I first visited Laos back in 2001 and instantly fell in love with its heady beauty: there was a slowness to life that totally absorbed me, the people were the friendliest and most happy I’d come across in all of South East Asia, the luscious landscapes were stunning and being there felt like stepping back in time.
Each time I return to Laos I always worry that development will have ruined this sleepy little country but, luckily that hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Laos is developing but thankfully at a much slower pace than its Tiger economy neighbours (Vietnam, Thailand and China) – the country certainly sits in their shadow when it comes to tourist numbers. This is good because, unlike many places in South East Asia, it means you can still get a truly authentic experience. Don’t worry though, although some areas are difficult to get to and you’ll undoubtedly experience a few bumps along the way, there’s some excellent accommodation to choose from and, as I experienced on my most recent trip, these are popping up in some of the more remote locations so you can actually get off the beaten track without sacrificing on comfort and luxury. Read more
Hitting January can often be difficult: those 6am wake up calls (after long lie-ins over the Xmas period) are a shock to the system; the month usually involves some form of abstinence after the weeks of festive excess which, let’s face it, can be a bit demoralising; and it’s almost guaranteed that the weather will be cold, wet and miserable. However, the one thing that always gets me through January, and is guaranteed to put a smile on my face, is the thought of all the travels I have planned for the year ahead. Travelling (even) more than I did the year before is a resolution I make every year and one that is actually fun and exciting to achieve!
So what travel experiences am I looking forward to in 2014?
After my recent trip around Cambodia taking in rural village life, buzzy towns and the temples of Angkor (you can read about that bit of my trip here), I was in need of some time to unwind before heading back to the UK. A few years ago, if you wanted to tag on some time at the beach after a trip around Cambodia – in accommodation anywhere half decent (and by that I mean not favoured by the backpacking fraternity) and that didn’t require a long day’s drive to get there – you would have had to fly to Thailand. Now however, new internal flights and improved roads have brought with them some rather nice beach accommodation.
Most travellers to Cambodia go there to see just one thing – the grand temples of Angkor – flying in and out of Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, without seeing anything else of the country. Granted, the temples are an amazing sight and my first view of the five pineapple shaped towers of Angkor Wat (the main temple) looming tall as the sun rose behind will stay with me forever. But, Cambodia has so much more to offer than just temple ruins and can quite easily keep you entertained on a two week holiday (or longer) as I discovered on my most recent visit.
Over two weeks I saw traditional village life on the Mekong (with a bit of dolphin spotting thrown in), experienced the urban buzz of the capital, took a road trip through stunning countryside stepped with verdant rice paddies, visited floating villages and then headed to the coast for rest and relaxation in some rather chic places.
Madagascar is a bit of a weird one. Lying in the Indian Ocean some 400km off the east coast of Africa, it’s the world’s fourth largest island having broken free from the African continent many millions of years ago. It evolved in its own individual way and astonishingly around 80% of its flora and fauna (of which there are around 250,000 species) is found nowhere else on earth.
The country is mildly chaotic, government corruption is rife and little money has been spent on the country’s infrastructure: trains take days to get anywhere (if they leave at all); the roads are as pot holed as the face of the moon; and the national airline (Air Madagascar) has a monopoly over internal flights meaning it can (and does) change it’s timetable at will and that’s often a few times a day – as the Hubby and I found out. However, if you can get through all that, it is truly an amazing country; the Malagasy people are warm and friendly and I cannot think of anywhere that I have travelled to, where I’ve seen more things than I did in Madagascar. Read more