Flashpacking! It’s backpacking but fancier. A new travel term coined for millenials who mix high and low end experiences to create a more authentic way of travelling.
14 weeks, 5 countries, 2 continents, 13 flights, 11 buses, 8 ferries, 7 cities, 3 beach towns, 2 islands, 1 yoga retreat
Dublin- Abu Dhabi – Hanoi – Halong Bay – Sapa – Hoi An – An Bang – Ho Chi Minh – Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville – Siem Reap – Bangkok – Krabi – Railey – Koh Lanta – Ao Nang – Phi Phi – Bangkok – Brisbane – Shannon
I went to Australia solely to see my brother Rory, his beautiful girlfriend Rachael and meet their almost 2 year old son, my nephew Lachie. It’s not that I didn’t want to explore the country but budget/time wise, it wasn’t realistic so this was a ten day, Christmas/family visit to finish off my trip.
After almost 13 straight weeks of solo travelling and all the planning, organising and endless Googling that goes with it, I rocked up in Brisbane expecting to just go where ever they took me and enjoy it. The less I had to do, the better.
Having no expectations, I was seriously impressed by Brisbane. The city of 2.2 million is compact, walkable and infinitely cool. It has great public transport, South Bank- a riverside area of restaurants, bars, markets, public parks and beaches and some excellent museums and galleries- and a laid back Queensland vibe I thoroughly enjoyed.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
If you fly in, see the temples and fly straight out again, you’re missing out! Siem Reap is the kind of cool, chilled out city you can easily spend a week in. Obviously Angkor Wat is the big draw but the city itself has great markets, decent coffee shops and hotel swimming pools galore perfect for a couple of days resting up in the sun.
Insider tips: The Gelato Co. on Hospital Road does London-standard flat whites and is a great people watching spot. A lot of hotel pools are open to anyone for a small fee or the price of a drink but my favourite was The Frangipani Hotel. It’s stylishly done and free if you have lunch there. Loungers are limited so go early to grab a good one x
Hoi An/ An Bang Beach, Vietnam
Hoi An is the beautifully crumbling central Vietnam town everyone loves and An Bang, its nearby beach, is a place I could quite easily live forever. I already raved about it in this post so suffice to say this was hands down my favourite place in Vietnam and somewhere I’d easily return to again and again.
Insider Tips: In An Bang, you must try Driftwood Cafe. A popular spot for local expats to drop in and just meters from the beach, it has a proper wood burning pizza oven. Further down the beach, French-run Soul Kitchen is a top pick, day or night.
I don’t like categorising anywhere as a low per se unless it’s truly terrible but there were some parts of my trip that were slightly disappointing.
Sapa is undoubtedly beautiful but it’s not the great adventure many travel bloggers make it out to be. I finished my three day trekking trip to the Northern Vietnam highlands feeling a little uncomfortable with the part I was playing in such rampaging tourism that young girls are being pulled out of school to spend their days trying to tempt visitors into buying trinkets.
Sapa is beautiful but best avoided if you try to be a responsible tourist. I wish I’d researched it more before I’d gone.
Koh Lanta, Thailand
This may have more to do with my slightly high expectations and waning budget as I approached the end of my trip. I had heard great things about Lanta from friends and read about it in Conde Nast Traveller which made it out to be some off the beaten track, undiscovered paradise (though I reckon this doesn’t exist anywhere in Southern Thailand anymore).
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time on Lanta; I just didn’t love it. It’s the best of a bad bunch perhaps- the beaches are pretty but not so gorgeous that they’re completely overrun (yet); there’s plenty of accommodation choices, restaurants, etc to keep you happy. I spent quite a happy week there but once I left, I felt distinctly ‘meh’ about it -emphasised by the fact that I didn’t even bother taking any photos there.
Cambodian food typically gets a hard rap, its cuisine overlooked in favour of that of its neighbours Vietnam and Thailand. I’m definitely not going to diss either; everyone knows the food is a highlight of any trip to Thailand or Vietnam. Even just browsing through my well thumbed copy of Mina Holland’s The Edible Atlas, I find chapters dedicated to Vietnam and Thailand but not Cambodia.
Although it shares definite similarities with Thai cuisine, Cambodian food is delicious in its own right and shouldn’t be considered in any way lesser! Fish Amok is the traditional choice and though you absolutely have to try this national dish, I actually preffered the chicken version ! Beef Lok Lak is another must have!
Although Vietnam is definitely a foodie travellers dream destination, there’s also a lot of bad food on offer whereas (and perhaps this was just my own luck) I found I had consistently good food in Cambodia!
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Yup, I actually thoroughly enjoyed this Andaman coast version of Koh Phangan far more than I expected! No, it’s not authentic Thailand, yup it does attract a certain ‘type’ of tourist but if you’re travelling long term, it’s also a good place to go and have a good time, without having to deal with the Full Moon craziness on the other side of the Gulf.
Of course, I was lucky enough to meet good people while on Phi Phi which as any traveller knows, makes or breaks a place for you. But I would say, try it for one night, have a few drinks and enjoy!
The ‘Thank God it’s as good as I was hoping!’
My first stop in Vietnam, I so enjoyed my time in Hanoi. The city itself is beautiful, historical and has great food. Much more compact and walkable than Ho Chi Minh/Saigon, it has absolutely tonnes of great shops and markets and more hole in the wall, excellent food places than I could dare to count. It’s also a perfect base for shorter trips to Sapa, Halong Bay, etc.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Yes, it’s touristy; Yes, the water in the busiest parts of the bay is absolutely filthy but none of that takes away from how breathtakingly stunning Halong Bay is! I’ve seen all the pictures and hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed by the real thing- I absolutely wasn’t. I spent an amazing three days and two nights, first on a junk boat and then on a small island. An absolute must see!