Tag Archives: South East Asia

Laos Pt1: Luang Prabang

I left Thailand from Pai, taking the slow boat into Laos, a popular way to across into the northern end of the country. You’ve got to get lucky with this boat, as the people you meet are likely to be your friends for the next couple of weeks.

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DCIM100GOPROSo getting the bus and boat over and into Laos is ok, don’t expect luxury, and don’t expect much fun, it’s all very basic and the ‘slow’ part is correct. The bus over to the border is pretty standard, after which you do all the visa stuff before shipping down river to the town to sleep your first night in Laos before the second half of the boat ride. Don’t get duped into spending any extra money on the hotel at Pakbeng, they are desperate to eek every penny from you, and don’t care about what happens to you down the line. Those that paid the extra wasted money on rooms hardly any nicer, even if the one I slept in ranks in the bottom 5 of rooms I’ve stayed in. It’s an early start the next day, but the little town you stay in is not nice, and I was glad to see the back of it.

DCIM100GOPROIt’s a good thing you’re going down river otherwise the boat would hardly move at all. The views are pretty good as you go, but it’s not enough to keep you from getting bored for 5 hours. Find somewhere to sit, near some people the same age and that speak the same language and prepare to learn everything there is to know about them. Thankfully my crew were lovely, and we bonded quite nicely, mostly English with a couple of exceptions. With the hard seats and no chance to nap, we were all grateful to reach Luang Prabang and head to our hostel – Lemon Lao/Spicy Lao. The hostel was supposedly started by the same guy that ran the ‘spicy’ hostels in Thailand, it was rather clear why he’d given up on this one (if he really had anything to do with it). While the staff was lovely, and most of the place was pretty chilled out a friendly, it was freezing cold. There were only a few rooms with windows and doors, and those that did were loose or broken, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t winter and very cold at night.

DCIM100GOPROLuang Prabang was actually a great little city, with some lovely French Colonial architecture and the whole town had a strangely European feel to it. Excellent markets and some some great bars made it a nice place to spend a bit of time, just be a little careful of the table football sharks, they’ll let you win a game, then start betting and win so easily.

DCIM100GOPROThe best bit of the town is the waterfalls nearby, the first day we checked out a complex which has plenty of falls and one area that has featured in a thousand Facebook profile pics. Kuang Si Falls has a beautiful green water pool, and a great waterfall flowing in that makes it just perfect for posing in swim wear. There’s also a rope swing that has plenty of people queuing to use it, but it’s all very friendly, and there’s lots of people having fun, so the ‘Oooohs’ from the crowd when someone belly flops in is quite impressive. Of course there’s a few trying flips and things, but mostly everyone is just happy to be there. Thankfully the sun warms the water nicely, and the cold of night is long gone. This site also had a little bear sanctuary, and being a big fan of bears I found this rather pleasant. Of the zoo style places I’ve seen this seemed to be one of the nicer, with no metal cages and plenty of space for the animals. Apparently all of the bears here have been rescued from farms or zoos, so support the charity and help some of these awesome creatures

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was a another waterfall network, Tat Sae Waterfalls, not so great for swimming and diving, but we still found plenty of spots. The most fun at this one was finding the highest place we could jump from. Certainly lots of adrenalin pumping as we clamber up platforms and over rocks to the high perch, only to plummet straight back down into the water. You need to be careful where you land though, the depth isn’t obvious and I’m sure it would be very easy to hurt yourself if you mis-placed your jump.

DCIM100GOPROOne of the most interesting things about Laos is that they have a curfew, everybody must be home by midnight, so everything shuts at 11.30. There is one exception, which was the bowling alley. The tuk-tuks line up outside the  bars in town ready to take westerners out of town to the mythical bowling alley, which continues serving until the last people leave. There’s not much music, and absolutely no atmosphere, but the venue serves it’s purpose – allowing tourists to keep drinking. After a couple of games the novelty wears off, and people start drifting home, only the hardcore and the desperate stayed very late here.

