Review of the Big IndoChina Adventure with Contiki

I initially chose to go to South East Asia because I wanted to travel to a tropical location for my winter holiday. Other then wanting to catch some rays, I had no other aspirations. But I now have a new love and appreciation for asian culture and solo travel.

This trip introduced me to a completely foreign culture, new (amazing) foods, friendly people, peaceful cultures, exotic adventures and stunning landscapes. This trip put me out of my comfort zone and completely emerged me in different ways of life. I can honestly say I have returned as a stronger, braver and more confident person. I recommend going on this adventure alone. You will meet many like-minded travelers and you will discover so much about yourself.

When I booked this trip I expected to stay in mostly hostels and cheap hotels…expectations were blown out the water. We stayed in mostly 4 and 5 star hotels. Every place was nicer then the last. But my favorite places we stayed we not the 5 star hotels. We stayed at two charming guest houses and on a beautiful junk boat in Ha Long Bay. Every place we stayed had free wifi, water bottles, safes and hot water!

I couldn’t have asked for a better group of fellow travelers. I will forever be friends with many of the people I met. Especially my tour manger Lee (Hailey). I can safely say she made my trip. Lee is super cool, chill and fun. She showed us the best bars, hangouts and foodies in town. She was familiar with the locals and even spoke most of languages. I told her initially I planned on turning my brain off for most of my trip. So it was awesome having her plan most excursions and helping me have the time of my life.

The coolest thing about this trip is you’re not stuck on a bus all day long like many other contiki trips. Don’t get me wrong there are bus trips. The longest was 6 hours. To get through the different countries you will take an overnight train, boats, tuk tuks, buses, vans and jets. I loved our overnight train ride. It really gave everyone a chance to bond.

My favorite things I did on the trip were the Wat Phrathat in Chiang Mai, Thai cooking class in Chiang Rai, Elephant riding, “Kangaroo Sunset” bar and kayaking in Luang Prabang, causing a street dance party in Siem Reap, jumping off our boat in Nha Trang and sailing in Ha Long Bay.

I would recommend this trip to everyone. I always felt safe, culturally submerged and had a blast.

Tips I wish I had been given:
-Bring temple wear (Long pants, t-shirts)
-Pack your bag and then take out half. It’s super easy to do laundry.
-Bring only one swim suit. There are water activities, but not consecutive ones. You only need one suit.
– You should not need more then $25 a day if you don’t plan on doing much shopping.
– Invest good pair of flip flops. You have to remove your shoes a lot and they’re easier to get on and off then sandals.
-Don’t bring a huge suitcase. A back pack is better.
-You don’t need to bring makeup. Most of the girls on the trip won’t wear it. It will just sweat off.
-Bring your own bug spray.
-Bring or be prepared to pull out american dollars. You will need to pay for most excursions with USD. Also Cambodia widely prefers USD over Riel.
-If you’re coming from the states you don’t need an adaptor. All outlets take the US plug!
-Wifi is everywhere. Turn your phone on airplane mode and don’t bother getting a plan. Just Skype and iMessage people using wifi.
-Pack playing cards!
-Pack your own portable charger!

Last night in Hanoi

Where did I stay? Hong Ngoc Hotel

Our final night in Vietnam we went to see a water puppet show and had our final group meal. It was pretty anti-climatic, but it’s hard to top Halong Bay.

I have loved every second of my tour of South East Asia. I’ve met some truly amazing people. A few who I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life. I will honestly miss Becky, Sam, Adam, Rhys, Lee and everyone else too! It’s been an amazing life changing experience. I feel like I’ve grown into a more confident, happier and braver citizen of the world. Every expectation I had for this trip were blown out of the water! Check out my next post for an overall review!

Halong Bay

After a three hour drive from Hanoi we arrived to Halong Bay. To board our junk boat we had to catch a ferry. Our group was split up when a bunch of Chinese tourists invaded our ferry. So half of us had to figure out which boat was ours without our local guide! After searching we eventually found it.

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Our ship!

