A Guide to Hong Kong and Macau for First-Time Visitors

HONG KONG

A bustling, high-rise metropolis, Hong Kong is often cited as one of the best cities in the world. And I have to agree with that statement. There is so much to see and do in this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, not to mention that the city has some of the best restaurants and bars that are just crying out to be visited.

Such a busy city can be overwhelming and as Hong Kong is often a place that people visit for only a few days, it is difficult to know where to start when planning a visit.

I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of what to see, do and eat on a first trip to Hong Kong, with lots of useful tips. It doesn’t include absolutely everything, as you’ll never be able to see and do all Hong Kong has to offer unless you’re there for a couple of weeks!

A trip to Hong Kong wouldn’t be complete without a quick trip across to Macau, so I’ve included all the information you’ll need for a day there!

 

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Getting there

Flights to Hong Kong are frequent from all around the world. From the UK, you can fly directly or with one stop on an airline such as Emirates or Qatar Airways, which breaks up what is a long journey.

I flew with Hainan Airlines, China’s top airline, and would highly recommend them for international flights. They received a top rating from Skytrax recently, and I found their product to be almost as good as the top Middle Eastern carriers!

 

Getting from the airport to the city

There are many options when travelling from the airport. Taxi is the most expensive as always but there are several train and bus options, depending on whereabouts in Hong Kong you’ll be staying.

I took the bus after looking up the best route to my hotel on Google Maps and I’d recommend doing that. It’s cheap, straightforward and there are even luggage racks at the front of the bus for you to store your suitcase or backpack.

 

Getting around

Public transport is great in Hong Kong, particularly the underground metro, which is cheap, straightforward to use and heavily air conditioned (much needed for people like me not used to humidity!).

If you’re going to use public transport a few times during your trip, I’d recommend that you get an Octopus card. It’s similar to an Oyster card that you get in London, you buy it for a small fee, top it up and off you go, swiping in and out for each journey.

I purchased mine from a convenience store in a metro station. Journeys cost around 30-50p, depending on distance.

Uber operates in Hong Kong and is really reasonably priced. Traffic can get quite bad but it’s an easy way to get around in off-peak times.

 

Where to stay

There are plenty of accommodation options in Hong Kong, from budget hostels, to boutique hotels to luxury big-name chains.

You will need to choose whether to stay on Hong Kong island or in Kowloon, which are separated by water. Kowloon is on the mainland; Hong Kong island tends to be more expensive to stay in.

Staying in either is fine, Hong Kong is so well connected by public transport that you can get around really easily.

I stayed at the Pentahotel in Kowloon, which I would highly recommend. It’s reasonably priced for Hong Kong, has great rooms, a pretty location and a generally cool vibe.

 

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I also stayed at Ovolo Southside on Hong Kong island, which was also pretty great. It was pricier and is on a relatively busy road but it’s super cool hotel in an old warehouse. You get a free minibar and snacks, plus they have an incredible rooftop bar! It’s also really close to a metro station and not far from Central.

 

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If you’re looking for budget accommodation, a word of warning is to stay away from Chungking Mansions. It’s full of budget places to stay but has a terrible reputation and is super seedy.

Two Monkeys Travel Group has some great hostel suggestions that you can check out.

 

What to see and do in Kowloon and Lantau Island

 

Watch the Symphony of Lights

The Symphony of Lights light and sound show is a great way to kick off your time in Hong Kong.

It happens at 8pm every evening and sees many buildings in Victoria lit up. Head to Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for great views of the show.

 

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Visit Wong Tai Sin temple

Full name Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin, this temple is home to three religions; Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

It’s well worth making the trip, the temple is really beautiful and I loved the fact that it’s such a peaceful spot surrounded by high rise buildings.

 

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Explore the markets

Kowloon is home to some amazing markets, head there to buy all manner of things. Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market are the two most popular.

 

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Take a trip to the Hong Kong History Museum

Hong Kong has an interesting history and this museum is a great place to learn more about it. Opening hours are quite short; 10am-6pm, and it’s closed on Tuesdays.

 

Ride the Star Ferry

A trip to Hong Kong isn’t complete without riding on the Star Ferry, which costs around 30p each way. It’s a short trip between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island but offers amazing views of the skyline, even on a miserable day.

