Cycling France, and falling in love with travel

How travel changed my life

This is the story of my first ever cycle tour in 2002. I was 19 years old and broke, but desperately wanted to see the world.

My friend Sean and I

A friend and I bought two second-hand mountain bikes for €40 each and planned to cycle from Paris to Rome. Neither of us had ever cycled further than 1 or 2 miles – to school and such.  We spent about two months working in London to save up a few hundred pounds, a large section of which went on the Eurostar ticket to Paris.

Putting a rack on the mountain bike
Day 1, Paris

Remember Mapbooks?

This was before mobile phones and GPS. Our only guidance was a map book and a compass. We got lost often, and it was awesome.  Eventually, we stopped using the map book for guidance and simply cycled into the wild.  We only looked back on it occasionally to track the route we had come.

Into the wild

Survival Food

We bought a tent, roll mats and a gas stove. In four weeks cycling we never once paid for accommodation and spent about €1 a day on food. Oats for breakfast, spaghetti for dinner.  We drank only water and black coffee, and invented some strange lunch options too, like bulk cheap croissants wrapped in budget salami.  I can still taste it…

Too much equipment!

No bike, no problem

Unfortunately, halfway to Rome, one bike was stolen while we slept on the beach in Cannes. Unable to afford a new one, we sold the other and continued on foot, hitch-hiking.  We crossed into Italy and walked for almost eight hours the first day without catching a single lift.

Sleeping outdoors on the French Riviera

After spending two nights sleeping at a truck stop and still with no luck, we asked a police officer if he could help.  He instructed us to hitch-hike on the freeway, and then promptly arrested us for doing so.  We had no money for a fine or bribe, so eventually, he let us go.

Hitching after the bike was stolen.

Penniless but free, we eventually caught a lift to Genoa, and continued from there by hopping trains to Pisa, Venice and Florence, sleeping in stations and on beaches.

Sleeping in a train station

Discover Life

That trip was the single greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It not only made me fall in love with cycling and travel, but it defined everything that I am as a person today. It imbued within me a confidence to achieve any goal I desire, to never give up, to see the beauty in the world and all the possibilities in life.

Cycle touring is not about the bike or the equipment. Travel is not about the route or the destination.

It’s about you.

Get out there and discover yourself.


 

Budget Travel Tips

money

I have two facets to travelling cheap – “Saving while Working” and “Saving while Travelling”, but both revolve around similar core-concepts.  Depending on your income level and/or the way in which you like to travel, each may apply to you in a different way.


SAVING WHILE WORKING

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Everyone is always asking how I travel so much. Sadly I have no big secret – I didn’t win the lottery, I’m not a trust-fund kid, I don’t have anybody paying for me. I simply follow one rule – earn high, spend low. Seems like an obvious statement, but very few people follow the second step. I spend as little as possible on rent by sharing rooms, staying in super cheap student housing or crashing on friends sofas. Of course, this would not suit everybody but hey – if you wanna travel the world and you’re not a millionaire you’re going to have to make some sacrifices!


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I also eat a lot of rice, frozen veg, spaghetti, tin tomatoes etc, always buy reduced price food, almost never drink out at bars or pubs and never eat at restaurants. I cycle EVERYWHERE. This is probably my biggest saving – I save over £2000 a year simply by refusing to ever pay for public transport or taxis, even if it’s 3 am and it’s raining. Like I said – sacrifices. There are various other ways, like taking a packed lunch to work and drinking the free work coffee instead of the exorbitantly over-priced coffee shops (I mean seriously, £3 for a coffee? Are you crazy?).  I also almost never buy clothes unless it’s an absolute necessity, and even then we’re talking £3 t-shirts or £10 jeans, usually at second-hand stores.  In fact, almost everything I buy is second-hand – shpock and facebook marketplace are my saviours. I never sign up to anything – I’ve never had a phone contract, I don’t have Spotify, Netflix, Sky, a gym membership – I’ve never even had a single direct-debit on my bank account. In short, when working and saving I live like someone on minimum wage or less, but that’s fine because the other 6 months of the year I can travel the world which makes it all worthwhile.  Which takes us to step two…


