17 Dec 2014 - 30 Dec 2014
This was without doubt the best thing I've ever done! I would recommend this trip to anyone! It's action packed and full of wonderful little surprises. Our Contiki tour manager was an absolute Gem, he was so knowledgeable, always willing to help and hilarious! Thanks Soki. Hint: Do all the optionals, it's well worth the small amount of dollars for the unforgettable experiences!
Review written Jan 2015event 0.3
10 Dec 2014 - 23 Dec 2014
I originally decided to do a Contiki tour because it was an inexpensive way to travel through a country I was unfamiliar with. I had little expectations and large preconceptions before leaving. Despite this, I can honestly say that my preconceived doubts were blown out of the water. My Contiki experience was cultural, adventurous, scenic and exciting. Every day was something new and unforgettable. My guide, Kristen Schuster, was informative, caring and easily approachable. Kristen and her flawless organizational skills were impressive to say the least. All in all, I can’t wait to book my next holiday with Contiki.
Review written Dec 2014event 0.3
25 May 2014 - 07 Jun 2014
This two week trip through SE Asia has it all: Grand Temples, Buddha’s, Canal Cruise, Overnight Train, Monk Blessing, Thai Cooking Class, Hill Tribe Visit, Mekong River Cruise, Caves, Bike Tour, Snake Whiskey, Monk Feeding, Waterfalls, Elephant Riding, Kayaking, Blue Lagoon Swimming, Arc de Triomphe, COPE visit, Killing Fields, Karaoke, Quick Flights, Floating Villages, Tuk Tuks, Bug Eating, Night Markets, Angkor Wat Temples, lots of Food, SO MUCH FUN, and much more!
I’m a 26 year old male that traveled solo and ended up in a group of 13 from all over the world. This trip provides you with an authentic cultural experience in each of the countries visited. Everyone’s familiar with Thailand, but Laos and Cambodia were unknown gems. You see the amazing offerings of each country but also get to experience the more emotional side of their day to day lives by learning about what their ancestors have been through, and also their current struggles. You come to appreciate the simplicity of their culture and the happiness that they are so eager to share with you. From the city to the rural countryside this adventure is extremely well rounded. I don’t want to release any spoilers but there wasn’t anything on the itinerary that I didn’t enjoy, it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster at times, but that’s a good thing.
Traveling with CONTIKI was great; they’ve really planned the itinerary around what young professionals would want to do/see. It was so worry free and easy that you truly get to focus on enjoying the experience of it all. The places we stayed were all really nice and in great locations, the Pakbeng guesthouse is the only ‘roughing it’ stop, but it was enjoyable as well.
This trip filled travel urges I didn’t even know I had and left me wanting to see/learn more about the areas visited, as all good travel should. Honestly, if you’re debating this trip, quit it and sign up now.
Top notch #CONTIKI, thanks to you and Allison our tour guide for the experience of a lifetime, I will be using y’all again in the future!
TIPS for this trip:
-If you go in the summer months bring BANDANAS, they’re great as sweat bands, which will be 24/7 but still worth it.
-Use sunscreen, their sun is strong.
-Find the bamboo bridge in Luang Prabang!
-Don’t drink the night before the drive to Vang Vieng, that’s the craziest road I’ve ever been on.
-Be sure the money you bring is crisp/clean US$, they often turn down old bills and won’t take them. Also bring an ATM card.
-At Utopia, when you take your shoes off, carry them with you, mine got stolen from the front entrance.
-When debating buying souvenirs you can wait until the very end in Siem Reap, their night market has anything and everything, so you don’t have to tote extras around the rest of the trip. Go ahead and buy some temple pants early on though, you’ll use those a lot.
-Do ALL of the Optional Add-Ons, they’re awesome, and probably some of the best experiences of the trip.
If interested you should be able to see my Public Facebook Album at the link below:
Review written Jul 2014event 0.3
17 Nov 2013 - 30 Nov 2013
I loved this trip. I always knew I wanted to go to Asia. This trip was the best introduction into how amazing Asia can be. I'm definitly addicted and want to go back.
Our tour guide was Amazing. She went above and beyond every day. Always giving us ideas of what to do with our free time so that we did not miss anything.