 

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Take a trip to the Big Buddha

Also known as the Tian Tan Buddha, this is a must-see on Lantau Island. Built in 1993, you’ve no doubt seen photos of this magnificent statue that faces north looking over the Chinese people. Head there on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for amazing views.

 

Relive your childhood at Disneyland

You may not necessarily associate Hong Kong with Mickey Mouse, but there is indeed a Disneyland on Lantau Island!

 

What to see and do on Hong Kong Island

 

Take in the views from Victoria Peak

Heading up to Victoria Peak is probably the most popular thing for tourists to do in Hong Kong, and it’s easy to see why! Even on an extremely rainy and windy day (ahead of a typhoon), it’s an amazing sight.

You can hike up but most people take the ancient funicular up to the top and pay for entrance to the Sky Terrace.

The views over Hong Kong are incredible but as you’d expect. I headed up there just before sunset, and whilst it was busy, it wasn’t packed.

 

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Ride the Mid- Level Escalators

Hong Kong is extremely mountainous, and even within the city, it’s very steep. To make life easier for commuters heading down to central Hong Kong from the Mid-Levels, the world’s longest outdoor escalator system in the world was installed in 1993.

It operates from 6am- 12am, running downwards until 10.30am and then back upwards for the remainder of the day.

It’s now become a tourist attraction given it’s uniqueness and it’s a great way to explore the Mid-Levels, including getting up to Man Mo temple (see below).

 

Visit Man Mo temple

Man Mo temple is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and is dedicated to the gods of literature. It’s small but so atmospheric, well worth a visit.

 

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Stroll through Hong Kong Park

There’s no other way to describe Hong Park than as an oasis in the middle of a hectic city. It’s literally surrounded by huge high-rise buildings!

It’s situated in Central and is a beautiful spot to wander through or to spend some time relaxing. There’s even a nice restaurant and bar if you fancy dining al fresco in a lovely setting.

 

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Relax at a spa

If you’ve travelled in Asia before, particularly in the South East, you’ll know it’s renowned for its cheap massages and great value spas.

Hong Kong is quite a lot more expensive but still really reasonable compared to prices in most Western countries.

I’d recommend Foot Station spa on Lockhart Road for a relaxing foot massage, you’ll certainly need it after all the walking you’ll do in the city.

 

Eating and drinking

Hong Kong is home to some of the best food in the world, from small holes in the wall to luxury restaurants.

You’ll eat so well in the city; there is something for every budget and taste. Here are a few things you may want to eat and drink, with some specific recommendations.

 

Dim Sum

You can’t go to Hong Kong without eating Dim Sum, a style of Chinese cuisine prepared as bite sized portions of foods such as dumplings.

My number one food recommendation for Hong Kong, Tim Ho Wan offers delicious Michelin-starred dim sum for super cheap prices. The pork buns are incredible, as is the steamed egg cake.

There are a number of restaurants. I’d suggest trying one of the branches in Kowloon and avoiding the one in Hong Kong Central Station, as it gets super busy and they’ll be queues.

 

Roast goose

Not a restaurant specific recommendation but one for a type of food. Roast goose is really popular in Hong Kong and can be found at many places across the city.

Kam’s Roost Goose is popular and affordable. Yung Kee is also a great choice, although on the pricey side. Their roast pork is also extremely delicious.

 

Egg Waffles

You’ll find egg waffle stands all around the city and they make a great snack. The top-rated place (and I can support this- delicious) is Lee Keung Kee North Point, and it has various locations around the city.

 

Tea

As you’d probably expect, Hong Kong has some great tea. There are numerous cafes and kiosks dotted around the country where you can grab a delicious iced coffee to cool down as you explore.

 

MACAU
Getting there

Catching a ferry is the easiest and cheapest way to get from Hong Kong to Macau. There are a couple of companies that run ferries- Turbo Jet and Cotai Water Jet.

I travelled with Turbo Jet after booking cheap tickets in advance via Klook (more information at the end of this post).

The journey takes around an hour and will drop you off at the Outer Harbour.

 

Getting around

The casinos in Macau run buses between the ferry terminals and casinos for free. Jump on one at the harbour to get you to the city or to the Cotai Strip.