SAVING WHILE TRAVELLING

Accommodation

Budget Hotel in Hollywood

Hostels and Hotels

Do you like fancy hotels, private rooms, hot water, air-con? This might not be the blog for you. Once again, travelling cheap means sacrifices – you know that little option at the top of hotel search apps that says “Sort by Price – Low to High”? Yeah, I use that a lot. Hostels are your best friend if you’re travelling alone, but in many places, it’s also possible to find private rooms for almost the same price. For example, I recently found a really nice private room in Sri Lanka for £5 a night! Okay sure, the bathroom was shared but this is hardly a big problem. If you’re travelling as a couple you can often get a private room for the same price as two hostel beds. My favourite apps are Hostel World and Trivago. (Booking.com is very popular but they sometimes have hidden costs not included in the quoted price and their customer service is terrible so I would avoid them.)

Waters Edge, Goa

Staying with Locals

Sites like Couchsurfing and WarmShowers are also great for meeting and staying with local residents, and getting the chance to experience a country like locals do. The Couchsurfing app tries to convince you to pay and verify your account but you can use it fine without being verified.

Rough Sleeping

Depending on how brave you are and what country you are in, you can often find places to sleep for free if you really want to save money! These can be anything from hammocks or sunbeds on the beach, to abandoned buildings or construction sites. But again, this depends massively on the safety of where you are – I had no problems doing this in most of South East Asia (especially Cambodia), but it’s probably less recommended in most African and South American countries (although according to my favourite blog “hitchtheworld.com” it would seem South America is fine too).

In most of Europe or the US you’ll likely be asked to move by law enforcement, although a friend and I managed to sleep quite comfortably on the beach in Cannes, and behind a few shops and truck stops in parts of Italy. The smaller the town the better luck you will have. I generally try to avoid cities in all circumstances because they are noisy, polluted and over-priced – and visit them only for work or the airports.

Sleeping in a train station

FOOD AND DRINK

Everyone has heard of tourist traps, but what most people don’t realise is that practically anywhere you go is a tourist trap – if it wasn’t you wouldn’t have heard of it! Restaurants and bars around the town centre of your new destination might seem cheap at first, but if you venture off the main strip into the local areas you’ll be surprised to find amazing authentic places for half the price, and get the rare opportunity to meet some local people in their own environment – not just trying to sell you sunglasses on the beach!  Street food is generally the cheapest way to eat anywhere – in Sri Lanka, you can get great little snacks like roti’s and samosa’s for between 10 – 25p.  In Vietnam, Bahn Mi (baguette sandwich) is available everywhere from between 70-90p, and even sit down restaurants serve huge bowls of Pho for only £1. Thailand is synonymous with street food – for less than £1 you can get a huge array of food including spring rolls, fried chicken, fish, fruit – you name it! maxresdefault

European and American towns have less street food options, so when in expensive places like Paris, I buy bread, cheese and fruit at shops or markets to save money. Many hostels will have communal kitchens so if you are with friends you could save even more by buying ingredients and cooking together. Always buy products local to the country you are in, so don’t try to make pasta in Thailand – rice and a curry with seasonal vegetables will be much cheaper!


Alcohol is usually a big expense for most people, especially when travelling – present company not excluded!  I won’t lie – I really like my beer, and if I’m honest sometimes alcohol makes up 50% of my travel costs! That seems crazy when I see it in writing, but there is no point travelling so cheap that you don’t even enjoy yourself, and of course when money is really tight then it’s the first thing I cut out. Fortunately, in a lot of countries, I have found they will let you bring some store bought alcohol into cheap restaurants, or even bars, as they assume once you are done with that you will buy more.Just don’t be a dick and bring a few bottles of whiskey in!

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The average price of a can of supermarket beer is approximately £1 in almost every country I’ve ever been, with a few exceptions like Vietnam where it can be as low as 30p, and of course, Islamic countries where it is usually illegal or if not, exceptionally expensive.

Drinking before going out and avoiding rip-off touristy bars are the most obvious ways to keep this expense low.


