I actually wasn’t going to write a review of 2017, not really sure why. Maybe I thought no one would really give a damn (maybe you don’t), but as I was sat writing my goals for the next few months and the year ahead I was thinking maaaan 2017 was actually a really epic travel year, probably the biggest in recent years. Plus it was huge change for me (quitting London and going travelling, then setting up home in Newcastle), so why just gloss over it? I know there are lots of other people out there who want to take a career break, or switch to remote working so they can travel more. So I’m here to say, if I can do it so can you. If you’re looking to take some time out from the daily grind hopefully this will provide some much needed inspiration. I know I read A LOT of blogs before finally taking the leap, so here goes….
Review of 2017
After a whirlwind of visiting family and friends up and down the UK we hauled our ginormous (and clearly way too big) backpacks on and jumped on a one-way flight to Bangkok. With 3 nights booked at a hostel we had NOTHING else planned. Exciting? Scary? It was probably a bit of both, but we wanted the freedom to go wherever the mood took us. This wasn’t our first time in Thailand so it felt kind of familiar and comforting. We knew a bit of the language and culture so it was the perfect place to acclimate to being in Asia. After a week in Bangkok it was definitely time for the beach. We took a flight down to Krabi and visited Railay beach (beautiful), Koh Lanta (my favourite place in Thailand), Koh Phi Phi (so awful I wrote a blog post about it), and Phuket (too touristy and not worth it), before flying back up to Bangkok. I also got my first of three food poisoning bouts, fun huh? Travelling is a lot of fun, but it’s not a bed of roses 24/7 trust me! Just make sure you have a range of meds on you and take out good travel insurance. World Nomads do a really good policy specifically for backpackers. February
After our Southern Thailand loop we were near the end of our 30-day visa waiver and it was time to move on to the next country. We decided to get the bus to Siem Reap in Cambodia, and had heard the border crossing there could be a little errrr tricky! Most nationalities need to buy a 30-day visa to enter Cambodia, but the border is full of scam artists and miss information. Luckily we’d done our research and entered the country without too much drama, although we did cause a bit of a stir by refusing to pay a bribe. I wrote a blog post about it here, with a guide to avoiding the scams too. Of course while in Siem Reap we had to visit Angkor Wat, we did the sunrise tour starting at 4am, it was hot sweaty and dusty but it was so worth it. We then headed south to the capital Phnom Penh to visit The Killing Fields and S21 prison. A worthwhile experience to understand the recent and terrible history of Cambodia, however Phnom Penh is the only place in Asia I actually felt uneasy. We were definitely ready to head down to the coast after only two nights there. We got the bus down to Sihanoukville, a pretty ugly town if I’m honest, but it’s the launching off place to most of the Cambodian islands, it’s also where I had my second of three bouts of food poisoning, joy! Luckily we were staying in a really swanky hotel as a treat to our selves after 2 nights in a windowless hostel room. We then jumped on the first of many dodgy ass boats to the islands of koh Rong (party island where a mouse ate my clothes, sob) and Koh Rong Sanloem (a tropical, unspoilt paradise), before returning to Otres beach on the mainland. Our last stop in Cambodia was the sleepy, French colonial town Kampot. We actually stayed for a week while our hostel dealt with processing our visas for Vietnam. We hired scooters and rode up Bokor Mountain, out to the pepper plantations and along the coast near Kep, plus plenty of chilling by the pool.
Off to country number 3 we went, starting off with the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. Armed with our 1 month visa the border with Vietnam was way less complicated than the Thai border. Thank god, because we were ridiculously hung-over that day. Probably not the smartest idea, but by this point we were used to it, ha! Phu Quoc is a pretty touristy island, but it has a relaxed charm about it that we enjoyed and we loved getting stuck into big bowls of Pho for almost every meal, yum! Then it was time to fly up to Ho Chi Minh City, or as most people still seem to call it Saigon. This was our first big city in a while and we were LOVING it. It was also where we first learnt how to cross those crazy busy Viet roads. You just have to keep the faith and walk out in front of the bikes,,,,eeeep! Onwards from HCMC we started to make our way up the coast, first to Mui Ne where we had so much fun scrambling up the huge sand dunes in an ATV. Then up into the mountains of Dalat and on to the touristy beach city of Nha Trang. By this point we were in love with Vietnam and kicking ourselves for only getting a one month visa, there was just so much more we wanted to see and so little time!
