The Best of the Voyage: A One-Year Anniversary Commemoration (Part 1: Hostels)
Despite how often I think about traveling and my wonderful gypsy life, I completely forgot that August 26, 2013 was the one-year mark of the beginning of the Voyage. I’ve read countless blogs in which travelers have kept remarkably meticulous note of their adventures, and I wish I had done the same. But as I learnt this year, rarely anything goes accordingly to plan. Case in point: I am not in Europe right now, as my original plan would have indicated. At least I’ve learnt another lesson – things happen for a reason.
So here’s a list of things to commemorate the year of Voyaging! This isn’t a “top #” compilation, by any means, but just some random awesome things I pulled out of my brain at the time of writing.
Part 1: Hostels (August 29)
Part 2: Bars and Restaurants (August 30)
Part 3: Facts and Cities (August 31)
Part 4: Lessons (September 1)
Part 5: Useful Things to Pack (September 2)
Part 6: Things I Wish I’d Done (September 3)
Part 7: Memories, Stories, and Wisdom (September 4)
10 Best Hostels
- The Art Hole (Prague, Czech Republic) – I love the Art Hole so much that I originally booked for two days and ended up staying for eight. It’s located near the Old Town, within five minutes walking from both the Charles Bridge and the astronomical clock. There’s free breakfast and hot chocolate, tea, and coffee, plus comfortable beds and secure lockers. I spent a lot of time in the common area with ever-rotating cast of interesting guests, and befriended the staff (so much so that I ended up getting offered a job!). The Art Hole, and all the people there, made Prague a wonderful memory.
- Makuto (Granada, Spain) – ¡Me encanto Makuto! This was another situation in which I booked one night, intending to move into an AirBnB apartment for the remainder of my month in Granada, but ended up falling in love with the staff, the location, and the vibe so much that I instead stayed for two weeks. Makuto is positioned up in the mountains of the Albaícin, within five minutes of the Mirador de San Nicolás (one of the best views of the Alhambra) and the Calle de las Teterías (aptly named “the street of tea shops” and home of a ton of Middle-Eastern-inspired trinkets). There are tons of tapas bars around, but oftentimes the best party was at Makuto itself, relaxing in the hammocks and listening to the laughter of the friendly people who filtered through Makuto’s beautiful grounds.
- Deejai Backpackers (Chiang Mai, Thailand) – I stayed in Deejai for about ten days, but it felt like home after the first. Because they restricted internet to the large lobby, where drinks and food are also served, they created a cozy communal area that quickly developed friendships. Many of the people I spent the next month with were people I met at this hostel, actually. With an awesome backyard, featuring a pool table, bar, covered gazebo, and treehouse, Deejai will always hold a special place in my heart. (AC rooms were 150 baht – or $5 – and dorm rooms were 100 baht – or $3.30. What a steal!)
- 3Howw Hostel (Bangkok, Thailand) – Unsurprisingly, most of my awesome hostel experiences have been in Southeast Asia, considering I preferred to stay with friends or CouchSurf through Europe and the States. On top of that, I’m probably biased towards 3Howw – it was my first SEA hostel experience, and it was where I reunited with my boyfriend after an exhausting two and a half months of long distance. Despite all that, I believe that 3Howw deserves its praise; for $30 for a private room, complete with our own bathroom and extremely functional AC, it provided a wonderful respite from the craziness of Bangkok, and allowed us to leisurely acclimate. The staff was really friendly as well – when I arrived three hours before check-in, I was so tired from a red-eye flight that I fell asleep on the beanbag chairs in the common area. One of the staff woke me up, carried my backpack up four flights of stairs, and let me into my room early – they had sent the cleaning staff up early just so I could take a nap!
- Naga House (Kampot, Cambodia) – I’ve described Naga House at length in one of the following sections, but I can summarize that to say: Naga House put Kampot on the map for me. It’s located right on the river, with cute little bungalows, really amazing food, and a chill vibe that comes from the fact that most people end up extending their visits for many more days (or weeks, in the case of one Tasmanian) than they expected. It’s a really well-designed lounge spot, with an awesome staff that’s always down to hang out or take guests out on boat parties or motorcycle trips into the nearby Bokor Mountains. I miss the ease and leisure of Naga House – if I returned to Cambodia, Naga House would be destination #1!
- Siem Reap Hostel (Siem Reap, Cambodia) – The Siem Reap Hostel is surprisingly cheap for its amazing accommodation. A bed in a huge air-conditioned six-bed dorm, with its own ultra-clean bathroom and shower, is only $6 a night, and this includes access to the beautiful indoor pool. A private room, like what Jens and I sprung for our first night there, is $22, and is absolutely massive. The hostel offers a series of activities and massage packages (which we took advantage of), and has an awesome common area that is bookmarked by a full bar on one end and the pool, couches, and funny horse water toys on the other. It’s super centrally located and deserves its crazy fame – reservations are recommended, because this place fills up!
