We couldn't go to Vietnam and not visit Ha Long Bay, could we? Toria and I opted for the Hideaway Tour as it had lots of daytime activities as well as really good reviews from other people we'd met whilst travelling. Now, if you've read my Hanoi post (linked here) you'll know that we had a bit of a messy night out the day before our trip. So, you'll be unsurprised to hear that we were feeling a little worse for wear when our alarm went off at 6am and we had to embark on our five hours of travel to the private island. We stopped halfway there and had a buffet lunch on the boat, did some boat jumping and swam in the sea.

Once we'd arrived on the island we were allocated our rooms. We were put in a room for eight with four other girls and as it turns out, we all got on really really well. That evening we had a buffet BBQ, which received some mixed reviews. I wasn't a massive fan of the food, but some of the other girls really loved it. That evening there was a really big thunderstorm, so we spent the evening hiding away and getting ready before heading to the bar for happy hour.

We woke up at about 8 the following morning ready for what was to be the most exhausting day of the entire trip. The day started with a boat ride, and then a cycle to the start of the jungle trek. Now, let me tell you, I have never sweated so much in my LIFE than I did on that bike ride. It was really hot and humid, which combined with a lot of uphill cycling, resulted in a lot of sweaty, hungover backpackers. Now, we'd been told by a girl we'd met at a hostel earlier on in the trip that the jungle trek was a bit of a breeze and nothing to worry about. SHE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.

The walk was an hour uphill through the jungle, climbing rocks and mud, in 30-degree heat. Now, I cannot even begin to tell you how many times the girls in my room and I wanted to give up and just head back down to the start. But, after quite a few rest breaks and pep talks between ourselves we made it to the top. Now, this was very anticlimactic. We were expecting really gorgeous, panoramic views and it's fair to say we were underwhelmed, particularly after all that effort. Alas, we had a quick rest at the top before heading back down on the descent.

We then had lunch on the boat, and a quick swim off the side, before heading back to the island. We had another chilled afternoon swimming in the sea before having our second buffet BBQ. We then got glammed up and ready for our second night of drinking on the island. It was far better than the last and involved alllll sorts of drinking games.

The following morning we were all feeling nothing but exhaustion... Perfect when a morning of kayaking is ahead, hey?  It was really good fun but oh so tiring. After this, we had our final meal before heading back to the boat to head back to the mainland. Overall, we had a really good time, but definitely needed a few days afterward to recover. Hideaway isn't for the fainthearted. If you're thinking of going, definitely do the 3-day tour - it's a long way to go for only one night and really is worth the money.
Tips for thrift shopping. How to find good pieces, be more sustainable and save money

In light of Stacey Dooley's documentary on fast fashion and its consequences, I have really been trying to think more about the impact my consumerism has on the planet. I mean, yes, I still love popping into Primark and eyeing up trend pieces, but less so at the expense of the environment, yanno. I think it's important that we all do our bit here and there because when added together, the impact could be huge. 

So, I've decided to start thrifting a bit more. I had a bit of a charity shop phase a few years ago but hadn't really been in one since. Well, fast forward to now and one of my best friends and I went for brunch and then did a charity shop tour of our local highstreet. Talk about rock and roll. I picked up four pieces that I absolutely love and paid less for all of them than I did my smoothie and berry compote pancakes the hour before, win-win. 

So, you've decided that you want in on this thrift shop, sustainable but inexpensive fashion malarkey... Here are three tips for thrifting:

- Set aside a large chunk of time 

There's no such thing as just popping into a charity shop for two minutes and walking away with a new outfit. It takes time, and patience, so is definitely not something to do in a rush when you've got 10 minutes left on your parking meter. In their very nature, they're all over the place and filled with random toot, so finding the hidden gold takes a long ol' while.

- Ignore the size labels 

I cannnnot stress this enough. For one, lots of the clothes have been worn lots and so hence have been washed lots and so have shrunk. The stripey tee I bought is labelled as a size 16 and is fairly snug on me (I'm an 8). Also, there are all sorts of brands in charity shops with all sorts of different sizing. What is an 8 in Primark is not always the same as an 8 in brands X, Y and Z. So, I would recommend just looking at all the rails and working out what might fit by eye. Most charity shops have changing rooms so just grab a load of stuff and try it on.