Although we kept our plans very open ended, riding on an over night train in Vietnam was on my must do list! We picked the highest class of cabin, a 4 birth “soft sleeper” which was comfortable enough although hardly luxury. The motion made me feel sick all night, but my boyfriend said he slept like a baby! I was glad that we did it, but I can’t say I would be rushing back for another over night journey. Luckily we’d booked a very nice hotel in Hoi An, just a 40 minute taxi from the station. I could have cried when I saw that gorgeous super king sized bed, bliss! We spent a whole week exploring Hoi An, Danang and the marble mountains AND renewing our visa for another 4 weeks, after all we definitely weren’t finished seeing Vietnam. After Hoi An we flew up to Hanoi to go to Music Republic Festival, which was so much fun, if a little weird. As non-locals we were kinda treated like celebrities, I wrote about the festival here. After Hanoi it was on to Ninh Binh, which wasn’t the most exciting place, but we did meet some awesome people. Then on to Cat Ba island for our Halong Bay cruise, which was another “must do” on our trip. It was a spectacular cruise through thousands of little islands, kayaking through caves into lagoons, then eating seafood caught off the side of the boat, a real “pinch me” moment.
After Halong Bay we headed back to Hanoi with the idea that we would head to the far north to do the Sapa Loop and then on to Laos, but by this point backpacker burnout was hitting hard. We were shattered from all the travelling, and the thought of a 24hour bus ride was making us both feel a bit sick. So in a “fuck it” moment we booked a flight for the next day to Hong Kong, and boy was it the best idea EVER. It was like a moment of coming up for air, I ditched all of my stained and torn clothes and bought a whole new wardrobe before we even arrived at our hotel. We spent the next week eating all the dim sum (including a Michelin star dim sum restaurant), drinking cocktails on rooftop bars, and going to fancy brunches. It was the perfect antidote to travellers’ burnout, and probably one of my favourite destinations on our whole trip. From Hong Kong it was back to Thailand, flying into Chiang Mai then heading up the hills to hippie town Pai. Northern Thailand is so chilled and friendly and way cheaper than the south. It was in Pai I had one of my all time favourite moments, lying in an infinity pool in beautiful tropical gardens eating fresh from the tree lychees, BLISS! It was in northern Thailand we had our next major turn around, thinking we would head up to Myanmar, the news of the Rohingya’s plight in the country made us feel very uneasy about visiting. Hopefully one day we’ll go see the temples at Bagan, but for now it was off the list. Instead, we would head to Kuala Lumpur, Bali and the Gili islands woohoo!
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at the end of rainy season and boooooy did it rain, I’ve never seen rain and lightening like it. If you go during rainy season make sure you take a light waterproof jacket and wear shoes that dry easily. Trust me, walking round in squelchy shoes is no fun! It was also Ramadan, and even though it’s a Muslim majority country they don’t expect tourists or non-Muslims to not eat or drink, however out of respect we decided to fast during the day too (although we did drink water, it was so hot!) And we even went to an amazing If tar dinner (breaking fast meal) at Atmosphere 360 at the KL Tower, a revolving restaurant 300 meters high! We also visited the Petronas Towers (of course), the Botanical Gardens, Little India and China Town. KL is a really great city, a lot like Singapore but without the sky-high prices! Then off we flew to Bali, somewhere I’d wanted to go for yeeeears and stayed in a stunning split-level apartment at Echo Beach Resort in Canggu. I massively fell in love with Canggu, a really cool surf town at the far end of Seminyak, I wrote about why I love it so much here. I met and went partying with some old college friends I hadn’t seen in forever in Canggu and met other friends from home in Seminyak, no pre planning just totally random, which was pretty cool. Then we headed to Ubud, made famous by Eat Pray Love, and we were the only people staying in a brand new eco resort, we were honestly treated like royalty there. We spent every day out on our scooters visiting temples, rice terraces, coffee plantations and traditional villages. After Ubud it was off to The Gili Islands, or more specifically Gili Air, a tiny island with no cars that you can walk around in 40 minutes. We stayed in a gorgeous bungalow right next to the beach, and spent every day working on our tans, drinking fruit smoothies and coconuts, snorkelling and swimming. It was sheer paradise, with only a small miss hap of me standing on a sea urchin, ouch! After Gili Air it was back to Bali, first to Seminyak for a few days so we could party at the world famous Potato Head Beach Club and Woobar at the W hotel, then back to that gorgeous apartment in Canggu. The day we left Bali I could have cried, it was heaven on earth and I can’t wait to go back.
Singapore was the last stop on our Asian adventure; we stayed in a gorgeous hotel near Marina Bay, although not at the famous Sands hotel. We definitely couldn’t justify a spend like that at the end of a six month trip. However we were able to go up to the roof top bar for a cocktail and ogle at their famous infinity pool. We also drank Singapore Slings at Raffles Hotel, visited little India & China Town, Gardens by the Bay and a last day of fun at Universal Studios. Singapore is a beautiful city, but after 4 days we definitely felt we’d seen all of the highlights, plus our bank accounts were seriously hurting, that place is wildly expensive. Mid July it was time to go home, the BF had scored a new contract while we were in Bali and although he’s able to mostly work remotely he has to be in London every few weeks. All good things must come to an end I guess, and at the end of six awesome months we were kind of ready to go home, especially to see family and friends and eat ALL THE FOOD. It’s really weird the things you miss when you travel, I had dreams about soft cheeses and really good bread and butter lol. Straight off our 14-hour flight from Singapore we hit up Marks and Spencer in the arrival hall at Heathrow.
