South East Asia – 6 – 2 Days in Phnom Penh

Welcome to the 6th blog post in my South East Asia series! Thank you for sticking with me, it’s a little crazy at the moment preparing for the move to Ibiza but here we go with the Phnom Penh post!

In my personal opinion, 2 days is enough in Phnom Penh. Before travelling to this city I had heard mixed reviews, to be honest we did not like it very much. However, if you are visiting Cambodia it is just as important as visiting the temples (if not more important) to visit the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh to learn more about the country’s tragic losses.

Again, we booked through Airbnb for our accommodation. We were actually booked into a hotel room but still through Airbnb which we thought was a nice surprise…. The hotel that we were staying in was called The Bridge and appeared to be very popular with Chinese business men and woman. Our experience at the hotel was not great to be honest. When we were checking in, the receptionist said that there had been a mistake and we were booked into a room for 2 people (not 3). They really were not very helpful and did not try hard to fix the situation. It was quite late when we arrived so decided a room with one bed was a lot better than no room at all (thankfully it was a HUGE bed…). As it was a hotel, breakfast was included. It was nice but had very limited choice…we had french toast everyday..

Night 1

On our first night in Phnom Penh we went to the Night Market and tried some street food. Some were better than others and the fried options were very heavy. It was a cool area though, full of locals just enjoying their evening.

Unfortunately, we did not feel safe in this city and sensed that from the first night. I mean don’t get me wrong we were fine, nothing happened…it just always felt slightly dodgy during the day and night.

Day 1

The next day we wanted to explore as much of Phnom Penh as we could as we had planned to visit the Killing Fields the next day. We got a tuk tuk driver to drop us off in the centre so we could start sightseeing.

The tuk tuk drivers will 100% try to rip you off, so if you have been in Cambodia for a few days try to gage how much you are paying per journey. A 10 minute journey will usually cost 3 USD.

We were dropped off right outside the Royal Palace which is also home to the Silver Pagoda. Unfortunately when we arrived in the morning (around 10am) it was not yet open. So we took some pictures from the outside and moved on!

After doing a little research we knew that we wanted to see Wat Phnom which is set upon the only “hill” in the city. According to the locals, Wat Phnom was the first Buddhist temple created on this site and was built in 1373. It was discovered by Lady Penh who the city is named after. Many people visit this ancient site to wish for luck involving their business deals or exams (I guess it worked as we were over the moon with our degree results days later)!

For lunch we headed to Friends the Restaurant which supports and trains teenagers in hospitality who do not have the opportunity to attend school. IT WAS AMAZING!!!

After lunch we saw that there were stalls opposite that are related to the Friends company, so we went over for a bit of shopping.

We saw that the students were also doing beauty treatments such as nail painting and hairdressing. I left the girls to get their nails done and I went over to the other side of the road to get a NEEDED Khmer massage.

Before heading back to the hotel to chill by the pool we stopped to look at the beautiful Buddhist temples  along the way!

Day 2

After the second breakfast of french toast we headed out the hotel to get our tuk tuk. We asked previously if the guy who took as from the bus station to our hotel the first night would also drive us to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum. We knew that this day would be distressing but nothing can quite prepare you for learning about the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge.

We visited the Killing Fields first which is a little outside the city. The entrance was 6 USD which included an audio guide for in-depth information regarding the events that took place there. Afterwards, we drove to the S-21 Genocide Museum to find out about the lives of prisoners before they were taken to the Killing Fields. The entrance fee is 5 USD and an extra 3 USD for an audio guide.

After a long day we spent the evening enjoying the sky bar at our hotel before packing our backpacks again for our bus journey to Sihanoukville then onto Koh Rong Sanloem island!

If you are interested in my other posts about my time in South East Asia or the planning before, below are direct links to my previous posts!

Start of planning

Pre trip planning

Kuala Lumpur

Hanoi

Siem Reap

South East Asia – 4 – 5 Days in Hanoi

After a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur (blog post in the link) we flew with VietJet to Hanoi (flight cost £40 each and lasted around 4 hours). Wow….what a place Hanoi was! It was nowhere like any of us had ever been before, so different from Europe! Hanoi has a beautiful blend of South East Asian, Chinese and French cultural influences. It’s one of the most ancient capital cities in the world filled with yummy street food, pagodas and temples that you can enjoy if you can survive the HECTIC Hanoi traffic!

Below I will give you a rundown of how we spent our 5 days in Hanoi.