- Plan outfits in your head

Yes, the clothes might be cheap, but if you can't picture yourself wearing them as part of an outfit then it's definitely time to put them back down. Whilst shopping with my friend we made a real point of doing this, trying to come up with different outfit combos for potential buys. That £6 hot pink fur coat might be a nice statement piece, but if it's going to sit festering in your wardrobe for 12 months, then maybe leave it in the shop.

Do you ever go thrifting?
What's your favourite thing you've ever found?

Our bus to Hanoi from Tac Coc only took three hours, so, we grabbed our bags from the bus and headed to our hostel to check in feeling all sorts of peachy. We were shown to our room and had alllll sorts of conversations with the people in our room on things like Brexit, peadophiles, you know, the standard small talk (?!?). That evening we went for dinner with one of the girls we'd met from our room and decided to eat at the restaurant Obama's. Which, yes, is named in honour of Barack Obama... When in Hanoi, hey? Although, I just wanna say that the food there wasn't great at all and the staff were particularly rude, so maybe not one to add to the must-visit list.

That evening we went for cocktails at Beer Corner which was really good fun. I don't want to spoil it for anyone that is planning on going, but Beer Corner really is quite the experience. So, essentially the bars and restaurants aren't legally allowed to have tables and seats out on the road but still do it anyway. Every hour or so there'll be a huge mad panic as all the restaurant staff whip chairs from underneath people and fold up and throw tables inside just before the police make their visit. Then, as soon as they've left the vicinity, the furniture comes back out and the customers can sit back down to eat and drink. It's hilarious to watch and really is a domino effect.

The following morning we went on the free walking tour provided by the hostel. This was actually really enjoyable and the only walking tour we did the entire trip. Our guide was really friendly and knew everything there was to know about Hanoi. We were wandering for a good few hours and then finished with an egg coffee. Yep, you read that right. I personally don't like coffee, so settled for an egg hot chocolate instead, which, can I just say, tastes way better than it sounds. After this, a group of us from the walking tour all went for Banh Mi together at Banh Mi 25. I had the BBQ pork and would highly recommend - not quite sure it beats the one from Highland Coffe though, just saying.

We then trekked to train street (which was much further than we expected) and waited to see the train coming from HCMC pass through the very narrow residential street. This was quite the experience and another thing that was nothing like I'd ever seen before. That evening we had a Domino's for dinner - yep that's a thing - and then went on the club crawl being hosted by our sister hostel. This was actually really good fun, the drinks were cheap and it was just an all-round fun night. The following morning we had our Hideaway tour (more on that coming soon) and it's fair to say we weren't feeling fantastic.

After the trip, we had a few more days in Hanoi before flying to Laos, and decided to stay in the same hostel as before in the hope of getting some peace after the three day bender. That evening we had another Domino's which did not agree with us in the slightest. (Note to self: stick to the local food next time). The following morning we headed for full body massages - they were great. The in-between the toe rubbing, not so great.

We then hunted down a tattoo shop that we'd read was really good and Toria got her first tattoo. The staff were really friendly and it was done really well, so a win-win all round. Next up on our Ha Long Bay recovery, peace and tranquility, agenda was a manicure. We went and had gel nails done at a salon near the markets before heading for a bit of shopping. Dinner that night was at Little Vietnam and the food was INCREDIBLE. So delicious. I had black pepper pork and it was amazing!! We woke up leisurely the next morning, packed up our stuff before checking out of the hostel and heading for a final wander of Vietnam. We had our final Banh Mi at Highlands Coffee before taking a taxi to the airport.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Very busy and lots more to see and do compared to Ho Chi Minh City

THINGS TO DO 
- Train Street 
- Walking tour of the landmarks 
- Try egg coffee 
- See a water puppet show (which we didn't end up doing but is meant to be an 'experience')

TIPS AND ADVICE 
- Visit Beer Corner solely for the entertainment value
- Don't order a Domino's
- Plan a lazy day or two for after the Hideaway Tour if you choose to do it
- If you haven't already, have a Banh Mi at Highlands Coffee

WHERE I STAYED & REVIEW
Central Backpackers (original)
So, there are two Central Backpackers hostels in Hanoi and the original one (where we stayed) turned out to be the really quite (read: dead) one. There were hardly any people around and we were often the only ones down having breakfast in the morning. The other one, however, is the opposite. It was packed full of backpackers and even had a bar on the top floor complete with pub crawls, beer pong etc. That aside, the hostel itself was nice, the bathrooms were huge and the beds were comfy. It's also important to note that the Ha Long Bay tour we did was operated by the hostel, so this is why we chose to stay there.

