Brunei is a tiny country located on the northern shore of the Island of Borneo. This small nation is surrounded by Malaysia’s Sarawak state and the south China sea. Brunei is one of the smallest nations on earth! It is also one of the richest, due to the countries natural gas and petroleum resources.
24 hours in Bandar Seri Begawan
We had two months off from University. We made a rough plan to visit Bangkok and then to travel from the North to the South of Vietnam, first arriving in Hanoi. There were four of us going on this backpacking adventure in South East Asia. Next step, we needed flights. Trying to find a good deal with stumbled upon Royal Brunei airways – who were offering a great deal from Melbourne to Bangkok! Perfect. This flight deal came with the option of a stop over in Brunei….I had never heard of this country until this moment. We quickly looked it up and saw that we could also visit other parts of the magical island of Borneo, so we decided to book with this airline, and add Borneo to our travel plans.
We departed Melbourne and flew about six hours to arrive in Brunei. Flying with Royal Brunei airlines was a great experience overall. When we fist arrived, we took a connecting flight to Kota Kinabalu located in the Malaysian part of Borneo. We spent four days in Kota Kinabalu, before heading to Bandar Seri Begawan. We had 24 hours to explore the capital of Brunei before flying to Bangkok.
We spent the day wandering around the capital of Brunei. We found the Royal Regalia Museum and looked around the museum for a good portion of the morning. A nice relief from the heat. The museum is a tribute to the Sultan, it was an interesting museum to explore.
The afternoon was spent exploring the markets and the pretty water front. The Tamu Kianggeh market was a highlight, so vibrant and filled with energy. Strolling the promenade was nice, I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. Late afternoon, we were all quite hot and bothered…due to carrying our luggage around all day, and from being hangover. So we tried to find accommodation for the night. Being so late in the afternoon and having no internet access. This didn’t work out so well. In the end we decided to have dinner and then visit the impressive Sultan Abdul Samad building. This is a must see and looks so spectacular during the night with the city lights. After this we heading to the airport and spent the night there before flying to Bangkok early the next morning.
Kuala Lumpur, also referred to as KL by the locals is the capital and largest city of Malaysia. Located close to the center of peninsular Malaysia in the Selangor state. The name Kuala Lumpur translates to “muddy confluence” and the city is called this, as it is located at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers!
Kuala Lumpur was once a small Chinese village, with the locals working within the tin mining industry. The city has come a long way from this once sleepy village. The city is described as being the cultural hub of Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is a cultural melting point, the mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian communities brings this city to life. The city is vibrant and full of energy. From modern skyscrapers to ancient temples, the mix of old and new is impressive. From the sights in and around the city, the modern shopping options and dinning experiences. Kuala Lumper is a great city to explore for short stays or even for a stopover.
Five days in KL
We had just spent two and a half weeks exploring parts of Thailand; Phuket, Phi Phi Island and Bangkok and we had the chance to explore a new country before flying to London for the beginning of an eight month work and travel experience in Europe.
We stayed at a guest house in the Bukit Bintang district, the ‘trendy’ area of the city. The Bukit Bintang area is well known for its shopping and entertainment. From fancy shopping centers/malls to night markets. The nightlife is also happening here, with many cafes, restaurants and bar options. Popular among the local youth and tourists, this is probably the best area to stay in for a first time visit to Kuala Lumpur.
Five days was enough time to explore the city and see most of the sights, we were also able to enjoy two day trips from the city.
Highlights and must sees
The Petronas towers
The most famous landmark in Kuala Lumpur. These towers are very impressive, both from the ground and from the top! Standing at 451.9 meters tall and with 88 stories. These towers were once the tallest buildings in the world, from 1998 to 2004. They still remain the tallest twin towers in the world.
Kuala Lumpur bird park
A great way to escape the heat and humidity of the city is by exploring this eco tourism park! The worlds largest free flight walk in aviary, I was very impressed.
Perdana botanical garden
A nature sanctuary in the city, another option to try and escape the heat! This makes for the perfect early morning or late afternoon walk.
