I’d had this idea in my head that at some point during my year out I’d just turn up at Heathrow and say, “Put me on the next flight out of here!” I didn’t actually do that, I could see potential issues with visas, also how do you pack for a trip when you don’t know where you’re going?
The closest I got was towards the end of the year. It was November, nothing much was happening in London, and I felt like I should squeeze one more trip into my year off. I called Trailfinders on a Monday evening for some flight advice (I love the people at Trailfinders, they’re knowledgeable and efficient, and when I’m booking multiple flights in different time zones I like to get a bit of help to avoid potential mistakes).
Three days later I was on a flight bound for Phnom Penh in Cambodia, with just the first couple of night’s accommodation booked, so exciting! I thoroughly recommend both Cambodia and Laos. Despite travelling solo I never felt uncomfortable and both countries are relatively cheap, although there are fancy hotels and restaurants so you can splash out if you like.
My trip comprised so many magical memories, including having blissful massages, eating insanely good food, visiting awe-inspiring temples at sunrise, and seeing the monks receive alms in Luang Prabang. These are my five favourite finds…
I wandered past this spa on my last day in Phnom Penh and booked a massage for my final afternoon. Behind a shop filled with pretty things to buy is a courtyard oasis furnished with stylish loungers you’ll struggle to leave, organized around a petal-filled pool. After downing the welcome drink I was lead to a super-calm treatment room. An hour later I was more relaxed than I thought possible. And yes I left with a bagful of pretty things from the shop.
I loved everything about this place from the tiled floor, brightly-coloured painted chairs, patterned tablecloths and pretty crockery, to the my-mouth-is-watering-at-the-memory food. Amok is a traditional Khmer dish of a curry cooked in banana leaves and, obviously, there is Amok every-which-way on the menu here. The vegetarian version was crazy-good and there are lots of other dishes to choose from for fish and meat lovers too.
As the name suggests this casual but chic restaurant provides a relaxing haven for travellers who are both weary and hungry after a day tramping round the temples. As a training restaurant for young adults from orphanages and safe shelters, and underprivileged young adults from very poor rural areas, it’s a haven for its staff too. The food (a mixture of Asian and Western dishes) is super-fresh and super-delicious, no surprise then that’s it’s always busy. Book ahead or be disappointed.
After staying in budget hostels in Cambodia, when I got to Laos I treated myself to a couple of nights in this elegant and astonishingly well-priced boutique hotel in Luang Prabang. My room was huge (well at least compared to the budget hostels!) and there was an enormous tub in the bathroom, perfect for soothing legs weary from tramping around temples and brain tired from haggling at the night market. Breakfast was included in the room rate and I tucked in to fresh fruit, yoghurt, toast, homemade jam and endless cups coffee every morning in the elegant dining room. I liked the food so much I had dinner in the restaurant a couple of times too, always sitting outside on a table overlooking the Nam Khan river.
Conveniently located right next door to The Apsara, The Tamarind specializes in Laotian food and, as well as being a regular restaurant, is a cookery school and every Friday holds a barbecued fish feast. It’s a sharing meal, so great for meeting other travellers if you’re travelling solo, like me. As each dish is served one of The Tamarind team explains what you’re about to eat and how to eat it in true Lao style. It’s really popular so book pretty much as soon as you arrive.
Time was short and I only visited Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Luang Prabang. Anyone else been to Cambodia and Laos? Where were your favourite places to visit, stay, eat, spa and sightsee?