Once you’re in the main area, you’ll find that everything is pretty walkable.

If you need to travel further afield around the city, you can take advantage of the buses that run between different casinos owned by the same company.

 

Things to see, do and eat

 

Casinos

This is not for everyone but especially if you’ve never been to Las Vegas (like me), it is so interesting to walk around the casinos. There’s a Venetian, Parisian and even one shaped like a giant pineapple!

 

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Ruins of St. Paul’s

The ruins of St Paul’s church are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. Head there early on in the day, as it gets extremely busy.

 

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Senado Square

Located in the central area of Macau peninsula, Senado Square is listed as a world heritage site. It’s a lovely area filled with old Portuguese style buildings.

 

St. Dominic’s Church

St Dominic’s Church is a striking yellow and green 16th century Baroque-style building, nearby Senado Square.

 

Wander the side streets

Don’t just stick to the main tourist sides, there are lots of cute side streets with gorgeous colonial style buildings, alongside those with a Chinese influence. Wander and take it all in.

 

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A Ma temple

Away from the historical centre, A Ma is the oldest temple in Macau. It’s beautiful and although crowded, a very spiritual and atmospheric place.

The walk down to the temple is enjoyable in itself, with some gorgeous colourful buildings and bright street art along the way.

 

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Eat an egg tart

A trip to Macau isn’t complete without trying a traditional egg tart. They are similar to a Portuguese Pastel de Nata, and are incredibly delicious.

Lord Stow’s is the most famous place for them but there are many bakeries serving them all around the city.

 

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Relax in a trendy café

Somewhat unexpectedly, Macau had some really cool hipster style cafes away from the historical centre, offering delicious food, good coffee and quirky drinks.

After a few hours of exploring, sit down and relax in one whilst people watching.

Terra Coffee House and Padre are two great choices. Try the refreshing iced coffee at Terra, or the delicious fresh blueberry juice at Padre.

 

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Experience the world’s highest bungee jump

If adrenaline s your thing, head to Macau Tower, home to the world’s highest bungee jump at 233 metres.

It’s pricey at around £353 per jump, but it’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve done it! Let me know if you’re braver than me and take the leap (excuse the pun!).

 

Other useful information

 

Klook

I came across Klook whilst researching for my trip and was so glad I did.

You can book a lot of the things you’ll do in Hong Kong beforehand, for a much cheaper price than if you were to pay on the day.

I booked my ferries to Macau, my peak tram and Sky terrace ticket on the app before my trip. I also bought a local sim card which I picked up at the airport, a god send for getting around easily.

 

Internet access

Unlike mainland China, you’ll be able to access all the websites you would at home.

 

Currency

Hong Kong and Macau have different currencies but you can use Hong Kong Dollars in Macau.

However, you’ll get change in Macau currency, which you can’t use in Hong Kong. Be sure to use up all your Macau money before you head back to Hong Kong.

 

Have you been to Hong Kong or Macau, or are you planning to? Let me know if you have any other tips or recommendations!

14 Unique Things to See and Do in Vietnam

Vietnam is easily my favourite country so far, but until recently, had you asked me for the reason, I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on exactly why.

Yes, it’s beautiful. It has a fascinating history. Some of the best food in the world. And the people are wonderful. But the same can be said of plenty of other countries I’ve visited.

I spent some time thinking about exactly why it is my favourite and I decided that it’s because there are so many unique things to see and do. Each place I visited during my trip had different things to offer and it almost felt like I visited more than one country as I travelled around.

 

Here’s my list of some of the unique things you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Vietnam:

1. Stay on a junk boat in Halong Bay

With thousands of limestone karsts rising up from the water, Halong Bay is one of the most popular places to visit in Vietnam, and it’s not difficult to see why.

Stay for a couple of nights on a traditional junk boat, it’s an experience like no other. Be sure to hike up to the viewpoint on Ti Top island for breathtaking views over the bay and to grab a kayak to steer your own way through the waters.

 

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2. Visit the Imperial City in Hue 

A walled palace within the Citadel, Hue’s Imperial City is stunning. Get a local guide and spend an afternoon wandering around the complex and learning all about the history of Hue and the palace, which was finished being built in 1832.

