A Traveller’s Backpacking List: The Absolutely Necessary, The Handy and The “Sounds Useful” but Never Actually Used Stuff to Take in Your Backpack

We’re often asked “How do you pack for 6 months?”. Well if backpacking has taught us one thing, it’s how to pack a bit more savvy. Space and weight is everything because like it or loathe it you have to carry your backpack and its contents everywhere you go.

Sara is a self-confessed over-packer when it comes to her backpack and sees the error of her ways only once she is on the road, ditching items at every opportunity. Jonny on the other hand is pretty cautious to begin with, but often realises something he left back at home would in hindsight have been useful to take.

So where is the happy middle ground?

We’ll give you an insight into the absolutely necessary items to take, the handy bits and the things we thought would be useful but barely get used.

We should note we are in not in any way endorsed by any of the brands or suggested items below, nor do we receive commission.

The 22 Necessary Items

Here are the essentials that we wouldn’t travel without:

  1. A backpack! We’d recommend investing in a reputable backpack with an adjustable back. We both have Osprey backpacks: Women’s Kyte 66l and Men’s Atmos AG 65l. For our last trip we bought cheap Karrimor backpacks (under £30) and they fell apart quite quickly, plus they were really uncomfortable.
  2. An unlocked mobile phone with as much storage as you can afford. You’ll want the storage for travel apps, photos, downloading offline maps etc. Make sure you enable cloud storage and regular back-ups! It helps if your phone is unlocked so you can use local SIM cards. Tip: If you’re coming from the UK, we’d recommend getting a Three SIM card as they allow roaming to a lot of countries now at no extra cost.
  3. Obviously your passport & travel insurance (make photocopies and keep these in a separate bag). We tend to email ourselves copies of any important documents so we can always look them up.
  4. A Pen – this one is so easy to forget. However, you’ll need a pen for border crossings to fill in the immigration forms.
  5. A portable charger is very handy when you’re travelling so that you can charge your phone.
  6. A worldwide plug adaptor with USB ports – we bought this one. Jonny also bought extra long phone charging cables so if the plug socket is in an awkward place the cable will reach.
  7. Headphones (& a splitter if travelling as a couple) – for long journeys music, films and podcasts make the time pass much more quickly. As a couple we also have a headphone splitter so we can listen and watch things together.
  8. Luggage organisers & dry bags – these are so handy! We line our backpacks with a large dry bag (we had an incident before where all our stuff got wet from a boat ride so we learnt from that). The luggage organisers or packing cubes make finding items a lot easier as you just have to pull out each organiser rather than everything item one by one. We pack all our tops into one bag, underwear in another etc. We also have smaller dry bags for our day backpacks.
  9. Ear plugs & eye mask – for long-haul flights, overnight bus journeys, noisy rooms, snorers etc.
  10. Camera – your phone camera is likely to be good enough but if you use your phone a lot it could be a drain on battery. We have a Go-Pro for adventure activities and an Olympus E-M10 mirrorless camera which makes it much more compact than your standard SLR which is ideal for travelling. We also carry a spare battery for the camera.
  11. Head buff or wrap – these little beauties double up as a bandana, scarf, headband, eye mask, sweat band. They are ideal for trekking too when the weather is unpredictable.
  12. Day backpack – we have 25l day backpacks for daytime or short trips where we can leave our big backpacks in a hostel. Sara also finds it useful to take a small cross-shoulder bag for evenings out or daytime sightseeing.
  13. Sunglasses & sunscreen – hoping we don’t need to justify these!
  14. Bank cards – ideally one credit card (we use Halifax Clarity) and a debit card like Monzo or Revolut which are more travel friendly. All of these cards minimise the bank fees for withdrawals. In general we keep the two cards apart (one in a day bag, one in our big backpack) so we still have one, if the other gets stolen.
  15. Hand sanitiser – so many times there are toilets without soap (and sometimes water) to wash your hands.
  16. Micro-fibre towel – ideally one that packs down small and dries quickly.
  17. Lip balm – come rain or shine, wind or snow, you’re likely to spend a lot of time outdoors. We find our lips begin to suffer without lip balm.
  18. Pocket tissues – just really handy if you get the sniffles, spill something or for some toilets. They are also sometimes hard to buy in remote areas.
  19. Basic clothes – as an minimum: 3x T-shirts, 1x shorts, 1x long trousers/leggings/gym pants, 1x warm long sleeve fleece or top, 4x of knickers/boxers, 1x thin long sleeve shirt, 4x socks (trekking, trainer & normal), 1x sandals/flipflops, 1x swimsuit, 1x trainers/trekking shoes, 2x bra (sports & normal). In reality we take more clothes (see the handy items for the rest!).
  20. Mosquito repellant – it can be hard to know when these pesky critters will be about and you definitely don’t want to get caught out!
  21. First aid kit – this contains fairly basic items like plasters, anti-diarrhoea tablets, pain-killers, antihistamine, antiseptic wipes and decongestants.
  22. Raincoat & backpack rain-covers – keep you and your stuff dry. We both also have waterproof trousers for trekking. We’ve upgraded to good waterproof jackets for this trip due to the amount of treks we’d be doing. Sara has a North Face jacket and Jonny has Rab but there are many out there!

Some of our essential items.