TRANSPORT

Transport is a big one when travelling, and usually, it all starts with flights. Most people are quick to use flight aggregation sites like Skyscanner, Cheapflights and Google Flights, which are great – but just for the info! In most cases, it’s best to use these sites to find the cheapest routes, but then often cheaper to book through the airline independently. Also, these sites will quote you the cheapest fare covering your route in the fastest time with the shortest layover, but often you can save money by purchasing two separate flights on the same path and also spend some time in a new country. For example, I recently searched for a flight from London to Dubai, and the cheapest route was on Pegasus airlines via Istanbul. So I searched on the Pegasus website for individual flights from London to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Dubai a few days later and managed to get a cheaper overall price – plus I got myself an unexpected short holiday in Turkey! Of course, this only works if you’re not on a tight schedule, but I highly recommend always not being on a tight schedule.

Sleeper bus in Malaysia

Once in your country of choice, you’ll likely want to be moving around frequently. Almost every country in the world has a vast spectrum of transport choices, and my favourite is always trains! Train travel is usually the most affordable, fastest and comfortable way to travel (except in the UK). However, western ideals of comfort have created in most countries ridiculous price differences in travel classes, with many railway services offering “1st class” tickets at ten times the price of normal tickets, but offering very little value for money. Seriously, air-con is not that important – even 3rd class carriages have fans, which are more than enough. I’ve travelled 12-hour journeys in 3rd class in humid 40-degree Celsius countries and I’ve survived! Honestly, you’ll be fine. (And if not, most 3rd world countries sell Xanax without prescription for next to nothing.)

Tuk-tuk

Buses are the next best thing for cheap public transport, and usually cover all the routes that trains don’t.  In some countries, I’ve found long-distance overnight bus travel to be very cheap, especially around South East Asia. There is a safety aspect and it’s recommended not to leave any valuables in the luggage hold, not to mention the occasional road accident, so take due care in certain countries when choosing to travel by bus. Personally, I’ve never had a problem, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who have.


Most Asian countries have tuk-tuks which are like small motor-bike taxis with seating for up to 3 people. These are great ways to go small distances but usually cost more than buses and are notorious for ripping off unsuspecting foreigners, so find out first what it should cost for where you are going and ensure to agree on a price before getting in! They also make walking on the streets a highly annoying task as they continuously stop to offer you a lift!

Hitch hiking in Laos

Which brings us to hitch-hiking. Now hitch-hiking is a very sensitive topic with a lot of people, and no doubt for good reason. The biggest issue being gender-related – obviously, for women, there is a massively inherent danger when getting into a car with a stranger. That said, I have met and spoken to a large number of female solo hitch-hikers who have never had any issues in certain areas, mostly south-east Asia. Hitchwiki is a great website run by a worldwide community of hitch-hikers, giving a huge amount of detailed information on where to avoid, where to stand, places to crash, busy routes, quiet routes etc. I haven’t hitch-hiked a huge amount but I’ve had great success in Thailand and Laos – poorer countries are generally better and I’ve found those less well-off are often the quickest to stop and offer a lift.


ALSO – walking and cycling are free and I highly suggest you do them as often as possible. Even 5km is not really that far (if you aren’t on a tight schedule) and you may see and experience things you would have missed out on if you were in a bus.

CASH

No matter how much money you save, if you don’t have access to your money it’s of no use! I encounter an endless stream of people who lose their wallet or bag with their only debit card in it in a foreign country and have no idea how to get a replacement card while abroad – something that is generally very difficult! Before going on a long trip always ask your bank for a second card that you can keep safely back in your hotel or hostel when you go out. If you have a credit card keep it for emergencies only and don’t carry it out with you. In fact, it’s best to only ever take out the cash you need for that day or night and leave everything else back at your accommodation.

In a lot of countries drawing cash from ATM’s incur a big charge (like in Thailand it’s £5, plus whatever percentage your bank charges) so you’ll want to draw a lot of cash at once and keep this in a safe place at your accommodation. Always check that you can draw cash in the country you are visiting and if not bring enough foreign currency for your entire trip. If possible it’s good to have a mix of cards, ie Visa and Mastercard, as some ATM’s only take one or the other.


There is always an inherent danger of money getting stolen from your account if your debit card is lost or stolen, so I always keep the majority of my cash in my separate savings account and then move money using my Barclays app on my phone when I need to draw cash. This way if somebody does get my card they will only have access to about £30. A potential problem with this is losing or breaking your phone and not having access to the app, so it’s also good to carry the pin-sentry console with you if your bank has one.