Our tour mates were great - always cracking jokes and the puns. We still keep in touch and are hoping to travel together in the future. The age group was all over the place once group younger one group older. But we all got along. I think there were 30 of us.
Do all of the optionals - If you are like me then #YOLO - How often will you be going back to the same places in Asia? Asia's huge.
Also Asia is cheap - the hotels are amazing b/c they are cheaper then Europe, food is usually $10 or under for a meal. Getting around town is generally under $10. Anything you ever wanted to do - will be more affordable in Asia. Side note - Bring American dollars with you or use debt at ATMs for $.
This trip is jammed packed. If you want to only sleep and party - this is not your trip, sleeping is not part of the deal. Also make sure you sleep before this trip. You will want to go out every night to experience all these amazing cities.
If you want a play-by-play of what is on this trip read my blog: http://andreamcgrath.com/?cat=7
This trip will be one of the top 10 highlights of my life :)
Review written Jun 2014event 0.3
07 Apr 2013 - 20 Apr 2013
This trip truly is an adventure! A lot of fun, but also educational. I love architecture so that was a treat. The group I traveled with were great to meet and get to know. They helped make the trip. The tigers are hard to resist if you get the chance of course. I went during the water festival, and ended up celebrating a little bit w/ the owners of a closed restaurant I unwittingly wandered into. Definitely an experience I'll never forget. I would definitely recommend it.
Review written Mar 2014event 0.3
10 Nov 2013 - 23 Nov 2013
Wow. I've been back from my trip for a few months now and I'm still in awe of all that I've seen and experienced. This trip is non-stop with each city showing a change in culture and different experiences. So many amazing things happened on this trip! To name a few: elephant ride, Thai cooking class, Thai boxing, blessing by a Buddhist monk, visits to countless and unique temples (including sunrise at Angkor Wat!), river boat rides, city bike ride, visits to the hill tribes and floating villages and jumping into a waterfall! This trip really shows you how happy people can be with so little and after suffering so much in past wars (the people of Laos especially being the happiest people I've ever met!) I feel so blessed to have met the people I did (both locals and my tour mates!) and have come back with a new outlook on life! I felt safe everywhere we went and with our amazing guide James, everything was taken care of. An incredible way to see everything you could possible want to in these 3 countries, with no hassle. Would highly recommend. This trip definitely makes you richer :)
Review written Feb 2014event 0.3
04 Sep 2011 - 17 Sep 2011
I went on this tour a few years ago in 2011 and I have just booked another Contiki because I had so much fun on the last one. My tour guide was Cam and he was a very knowledgeable guide but was also very relaxed which made for a really fun 2 weeks!
I met up with some fellow Contiki crew the day before the tour started at the hotel, which was a nice welcome to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Bangkok was certainly an experience, although I was very glad to make our way north on the overnight train to Chiang Mai in the country. The train was a very different experience but loved it, I did feel sorry for the 2 monks we had in our carriage though.This felt like the real Thailand! I loved the Thai cooking class, and making big flames with my cooking! The Tigers were absolutely amazing, scary at first until I gave him a big belly rub.
The Long neck people in Chaing Rai was very eye opening as I had never seen anything like this before, and they were so friendly. We had a nurse on our trip which was helpful to the locals who had a sick little boy at the time.
The boat was a nice relaxing time, being able to chill out was just what we needed to prepare ourselves for the next week, a great time to read a book!
Pakbeng was a really cute little place, and glad we got to stop by there.The accommodation was nice, as Cam said about the bathroom "you can sit on the toilet, have a shower and brush your teeth at the same time" that's how small it was :)
Luang Prabeng was great fun, the elephants, the water falls, and a night out a Utopia! Riding bikes around the town was super fun with our local guide Tooey! I did miss out on the giving of the alms which is the only thing I regret about the trip ( I turned my alarm off in my sleep ) So make sure you go to bed at a reasonable time for this activity! Once again the accommodation was nice, and they even have a laundry service so take advantage of this!
The bus trip to Vang Vieng was a very long and adventurous journey. It was supposed to take 8 hours it took almost 13!!! These roads were very very very rough due to the wet season and landslides etc. So be patient and remember its about the journey not the destination. We had a lot of fun singing to old classics and taking in all the local village life. We came to a section of the road that was literally a river! we had to stop and take our bags out of the bottom of the bus and put them into the bus as the water was going to go through the baggage area, it was an unexpected event but gave us a real insight into how the Laoation people live. The locals took the flooding as a chance to go fishing, drink beer and laugh at the tourists is the bus!!