Kuala Lumpur butterfly garden
This park is so impressive, walking around lush gardens in amongst 6,000 butterflies! Show casing 120 species.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Impressive architecture and represents a historical landmark of the city.
Menara KL tower
Another well known landmark of the city. Sitting at 421 meters tall, this tower offers impressive views of the city.
Vibrant and filled with energy. The perfect place for bargain hunt shopping and to enjoy the nightlife.
A strip representing the city’s local cuisine. The perfect place to explore the various food options.
Day trips from Kuala Lumpur
A limestone hill over 400 millions year old, containing three caves and a series of cave temples. Batu caves is a place for hindu festivals and pilgrimages. This place is well worth a visit. We took a train from the Kuala Lumpur central station and travelled for approximately 17 km, north of the city to the Batu caves train terminal. A very easy and affordable (50 us cents) journey.
When you arrive, the first sight is the impressive statue of the Hindu God. After climbing the steep staircase you can enter the caves and explore. The limestone formations are impressive and I also enjoyed watching the cheeky monkeys.
Kanching rainforest waterfalls
A refreshing break from the heat of KL, we took a local bus from the Kuala Lumpur central market bus terminal to the Kanching rainforest waterfalls. The falls are located inside a forest reserve. It was nice to walk through this park, and a great hiking experience to see the waterfalls. A couple of the waterfalls had a pool large enough to swim in. Many monkeys occupy the area, I know that they are a nuisance for some people, they are not for me. I was disappointed to see the amount of rubbish people left in this beautiful place. Remember, if you’re traveling, don’t leave your mark and take only memories.
I enjoyed my time exploring the city of Kuala Lumpur and the nearby areas. Hopefully one day I can return and explore more of Malaysia!
Nine dragon river delta
The Mekong delta is located in southern Vietnam, a four hour drive (196.5km / 121 miles) south of Saigon. The area covers 40,500 square kilometers (15,600 square miles) of southwestern Vietnam. Incredible. Extending south and west from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City to the gulf of Thailand and also to the border of Cambodia. The Mekong delta is a low laying plain, only three meters above sea level, and contains a maze of canals and rivers.
The Mekong delta is described as the food bowl of Vietnam. The agricultural importance is huge. The delta is able to produce more than a third of the countrys’ annual food crop! As, approximately 10,000 square kilometers of the Mekong delta is under rice cultivation. In addition to rice, the ecological diversity found here can also produce other crops/food. Not only does the Mekong delta provide food to the people of Vietnam, this area is also one of major rice-growing regions of the world.
The biodiversity found here is incredible, from rice paddies, dense jungle to mangrove swamps. Home to not only people, but over 1,000 animals species can be found here and not to mention the rich plant life. With such rich diversity, the Mekong delta is also under threat from climate change and over exploitation. Environmental protection is required to protect this amazing region and its inhabitants.
Two day, one night tour
As we were based in Ho Chi Minh City we decided to take a tour to visit the ecologically impressive Mekong Delta. The Mekong river is one of the most impressive rivers in the world. The Mekong river is the 12th largest river in the World, the 7th largest in Asia and the largest river in southeast Asia. The river flows from the Tibetan Plateau to the southeast through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, finally flowing out to the south China sea.
We departed Ho Chin Minh City by mini van and drove for two and hours, arriving at My Tho, the gateway to the Mekong delta. Our guide was very informative, telling us about the local region. At My Tho we boarded a boat to take a cruise around the Mekong delta. We stopped at an island, where we departed the boat to walk around the lush gardens and sample some of the local fruit, so delicious and refreshing. Next stop, a local coconut candy factory, here we tried samples and learnt about the local industries from the people who lived in the nearby villages.
After lunch from a local restaurant, we transferred into small rowboats, and rowed through narrow canals of the delta. This was an incredible and surreal experience. After this, we transferred back onto the bigger wooden boat and sailed to My Tho, here we continued on to Can Tho by mini van. In Can Tho we stayed at a hotel for the night. Can Tho is a city based on the southern bank of the Hau River, we had time to explore the city before and after dinner.