We decided we wanted to base ourselves in Newcastle, it’s where I grew up and where many of my family and friends are, plus it’s a really cool city. I really should write some more Newcastle blogs to show people what this place is really all about, trust me when I say it’s not at all like Geordie Shore, ha! As my BF and I are both freelancers we decided to start working in a local co working office, which although this might sound strange, is way better than working from home every day. I love the community of working along side other freelancers, and so much healthier to separate work from home (although I work at home plenty too!) I also had two trips up to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, once at the beginning for work and again at the end of August for pleasure. I’ve worked the Fringe Festival so many times Edinburgh feels like a second home. It’s such an interesting city and it really comes alive during festival month! The end of August also saw us going to Belfast & Antrim Coast over the bank holiday weekend. It was actually my first time in Northern Ireland and I absolutely loved it. We visited the Titanic museum, which is well worth the entry fee and then hired a car to drive up the Antrim coast through all the cute little villages all the way to Giants Causeway. It definitely made me want to go back with our little campervan and take our time exploring all of the Game of Thrones locations (I’m obsessed with that show)
1st of September we moved into our own flat, it felt a bit weird at first to actually unpack, and hang things up in a wardrobe and not be living out of a backpack but it also felt nice to have a base after 9 months. I freakin’ love travelling, but it’s also nice to have somewhere to call home, cook your own food, have mates round, watch Netflix in your jammies etc., plus the new flat is awesome! I’m currently in the process of getting some of my best travel snaps printed and framed and I’m fulfilling a life long dream of having a globe drinks cabinet, ha!
October was relatively quiet travel month, we were settling into our new flat and getting used to being back in Newcastle. We had so much fun going to all my old haunts, and some new places including an awesome night out at a DJ Yoda gig at the Wylam Brewery Tap House. At the end of the month I had 24hrs in Leeds to try out the new and very swanky Dakota hotel and getting some serious retail therapy and eating done. Leeds is a fab place to go for a cheeky little weekend.
By early November I was desperate to get away again, I’ve pretty much always got itchy feet and need a trip to look forward to. Does anyone else spend hours searching Sky scanner for deals?? Maybe it’s just me, ha! Anyway, Easy jet recently started a direct route from Newcastle to Berlin so I jumped at the chance to go. Berlin is a seriously hipster city, and we stayed in an achingly hip apart-hotel in Mitte and went clubbing in old factories in east Berlin. Late November we drove down to Liverpool and stayed with a friend we’d made at our hostel in Krabi, Thailand. She rocked up all pissed off with her boyfriend, so we took her out for a beer, next thing you know were all travelling to Koh Lanta together. Some times when you’re travelling you meet some total gems that you stay in touch with and become good mates. Of course you also meet plenty of weirdoes and people you back out of a room when you see them too, but it makes you all warm and fuzzy when you make proper friends. We went to Liverpool Cream Classical at the docks; a big rave in an aircraft hanger type thing with a full orchestra and it was MINT! There was a lot of the old school trance classics in there, plus Sister Bliss on the decks throwing out a bit of house and techno, so much fun! Cream Classical are doing another event in Liverpool Cathedral in February, you can buy tickets here.
And in the last month of 2017 I came full circle and went back to London! Almost a year to the day that we packed up our flat and left, we decided to have a long weekend seeing all our mates, going to all our old haunts, we even stayed in the brand new Court House Hotel on Old Street bang smack in the middle of our old stomping ground. It felt super Christmassy, and we even went over to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park for old times sake and drank loads of German beer and Gluhwein yum!
It was fun visiting London as tourists, but it also reinforced a lot of the reasons we left. I’m not saying I’ll never move back, BUT I really needed to make that change and I’m so much happier now even if I do miss the buzz of the capital at times. And if you got to the end of this post you deserve a bloody medal! I think I’m going to write another post on my goals and travel/festival plans for 2018 so keep your eyes peeled for that. Do you ever review your previous year or do goal setting at the start of the New Year? I hate the whole “New Years resolutions” shtick, but I love getting organised and setting goals and making plans.
As well as staying in one of the most fabulous Hotels in Edinburgh my itinerary included eating at some of the hottest additions to the local foodie scene, drinking plenty of whisky (maybe a bit too much, ha!) all while seeing the best bits of this ancient city. So, if you’re visiting soon and looking for an Edinburgh itinerary that maximises your time there, look no further!
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