BAGGAGE

Travel light! I cannot stress this enough. No matter how long your trip, you never need more than a week’s worth of clothes. I only ever travel with one backpack that fits into carry-on luggage and weighs between 10-12kg, and this is advantageous for many reasons – no excess baggage charges, the airline can’t lose it, you don’t have to wait at the baggage carousel and it’s small and light enough to walk long distances with when hitch-hiking or even just trying to find a hotel or hostel. With a small bag, there is also much more chance a bar will be happy to stash it for you overnight while you crash on a hammock or sunbed. Furthermore, you will be able to take it onto buses with you so no worries of theft from the luggage compartment or forgetting something in your bag that you may need on-board. Basically, you’ll be lighter, happier and always have whatever you need at hand. The only exception to this is when travelling in very cold countries where excessive warm clothing is required and so a big bag is unavoidable.

My essential luggage items are:
Basic clothing (4 shirts, 3 shorts, some socks, trainers, flip flops and maybe a warm hoodie or jersey)
Phone charger and power bank
Basic toiletries (toothpaste, brush, deodorant) and basic medical (some plasters and antiseptic cream)
Glasses and sunglasses
TRAVEL ADAPTOR!
Passport
Padlock

(I realise girls with hair might need luxury items like shampoo and stuff so I can accept they may not be able to travel as light as me, but most hostels and hotels have soap and sometimes even shampoo. Or just make friends with somebody who does!)

Beyond the essentials, I also carry a tiny laptop (to write this), a hammock, a unicorn mask, a GoPro, an electric razor, nail-clippers, a portable speaker and some other non-essential items because just like everybody I also tend to pack way more than I actually need.

 

Phnom Penh and Kampot

It all started rather rocky at the border crossing.  Me and one other Dutch guy were the only foreigners on the bus and we both needed to get visa’s on arrival, which meant it took longer than the others.  Firstly they wouldn’t accept my $50 note because apparently it’s an old note and they only use new notes in Cambodia?  Then they tried to overcharge us each $5 but we ended up just paying the $30 fee and I had to borrow $5 from the Dutch guy because I only had $25 other than the $50 note they wouldn’t accept.  Then the bus left and parked 2km up the road and they tried to get us to pay $1 each to get a scooter there but we flat out refused and so had to walk there.  Clearly this is a scam they pull to try get a few extra dollars off foreigners.  I could have just paid it but it’s principle of the matter – if people just give in then they keep doing it.  Fortunately the rest of the trip was calm and uneventful.


When we got to Phnom Penh I walked with the Dutch guy to a petrol station which luckily accepted my $50 note, so I could pay him back the fiver.  Then he helped show me where my hostel was because stupidly I hadn’t downloaded the Cambodia section of Maps.Me, an app everyone uses in South East Asia to navigate because it works offline.  I didn’t do anything that night as it was late by then so I just went to sleep early.


My hostel was a bit crap so the next day I booked into another really cool hostel called Luvely Jubbly which has a stupid name but an amazing swimming pool!  Turns out it was the same hostel the dutch guy was staying at!  Some other guests said they were going to watch a Cambodian kick-boxing match for $10 and including unlimited free beer, so after swimming and chilling by the pool for a few hours I

Luvely Jubbly

joined them.  We all piled into tuk-tuks and drove off around town for about an hour drinking beer and talking crap.  Finally we arrived at the kickboxing match and all went into this huge stadium to watch.  It was a Thai team vs the local team and we all took a few bets with each other, me backing the local team.  It started well and looked like Cambodia was winning but in the end the Thai team won, so I lost a dollar.  I definitely drank well over $10 worth of beer though!

Back at the hostel my friend Shenaz from Vang Vieng had arrived as I had told her earlier I was staying there.  We all went out to dinner together with the Dutch guy and his friend, and some of the people from the kickboxing and I ate frog for the first time, which is surprisingly good!  Very much like chicken but a bit better.


