When I left school I knew I didn’t want to go straight to university, something just didn’t feel right and I wanted some time to breathe, gain some work experience, and travel. As some of you may already know, I decided to start off my gap year by volunteering abroad with Plan My Gap Year in Sri Lanka. If you haven’t already, you can read all about that experience here!
After Sri Lanka I knew I just HAD to go travelling again. I had fallen in love with Asia and the laidback (and inexpensive) way of life, and had met a few people who had been to Thailand and Bali and all of those dreamy beachy places you see on #gapyah Instagram posts. Luckily, one of the girls I had met while volunteering, Ella (an absolute babe), was well up for travelling Southeast Asia too! So after around 6 months of working, saving and planning, we booked ourselves a one-way flight to Bangkok to begin our adventure!
I say we had spent that time planning, but really we had only the vaguest of plans for when we arrived. We wanted it to be as spontaneous as possible but also accounted for the fact that we were two young girls travelling alone, so we did our best to get visas for Cambodia and Vietnam as soon as we arrived in Bangkok, and we did our best to stay safe (besides the first night where we got black-out drunk and the rest is unknown, do not recommend).
I won’t go into too much detail now as we travelled for 11 weeks and visited 5 countries (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia); instead, I’ll show a general overview of where we went and maybe share more details of individual places in future blog posts!
Despite spending our first few nights in Bangkok, we pretty much headed straight across the border to Cambodia, where we visited Siem Reap – and from there took a day trip to Angkor Wat – Battambang, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Island, and Phnom Penh. This took us around 2 weeks and was a really great introduction to Southeast Asia. There was definitely a culture shock, as the people of Cambodia are still recovering from the Khmer Regime and genocide in the 1980s, and at one point we had a run-in with a rather aggressive tuk tuk driver late at night which resulted in a police escort to our hotel for our safety. Despite this, however, we met some really friendly people and Cambodians are really proud of their heritage; this was especially evident at the Temples of Angkor, which is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places I have ever been.
Next up was Vietnam, where we spent just over 3 weeks travelling up the coast from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) through Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, Halong Bay, and finally ending up in Hanoi. Vietnam was possibly my favourite part of the trip as we met up with two other friends, one of whom we’d met in Sri Lanka too. We travelled by night bus mostly, which were super cheap and comfy with actual bunkbeds and snacks along the way! We also experienced a perfect mixture of gorgeous beaches, epic waterfalls, modern cities and ancient towns. A highlight was learning so much about the Vietnam War and its impact on various areas of the country, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City.
A slightly less travelled country, Laos had the most breathtaking scenery and friendliest locals. Unfortunately we only spent 10 days here with flying visits to Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, and we arrived just in time for monsoon season so didn’t do as many outdoor activities as I would’ve liked! The mountains in Laos are famous for climbing while the rivers are great for white water rafting; one thing we did do despite the rain was go floating down the river in rubber rings! My only tip for Laos would be to fly there from Hanoi (or any other city). We made the mistake of taking the cheaper option and going via a 29 hour bus journey, which we were crammed into amongst live chickens (sorry Ella, that was my fault).
Our real exploration of Thailand happened towards the end of our trip. We flew into Chiang Mai and spent a full week there, checking out the stunning temples (there are over 300 in this one city alone!), taking a Thai cooking class, and embarking on a 3 day trek through the jungle. We then flew down to Surat Thani and caught a ferry to Koh Phangan for the iconic Full Moon Party. After meeting a group of really fun people at our hostel we ended up extending our stay here to another full week! Because of this we were unable to visit Koh Samui or Koh Tao, as we had another journey already booked for Krabi and Phuket, with a boat tour of the Phi Phi Islands in between. I can’t wait to return to Thailand some day (hopefully soon) to explore more of the southern islands and do some scuba diving!
Early on in our trip we decided that after our loop of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, we would go somewhere a bit different and treat ourselves to a ‘holiday’… it didn’t take long for us to settle on Bali! This was the perfect end to our 3 month adventure as we chilled on the beaches and strolled through the rice terraces of Ubud. Again, Bali is somewhere I am desperate to go back to as there are things we just didn’t have time for, like the Monkey Forest and climbing Mount Batur for sunrise!
I hope you enjoyed this little overview of where I went on my gap year, despite how cliche it all is! I’d love to hear any recommendations for these countries, as I hope to visit them again while I’m living in Asia next year!