When I left Sixth Form, I was stuck with the decision – what now? I felt like I wasn’t ready for Uni life and to continue studying, even though I knew this was what I wanted to do longer-term to fulfil my dream of becoming a sports injury specialist. I longed to travel the world on a gap year but working part-time during my studies meant I couldn’t afford the lifestyle; I’m definitely not a ‘backpacker’, so hostel life wasn’t my ideal!
When my boyfriend decided to take eight months out to travel around Asia, I was hit with massive FOMO! That summer, I worked my butt off in my bar job and saved every penny I could, and on Boxing Day I rocked up at Heathrow with my backpack fully loaded (I succumbed to at least having ‘the look’ of a traveller…) and boarded my plane to Bangkok.
The next morning, I arrived bleary-eyed in Thailand’s capital. We spent two nights in a cosy hotel tucked away in a back street, just minutes from Khao San Road. If you’ve ever seen the film ‘The Beach’, you’ll know that Khao San is fondly referred to as ‘the centre of the backpacking universe’ – and it’s easy to see why. Teeming with market stalls, bars, street food and internet cafés; it really is the bustling hub of all things travel.
After our short stint in Bangkok, checking out the temples, tuk-tuks and eating questionable snacks (fried scorpion, anyone?) it was time to take the 8-hour trip via bus and ferry to Koh Phang-an; one of several islands in the Gulf of Thailand. New Year’s Eve was just around the corner and the looming Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach had me buzzing with anticipation.
But there is so much more to this tropical paradise than partying on the shore: hiring a 4×4 for the day, we took a drive around the island roads, stumbling across hidden beach coves, waterfalls and views that I had only seen in movies. For the vegans and health-food lovers, Karma Kafe is well worth a trip across the island to sample the delicious menu of beetroot burgers, handmade energy bars and revitalising smoothies. Despite #health, we did take a one-night trip to Koh Tao to join the infamous – and originally named – Koh Tao Pub Crawl: definitely a night to remember (if you manage to!) The only dampener on our Thai travels was the weather: it was unseasonably wet, with only two days of sunshine in the duration of our stay! After 10 days of island life, our time in Thailand was up. We spent a final night back in Bangkok before heading to our next destination: India.
Our first – and most obvious – stop was Mumbai. This was the most interesting and surprising part of my trip; for some reason, I had it in my head that India would be more Third-World than metropolitan, and while for the most part you could see the poverty and overpopulation of the country down every street and in every slum, there were beautiful pockets of nirvana everywhere we ventured. The highlight of a crazy 24 hours in Mumbai (where it took twice as long in a car to get anywhere than it did to walk – if you think London traffic is bad, wait til you experience this!): visiting the Gateway to India; a beautiful yet bizarre experience – we spent more time being asked for selfies by the locals than taking our own photographs.
After the Bombay bustle, we retreated to the serene coast of Goa. In contrast to the wet, tropical conditions of Thailand, Goa delivered the sunshine in spades. It was here that we truly experienced Indian hospitality; staying in a family-run apartment block a short walk from the white sandy beach overlooking the Arabian Sea. Savouring local delicacies in a beach shack was a welcome break from hours of sunbathing, and the beautiful weather got us out exploring; we headed to Dudhsagar Falls – an incredible 320m high waterfall, with a swimming area below and countless monkeys zipping around the rocks!
The final leg of our trip was a spontaneous 3 days in Anjuna and Arambol, in northern Goa. We read about the ‘hippy’ vibe of these two fishermen villages, and headed to the famous flea market to pick up some souvenirs of our trip. Home to one of the most beautiful beaches in India, Arambol hosts a ‘sweet water lake’, and if you go off the beaten track into the forest behind, you’ll stumble across a banyan tree that has an unusual attraction!
Three weeks in Asia was a whirlwind, fascinating, and unforgettable. And all on a budget of around £1500 (including flights), it was a trip that anyone can do with a little saving, adventure and an open mind to their itinerary!