The food here has a outstanding mix of French and Laotian influences, so it’s possible to find crepes and croisants along with noodle and rice dishes, just be aware that if it looks too nice, the price may be too much. Some good views from the town across the Meekong make this a much nicer introduction into the country than the previous stop.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Cambodia Pt6: Kampot Pt2

Continued from here

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DCIM100GOPROThe casino, the only part of the Chinese plan that seems to have been built, sits on it’s own looking rather weather worn and dated. It’s the only place that we found that sold food, so we had a little bite and marvelled at the bad interior design. The next is a part built hotel, a concrete shell that never saw any fixtures or fittings, rather ugly, but good fun to explore, and the views down to the sea are even better than from the Buddha. After finishing off the concreting so well, it’s so strange to have just left it there. There’s some more roads that head around the mountain top, open and quiet, so good for a little burn about, even on the little scooter I had. Finally there is a waterfall in a little dip, along with typical touristy gift shop. It was very dry while we were there, but judging by the size of it, a good amount of water would be flowing over the rocks when raining. Riding back down we got to enjoy the view all the way down, and with the engine off it was remarkably peaceful.

DSCN6712The last day in Kampot was spent with a Belgian guy and a British family climbing some of the Karst cliffs not far from the town. I highly recommend checking this out if you’re staying in Kampot, Climbodia was a great day out, and one of the best activities we did in the country Following the directions was good fun, but we did find the place (definitely got lost on the way home though). David, our lead guide was excellent, with some impressive knowledge both of the local area and the mountain we were climbing. Along with the rest of the Climbodia guides we had the complete package, with lunch, snacks and drinks included. The day starts with a nice easy climb leading to the Via Ferrata (assisted climbing) then an awesome abseil through a hole and down into a chute of rock.

DSCN6723The tour then heads right inside the hill, through some of the more picturesque sections, winding through tunnels and caves before working our way way up again. A cool section allows you to crawl through a tight gap then peer over the edge into a 100m deep chasm. After seeing that, wiggling away again was something of a relief. The final part after lunch allowed us to climb as we wished, taking on some of the traditional style climbing options, some that were pretty normal, although still challenging, and one up through the chute we had abseiled earlier which meant bracing your back against one wall then walking up the opposite, then juggling up and so on, certainly a new challenge and one that defeated us.

DCIM100GOPROKampot was a very cool place to visit and a great surprise. It would have been easy to spend more time there if only we hadn’t got to get into Vietnam before our Visas ran out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt5: Kampot Pt1

The last stop in Cambodia, before we headed into Vietnam was a very pleasant little town known as Kampot.

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I spent for the first couple days with a friendly German girl before being joined again by Nico. We stayed in a hostel that had been recommended to me over a year before by a Spanish guy called Pablo I met in Malaysia. Bodhi Villa is a little away from the town, so you need a moped to out there, but it’s an idyllic location next to the river. Waking up each morning with a jump into the water was a great way to get ready for the day. A nice range of rooms, including a selection of mattresses on the floor barely covered with a roof through to private little rooms and even a couple of separate riverside ‘suites’. A great atmosphere at the hostel made for a very pleasant stay.

DCIM100GOPROThe town itself doesn’t have anything to draw people in, no big sights to see, but it is a lovely place to spend some time. The local expats provide good restaurants and a friendly word or two, and the monthly mini-magazine that gets printed provides a sense of community that is hard to find elsewhere. That said there’s still plenty of Kampot unspoilt to explore including the usual baffling markets and shopping arcades.
The first night we took a sunset boat trip up the river that flowed past our hostel. It’s a pretty big river so the cruise took a while to get up to it’s end point, but watching the sun set over the Karst mountains in the distance was very relaxing. Once the sun had set and the dark started to set in, the hunt was on to find the fireflies. Moving each day, once it’s dark enough to spot their glow, they start to cluster up usually all in one tree or another. Seeing the whole tree lit up like it was christmas but knowing it was all from the light of these little insects was incredible. We were allowed to get out onto the bank to get closer and try to get some photos, though a camera lens is never as sensitive as the human eye. We headed back shortly after to experience some of the good variety of food the town had to offer.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day we decided to bike up to a rather interesting tourist spot. Bokor mountain has supposedly been bought in entirety by China, who are in the process of building a holiday town. Work is still in the early stages though, and the whole site is open to the public. The most noticable feature when you arrive is the quality of the road, and although i haven’t ridden a bike in many places that road was certainly one of the most fun I’d ever driven. On the way down, turn off your engine and coast, it’ll save petrol and make it nice and quiet too.