Packing everything into luggage organisers or packing cubes is so helpful to find items. It also helps keeps clothes crease-free if you roll them!

14 Handy Items to Take

These next items have evolved during our travels. We’ve found them very useful.

  1. Travel apps – we download offline maps on Google maps and maps.me is useful too for directions. The Kindle app with Kindle unlimited is brilliant for downloading all Lonely Planet guides for the places we intend to visit. For budgeting we use Trail Wallet (iOS) or Trabee Pocket (Android). For long journeys we use Spotify and Netflix. Booking.com has been useful for almost every accommodation we have stayed at. To blog our travels we use the WordPress app. TripIt has been good to have all our flights and accommodation in one place. Google translate is still bit flaky but can really help you out. Also having online banking as an app, social media platforms and other language learning apps are useful too.
  2. Wash stuff – all your wash stuff like a toothbrush, shampoo etc you can normally pick up as you go which is why we’ve decided to not put them in absolutely necessary. We use a bar of soap instead of shower gel because it’s cheap and lasts longer. Lush produce great shampoo bars which are compact and last a long time too. We bought soap boxes/tins to carry them in. Remember to consider the weight as well as the space bottles of lotions and potions take-up. Don’t forget to bring tweezers, a nail file and nail clippers.
  3. A sewing kit – useful if you rip a hole in your clothes or bag. We’ve used the sewing kit more than we thought we would. Usually you can replace items but not always the same day.
  4. A cap or sunhat – keeps the sun off your face/neck when you’re in the sunshine. Neither of us brought one from the UK but we realised we needed one almost instantly! Particularly useful for safari or boat trips where it’s tricky to keep reapplying sun cream.
  5. A tablet or iPad – a bigger screen for us to watch things together and helpful for research.
  6. Menstrual cup – this one is specific to ladies and we know it sounds gross. However, it helps save space, avoid having to buy sanitary items (& pay the tax!), it’s good for the planet (reusable) and actually works!
  7. Spare small micro-fibre towel- if you like to wash your face every morning or have long or thick hair it may be useful to carry a hand-size microfibre towel around.
  8. Tea-bags – we’re British okay?!
  9. Playing cards – great for socialising and for long waits at airports/bus terminals.
  10. Hair bands/bobbles – we both have long hair so they are useful for hot climates. These are also useful if you need to secure something like your soap dish.
  11. Extra clothes – on top of the essential clothes listed above we both have brought short pyjamas, 3x more knickers/boxers and socks (7 in total, enough for a week), a second pair of shorts, extra warm top, thin long sleeved top and swimwear (2 in total). In addition, Jonny has 3x extra t-shirts (5 in total), 1x shorts (3 in total) and Sara has 1x t-shirt (3 in total), 4x strap tops, 2x dresses, 1x leggings (2 in total), 1x maxi skirt, 1x cardigan. She also has trainers and walking shoes 😅
  12. Reusable water bottle – we’d suggest one that collapses so that if it cannot be washed out for a while so it doesn’t become cumbersome to carry. For example, Sara has this one.
  13. Head-lamp or torch – can be useful depending on what you’re doing. We’ve got one between us and only used it a handful of times for exploring caves or at night. We use the torchlight on our phones primarily.
  14. A chiffon style oversize scarf/sarong/blanket/beach towel/wrap – this thing has so many uses. I purchased mine in Asia and it has surprisingly lasted well. They are cheap to buy when travelling but I use it as blanket on a long journey, a scarf when it’s cold, to lie on the beach and to wrap around me as a sarong. If you’re not sure what I mean, this should give you an idea.

Handy items to bring.

The “Sounds Useful” But Never Actually Used
  1. A pen knife – we may have used this once or twice to cut up some fruit or open a bottle of wine. Honestly though, if you’re staying in hostels it’s not normally hard to find one to borrow. It’s the same with the ‘spork’ (a spoon, fork and knife in one) we brought too.
  2. Elastic string – a travel site once recommended bringing this to make a washing line. We used it once in 6 months.
  3. Duct-tape – useful if your bag rips but then we’d use the sewing kit. Never used!
  4. Mini immersion heater aka water boiler – in principle this sounded great and was recommended in a travel packing list. Plug it in, put it in a mug of water & get instant hot water! We bought this one. It’s never been used.
  5. A notepad – we use our phones for notes or as a diary now and back this up on the cloud. We find a notepad just takes up unnecessary space.
  6. That extra top– Sara is especially guilty of this: I brought 2 extra tops (on top of those listed above) which I really didn’t need. In fact, I haven’t even worn all the clothes I took and we’ve been travelling for a whole month. Luckily as you travel, you start to appreciate which clothes you really need and can opt to ditch items. It also depends on the climate on what you’ll need. We’ve bought new clothes as we’ve needed them.
  7. A marker pen – we thought this might be useful. It does come in handy for labelling food in a shared fridge but normally a hostel will have a pen you can use.
  8. Sleeping bag liner – we’re a bit on the fence about this one. For the vast majority of our accommodation (dorms or private rooms) we have not needed it as bed linen was provided. There are rare occasions where they provide a warm duvet in hot weather so the liner is preferable or it’s freezing or dirty so again a liner is useful. We both still have ours with us on our current trip have used it 0 times. On the last 6-month trip we perhaps used it 5 times.
  9. Travel guidebooks – these can take up a lot of space. We ditched our Lonely Planet guide and stuck to the Kindle app for all our travel guides.
  10. Make-up & jewellery – Sara’s downfall: I always take a small bit of make-up and jewellery with me and always end up barely wearing any. Luckily it packs down quite small.

