Lost Girl's Transylvania tips (or 'Dear Amy')

Dear Amy,

You have never mentioned to me your desire to go to Transylvania (Romania)… but I know you like hiking and cycling and beer and cheap holidays so I feel like you and Transylvania might get on quite well. Here follows all my tips for the region. I have split my blog into sections with general stuff first and then specifics about places after, so you can just skip to the bits you need.

Money

Romania does not use the Euro. It uses the Lei, it was 5 Lei to £1 when we visited but let’s see what happens with Brexshit...  Confusingly for bigger purchases (car hire, hotels etc) the price will be listed in Euro. You can generally pay in Euro, but the change will be given in Lei. Pretty much everywhere took card and there are loads of ATMs.

Transport

Romania is a standard European country transport-wise. There are taxis which will try and rip you off. There is Uber which is really cheap. The trains are pretty good and they have a very good bus system if you want to take the time to work it out.

We flew into Bucharest airport, flights are super cheap from the UK. The best way to get into the city is the Airport bus, the 780 or the 783, which takes around 40mins and is less than a euro each way.

They drive on the right in Romania and the steering wheel is on the left, which means the gears are on the wrong side for us. If you want to get a car it’s worth booking early and getting an automatic! There’s Avis in Romania, but also some local companies which will be cheaper BUT the local ones we tried would only rent for 3 days over the weekend.

Weather

bucharest brollys.jpg

Romania is a winter sports capital and a hotspot for summer breaks, so obviously we went in the spring. We were mostly in the mountains which can get very cold and did get a fair amount of rain. Still lovely, but if you go in the spring imagine a springtime in Scotland (bring a waterproof).

Bucharest

Admittedly Bucharest is not in the Transylvanian region of Romania, but if you’re flying in it’ll most likely be to here, so I’ll include some tips so you have a chance at having an above average time in this pretty standard city.

Accommodation: There are two Podstel hostels in Bucharest and we stayed in both. Podstel Bucharest was well placed for the Old Town, Bucharest Umbrella was really really handy for the bus to the airport and to Therme (more on that later). Umbrella also has a really nice café/bar culture surrounding it. It’s the area that the Bucharest hipster created, there is a games café AND a café devoted to cereal. We (myself and Kirsty who came to Cambodia with me) stayed in privates in both and the rooms were lovely, £25-£30 a night. I’d highly recommend both, but would probably pick Umbrella if I was to return to Bucharest.

Activities: I wasn’t massively impressed by Bucharest, we only had a day here which felt like plenty. I regret not doing my research and missing the Monarchy Vs Communism free walking tour which looked great. We didn’t do a walking tour at all actually and that would have definitely made Bucharest more interesting.

Old Town: We went for a wander around Old Town. Looked a bit like Edinburgh. Had very pretty churches.

Umbrella street: There’s a street (Pasajul Victoria) with umbrellas, a bar and some pizza. Good for Instagram.

Therme Bucharest.jpg

Therme: We spent and afternoon and evening in Therme, the biggest wellness, relaxation and entertainment centre in Europe. It’s really weird. There’s trees, slick lighting and hundreds of indoor sun loungers within a massive glass complex, it’s like being on the ship in Wall-E. There are three sections, one full of waterslides, one full of saunas and one which is basically a massive pool (with a bar). A day pass for all three costs 100Lei (£20) or you can pay for 4 hours in one section 68Lei. It is fun in the evening and must be brilliant in the summer as they have also built their own beach. We also ate at their international restaurant which was fine. By all accounts Therme is probably the best thing to do in Bucharest.  

Pubs: I can recommend the Journey Pub which is just above Old Town. It’s pretty and has a games room, a roof terrace and all sorts going on. If you’re passing pop in, probably not worth a complicated journey to get there though.

Bucharest to Brashov

We took the train to Brasov, it took 2 hours 40 and cost 48Lei. We sat in an old fashioned compartment which pleased me greatly. The second half of the journey, as you get into the Carpathian Mountains, is stunning.

Brasov

We based ourselves in Brasov for the next few days and explored the rest of Transylvania from there.

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Accommodation: We stayed in the 4 bed dorm in the very pleasant Hostel Boemia (£12pn). It was in the perfect location for Brasov and the staff were super friendly. If you’re going to stay in a hostel in Brasov definitely stay here.

Activities: On our first afternoon we hiked to the Brasov sign which is about an hour of gentle uphill. Take a beer with you as there’s some beautiful places to sit at the top.

We also managed to catch the 6pm free walking tour which was well worth it. There’s a number of churches and museums you can go to in Brasov including the impressive Black Church and many many pubs a restaurants (more about those later).

Bran

Bran is the home of Bran Castle, the castle Bram Stoker never visited, in a culture that doesn’t believe in Vampires, which is nonetheless known popularly as Dracula’s Castle. It is impressive, set on a rocky hill with imposing turrets, you can see why Stoker borrowed it for his book.

Castle Bran.jpg

Top tip for Bran – do not go inside the castle, it’s rubbish and crowded. It cost 40Lei, which made it one of the most expensive things we did, and all the interesting things, like the time tunnel and torture museum, cost extra. And the audio guide is rubbish, it just lists the stuff you can see.

If you go in good weather there are loads of hikes to do nearby, my advice would be to get to Bran, take a picture of the castle for free from the park and then go for a lovely walk. There’s also all the Dracula tourist tat you could ever need in Bran.

Bran is very easy to reach from Brasov, there’s a bus that runs every half an hour from coach station 2 that costs 8Lei each way. Do check the times back though, they’d randomly cancelled the bus we needed.

Rasnov

Rasnov is a very pretty mountain town with an impressive citadel you can visit. It’s on the same bus route as Bran, so we did it on our way back (you have to buy separate tickets if you break your journey). The citadel is a 20 minute of a walk from the bus stop and then you can get the road train up, or just walk up the hill, it’s really not far. The citadel is interesting enough, for 28Lei you can wander around the walls and get a lovely view of the surrounding town and forests. Be warned there are lots of stalls selling tourist tat and medieval themed things, including axe throwing, within the citadel itself.

Libearty Bear Sanctuary

‘Bear or Wolf?’ was one of our favourite games in Transylvania. There’s lots of stuff in the wilds of Brasov county, including both bears and wolves. When you see something coming you have to be the first to guess which it is. Admittedly the answer was normally dog or car, but it was still a fun game.

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For actual bears head to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary. The tour starts at specific times in summer and winter so definitely check the website and it’s probably worth buying the 40Lei tickets online, it was busy and there was a massive ticket queue when we arrived for our 11am tour. The sanctuary is lovely, it’s huge and there’s a lot of happy looking brown bears wandering around, swimming, eating and in one case getting frisky (‘Go on lad!’). There’s also some wolves that they rescued from closing zoos which made me very happy.