After a very long day we arrived in Vang Vieng, this place is amazing! the accommodation is set right on the river amongst some beautiful mountains.
One thing you must do is Vang Vieng is to split up into some smaller groups and go on a local tour. It cost about $15 AUD, but worth every cent. They picked us up from the hotel and took us to a local street and talked all about their way of life, cost of building a house etc. They then took us into some caves and into a water cave on tubes that attached to a rope with headlamps on, meanwhile it was pouring rain, so don't wear anything you care about, buy a Lao Lao singlet or something! I also recommend taking some sandals such as Teva, that way you can wear them in the water without them coming off. Thongs were kind of impractical at times. The we had lunch in a hut by the river which was delicious! Our guides took all of our bags and followed us down the river tubing, making sure we were all ok. I know this part of the trip has been taken off the itinerary, which is unfortunate but I can understand. I am certainly glad I had a local guide with me when we did this for extra safety.
Vientianne was nice, I think we were only there for a night so I don't recall anything too crazy! We did go to a restaurant that had amazing local food that supported a charity.
We flew from Vientianne to Pnohm Penh which was a nice change to a long bus trip. Pnohm Penh was crazy! We hadn't even pulled up to our hotel and young locals were selling us thing through he windows, such as books and sunglasses. This is great if you want some bargains, but be careful, they wont leave you alone!! The tour to the Genocide museum was sad, but its great to have a real insight into their history.
From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was also by plane! They save the best till last, I LOVED Siem Reap, the accommodation was just beautiful!! Visiting the floating villlages was unique, great photo opportunity here. Siem Reap had some nice shopping and cafes, I even bought and ipad there! I was envious of everyone else with one which made swapping photos with each other a lot easier. So having a computer or some spare USBs is handy at this point as the trip is about to end. Angkor Wat was just crazy!! Especially drinking champagne watching the sunrise up over the landmark. It made getting up early that little bit more interesting!
The last night in Siem Reap will be the best yet as you have made some really great friends. Believe it or not you only met them 1 days ago and you wont want to leave them :(
I went on this tour on my own and don't regret that at all. I am still in touch with some of the girls and guys 3 years on, and plan more trips together as they are all like minded people. That's why your on this trip right?! To meet people from the other side of the world, gain more contacts for your next adventure, visit them in their country!
All in all this was a life changing trip as I am still talking about this trip, it gave me such an unforgettable cultural experience and I still use the Language I learned on the trip on Thai restaurants here is AUS. I recommend using their language as much as possible, just to see the smile on their faces!
I'm sorry for the long review, once I got started i just couldn't stop, so I hope this was helpful - things may have changed from my trip to your trip though.
My next tour is the Thai Island hopper East in April!!
Review written Feb 2014event 0.3
05 May 2013 - 18 May 2013
This trip was out of this world, truly. It was the first part of the larger Indochine trip that continued on to Vietnam...I didn't have 25 days to spare for the whole journey, but felt fulfilled with the three countries I did visit and the people I met on this trip. The tour manager was extremely knowledgeable and fun, had a balance between friendly and organized. We got local info at every new stop with helpful hints. The local guides were interesting and informative, really hilarious in most cases. Our hotels were way better than I'd imagined...all but one had WiFi and only one in Lao was a bit rustic. Expectations were exceeded from the first night.
I'd have to say I had slight reservations booking (being on the older side of the age spectrum) but it wasn't even a factor. Everyone was well-rounded and unique, all taking the trip for their own reasons and most were pretty experienced in travel. Since we kept a good pace to get from place to place, there was a lot of accountability, and people looked out for each other. Friendships were made. There was enough free time built in that you could explore a bit on your own or opt out of certain activities...but most of them were worth taking part in.
As soon as I returned home to see photos of myself hugging a tiger, riding on an elephant's back, playing in waterfalls, dancing in the rain, drinking snake whiskey, w/friends drinking/eating/dancing and just overall having the time of our lives...I realized I would definitely be taking another trip with Contiki. It's well organized and Contiki has made the right choices to maximize the time you have in the locations you visit. Someday when I'm much older and retired I'll take months leisurely browsing through areas...for now I like the pace and social aspect.
