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!

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!

Floating Villages, Siem Reap Cambodia

This morning no one was sad to leavePhnomPenh. We were all ready to depart the noise and congestion of the city and head to cleaner air and calm. We found this inSiem Reap.Siem Reap is a townsteaped in history, French colonial charm and Khmer culture.

We checked into our beautiful 5 star hotel Casa Angkor then headed to Tonle Sap, South East Asia’s biggest fresh water lake. On boat we toured the floating villages and crocodile farm. It was interesting to see such a different way of life. The people live in boats on the water their whole lives! They have boat shops, restaurants and schools. I loved seeing the brightly colored boats and homes.149377_10152743605210813_7931250949720401317_n

I did not enjoy the crocodile farm. It wasn’t really a farm. They just had a bunch of trapped crocodiles stuck in a very small cage. Tourists could pay to tease the crocs with large fish. I thought it was a very cruel and inhumane situation.  10346459_10152743606135813_1984422104842932812_n

After the tour Becky and I chilled by the pool before meeting for our group dinner.

Eye Opening Cambodia

I was sad to leave calm, simple and beautiful Laos. But it’s time for a new adventure. This morning I flew into the capital of Phnom Pehn Cambodia. We have come during the start of the Water Festival. Cambodia’s biggest annual festival. During this huge party the city of Phnom Pehn doubles its population.

Where did I stay?

Ohana Hotel Phnom Penh

The streets were packed with backpackers, locals and tons of street children. It was very overwhelming. To add to the chaos of our visit to the capital we were introduced to Cambodia’s dark history.

Cambodia has a sad and secret past. Until only a few years ago the country to locked down. No tourists, no press, nothing. Wild the world turned on, Cambodia was in the midst of a mass genocide. Over two million educated, elderly and “different” Laotian people were brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge. We visit the ‘Killing Fields’ mass graves and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We even met one of the survivors of imprisonment. It was all very chilling. especially because it only ended a decade ago. While walking through the Killing Fields you could see teeth and bones eroding from their graves up through the top soil. It was very sad and eye-opening. People can truly be evil to each other.

Before dinner Sam and I went out to explore the Water Festival. It was insane. Extremely crowded and loud. We saw fireworks and dancing. Then witnessed the water boat parade. It was a great site, but we both felt on edge the whole time. I was pretty worried about pickpocketing because everyone was packed so close together. There were also many beggars and it was very heartbreaking.

Because of the Water Festival the restaurant that Contiki usually takes tours was closed. So we went to a similar place where former disadvantaged youth are trained in hospitality. It was a strange…strange dinner. Our restaurant was right on the river and we were seated partially outside. The entire meal we were surrounded by poverty, street kids and beggars. It was really rough. I don’t think anyone really enjoyed their meals. It’s hard to eat when there are starving people staring at you.

Afterwards I was walking back to the hotel with some of the boys when one guy gave $10 to a street kid selling bracelets. Suddenly we were surrounded by a horde of street boys all selling bracelets. They all wanted American Dollars. When I said I didn’t have any I was harassed by the kids. Then it became so overwhelming and scary that we all started running back to the hotel. Once inside we thought we were safe…but the kids were sharking around the hotel. Flipping us the bird and tapping on the windows.

Needless to say we were all to traumatized to go out again that night.

Welcome to Cambodia!