A few of the items that we barely (if ever) use.

Hopefully this either answers the question of what do we pack or helps you pack for a trip!

Tips for couples

Travelling as a long-term couple, we decided to create a shared email address and have a joint bank account to pay off our credit card. We find it makes travelling easier for us. It also means, we can both log into the majority of our travel apps with the same details so both of us have the same information.

Other Comprehensive Packing Lists

There are some very in-depth backpacking packing lists out there. We particularly liked this comprehensive one by Gap Year and our friend wrote this excellent website with simple travel tipslp to help travellers prepare for a trip (which includes a downloadable packing list).

Whatever you pack, don’t be this guy…

How not to pack 😂 this was taken when I was naive to backpacking and had a ridiculous amount of bags!

4 days in Hong Kong

Disclaimer: this travel blog was from August 2017.

The very last part of our 5-month trip around Asia was spent in Hong Kong. Instead of a lengthy blog post, we thought we’d put in a few highlights of the few days we spent here before returning back to the UK.

Highlight 1 > the food, especially the Dim Sum!

We loved Dim Sum Square and Cantom Dim Sum Expert. For huge portions of dinner (not Dim Sum) Tsui Wah was a good shout and fairly cheap too.

Highlight 2 > walking some of the dragon back ridge

Offering incredible views over Hong Kong we would recommend the hike. We got a bus to the start and walked to the view point.

Highlight 3 > seeing the large seated Buddha

The seated Buddha was a little out of town but experiencing the glass floor cable car was really cool. To get the seated Buddha there are quite a few steps up, however, the views were amazing, oh and the Buddha is huge!

Highlight 4 > going to Macau for the day!

We took the first boat out from Hong Kong and the last boat back. Macau is like the Vegas of Asia but also has a cute Portuguese town as well. It was definitely worth a visit!

Highlight 5 > the city skyline

We managed to get a free open-top bus tour of the city because some travellers hadn’t planned their time properly. We also took the peak tram with the sky pass to get the view over Hong Kong.

Singapore in 2 Days! 

Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in July 2017.

Singapore (2 nights) 

It felt like we were in Singapore much longer than we actually were. We really liked how walkable the city was which meant we could cram quite a lot in. Although it is more expensive, we actually managed to stay close to our backpacker budget by making the most of the free activities on offer and eating street food.

Singapore skyline.

After travelling from Melaka in the morning, we had 1.5 days to explore before our flight to Bali. We stayed near Bugis Junction (a shopping centre) in a small backpacker guesthouse because it was the cheapest place we could find. It actually turned out to be a great location because we were within walking distance of most the things we wanted to see. The restaurant below the Guesthouse called Seng Huat Coffee House had great food, in fact there was often a queue down the street!

The small but busy Seng Huat Coffee House bear Bugis Junction.

On our first evening we wandered down to the Gardens by the Bay to enjoy the light show which occurs most evenings. It is accompanied by music (this time it was musical theme). It looked very pretty.

Gardens by the Bay light show runs almost every evening. You can watch it for free at ground level.

Afterwards, we went to Boat Quay for drinks with Oonagh, a friend from Worthing now living in Singapore.
Boat Quay – a popular outdoor eating/drinking spot, particularly with expats.

The next day, we were up early to explore but the heavens opened so we had to wait it out a while and decided to look at the free shark exhibition at Park House.

Once the rain had eased off, we wandered through the colourful houses and little shops on Haji Lane and Arab St.


Next on the list was Little India with the most colourful buildings. Mustafas, a department store, felt more of a bizarre with absolutely anything and everything inside from gadgets & gizmos to body lotions and potions. Not to mention every type of biscuit and chocolate you could want – it’s worth a peek inside.

All the colours around Little India.
Our third stop was Chinatown. We took the metro to save time and enjoyed sampling some of the street food at the many hawker stalls here.
Chinatown is definitely a good place to visit if you’re on a budget. Good food and lots to look at/explore.
In the evening, we walked to the Merlion and watched the light show in Marina Bay. For a free show it was pretty spectacular!

The free light show at Marina Bay.

Our flight to Bali was at 5am the next morning, which meant we had to leave for the airport at 2am. Having been busy sightseeing, we’d not booked any accommodation for Bali so it was a bit of a last minute scramble and very little sleep!

Malaysia: A One Week Visit

Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in July 2017.

George Town, Penang (4 nights) >> Kuala Lumpur (3 nights)  >> Melaka (1 night)

It was a brief visit to Malaysia but we enjoyed every minute. After the night train from Thailand, we made our way to George Town.

George Town, Penang

A UNESCO heritage Town in Penang, George Town was such a good spot for travellers. The town itself is very walkable, making it ideal for those on a budget. We didn’t have much time to do our research before we arrived but just by wandering around we stumbled upon beautiful old Chinese architecture, endless cafes and incredible street art. This is a hipsters playground.

George Town was even home to a Cat Cafe where we lost pretty much lost an entire morning to the cats.

The Cat Cafe in George Town.

For something different, we visited the Tech Dome which had a laser maze, climbing wall and a vertical free fall drop.