Day 1

We took some Vietnamese Dong out the ATM at the airport as we had to work out ANOTHER currency. Don’t be fooled…when it says on the screen withdraw 300.000 it’s only the equivalent of £10! Then we ordered a Grab car from the airport which was an hour to the Airbnb (again very cheap)

This Airbnb was particularly gorgeous!! For 3 students travelling around SE Asia on a budget….2 double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with showers, 3 TVs, a living room space, big kitchen, washing machine AND balcony space overlooking the Red River…this was pure luxury! I have used Airbnb on….16 occasions now and have had on the whole very good experiences.

If you would like money off your first Airbnb use my personal code when booking!

Getting out the taxi we were immediately hit with an even more intense heat than we experienced in KL….bring back the wipes and no make up days….all part of travelling they say!

We were excited to get out and explore our new location so we ordered a Grab car to the Old Quarter (unless your accommodation is exactly in the Old Quarter then you cannot really walk into Hanoi centre as it’s not pedestrian friendly).

For dinner we decided again to try a place that all the locals seemed to like and we were not disappointed! We stumbled upon a restaurant called Bo Nuong for a BBQ style dinner that you cook yourself at the table! IT WAS AMAZING!!!! Do NOT wear your best dress…oil may splatter on you (you have been warned)! We also ordered the traditional Hanoi beer which made a very good combo.

After dinner we walked further into the centre which was cool because it had a real backpacker/touristy vibe. Although nothing was western about the seating arrangements….everywhere you went you sat either on the street or in a restaurant on these child sized plastic chairs!!! Good thing we were fairly small but good luck if you are 6’2! Despite the little chairs we managed to find a stall selling 20p beers and coconut ice cream with mango….so it was still a good night!

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Day 2

After breakfast we took a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake also known to the locals as  Hồ Hoàn Gươm which means Lake of The Returned Sword. Legend has it that Emperor Le Loi was on the lake when a Green Turtle God surfaced and asked for his magical sword. After the Emperor had fought off the Chinese he returned the sword back to the Green Turtle God.

Whilst around the lake make sure to visit the beautiful 18th century Ngoc Son

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As most of you know I’m a little Instagram obsessed right now but I think it’s such an easy way to find cool spots while travelling! So….after seeing this quirky cafe all over my feed for months we had to stop for a drink at The Note Coffee! I honestly don’t think I’ve been into a more aesthetically pleasing cafe it was just so damn cute. The staff were also lovely and were happy to give us tips of where else to visit during our stay in Hanoi which lead us to the best restaurant in town but more about that later!

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Order a speciality egg coffee, keep the note you were gifted and write one for the next visitor.

This was a good egg coffee in such a cute little place….BUT….. according to the locals the best egg coffee is done properly when there is a thick creamy topping with very bitter black coffee underneath. We were on a food tour and our guide stated that egg coffee is like love….”sweet at the start and bitter at the end”...I will leave you with that thought!

After consuming our speciality coffees we had the best time taking the classic touristy shots on the tracks at Hanoi Train Street. People are literally all over the tracks taking pictures…drinking coffee…socialising…it’s a cool place, go see for yourself!

For lunch we tried one of the places that the staff in The Note Coffee recommended for the best Bun Cha in town. It did not disappoint (despite the tiny chairs AGAIN)!! Bun Cha is another traditional dish in Vietnam and is essentially noodles in a broth with meatballs, pork and mint leaves served with salad. You will find the restaurant by googling Nha Hang Bun Cha Dac Kim, Xin Thong BAO (not sure if its the name…the street or both).

Like I mentioned briefly we went on a street food tour at night which we booked through Airbnb. It was AMAZING! The company was called Local Vietnam Tours and cost £21 (so worth it). Our guide Dung was super friendly and made sure that we all had a fantastic time sampling the best of Vietnamese cuisine.

Day 3

After speaking to our guide Dung on the food tour he convinced us to spend a day enjoying his hometown of Ninh Binh which used to be the ancient capital of Vietnam. We would definitely have missed out on something very special if we did not go on a tour here. We booked through the same company (Local Vietnam Tours) for £26 and the tour lasted all day and included lunch. What an incredible time we had on this tour but it was INTENSE! The drive to Ninh Binh was 3 hours from Hanoi and on the way to guide explained some more about the history of the Provence and our schedule for the day.

I have never been so exhausted as I was at the end of that day (don’t let this put you off it’s just a little warning). We started the day by taking a boat trip down the river then we went for a buffet lunch. After lunch it was all systems go again and we cycled (in 35 degrees heat with 1000000% humidity) around the rice fields before hiking up to some beautiful ancient temples. So yeah….it was a little tiring….and hot…very hot!