The sanctuary is tricky to get to but it is possible with public transport, your hostel will help you with that. We decided to get a car for a day so did the 40min drive from Brasov.

Viscri

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On our car day we also travelled to Viscri a beautiful medieval town, about an hour from Brasov, with no roads and an ancient Saxon fortified church. This church was especially fun as it had signs saying things like ‘Climb the tower at your own risk’, then at the top there were shaky planks and holes you could fall down! Exciting! There was a museum of olde stuff to look at and the lady at the gate was full of solid Saxon facts. Interestingly Prince Charles frequents Viscri and owns a B&B there. But most exciting off all there was an excellent dog called Cora who looked like a wolf and hung out with us throughout our trip.   

Sighisora

Called ‘unmissable’ by pretty much everyone, we managed to squeeze a visit to Sighisora into our roadtrip. It is beautiful, a perfectly preserved 16th century fortified town and UNESCO world heritage site. We arrived as the sun was setting and most things were closed but we still saw some beautiful churches, some beautiful covered stairs and some beautiful views. We went for a feed at the Medieval Café in the citadel which was very pleasant.

Seven Stairs Canyon

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Our trip to the Seven Stairs Canyon was probably my Transylvanian highlight. The route starts close to Brasov (we took an Uber) and you have an hour’s hike through a beautiful forest to reach the Canyon. It’s then 10Lei to access the Canyon itself and it’s well worth it. You climb a series of metal ladders up through the Canyon, none are very high, but I was a little nervy about the biggest, this activity is not one for anyone with vertigo. It’s also several degrees colder in the Canyon than the surrounding forest and you do climb past a waterfall, so bring layers!

There is a zipline course back to the start of the trail which looked incredible but wasn’t quite open when we were there (early April) so look out for that. We did however get a lift part of the way back in the maintenance buggy from one of the guys who worked there which made my day.    

Brasov food and drink

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We ate a lot of different places in Brasov, the outstanding ones for me were:

La Ceaun, a traditional Romanian restaurant which made me like Romanian food, had very friendly service AND excellent blueberry liquor. We were going to come back and eat there every night, it was that good.

Tipografi, where we went for a very enjoyable night out. Tipografi wouldn’t have been out of place in East London, it had a huge range of local craft beers and very pleasant bruchetta.

We did go to the local Irish bar and it was entertaining. It’s where the locals go out out, dancing on the table is allowed there? It’s called Deanes, I’m not recommending, but I’m sure you’ll find your way there.

Sinaia and Peles Castle

On the way back to Bucharest we broke our journey at the mountain town of Sinaia, home of Peles castle. We left our bags at the station for a reasonable 5Lei (ask the toilet attendant) and did the 45 minute walk up to the castle. The castle was stunning inside and out, and your 30Lei admission fee includes a guided tour of the bottom floor which is fascinating (unlike Bran). It’s crowded, so an early or late tour might be less annoying, but even with all the other people there it was still enjoyable. It really was so much better than Bran. God, the inside of Bran was terrible, instead of going inside Bran I can set up a load of random shite in a magnolia room for you to look at and save you £8. Anyway, Peles, gorgeous.

We ate at the Ramayana Café in Sinaia, where we sat in a red lit, red velvet booth, I had a small but delicious curry . It was very pleasant.     

Train back to Bucharest

The train from Brasov to Sinaia cost 11Lei and the train from Sinaia to Bucharest cost 16Lei, so you actually save a little money when you break your journey. We did have to buy the Bucharest ticket in the train, so don’t be surprised if that happens. Also try not to travel at 5pm on this line, it was BUSY and really hot for some reason.

Here ends my guide to Transylavania!

I hope you have a lovely time if and when you go. Also see you tomorrow in the Glasvegas! Greatest city in the world!

Helen x

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Lost Girl's New Zealand tips (or 'Dear Liz')

Yis Liz!

I know you will have done loads of organising already for your honeymoon in NZ, because that is what you do, but I have written you all my tips anyway! You’re going to have SO MUCH FUN. I don’t mean to gush but I LOVE NEW ZEALAND WITH ALL MY HEART BECAUSE IT’S WONDERFUL!

Also this blog may be longer than my book… I’m putting it on my website so there’s going to be advice for solo travellers and what to do if you don’t have a car, hopefully you’ll find it helpful. Everything has a heading so you can skip to the bits you need.

Money

ATMs are plentiful, reliable and all charge a fee. Around $3. Pretty much everywhere takes credit card, but they don’t like giving cashback on foreign cards.

The New Zealand dollar is currently 1.8 to the pound. But you'll probably be going after Brexit right? In which case you can exchange some of the goods you scavenged from the broken, deserted high street for NZD. The good news is the weather starts getting really nice in NZ in our winter, and, as this is is after the harvest, your feudal overlord will probably grant you leave to travel.

Route

I did the following in 5 weeks:

NORTH ISLAND: Auckland (2 nights) - Rotorua (2 nights) - Napier (2 nights) - Wellington (3 nights)

FERRY!

SOUTH ISLAND: Picton (1 night) - Christchurch (3 nights) - Oamaru (Workaway - 5 nights) - Dunedin (2 nights) - Queenstown (3 nights) - Franz Josef (3 nights) - Westport (1 night) - Nelson (2 nights)

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FERRY! AGAIN!

NORTH ISLAND: Wellington (1 night) - National Park (2 nights) - Auckland (Daytrips - 4 nights)

I’ll go into each place in detail in their section, but, briefly, this worked really well and most places were excellent. Next time I’ll skip Westport (duuulllll), stay in chilled out Wanaka instead of hyper Queenstown and try and get to the Bay of Islands in the North Island.

Transport

You can do New Zealand without a car or booking a hugely expensive hop on hop off backpackers bus like Kiwi Experience or Stray. Intercity buses go almost everywhere, and, if you buy the FlexiPass it works out WAY cheaper than booking individual journeys. In five weeks I used 60 hours on intercity which would have cost $459 ($7.65 an hour) if I’d bought them all at once.

However, having a car does make things WAY easier. You can get to places without a tour, get to places where no tour goes, travel when it suits you and take way less time on the road because some of the buses take weird routes. If you want to rent a car you need to do it quite far in advance. Lots of people staying for a few months buy a car and then sell it at the end. There are Facebook groups where you can find people selling cars. Also a top tip from Bubbles (in Auckland) is to check out the car fair every Sunday morning at Ellerslie Racecourse. If you’re strapped for cash an air mattress in your car or in a tent is a cheap option - obviously as you’re honeymooning I' expect you’ll be 5 starring it, yis Liz?

There is the campervan option which I’m afraid I know very little about. You need to book these really far in advance too, some hostels will let you park outside and use their facilities.