Josh did so well on the climbing wall, Jonny needed some attention in the laser maze.

Food wise, the night hawker stalls were a good option with freshly made satay chicken skewers.

May I present to you Satay Chicken 😋

On our last day in George Town, we strolled through the free Botanical Gardens. The monkeys picked on unsuspecting tourists planning to eat in the gardens- not cool if you were said tourist but otherwise providing further free entertainment for us. Note: do not bring food into the Botanical Gardens.

The free botanical gardens near George Town, Penang.

Chew Jetty should probably get a shout out because it is entirely built upon handmade stilts, literally buckets of concrete. It reminded me of a smaller and much more authentic Pier 39 in San Francisco with all the little shops and stalls.

Exploring Chew Jetty. We decided to mark the occasion with henna tattoos.

Kuala Lumpur

We caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur and stayed near Central Market which had lots of shops and stalls (great for buying souvenirs/gifts) and food places.

On the outskirts of Kuala Lumpar was Batu Caves. They were easy to get to as they were situated at the end of the metro line, but remember to save all your energy for the steps!

Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur.

We visited the Petronas Towers at dusk to watch the transition from day to night when the towers light up. Then it was time for our last supper with Joshua before he sadly departed back to the UK.

The mighty high Petronas towers in KL.

Melaka City

We took the morning bus to Melaka so we had all afternoon to explore. Melaka is another UNESCO world heritage site in Malaysia due to beautiul old architecture. We really enjoyed this town; the quaint streets, boat ride down the river, the red square and street art made it a great place for an afternoon visit.

The colourful town of Melaka.

We ate at two really yummy places: Kocik Kitchen and Calanthe Art Cafe. I had a Laksa curry at both I loved the dish so much- a lovely coconut based soup with noodles. I had both a prawn and chicken one and both were great.

From Melaka, we took a 4-hour bus ride to Singapore.

One month in Thailand

Bangkok >> Krabi >> Ko Phi-Phi Don >> Khanom >> Ko Tao >> Ko Phangan

Brits get a 30-day visa exemption for Thailand which makes it a popular destination for holiday makers, gap-year students and travellers. Not to mention the cost of living is low, the weather is great almost all year round and Thailand hosts some of the best beaches in the world. So it’s no surprise that it can feel like half of Blighty are there with you. Safe to say we were a little apprehensive about visiting Thailand.

However, contrary to our initial apprehension we were left wanting more! As a self-confessed beach bum, the majority of our time was spent island-hopping in South Thailand. And boy, is there a lot of islands – some completely deserted. Even the secret paradise beach that Leonardo Dicaprio found in the film ‘The Beach’ can be located in South Thailand – though that beach admittedly is quite touristy now.

Here is a taster of what Thailand has to offer and that’s before even mentioning the food…

One month of travel distilled into nine photos. Tricky.

Our route: 

I couldn’t produce the usual Google map route because we visited islands in Thailand, so instead you have this amateur markup.

A) Bangkok – 6 nights (over two trips)
B) Krabi – 4 nights in Ao Nang and 1 night in Krabi Town
C) Phi-Phi island – 2 nights
D) Khanom – 5 nights
E) Ko Tao – 9 nights
F) Ko Phangan – 5 nights
Plus 1 night on the overnight train to get to the Thai/Malaysian border.

The Thai food had to be one of the cuisines we were looking forward to the most and on the whole it didn’t disappoint but watch the chili- it blew India out the water.

Thai food was very tasty as long as it was of a ‘Farang’ or foreigner spice level! Our favourites were the classic Green Thai curry, Massaman curry, Pad Thai and Mango sticky rice for dessert.

Bangkok

We actually went to Bangkok twice; the first time after India and the second time after Vietnam. On our first trip to Bangkok we visited the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

Modelling the staple Thailand attire at Wat Phra Kraew and Wat Pho temples. Have you ever seen so much gold?

We stayed close to the notorious Khao San Road, a road famous (or infamous) for its bars and restaurants serving alcohol by the bucket. It was really fun, except for the fact I was still recovering from food poisoning in India so we didn’t hit the parties full force.

Khao San Road antics.

The second trip to Bangkok made up for that though with a lot of socialising and catching up with old friends.

Catching up with some old friends in Bangkok.

We checked out some of the humongous shopping centres complete with car showrooms and full gymnasiums. We also shamelessly went to Tesco Lotus just because it was like home.  Terminal 21 was particularly cool with each level represented by a different country, at the top was San Francisco with delicious food court.

The Golden Gate Bridge… in a shopping mall.

Krabi

We’d heard only good things about Krabi from other travellers so we decided to make this our next stop. Flights were really cheap too costing about £20 each. The main attraction of staying in Krabi is for island-hopping, aside from the bar crawls. It’s quite a big place and there are numerous places to stay- we chose Ao Nang which sounded like it would be lively and have lot of options for island-hopping.
June maybe wasn’t the best time of year for a visit because it was monsoon season. During our time in Krabi, I’d say 70 percent of the time it was overcast and 50 percent it just rained. A Thai massage became a great rainy day activity!

Singing in the rain.

Luckily, we did manage to get some breaks from the monsoon and enjoyed island hopping to Chicken Island (named after it’s shape) and Tup Island which connect by a sand bar at low tide.