Then we boarded our beautiful Chinese-style junk boat for an overnight cruise. Our ship was absolutely stunning. It was a five-star cruise ship. defiantly more than what I expected. The company is called Halong Sails. It would recommend them to anyone! Our room was the fanciest of the trip so far and the best was like sleeping on a cloud!

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After a bit of sun bathing on the top deck we jumped into Kayaks to explore the lagoons and secretive mountains of Halong Bay. For a while we were alone in a beautiful lagoon surrounded by towering mountains. It was so peaceful and quiet. We paddled through the stunning blue waters and past playful monkeys. It was simply breath-taking. As we were leaving several tourist boats zoomed by us and into the lagoon. I’m very glad we had the place to ourselves while we could. 1501730_10152765343290813_6595236365577869226_n

After kayaking the sun started to come out so we headed to the beach. While some people trekked to the top of a mountain I decided to take a nap on the beach. It was glorious and refreshing. I felt well rested which was important because that night we had a “Pirate Party”!

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The party was wild! I drank my weight in vodka and even got to DJ. I got a bunch of people to dance by playing mega hits like “Grease” and Spice Girls. We even convinced the cabin crew to dress up. At one point the bar stopped keeping track and we were pouring our own shots!

I woke up early in the morning with only a mild hangover. But my hangover was amplified when we went to the VERY loud Sung Sot Caves. We had to wait in a long line and push through tons of tourists before getting into the caves. Our guide neglected to mention the winding staircases and long hike. So those of us who drank a bit too much the night before had a pretty rough time at the caves. But we had a great time laughing at each other’s misery!

Bustling Hanoi

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We arrived into busy Hanoi mid-day and headed to the famous Temple of Literature. It was college graduation day so the temple was insanely crowded. But it was cool to see the locals dressed up, celebrating and socializing. All of the girls looked stunning in their traditional Vietnamese gowns and the boys looked like models in their perfectly tailored suits.

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Then we went to this great restaurant right outside of the temple. The restaurant supports local kids and provides job training. I had delicious Pho and Water Melon Juice. Everything was heavenly.

Rainy day in Hue

We arrived in our Coach to the very flooded city of Hue, Vietnam. Because of the rain we thought our cyclo tour might be canceled but the rain died down just in time! So we sat back and relaxed as we were biked around Hue and into the imperial city of Hue.   1533718_10152765342945813_5207528779908952106_n10173586_10152765343005813_2185265111394011859_n

Next stop the Tu Duc Mausoleum. Our Local Guide showed us around the enchanting old palace. We learned about the emperors and visited the temples, pagodas and pavilions.

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10351897_10152765343110813_5165044007555301462_nThen after a quick bus ride we visited the breath-taking Thien Mu Pagoda. We had the privilege to witness a buddhist monk prayer session. It was truly mesmerizing.

Where did I stay? The Asia Hotel Hue

My Son Sanctuary

Today we explored a series of Hindu Temples called My Son. My Son is a UNESCO world Heritage-listed site that was built between the 4th and 14th century. It was like being in Indiana Jones! The temples still see so wild and undiscovered. They’re tucked deep into the jungle and surrounded by vast mountain ranges and overgrowth of trees and vines.

On the ride back our local guide told us his fascinating life story. He was a intel solider and translator for the American Army during the Vietnam war. His story should be made into a movie!

Charming Hoi An

This morning we flew to Hoi An. Hoi An is a charming down that is rich in history and culture. It blends French and Chinese influences in its art, architecture and food. We rented bikes and were led on a great tour through the town where we saw UNESCO World Heritage sites, adorable shops and a beautiful Japanese covered bridge that is 400 years old!

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Adam and I pretending to be VIPs in the Airport and me in my new romper!

Then we went to Yaly Coture to have clothes made! I brought several pictures and designs that I wanted to have custom-made. I got two rompers and a stunning fringed purse made from genuine leather. Throughout the adventure of having measurements taken and picking fabrics I hung out with this great guy named Adam. We had a lot of laughs and enjoyed the experience immensely. It’s impressive what they can make in just 24 ours!