BUT, for the non drivers, there are lots of travellers with spaces in their cars looking for company. I got my intercity pass, but jumped in a car whenever the opportunity arose. There's a Facebook group where you can post if you're after a lift. People also hitchhike a lot in NZ. I didn’t, but met lots of people who did and it worked well for them.

Accommodation

A quick note about accommodation, I’ve already mentioned the campervan and car/mattress/tent options, and whilst my blog will be about hostels, Airbnb is also a really good option for couples. You’ll get a cheaper private room and get to meet some locals. The added fees for Airbnb make it pricey for a solo traveller so I didn’t do it. People also Couchsurf in NZ, and the Couchsurf app is a good way to find travel buddies. Be warned some men offering their sofas seem to want to use the app a little like Tinder… Another option for people with a lot of time is to do a Workaway, free room and board for a few hours work and getting to experience everyday life in New Zealand. If you haven’t used Booking.com yet you can get £15 off a booking using this link.

SIM card

I didn't do a massive amount of research. I passed a shelf of SIMs and all but one of the Vodafone cards were gone so I decided they were probably the best. It's worked out pretty well though. The SIM cost a couple of dollars and then I got 1.25gb, 200mins and unlimited texts for $19 for a month.

iSites (Tourist information)

These wonderful tourist information centres are in pretty much every town. They'll help you book stuff and give advice on tours and hikes. If you go in and say something like 'I only have an evening, what would you suggest?' They'll shower you with maps and brochures.

Auckland

Beautiful Auckland. Auckland is a lot like Sydney in a lot of ways. It has a nice harbour area, you can get the ferry to brilliant places, it's got a healthy cultural and culinary scene, and outside the city there's some stunning nature.

I visited Auckland when I arrived and on my way out of New Zealand, but I’ve popped all my Auckland tips in this section.

Accommodation: I stayed at Ponsonby Backpackers. I'd recommend it for solo travellers for sure brew. It attracts a mix of backpackers and has a lovely homely vibe. Also Ponsonby is the posh bit of Auckland so there's loads of great bars, restaurants and vegan refill stores close by. Walking into town took about 20 mins, there are buses but I didn't use them.

Transport: the AT HOP card costs $10 and massively reduces the cost of journeys (a single without the card costs $3.50). After three or four journeys you'll have made your money back.

Transport to the airport: There is a Skybus that goes from the Sky Tower in the middle of the city or a Super Shuttle that will pick you up from your accommodation for $25.

Auckland Activities:

I was pretty lucky to have a couple of friends in Auckland. My pal Cathal drove us about half an hour out of the city to the gorgeous Bethel's beach for a walk (looked a bit rough for swimming). And my friend Bubbles hooked me up with tickets to the Popup Globe, which is a very fun way to spend an evening in Auckland.

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Waiheke: A stunning island with vineyards and beaches. The ferry from Auckland Central (Pier 2) to Waiheke takes 40mins and is $40(NZD) return. You can buy your ferry ticket and hop on hop off bus pass together for $65, good if you want to see the whole island (buying the tickets separately adds $20). The local bus is great, it's also every 30 mins and a single is $3.50, less if you've got the AT HOP card. Loads of the vineyards are in walking distance of the ferry or a bus stop. Wine tastings are generally $10. A walk/bus DIY wine tour is a great, cheap way to see the Island.

Rangitoto: Rangitoto is an island 25 minutes away from Auckland. It's beautiful. Go if you like hiking, volcanos and lava, especially if you like hiking up a volcano over lava. It also has some nice beaches and great views of Auckland across its mangroves. Return ticket from Pier 4 (Fullers 360) cost $36. We got the 9.15 ferry over and visited a beach as well as the summit, then got the last ferry (3.30pm) back.

Day trip to the Coromandel: I booked a day trip from Auckland to the Coromandel penninsular with Kiwi Tours via bookme. It should have cost $250 but I got it for $150. Definitely check out bookme for some bargains! We visited the Hot water beach which was very crowded but very fun and Cathedral Cove, a truly stunning beach. The walk to the cove and back is a 30 minute hike each way, hills are involved, it’s a great place for a swim and a picnic.

You can drive to the Coromandel for the day from Auckland or there is a ferry that takes you to Coromandel town, BUT that's not in the same place as the beach and the cove, so you'd need to look into transport in that end. Apparently it's a nice place to stay for a couple of days. I could have certainly spent more time on those beaches than the tour allowed.

Auckland Food and Drink:

It's all about self catering in NZ so you don't bankrupt yourself, however Auckland is a great place to eat out. Especially if you end up staying in Ponsonby.

Orphans Kitchen: Really lovely restaurant in Ponsonby (118 Ponsonby Road) with fresh , local food. A bit on the pricey side with mains for around $30 but the food (eg. Line caught fish, mint and yoghurt dressing) was beautiful.

Deadshot: A speakeasy style cocktail bar where the cocktails cost $19 each and are made by the bartender based on what you like. Dangerously delicious. It's also on Ponsonby Road (number 45) and, in speakeasy fashion, doesn't have a sign.

Fokker Brothers: This is a cheap and cheerful bar in the harbour area with a good happy hour and excellent burgers. A good place for a drink after getting off the ferry.

Intercity bus Auckland to Rotorua- 4 hours

The intercity bus is generally basic with no toilet and no usb chargers. But they do have WiFi (which may or may not work) and stop every couple of hours.

Rotorua

Rotorua is incredible. The town has been built on geothermals and lots of businesses utilise them to provide heating. Whilst wandering through the park and along the lakefront you will casually pass steaming lakes and bubbling mud. FYI it also smells like rotten eggs.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Funky Green Voyager which is a very good hostel. It's small, clean, has comfy beds, a nice common area and a well stocked kitchen. You can also park camper vans here and enjoy the hostel. I got eaten alive here, probably by mosquitoes so make sure you use repellent! The hostel is on the outskirts of the main shopping area, but opposite a huge supermarket. FGV attracts a mix of travellers, I made friends easily here.

Food: I just self catered here. But they do have a row of restaurants near the Lakefront which looked nice.

Rotorua Activities:

Redwoods at night: I did the Redwoods treetop walk at night which was beautiful. The enormous trees are lit with lanterns and other beautiful lights. It cost $29 NZD and took about an hour. I wouldn't recommend trying to walk there or back from the town in the dark. I made friends with someone who had a car, but there are also citylink buses that run out there.

Tip: Go just before dusk for a free walk around the redwood forest and then pay for the treetop walk once it gets dark.

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Wai-O-Taupo: The geothermal wonderland! At this point having a car would have been helpful, but I booked myself on a tour to there with Headfirst for $75. If you’re not on a tour park admission is $35, Funky Green has discount vouchers too.