The first deserted islands we visited via longboat. Pretty darn beautiful aren’t they?

We also went to Railay beach which you can only reach by boat. It had a beautiful cove (and monkeys!) and was popular with rock climbers. There were also nearby caves, one weird cave with penises in and one fairly normal cave (called Diamond Cave).

Railay beach and some strange caves.

Ko Phi-Phi Don

Ko Phi-Phi Don or Phi-Phi island was our next destination. Interesting fact, ‘Ko’ means ‘island’ in Thai.

We stayed for just two nights on the party island but managed to squeeze in a lot. The first afternoon, we got our bearings, stroked one hundred cats and lazed away on the beach with Chang beer and Jonny playing Ukelele.

Trippy snapchat filter.

The island-hopping boat trip from Phi-Phi was a full day stopping at the stunning Bamboo island, monkey beach, a gorgeous turquoise pool of water surrounded by rocks and Maya bay – famous because it was where the ‘The Beach’ was filmed. Getting to Maya bay was pretty funny as the water was too shallow for the boat to anchor so instead we had to rock climb and use a net to clamber up to gain access. We could then do the classic run through the palm trees, like Leonardo, to reveal the bay. Though it had got a little cloudy so it wasn’t quite the same beach.

Being like Leo and finding not-so-secret beaches (anymore) for the day.

Phi-Phi island although beautiful, did have a dark side: alcohol buckets at silly prices (£3.50 for a bucket of G&T), UV paint, beach and pool parties and even a bar with a boxing ring in the middle. As you can see in the photos below, we naturally stayed away from all this nonsense. This was also the night I lost my Thailand 7/11 toastie virginity – a staple most gap year students will mention.

Damn that toastie was worth it.

Khanom

This place was our retreat. A non-touristy town compared to the rest of the places we visited, with a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach.

Barely a soul around.

It is also home to pink albino dolphins and we were lucky enough to see two on a trip organised by our host.

Great 2 second capture by Mr Mansell of the speckled pink Dolphins.

We stayed at a really homely Homestay called Happy Resort and had a small bungalow all to ourselves with a kitchen so we could even make our own food- it was so nice to have cereal in the morning!

Our little bungalow complete with dog and hammock free of charge (and husband…just kidding).

Other highlights of our stay in Khanom were Hin Lat and Samet Chun waterfalls, the night market and Khanom Seafood restaurant which had an endless list of fresh seafood cooked in your preferred style. Scooters and motorbikes we £3 to rent all day so we took one each to get around.

Waterfalls, biking, hiking and eating- what else could you want?! Actually I could answer that, better roads would have been nice!

Ko Tao

We made Ko Tao mainly a diving trip, planning to do our Advanced Open Water PADI certification. The diving (and snorkelling) was incredible seeing so much underwater life including turtles, rays, barracudas, groupers, parrot  and bat fish and more. Sadly, we didn’t get to spot a Whale Shark which frequent the water around this area.

How to even begin to capture the diving and snorkelling to be had in Thailand.

We also went to Yuan Island which was gorgeous. The beaches and snorkelling around Ko Tao were great as well including Tanote Bay, Shark Bay, Freedom Beach and Mango Bay stopping at another view point.

Exploring Koh Tao on our non-diving days.


Koh Phangan

The home of the Full Moon Party! There wasn’t actually a full moon when we went but a half moon so instead we got tickets to the Half Moon party in the middle of the jungle! Josh, our third wheel, who had nothing better to do joyfully came out to meet us in Thailand. We had a lot of fun catching up and nursing his hangover the next day.

Half moon spectacular.

Besides partying, we enjoyed some of the beaches and waterfalls on the island.

Koh Phangan away from the parties.

Then it was onwards and upwards to Malaysia! The journey involved a boat, a long drive, one overnight train journey and a second train once we crossed the Malaysian border. It was long but actually didn’t feel too bad, the sleeper train had beds with curtains and all the transport ran very smoothly.

Nighty, night!

15 days in Vietnam – VietDAYUM – An almost useful blog

Ho Chi Minh City >> Hoi An >> Hue >> Hanoi >> Halong Bay

DAYUM, Vietnam was really good. I was excited to visit before we crossed the Cambodian border, then I had a bowl of pho from a street vendor who warmed my insides. Vietnam continued to warm my insides until we left 15 days later.

Get in ma belleh.

We were granted 15 days entry to ‘Nam without a visa as a UK citizen. In fact being a UK citizen in ‘Nam was great, I don’t think our empire did anything embarrassing over the years to mean we should be sheepish or coy wandering the streets. This feeling follows on from our Indian escapade.. “Where are you from?” “England… Sorry”

Where did 15 days go?

(A) Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) (Saigon) ~ 4 days
(B) Hoi An ~ 4 days
(C) Hue ~ 2 days
(D) Hanoi ~ 1 days
(E) Halong Bay ~ 3 days
(F) Hanoi ~ 1 day (stayed near Noi Bai International airport)

Our route through VietDAYUM.

HCMC is famously the set of The Avengers and the Iron Man films, Stark Tower is right here. Ok that might not be true, but I did read that the helipad is useless because the pressure pulsations from the chopper rotors would damage the glass sides. Tony Stark would never have designed it like that.

I. AM. IRON. MAN. Bitexco Financial Tower

HCMC was really walkable for a pair of relatively fit 20-somethings.

