Sophie has just come back from a trip of a lifetime. Not only did she get to explore Thailand from top to bottom (in a whirlwind two weeks!) but she also got to sneak in a bit of time in the legendary Cambodia too. In typical RG fashion we quizzed her about everything she got up to, so if you're looking to explore Asia yourself this is a must read!
Sum your trip up in 10 words: Absolutely amazing! Exhausting, exciting, rewarding, beautiful – best trip ever!
Tell us where you went! – Where didn’t I go?! I did a whirlwind Thailand Experience, starting in Bangkok, then heading up to Sangkhlaburi (where you’ll do trekking and volunteering), back through Kanchanaburi before zooming down for a couple of days’ relaxation on Koh Phangan! I also spent a couple of days in Surin, visiting all of our amazing volunteering projects.
I then travelled to Cambodia for a quick holiday, spending a couple of days in Phnom Penh for the Killing Fields and the temples, before heading on an overnight bus to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat! I then headed back for a final night in Bangkok before my flight home.
Sangkhlaburi and temples galore
Biggest surprise? Sangkhlaburi! I expected to like it, but I was completely blown away by quite how amazing it was. It’s absolutely stunning, surrounded by mystical mountains, lakes and forest. It’s right on the Burmese border (you can drive around 20 minutes from the town where you’ll be staying to Three Pagodas Pass to go and see the border!), and there’s so much to see! The town is split into two (the Mon and the Thai side) joined over the lake by a big wooden bridge, and in the town is a 7-11, a couple of bars and restaurants. Occasionally, at the right time of year, if you choose Childcare for the volunteering on the Thailand Experience, you get to volunteer in a remote jungle community. I visited a couple, and they were absolutely stunning, and I can imagine the volunteering there would be incredibly rewarding.
Best meal? – Ooh, how do I choose? It would have to be between massaman curry in Sangkhlaburi, and Pad Thai (with pink noodles) in Koh Phangan!
What were the key differences between Thailand and Cambodia? Oh wow, both countries were very different. There were some similarities of course, but many more differences. Thailand is a lot more modern than Cambodia, with a lot more western influence (even in Sangkhlaburi which, while remote, did have a 7-11). To be honest, the different places in Thailand are so different to each other that it’s hard to compare to Cambodia in general, but that’s the main one I guess. Tuk-tuks are the way to travel in Cambodia, which is very cool (tuk-tuks in Thailand are aimed solely at tourists and tend to be expensive), and there’s a lot of history here. Thailand has more tourists than Cambodia, which is still more for backpackers at the moment. This means that there are less 5* hotels, and a lot more independent guesthouses and hostels in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, although you’ll find this in both Surin and Sangkhlaburi as well.
Both countries have amazing culture, food, scenery and people, but to really appreciate the differences you’ll have to visit them both and find out for yourself!
Sophie's new best mate Pai Lin and Angkor Wat - AMAZING
Did you meet any other Real Gappers whilst you were whizzing around? How were they finding their experience? I did – I met two Thailand Experience groups (one at the beginning of the trip in Bangkok, and one at the end in Koh Phangan), a Bangkok to Beaches group in Bangkok, and all our volunteers in Surin. Every single person I spoke to was having an absolutely amazing time, and couldn’t stop telling me all about their trip so far! The three main highlights were the bike tour in Bangkok, Sangkhlaburi as a whole, and of course beach parties in Koh Phangan!
The highlights of the volunteers in Surin were popping over the border to visit Cambodia, and working at the projects themselves, which they said were really rewarding. Also, the team in Surin are absolutely outstanding – Nam, the volunteer manager there – is super friendly, and will go out of her way to help you.
Did you have one of those moments you’ll never forget? Definitely. Driving into Sangkhlaburi through the mountains, feeding Pai Lin (an elephant) sugar cane in Surin and watching the sunset on Koh Phangan were all pretty special! The sunrise at Angkor Wat was amazing too!
Want to find out more? Check out our Thailand and Cambodia bonanza here.