The tour was great. We were taken to a huge geothermal lake and boiling mud pits before arriving for the daily eruption of the Lady Knox geyser at 10.15. The geyser was impressive but our tour group legged it before it had completely died so we didn't get stuck in the traffic of people moving from geyser to park.

You need quite a few adjectives to describe the geothermal park. I will initially go for stunning, surreal and steamy (and stinky). Definitely walk all three of the loops, it only takes an hour and a bit to do the whole thing and the bit furthest out looks like there should be dinosaurs wandering past. The ‘artists palette’ is the one you'll have seen on the internet or Instagram with yellow pools, green sections, the red shore, turquoise centre and so much steam blowing off it in all directions. There's loads to see there. It's great. Definitely go.

Rotorua Kuirau Park: Rotorua's park is lovely civic hub of green spaces and more geothermals. It has its own geothermal lake, which is just gorgeous as the ones at Wai-O-Taupo, and little communal thermal foot baths. Also it's free. It's a great place to wander or read your book.

Lakefront: Good for a stroll. I wandered down towards the water and found St Faiths Church, the military cemetery and the meeting house. The buildings look sort of alpine and the graveyard is fascinating. The whole area is on more geothermals. People have them in their gardens and someone had put a traffic cone over one #safetyfirst. I was also stalked by an extremely fluffy cat which is possibly the Lakefront welcoming committee. Say hi for me if you see him. Further along the shore there are seaplanes and a helicopter pad and another big green space.

Polynesian Spa: We spent an evening in the Polynesian Spa. This may be a bit dull on your own, but with a few friends it was fun. The adult pools cost $30 and the hostel gave us 10% off vouchers. We went at dusk which was lovely as the sun was just setting. It was a bit crowded at 7.30 on a Saturday night. There were a couple of big tour groups. But it did calm down a bit after dark.

Rotorua to Napier on Intercity- 4 hours

Had 30 minute stop in Taupo, which is enough time to have a quick look at the lake.

Napier

The Art Deco capital of the world.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers. It has a big, but slightly grimy kitchen and social area with a TV lounge. Again it is easy to chat to people here. HOWEVER the room I was in had bed bugs and the room I got moved to had a terrible bed. They argued it ‘wasn’t their fault’ when I asked for my money back. Stay at your own risk.

Food: I self catered mostly but did have a halloumi wrap from the kebab place after the wine tour. I don't Australasia gets halloumi wraps, I haven't had a good one here yet.

Napier Activities:

Here's where Napier redeems itself. You can do a self guided Art Deco tour (buy a booklet from the i-site for $10) or, if you only have one day and you like wine you’re in one of the premier wine regions, you could do a wine tour?!

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Prinsys wine tour: I did a half day wine tour with Prinsys for $110. We visited four vineyards and got a cheese board. The tour was great. A highlight was trying to put a $50, $90 and $250 Syrah (Shiraz) wine in the right order. I got the expensive one right because I'm classy.

Napier to Wellington

I actually got a lift with my new pal Joe (from Dundee) and we stopped for a brilliant hike up Te Mata on the way. Highly recommend this walk.

As a passenger I felt it was my duty to provide snacks and entertainment. I introduced Joe to 'No Such Thing as a Fish' the greatest podcast in the world, 'Evil Genius' and we tried 'Last Podcast on the left' their long podcast on flat earth was interesting, but they are shouty Americans which gets a little wearing after a while.

Wellington

Wellington is brilliant. Lots of people don't seem to like it but there's loads of nature, culture and food in New Zealand's capital.

Accommodation: I stayed at my friends house, sorry. Everyone was talking about how lovely the Marion Hostel was though.

Wellington Activities:

Mount Victoria: is soooooo good and really steep for a something bang in the middle of town. The views are great. Go here. You can drive if you're feeling lazy.

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Botanic Garden: was lovely. Again super steep to get to the top, although you can take the cable car (common consensus is the cable car is a rubbish tourist attraction). It's a pretty standard Botanic Garden. Go if you've got spare time on a nice day.

Zealandia: Really interesting project on the outskirts of Wellington, where they’ve tried to recreate New Zealand pre-humans. There’s only native plants, no mammals and SO MANY BIRDS. Its a really nice place to walk around and has some pretty energetic tracks. Well worth the $19.50 entry fee.

Te Papa Museum: is outstanding. Probably the best museum I've been to. They have a beautiful exhibit on WW1 which hopefully will still be up post 2018. They also had an exhibit celebrating women's suffrage (which NZ did first), immigration and refugees. It's just great. And it's free.

BATS: My friend Heather took me to see a great show she'd programmed at BATS. BATS is like Soho Theatre in London, it has multiple spaces, multiple show and champions new writing. Well worth a look when you visit.

Other theatres: There's a few other theatres in the city including the Opera House which receives international touring shows (often from the West End!) Also make sure to check what's on in Wellington for music and festivals. There's always something on there.

Cuba Street; A really quirky street with excellent food and bars. Also has a bucket fountain!

Wellington Food and Drink:

Aunty Menas: AMAZING vegetarian curry place on Cuba Street. SO GOOD and SO CHEAP. Very casual, I’d highly recommend it for lunch whilst you’re sight seeing.


Danger Danger: Is a funky little bar in town with very cheap drinks and a fun pub quiz at 6.30pm on Thursdays. Heather has a team that goes most weeks so maybe you guys will meet if you go for the quiz.

Eva Beva: Is another nice bar with a good happy hour and excellent food. A favourite of Wellingtonians (Wellys?).

Wellington to Picton - Interislander Ferry

Here we have the tale of my first missed transfer in six months of travel. I booked the Interislander ferry through my intercity Flexi pass, great deal as it just uses your hours. What is less good is that the confirmation email doesn't tell you to check in and drop off luggage at least an hour before your boat leaves. That info again, larger:

Interislander ferry.jpg

You need to check in at least an hour before your ferry's departure time.

Earlier if you're driving, although then you'll have booked direct and paid $180 or more and you'll be sent reminder texts.

The ferry journey is beautiful. Sailing into the South Island was one of my trip highlights. I would recommend this over flying.

Picton

I'm pretty sure there's nothing in Picton but I didn't stay long enough to confirm.

Accommodation: I stayed at Alicante Backpackers. This pretty hostel used to be an old folks home. It's walking distance from the ferry and a supermarket. It's very clean and the beds are very comfy. You just need to deal with the owners. They will talk to you as if you're 18 and bang on the door of the shower to tell you to hurry up, not because you are taking a long time but because they don't have enough showers. Anyway it's good for a night.

Activities: All I did in Picton was leave, but it's surrounding area, Queen Charlotte Sound, is really pretty. There's hikes and kayaking here if you have an extra day.

Picton to Christchurch

A long six hours on intercity, but you do drive along the coast. You will think you see penguins. You will be wrong. They’re shags. *sniggers* They’ve just re-opened the scenic trainline that does this journey.