Vietnam life: coconuts, The Notre Dame (Who’d have thunk?!) and an unusually good looking Post Office.

The War Remenents Museum was really interesting, sobering, shocking, harrowing, I’m sure there are more adjectives.

The War Remnants Museum in HCMC.


The Vietnam War is a topic I find pretty difficult to think critically about, there is so much biased information out there. The museum is no exception, but it’s nigh on impossible to ponder on the politics when such horrific images are on display.

Nothing much held back in the museum exhibitions.

One small thing I noticed, (US) documentaries would call North Vietnam “communists”, the museum referred to the North as “patriots”. There were other small differences but ignoring the history, it is incredibly sad, particularly the multi-generational impact dioxin exposure (Agent Orange) has had. Let’s all just get along!

Photos of victims of Agent Orange in the War Remnants museum.

The place is worth a visit, as were the Cu Chi tunnels where most Westerners are too large to get into the original sized holes!

Gangly man problems

On a lighter note, I had a huge amount of hyperinflated Dong. We got around 30,000 dong for each Pound, so we were Vietnamese millionaires. What a feeling to have so much Dong.

We were lazy and paid a tour company to take us to the Mekong Delta for what I envisaged as a quiet afternoon, gliding through narrow jungle lined waterways. In reality that happened for about 5 minutes, followed by countless opportunities for us to relinquish our Dong at a thousand different souvenir shops. Lesson learnt!

Enjoying our 5 min ride on the Mekong Delta.


With our 15 day allowance depleting, we flew to our next stop Hoi An (We flew to a place called Da Nang 30 minutes away, there is a dragon bridge there that breathes fire, but it’s no Clifton Suspension Bridge).

Hoi An was very romantic and picturesque after sunset, with visitors cruising down the river along with candles placed in lanterns that light up the evening.

The lanterns in Hoi An make for great snaps.

The western girl that was working at one of the bars berating us for not wanting to drink all we can in exchange for my Dong just didn’t fit in here. I will keep hold of my Dong, thank you Missy.

We stayed at a super swish, super cheap guesthouse very close to a quiet, sandy, long stretch of beach.

The beach near Hoi An – An Bang Beach. Looking back, it doesn’t get much better than this!

Maybe it’s just me but before this trip, sandy beaches didn’t spring to mind when I thought of Vietnam. We were travelling during monsoon season, so we were thankful that our pad was close to the beach when the apocalyptic sky launched relentless bullets of water. Only afternoons were affected and it was quite therapeutic taking in the sounds of the rain from a sheltered balcony.

Hey Dog, I’m no storm chaser but I reckon you’re going the wrong way pal.

We begrudgingly caught a bus to Hue next, pronounced like ‘Way to go’, or “hoo-way to go”, “which hoo-way?” Hue.

We’re living in the future, freaking buses with lying down seats, incredible.

I’m partial to an amber ale, and here there was a beer called “Kuda” which was the closest thing I’ve tasted in Asia so far to an amber ale. It was properly cheap too, so thankfully I could hang on to the majority of my Dong.

Hoo-way

The citadel in Hoo-way is the star attraction, and for good reason. We spent most of the day roaming around. It reminded us of the Forbidden City in Beijing. In terms of old stuff that we have seen on our travels, this didn’t feel particularly old or historic and possibly took away from the experience slightly – but then I’m English, we have pubs older than time itself.

The Citadel.

Another flight, (hang on we’re supposed to be budget backpackers??) this time to Hanoi, pronounced Hanoi. Another very walkable city, but the underground train system that was under construction whilst we were there would’ve been appreciated a couple of times, it was freaking hot.

The gate to the old quarter and a few photos from the exclusive Mansell’s Wondering Walking Tour. No insurance provided to cover death by motorbike.

Lots of sights to take in; the old quarter, Ba Dinh square, pagodas.. We had a great time absorbing it all.

Hanoi City. The guys at the bottom thought I was gangly Jesus.

Our favourite sight was the train track that runs disturbingly close to houses and shops through the centre of Hanoi. It was awesome/slightly stupid to stand next to when one of the two daily trains cruised by. I’m surprised the locals have never accidentally derailed the train before with the fires, leftover barrels and building material we saw on the tracks during the day.

“I walk the line”

Last but not least we took a trip around Halong Bay with a dreaded tour company argh! A significant chunk of my Dong was handed over for this magical trip.

No one can hear you scream.

Our lucky stars must’ve aligned that day, we were upgraded to a higher class cruise boat! Our room was easily more swish than 90% of places we’d stayed on dry land.

We spent our time cruising through the bay, kayaking around, walking to a view point and eating nicely presented food (I’m more of a big dirty burger kinda guy but sure, the food looked great)

The upgrade felt like Titanic for us, not the end bit of the film just the first half

Does an anti sweat filter exist? Sweaty mess at the Ti Top viewpoint

After snoozing onboard, we stayed on a private island south of Halong Bay, it was a pretty sweet set up. The highlight was partying with a group of vacationing Vietnamese medical workers. They were incredibly keen for us to drink their seemingly infinite supply of beer as quickly as possible with them.. who are we to say no?! It took me much longer than it should to realise the female company in the group were in fact “hired in help”! Thinking back, it’s hilarious how much fun we all had given that we barely understood one another.. the universal language of getting wasted on cheap lager I guess.