HOW LONG TO STAY?
2/3 days - if you plan on going out, if not 1/2 will suffice.

I know I've been banging on about #ahomelychristmas quite a lot recently but I thought I'd create a place over here on my blog dedicated to it. In case you hadn't already heard, I've created my own hashtag over on Instagram for allllll things Christmas. It's a place for food, outfits, flatlays, decor, gift guides, the lot. There are already a handful of posts on the hashtag so if you're in the need for some Christmas inspo, that's a good place to start.

I'm going to be sharing some of my favourite posts on the tag over here in this post every few weeks, so definitely keep your eyes peeled. I'd really appreciate it if you could share this post (and the hashtag) so that we can make this the go-to place for bloggers' Christmas content. I have a few Christmas themed events to attend in the next few weeks as well as a trip to the Bath Christmas markets so you better be ready for allllll the Christmas content.

Our bus arrived in Tam Coc at about 5am so we just sat around in the lobby of a hotel which, fortunately, was open. When 6.30am rolled around we headed to our homestay as this was the time they opened. We weren't able to check in, but they did allow us to leave our bags in one of the dorm rooms and Toria had a nap. I headed out for breakfast on my own and sat in a cafe watching the world go by at such an early hour. During this time I discovered that pineapple jam is a thing and was blown away by how good it was.

Following this, we went for the famous boat ride through the limestone mountains and in the caves. Now, the interesting thing about these boat rides is they use their feet to steer and paddle the entire time. The boat ride lasted about 2 hours and was £6.50 each. The scenery really was stunning, and fortunately, we were early enough to miss the crowds so it was a really peaceful experience. As we were leaving there was just a constant stream of boats one behind the other, which sort of ruined the tranquility.

We then headed back to the room for a nap after our night on the bus and the early start. Can I just say how good it was to have a comfy bed AND A DUVET. I think this was the best nap of the entire trip. For lunch, we had vegetable noodles before hiring bikes and cycling to the Mua Caves viewpoint. Now, I was not prepared for what was ahead. 500 extremely steep, uneven steps. It's fair to say we took quite a few breaks on our ascent. But, when we got to the top, the view made it all worth it and more. There was even a wedding shoot happening at the top, with a bride in her gorgeous dress. Honestly, the things you see in Vietnam.

After making it back down safely we cycled to a nearby temple to have a look around. On the way home, we spotted a hostel in the middle of nowhere so stopped there to have a sprite to cool down. Whilst there, we met a couple of Aussies and ended up going for dinner with them. We went for an Indian, and let me tell you, the food was AMAZING. By far one of the best curries I've ever had. I had a chicken tikka and a garlic naan, incredible.

That evening we played pool in a bar and had a few drinks before heading to bed. The following day we woke up and had the free breakfast at the homestay. We then went for a wander and had smoothies, followed by lunch, and then boarded our minibus to Hanoi. The journey was only about 3 hours, so by far the easiest of the trip so far. The minibus itself was also really nice, so no complaints at all here.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Very quiet, but plenty of accommodation and restaurants 

THINGS TO DO 
- Boat Ride
- Mua Caves viewpoint
- Cycle to the temples

TIPS AND ADVICE 
- Do the boat ride as early as possible to avoid it being too busy
- Hire bicycles to see more of Tam Coc
- There's free/cheaper parking by the entrance of Mua Caves, don't be lured in by people at the beginning of the road telling you you need to park there

WHERE I STAYED & REVIEW
Ha Trang Guest House
If you're going to stay here, book a private room like we did. The bed was really really comfy and it was nice to have our own bathroom. It was fairly clean and the aircon was really good. Breakfast was included, and the stay overall was really well priced.