The first actual stops are some big Buddhas not the largest I’ve seen, but with some incredible views over the flat lands below and down to the sea in the distance. The strange visitor centre was next, with a plan for the mountain, although it really didn’t seem to make much sense, and didn’t match up with the shape or any existing features. Perhaps the Chinese are planning to re-landscape the whole thing. The Mountain is flat topped, so the roads are pretty simple, and there’s a few more features on the top to check out.

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Continued here 

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt2

Continued from here.

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Wanting a little less smoke in the air, I headed back to the mainland again, but this time wanted to stay down with some new friends in Otres beach, a couple of kilometres south of Sihanoukville. At first I was worried there would be little to do, but the community along the beach was incredible with groups clustering at the nicer bars, everyone friendly and welcoming. Most of the day was spent in and out of the water, enjoying food and drinks from the bars. I did get a little sick again, but alas no pumpkin soup to sooth me here. There were some awesome bars just back from the beach that would have live music, and the room I ended up in was above such a bar, a couple of times I spent the evening chilling watching the water listening to some odd music or spoken word.

DCIM100GOPRODuring my stay there one of the Sin-Ville bars put on an indie music festival, and as it was something to do, of course we headed down to check it out. Two stages, one more electronic and one mostly indie-rock, both kicking out plenty of noise meant there was a great vibe. It was mostly tourists out, so I imagine the beach bars were looking pretty quiet that night. Better music than usual and plenty of old favourites reminded me of old uni parties and nights out in the UK, and it certainly seemed to be doing a good job with the crowd, lots of happy people dancing away.
The last night in Otres was spent enjoying the monthly market/festival open evening event. It’s a large hall and courtyard filled with all the various little stalls from town, plus plenty more cool stuff, along with some live music and even some art installations (although quite different from a gallery) it’s partly a community event and partly for the tourists as it brings people together to celebrate the surroundings and indulge a little in the comfort of familiar people. It was very homely, with both locals and fresh ex-pats welcoming you to enjoy the atmosphere and experience what was on offer. Check out this cool article for more on Otres

DCIM100GOPROOverall Sihanoukville doesn’t offer too much as far as culture goes, but it’s got some great beaches and cool nightlife all for a pretty decent price. It’s the backpackers alternative to the overpriced southern Thai resorts. In fact you could compare it with the beach breaks so infamous in Europe, only much cheaper, much nicer, and a lot less kids. You might not get the luxury, but it’s still a damn nice place to spend a week or so. Otres is one of the few places I could imagine heading back to, the general atmosphere there is so much cooler than most, it could be a home, rather than just a place to party for a few nights until you’ve seen the sights and move on.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

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DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt3: Phnom Penh

So, another long and uncomfortable bus over to Phnom Penh.

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However, this one had to be one of the nicest. The coach had beds in it, admittedly they were slim and you had to share, but thankfully I had someone with me that I didn’t mind sharing with. There was a tiny little TV in there and a power supply, so we could even watch a movie or two. It still wasn’t comfy, but once you’re asleep, you really don’t mind.

We had a really nice hostel (11 Happy Backpackers) in the city, with a very cool rooftop bar, and some great food. I really loved the pumpkin soup, I haven’t had any since that beats it. Phnom Penh isn’t really about the night life though, it’s a much more serious place to visit, as the main attractions are the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. As the capital from which Pol Pot ruled, the city was the site of some incredibly horrific events and places.

DCIM100GOPROTuol Sleng museum was originally a school, but when Pol Pot took over he began to change things, education was not approved of, so many schools closed, often to be re-used for other purposes, in this case as a prison. The treatment of the prisoners here is what is most shocking, and as you explore the site you can see the appalling conditions they were kept in. As you continue through the museum you come across some of the smaller and more cramped cells, knowing that these people were rarely allowed out, often denied food and punished heavily for any misdemeanour. The last part includes some of the devices and techniques that were used on the inmates, things that I will not speak about here. While very sad and upsetting, this shocking example of Cambodias’ history is a must see, to understand what the people have been through, so recently and yet are still smiling and living their lives in such a positive way.