Halong Haloooong will I slide, separate my siiiiiiiiiide. Red Hot Chili Peppers famous song inspired by Halong Bay (Absolutely not true)

We ended our trip back in Hanoi with rooftop drinks joined by our new Portuguese friends Diana and Pedro.

The day after the night before!

We could easily write another blog on the grub during our trip. The Vietnamese cuisine features pretty high on my list of favourites, especially bún chả (pork ribs with noodles and greens paired up with crispy spring rolls nomnomnom).

The food gods were on my side in ‘Nam, I didn’t get ill at all (Delhi belly FU) and it was cheap and freaking delish

So after 15 days in ‘Nam, I have no more use for my Dong. I exchanged my Dong quite a bit for goods and services in Vietnam but there is still Dong in my pocket. If anyone is interested in buying the remains of my Dong don’t hesitate to get in touch so you too can have a wonderful time using my Dong in Vietnam!

Cambodia in one week! 

Siem Reap (4 days) >> Phnom Penh (3 days)

One week is not nearly enough to cover Cambodia so we debated whether to go at all. However, we decided some time was better than nothing at all. Especially for the temples of Angkor Wat which we distinctly remember topping the ‘Ultimate Travelist’ by Lonely Planet. The temples of Angkor Wat are the largest religious monument in the world and date back to the 12th Century, that’s around 900 years ago.
We made our trip to Cambodia part of a shoestring loop from Bangkok, visiting Vietnam as well. It made for a nice 3-week tour around South East Asia before returning back to Thailand and heading south towards our final destination of Bali for our return flight home.

Our itinerary for Cambodia:

  • 29th May – Bangkok (Thailand) to Siem Reap via bus – booked tickets online via Thai Ticket Major
  • 4 days in (A) Siem Reap for Angkor Wat temple complex
  • 2nd June -Siem Reap to Phnom Penh via Cambodia post bus booked through Cambo Ticket
  • 3 days in (B) Phnom Penh
  • 5th June – Phnom Penh to (C) Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) via Kumho Samco bus booked through Cambo Ticket

Our route from Bangkok, through Cambodia and onward into Vietnam.

A little bit of useful travel info:

  • Currency: Cambodia uses US dollars which makes it very easy to get currency in advance and exchange any leftover.
  • Transport: Buses were certainly the easiest way to travel through Cambodia and were very easy to book online. Cambo ticket in particular shows a comparison of buses so you can pick your preferred choice. All the buses we booked were very efficient including the border crossings.

The Cambodian border.

  • Visas: For UK citizens, you need a visa for Cambodia which costs $30 (bring dollars with you) and you can get this at the border. You need 2 x passport photos (worst case they can do them for you there for an additional cost). We had read lots of stories about scams operating at the border and even the bus we were on dropped us off at an unofficial visa place. The people here immediately started to ask for our passports and passport photos. To be fair they were very efficient. However, they charged 1400 BAHT (about $41) and we could not pay in dollars so we immediately realised it wasn’t the official visa office. We paid it anyway as many other travellers were doing so. Once all the forms were prepared, we had to walk to the border to get our passport stamped and receive a departure card. We were a little sceptical that we were about to be charged again but in the end our visas did actually get processed very quickly. Quicker, in fact, than the few tourists who realised in time to go to the actual border to sort their visa out. For Vietnam, UK citizens can currently stay for 15 days visa free which is why we could take the bus – this option only works if you already have a visa or like us, you don’t need one. It’s better to fly if you need to get one.

    Now for the good stuff, our actual experience…

    Siem Reap & The Temples of Angkor Wat

    We stayed at Villa Sweet Angkor Central, it was really cheap at £11 for both of us per night and our room even had two double beds! The hotel also had a small swimming pool which was great given we were nowhere near the sea.

    Room to spread out in our accommodation in Siem Reap for only £11 a night!

    Jonny doing his best seal impression in the pool.


    It was a bit of a walk to Pub Street (the street is actually called ‘Pub Street’) which is where all the bars and a lot of restaurants are. This street was really good fun and beers were as cheap as $0.25!!

    Pub Street in Siem Reap!


    The next day we took it easy and had a wander around the town. We found a great bakery called Bloom Cafe which had the nicest coffee and cakes! 

    Beautifully presented coffee and yummy treats at Bloom cafe in Siem Reap.


    For Angkor Wat, the temple complex is too big to walk around so you can either hire a tuk-tuk for the day, cycle or hire scooters/motorbikes. We found a place offering electric bikes which we thought might be fun (and more eco-friendly) costing $10 for 24-hours. The lady in the shop told us we could get tickets for Angkor Wat from 5pm the day before and see some temples that same evening. This worked out well as it made it easier for us to get to the temples for sunrise the next day which had been heavily recommended by everyone we met. As we rode to the ticket office, a monsoon from hell came down and we got absolutely soaked from head to toe. It was pretty hilarious walking up to the ticket counter leaving a puddle behind us. 

    The monstrous monsoon which came down whilst we were riding to the ticket office.


    You can either get 1, 3 or 5 day tickets for the Angkor Temple complex. We decided on 1 day tickets and although we did not see everything on the site we felt it was enough for us – you can get a bit ‘templed’ out in the heat if not careful. 