We woke up in Can Tho and had an early breakfast, before boarding another boat for a 40 minute journey to reach the impressive Cai Rang floating market. This is the largest floating market in the Mekong Delta. Floating markets are so amazing to see in person. We continued on to visit a noodle and rice paper factory learning about this trade. Then it was back to Can Tho for lunch! After lunch to was time to head back to Ho Chi Minh City.
The Mekong delta is a really fascinating place, the biological diversity is incredible and meeting the local people who live and work here was so rewarding. A must see.
Hoi An ancient town
The old town of Hoi An is a well preserved example of an old port. During the 15th to the 19th century, Hoi An was an major trading port. Hoi An has over 2,000 years of history. Hoi An was also a principal port of the Cham kingdom. This kingdom controlled the spice trade with Indonesia from the 7th to the 10th century. As a result the culture and history of Hoi An is strongly influenced by the Cham people. The second major influence of this charming town is from the Chinese. The buildings represent a unique blend of style from both foreign and local influencers. Hoi An old town is listed as UNESCO world heritage site and is well worth a visit. The old town is so charming to walk around and to explore the rich history. The greenery that is covering the ruins is also so impressive, and makes the place so much more magical.
Hoi An is located in central Vietnam, in the Quang Nam province. This area is a popular tourist attraction. People visit to see the charm of the old city and to relax at the beaches nearby. From Hue we travelled by bus for three hours to Hoi An, we stayed at a hostel at a nearby beach.
An bang beach
As we were craving the sun and beach, we decided that we would stay at a beach close to the old town of Hoi An. We stayed at a backpackers hostel along the An Bang beach.The hostel was great and we met up with some other backpackers, and enjoyed the nightlife with them. Hoi An old town was easily accessible from this beach town, so we were able to make the most of visiting the ancient ruins and enjoying some time in the sun. You can also catch a glimpse of the Cham Islands from the beach!
Next stop on our backpacking journey through Vietnam is further South, the coastal resort city Nha Trang
With the extreme beauty and dramatic landscape, it is easy to see why SaPa is said to be the tourism center of the northwest of Vietnam. Our visit to this gorgeous place, left me in awe. SaPa is an absolute dream to explore.
SaPa is 380km (236miles) northwest of Hanoi, located in the Lao Cai district and close to the border of China. The town of SaPa is described as a quiet mountain town and home to a diverse range of ethnic minority groups. There is a great connection between the people of SaPa and their surrounding land. The town of SaPa sits at an elevation of 1500 meters. The region is dominated by the Hoang Lien Son range of mountains. Within this range, the highest mountain of Vietnam, Fan Si Pan is located here, at 3143m above sea level! Very impressive. The Hoang Lien Son mountain range, is the eastern extremity of the Himalayas, so amazing.
SaPa is home to a unique place of biological diversity, as the geological location and climate is able to support a great range of fauna and flora. Some of which is only found in the north west of Vietnam! Due to the high biological importance, the Hoang Lien nature reserve was made into a national park, the park includes the majority of the mountain range to the immediate south of SaPa. The beautiful souls of the people in SaPa and the natural beauty of SaPa made this travel experience so special. SaPa is a highlight of my travel adventures.
As we were based in Hanoi, we took a two night, three day tour of this magical location. Plus, two nights traveling to and from Hanoi. We were picked up from our guest house in Hanoi and transferred to the Hanoi rail station, where we boarded the overnight train to SaPa. Now, I have to admit this train journey was terrifying! Our cabin was fine, as we were traveling in a group of four, we were placed in a four bed (two bunkbeds) wooden cabin with air conditioning. We had brought some snacks and drinks to enjoy the train journey, however I had to stop drinking due to the constant violent rocking and loud screeching of the train, which made me afraid and the fact that I couldn’t see where we were going made this even worse. This fear was irrational, no one else in the group was scared (there was no need to be) the train was perfectly safe! Anyway, I did not get much sleep and was so happy when we arrived at the Lao Cai train station.
Trekking the rice terraces
From the Lao Cai train station we were taken by mini bus to SaPa ( a 5o minute drive). Once we arrived at the town we were able to take showers before sitting down to breakfast. After breakfast, we began our trek from SaPa town. The views at the beginning of our trek was already so incredible, but continued to become more breathtaking the further we went into the mountains.