DCIM100GOPROThe Killing Fields, popularised by the movie of the same name is another must see in Phnom Penh, It is an incredibly well kept site, with an excellent audio tour that takes you through the now peaceful site that is grave to countless Cambodians massacred as part of the cultural cleansing. The tour explains the various areas, starting with relatively innocent stops like where the barracks once stop, and the guard houses, until you find yourself at the first mass grave. While there are few bones uncovered, you can see where rags and scraps of clothing have surfaced through the soil, and tourists have tied these to the fences and trees in the area. Wristbands from all around the world are hooped over posts marking out the edges of these graves, and despite the thousands of dedications, it is believed thousands more were murdered.DCIM100GOPROThere is a small lake a little away from the main site that allows tourists to stop and reflect on the horrors that had happened there, although it is hard to comprehend how, especially so recently, something so disturbing could have happened at all. The hardest part is the infant grave, and thinking of how innocent children and babies were taken and killed, more like cattle than people, before being dumped into another mass grave. The final stop of the tour is the Stupa, filled with the skulls of victims, hauntingly beautiful as the architecture and the interior clash. We visited very late in the day, just before closing so it was very quiet, and very peaceful. It seemed almost silent, except for the audio tour that we could pause at any time.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was rather more cheerful, exploring the markets and finding replacement shoes and just enjoying the city sights. We also took a trip out to the local wildlife park, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre. South East Asian zoos do have a bad reputation, but this example was very nice; large open spaces and not a huge amount of tourists, all the animals were rescued from other zoos, or from private collectors, very few were taken from the wild. Certainly the animals looked healthy and happy, and checking out the various Asian bears was impressive, they do miss the Pandas, but when they’re so expensive it’s understandable.

The last thing I did before jumping on the next bus was to have a tooth pulled out. It was cheap, easy and quick (and I got to eat lots of pumpkin soup) so good in fact I went back not long after to get two more out. Goodbye wisdom teeth.

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Our next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Cambodia is an amazing country surrounded by amazing countries. But what makes it our favourite?

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Simply, it’s the balance of tourism, temples, history, beaches, exploration and pure unspoiled natural beauty.

DCIM100GOPROIt has something to offer for a lot of people, with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh drawing in huge crowds for the epic temples and incredible history, the southern beaches offering late nights and lazy days for the party crowd and islands, mountains, rivers and more to be explored, the variety satisfies all tastes and allows longer term visitors enough variation to stay interested. Continue reading Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Vietnam Pt2 – Can Tho

So stop number two was the relatively small city of Can Tho. This was a place I really enjoyed, with enough interesting things to see and do, while still feeling unspoilt by tourism, or tainted by the commercialism of larger cities.

Temple

At the transit centre in Can Do, we met a couple of Norwegian girls who we joined teams with for a few days, making us a group of four for a short time. We found a very nice guesthouse to stay in, newly built with very comfy beds and showers tall enough even for Dutchman Nico.

TempleOur first day there was spent exploring the town, with a few spots we wanted to see, we wandered through the city trying to find them all, which meant finding a few more on route. The highlights were a buddhist temple, in which we were welcomed and guided around, and the monk explained the differences between the Vietnamese buddhists and others you may find in other parts of SE Asia. He himself was Cambodian, and very informative, taking us to the top floor and pointing out a few landmarks.

RocketMy favourite stop of the day (excluding Baskin Robbins, I have an ice cream problem) was the war museum. We’d arrived during lunch hour, which stretched from about 11am through to 2.30pm, but we had a look around at the vehicles outside, including a Mercedes Benz with bullet holes, and few planes, both intact and not, and plenty of artillery and tanks. With the lack of supervision, we cheekily jumped the fence and got some snaps inside these moving monstrosities.TankOnce the doors opened we wandered about inside, although it wasn’t as impressive as the bits outside. The badly translated English captions didn’t help to explain the military manoeuvres displayed. We managed to find some unlocked doors that lead up to the roof, so checked out the city from above again.