HOW LONG TO STAY?
1/2 days - there's not a lot to see and do

Just loooooook at this box - isn't it gorgeous?! Yes, I know it's only the beginning of November but I am so so ready for the festive season to begin. Now, I've posted about Birchbox and my opinions of the boxes I've received here, here and here, and on the whole, I've been fairly impressed! The theme for this month's box is Disney's new Christmas film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and I just can't get over the gorgeous packaging. Get ready to see it make many a feature over on my Instagram. (Sidenote, I have since created my own Christmassy hashtag; #ahomelychristmas and I'd love it if you could get on board). Anyway, onto this months products...

Manna Kadar Cosmetics Roller Shadow
Okay, so shall we just talk about how noughties this product is?!?! I think the last time I held a rollerball shadow was in 2006 getting ready for a school disco aka an evening of Gnarls Barkley Crazy and orange capri suns. Nonetheless, the shade is a beautiful warm copper and gives a lovely shimmer to the lid. It retails for £15 so isn't something I'd recommend rushing out to buy.

Paul & Joe Illuminating Foundation Primer
I don't usually use a primer, yep, I know I'm a bit of a fraud of a beauty blogger, but this is definitely something that I'm going to give a whirl over the festive period. It's really light, has an unoffensive scent and gives the skin a subtle yet dewy glow. It also claims to hydrate and firm - I'll report back to let you know if this is the case or not.

Polaar Polar Night Cream
This is a night cream that contains boreal algae (nope, I have no idea either) that acts to brighten and rejuvenate the skin. It also claims to smooth the skin and recharge it with oxygen (again, still no idea). I'll definitely be giving this product a full test purely out of curiosity more than anything... Algae?.. Oxygen recharging?..

Dr. PAWPAW Original Clear Balm 
Now, this is a product I've heard a lot about over the years over here in the blogosphere. It's apparently a bit of a miracle-working multi-use product which is going to be oh so handy as we roll into the colder months. I've been using the Nuxe lip balm for the longest time so I'm interested to see how this compares...

Spacemasks Self-Heating Eye Mask
A bit of a curve-ball, and something I didn't even know existed until I received it... It's an eye mask that contains jasmine and heats up when taken out of the packet. (So, I took mine out to take photos for this post and think I consequently ended up wasting it, so, unfortunately, won't be able to comment on this one!)

Overall, I really like this box and I'm really excited to give the Dr. PAWPAW balm and night cream a go! Of all of the products, the roller eyehsadow is by far my least favourite despite being a nice shade nonetheless...

Have you ever tried Birchbox?
Which is your favourite product from this box?
If you have clicked onto this post hoping to discover a comprehensive list of tips for finding the perfect student house then all I can do is apologize. The title of this post may almost certainly be 100% clickbait and spoiler alert: perfect student housing doesn't exist. But, now that you're here let me impart some of the little wisdom I have in this area, being in my final year of university. Also, if you'd like to have a look at my two previous student bedrooms you can see those here and here.

Choosing the perfect student house. Tips and tricks for avoiding mould and rats




There is no rush
Let me just repeat this one, there is no rush. During my first year we were absolutely terrified into choosing a house within the first few months amidst rumours that the houses would 'run out' and only the 'bad ones would be left'. Well, trust me, this is all artificial pressure from the estate agents. There are more than enough houses to go around, and alright ones at that.

Look for mould, everywhere
Student houses are mouldy, and some are significantly worse than others (my second year house for example). Take your time to look around for mould, the estate agent is hardly going to point it out for you. Our landlord last year bought us a dehumidifier but took it back after a few weeks, so that was the end of that, back to mould city for us.

Speak to the current tenants, alone
I think this is my biggest piece of advice of all and I cannot stress it enough. If you get the chance and there's somebody around, go and ask them what they think of the house. I did this at a few of the houses we were looking at and fortunately, this saved us from another crappy student house. Ask if there are any major issues and if the landlord is helpful if things go wrong!

Really think about who you want to live with
This one ties into the first one, but genuinely consider who you want to live with. Just because you lived with someone last year doesn't mean that you have to live with them again this year. And the same with coursemates, just because you sit in lectures together it doesn't mean you'd still be best buds after arguing about who left the skidmarks left in the toilet and the overflowing bins that need to be taken out.

