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Off to Asia! Backpacking in 2008 vs. Luxury in 2014

The divine pool at the Samabe Resort in Bali

The divine pool at the Samabe Resort in Bali

         Back in 2008 I spent 4 great months backpacking around China and South-East Asia, learning, exploring, experimenting and making the most of my freedom during my Gap Year before university. 6 whole years later in 2014 I’m finally making a return trip to Asia!

         However this trip starting on Friday has some pretty substantial differences from my last one, which I think also demonstrate how much I myself have changed over the last six years. I’m fascinated by life-cycles and the evolution of a traveller throughout their lifetime, and I am no exception to the trends.

Here are some bedraggled photos from my trip around Asia back in 2008:

Preparation

This trip has been in the pipeline for seven months, since October 2013, and as every piece of the puzzle fits into place, I’ve progressively become more and more excited. We have flights, transfers, all accommodation & even some massages booked in advance. Back in 2008 we made the decision to travel only two months in advance, we booked an outbound flight to Shanghai and a return flight from Singapore 4 months later, and nothing else! It was all left to chance and while it was more flexible, we did sometimes end up stranded or staying in really awful places, which was all part of the backpacking experience. My 24-year-old self is far more organised and structured than my 18-year-old counterpart was, so I’m pleased we’ll have nothing to worry about on the actual trip as it’s all ready in advance.

Length

This trip to Asia is sadly just 17 days long (4 nights in Hong Kong and 10 in Bali, Indonesia) as my friend Imy and I both work and have a limited amount of annual leave. Whereas in 2008, without work commitments of any kind, we travelled continuously for 4 months = around 122 days!

Accommodation

Our accommodation in 2008 tended to be whatever we could find in our tattered copy of Lonely Planet’s South-East Asia on a Shoestring, and it often came complete with cockroaches, communal squat toilets, questionable roommates in hostel dorm rooms and air conditioning was positively out of the question. Our cheapest room, in the Four Thousands Islands in the south of Laos, cost us under $1 per night! 6 years later, with a higher set of standards, some actual income and a desire to really be spoilt while on our brief and hard-earned holiday (rather than simply surviving on the bare minimum for as long as possible) things are looking distinctly up-market on the accommodation front. Thanks to my travel writing and this blog, we’ve been invited to try out some truly luxurious hotels and stunning beachfront resorts. For example, the most expensive all-inclusive ocean front suite we’ll be staying in, at the divine Samabe resort in Bali, would normally cost $776 per night.

Here are the 6 gorgeous hotels who’ll be hosting us:

Hong Kong:

Nusa Dua, Bali:

Ubud, Bali:

Our hotels in Hong Kong were very kindly organised by the lovely people at luxury worldwide travel agency Holidays Please and our stay in Ubud has been organised by the iconic Design Hotels, a curated collection of over 260 independent luxury hotels. The photography & destinations on both of these websites are to die for and you could easily spend a few hours fantasising about your next luxury holiday just browsing them… I certainly have.

Transport

In 2008, apart from the two flights I already mentioned, we did the entire trip overland in sleeper trains, rickety buses and tuk tuks! That’s at least 2,777 miles as the crow flies from Beijing to Singapore (the two furthest apart cities we visited). We actually took a very circuitous route, zig-zagging across China and up through Cambodia and Laos, not to mention having to curve round the Thai peninsula, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the true figure were double that.

This time around we don’t have the luxury of time so we’re flying London to Hong Kong, then from Hong Kong to Bali, and back via Hong Kong again on the return trip to London. The best bit of news is that the price of our flights has actually gone down in comparison to 2008! Imy and I managed to take advantage of Cathay Pacific’s January Flight Sales, managing to get all four flights for under £600! Back in 2008, just two flights cost us that same amount. Cathay Pacific have also kindly upgraded us into Premium Economy, which will be a god-send on the long-haul journeys, and they have invited us to visit their lounge in London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, to start off our holiday in style! Had I ever attempted to enter an airline lounge back in 2008 in my tatty backpacker attire, rucksack in tow, I am sure I would have received a firm no! Now in my twenties I’m starting to appreciate what a welcome treat these airline lounges really are. (Here’s my review of our Cathay Pacific experience!)

Travelling Companion

Back in 2008 I travelled around Asia with my then boyfriend. It was a rather spontaneous decision, as we’d only been dating for 3 months when our flight took off! He was a brilliant guy to travel with though and I definitely felt safer for being with a man, but this time around I’m travelling to Asia with one of my best friends, Imy, who I’ve known for 12 years since we were at school together.

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I did visit Hong Kong on that first trip to Asia and absolutely adored it (it’s a city I’d love to live in for a while) but I’ve never been to Bali nor anywhere in Indonesia! Do you have tips for our trip??

I’m sure lots has changed in the past 6 years so I’m excited to see what Asia now looks like, and I will of course be taking plenty of photos and blogging about the trip as we go. Follow me on Instagram (@VStuartTaylor) for regular photos, and on Twitter (@VStuartTaylor) and my Facebook Page for updates!

6 Comments »

  1. Lucky you! And all that free gorgeous accommodation must make you feel all this blogging has been worth it! haha Even when I was a stingy backpacker, I always planned my trips – I just couldn’t be okay with just crossing my fingers and hoping to find a room, especially travelling during tourist season! Having said that I stayed in my fair share of unhygienic place, particularly in places like Vietnam and Morocco – I remember one hostel from hell was down a dirty alley (in Morocco), I found a dirty man’s sock in my bed and the showers barely worked. God – NEVER again! Have fun in Bali and Hong Kong even though I’m a lot closer to those countries than you I’ve never been to them, but they are on my bucket list!

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    • I’ve had to block from memory some of the more disgusting rooms I encountered on my last trip to Asia, although I suppose it’s all character building. I can’t spend my life wrapped up in cotton wool after all! But having already done the grubby backpacker route through SE Asia, I don’t feel guilty about going down the luxury route this time instead. And thank you very much!

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  2. I spent five months in SE Asia 10 years ago and would love to go back now and do it in a totally different style! It was definitely overnight buses, backpacks, cheap beers and cheaper rooms back then, it would be lovely to spend a bit more and see how the experience compares – though I do worry that some of the destinations I loved back then would’ve changed too much now.

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    • Mmm I agree, that is one worry I have about certain places. For instance, I spent such an amazing month in Cuba 7 years ago, but the country will inevitably modernise gradually so I doubt I’ll ever return, as it might ruin my memory of Cuba as it was back during my Gap Year. But it will be nice to avoid the cockroaches that ruled Hong Kong’s infamous Chungking Mansions back in 2008 – it was an experience to stay there but not one I’ll miss in the slightest!

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  3. It’s always interesting to return to a place after so many years. I’m sure a city like Hong Kong has especially changed a lot throughout the years. I’ve never been to Bali so I don’t have any advice there, but I can’t wait to follow the adventure once you go!

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