That evening we tried the food tour, which is run by local students to help raise money for educational causes in the region. It was good fun, and we got some great examples of local delicacies, many of which would be almost impossible to get as a tourist without a guide. Pork dumplings, baked prawn pancake parcels were the delicious starters for the stranger bits we tried, featuring mouse and snake. Mouse was surprisingly tasty, if a little fulfilling, it was crunchy with bones as the animal is cooked whole, but nice. The snake on the other hand was not. We tried both grilled and fried and both, while not bad tasting were a tough as old leather. Most of it seemed to be bones and skin, leaving a very unsatisfying mouthful that tasted more of cooking oil than anything else. I’ll stick to the mouse next time, sorry Mikey.

marketWe woke up early the next day, as the girls had arranged a floating market tour for us. We floated up past boats with thousands of pineapples, boats with hundreds of melons, all dishing them out to the various traders picking up their supplies for the day. Amazing to see that you could pick up about ten melons for the price it would normally cost a tourist for a few slices in the market.canalThe boat tour then took us off through some of the gorgeous little streams and canals that wind through the outskirts of the city out to where the farms start. Some lovely sights seen along the ways, including some kids waving from the bank and delightful temple bridges spanning the water.
Later that day we jumped on the bus to head to Ho Chi Minh City to see the sights there, and catch up with a few friends we’d met in Laos.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam Pt1: Border Crossing and Phu Quoc

After our time in Cambodia, we took the southern border crossing into Vietnam near the coast, it was all part of the transfer package we’d got to get us to Phu Quoc island.

Beach

The border crossing and transport was the usual ramshackle, but functional affair, and while I don’t remember the exact buses, I’m sure they were fairly typical unremarkable Asian style buses, which means they can’t have been too uncomfortable.

Vietnam sunsetPhu Quoc is actually closer to Cambodia, but is officially part of Vietnam, which means you must cross the border on land before doubling back by boat to the island. There is a hostel, but it was far from the beach but did look very cool, and with the abundance of mopeds the distance would be no issue. If you can find it, get in early and you might meet some other  (non Russian) travelers. Myself and Nico, the Dutch guy who had accompanied me since leaving Thailand, found a decent cheap twin room, and ventured out to find a bike for the couple days we were staying.

WaveThe main town is a fishing port, but the touristy area spreads southwards of here, mostly big fancy Russian filled resorts along the beach front, with a smattering of restaurants and shops either side of the road. We stayed at the far end of this road, where the natural village feel started in again. The restaurants do a reasonable job of catering to western tastes, while still offering a decent selection of local dishes. The fish/night market at the northern end of the strip offer seafood BBQs of some magnificence, and with decent prices too – after the long day we put this off till the next day.

ForestThe next day we took off to really explore the island on our moped. With some dodgy maps and a bit of googling we made a plan, and started looking. We gave up on the first waterfall, but found the second. Nothing overwhelming but pleasant in it’s jungle setting. We also bumped into a few locals posing in their underwear. After a bit more adventuring we returned to the entrance to find them drinking a very odd bubble tea. We were asked to join, and after a very odd (and pretty gross) bubble tea, we hit the road together and hit the beach. It was an odd way to spend an afternoon, joined by more and more of their friends, all hoping we’d be getting the drinks in, and then as soon as they’d appeared, they all disappeared again.
Phu Quoc PrisonContinuing our tour, we found a big ugly concrete wave, and the prisoner of war camp, with some interesting signs. The Vietnamese have no problem with showing their contempt throughout these historical displays, no sense of keeping un biased. Some of the torture devices they had on display were pretty horrific, and the conditions certainly didn’t look nice. This was an island controlled by the South Vietnam government, or ‘puppet government‘, which was indirectly under the command of the US. Some back roads along deserted areas, and past a few huge future resorts took us back to try the seafood market.

My advice when it comes to seafood – make sure you try lots of different things, but also get a decent amount of something you know you like. Nothing worse than trying lots of new things that taste rubbish if you’ve got nothing left to eat afterwards. Also, there’s a reason some of these things aren’t available in supermarkets in Europe, they simply taste terrible.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day we’d booked a snorkelling and fishing trip up on the northern side of the Island. It was good value including food, and lunch was some of the fish we’d caught earlier on. Not exactly fancy as far as the fishing went, just a line off the back of the boat, and the captain caught so many more than we could, I guess practice does make perfect. The snorkelling was very nice though, very clear and warm water and a good selection of fish and coral. Nothing I hadn’t seen before, but still a pleasant trip overall, and nice to see more of the northern half of the island, unspoilt and tranquil, especially compared to the somewhat ruined beach along the strip.