Our local guide, took us south east of SaPa, along the side of the Munong valley to the Y Linh Ho village of the black H’Mong. This section of the trek took us to lunch time, here we enjoyed a lunch with a local family, made by them. After lunch, we continued on our trekking adventure through the terraced rice fields. The sights during our trek were spectacular. Late afternoon we arrived at the Ta Van village of the Dzay people.
For night two, we were warmly welcomed by a family of the Dzay people in the Ta Van village for an overnight stay at their place. For the night we stayed at their traditional wooden house and we all shared stories about our lives, learning from each other. We learnt from them about the daily life in this pretty village, and their family traditions. We shared a great meal with the family, there was a lot of talking and laughter. After dinner, their children were put to bed and we all stayed up playing board games and drinking rice liquor, the laughter continued well into the night. This was a really enjoyable experience! This was my first homestay and I would do one again.
Waking up the next day to mountains views was so dreamy. The Ta Van village is absolutely stunning.
Waterfalls and bamboo forests
We left the Ta Van village and continued on, trekking down to the south-west of SaPa to visit two more villages. The first part of this journey, was trekking through some gorgeous bamboo forests. After the bamboo forests we reached the Thac Bac- silver waterfall, the view was so majestic. The water falls down from a height of more than 100 meters. Next, we walked over the suspension ratten bridge! We then reached the Giang Ta Chai village where we met some of the red Dzao people.
After the Ta Chai village we crossed the Muong river up the mountain to visit our last village. This was the Supan village of the H’Mong. We connected with more local people before finishing our amazing two day trekking journey! From here, a mini bus took us back to the main village of SaPa.
When we arrived in SaPa we were able to check into our hotel, and have the night to explore this charming place. The architecture of the buildings is so stunning and exploring the local stores and markets is a treat.
The next morning, we met up with another local guide who took us for a short walk downhill to visit the beautiful orchid gardens and pine forests. Next, we stopped by the small village of Suoi Ho. We continued our journey, trekking through rice paddy fields looking out to spectacular mountain scenery on our way to Ma Tra. Another great day of exploring before taking the bus to the Lao Cai train station to take the dreaded overnight train back to Hanoi!
Trekking through SaPa is a must do, if visiting Vietnam.
Bay of descending dragons
The famous Ha Long bay is an absolute dream. A UNESCO world heritage site and often included in lists declaring the natural wonders of the world. Sailing through this bay is a must do. Ha Long translates to the “bay of descending dragons” – the bay is located in the gulf of Tonkin and consists of thousands of monolithic islands rising from the ocean and topped with dense vegetation.
Ha Long bay is located 170km (105 miles) east of Hanoi in the Quang Ninh province. The Bay is of great biological interest and was really fascinating to see in person, especially for someone who has studied Wildlife Biology and Conservation and as true nature lover. Ha Long is an area of 1,553 km2 which is mostly uninhabited and unaffected by humans – and it needs to remain this way to preserve this magnificent beauty. The bay consists of 1,600 limestone monolithic islands, which have gone through 500 million years of formation! The evolution of the karst has changed via the impact of the tropical wet climate, very impressive!
Three day tour
We joined a small cruise for a tour of Ha Long bay – there was 12 of us for a 3 day, 2 night tour. We departed from Hanoi in a mini bus. The first day was spent sailing through the breathtaking bay, our first glimpse into this beauty. When we boarded our ship, lunch was ready to be served, a full Vietnamese buffet. After lunch, the ship arrived at the gorgeous Sung Snot Cave, we were able to get out and explore. This cave is one of the largest in Ha Long bay. Walking through the cave was incredible, and we were also exposed to some amazing views looking out at Ha Long Bay from inside the cave! So incredible.
After exploring the cave, our ship continued on, sailing past the the amazing limestone monolithic islands, so much beauty to take in and try to capture on camera. Later on in the afternoon, our ship docked for the night. Here we were able to take kayaks out and kayak through the bay, this was amazing. Our night was spent on the cruise ship, where we enjoyed another Vietnamese buffet, we were able to jump off the ship and swim around our area and later on had drinks on the top deck of the ship. The rooms were small and each had their own bathroom, I found sleeping on a ship for the night to be quite relaxing and charming.