Review written Aug 2013event 0.3
12 May 2013 - 25 May 2013
Best time ever! First trip solo and it was so worth it. It was a wonderful experience throughout. Met wonderful people, learned so much about the history and the culture of all the countries I visited, and most importantly, made great friends. I've been back for over a month and can't stop talking about it. I would reccommend this trip to everyone.
Review written Jul 2013event 0.3
14 Apr 2013 - 27 Apr 2013
Travelling to these three countries was one of the most rewarding and eye opening experiences of my life, and I would seriously recommend the Asian Adventure to anyone. This tour provides the perfect mix between partying in the hubbub and excitement of Bangkok and Siam Reap and to the breathtaking sites in Veintianne and Chaing Rai socialising from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and in Pak Beng and the much needed relaxation element of every travelling holiday in Phonm Penh and Luang Prabeng. Not to be forgotten was the awe-inpiring journey along the mighty mekong river, Elephant riding in Laos and the truely unique and stunning white temple. As an added bonus you get a local tour guide with you nearly very step of the way as well as you tour manager, which provides the perfect mix between a travellers experience and a local persons view, not only did I come back more educated about the world but i returned with some amazing photos on facebook, a whole encylopedias' worth of facts and information, a novel worthy adventure, experiences I can brag to everyone I know about for years and most cherished: a more relaxed, open and accepting perspective on things not only in my own country but of the world. Worth every penny and honestly, honestly worth the 5 stars its received. In a word: #NoRegrets
Review written Jun 2013event 0.3
02 Jun 2013 - 15 Jun 2013
changed my life! road elephants through jungles
ate delicious food at every stop. many funny stories to take home
never boring, time to relax! amazing accommodation
tour guide was superb, the best part was the lifetime friends I've made!!
Review written Jun 2013event 0.3
28 Apr 2013 - 11 May 2013
What an amazing trip. These countries are truly different from any place I'd been before. Contiki are really good at creating these adventures that give you the opportunity to be thrown from your comfort zone, whilst still providing the support you need to make it a trouble free trip.
Laos and Cambodia are incredible countries, places that most people don't know anything about. There were several times in Laos when I felt compelled to compare it Never Land. Best experiences of the trip include, elephant rides in Laos, visiting hill tribes in Thailand, Thai cooking classes, market tour in Phnom Penh, bike riding in Luang Prabang, and the boat ride down the Mekong.
I had a great tour group, its the best place to meet like minded people, people who enjoy traveling. There are quiet a few people who do the trips solo, so its easy to make friends. The transport and accom were all great, so long as you remember you're in Asia. Our tour guide was brilliant, her knowledge of these countries was mind boggling, and she went out of her way to assist us in everything we needed. I highly recommend this tour. :)
Review written Jun 2013event 0.3
27 Jan 2013 - 09 Feb 2013
This trip was a life changing experience for me. Everyday was an adventure and i have to thank my tour guide Paddy for that. Even on our free days, he was organising activities for us to do, booking kayaks, bikes, tuk tuks for us. I don't think he ever slept! I know our entire group is so greatful for all his hard work. My favourite country was definitely Laos. And my favourite days were the elephant ride and the kayaking, caving and bike riding (not included). My group were amazing and i have certainly made some friends for life. We all became a family and got on so well. The hotels we stayed at went beyond what i expected. They were lovely. Everyday was a different form of transport. Not your typical bus ride tour. We went on boats, bikes, planes, tuk tuks, an overnight train and a few buses. I definitely recommend this tour! Especially if it's your first time overseas! You will be very well looked after.
Review written Feb 2013event 0.3
23 Dec 2012 - 05 Jan 2013
The name says it all -- Asian Adventure. The whole trip is just an ongoing adventure. You see a different side of Thailand not just the party party white beaches. Laos is one of the most beautiful places and must be visited (even though the tubing has been shut down); you will be pleasantly surprised. Cambodia is so full of history and surprises. I definately didnt want this adventure to end and wish I had continued the journey onto Vietnam. Highly recommended tour. Accommodation, views, travel -- nothing to complain about.
Review written Jan 2013event 0.3
23 Dec 2012 - 05 Jan 2013
Had the absolute time of my life on this tour and would definitely do it all over again! Our tour manager Hugh was fantastic, and really went the extra step to make our Christmas and New Years special.