 

 

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3. Stroll around Ngoc Son Lake in Hanoi

Asian cities seem to have plenty of outdoor spaces for exercise and Hanoi is no exception.

Take an early morning stroll around the beautiful Ngoc Son Lake and see scores of elderly people practising tai chi, a Chinese martial art.

 

 

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4. Drink a Vietnamese coffee

You probably don’t associate Vietnam with great coffee, but it certainly is the place to be if you’re looking for something different to your usual latte.

Traditional Vietnamese coffee is served with condensed milk and is delicious. Grab an iced version to cool you down.

The other type of coffee drunk is egg coffee, which is also very tasty.

 

5. Get a dress or suit tailored in Hoi An

Now, you can technically do this anywhere in the world but it’ll cost you. Hoi An is renowned for it’s cheap but impressive tailoring.

Do a little research before choosing a shop and embrace the experience, I felt like a real VIP being measured up and having my dress fitted.

I’d recommend Yaly Couture, one of the bigger and more popular operations in town.

 

6. Drive the Hai Van Pass

A mountain pass around 20km long running between Hoi An/Danang and Hue, Hai Van is a beautiful spectacle with amazing views over the coast.

Take an organised motorbike ride for the best views, but be warned that the pass is closed off in adverse weather.

 

7. See a Water Puppet Show

Dating back to the 11th century, be sure to see this unique take on Asian puppet tradition, where puppeteers perform with wooden puppets in a pool, along to Vietnamese music.

Silly, strange but definitely a unique and worthwhile experience. See a show in Hanoi, where it’s most popular, although you can do so in Ho Chi Minh City too.

 

8. Take a cyclo ride

A three wheeled bicycle taxi, a cyclo can be a great way to get around and see the city.Bear in mind that the traffic in Vietnam is crazy, so this isn’t for the faint-hearted, especially if you’re doing so in Ho Chi Minh City.

Join a tour which stops off at some of the city’s highlights rather than jumping in a random one and paying a fare, as you’ll probably be ripped off.

 

 

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9. Ride on the back of a motorbike

Again something that you can do anywhere but it’s a truly a unique experience on Vietnam’s crazy roads.

Join a tour with a company like Hue Adventure Tours to really experience local life and to make sure you’re in safe hands.

 

10. Enjoy the magic of Hoi An Old Town

There is something about Hoi An that is just magical. Probably something to do with the hundreds of colourful lanterns that adorn the old town.

Take a leisurely stroll around at night but don’t forget to purchase your ticket for the old town at one of the kiosks on the edge it, otherwise you may find yourself in trouble if this is checked.

 

 

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11. Visit a local market

Visting a local market is an interesting, albeit slightly shocking experience. Expect to see the weird, wonderful and upsetting whilst getting a real taste of local life.

 

12. Eat your way around a city on a street food tour

Sorry another one that you can do in most cities but there is definitely no other food in the world like Vietnam. It is so fresh, light and delicious.

Join a Hanoi Street Food Tour to try a number of delicious dishes at street food places that you wouldn’t choose from the look of them alone. You’ll eat different regional specialities.

 

 

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13. Crawl through tunnels used in the Vietnam war

A large network of connecting underground tunnels, visiting Cu Chi gives you a tiny taste of what it was like in the Vietnam war. Communist troops Viet Kong built networks of tunnels in order to combat South Vietnamese and American armies that were much better equipped.

Take the opportunity to crawl through one of the cramped tunnels and imagine what it was like for the people living and fighting in these all those years ago.

 

14. Drink the world’s cheapest fresh beer

Bia hoi is a popular fresh draught beer served around northern Vietnam in small bars and on street corners. It costs about 30p and must be the cheapest beer from around the world.

Finish your day of exploring by grabbing a cold one, sitting on a low plastic stool and watching the world go by!

How Safe is Cambodia For Solo Female Travellers?

 

When I’m planning a solo trip, one of deciding factors on where I go is how safe the country is for lone female travellers. There are certain countries that I would never ever travel to solo, but with a lot of places it’s less black and white.

When I decided to book a solo trip to Cambodia back in 2016, there were times before I jetted off when I seriously questioned my decision. I’d been dying to visit the Angkor Temples for a while and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go as I had a trip to neighbouring Vietnam booked but was Cambodia actually safe for solo female travellers?