- Nat Resort (Part of SB Cabana) (Koh Tao, Thailand) – My favorite island, by far, with typical islander accommodation. When Chloe, Sam, and I disembarked the ferry and head towards Sairee Beach, we decided to just walk up and down the beachfront looking for something that looked clean and reasonably priced. Unfortunately, those two often did not coincide, and we almost settled twice on subpar accommodation. Thankfully, just before we agreed to a crappy room far from the beach and without its own bathroom, Sam found out that for 200 baht more (or $7), we could get our own bungalow. Chloe and I were pretty pumped about that, because our beautiful little home ended up having its own porch, drying line, and a place right amongst the garden. In two minutes, we could be at the beach, and for 800 baht (or $27) a day, we could have even slept one more person! Just goes to show: never settle for less.
- Seaside Bungalow (Koh Phangan, Thailand) – If you’re heading to Koh Phangan for the Full Moon Party, there are a few things you should know. First: there are several beaches on the island; Haad Rin East is the famous FMP beach, but a lot of people stay on Ban Kai or Ban Tai since accommodation closer to the party books up weeks in advance (and the remaining rooms are quite expensive). Second: any taxi ride, regardless of the length, will be about 100 baht. This means that you will be spending an extra 200 baht (or $7) for a round-trip ticket to any of the parties (the pre-parties are held closer to Ban Kai and Ban Tai, but they’re in the forests and hard to access otherwise). Third: most hostels require a three- to five-night minimum, which means the island population swells just around the party week.
After two nights in a miserable Ban Tai hostel, during which I was nearly sexually assaulted by a drunk neighbor who climbed over the balcony and into my “private” room (this happened my first night; the second night, I stayed out as long as possible at Sam and Chloe’s place down the road, thank goodness), I rented a scooter and drove down the windy road to Haad Rin, checking accommodation along the way. The first place I checked out, Seaside, ended up being more than perfect – it was right on the beach, with fancy private AC bungalows sleeping three people for only 800 baht (during FMP season, no less!), and a beautiful restaurant that served mouth-wateringly delicious food paired with cheap alcohol. Not only that, but the super friendly owners let me run a tab, as my annoying lost ATM card situation put me in a bit of a bind. More than that, they didn’t bat an eye when my friends pre-gamed, and ended up running around completely naked, in the restaurant. I don’t think you can book this place in advance, but it’s easy enough to find – just find The Coast Resort, and it’s one resort away in the direction of Ban Kai. Highly, highly recommended.
- Hai Long Vuong (Da Lat, Vietnam) – Da Lat was a reprieve from the miserably sticky hot climate we had dove into in SEA. After a long bus ride from Saigon, we found ourselves thankfully amidst the cool mountain air. The city is very quaint and quiet – they even have a free shuttle that picks passengers up from the bus stop and takes them to their hostels. Using the free wifi in the bus station, Jens found Hai Long Vuong. The funny, friendly owners not only called us a cab and gave the driver instructions to the only open restaurant at that hour, but made sure we had a business card so we wouldn’t get lost on the way back. Later, they hooked us up with a scooter, and when we decided on a whim to get some candy one day, they lent us their personal bike! The room was cozy and comfortable and clean, and with a refrigerator we were able to buy food to munch on over the next few days. I liked them so much that I’m friends with the wife on Facebook! No exaggeration: this place deserves all the recognition it can get.
- Sea Flower Bungalows (Koh Chang, Thailand) – This was the first “bungalow” experience of the trip, and it was absolutely magical. After a miserable commute from Bangkok to Koh Chang, the Belgiums, Jens, and I were keen for a comfortable reward. Following the advice of some random surfer types, we weaved our way to the Sea Flower Bungalows. While the Belgians opted for a basic, but comfortable, room with a porch leading out to the main path, Jens and I decided to “splurge” (i.e. $30) on a beachfront bungalow with AC. Though it didn’t come with a hot shower, the balmy air and the identical-temperature water made a cold shower feel pretty refreshing. We were within five minutes of everything we wanted to visit, but our bungalow was quiet and calm (with the exception of our neighbors, some loud Germans who played techno and beer pong most evenings). We accidentally fell asleep with the front door open one night, and thankfully nothing was stolen! We also ended up getting our first Thai massages of the trip (Jens’ first overall!) at the “parlor” on the water, and it is an total understatement to say that it was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life. For 300 baht, or $10, we got an hour-long oil massage and tea afterwards, with the waves serving as the soundtrack.