The highlight of the trip definitely includes the cooking class, giving alms to the monks, the elephant ride and the nights out with my amazing tour group.
The tour covers so many different places and offers so many different types of travel - an overnight train, boat, bus and plane. It is definitely the way to experience South East Asia.
I would recommend this tour to everyone!
Review written Jan 2013event 0.3
22 Jan 2012 - 04 Feb 2012
The Asian Adventure was by far the most exciting and amazing experience I have encountered so far. The culture, food, sites we visited and the people on my tour made the experience a once in a life time opportunity. Asia has defiantly become a favourite place for me because of the times I spent travelling and exploring the three countries on the tour, and I know have a new found respect for the local people. I am so thankful for the wonderful memories this trip provided me with and the lifelong friends I made. I had the absolute time of my life!
Review written Nov 2012event 0.3
02 Sep 2012 - 15 Sep 2012
From the buzzing nightlife of street markets & bars, to stunning temples, crazy tuk-tuk rides, elephant rides, thai cooking classes, remote villages, beautiful scenery, swimming in waterfalls, bucket nights, photos with tigers and ancient ruins......this trip was truly life changing and an amazing experience I will never forget! The people in SE Asia especially are the most unforgetable human beings. So friendly and cheeky, they will always bring a smile to your face.
Our tour manager Nikki was the best and took the stress out of everything. Contiki certainly run a great show and take you to places you would not normally see if you were doing your own thing. The accomodation and transport was more than adequate.
We only had a mini group of 16, but my tour mates were diverse, fun, outgoing and will be friends for life. The 2 weeks flew by so quickly however the duration was perfect for this trip. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a holiday with an even mix of culture, sight seeing and partying.
Review written Oct 2012event 0.3
24 Jul 2011 - 06 Aug 2011
By far best thing i have ever done. Trip was amazing, Tour guide was the best one you could of wished for. And the people i completed the tour with were all in the same state of mind as me, there to kick back and enjoy what Asia had to offer.
Would highly recommend this tour to anyone who wants to experience Asia first hand. I missed out on the extended Vietnam part due to lack of holiday time from work but wish i had done it aswel.
Hugely enjoyable, good price, and a lot packed in that was able to be experienced in enough time.
Review written Jul 2012event 0.3
16 Jan 2011 - 29 Jan 2011
Absolutely amazing in every way. I am actually having a hard time considering other trips now - would go back and do this one over and over. The people in SE Asia are the most friendly in the world - I felt safer than I do in my hometown. I have recommended this trip to at least 20 friends and am giving the ultimate recommendation - I am sending my step-daughter in a few years when she's 18! I've also never had the post-vacation high last so long. I look at my pictures every day.
Contiki is just the best tour company there is with a perfect balance of sightseeing, relaxing, and, of course, fun! I'm American, but I met a possible cousin from the town that my family if from in Italy on this trip! Friends you make on tour are truly friends for life - and you will meet people with the same sense of adventure as you when traveling.
Review written Feb 2012event 0.3
30 Oct 2011 - 12 Nov 2011
"The greatest journeys start with a single step and end up as legendary stories"
Travelling is more than just exploring the world; it's about taking part of your life journey. A journey that will take you to some amazing places. A journey that will create unforgettable memories. A journey where you will discover yourself. A journey that is not complete unless you get out there and explore! Throw into the mix meeting fellow travellers from around the world, local cultures & customs, history, incredible local cuisine and best of all - the local people themselves, and you've got yourself an incredible recipe.
And, where else in the world can you find the amazing food, try fried insects, buy a beer for 50cents, ride on 3-wheeled contraptions, attempt to cross the street without waiting for the traffic to stop, ride an elephant down the main road of a capital city and learn the entire war-torn and political histories, other than in South East Asia! And, (in my opinion) there is no better way to do it, than with Contiki Asia.
Though people may be familiar with the style of touring that Contiki has traditionally done through Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, Contiki's relatively new product in Asia differs slightly. As my Tour Manager Dave said in Vietnam "Contiki Asia differs to those locations that Contiki has traditionally travelled to...for example we use a variety of different transports, so in terms of a traditional Contiki tour, yeah it's still got all of those same elements. But, a little bit like Asia - Same Same But Different, that's what Contiki Asia is." What's more, is that not only is your Tour Manager there on each step of the journey, but you're also joined in each city by a local guide to show you their part of the world.