I’ll be honest and say that I’d heard a fair few bad things about Cambodia before I went from friends and acquaintances; such as robberies, muggings and catching dengue fever. I’d also heard more positive stories and read some blog posts that deemed Cambodia safe for solo travellers.

 

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After spending 6 days travelling solo in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, I’d say Cambodia is safe for female travellers and would really encourage you to visit. It’s an amazing place with the kindest people ever; despite their troubled history, everybody was so welcoming and friendly. Particularly in Siem Reap, most things are geared towards tourists and you certainly won’t be the only non-local around.

 

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Like with any destination, you should take precautions, especially if you’re travelling solo as a female. It’s true that you probably need to take a little more care than travelling in most places in Europe, but I found Cambodia to be a wonderful country for solo travel. I was welcomed by the locals but not hassled. Nobody tried to scam me or made advances which were uncomfortable. Most people spoke English, which made things a lot easier. The country is quite used to tourists by now, and as such, it’s relatively easy to travel around.

My positive experience could well have been influenced by how organised I was before my trip; I’d researched possible dangers and how to stay safe quite thoroughly. I’m also quite a cautious person by nature, so didn’t take any risks. I’d recommend that you are quite organised before travelling to Cambodia solo, it definitely feels like somewhere that it pays to be aware and ready.

 

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Here are some of my top tips on travelling around Cambodia safely:

Keep valuables hidden, especially at night

I’ve heard stories from others and online about bag snatching, and this seems to be more of a danger at night, as you’d expect. If you’re travelling alone, I’d suggest taking a money belt that you can wear under your clothes when you’re out and about. If you need a bag, go for rucksack or a bag with a strap that can’t be cut. Definitely don’t flash your phone around.

Ensure you have access to cash at all times

During my time in Phnom Penh, I had some trouble finding ATMs that would accept my card, or even ones that worked! Although I wouldn’t recommend carrying around much cash at any time, make sure you’ve got enough to keep you going if you do struggle to get to an ATM. You don’t want to be stranded without cash.

Organise a transfer from the airport in advance

This is especially important if you’re arriving late at night. For piece of mind, I’d organise for your hotel to pick you up from the airport. Some hotels offer this service for free. If your budget doesn’t allow this, be sure to research how to get from the airport to your accommodation safely before you go on your trip.

Choose transport options carefully

This applies to all travellers, not just those going solo. Cambodia is notorious for road accidents, so it’s really important to travel with a reputable company to reduce your risk of being in an accident when travelling between cities.

I travelled from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh with Cambodia Post VIP van and can highly recommend it as a safe and comfortable option. Read more here.

I also used Giant Ibis buses to travel from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The travel time is slightly longer as it’s on a coach rather than a minibus but they have a good safety record and cater heavily to tourists.

I would advise that you avoid night buses altogether if possible, they’re just not that safe in terms of road accidents. Obviously travelling on a night bus saves time and money but I just don’t think it’s worth taking the risk given the country’s very poor road safety.

Watch your drink and never accept one from a stranger

This goes for all solo travellers, everywhere. Enjoy yourself but keep your wits about you and your eyes on your drink at all times.

 

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Join group tours

Group tours are a great way to see a country if you’re travelling alone and are a bit of a security blanket. I’d encourage you to join a group tour, even if it’s just for the day.If you’re heading to the Angkor Temples, why not book a group tour to do so. That way everything is organised for you and you can enjoy an amazing wonder with other people! I went on the Angkor Sunrise Discovery cycle tour with Grasshopper Adventures and absolutely loved it!

 

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Stay on the beaten path

Cambodia is one the countries most affected by landmines. I met so many locals who had been affected by landmines, either personally or through somebody in their family. It’s so very, very sad, especially in a country that has had more than it’s fair share of tragedy.

Don’t stray off the main routes in rural areas or around temples, and don’t pick up metal objects. If you are out in a rural area, it would be best to be with a local guide.

 

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Take extra care if visiting Sihanoukville

Most of the horror stories I’ve heard about Cambodia happened in Sihanoukville. I’m not sure why, but it seems to be a hotspot for robberies from what I’ve heard. So my advice was whilst you should take extra care anywhere in the country, be particularly careful in Sihanoukville.