Our bus out left the next morning, and some more faffing and waiting at tranit centres got us on the bus to Can Tho

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Favourites – The best places in the world according to me

So this might not be the most comprehensive list, as I’ve not been everywhere, but I’ve seen a few spots, and here’s my favourites

1. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown

Queenstown is probably the most tourist orientated town in the world, it’s also surprisingly small. Considering it’s fame it really is tiny, but that is because the only thing it does is tourism, it doesn’t need lots of lawyers, marketing consultant agencies, technical support officials, or any of that kind of thing. It sure has lots of bar tenders though! The density of bars is apparently the greatest in the world, but that’s not why we love it.

  • You cannot go anywhere without bumping into people you know – While it may be full of tourists, you will know a lot of locals, and will bump into them every time you leave the house.
  • Everybody wants to be there – It’s such a competitive town to get work in, and it’s not cheap either, so everyone is grateful to be there, and this comes across and a wonderful positive attitude throughout the town.
  • There’s an unbelievable amount of things to do – not just the extreme/adventure activities that most locals can’t really afford, but there loads of other bits as well. Frisbee golf, the ice rink, cinema, trampoline park, skate park, hills to hike, the ‘beach’, cliff jumps, it’s hard to get bored here.
  • Knowing people gets you free stuff – The longer you stay, the more people you know, and there’s a constant cycle of favours between the staff, which works out to cheeky discounts, ‘local prices’, free shots, free chips, and well, anything anyone can get away with giving you.
  • Burgers – The famous Ferg Burger (and bakery) which leads the competition Devil burger, both of which have an amazing selection of rad burgers. I love burgers. My favourite was the Yankee Devil, with pineapple and egg on top. Ask for a large in a small bun to increase your meat to bread ratio.
  • The views – look in any direction and you’ll see the beautiful southern Alps all around, the mountains of Mordor, Ben Lomond peak, Cecil and Walter across the lake. Breathtaking, everyday.
  • Snow!

2. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town

It may not be the capital of SA, but it definitely the cultural centre, and a much nicer place to be. Cape Town has a vibrant and lively atmosphere at any time of day, especially down on Long Street which transforms from suave hipster cafes and skate shops to party stops and clubs over the course of the evening. It offers some of the nicest and trendiest places to eat and drink we’ve ever seen. The city seems to be driven by the young energisers that make up it’s population, with design at it’s absolute core.

  • Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill – The city centre is surrounded by hills on one side, and water on the other, it means you’re never out of sight of the hugely impressive Table Mountain, and a decent walk is never far away. While the locals will always drive, if you’re in the city, just walk to the base, it makes you feel that bit better afterwards
  • Taking a drive around the Cape Peninsula – Ok, you’ll need to drive this one, or do one of the many tours available, but with a lot of cool stops around the peninsula you’ll need a full day at least to see it all. It’s well worth it, seeing penguins, mind blowing cliffs, and the view over the Atlantic Oceans.
  • The attitude of the locals – South Africans are not lazy people, and those that are working away in Cape Town seem to be the most driven and motivated people we’ve ever met. With a free afternoon they won’t just bum out on the sofa watching TV (if they even have a TV) they’ll be playing music, organising a party, writing their blog or just heading somewhere cool to do something cool. I crashed on a friends sofa for a while, and asked about the Playstation, to which they replied “We have a playstation?”
  • The feeling of hopefulness and endless possibility – There’s a general feeling that in South Africa, you can try things, it’s not as brutal and cut-throat as other countries and trying something new will be much more likely to be accepted (perhaps not successful) it’s a very liberating feeling.

3. Sihnoukville, Cambodia

Otres Beach

Sihnoukville is an interesting little place in Cambodia, stretching along the coast it ranges from the town, purely functional, to ‘Sin-ville’ the party beach down along to Otres 1 and 2, the chilled out beaches of dreams. Get yourself a bike, head down to Otres and hit up the super mellow vibe of beach life. There’s plenty of bars to try, so wander along the golden sand until you meet some nice people then just enjoy your surroundings with a drink or two, then when it comes to the night, mellow some more, or head to Sin-ville and get messy.