In the morning we got up early as we had arranged a tour of The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum.  We started at the Genocide Museum which was pretty interesting, if a little bit depressing.  It’s set in the actual S21 prison where the Khmer Rouge imprisoned and tortured most of the Cambodian population under the dictatorship of Polpot, and still has all the original torture devices and cells. 

The Killings Fields, which are about 45 minutes out of town, is where the prisoners were sent to die after being tortured.  In the centre is a tall square building full of the skulls and bones they excavated from the mass graves that surround it.  Pretty bleak stuff but I guess it’s important to remember history and not repeat it.


Back at the hostel I chilled by the pool and chatted to some other guests until evening when me, Shenaz, the dutch guy and his friend all went down to the river to get some food at the street market.  Phnom Penh has a surprisingly beautiful riverside promenade that reminded me of Seapoint in Cape Town, and we sat on the grass and had some vegetable fried rice before heading to a nearby hostel and bar that has free beer.

 

The next day I went for breakfast with Shenaz and then packed up and started walking towards the road out of town so I could hitch hike to Kampot.  I couldn’t get a lift out of town so I ended up paying $2 for a motorbike taxi to the airport where the road splits off to Kampot.  I made a little sign and a girl on a scooter picked me up and took me to the bus stop but I didn’t want to get a bus so I kept hitching.  A guy sitting on a scooter nearby said he can take me some of the way.  We got chatting and he asked why I didn’t take a bus.  I told him I had no money so he offered to pay for a local taxi for me, but I tried refusing.  I said I would rather just hitch but he wouldn’t take no for an answer and he waved me down a taxi and gave me $10.  The taxi was only $3.50 and I tried to get him to take the change but he refused that too.  I felt bad because I didn’t need the money but now I had already told him I had no money so what could I do.  The kindness of strangers never fails to amaze me.


So I headed off in this local taxi which is a very strange thing for foreigners to do and everyone was looking at me weirdly.  We had to change taxi’s about 4 times and it took almost 3 hours, but finally they dropped me off in Kampot and I wandered off towards the backpacker area.  I bumped into some Geordie’s who told me there was a spare bed at their hostel so I followed them there and checked in. 

After showering I walked down to the riverside to watch the sunset and wandered onto a boat just as it was leaving to do a sunset cruise.  I had some food and a beer and watched a beautiful sunset.  When it got dark the boat stopped under some trees that were full of fireflies and we watched them flying around with a huge sky full of stars in the background.  As we were heading back to the pier some girls sitting nearby started chatting to me.  Turns out they were German so I got to practice some of the German that I learnt last year and they invited me to join them and their friends for dinner.

Towards midnight they said they were heading to bed so I went back my hostel and got chatting to the girl working the bar.  After closing we headed out on her very old but awesome motorbike to get another drink at a bar on the river before heading home.


The next day I rented a bicycle and cycled to Arcadia which is an amazing hostel on the river with a bunch of rope swings and waterslides.  I ended up drinking free beer for most of the day on a floating, shaded raft with the owners and some other staff and guests.  One of the owners, Timmy, was leaving the next day to go back to Australia so they were having a farewell party for him.   I also went down the huge slide a few times, which flings you tumbling through the air into the river.  Towards evening I bumped into Jimmy again and we sang some songs along with this guy who plays guitar very well, and then had a few more drinks before I had to head home.  It was fun cycling back drunk at midnight and fortunately the roads were deserted, but by the time I got back my hostel was all locked up and I hadn’t booked another night so I ended up sleeping on a mattress I found in an abandoned construction site.


Arcadia

The next day I collected some of my washing, bought some rope to tie up my hammock and headed off to hitch hike to Sihanoukville.   I had to walk quite a long way in the boiling heat and I found some cardboard to make a sign but it didn’t look like anyone was stopping.  After walking for about 2 hours I stopped for lunch in a local roadside restaurant and had some really good grilled chicken and rice.  Eventually two guys in a pickup truck with a boat engine on the back stopped.  The one guy could speak fairly decent English so we chatted about the usual – where I’ve been travelling and where I’m from.  They never ceased to be amazed that I’m a white guy from Africa, it’s funny.  As is becoming quite common, he also bought me a drink.  They weren’t going all the way to Sihanoukville but very close, and after they dropped me off I ended up getting a taxi by mistake because I thought the guy was giving me a free lift.  When we arrived in Sihanoukville he wanted $2 but I only had about £1.25, and luckily he didn’t seem to mind.  $2 would have been too much anyway for that short distance.  And then I headed down to a place called Otres Beach, which is a whole other crazy story…