For me, my travel experience with Contiki in Asia was on the Vietnam Experience in 2009 with Tour Manager Dave, and in 2011 the Asian Adventure with Tour Manager Jonny. These two tours make up Contiki's Big Indochina Adventure which will take you though Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
What I particularly love about Contiki in Asia is that you simply get to see more. There is no sitting on a bus for hours on end every second day, and to reduce the travel time you often fly - giving you much more time to explore. As well as the internal flights, you also travel on overnight trains, tuk tuk's, bikes, rickshaws, sampans, and traditional Chinese style junk boats. All up, there is over 10 different means of transportation on the Big Indochina Adventure.
Their hotels are right where you want to be. In Bangkok, you're only one street away from Koh San Road. In Nha Trang, you're a minute’s walk from the beach. In Siem Reap, it's a 10 minute walk from the popular Bar Street and in Ho Chi Minh City, you're only minutes away from the Ben Than markets. Centrally located hotels that definitely have comfort in mind. You'll find all the rooms have their own private bathroom & air conditioning, and most will have TV's and free Wi-Fi (that should only be used to gloat though a Facebook status to those at home!). Contiki however, goes that one step further - and provides you with an authentic local experience on their tours in Asia. You stay in guesthouses in Pakbeng in Laos and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. And you also get off dry land with the overnight stay on the traditional junk boat in Halong Bay.
It all starts in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Forget the scenes depicted in the Hangover Part 2, Bangkok is a unique city that is sure to shock your senses - particularly if it's your first time to Asia! Street side vendors, tuk tuk's, markets and the neon lights is all part of what makes up the city they like to call Bangkok. It's here that the tour starts. When I arrived in Bangkok for the Asian Adventure in 2011, I arrived 2 days before the tour started. I was lucky enough to meet many of the people who were going to be on the trip beforehand, through the Contiki forums and a Facebook group, and we all headed out for some drinks. I was starting to get excited! That night, being the party animal I am I decided to head out after everyone else had gone back to the hotel. Jumping in a Tuk Tuk, and having no idea where I wanted to go, I told the driver to take me "to where it all happens in Bangkok". Perhaps I could have worded that a little better - the driver took me to a place which I thought was a bar, only to walk inside to a massive glass window with 30 Thai girls (well, I think they were) trying to get my attention. Lesson learnt I think! The next day, after we had our Tour Meeting, the group headed out for some dinner and drinks at a local bar called the Triple 9 West. Some, afterwards decided to be adventurous and head to Pat Pong Road, a street which the Thai people chose to believe doesn't exist, and go to a Ping Pong show. Not for everybody, but an experience in the least!
From Bangkok it's on to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Usually, you would get the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. However due to flooding in Thailand at the time of my tour the rail lines were under water and we had to fly. No problem - we scored an extra night in a magnificent city! Jonny informed us to go and buy some new clothes at the local market - and to "think 80's", because the next stop was Chiang Rai and we were heading out for an 80's party. Well...it wasn't really an 80's party, but I'm sure it was amusing for the local's to see 30 travellers walking the street in 'tight and bright' (and my amazing green flashing sunglasses that I found!).
It was then time to say Bye Bye to Thailand and Hello to Laos as we crossed the Thai/Laos boarder by boat! Yes, by boat - in what has to be the most interesting boarder crossing anywhere in the world. This is where being on Contiki and having Jonny with us was fantastic, he made it hassle free, and actually seem easy! It was now time to simply sit back and relax, as we cruised down the beautiful Mekong River for two whole days, with a stop over in a small local village called Pakbeng. It was once we arrived in Pakbeng that I became very excited about the country that we were going to spend 6 nights in - it was beautiful. That night, we had a delicious Laotian banquet at the hotel before heading out to what was the only bar in Pakbeng. We decided to start early, as there is still a curfew stipulated by the government in Laos, where we had to be back in the hotel by 11pm. A welcome change, I thought I may actually get some sleep for a few nights. But, for those of us that can't help but to party it just turned into a hotel party with a bottle of vodka, beer and the iPod dock! At one point we must have got a bit loud, because Jonny came out and told us to be a little bit quieter so those who wanted to sleep could, which then also lead to a local police man coming to tell us to shut it down. That wasn't anything that a free shot of Vodka to the local cop couldn't fix however!
