My gap year trip through South East Asia
During my Asian Adventure I was able to discover Thailand, Laos and Cambodia through experiencing exciting excursions, visiting historical heritage sites, and exploring the entertaining nightlife!
If you book a package trip with a specialist tour opertator it provides the perfect combination of an excellent itinerary as well as enabling you to have your own free time, and of course the chance to travel with great people! A clear advantage of booking such a trip is that you know that it is organised by people who truly know where to visit, which includes everything from religious sites to the best local bars. I can only speak for my own personal experience on my particular trip, but there was a broad age group, with the average age probably being about 25. On my trip there was also a diverse group of people, there were couples, experienced travellers, University students and first-time travellers. Consequently, as long as you are in the right mind-set to make the most of the experience, you will fit right in!
A tip before you book your gap year trip is to look at the weather forecast of the country/region that you have chosen to travel to. I chose to travel to Asia during the summer, which was the wet season!!
The first stop is Bangkok. You arrive straight into the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. You check yourself into the hotel, meet your group, and then head out to discover the chaotic and crazy streets of Thailand's capital city. A tip would be to book your flight to arrive in the day before the trip officially starts. To make it even easier you could even book yourself into the same hotel that you stay in on your first night of the trip. I am saying this from personal experience as my flight arrived in just before I met the group, which meant that I was tired from the long flight. Although it is technically a free night, most people want to explore and experience the nightlife on their first night, so you don't want to miss out because you are too tired. Whilst you are in Bangkok you are immersed within the history and the culture of the country as you visit the remarkable Royal Palace, the breath-taking Emerald Buddha Temple and travel along the vast canals (Klongs) on a local Thai boat. Even though this is the beginning of the trip, visiting such spectacular sites does bring everyone together.
The second stop is Chiang Mai, which is Thailand's second largest city. Chiang Mai is prettier and more peaceful than the hectic capital. So if Bangkok was perhaps too frantic so you, you will prefer Chiang Mai. Here you visit Wat Phra, which is a temple at the very top of the tallest mountain overlooking the city, where you experience yourself first-hand real Buddhist rituals!
Next you travel to the tranquil Chiang Rai, where you marvel over authentic Thai countryside as you pass through the vast rice paddy fields, and also visit the former imperial city.
The second country you visit is Laos, which is South East Asia's only land locked country. As a group you make your way down the Mekong River on a private boat observing the picturesque scenery. This is the first relaxed part of the tour, as the Thai part of the trip is jam-packed with significant sites and activities. Consequently, this part of the trip is when you really get to know the people in your group personally, as it is a chance to chat with members of your group that you do not share a room with. A tip would be to bring a deck of cards with you, as this is a great time to play games with your group whilst taking in the spectacular backdrop. You also stay over in a tiny village called Pakbeng, where you experience a night staying in a basic, rural guesthouse.
Next you visit the historical, charming town of Luang Prabang, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You get to see its rich and ornate architecture, which reflects its religious and historical heritage and embodies its French colonial past. Our group also really enjoyed the trip to Kuang Si Falls where we jumped off a 60 metre waterfall into the pools beneath.
Lastly, in Laos you visit Vientiane, which is the nation's capital. A truly unforgettable experience was visiting COPE, which is a charity that helps victims of unexploded ordinance, and aims to provide them with prosthetic limbs to enhance their everyday lives. COPE is an important charity in Laos, as Laos is one of the world's most bombed nations. You can even dominate $50, which pays for a new prosthetic limb. In addition, you visit the Pha That Luang stupa, which is the capital's focal site and the country's most significant religious symbol.
The final destination is Cambodia and my favourite part of the trip. This time you travel into the country by a small plane. A tip this time would be to take your travel sickness tablets if you are prone to getting travel sick, as it is a small and bumpy plane and there were people who were ill!! We arrived into Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where you visit the unforgettable, horrific 'Killing Fields' mass graves. Following that you visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum where you actually walk through the living quarters of where prisoners used to inhabit. The experience will stay with me for life, and I feel that everyone should see it or at least become aware of Cambodia's chilling and dark history.
Next you take another small plane to the famous Siem Reap. When you arrive you jump aboard a private wooden boat and travel along Tonle Sap, which is South East Asia's biggest fresh water lake. Whilst on the boat you observe the unique floating villages along the river. I even saw a young boy using a washing up tub as a boat and was paddling along with a spoon in the crocodile infested waters!! The highlight of the tour was visiting the astounding, unbelievable Angkor Wat Temples. Not only are they a UNESCO World Heritage site, but the largest religious monument in the world! That morning you wake up at the crack of dawn to witness the spectacular sunrise over Angkor Wat. However, although I have heard from friends that the sunrise is spectacular, I did not actually witness it as it was a very cloudy day!! Later that day you also visit Angkor Thom and the Ta Prohm temple, which is the temple in the first Tomb Raider movie. After a fun-filled and informative day visiting the breathtaking sites, I would definitely recommend visiting Ankor Wat Bar, which was my favourite bar in South-east Asia, you can even check out its facebook page before you go!
I had an incredible time on my gap year tour and met some great people that I am still in contact with. It does have an excellent balance of organised excursions, and enough freedom to choose what you want to do and how you wish to socialise. Furthermore, if you are travelling abroad on your own it is a great way of meeting people who you can travel with during the trip, and also after the trip has finished. Similarly, it is a great choice if you are a couple that would like to travel with a group of people. The Asian trip is the perfect choice if you want to experience a combination of mind-blowing history, culture and architecture with a fun-filled nightlife.