 

Laos – The Slowboat and Luang Prabang

None of the tuk-tuks sitting around by the Laos immigration gate seemed ready to go anywhere so I just started walking the 10km’s or so towards Houayxai, the small border town where the slowboat leaves from, and a nice Chinese guy picked me up and said it’s too hot to walk!  He dropped me just near my hostel and I exchanged some baht for Laotian kip and then checked in.  The currency in Laos is so bad that everything is in the tens of thousands, so for the first time in my life I was a millionaire!  The girl who was managing my hostel thought it was quite funny as I ran in waving a huge wad of cash and pronouncing I was now a millionaire.  She introduced herself as Rose and said she came from Cambridge in England.

It was very early and there wasn’t much to do in the tiny village, so I got some beers and spent most of the day writing my blog in my dorm.  Towards evening the other dorm guests and I went for a dinner at a quaint little outdoor pizza place with lots of stray cats, and I had a few more beers.  As we got back to the dorm, Rose and a really nice Dutch guy were sitting outside drinking so I grabbed a beer and joined them.  We proceeded to get quite drunk and then at midnight the owner came out with some cookies and candles to celebrate Rose’s 24th birthday.  Soon after that the others went to bed and Rose and I started kissing and eventually ended up in her makeshift bedroom together. There must have not been a spare bed for her in the hostel, as she was sleeping on a mattress in a small corner with some sheets tied up as walls – needless to say we had to be very quiet.  At 3am she woke me up and said I need to get back to my own bed, so I kinda stumbled drunkenly into my dorm room and probably woke everyone up.

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The next day I discovered there had been a big fire in the town, and that’s why Rose had woken up at 3am.  A shop and a house burnt down, but luckily nobody was hurt and the whole town got together to help put it out.  I went and bought some beer, rum and snacks, kissed Rose goodbye and then headed off with the other hostel guests to get the two day slowboat to Luang Prabang.  The boat trip started fairly quietly, but within a few hours a bunch of British people were drinking and playing music up at the front.  It started to get pretty rowdy and at one point a big Isreali guy broke a plastic chair.  For some reason the boat drivers don’t have much concept of environmentalism and throw all their trash in the river, so just as I expected a few minutes later they just threw the broken plastic chair in the river.  It would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic, but I guess you just have to accept people how they are when 16603030_10158293718675220_6082551498680789708_nyou’re a visitor in their country.  Hopefully they learn to be more sensitive to nature before the Mekong becomes a landfill.  I got chatting to a cute Canadian girl and we spent most of the trip laughing at the chaos that was unfolding before us.  I also made friends with some hilarious Scottish guys and we shared our rum and whiskey, and proceeded to get well tanked.

By the time we arrived at Pakbeng, the tiny stopover town, everyone was pretty wasted.  Me and the Canadian girl got a room together in a cheap guesthouse, which inexplicably had a huge king size bed, with another double bed next to it.  The entire room was basically just wall to wall bed. So after showering and testing out the beds, we went out to get some food.  We also tried to find the Scottish guys and have a few drinks with them but they were nowhere to be seen, which was probably for the best since we had to be up at 8am for the second day on the boat.

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I must have been quite drunk because when I awoke in the morning I initially didn’t remember where I was.  Me and Canada showered, got some breakfast and then met the others back down on the boat.  Conor, the one Scottish guy, was so hungover he just lay with his head in his hands for almost the entire trip.  I was feeling fine though, so I had a few beers with his friend Alex and just chilled and watched the beautiful scenery roll past.  Some people say the boat trip is boring but I had the best time ever – even when not partying it was fun to just chill and enjoy the river.