Christchurch

Where it rained and rained and then rained some more...

Accommodation: I stayed at Foley Towers and loved it. It was a 20 minute walk from the bus station. The four bed dorm I booked turned out to be a room with three single beds in a lovely self contained house with a kitchen and lounge. If you book here request the house.

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Activities:

Quake city: $20. Really excellent museum dedicated to the two earthquakes that flattened Christchurch. There's an hour and a half film of people telling their stories that plays on a loop, allow extra time to watch that, it's fascinating.

Art Gallery: I did the free tour of the gallery, which goes at 11am and 2pm everyday. This was a great way to see the gallery and understand a bit more about the works.

Canterbury Museum: also free. It's interactive and wonderful and has a great exhibition on exploring the Antarctic.

Food in Christchurch:

Christchurch has loads of amazing bars and restaurants, lots of which are post-earthquake popups. I just went to one of them I’m afraid…

Bacon Bros: Is hard to find as it's in a boutique food market called the Little High Eatery. Great burger though and very enjoyable burnt broccoli (is the most thirty-something thing I've ever said).

Christchurch to Oamaru

Bit of a boring 4 hours on the bus.

Oamaru

Oamaru Grainstore Gallery.jpg

Oamaru is an extremely quirky seaside town with a penchant for anything Victorian.

Workaway: I stayed in Oamaru for five days doing a Workaway at a farm. This was great and I can give you Helen's details if you fancy a stay on a farm.

Oamaru Activities:

Artists Quarter: Quirky as f*ck. Especially the Grainstore Gallery which has SO MANY PICTURES OF EYES. It's free to have look round, definitely check it out if you're in town.

Steampunk museum: $10 entry and a fun way to spend an hour. There's lots of sci-fi steampunk sculptures, most of which you can sit on/ climb on/ play with.

The penguins: There's a colony of little blue penguins at Oamaru. After the sun sets you can see them returning from their day of fishing. You can either pay $20 to be in the colony itself or go to a pier next door for free. You'll only see a few in the free area which is what I did. I reckon it might be worth paying to see a few more.

Oamaru to Dunedin

Quick two hours on intercity.

Dunedin

Also known as the Edinburgh of the South.

Accommodation: I stayed at Kiwi’s Nest which was lovely. A bit of a walk from town, very calm and clean. Very very calm. Attracts a lot of people on conferences. If you stay here book your intercity bus to and from the Dunedin university stop if possible. It'll save you a long walk.

Dunedin Activities:

Dunedin is a great place to go to the cinema or see live music. It's a student town so there's loads on. The central quarter is very pretty and there was a Christmas concert in there when I arrived.

Otago Peninsular: I really felt not having a car down here. If you have a car you can drive to the Peninsular, get on a wildlife cruise or check out the Albatross sanctuary. I ended up booking a harbour cruise/ wildlife cruise for around $150. The harbour was shrouded in mist and the wildlife cruise made me sick... Did see an Albatross though. Didn't feel worth it to me but I guess it depends how much you like albatrosses.

Dunedin to Queenstown

Six hours on intercity but so beautiful I would happily do it again.

Queenstown

Oh Queenstown with your lake, your adventure activities and your 1.8 billion other tourists. You are gorgeous though.

Accommodation: I stayed at Adventure Queenstown, apparently the best hostel in NZ. It was very good. Lovely kitchen, central location, activities every night. Lots of younger travellers, but that's probably true of most places in QT. Books up fast.

Queenstown Activities:

A little note on prices, I did these activities in November. I think the price goes up as NZ gets into their Summer.

Milford Sound: I did the Jucy gem tour to Milford Sound. Normally $160 I got it for $150 on bookme. You can do cheaper day trips that start earlier. I reckon this one was worth the extra $30. It picked us up at 9am, provided lunch and a glass top coach and a 'premium cruise' which isn't really necessary as you spend most of your time outside. It's a four hour bus to Milford, two hour cruise and four hour trip back. But with walking and photo stops on the way there and a showing of 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople' on the way back, the bus was pretty fun.

White water rafting: I booked the shot over river rafting (grades 3-5) for my first ever rafting experience and it was EPIC! So fun. The company is called Go orange. I paid $159, maybe you can get it cheaper on bookme or if you book a few things at once with a travel agent.

Track to Frankton: Flat, pretty track that takes you to Frankton in an hour, where there's a nice cafe on the water (the boatshed) Then you walk back. A gentle, pretty activity.

Other activities: If you want to jump off something or out of something QT has got you covered. There's also loads of other hikes.

Queenstown Food and Drinks:

Ice bar: Had a voucher so only $13 for entry and a cocktail. If I'd paid more I'd have been annoyed.

Ferg burger: Apparently the best burger in the world? I've stopped eating beef so had falafel, which was average. It tends to have long queues but they go down fast. After ordering you could nip to the bottle shop, buy a beer and have your beer and burger sitting by the lake...

Queenstown to Franz Josef

An 8 hour bus journey! Was stunning though and had walking and photo stops so was actually fine.

Franz Josef

One of my favourite places. I spent two full days here and had a lovely time.

Accommodation: I stayed at Glow Worm hostel. The rooms are average but I'd still highly recommend staying here. They give away free soup at 6pm every night which gets everyone chatting. Also free breakfast, free popcorn, nice staff. A real mix of people stay there including families.

Franz Josef Activities:

Glow worms! After dark you can do the short Terrace Walk from town and see glow worms for free.

Robert Point track.jpg

Robert Point track: Probably my favourite hike in NZ. There's lots of semi-climbing in this 5 hour return trip to a glacier viewpoint. You can do it alone because there's loads of other people about. You absolutely cannot do it in the rain, it's slippy and kind of dangerous when it's dry. The view of the glacier is great, clouds allowing.

Valley Walk: Super easy hour and a half walk to a low glacier viewpoint. Lots of lovely waterfalls.

Alex Knobb and other tracks: I didn't do the 8 return hour hike up a nearby mountain to see the glacier from above. If the clouds are low you can't see anything from the top. There are a few other short hikes around the town and the glacier too.

Helihikes: Pricey. As I don't technically have any travel money left I didn't do one of these. They look incredible though, you go to the top of the glacier and get to go inside it too. They are weather dependent though, lots of people had theirs cancelled or rescheduled.

Wildlife centre: $25 tickets if you stay at Glow Worm (and other places too probably). You're mostly paying to see kiwis in a nocturnal area. Worth it! THEY'RE SO FLUFFY!

Franz Josef to Westport

Very pretty six hour journey to the most boring place in New Zealand...

Westport

At first glance Westport is a ghost town, but when you spend some time there and really get to know the place what you'll discover is that truly, deeply and at its core, Westport is a ghost town.