  • Otres beach – great sand, great views, great people, great food, cheap drinks!
  • Live music – both Otres and Sihnoukville have plenty to offer as far as music goes, usually hosting some traveling musicians, which can include yourself if you want. Talent just pops out of nowhere to do a little set of songs or poems
  • Surprise mini festivals – I went to three in about two weeks, and all were awesome. The regular hippy fest/market was a chance to chill out and hear more of the local (expat) talent, the indie rock party put on by one of the bars was a nice break from the usual commercial dance and pop, and a great way to bring everyone together. Finally the Full Moon Party over on Koh Rong Sanloem brought back flashbacks of Thailand without the overwhelming crowds
  • Easy links to the nearby islands – Nearly all the islands you can see from the beach are reachable from Sihnoukville, a couple hours on the boat (get the fast one). Just be aware that these islands are generator run, or not powered at all, which means the party ends when the lights go out! Everything is done ad hoc, so just get there, find a place to sleep and forget everything else.
  • Don’t Worry Be Happy – It’s impossible to stress here, so don’t.

4. London, UK

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11121228/Do-you-care-about-London-and-its-future-development-Then-join-our-society.html
Stolen from telegraph.co.uk

Pure stress, constantly being aware of everyone around you so you don’t collide with a Chinese tourist, sweating on the tube, freezing outside, rain, smoke, smog, rain. London is an incredible city, the definition of infinity – everything that could happen probably already has somewhere in London, and you’ll be sure to find a barman who has a friend who knew a guy who saw it happen. There’s so much here it’s impossible to contain it all.

  • Camden on a sunday night – Once the weekend crowds have gone, Camden looks inwards and celebrates itself. The bar-staff swap sides and start drinking, along with all the local residents who themselves work the busy nights. This seems to be a surprising amount of strippers, up for a giggle and to meet some people who aren’t drooling all over them. The Good Mixer and the Camden Head seem to be the good spots.
  • Shoreditch hipsters – just hanging out anywhere in this area you’ll see the hipsters, usually on a bike with a moustache, desperately trying to get noticed for their uniquely styled floral patterned messenger bag, hand made in Cambodia by some hippy chick on holiday. The upside is there’s usually some decent eateries around.
  • The sights – Yeah, London has a few of these, but our favourite stroll goes south from Piccadilly, across the bridge and along south bank, then north again through Covent Garden and Seven Dials. Get out of the tube and start walking, and you’ll find some gems around every corner.
  • The parks – There’s quite a few of these and they’re all fantastic. Get away from the noise, and well, there’s more noise, finding a quiet bit can be tricky in the smaller ones, but head out to St James, Hyde park or Regent park and you might find a quiet tree to lean against for some ‘me time’.
  • Everything, all the time – It never sleeps, so if you need a burger, or some cat food, there’s always somewhere.

5. Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne_by_night
Stolen from wikipedia

Split into three section as far as I’m concerned, St. Kilda, the CBD and Fitzroy, each has it’s own characteristics and personality, all united by Melbournes cultural edge. St. Kildas beach and party style nightlife, leading up to chapel street had a more casual bohemian style, while the CBD was suits and coffee, and when night falls the smarter dressed went to the super clubs, and finally Fitzroy was for the misfits that like their clothing unique and their music live.

  • Trams – Easy to catch, easy to get off, and they go everywhere. And possible the easiest transport to get away with not paying. If you ever do get caught, play the tourist card and they’ll just boot you off, no fine. Not great if you’re late for work, but cheaper than anywhere else in the world!
  • Penguins – You can go check out penguins down in St Kilda, and they are adorable.
  • Manabar – Unfortunately closed now, but a bar with video games is always cool
  • Fitzroy music culture – Every night, in every venue, a different kind of music is play. Swing to indie, hip-hop, jazz and funk to punk rock, nerdcore, spoken word and avant-garde world music fusion. It’ll be in there somewhere.
  • Rooftop bars – despite Melbourne being the most southerly and therefor coldest Australian city, it has an abundance of rooftop bars, some of which offer incredible views over the city, others which offer incredible views of the building next door. Come rain, shine or freezing night wind, these rooftops are open.

A little longer than planned, but there’s our five favourite places in the world (so far)