Don’t let my tips put you off taking a trip Cambodia. Yes you should take care but it is such a fascinating, friendly and beautiful country. The people are incredible and I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time should you visit!For more safety information, check out the advice on the gov.uk website.

My Ultimate Travelist

I received the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist for Christmas last year. It details the “500 best places on the planet… ranked” and it is possibly the most wanderlust-inducing thing I’ve ever read!

It got me thinking about what my ultimate travelist would be. So, I’ve decided to put together a top 10 of the places I’ve already visited and the 10 that are highest on my bucket list. I’ve ranked them in order, which was not an easy task!

 

Top 10 Places Visited

1. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Khao Sok National Park is situated in the Surat Thani province of Thailand. The crowing jewel of the park is Cheow Lan lake, which is home to beautiful lime stone karsts.

I stayed in a floating bungalow on the lake, where the facilities are very basic and there is only electricity for a few hours in the evening. The setting is absolutely stunning and my one-night stay is one of my all time favourite travel memories. Quite simply, it’s the most breathtaking place I’ve ever visited.

Read more: 9 Reasons to Visit Thailand 

 

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2. Great Wall of China

The Great Wall probably makes it on to most people’s travel bucket lists, it is a bit of a cliche.

It rightly deserves a place, it is out of this world amazing. I was super excited to hike the wall but nothing could prepare me for quite how incredible (and steep!) it was.

I visited the Jinshanling section of this wall and there were barely any other people!

 

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3. Temples of Angkor

The Temples of Angkor are out of this world and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I joined a small cycling tour when I visited; we got to Angkor Wat for sunrise and then cycled around the other temples and surrounding countryside.

Read more: Female solo travel in Cambodia and Vietnam: a 3 week itinerary 

 

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4. Hoi An Old Town

Most people that have visited Hoi An Old Town would probably agree that the place just feels absolutely magical, especially at night when the beautiful old buildings are lit up with colourful lanterns.

It was definitely my favourite place in Vietnam, although as you’ll see, two more places in my favourite country ever have also made it on to my list!

 

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5. Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

Hanoi is by far my favourite large city in Asia. It’s busy and it’s polluted but it also has so much charm!

Home to many beautiful buildings, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple and lots of lovely restaurants, there’s plenty to see and do. But this is also a place where you can just wander and get lost, taking it all in.

Read more: Vietnam Travel Tips

 

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6. Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

One of the things I loved most about Sri Lanka is that every place we visited was so different. Galle Fort was no exception, I certainly wasn’t expecting charming cobbled streets, boutique shops and a lighthouse in Sri Lanka!

I stayed within the fort, which I’d highly recommend doing.

Read more: Sri Lankan Adventure Part 1: Colombo to Galle

 

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7. Plaza Mayor, Cuba

Trinidad in Cuba is by far one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited. Cobbled streets and pastel coloured buildings, it is a delight. It attracts a fair amount of tourists but it still felt really laid back and not at all crowded.

Plaza Mayor is the historic centre of the town and it’s the perfect place to wander for a couple of hours, followed by a cold beer.

See more: Cuba: Photo Edit

 

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8. Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is a must-see for visitors to Vietnam. It’s famous for its limestone karsts and dramatic scenery.

I stayed on a traditional junk boats for two days and it was an amazing experience, not to mention that the seafood served on board was some of the best and freshest I’ve ever eaten.

 

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9. Habana Vieja, Cuba

Think of Cuba and Habana Vieja is likely to be the picture in your head- the bright, pastel coloured old buildings in the old part of town.

They are iconic and even better experienced on a ride around Havana in an old American car.

Read more: Cuba Travel Tips

 

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10. Le Jardin Majorelle

I recently visited Marrakech and was concerned that I’d be disappointed by Le Jardin Majorelle given all the photos I’d seen and the masses of tourists.

I definitely wasn’t disappointed, the gardens were absolutely magical and like a complete oasis away from the slight madness of Marrakech itself.

Read more: How to Spend a Long Weekend in Marrakech

 

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So, that’s where I’ve been. Now for the list of the top 10 places I’d like go visit form the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist:

1. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

3. Petra, Jordan

4. Taj Mahal, India

5. Bagan, Myanmar

6. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

7. Dubrovnik Old City Walls, Croatia

8. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

9. Cristo Redentor, Brazil

10. Empire State Building

Check out the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist here.