The next morning, the ship set sail and continued on through the stunning bay. After lunch, we were able to get off the ship and explore Monkey Island, here you can swim at two beaches and take a hike up the mountain for some great views! And yes, you do get to see monkeys! The afternoon was very enjoyable. Next, we moved on to our beach bungalow for the night. I loved our accommodation, the Island we stayed on was tiny, so it felt like a nice getaway and the bungalows were gorgeous. Here we met some other backpackers, and enjoyed a meal and drinks with them. The next day was spent sailing back through Ha Long Bay, then to our mini bus to return to Hanoi. This trip was amazing and extremely memorable. A highlight of my travels.
Tam Coc located in the Ninh Binh province, is located 100Km (62 miles) south of Hanoi and 5km (3 miles) from the centre of the Ninh Binh town. This place is breathtaking. The landscape consists of limestone outcrops and rices paddies along the Ngo Dong River. Tam Coc is essentially a flooded karst system, with three long tunnel caves eroded by limestone hills. These three natural caves are named Hang Cam, Hang Gialla and Hang Chateau. Often referred to as the Ha Long bay on land! A trip to this natural beauty, will have you row boating along the charming and peaceful Tam Coc system, rowing past rice paddy fields and into the mouths of the caves! Inside the mouth of a cave you will witness the gorgeous stalactites and stalagmite formations. It is easy to see why Tam Coc is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
As we were based in Hanoi, we chose the option of taking a one day tour to Tam Coc. Our tour was with about eight other people, we departed Hanoi in a mini bus. Our first stop was at the Hoa Lu ancient capital, here we were able to visit King Dinh and King Le’s Temples. Hoa Lu was the capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries, so it was really interesting to see this historic location.
Next stop, the Tam Coc wharf were a Vietnamese buffet lunch was part of the agenda. After lunch, we rowed through the gorgeous Ngo Dong river, also referred to as the green sea! I was in awe of the incredible scenery. The views are stunning. Seeing these formations was one of my highlights from the whole trip to Vietnam.
After the sailing tour, we were able to bike ride around the village before departing for Hanoi. The biking tour was fun, as we rode past the rice paddies and were able to see the local area.
A day trip from Bangkok
Ayutthaya lies 80 km north of Bangkok and makes for the perfect day trip (or longer) from the busy city. The history of this place is spectacular. The historic city of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and was the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam. The city was attacked by the Burmese in 1767 and burned to the ground. The city was never restored and is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage area. The Ayutthaya historical park is an archaeological site, which contains the remains of historic statues, Buddhist temples, monasteries and palaces. Visiting Ayutthaya was a highlight of our travels to Thailand.
There are various ways to commute to Ayutthaya from Bangkok.
- Car/taxi service
- Boat – For a boat trip, you will need to book in advance. This method of transportation would also be for a longer trip, as it will take at least a day to arrive!
We chose to take the train service. This seemed to be the easiest and most cost effective. The train departs from Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station, and provides a scenic route. The journey will take anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours depending on the service. The cost of a second class ticket (a carriage with A/C) will range from 245 – 345 Thai baht ( $7-$11 USD). The cost of a third class ticket ranges from 15-20 Thai baht ( 50 – 65 US cents). I found the train ride to and from Bangkok, to be relaxing and a nice break from the hectic city.
There are various modes of transportation to take you around the historical park.
- mini bus
We chose to rent bicycles for the day, to ride around the historical park on our own self guided tour. Renting a bike will cost you 40-50 Thai Baht ($1.30-$1.60 USD) for the day. It was easy to find places to rent bikes, pick up a map of the park and get going! We felt this was the best way to see this historic city, and we were not disappointed. The ride was easy and we were able to explore a lot of ground, cycling between the ruins and taking in the beautiful sights. If we had been there for at least another day, I think a boat journey around Ayutthaya would have been worthwhile. Overall a trip to visit this historic park is recommended, being surrounded by the city’s history was an extremely fulfilling travel experience.