Since the end of our South East Asia trip and relocating to England the question we’re asked the most is what were our favourite places from the trip. To us it’s a nearly impossible question to answer as every place we’ve been to has had its own charm and things we’ve liked. But we did some thinking and were able to put together a list of all the places we visited over the three months we travelled South East Asia, that now have a special place in our hearts.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Vietnam would not be at the top of the list for places we’d go back to, solely because it was just too loud and too busy, but Hoi An is where we found a little slice of Vietnamese paradise.
Nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of Hoi An is the Hoi An Old Town. This area would have been the original parts of the city before it grew into what it is today and it’s like stepping back in time. There are no cars allowed down the narrow streets, only pedal bikes and motor bikes (between 10AM and 6pm), and even then there aren’t many motorbikes. It gets quite busy and crowed during the day so we found the best time to walk around peacefully was early morning when the motorbikes aren’t allowed on the walking streets and people haven’t made it out of their hotels yet.
We liked the Old Town so much we didn’t really venture out to anywhere else. The food was SO good, the locals were friendly, and at night the whole area gleamed with the glow of lanterns. It was the first time I really felt like we were actually in Vietnam.
Hoi An is where you’ll find the lanterns Vietnam is known for. At night the stalls and store entrances are lined with lit up lanterns that give the streets a romantic feel. By the night market is where the lantern stalls are, with walls on walls of lit up Vietnamese Lanterns, and couples taking their wedding photos. It’s absolutely stunning and photos do not do it justice.
And we can’t forget about the food! In case you didn’t already know, we’re huge foodies, and Hoi An did not disappoint. The city is most famous for its Banh Bao Vac (White Roses), and Cao Lau.
Banh Bao Vac are special dumplings made with rice flour dough and stuffed with minced pork and spices, then pinched together in a way that make them look like roses. They are served warm with crispy fried onions and a sweet/tangy sauce. They are such a Hoi An specialty you literally cannot get them anywhere else in Vietnam. They are made by only one shop who distribute them all over Hoi An, and they’ve been doing so for generations. So whether you have them in the Old Town or somewhere else, they’ve all come from the same place.
Cao Lau is a noodle dish that comes with a delicious, thick flavourful pork broth, fresh greens and herbs, refreshing bean sprouts, spiced sliced pork, and to make it that much better, it’s topped with crispy pork skin. Excuse me while drool a little.
You can get it anywhere, the pricier restaurants, the cheap restaurants, even from the street food vendors. But the best we had (in our opinion) was at Thuan Y, a little river front restaurant that also had the best banana shakes.
Gili Trawangan, Bali
Oh Gili T, how you stole our hearts from the first day we ever saw you.
Our first visit to Gili T was back in October of 2014, when we did a short trip during our working holiday year in Australia. We fell hopelessly and endlessly in love with the island, from its quiet nature to its drop dead gorgeous waters. It’s a diver’s paradise, a seafood lovers heaven and a beach bum’s eden. There are no cars, no motorbikes, only horse-drawn carts and pedal bikes. Every evening the night market springs to life with the smell of satay and flame grilled corn, and the restaurants display fresh seafood caught that day.
The island has everything you could possibly want. Want to go shopping? They’ve got designer clothing stores to souvenir stalls. Want good food? There’s fresh oven fired pizza, seafood BBQ, vegan cafes, italian restaurants, authentic Balinese, and even gourmet burgers. Want to go to the beach? Parts of the beach are busy but if you walk far enough around (you can walk around the whole island in about 4 hours) you’ll find quite, secluded beaches. You want it, they’ve got it.
And we can’t forget about the diving! World class dive sites are right out your front door. We dove with Trawangan Dive both times because, A) It is a Dive resort, meaning you can you can get dive and stay packages, making it slightly cheaper and hassle free; and B) we like the all around vibe of the place. The guides, instructors and helping hands are amazing. They’re all cheerful and outgoing and really make you excited for you’re dives. It’s just a super chill environment and we absolutely loved it.
No questions about it, Gili T is our favourite place on Earth and it will forever have a special place in our hearts.