TBF I only spent about 24 hours there. That was plenty.

Accommodation: Bazil's surf hostel. I arrived to sign that said 'I'm out surfing. You should be too.' This is an unhelpful sign. I have tried my hand at surfing and know it would be tricky to surf wearing a giant backpack and with your kitchen supplies hanging off your shoulder.

Things got better though. The staff, when they turned up, were very nice and the hostel was pretty dead so I got a room to myself.

The Kiwi bus stops here so the few people who were staying there were a tight knit group. For me, Bazil's wasn't great for meeting folk.

Westport Activities:

Surfing: I did not go surfing but you can? The hostel offered lessons for $50 or you got one free if you stayed for five days. Do not stay in Westport for five days.

The Millennium track: Cross the deserted high street and step over some rusted metal that used to be train tracks and you will find the Millennium track. It's a nice track along the river and through some Bush. Got a bit dull after a while but was a good post bus leg stretch.

Kawatiri River Trail: It's probably lovely. It's another track you can do from town that takes you to north beach. But by the time I'd walked through silent Westport and past the smelly fish factory it had started to rain so I did a short version. If the sun is shining doing this track and having a picnic on the beach would be fun.

Westport to Nelson

A four hour bus journey that felt like three, with a stop at the Pancake Rocks. If you can bear it maybe do Franz Josef to Westport in one go and save yourself a day. If you're driving that's totally doable.

Nelson

At first glance Nelson is a ghost town... but before I could convince myself the town's at the top of the West coast were, in fact, an elaborate hoax, I passed some pubs and restaurants with people in them and it turns out Nelson is pretty lovely, especially when the sun comes out.

Accommodation: I stayed at the beautiful INNbetween Lodge and Backpackers. Really lovely design and very comfy beds. Also an excellent free breakfast is available for those up early enough to get some. I'd definitely recommend this hostel. Eat in the kitchen if you want to make friends here.

Nelson Activities:

Abel Tasman.jpg

ABEL TASMAN! There are so many options for exploring the stunning turquoise coast line of the Abel Tasman national park. You can walk or kayak for a day or three, camp or stay in a hut (you need to book ahead for this) and get water taxis to start or complete.

I booked The Seals and Sand tour with Abel Tasman Aqua Taxi. Their bus to and from Nelson cost a reasonable $30 and the 'tour' cost $79, a combined price of $109. This is cheaper than the kayak day tours, but more expensive than just getting dropped by the boat and walking back. The water taxi takes you for a little look at some seals before dropping you at Torrent Bay. I then did the four hour hike to Onetahuti, stopping for lunch at Bark Bay. There's quite a long uphill stretch after Bark Bay. At one point I did tell the hill to f*ck off, but it didn't. I chilled on the beautiful beach until my water taxi back, we saw some dolphins on the way back! That was great!

An Abel Tasman recommendation from the driver, which I will definitely do when I come back, is as follows:

Get the boat to Totaranui walk to Onehatuti and camp there or stay in a hut. The next day kayak to Anchorage (missing the hilliest section), arrange with the kayak company to transfer your bags to the camp site, the following day walk to the end of the track. Most companies offer bag transfers, Abel Tasman Aqua Taxis certainly do if you've booked a boat ride with them. Arguably you could transfer your bags (and maybe a cooler of food and beers) to each site and just carry days packs.

Nelson Food and Drink:

Indian Cafe: Colourful restaurant and great curry! Highly recommend this place for a meal out or a takeaway.

#PSA curries in NZ tend to come with rice. I made the mistake of ordering extra in Christchurch.

Craft beer: I also had some excellent beer here. FYI Nelson is the self proclaimed capital of craft beer! They have a trail you can do.

Nelson to Wellington

A trip you can do on public transport in a day. The coach from Nelson to Picton takes 2 hours and then the ferry takes three and a half. They have a free shuttle from Wellington’s port to the city.

I really like Wellington, as the boat approached there was an actual rainbow over the city, which felt appropriate. All my Wellington tips are in the Wellington section above.


Wellington to National Park - Northern Explorer train

I got the Northern Explorer Scenic train up to National Park. It took five hours, cost $79 and was very pleasant. The train was only half full so you're probably okay to book it when you get to NZ. It’s more expensive to book tickets from abroad! Get a friend in NZ to book for you or try and do the VPN thing. Also it doesn't go every day so factor that in.

National Park

My first impression of the National Park Village was 'a bit bleak'. There is a train station, perhaps four streets and a tiny supermarket attached to a petrol station. But people come to National Park for one reason and one reason only, the Tongeriro Crossing and for that reason a stay there is 100% worth it.

Accommodation: I stayed at the Howard Mountain lodge in a three bed dorm. My bed was terrible but everything else was nice. If you get the bed with broken springs ask to move, otherwise it's as good a place as any to stay.


The Tongeriro Crossing

Mount Doom Tongariro Crossing.jpg

Popularly known as the most scenic day hike in New Zealand and for good reason. The walk is stunning. You pass Mount Doom, then you climb a mountain and then walk between peaks over-looking gorgeous blue lakes. It is not easy. The uphill goes on for quite a while and there are so many people that if you pause to take a breather you can end up waiting for a break in the traffic to get going again. It is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.

Our hostel booked the shuttle for us which gave a pick up time based on the weather forecast and they were spot on - they dropped us off at 6am and expected most people to make the 2pm bus back and at 2.10pm it started raining.

You need decent shoes to do the crossing and they won’t let you do it in jeans. I would advice hiring hiking poles as they'll make a big difference.


National Park Food and Drink

You can buy two minute noodles from the hostel and over priced basics from the petrol station...

The Schnapps Bar:

Me: So where's the schnapps?

Barman: All the 'lodge name's were taken. So we just picked that.

Nice pub with good food (around $18 a main) and average priced beer.

National Park to Auckland

You can get a 6 hour intercity bus, but I ended up getting a lift with some lovely girls I met at the aforementioned Schnapps Bar. We stopped at Hamilton’s Lake to stretch our legs on the way.


I’ve put all my Auckland tips in the Auckland section so here ends my epic saga of a five week adventure in New Zealand!

Congratulations if you made it to the end!

Have a magnificent honeymoon Liz! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Loads of love,

Helen x

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

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Lost Girl's Workaway tips (or 'Dear Hannah')

Dear Hannah,

Lovely to meet you in Rotorua. I was planning to write a blog on Workaway and thought after our Bangkok chat I could address it to you. Sorry if you already know some of this, I'm putting it up on my website so am starting at the beginning.

What is Workaway?

Workaway is a site that connects travellers to hosts all over the world. You work for them, normally for around 5 hours a day in return for room and board. Some may pay, some may charge you for food. Every host is different but the site makes it very clear what the deal will be.