Ask about what's included 
This seems like an obvious one but is something we forgot to do when we viewed our current house. We'd seen so many and asked so many questions that we just didn't think to ask about anything. So, guess who had to make porridge on the hob and forgo their cup of tea when they realized the house didn't come with a microwave or a kettle. (For reference, I know you can boil water on the hob, I just chose not to). So yeah, ask what comes with the house and what belongs to the current tenants...


Do you have any student housing horror stories?




Our bus left Hue at 1.30 in the afternoon meaning we arrived in Phong Nha at about 6.30pm. We checked into our hotel (it sounds fancier than it was, it was a hotel, but we were in an 8 bed shared room) and dumped our bags, then headed for dinner. There are quite a lot of restaurants on the main backpackers street in Phong Nha, but we settled on 'Bamboo' for our first meal there. It's an Eco Cafe, and was absolutely packed, so we took that as an indicator of how good the food was, and oh my, we were not disappointed. I had the chicken curry and it was AMAZING. It was one of the first meals in Vietnam I'd had where the chicken actually resembled and tasted like chicken. We then headed back for an early night having spent the majority of the day on a tiny minibus.


The next morning we woke up early, had breakfast at our hotel, and then headed to the lobby to wait for our bus to the caves. We'd booked a whole day tour through our hotel, and the day started with a trip to the 8 Ladies Cave and the memorial. This was really interesting and is part of most of the cave tour packages.

Following this, we drove to the next stop and climbed 700m worth of steps to the Paradise Cave. It was huuuuge, really cold (amazing after that sweaty climb) and beautiful. I've seen a few caves in my time but nothing that compares to that - it truly was stunning. If you're ever in Phong Nha, you HAVE to go and see it. Our trip included lunch, so we drove to the dark cave and were provided lunch there. This was the usual buffet style with all sorts of dishes to try. I opted for the veggie version and it was really tasty.  After this, we queued up for our harnesses and headed to the start of the zipline. At the Dark Cave, you take it in turns to zipline to the mouth of the cave. They take photos for you mid-air, which are freely available on their Facebook page the next day.

We then swam to the entrance to the cave, and realized just how necessary the head-torches were. It's not called the Dark Cave for nothing. We trekked through the cave until we reached the mud bath, which, can I just say was the weirdest sensation ever. When you're in the mud, you just float. I'm talking Dead Sea, floating without even trying kind of floating. We went down a natural mudslide and then headed back out of the cave to civilization. There were kayaks waiting for us, so we kayaked in pairs over to the water sports area. Here, there were swings, assault courses, the whole shebang. We then had a rum and coke before being driven back to the hostel in the minivan. All of the above was included in the price (£45), so I'd highly recommend the Cave tour if you're not on a tight budget.

That evening we had a night out - nope, we weren't expecting Phong Nha to have any nightlife either. But, it was good fun and we were surprised by just how many other backpackers were in Phong Nha too - you never see anyone in the daytime. We had drinks at the Easy Tiger Hostel and then headed to Andy's Disco Club.

The following day was a very relaxed one, spent in the pool and laying around in the sun. For lunch, we went and had an incredible pizza at Capture Vietnam. That evening we had dinner at Bamboo again and I had the chicken curry for a second time it was that good. We then waited for our night bus and saw our first proper Asia-style torrential rain, thankfully we were waiting inside. The bus arrived an hour late, was overbooked and had the WORST smelling toilet on board. Sleeper buses... You win some, you lose some.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Very very quiet but with restaurants as far as the eye can see.

THINGS TO DO 
- The Caves 

TIPS AND ADVICE 
- Look around for your cave trip, some are significantly more expensive than others
- Take plenty of bug spray, the caves are in the jungle

WHERE I STAYED & REVIEW
Heritage By Night Hotel

The pool was 100% what sold it to us. Being a hotel, the private rooms were of course significantly better than the hostel room, and I personally wouldn't choose to stay there again. It had a really weird vibe, the staff weren't very friendly and having been into a few of the other hostels, I wouldn't recommend it. 

HOW LONG TO STAY?
2 days - the cave trip takes an entire day, and with the bus timings 2 days is perfect