because, unlike the rest of South East Asia, it is more expensive due to being richer and more Westernised. There’s plenty of entertainment we didn’t explore such as the different zoos (without cages).


  1. Chinatown and Little India

In between the shiny parts of Singapore are Chinatown and Little India. We ate in these parts a couple of times, as well as in a mall food court. The Indian food we had on the first night was so different and flavoursome, and completely vegetarian. The dish in Chinatown was super simple: noodles, soy and chicken, but – oh my god – I had not had chicken like that in months because it was a lot of breast meat from a rotisserie and cooked to perfection. It was also cool to walk around in these areas, which could be really colourful, and you could also come across different places of worship, which had sections cornered off for worship, as well as some sarongs to borrow to cover up.


Tips: Get a travel-card for your time there, which allows you to travel through the whole city and save money. You simply hand it back at the airport station to get your deposit back. I also had an out of date map, which told me the incorrect stations, so make sure to double check the nearest station online. Our hostel, Bunc Hostel, was great because they gave you a smart device that meant you could use maps and the internet on the go. You just have to return it undamaged at the end of your stay!


Laos #Top5

  1. Outdoor activities, Vang Vieng

It seems that most people come to Vang Vieng to get ridiculously drunk or do sports activities, and in some cases, both. Being that my partner doesn’t drink and I’m not very interested in travelling half-way across the world just to drink lots, we found that Vang Vieng was all about adventure. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in over a decade, and I enjoyed it so much that I carried on through the tropical rain, until I had to stop because my eyes stung and I couldn’t see anymore. We also rented a buggy, which probably would have been fun, but it was extremely muddy and I was not a happy bunny when it got on my phone. A big highlight for me was tubing. I wish I’d done it twice as I was a bit scared of what was coming the first time – especially with the sound of rapids sounding like waterfall! It was nice to stop off and have a lemonade or a beer and then continue down the river. We also went on a motorbike and this revealed the main reason for the 7-8 hours journey from Luang Prabang: the scenery. Like Cat Ba, riding on the bike through the landscape is all you really need to have a good time when the surroundings are so beautiful.


  1. Waterfall, Luang Prabang

Just a half-hour ride away from the centre of Luang Prabang is a waterfall. You will hear many drivers trying to tempt you to go, and it was well worth it. We rose to the challenge of climbing to the top, clutching onto braches so not to fall, as it got incredibly steep and was quite slippery. We then walked back down and rewarded ourselves with a swim in the last pool. You had to navigate the slippery rocks, trying not to be pushed down by the force of the water, and on top of that, it was freezing cold. It was refreshing though and, after some time, it warmed up. At the entrance there was also a small bear sanctuary, and so it was nice to see a couple of bears play-fighting together.


  1. Night Markets, Luang Prabang

I did a lot of shopping at this market, but it also had a lot of great street food and some lovely fruit smoothies too. One of my favourite purchases were key-rings and jewellery made from old bombs that the US had dropped on Laos. Before thinking about going to South East Asia, I knew so little about these countries, and Laos was probably the one I knew least about. I was shocked to find out that the US dropped more bombs on Laos, than the collective total in WWII. This is something still affecting people today, with the danger of undetonated bombs, but these pieces of jewellery were creating a message of peace from this horrible history. It’s also worth going to the Ethnology museum to find out more about the culture, and support the local communities by buying some of their products. I spent the most money here on shopping, but as the poorest country of all we visited, I felt like it was worth it.


  1. Traditional Theatre, Luang Prabang

Although there had been a lot of stunning temples and architecture, I felt deprived of the performing arts. It was difficult to interpret, and quite lengthy, but it was also fascinating to see traditional day at the Royal Theatre in Luang Prabang. You were presented with the story to help you understand the dance, and piece bits together as you watched. As the performers took their bow, you could see the sweat dripping from their faces once their masks were removed, and their chests moving from heavy breathing – they worked so hard at putting on the show; I felt lucky to catch it.


  1. Food

Like everywhere we went, one of the things I loved to do most was to eat. Unlike some of the other countries, like Thailand and Vietnam, I had never been to a Lao restaurant. Some of it was similar to Thai food, but they also had unique dishes, and one night I took a risk and had some traditional sausage with sticky rice that you then dip into spicy sauce. It was delicious.