After finalizing our designs we rode bikes to our cooking class at Morning Glory Cooking School. Our teacher was friendly, entertaining and a great teacher. We learned how to roll spring rolls, make Vietnamese pancakes, screwers and afterwards devoured all of our yummy creations.

Later we had to navigate winding roads and pouring rain to figure out how to get back to the hotel! It was quite an adventure. But eventually we made it home safe and sound!

Where did I stay? Van Loi Hotel

Under the Vietnamese sun

Today was one of the best days of my life. Early in the morning we boarded a boat and sailed to an island of the coast of Nha Trang. On the way there we sang and basked in the beauty of the South China Sea.

Our first stopped was snorkeling off the island of Hon Mun.

The water was turquoise and clear. There were little reefs right off of the beach so it was very easy to see the corals and fish. There were tiny colorful fish and big strange-looking ones too. I snorkeled nearly the whole time while others sun bathed and started drinking.

After several hours on the beach we got back on the boat  and the party started! Everyone was drinking and singing. I started downing my personal bottle of vodka! The boat really started “rocking”. We had a party break and were provided a monstrous feast. After stuffing ourselves our ship pulled up beside two others and then we hopped the ship to have a group karaoke party and music show. Our local guides were hilarious. They sang cover songs and even made some of the guests get up and sing! It was a great time.

10420205_10152771305925813_4724614631742022969_nThen we stumbled back onto our own ship where we took shots before jumping into the water from the roof of the boat! They threw us tubes and then we hung out in the stunning bay. They even set up a floating bar for us to swim to!

Eventually it was time to head back to shore. So settled back into the boat. I put on my headphones, hung my feet off the side of the ship and reflected as we sailed back to Nha Trang. It was magical, beautiful and life-affirming.  10309170_10152771305880813_4727700327185685849_n

By the time we got back to Nha Trang most people (including myself) were extremely intoxicated. We didn’t want the party to stop so we headed to our hotel pool and continued hanging out. I fell asleep (okay passed out) and when I woke up it was night-time.

We went back to the Sailing Club for dinner where we reminisced about the adventures of the day. I loved every second of the day. It was truly amazing. I think it may be one of the best days of my life!

So Fancy in Nha Trang

Yesterday we flew to the Vietnamese beach town of Nha Trang. This is a booming tourist destination full of pale Russians and rich beach goers.

We decided to treat ourselves by heading to Thap Ba Hot Springs for some relaxation and natural spring water treatments. I loved sitting in the warm mineral pools but the mud bath was the real highlight. I’ve never done anything like that before. The mud was cool and grainy. We spread it all over bodies to exfoliate and cleanse. After the mud bath we got into jacuzzi and relaxed with hot water and beers.

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Where did I stay? Vien Dong Hotel

Later everyone got dressed up and we headed to a swanky restaurant right on the beach called Sailing Club. We ate on the beach under a full moon. I had a couple of beach cocktails and a fantastic steak.  Later everyone grabbed bean bags and watched dancers as we hung out around the bonfire.  10600394_10152755321335813_1012120772049136423_n

Angkor Wat and Dance Parties

10689473_10152743606790813_5136321079821951256_nToday we woke early to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. It was pretty surreal. Then headed back to the hotel for breakfast. Our guide said that leaving and then coming back we would beat the crowds. I think he was right. Because when we went back it defiantly was as busy. We were able to properly climb and explore enchanting temple. It was like we were true explorers because everything seemed untouched and authentic. Angkor Wat only opened to tourism a decade ago so it’s still very new and un-abused. I think in another 10 years you won’t be able to climb and venture through as much as we did.

I was most astounded by the sheer size of the temples. The buildings are gigantic. Some reach 16 stories high. These were built around the time of the pyramids. How on earth did they do it? Simply mind-blowing.

There are hundreds of temples in Angkor Wat and we explore five of the most famous ones. It was an amazing day full of adventure, trekking and tuk-tuks!

Tonight was the last night for many of my tour mates who were not continuing on to Vietnam. So of course we had a huge party. We went out to the main bar street and to put it simply…got wasted. I drunk from many people’s Fish Bowls, danced in an insanely hot club and then helped start a massive dance party in the street. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Group selfie!

Group selfie!