There are other sites that do this, most notably Worldpacker. You have to pay a subscription for these sites (£30 a year for Workaway) and Workaway had some projects I was interested in, so I chose them.

Website work.jpg

What can you do on it?

Pretty much anything. I created a website for a sustainable resort in Sri Lanka, looked after dogs in Bangkok and I'm going to help tend to an olive grove on New Zealand's South Island. There are a NGOs, lots and lots of teaching English roles, farming, social media stuff, animal care, work on ski resorts, housekeeping, all sorts.

How do you pick the right Workaway?

The reviews are key. Reading what other volunteers thought will help you get a clearer sense of what your stay will be like. Do bear in mind that most reviews are kind, after to staying with someone for a week or more it's tough to be overly negative, so assume things are a little less rosy than the reviews would imply.

Make sure you choose a mutually beneficial workaway, you’re committing your time and your energy to a project, you should get something out of it. Perhaps you’ll develop a new skill or an in-depth knowledge of a fascinating area or maybe you’ll get to play with some dogs… My friend Matt, who was also volunteering at Green Tails, was looking at workaways on Japanese ski resorts where you get access to their kit and the runs in return for a few hours housekeeping.

My advice would be to consider:

Location - Can you get to it? Is it near other activities you'd like to do in your down time? Will it fit into your itinerary or is it worth the detour?

Accommodation - Lots of workaways have shared accommodation, which can actually be a bonus as it mean there will be other volunteers to hang out with. If you’re in an expensive country it might also be a chance to sleep in your own room for a week or two without paying a fortune.

Type of work - There's a few hosts that rang alarm bells for me. Some places should obviously be hiring staff rather than trying to get volunteers. Other hosts include families who seem to want an au pair and are okay with it be an unqualified stranger who can only stay for a week. It's good to pin down exactly what you'll be doing before you arrive. You can also suggest projects you could do for them based on their profile. It’s definitely possible to do work you enjoy.

Hosts - I've been extremely lucky so far with two outstanding hosts. The reviews, including the host's reviews of their volunteers, gives you an insight to their attitude. Lots of hosts offer to show you the area and give advice on travel and this is a real bonus.

My workaways

I chose my workaways for similar reasons- they offered a break from routine and a chance to help with a 'worthy' venture.

Tilak's estate

My first workaway was on Tilak's estate in rural Sri Lanka. He is creating a sustainable resort on his working coconut plantation.

powercut.jpg

The description, and the reviews, made the estate seem like paradise, a perfect place to repair body and soul after being on tour. It offered three meals a day, kayaks, hammocks and a chance to get to know the real Sri Lanka. In return I would spend five hours a day making and populating his website.

The estate certainly lived up to my expectations, the open house we stayed in was a strange experience as it was somehow comfortable and predominantly outside at the same time. I also enjoyed making a difference, I left Tilak with a site that can go live when he's ready.

The other volunteers did different jobs on the estate. Sahir taught English at one of the houses at the community and did some writing for the website, Kevin (a Doctor) organised the first aid supplies and then helped with jobs around the estate and Jean got involved with the day to day running of the plantation, including building paths, clearing trees and fixing machines.

It was a bit of a mission to get anywhere from the estate, but worth it when we made the effort. We (myself and three other volunteers) had to entertain ourselves in the evenings, but Tilak had some cards and I had bought Bananagrams with me. There were also SO MANY MOSQUITOES, the only safe place was inside our nets. If you’re going into the countryside in a warm country get the best repellent money can buy. One of the other volunteers had treated his clothes with repellent before coming too which made a huge difference.

Tilak's motivations were interesting. As well as the work we provided, Tilak also wanted the Puttalam community to get used to travellers of all different shapes, sizes and colours- especially female tourists. I can see why, this is one of the only places I've been where I've been openly starred at.

Green Tails - Paws B&B

The second workaway I chose because of the dogs.

Stevie.jpg

There were other reasons for my interest in working at Natsuko's place in Bangkok, my own room (although sometimes volunteers share with a human or a dog), a week in one place after a couple of months of backpacking, three meals a day, payment for overtime and a chance to revisit Bangkok. But mostly I wanted to play with some dogs.

It was a chance to give something back to the canine community. I had passed so many starving, miserable strays on my journey through Asia and, at Natsuko’s, we looked after dogs who had been rescued from the streets and were awaiting adoption.

Some of the dogs had really heartbreaking stories. One dog, Olive, had been attacked by a woman with a machete and another, a puppy called Mukki, had been pretty much bitten in half by another dog. I did learn that there are ‘rescuers’ all over Asia, so if you see a dog suffering you might be able to find someone in the area to ‘rescue’ them.

The work was easy - taking the groups of dogs out, cleaning up after them, playing with them and helping to feed them. Natsuko cooked for us or ordered really delicious takeaway. Her beautiful house was about 40 mins from central Bangkok, a perfect place to relax and still have access to the city.

Hannah (and everyone) you should definitely get in touch with Natsuko about volunteering at Green Tails.

(I'd say the same for Tilak but he wasn't taking volunteers last time I checked.)

The Olive Grove

Workaway number three, which I haven't done yet, is helping Helen with her olive grove in a gorgeous part of New Zealand. Primarily I was looking for a week to stay still in a great place and this ticked all the boxes. The area, Oamaru , has hikes, penguins and wine, three of my favourite things. Will let you know how it goes!

Things to look out for:

Hosts taking the piss. A friend escaped a workaway in the middle of the night after being treated like a slave and only fed bread. This was a brewery in Scotland who should know better. You're not a serf, you're a volunteer. Your time is valuable- it's certainly worth decent meals.

Enthusiastic overworking. I did this in Sri Lanka. I got so into my project for a while that I forgot to take time enjoy myself and explore. Another volunteer, and then Tilak, pointed this out and I redressed the balance. Again your time is valuable, if you've agreed to five hours a day don't do loads more for free.

Getting bored in your downtime. If you’re not likely to leave your estate/farm/resort/manor house/family home up a mountain take stuff to do. Books (like Afterlife for example) or games. My new favourite game is Monopoly Cards, it’s got all the capitalist viciousness of Monopoly but only takes fifteen minutes to play.

That's all I can think of for now. Let me know if you have any questions. Have a great time!

Love,

Helen xxx

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

Hey, and if you look to your right you can sign up to my mailing list…

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Lost Girl's Cambodia tips (or 'Dear Esther')

Dear Esther,

So nice to see you in Vietnam! What are the chances we'd book the same hostel in Ho Chi Minh?! Anyway, below are my tips for Cambodia which I'm also putting on my blog, I've got some general stuff first and then what I did/enjoyed/despised listed by place.