From Pakbeng it was onto another day of cruising down the Mekong to laid back Luang Prabang. With Jonny telling us not to waste anytime once we arrived to the hotel, it was a quick drop off of the bags, hand in some laundry to reception to get washed and we went on a bike tour of this stunning town as the sun set. Laos was definitely shaping up to be a personal favourite. The next morning it was time for one of our optional activities in the giving of alms to the local monks. It was an early morning, but what a rewarding activity to be part of!
From Luang Prabang it was onto Vang Vieng. This was definitely something the whole group was looking forward to - Tubing! If you haven't heard of tubing before, search it on You Tube! Although, once we got there, I was pleasantly surprised. Vang Vieng was beautiful, particularly the picturesque limestone karsts. Whilst, extremely fun, tubing is also extremely dangerous with people being killed every year. My recommendation, if you travel to Vang Vieng, do yourself a favour and go tubing. But stick together as a group, and have some common sense about you, and you'll be fine.
Next stop - the French influenced capital of Laos, Vientiane. It's here in Vientiane that you visit Laos' version of the Arc de Triomphe, and enjoy dinner at a restaurant called Makphet which employs local street kids and teaches them culinary skills in the aim to break the vicious cycle of poverty they were born into. A particularly proud moment for me was when we visited the COPE centre. What I didn't know before I visited Laos was of the cold dark history they have, with the secret war that had been fought there. Today, there is still thousands of un-exploded cluster bombs that lie in and around Laos, and many locals are still losing arms and legs from these bombs that haven't yet detonated. What the COPE centre does is make artificial limbs for these amputees. For only US$75 you can buy a limb which will be donated to one of these local amputee's, and it was a very proud moment when the group purchased a combined 13 legs for these unfortunate locals.
From Laos to Cambodia, and it was time to take to the air and arrive in the capital Phnom Penh. Once we arrived, Jonny prepared us for what was going to be a very raw experience. It was time to visit one of the killing fields under the Pol Pot regime. I'm not going to go into too much detail about that, but it is a reminder of the very dark history in South East Asia, which is fairly recent. Today though, unless you knew otherwise you wouldn't have a clue at the plight that the Cambodian's went though, and as we land in Siem Reap and take a cruise down the picture perfect Tonle Sap on a private boat, you begin to see the resilience and good nature of the Cambodian people. It was now soon time for the Asian Adventure to end, and at this point of the tour I remembered back to something that Jonny said 2 weeks before hand in Bangkok, that this was a unique tour that got better with each day. And, as I reflected on the previous two weeks he was right, and he was also right in what we experienced the next day. Angkor Wat at sunrise, nothing that I can sit here and type can give justice to this truly remarkable site of the Khmer Empire.
As I was doing the Asian Adventure it was now time for my tour to end, as the people that were doing the Big Indochina Adventure continued onto Vietnam. This was the part of the tour I did back in 2009 with Dave. It begins in Ho Chi Minh city, or Saigon as the locals call it. Saigon is a manic city that has over 6million registered motorcycles. It's a city where you'll never get across the street if you wait for the traffic to stop. Arriving in Saigon a night before the tour started, I think I mostly stuck to restaurants and shops where I didn't have to cross the road - it was simply too daunting. It was day one, the Contiki meeting had finished in the lobby of the Viendong Hotel, and it was off to the Ben Tanh markets for dinner. It was here Dave told the group that when crossing the road, you just have to start walking and keep a steady pace and the motorbikes will dodge you, which was actually quite a thrilling experience. That night, we all got to know each other, having some drinks and the Aleez Boo bar and the Go2 bar, which are very popular night spots in Saigon. On this particular tour we were fairly lucky to have two training Tour Managers with us. We had Bern, who had worked with Contiki and Trafalgar in Europe, and Salli who had worked with Contiki in Australia. So we definitely had the experience to get some truly remarkable new adventures under our belt. I remember that night, at the Go2 bar there was a guy in our group who fell asleep at the bar. I was with Adam who was my roommate, and we decided not to wake him when we left - after all we hadn't even really spoken to this guy. Some two and a half years later I am still copping it for leaving him asleep at the bar!