We finally arrived in Luang Prabang and all got a tuk-tuk together into town.  The Scottish boys were too hungover to go out so after booking into our respective hostels, me and Canada went and got some food.  I also then found out that Canada’s name is actually Amanda because I saw her filling in her hostel booking form.  Luang Prabang has a great night market and food stalls, but is slightly more expensive than most places in Thailand.  We were both still pretty tired from the boat ride so didn’t stay out late that night, we just got some two for one cocktails and chatted to a funny Australian guy who looked like the stoner from Knocked Up.
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The next day we looked for a double room in a guest house somewhere.  There wasn’t much available or affordable, but we managed to find a place for 10 USD each, and booked two nights there.  Then we went to enquire about Vietnam visas but the embassy was closed so we went to Utopia bar, a popular tourist bar overlooking the river.  I was starting to feel a bit sick by this point, and after another beer quickly realised I must have a stomach bug or something.  I was feeling very woozy and light headed, but we managed to make it back to the guesthouse before I got properly ill.  The rest of the evening I spent throwing up, but luckily Amanda did a great job of looking after me and gave me some electrolyte tablets that she had.  She went out that night to grab some dinner with the Scottish boys and I said I might join them if I felt better but instead I just slept and tried to recover.

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The next day I was feeling considerably better, so after putting in our applications for Vietnam visa’s we got a tuk-tuk to the amazing Tat Keung Si waterfalls.  Crystal clear turqoise water cascading over amazing limestone rock formations – it almost looks like something out of Disneyland, but it’s all natural.  We walked through a small bear sanctuary on the way and then to the first of the many various pools that make up the waterfalls.  It was early and a bit cold to swim then, so we continued up and explored the various other pools and then hiked up a small staircase and along a trail through the jungle to the source of the falls.

At the top is a collection of pools and streams over which they have built wooden walkways, and the occasional swing.  You can also take a short bamboo raft trip to the absolute source of the falls, but we felt this was far enough and Amanda didn’t think the raft looked very strong.  We took some pictures on the swing and of the spectacular view and then headed back down.  I wanted to investigate an area that said Do Not Enter but some other people coming from that way said there is nothing there, so I didn’t.  I found out later they were lying and that is actually where the secret pool is!  Bastards!  I’ll have to go back.

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By the time we got down again it was quite a bit warmer so I swam for a bit and then we chilled in the sun on the lip of one of the lower waterfalls.  The tuk-tuk ride home was rather an adventure.  On the way up we had passed a crash site where a vehicle had gone off the road, and then on the way back we missed an oncoming truck by literally millimetres before seeing the recovery vehicles and witnessing the wreckage of the truck that had come off earlier.

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We chilled for a bit back at our dodgy little guesthouse and then I went to get some visa photos done, before meeting Amanda at the food market for some lunch.  We were going to go up this little viewpoint in the middle of town for sunset but it cost £2 and didn’t seem worth it, so we went to the riverbank instead.  It was a bit foggy anyway and sunset was crap so I’m glad we didn’t go up.  Then we went for dinner at another food market down a side street where for £1.50 you can fill as much as you want of various vegetarian dishes into a bowl.  I paid £3 extra for a big side of ribs, but in hindsight I didn’t need them as neither of us managed to finish our meal.  Luckily they donate any left over food to the monks, so it wasn’t wasted.

16602963_10158307987160220_5852572036283894721_nThe next day I said my goodbyes to Amanda as she was going a different way, picked up my passport from the Vietnam embassy and hit the road again.  The plan was to hitch to Vang Vieng.  I walked about half an hour to get out of town and then started hitching just past the southern bus station.  After about 15 minutes a Chinese guy took me a short way in his small car.  Then I walked another ten minutes before being picked up by a nice guy on a scooter who worked for the Elephant sanctuary.  Even though his scooter could barely cope with the two of us on it, he took me all the way to the freeway.  From there I soon got a lift in the back of a flatbed truck by three guys who were going all the way to Vang Vieng.

16507922_10158307987165220_7634862260283277552_n I knew it was a very long way so I made myself comfortable and settled in for the ride.  The guys even bought me some food and a strange pineapple juice in a bag!  They must have worked for China Power because along the way they kept stopping at various China Power plants and doing some brief business. Unfortunately none of them spoke a word of English so I couldn’t find out the nature of their work.  After  about six hours they dropped me about 10 kilometres from Vang Vieng and I managed to get two more short lifts into town, and then went in search of my hostel.