Guest Blog Post by Lesley Siu, editor-in-chief of Her Campus American
I always said Asia would be my next adventure. After completing a summer internship in Australia and a semester studying in Europe, it was next on my travel to-do list. With the help of Her Campus and Contiki, I finally did make it to Asia—Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, to be exact.
As the editor-in-chief of Her Campus American, I wrote a series of travel articles for Her Campus and Contiki’s TravelHER contest. By writing and sharing my posts “No Regrets: Top 5 Reasons You Should Travel Now,” “How to Document Your Travels” and “Chic Travel Essentials,” I was chosen as the winner of a Contiki tour and airfare credit for two!
So on August 30, my friend Kelsey and I set out for Southeast Asia to spend two weeks on the Asian Adventure tour.
First stop: Bangkok. On the first night, we attended an orientation meeting and dinner with the group of about 30 like-minded travelers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, England and the U.S. The next day, we toured The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo) with our local guide who also led our canal tour. I was in awe of the beautiful architecture, colors and detail of the Palace. With the afternoon free, Kelsey and I explored Khao San Road where we had delicious pad thai from a street vendor and tried a fish spa.
Then, the group headed toward the train station where we boarded an overnight train to Chiang Mai. I was skeptical about the sleeping accommodations, but it was actually quite comfortable! In Chiang Mai, we pet tigers at the Tiger Kingdom, took a Thai cooking class and explored the night bazaar.
We spent most of the next day on the bus to Chiang Rai. My favorite part of that trip was stopping to see the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun. After we got to the hotel, we had the night free. Kelsey and I had planned to explore the night markets, but they were closed since it was raining. We got Thai massages instead—less than $10 USD for an hour!
Crossing the border from Thailand to Laos was quite the experience. Lucky for us, it wasn’t just raining, it was pouring. After all, it is rainy season. We drove to the border crossing, prepared our documents, loaded our luggage and boarded tiny boats to cross the Mekong River to Laos.
Scenic lunch stop on the way to Vang Vieng.
After going through border control and getting our visas, we met our local guide and rode in tuk-tuks to get to the boat that would take us to Pakbeng. It was a leisurely cruise to the guest house we stayed at and had a group dinner that night. I enjoyed exploring the small village, which was such a contrast from the bustling cities in Thailand. We spent a day traveling on the boat again and stopped by a cave filled with tons of Buddha statues.
Once we got to Luang Prabang, we all took a bike tour where we explored a temple and sampled snake whiskey (yes, it’s as gross as it looks). The next day, we got to ride an elephant, swim at Kuangsi Waterfall Park and explore the night markets. Riding an elephant was an amazing experience. I was a little nervous sitting on the elephant’s neck (a.k.a. the driver’s seat) as we crossed a small part of the river, but it was something I’ll never forget. Luang Prabang was one of my favorite places we visited.
We woke up early the next morning to give rice to the monks, then it was off to Vang Vieng. We had the day free, so we walked around the backpacker town and took some much-needed time to relax. Traveling nonstop is both exhilarating and exhausting!
Our next stop was Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We toured a temple and the Laos “Arc de Triomphe.” We also visited the COPE center where we learned about the devastating effects of UXO (unexploded ordinance) still in the country. I had no idea Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita.
The next morning, we boarded a flight to Cambodia. Once we arrived in the capital Phnom Penh, our local guide led a tour of the Killing Fields mass graves and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was interesting to learn about the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s history. For dinner, we all headed to Friends restaurant, where students are trained in hospitality.
Our next and final destination was Siem Reap. We toured the floating villages by boat and explored the restaurants and shops on Pub Street. On the last day, we left at 4:45 a.m. to see the beautiful sunrise at Angkor Wat. In the afternoon, we toured two of the hundreds of temples in Siem Reap with our local guide. One of the temples, Ta Prohm, is where the Tomb Raider was filmed. The next morning, it was time to say goodbye to the group as some continued on to Vietnam on the Big Indochina Adventure tour while we began the long journey home.
Traveling with Contiki was a great way to experience Southeast Asia for the first time. With the itineraries mapped out, accommodation and some meals provided, inside information from local guides and opportunity to meet travelers from all over the world, the Asian Adventure tour was an unforgettable trip.