Tips: Be aware that there are very long distances between places. We had ten days, so only ended up in two places. We would have needed a bit more to fit in three, but really could have done the two in just eight days. The routes were winding the whole way, and the return to Luang Prabang was particularly dangerous, and I feared for my life as it speeded and overtook vehicles on a cliff edge, with oncoming traffic you couldn’t see because the cloud was so low down (all this during the pouring rain too). You will feel sick, whether you usually do or not. It says it takes four hours, but it takes at least 6 or 7, if not 8. And if you go on the buggies, don’t take your valuables out of waterproof covers until you are outside the buggy in case your driver does what my boyfriend did, and be aware that they may not have mud-guards on the wheels, so wear waterproofs and some sort of eye-protection. Then you might enjoy it despite mud being splattered at you. And I wished I hadn’t worried so much about the tubing, because it’s pretty safe as long as you don’t drink too much, and you pay attention to where the end comes up.

Vietnam #Top5

  1. Cat Ba Island

I went here twice, and both times were amazing in their own way. The best part about Cat Ba island was that the roads aren’t busy, and you can drive through on a moped so easily (though not me, unfortunately I was useless and had to go on the bank of my boyfriend’s bike). It gave me an unbelievable sense of freedom and relaxation. We did it for so long that my bum hurt a lot afterwards. It also has an amazing walk to mountain-top views, as well as various caves, animals, and – of course – three beaches. The waves were pretty big when we were there, but the water was otherwise nice. It just meant you would go under a few times.


  1. Da Nang

Although this was another place that seemed to be infested with sea-lice, as well as an incredible amount of jellyfish, it was well worth the visit (once we’d found some nice roof-top pools). I really enjoyed the food here, from the fried rice to the spicy squid. It was also very pretty, with sights such as the dragon bridge, and it was fun, as you could also have a go on a segeway nearby. We also went to see the Lady Buddha, which was a fantastic temple site, but also provided wide views of the coast. On the walk back, we were invited to eat with a group of Vietnamese women at another wonderfully colourful temple. So, as well as the usual tourist attractions, you’re bound to have experiences like this that show you the generosity of humanity.


  1. Ninh Binh

You can’t do much in Ninh Binh without transport; we had a taxi service the first day, but I would say that a moped is the best way to get about. The highlight of this area, which is more of a base for areas just outside Ninh Binh, was the row boat through the caves. It was incredibly serene, and was amazing to go through these caves and think that you’re actually under a mountain, which you were also surrounded by in the beautiful landscape. There was also a modern temple that spanned an extremely large area, and it was really interesting because, whilst it seemed a lot of the older temples tried to replicate the Buddha image, here it seemed to deliberately have differences in each one, whether subtle or obvious. Each statue was filled with character and more women were also featured.


  1. Hanoi

There is so much to see in Hanoi, and whilst most of it is very busy, there are quieter parts. I have to admit, as I was living there, I did use my visits to eat some Western food, but the Vietnamese food was also very good, including the chicken (which was not so good where I was based, in Haiphong). The massive lakes and beautiful parks were lovely to walk through, there were some good shops where I got souvenirs and clothes (I already wrote a whole feature on the Gingko brand) and the art galleries and museums are enough to keep you coming back for more.


  1. Living

Haiphong isn’t somewhere you would go as a tourist, other than to get to Halong Bay and Cat Ba island. The worst thing about living there is that being a “farang” (foreigner) you stand out a lot, and as someone who is self-conscious anyway, it is really disconcerting to constantly be looked at, and it does become a challenge to always be greeted “hello” by strangers, especially when walking alone, especially when some men also turn a friendly thing into a cat-call. That said, despite these difficulties, I will look back on my time in Haiphong with fondness. Despite the rats, the ant-trails, and the humidity. I enjoyed my time teaching there – the students were (mostly) a pleasure to work with, and I got into a routine with the schedule. There were some nice lakes to walk around, lots of places to eat great street food (satay pancakes will be missed) and a cinema, which I frequented regularly. I didn’t have a chicken and supermarket food was expensive, so I got to eat out every night – living the dream indeed.


Tips: There are also some scams in Vietnam, but different ones to those in Thailand. Here are some of the ones we found:

  1. In Hanoi, women will put their baskets of food on your shoulder and ask you take photos. They will then want to charge you for this.
  2. In Ninh Binh, the people rowing the boat will go to a boat with different snacks, and they will suggest you buy something for them. They will then also ask for a tip despite the fact you have paid way too much money, and they will simply sell back the refreshments you bought specifically for them to consume, which I had read before we got scammed.
  3. My boyfriend was stopped by a shoe repairer, and he agreed to have them buffed, but then the man proceeded to resole the shoes and refused to tell him how much it would cost as he was doing it, and ended up being quite rude. He had a knife in his hand to cut the sole, so it was a potentially scary situation.