When we got back to Hanoi it wasn’t too late so we went around the Night Markets to pick up some authentic souvenirs such as handmade jewellery and bookmarks.

Day 4

You can’t visit Vietnam without visiting Ha Long Bay and that’s what we did on our fourth day! We booked the tour through Charming Vietnam Travel which we found on TripAdvisor….but you can book through their own website for cheaper (£27).

Translated Ha Long means “descending dragon” because the legend states that the at the beginning of the country’s history Emperor Jade sent a mother dragon to help fight off the invaders wanting to take over the country. Ha Long Bay is supposedly where the mother dragon descended to protect the Vietnamese from the invading ships and she liked the peaceful bay so much she decided to make it her home.

Being out on the water with the cruise you definitely get the sense of mystic and magic that this beautiful place holds. During the 1 day cruise you get a buffet lunch onboard, visit the caves within the limestone rocks and get the chance to kayak in the emerald green waters.

Overall we did enjoy this trip but it is every bit as busy and touristy as you would expect. In my personal opinion it is still a MUST DO!

Day 5

Wanting to squeeze in as much as we could during our time in Hanoi before our flight we still managed to fit in the Prison museum and grab one last Vietnamese iced coffee (bitter coffee with condensed milk).

Hanoi House Cafe

I hope you have enjoyed reading about what we got up to in Hanoi! As always, any questions/advice please contact me via wordpress, email, twitter or facebook using the links at the top of my blog homepage!

Stay tuned for the next post about Siem Reap and the temples!

Weekend in London – Day 1

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” (Samuel Johnson, 1777)

As you may of noticed from my Instagrams you will have seen that I spent my weekend in London. I’m sorry for the spam pics but London is soooo INSTAWORTHY, especially Covent Garden! I had been to London once before when I was younger so I had done the major attractions but not the “real London”. It was amazing this time to explore the city with my best friend because she could show me hidden gems, as she has lived in London previously.

Somehow all my salary ends up in EasyJet’s pocket…..this time it was to fly from Edinburgh to London Luton. I knew that all the airports were outside London centre anyway so it didn’t really matter which one I flew to and Luton was the best price. I started off my day with a croissant and chia latte from Cafe Nero (pre-flight ritual) and was in London before I knew it (1 hour flight). From the airport I had already pre-booked my bus transfer to get me towards my Airbnb in Canning Town through EasyBus. The bus was £10 per journey and took my to Baker Street station (40 minutes) where I could get a direct tube to Canning Town.

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By reading this you may think I was clued up on London transport prior to my arrival…that would be incorrect. I had already asked for transport advice from my lovely Airbnb hosts and they were more than happy to help! That is one of the aspects of Airbnb that I love most, the hosts local knowledge. This is my 5th Airbnb I have stayed in so far and I have been blown away by the friendliness of each one of the hosts! For my trip to London I booked myself into Amir and Helena’s home which was only 20 minutes from the centre and had everything I needed. Fresh towels were laid out upon arrival and I was able to have a flexible check in as there was a key safe – very convenient when arriving early!

Click here for £25 off your first stay! 

After unpacking I headed to the Temple area to start my Hidden London Tour with Fun London Tours. Danielle the tour guide was excellent, especially when she sang  the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme at St Clements Danes Church! I thought this tour was particularly cool because it showed you areas of the city that the average tourist wouldn’t pay attention to.

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Gringotts Bank in Harry Potter
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St Bride’s Church – Inspiration for the tiered wedding cake!
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Printing Press Mural – Magpie Alley

After walking around the Temple area I walked 15 minutes to Covent Garden to soak up the atmosphere with a cocktail in hand…

 

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Royal Blush at Tuttons

To be honest, London is NEVER EVER going to be cheap but it really wasn’t anymore expensive than Edinburgh. Obviously it depends where you go, but a cocktail in the centre of Covent Gardens ranged from £8-£13 which is pretty standard.

 

Covent Gardens is such a beautiful area in the Summer. It’s buzzing with street performers and dressed with gorgeous flower displays. I went a little Insta-mad here but it would just be rude not to make use of all the perfect picture opportunities….?!

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By late afternoon I thought it was time to visit all the touristy places that I knew Sophia wouldn’t want to spend time seeing! I walked along the Hungerford Bridge enjoying the London Skyline featuring the London Eye and Big Ben.  After taking a few different wannabe photographer angles of the London Eye I ventured over to take in the view across the River Thames.