Where are your top 10 places visited and the top 10 you want to go to? I’d love to hear from you xxx

Visiting South East Asia: Is Independent or Organised Group Travel Better?

Of my three most recent trips to Asia, two have been with a tour group and one was completely independent. Both had their pros and cons; it can be difficult to decide which is best for you. That’s where I’m hoping I can come in, by sharing what I found to be the positives and negatives of each method of travel.

Cost

Usually, travelling with a tour company will be quite a lot more expensive than going it alone, particularly if you’re solo and have to pay a supplement for having your own room. Independent travel means you can shop around for the best deals on transport and accommodation, and you’re not paying for the privilege of having everything booked for you. Using a tour company is much like using a travel agent and at the end of the day, they are going to charge extra for organising and coordinating your trip.

If you’re opting for a tour company, the cost will depend on the type of travel you choose. Many companies offer shoe string type tours, as well as classic or even luxury options. I’ve travelled on both a budget and on a classic tour. To be quite honest, I was blown away by the level of service and accommodation on my shoestring tour in Thailand with Tru Travels, booked through Encounters Travel. For the price, it was pretty amazing! The classic tour I took with G Adventures definitely didn’t offer as good value for money but it was still amazing for the price!

Obviously the cost, quality and value for money will completely depend on the tour itself and I’d advise you to seek out reviews before booking anything.

If you choose to travel independently, you can get some amazing deals by doing your research and looking around. This method of travel is pretty much guaranteed to be the cheaper option of the two.

Winner: Independent travel

Safety

Although most of SE Asia is pretty safe, you will probably need to be a little more cautious than you would be travelling around Europe, particularly as the countries are so different form home. This is even more true if you’re a solo traveller.

As long as you take all the necessary precautions and use your common sense, it’s likely that you’ll be safe when travelling independently. Just make sure you check your government’s travel advice website; although some countries as a whole are safe, there may be regions you need to avoid.

Travelling as part of a organised group, you’re going to be safer; safety in numbers and all that. Plus, your guide will know the route you’re visiting and potential dangers you could encounter along the way.

Winner: group tour

dscn8768Ready for a Jungle Party in Koh Phangan

Ease/ Convenience

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll organise every detail of a trip to Asia down to a tee before you go. I’m a massive worrier, and so having everything booked before departure helps to alleviate some of the worry I can feel, particularly on a trip where I’m backpacking round to different places. Obviously not everything always runs smoothly, but if you can be organised, it’s likely that your trip will be pretty straightforward and easy.

When it comes to convenience though, travelling independently can take a lot of time to plan, be that before you leave or during your trip. A huge plus to booking a group tour is the convenience, everything is booked and sorted for you. Essentially, for most of the trip, you’ll be directed here and there, as well as ferried around on pre-arranged transport. Perfect if you want to take the hassle out of travelling.

Winner: group tour

IMG_0463Sailing around Halong Bay, Vietnam

Accommodation

The accommodation I stayed in during my group tours was a real mix, some great, some ok and some not-so-good. But that can also be the case when you book independently. The only difference is that independent travel gives you the flexibility to book the places that you want, rather than what is allocated for you. I must admit that I love searching for accommodation, reading reviews and booking cool places to stay. So for me, accommodation is usually better when you go it alone.

Winner: independent travel

SLWhispering Palms Hotel, Bentota, Sri Lanka

Solo travel

I’ve travelled solo both independently and in a group. I enjoyed both but I must say that I felt safer and much more relaxed when on my group tour around Vietnam. It also meant that I had some good company in the evenings, something that I crave when travelling completely solo. During the day time, I love being on my own and doing exactly as I please but I sometimes struggle in the evenings when non-solo travellers are heading out to eat and drink with their pals!

Winner: group tour 

Getting around

Countries in Asia can often be quite challenging to travel around, especially compared to their European counterparts. Particularly if you want to save some money by travelling over ground, it can be really difficult to know the best methods and companies to travel with. On a group tour, everything is organised for you and often you don’t even need to take much public transport, as private transport such as minibuses are provided!