Thailand #Top5

So, I’ve written a few summaries on my highlights (and some lowlights aka tips for travelling). I’ll start where it all began… in Thailand!

  1. Cookery Course, Chiang Mai

I did a cookery course on my birthday, because I love food. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but the Penang curry I made was better than any I’d actually tasted in Thailand. Actually, I don’t claim my cookery skills to be better than Thai people – it was good thanks to the team effort of smashing a great peanut-filled curry paste together, and obviously the skilled instructions from the course leader. We also made soup, spring rolls, and Pad Thai (classic). You can do these courses all over Asia, but I recommend Chiang Mai as it is known for its cuisine, and we also got a recipe book to try them out at home.


  1. Nai Yung Beach, Phuket

It’s worth noting that in the low season, there appears to be more sea-lice in the water, and this really stung me in a lot of places all over Asia. However, Nai Yung beach sticks out in my mind as the best all-round beach we went to over the whole of our travels. It was how I imagined all the other beaches would be, and was perfect for swimming. This area of Phuket was not easy to travel from, but it is quiet and was just what we needed after Bangkok, jungle treks and Ayutthaya. Around the beach were lovely restaurants (one right on the beach, we went to about 3 times), massage parlours, and great street food in the form of Pad Thai and chicken on a stick.


  1. Night Markets, Chiang Mai

Luckily, this was another birthday activity. The Chiang Mai night market was one of the busiest and biggest over the trip. There were food stalls, and music, and tons of things for sale in the stalls that lined the streets. We wished we had brought more money with us, but I got the gift of a magnet (I like to collect them from each country I go to) and an elephant ring. We went there thinking we would just take a quick look, but ended up staying until closing time. There’s something about it that’s hypnotising, but it could just be the culture of consumption we’ve grown up with in the UK.


  1. Nature, various

The two big nature activities we did in Thailand were trekking in the forest on Bobby’s Jungle Tour, and going to the Elephant Nature Sanctuary. The first of these trips took place in a National Park. But National Parks in Asia aren’t like many I’ve experienced before. Much of it contained wild forestry and animals lived in their natural habitat for the most part, and we walked in search of animals. The best part was seeing millions of bats escape from their cave at sunset, which would go on for at least an hour. I booked the Elephant Nature Sanctuary for two days, and although one day would have been enough, the second day was more enjoyable for some reason. My favourite part was feeding the elephants, as well and just generally learning more about elephants and hearing their individual stories.

  1. Temples, Bangkok and Ayutthaya

My partner is a big fan of temples, so mostly I would go for that reason. However, the temples in Thailand are undeniably amazing, and it’s really fortunate that they allow tourists to look at these incredible architectural wonders. I preferred those in Ayutthaya to those in Bangkok as the pace of the old capital is slower and there are old ruins, and the Buddha head entwined in tree roots, so it was historically interesting, as well as beautiful.

Tips: Beware of scams, and buy a copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to South East Asia. My partner didn’t want to take it at first because of the weight, but he admitted that it was really useful to have. This outlines the scams and we could pretty much tick them all off during our time there. Here are some of the ones we experienced:

  1. The first day we set foot out in Bangkok, we were offered a ride to the boat port, and the driver took us to the wrong one. Despite having already checked the prices, we forked out an extortionate amount for a private boat, when we should have taken a cheap public one.
  2. We approached one of the main temples in Bangkok, and were approached by a man who claimed to work there (no uniform) and he told us it was closed until the afternoon, and reserved for monks at that time. I knew he was wrong as I’d checked the opening times, so we didn’t get caught out on this one.
  3. A man kept following us, trying to get us in a too-cheap tuk-tuk. This was likely to be a gem scam, and could have been potentially dangerous. He followed us into a 7-11 and may have been trying to steal something.
  4. We were dropped off at the beach on a very small island, and we were told they would pick us up for the last boat back to Phuket. However, they did not show up and we were saved by a taxi that got us there just as the boat was boarding. I’m not quite sure what the scam was, perhaps to get us to stay and spend money on the island?