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Hungerford Bridge
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London Eye
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View from the Hungerford Bridge

After spending some time chilling in my Airbnb (recovering from my 22,000 step day) Sophia and I took the tube to Canary Warf. Unlike the rest of London that is continuously hectic we headed to the business hub for a more relaxing evening. As Canary Warf is the home of glittery office skyscrapers it’s a lot more chilled after office hours end!

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It was just after 10pm and the Crossrail Place Roof Garden  caught our eye. Unfortunately the garden closed at 10pm and they were just locking up…after a little persuasion we were allowed in to explore by ourselves!

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Crossrail Place Roof Garden At Night

After our private garden experience we headed towards the Giant Robot, which is a rooftop bar filled with lots of cool street food stalls. I would definitely encourage you to check out out this cool place! Rooftop, DJ and burritos….what’s not to like?!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading about my first day in London…stay tuned for day 2!

 

 

 

HOW TO EAT AND DRINK YOUR WAY AROUND EDINBURGH

In this post I will let you in on my favourite spots to eat and drink in Edinburgh! I know I’ve written a post about my beautiful capital before…however this one is based on only my OWN recommendations!  Besides…my last post was a mix of sights to see, walks, bars and restaurants…now I am focusing on the priority. 

My Top 3 Restaurants

1. Howies

This restaurant is perfect for any occasion! I would say that the restaurant on Waterloo place is a more unusual building and better for larger groups, but the restaurant on Victoria Street is ideal for a more romantic atmosphere.

The menu here is excellent, it is extremely varied and it’s based on seasonal and local produce! If you haven’t already booked a table here this might make you confirm a booking….there is a lunch menu that will serve 2 courses for £11.95 and 3 for only £14.95….

I do like to change it up every time I go….but some things are just too good to change! Order the Cullin Skink Soup and the Hot Fudge Sundae for dessert…I’ll let you pick your main course…maybe.

2. Angels Share

I LOVE this restaurant! It is situated at the West End of Princes St on the ground floor of The Angels Share 4* Hotel. The decor is so glamorous I could definitely get some interior design tips walking through these doors  (hinting at the 5 chandeliers and mirrored walls)…..  30176418_1832686253418492_1375613239_o

It serves heartier than expected but still beautifully presented dishes with a Scottish twist.  I have only been here once (on St Valentine’s Day) but I still have dreams about the Red Velvet Cake…..Untitled design (2).jpg

 

3. Pizzeria 1926

Naples or Edinburgh?!

Step into your pizza eating dreams and immerse yourself in the BEST PIZZERIA IN EDINBURGH for a truly authentic experience! I am lucky enough to live with 3 Italian’s who insisted I check this place out….they know what a GOOD pizza should taste like!

This small restaurant is always packed so make sure you book a table! I would say this is the best pizza I’ve eaten outside of Italy and it’s so cheap!!!

*Top Fact* The name of the restaurant emerged from the love for the Naples Football team that was established in 1926 that the family support. 

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Top 3 Bars

1. 99 Hanover Street 

This is my favourite bar in Edinburgh! It is a great place for girls night or date night with the comfy seating, cool music and chilled atmosphere. I have been into this bar a fair few times and it has never been too busy to not get served quickly. The quick service definitely adds bonus points seeing as time standing around the bar (usually in heels) is not my ideal night!

Order the Elder-flower Edinburgh Gin! 

2. Badger & Co

This is a cosy bar located on Castle Street (just above Princes Street). There are so many reasons to visit this place! The Wind in the Willows decor runs through this bar and also appears in the cocktail menu adding to the whimsical experience.

In the Summer they usually open The Outdoor River Area (downstairs section) which is decked  out floor to ceiling, matching the theme of the whole bar! This area is covered enough that you wouldn’t get wet if it rained (happens once or twice in Scotland) but is still open if you want to catch a glimpse of the stars. If it’s not a warm Summer evening don’t worry you can still enjoy the outdoor area next to a flame heater!

In the Winter months the drink pictured below is a must try!

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Signature Whisky Hot Chocolate

3. Hoot The Redeemer

This bar is insane! It is owned by a company called Panda and Sons that are known to have the most unique bars dotted around the city. Even the entrance is unusual, it’s hidden behind an old looking door tucked away, next to Costa on Hanover Street.

As soon as you find the door and walk down the stairs it becomes a bar like no other…greeting you with “Hoot The Redeemer” himself. The bar is decorated to reflect a 1950’s New Orleans style carnival complete with an alcoholic ice cream machine (seriously thinking about buying one for the flat..)

