Our three months backpacking around Asia were a whirlwind of crazy experiences, fantastic food, mesmerising views, mindblowing sunsets, magnificent temples, beautiful beaches and chaotic cities. It’s hard to narrow it down to five highlights, because there was hardly anywhere that I didn’t love; much less disliked.
But there were certain highlights, so here are a handful of them.
Hanoi was (almost) hands down our absolute favourite place.
Maybe it’s because it was our first taste of real backpacker culture, maybe it was the fact we made great friends there, or maybe it was the cheap, cheap beer, but we full on ADORED this city! We stayed in the Old Quarter, which is one of the busiest, most bustling, crazy areas in the world. But it had character. It had chickens on the street and women selling fruit, and all the best street food and street beer (BIA HOI!) and street… SHOPS! The bikes, the honks, the smells, the everything.
It was also our perfect proper introduction to Vietnam (we did spend a brief layover in HCMC prior to actually travelling through the country), which went on to quickly become our favourite country in the world.
TAKE ME BACK! WE LOVE YOU, HANOI!
Koh Tao, Thailand
A far cry from the chaotic Hanoi, Koh Tao was our perfect relaxation spot. The island is only 6km long, and offers the perfect beaches, hikes, views, nightlife, dive spots and sunsets. With its stunning coral reefs, it’s well known for being one of the best places to dive in the world – and one of the cheapest. We only snorkelled, and that in itself was absolutely incredible.
We also went on the Asia-famous (because we’d never heard of it until we saw the plethora of people wearing the t shirts ALL OVER ASIA) Koh Tao Pub Crawl, which was… an experience, but a lot of fun, I’ll give it that!
Everyone raves about Sairee, a mile up the beach, but we stayed in the main town Mae Haad and MUCH preferred both the town and its beach. Sairee was both more expensive and not as clean.
But the rest of the island is incredible and totally worth exploring. We hired a scooter and found some amazing secluded beaches!
Read more: Koh Tao: Our Favourite Thai Island
Hoi An, Vietnam
This was the most touristy place we visited in Vietnam – but one of the best! It’s the prettiest little town I’ve ever been to, cute lanterns adorn the streets and the locals outside of the Old Town are SO friendly it’s unreal. It’s not that people inside the Old Town AREN’T friendly, but it’s extremely clear that they are used to dealing with rude tourists and sadly they no longer have the same charm as most Vietnamese locals. In fact, in coffee shops and restaurants we were regarded with a nervous laugh of amazement when we said hello or thank you in Vietnamese.
But despite that, even the people who approach you from tailor shops are happy to chat, everyone said hello as they rode past and our homestay was one of the friendliest places we’ve stayed.
I could honestly spend a month in Hoi An – it’s just so laid back and has everything to offer, from history to great restaurants to lovely beaches. I think it’s actually one of the few places in Vietnam that offers everything for everyone, whether it’s a luxury beach break or a backpacking hostel in the cultural centre. I love it!
Koh Lanta, Thailand
Are you sensing a theme here?
Koh Lanta is another perfect getaway – because most people don’t bother with it! We also went in low season, which meant in our 20-bed dorm, the most people we had in one night was 6. This was easily the most friendly part of Thailand we visited (apart from Khanom but that was in another league!!) and the wildlife was the best we saw on the whole trip. We had to stop our bike to let a family of monkeys cross the road, and watched some birds run away from a MASSIVE monitor lizard. Enough said!!!
It’s the perfect place to learn to ride a scooter too, as the roads are good, straight, flat until you get south, and very, very quiet. There are scores of beaches all along the coast to visit (our favourites were Klong Dao and Kantiang Bay) and you will see some of the best sunsets of your life here.
Plus we managed to visit Koh Phi Phi in a day, and there are tours to some other tiny islands, so it’s a great base to relax and island hop.
Read more: And Then We Fell In Love With Koh Lanta
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Let’s face it, we came here for Angkor Wat. What we didn’t expect was to fall in love with this little “city”!
As touristy as it is, Pub Street has a fantastic atmosphere and the whole town centre has a good feel to it. It was the first place in Cambodia that I didn’t feel on edge (not because of how those places had made me feel, but sadly because of what I’d heard and read) – even after our arrival involved turning down a dodgy-looking dirt track in a tuk tuk!! Our hostel was ABSOLUTELY AMAZING, and all the little streets and alleys parallel to Pub Street were super cute and full of character.
In fact, we loved it so much that we ended up spending almost a week there!
We also had the most incredible experience when we took a tuk tuk tour to a temple – with a monk! We learned all about the life of a Buddhist monk, and even meditated under a tree with him! We also received a full water blessing from the head monk, which was very surreal but extremely special.
Oh, and Angkor Wat is 100% worth it. Don’t let hipster holier-than-thou (or drunken English lads on taw) travellers tell you otherwise.
Places that almost made the list: Halong Bay, Vietnam; Railay Beach, Thailand; Georgetown (Penang), Malaysia; Singapore; and of course Elephant Nature Park, Thailand – but that doesn’t count!