Winner: group travel

img_1192-1Cyclo ride in Ho Chi Minh City

Food

You can definitely find some amazing hidden gems food-wise if you do your research and ask around when travelling independently. But when you’re on a group tour, your guide (or Chief Experience Officer at G Adventures) will know some great local restaurants; places that you would never discover on your own. Often, the guide will order a number of dishes to be shared, meaning that you can try way more different foods than you would if you were alone.

Plus, you’re not required to join the group for food if don’t want to, leaving you plenty of opportunity to try out places on your own list should you want to!

Winner: group tour

thumbnail_img_7104Delicious beef Pho at a local HCMC restaurant

Flexibility

With a set itinerary that is usually pretty rigid, there can be a serious lack of flexibility when travelling with an organised group. Although you’ll have some free time, there will be a timetable that the guide sticks to and obviously you could never decide to stay in a particular town or city for longer if you’re with a tour. Travelling independently, you can change plans as you go along and providing you haven’t booked without cancellation options, you’ll have maximum flexibility.

Winner: independent travel

Pace of travel

Often, a group tour involves a packed itinerary so that you can tick off as many of a country’s attractions as possible. This can impact on your experience; often you will feel rushed and don’t get enough time in one place. One example for me is when I had to leave Hoi An, Vietnam on my group tour: I could have easily stayed for another three or four days. It felt like there was a lot to see and do but this was crammed in to a short space of time. If you like slower travel and getting lost in a new place like me, you might find that the pace of a group tour is a little faster than you’d like.

Winner: independent travel

IMG_0340Taking a leisurely walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Down-time

Along the same lines of my previous point, a packed itinerary can mean that you get next to no time to relax. I’m one to pack lots in when visiting a new country, but I do also need some time to relax. It is a holiday after all!

Sure, you often get free time when on a tour but I’ve found that I often want to take part in the optional activity or go along with what the group is doing. The FOMO is real. It definitely means that you can make the most of a place but it can be very tiring. Independent travel means that you can not only set your pace, you can actually book in time to relax.

Winner: independent travel

Heading off the beaten track

Nowadays, a lot of travellers seek to see places off the well-beaten track and this is possible in most Asian countries. A group tour is unlikely to venture off the usual path and will usually include the most popular places to see. Travelling independently, you’re free to choose where you go and how far off the tourist trail you venture.

Winner: independent travel

The local economy and responsible travel

I like to think that most travellers will be glad to be boosting the local economies when travelling in Asia. Most people on the continent have a lot less than you and tourism is really helping to drive growth in to developing countries. So even by just visiting, you’re already doing your bit but there are ways you can impact the lives of locals even more. Things such as using local guides when visiting attractions, staying at smaller, independent hotels and eating at local restaurants.

Companies such as G Adventures make sure that they use local guides and collect tips for those people too. Sometimes, when you’re travelling solo, you may not be able to find those local guides and will book through a large company that isn’t necessarily having the best impact on people’s lives.

One personal example of this is on the Vietnam tour I took in 2016, as part of the itinerary, we visited Streets International in Hoi An, a not-for-profit that helps get young people off the streets in SE Asia, out of poverty and in to employment within the hospitality sector. As well at attending a noodle-making class, myself and some of my group also chose to dine at the Streets restaurant one evening. I doubt that I would have come across Streets had I not been on my tour. It felt good to know we were helping to improve the life of local teenagers, even just in a small way.

In terms of responsible travel, it’s not always straightforward to know how to do so in the best way. Travelling with a company like G Adventures, responsible travel will be at the heart of the trip and you can rest assured that your impact on a country will be positive.

Winner: group travel

IMG_0732Exploring Hoi An at night

You may think that my overall verdict is somewhat of a cop-out but as you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons to each option. In general, I’d advise that if you’re travelling solo and budget isn’t too important, that you join a group tour for at least some of your trip. Similarly, if you’re travelling with somebody else but it’s your first time visiting Asia, you might want to look at an organised tour. As mentioned, I’ve travelled with both Tru Travels and G Adventures, both of which I’d recommend!

If you’re an experienced traveller visiting with somebody else, I’d recommend travelling independently for maximum flexibility and to get more for your money!

Wherever you’re going next, and whatever method you choose, happy travelling!