In addition you can pick your cocktail flavours from the infamous claw machine so you can live out your childhood memories of wasting all your parents money. Only joking it will be your friends money….also if you don’t manage to grab anything just grab a bartender (they have a knack)…

THIS BAR GETS EXTREMELY BUSY SO GO EARLY ON WEEKENDS OR VISIT ON WEEKDAYS!

Top 3 Cafes

1. Procaffeination

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This cafe is a gem! It is situated just on the corner of the Royal Mile and is perfect for a healthy lunch stop. Take a seat in this tiny cafe and pick from a range of homemade organic foods and juices. The smoothies are my motivation for climbing up Arthur’s Seat!

2. Cafe Noir

This charming cafe is situated in a leafy area of Edinburgh, not far from Haymarket Station. It has so much on offer, the menu is crazy! Who knew there was such a thing as Pink Latte and Lavender and Vanilla Hot Chocolate but it’s definitely a thing here. This cafe is perfect for a chilled Sunday morning or if you want to bring your laptop and use the free wifi to study ( password = wedrinkitnoir).

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3. Hotel Chocolat

Hidden at the back of the Hotel Chocolat shop on Fredrick Street you will find a luxurious little cafe. Most people are not aware that this chocolatier actually has a cafe inside and they are totally missing out!

The menu highlights that they include a chocolate twist in everything they sell. All their products are made by various cocoa roasting techniques especially designed for the cafe. People pick the drink they would like such as a latte and decide if they would like it “adapted“. All the chocolatey additions are actually made from more cocoa and no syrups. This means less sugar = major win!

These are just a few of my favourite places in Edinburgh to indulge and enjoy! If I mentioned all the places I liked to eat/drink the blog post would turn into a novel so you are lucky I narrowed it down for you all….

I would love some recommendations for other cities to so feel free to leave them in the comments!!!

 

Getting Lost In Barcelona – Day 1

Before you read this post I just want to inform you all that this is my 2nd time to this wonderful city! Therefore this blog will show that this time I focused on some of the secondary sites, instead of the main ones, such as the magnificent Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

Barcelona is a city like no other, this European city has such an original vibe which makes the city come to life! With the laid back locals mixed in with the tourists, the oldy-worldy gothic quaters and of course the surreal Gaudi architecture makes this city unique.

To make it easier to read I will write 4 posts about my time in Barcelona!

Morning

We arrived in Barcelona at around 11am local time and quickly jumped in a taxi to our hotel which was called Hotel Onix Liceo.

We weren’t supposed to check in until 3pm but luckily our room was available when we arrived. The hotel was excellent. It was clean, modern, had friendly staff, was located just off Las Ramblas and had an outdoor pool. We only booked the hotel a few weeks before we departed and managed to get a good deal for this 4* hotel on Opodo.

After freshening up in our room we decided to dive straight into what Barcelona has to offer. We were really lucky to be in such a central location which made it an everyday occurrence to stroll down the famous street known as Las Ramblas. Our first destination we headed to was the area known as El Born which was home to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. This church was well worth a visit, we took part in the guided tour that took you up to the roof of the church. What a view from the inside and out!

We took the metro from the station closest to us which was Liceu and got off the metro at the stop Passeig de Gràcia. However we did have to change lines to get to our destination which was Jaume 1. The metro is a great way to get around the city. I would recommend buying a ticket that allows 10 journeys as it is only 9 euros.

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Afternoon

After our climb up to the roof we exited the church in search of some traditional tapas and we weren’t disappointed. If you are in the area make sure to visit Bubo for some tapas and cava sangria! This is definitely one to remember if you want tapas with an outstanding view.

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After you are finished your tapas lunch I would recommend spending some more time getting lost in the streets of El Born as there are some quirky bars and little boutique shops hiding in between the city walls.

When visiting Barcelona in August you will most definitely get hot and sticky so it’s important to drink plenty of fluids (sangria , water, cocktails 😉 ) in addition to seek shade for at least a couple of hours a day! We we would always head back to the hotel at around 4pm for a couple of hours to chill and get rejuvenated again before heading back out.

Night

As it was our first night in the city we opted to dine somewhere local just off Las Ramblas. However, you are spoilt for choice in this city as the number of restaurants available is astonishing! One thing to bare in mind though is obviously the nearer you get to Las Ramblas the more expensive the restaurant is likely to be! The restaurant we wondered into was called Julivert Meu which is a traditional family run restaurant. The restaurant stretches back further than you would expect and has a lovely tavern-like vibe.