Koh Tao, Thailand
Koh Tao is similar to Gili T in the sense that it’s definitely a divers niche. It is, after all, the cheapest place to get certified. In the high season the diving is pristine, with visibility up to or more than 30 meters and you may even be lucky enough to spot a whale shark or two. On top of that the water is SO warm, we never had to wear wetsuit! On average it’s about 30 degrees or more and thats at anywhere from 30 to 18 meters down. It’s the most free a diver can feel, diving with nothing but a bikini or shorts and your BCD. Heaven I tell you, Heaven!
The night life is great (in high season), with fire shows every night, a pub crawl every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and decent bars with live music.
Koh Tao has that low key, relaxed, island vibe that we love and as long as you’re just around Sairee Beach it’s relatively quite in terms of traffic because there are no cars in that particular area. We’re small town people, we like to be away from the noise and busyness of big cities. What makes it great is it has a little something for everyone, great diving, good nightlife, nature walks, island tours, 5 star resorts, you name it. It’s the perfect place to recover from it’s rowdier sister island, Koh Pha Ngan.
Similan Islands, Thailand
Another diver’s paradise (apologies for repetition but our happy place truly is in the water). The Similan Islands are rated one of the top 10 places to dive in the world. You have a great chance of seeing Whale Sharks and Manta Rays here as well as plenty of other sea life you might not see anywhere else and the water is so warm you can get away with only wearing a 3mm shortie.
What’s unique about the Similans is the best way to dive around them is to do a Live Aboard Dive Boat. You can go for anywhere between 2 – 7 days and on a number of quality boats costing from 17 000-32 000 TBH.
Our live abroad is what made the Similans so memorable for us. We chose Khao Lak Scuba Adventures because of the quality and the price of their particular tours. We were on the boat for 4 nights and it was incredible. We saw so much sea life that we’ve never seen before, Will did his Advanced Open Water certification, and we saw a Manta Ray!
We got to dive 4 times a day which helped us become more confident as divers and taught us a lot about our own strengths and weaknesses in the water. We learned a lot and to me this is important when travelling, because not only did we come away with great stories but we came away self-improved. Those five days were definitely a big highlight of our trip.
Read all about our dive trip in the Similan Islands on our 50 Shades of Blue post, here.
Khao Lak itself doesn’t really have much going on. You can take day trips into the National Park and it is a good place to get into Khao Sok National Park. It is also one of the places that got hit the hardest by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the damage of which you can still see today.
Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Viang is known among backpackers (and probably all other travellers) as a place to party, but there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
The scenery alone won us over the day we got there. The mountains, the trees, and the river, all make for a stunning back drop. Everything is so green and colourful with nature. There are caves to explore, the Blue Lagoon to swim in, motorbikes to rent for exploring. It’s a great little town trying to rid itself of its dark and partying past.
There’s a cafe/restaurant that plays Friends on repeat all day, every day. Restaurants with special menus if thats what you’re looking for. Bars with free drinks (Nope, I’m not joking. They literally line the bar with shots of whisky just waiting for you to choose your mix, ALL free between 8 and 9). And the baguettes, oh those baguettes! We still crave them!
There are still remnants of the French influence in Laos and baguettes are one of them. They’re just a little smaller than a foot long subway sandwich and you get just as many filling options as subway, although you only get lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes as salad and mayo, chilli, and ketchup as sauce options. I don’t know how or why they are so good, and I probably don’t want to know but they are delicious!
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat has been at the top of our Bucket Lists for years, so actually stepping foot into the grounds was an experience of a life time. We’ll never forget walking up to the gates at 5am in the morning and getting that surreal feeling like we couldn’t believe we were actually there.
I’m a huge archaeology buff, after all, it is what I studied in my first year of University, so I was having a field day (HA! pardon the pun) walking around all the sites and exploring all the nooks and crannies we could.
There is way more too it than most people expect because Angkor Wat is just one structure our of hundreds in the Angkor area. We only got two full days to explore the area, which was plenty of time but I think one more day would have been just perfect.
Check out more of our photos from Angkor here.
So those are our Favourite Places from our past South East Asia trip. It was an amazing adventure, one we had been planning for years and we will never forget the experiences we had, the people we met and all the incredible things we got to see. Stay tuned for a possible series of Favourite Places posts, from our previous trips to our current travels. If you have any questions about other places we visited or companies we went through don’t hesitate to ask, we’d be happy to help.