From Saigon it’s a journey into the Mekong Delta. On this journey we travelled by bus, boat, bike and finally sampans. It was an overnight stop at a guesthouse where you could just chill back in a hammock, read a book, listen to your iPod, or if you were game enough engage in playing King of Beers with our local guide Nam. The next morning, heading back to Saigon, we stopped at the legendary Cu Chi tunnels. We actually got to go down the tunnels and experience the underground world that the Viet cong created for hiding. These tunnels were narrow, very narrow - which had actually been widened to fit us Western tourists. Back in Saigon, it was time for a drink again at the Aleez Boo, and Go2 bars before waking up the next morning and exploring the city, where we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral (which you would have seen as the starting point on Top Gear's Vietnam Special), the presidential palace, and the general post office (which you would have also seen on the Amazing Race), before our flight to Nha Trang.
Onto Nha Trang and it was time for Dave to show us around. Where to get the best seafood (amazing!), get our clothes washed and where to drink. Waking up the next morning we had the option to do our own thing, or go on an optional cruise to the gorgeous island off Nha Trang for what turned into Karaoke, snorkelling, jet skiing, parasailing, and a swim up bar! That night, it was off to Dave's local pick for a drink (probably because it's the only place where they sold Guinness on tap!) At this bar we were dared to try what they call the "real Nha Trang bucket". Which from memory had 2 bottles of Vodka, 2 bottles of rum, half a bottle of gin, triplesec, lime and sprite. 8 of us went in on it, and although I felt fine the next day some of the others didn't.
Time to take to the air again, and we landed in the world heritage listed Hoi An, which was a place to relax for a couple of days in the amazing hotel pool, get some fantastic clothes made, and enjoy some great food. From Hoi An, it was time to jump on a bus for a drive to Hue, where we travelled along the Hai Van Pass (again, seen in Top Gear) which as absolutely stunning. The view it said to be a like a picturesque metaphor where old and new Vietnam meet. With only one night in Hue, it was time to go local again, and stop in at the DMZ bar for a couple of drinks - and to tag ourselves on the wall.
The next morning began again with a flight to the nation’s capital - Hanoi! Hanoi is a great city, which offers great food and shopping. For those who wanted to, you could also go and visit Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. From Hanoi it was onto what was my favourite part of Vietnam - the overnight junk cruise on Halong Bay. I could go on for hours explaining how beautiful it was at sunset and sunrise, but I don't want to ruin the surprise for you who will eventually travel there. Once on shore again, it was time to drive back to Hanoi for what would be the final night of the tour, and for 30 new friends to return to their own corner of the globe.
Whatever you're looking for in a holiday, whether it be to see new things, to make new friends, to find lust (or even love), Contiki sure do have you covered in Asia. It was been one of the best experiences of my life, and I can't wait for the next one (Thai Islands perhaps??). Whether you're travelling with a group of friends, or even solo you're bound to have a good time. Both times I've travelled with Contiki in Asia I have travelled solo, and I have made friendships that I am positive that will last a lifetime.
So...if I can steal something from the Contiki Asia brochure, go out there and travel for the moments. Moments that will make your jaw drop and eyes widen, like the first time you watch the sunrise over the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. Some give you that "wow" moment, like staring out over the turquoise waters of Halong Bay. Others are a little more low key, like watching the Buddhist monks quietly stroll by in Luang Prabang. These moments all come together to create your story...one that will live with you forever. It's the cultural explosion that makes Asia so special - the local cultures and customs, the unbeatable food, the incredible variety of landscapes and the amazing characters that make each country so unique. It's about widening your perspective on the world and coming home with your own story to tell.
My tips -
* Try as many different local foods as you can because chances are you may never come across something quite so unique again
* Travel with an open mind, who knows what is around the corner. Who you might meet, or what you might encounter
* Do all the optional tours, they are all so unique, and whilst it may sound more fun at the time to go to the bar and drink, you'll definitely be thankful that you've done it once you've returned home
* Have fun! Travel is all about having fun. Tick those items off your bucket list, make new friends (both other travellers and locals), and enjoy what South East Asia has to offer! And remember, a journey is best measured in friendship, rather than miles!
So go out and take that first leap, start that journey, and create that legendary story
Review written Feb 2012event 0.3