Money

The main currency in Cambodia is the American dollar. They also use their own currency (the Riel) although mostly as change. 4000 riel is a dollar so if you want to pay for something that's $2.50 you could pay $2 and 2000 riel. It's surprisingly easy to pick up. ***WARNING*** There is a ridiculous system in Cambodia where shops won't accept old, damaged or torn notes. Check your money when it's handed to you. Also the ATMs give out $100 bills try and break these before going to the islands or anywhere rural.

Siem Reap

We stayed at Lub-d in Siem Reap in a ten bed female dorm. It had new a beautiful facilities, solid, comfy beds with stairs instead of ladders so being on the top bunk was fine. The dorm was silent at night, which was lovely. It has a pool and a nice bar. It did feel more like a hotel and it was perhaps the least social place we stayed although there are events and the staff are very friendly.

We chose the three day option for Angkor Wat and were really glad we did. It's $62 for the pass and we ended up spending another $90 for a tuk tuk for three days. We arranged this with one of Lub-d's drivers and could had probably got it cheaper if we'd asked elsewhere. He did have free water on board through which was very useful!

Kbal Spean.jpg

You'll have already read about the temples I'm sure so I shall limit myself to a couple of sentences here. On the first two days we started super early which worked as it gets really hot and/or rainy around midday. My favourite day was the river carvings at Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei, the gorgeous pink ladies temple, which are a drive out of Siem Reap.

I'd recommend getting lunch from a bakery before going to the temples as your driver will try and take you to the more expensive restaurants where they get free food. The Scandinavian Bakery is close to Lub-d, we got lunch there.

Siem Reap to Battambang

Lub-d booked us on the Mekong Express to Battambang which was one of the nicest buses I've been on. Really easy journey which only takes three hours. I didn't take the boat between Siem Reap and Battambang but I heard that it is horrible.

Battambang 

We stayed at Pomme hostel in Battambang and loved it. It has little cubicle style single rooms, a funky bar that attracts locals and expats and very friendly staff. We did the hostel run afternoon tour to the (original) Bamboo train and bat caves which was very enjoyable. It cost $8 for the tour and $5 for the train. 

We also kayaked down the river in Battambang booked through Green Orange Kayaks which was very exciting. Although, due to some slightly dodgy directions, we left the boat in the wrong place and they thought we'd drowned... Using MapsMe and a waterproof phone cover and getting our hostel to ring them when we got back would have prevented this...

Kirsty at Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus.jpg

My other top tip for Battambang is the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. My circus loving friend Kirsty was desperate to go and she was not disappointed. It was excellent and imaginative. TBH I don't really like circus that much and I loved it.

Battambang to Kampot

***WARNING*** We got the Rith Mony night bus (booked by the hostel) and it was a nightmare.  There were cockroaches and other bugs everywhere. The second leg was in a minibus which the driver had jammed full of stuff he was delivering so there was no leg room. Don't let anyone book you on this company. Worst. Journey. Ever.

Kampot

Despite my distrust of this infamous chain of party hostels we stayed at the Mad Monkeys in Kampot. It turned out to be very fun, although we went for a private room rather than risking the dorms. Also our first private room stank of paint and didn't have a door handle so we got a free upgrade. 

On our first night there we did Captain Chim's sunset tour. It was $5 with one free beer which is not the best deal you'll see on the promenade. It also had no toilet or bar. But, we had it to ourselves and it took us much further up the river than the pub boats and we actually saw a fire fly! Just the one though. Captain Chim's rickety old boat is great, maybe take a couple of extra beers and a she-we.

We did the hostel run jungle trek which was $8, quite muddy, but enjoyable. I did fall in a river and almost get washed away... will tell you about it over a beer.

Our big activity there was Climbodia which was EPIC! It's a bit pricey at $40 for half a day but well worth it, it's been described by several friends as the best thing they did in Asia. You do climbing, ab- sailing and traversing and then a climbing session in the caves.

Kampot had my favourite bar and favourite burger place in Cambodia. 'Oh Neils' the Irish bar has great music and the Burger Shack is cheap and excellent and has a MacDonalds sign outside which is pretty funny.

Kampot to Koh Rong Samleom 

Mad Monkeys booked this for us with Kep Travel. The journey was fine, it's not too long, bus, shuttle bus, boat... it's only about a three hour journey in total.

Koh Rong Samleom 

We initially stayed at Dragonfly in M'Pai Bay, also known as 'The Village'. The Village was great, there was still lots of Cambodian life happening, kids, schools and midnight beach cows.

The Dragonfly dorm was nice enough, single beds, mosy nets, did get a bit hot. The bar there was fun, it has a good spot for watching the sunset (you'll need to get someone to show you). Have a look what you think, there's also an Easy Tiger there which is next to Dragonfly and highly recommended.

***WARNING*** There are no proper showers in M'Pai and lots of signs saying to save water. There's also no ATMs. They also hate it if you take $100 bills so try and break big notes.

We did the walk from M'Pai to Driftwood which takes about an hour, along beaches and through the jungle. Wear decent shoes. That was fun. Driftwood was cute (and vegetarian Esther!) And we could get a boat back for $5 each.

There was also a boat tour with snorkelling with a guy called Clayton who hangs out in the town in the morning before the tour leaves at 11.30. This was a brilliant day.

For our last night we moved to Saracen Bay to a hostel that was possibly called Yuvo??? I can't really recommend it. Saracen Bay's beach is much nicer and very resorty, fun for a night as there was also a party at Blue Dog hostel.

Koh Ring Samleom to Phnom Phen 

We got the boat back to Sihkanouvile (which looked a bit dull) and, because the boat was an hour and a half late, just made our Giant Ibis bus to Phnom Phen. That bus was long but pleasant. If you're short of money try and go to an ATM before you get on board as it stops at quite a pricey restaurant half way.

Phnom Phen 

Phnom Phen smells. You'll see. 

We stayed at the Mad Monkey again, again in a private room ($15). It was directly above the bar so super noisy until midnight. They do have a quiet side though so you could maybe request that. Despite my deep distrust of Mad Monkey pub crawls we went on theirs and it was really fun.

Activities-wise we did S21 (the prison camp) which was horrific and then the Killing Fields (which was also horrific). This is the best order to visit them in. I think the tuk cost us $18 for the day. These are heartbreaking attractions but must-dos. Just prepare yourself for the horror and take some tissues.

... there we go! Hope that is helpful. . 

Have a great time! 

Xxx

Admin

If you think my writing is interesting why don’t you check out my first book ‘Afterlife’? It’s like a really long blog with chapters and a thrilling storyline…

Also have you tried booking.com? I use them pretty much exclusively now as my ‘genius’ discount makes them cheaper than everyone else. Here is a link that gets you £15 off the first time you use them* Try booking.com.

*This is a genuine recommendation, but an affiliate link (I’ll make a little money)