    After we’d got our tickets, we decided to check out one of the temples that was open until 7.30pm, Pre Rup temple.

    Testing the bikes out we went to see Pre Rup temple in the evening.

    The way back was funny as we had to ride the bikes no more than 14 kph or risk the bike running out of charge and having to use the most ridiculous looking pedals! We made it back eventually haha.

    After a quick shower, we went out for our first taste of Cambodian food at what became one of our favourite restaurants, Temple Design Bar, which was just a few streets back from Pub Street. We tried the Amok curry which was delicious.

    Delicious amok curry & rice at Temple Design Bar. Not to mention the $1 beer 😉

     Bright and early the next morning (a crazy 5.45am), we set off on our freshly charged bikes (we had to charge the batteries in our room overnight). We arrived at probably the most famous and well preserved temple, Angkor Wat, for sunrise. It was pretty spectacular, even if it was cloudy. 

    Angkor Wat bright and early.

    Inside Angkor Wat Temple.


    There was a monk giving prayers to tourists.

    Monk blessing me (I think!).


    We spent time looking around the temple and you could even go up one of the spire towers.

    Around Angkor Wat temple.


    Next we went to Bayon Temple which is known for the faces carved into the rock.

    The faces carved into the rock at Bayon Temple.


    Here, we witnessed the sun have a surreal ring around it which was really incredible.

    Amazing rainbow ring around the sun above Bayon Temple… does it mean something perhaps?!


    We had to stop to charge up the bikes, but used the time to have an early lunch. We tried Beef Lombok, another traditional Cambodian dish.

    Cambodian Beef Lombok. To be honest, we preferred the Amok and Khmer Cambodian curries but it was still good!


    Next we visited the main gates and a few more temples around the site. 

    The scale of the temple complex is difficult to comprehend until you are there! Even the butterfly in the photo needed a rest!

     Ta Prohm temple (below) is famous for being used in the film Tomb Raider.  It has trees literally growing through the temple walls.

    Ta Prohm temple, best known for featuring in Tomb Raider.


    Finally we watched Angkor Wat as the sun begin to set, before making our way back.

    Angkor Wat as the sun was setting.

    After a tiring day, we treated ourselves that evening to a BBQ plate on Pub Street and a few drinks after 🙂

    Enjoying a big BBQ plate and beer after a long day at the temples.


    For our final day in Siem Reap we decided to spend most of the day relaxing by the pool and having a bit of pampering. I got my nails done for $2 and we both had a fish foot massage with free beer!

    Chill out and pamper day- Jonny loved getting his nails done 😉 The fish spa came with a free beer- result!

     We had the best curries at Cambodia Tradional Chef – the fish Amok and beef Khmer curry were really good.

    Fantastic Fish Amok curry (front) and Khmer curry (behind) 😊

    Phnom Penh, S-21 & The Killing Fields (not the nicest title I’ll admit)

    The bus to Phnom Penh was again very simple. It was a small minibus which departed from the main post office. The bus stopped for a break on the 6 hour journey at a beautiful location. 

    We have no idea where this was as the bus stopped us here for a break on the way to Phnom Penh, but isn’t it beautiful?


     
    Sitting on the bus for so long enabled us to catch up with House of Cards on Netflix 😉 We also met fellow travellers Don and Adam on the bus, and decided to meet the next day to go to S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. If you haven’t heard of the Khmer Rouge regime or the history around this, I urge you to read up on it. It’s likened to the Holocaust. We didn’t take many photos of these places as they were extremely harrowing. I’d certainly recommend a visit and the audio guide was well-done. 

    The terrifying rules as S-21 prison, a former school, used during the Khmer Rouge regime. One of the rules reads ‘Whilst getting lashes or electrification, you must not cry at all’.

    On the left is S-21 prison and on the right is the memorial for those that lost their lives at the Killing Fields.


    That afternoon, we needed something much lighter so we did what many Brits do and went to the pub. We were still with Don and Adam and enjoyed a few rounds of pool, some drinking games and a lot of beer together! 

    A bit of light relief after the horrific stories from Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields.


    Sensibly realising we needed to sober up, we decided a Khmer massage would be the best approach. The massage though, was actually really good and involved a lot of stretching (or the beer helped to mask the pain…).

    Our accommodation (Longlin House) was in an area equivalent of pub street in Siem Reap. It was great for restaurants but it was a little seedy with many prostitutes outside the bars. We did find one great restaurant called Kabbas Restaurant which had really good Cambodian curries.

    More Cambodian curry. Literally couldn’t get enough of this yummy stuff!


    Our final day in Phnom Penh was spent wandering around the Royal Palace (it was closed so we didn’t go inside), the river, central market and the National Museum of Cambodia (personally we didn’t feel the museum was worth the $5 entrance fee).

    A day in Phnom Penh.

    We had a late lunch at David’s Handmade Noodes restaurant but the handmade dumplings were even better!

    Handmade noodles and dumplings made right in front of us at David’s in Phnom Penh.


    Then it was on to Ho Chi Minh city or Saigon in Vietnam. We were pretty chuffed when the seats we’d booked had extra leg room! 

    Happy travellers leaving one great country to another!


    So there you have it; both breathtaking and unforgettable experiences, the tastiest food, good company and lots of fun. Safe to say we enjoyed our 1-week visit to Cambodia!

    Vietnam blog coming soon…