Paradise is Koh Kut, Thailand.

 Where Koh Kut isn’t white sand beach, it is thick lush jungle. There is only one ATM, and only one main road running north to south. When you’re riding down that wide stretch on the back of a motorbike, the serenity and bliss makes the twenty four hours of travel to get there more than worth it.

It doesn’t have to take twenty four hours. Koh Kut is a five hour bus from Bangkok, with a two hour ferry from Trat. Gluttons for punishment, we started in Luang Prabang, Laos. We flew to Krabi, with a stop in Kuala Lumpur. We were heading for the Andaman Coast beaches, but nature was not on our side and we didn’t want to risk joining the casualties of the floods. Krabi’s skies were dry but moody, and the town itself didn’t speak to me a lot. 

Yes, that’s a monkey

We had a recommendation for Koh Kut – or Koh Kood as it is also known – and Travelfish declared it their favourite Thai island. We were sold. On the 19th we boarded our very first twelve hour sleeper bus to Bangkok. 

It dropped us in the inexplicable Khao San Road. This is Bangkok’s infamous, maybe even notorious, backpacker and hedonist paradise. It was six in the morning, and I still managed to see a middle aged drunk European staggering back to his house with three African girls. Old ladies mingled with drunk dreadlocked hippies, monks collecting alms, stoned men bartering with sex workers who were heading home, and taxi touts with no teeth refused to use their meter. In the few hours I was there, I saw more rats than I had ever seen in my life. We bagged the last seats on a transfer bus to Koh Kut, and waited in the travel agency which, we discovered, doubled as a guesthouse and a brothel.

The bus was an easy ride, with the Boomsiri Ferry and guesthouse transfer included for 900 baht (I think usually it is 850 but we hadn’t the strength to argue over less than £2). We were weary of travel however, and anxious to get settled in our hostel. It further agitated things when the guesthouse couldn’t find our booking, could only offer one bed in a dorm for £6, or a tent. Since we had private rooms for less, we opted for a tent. It took a day for me to stop making the “sex whilst camping” joke. It’s fucking intents.

Agitated as I was, I wanted to walk to the nearby beach. What I didn’t realise was this island is jungle and beach. There are no lit paths to the beaches. The sun was setting fast and we were heading into jungle. The fireflies came out and we had seconds before there was no light at all. The bushes were rattling with animals, my phone battery was draining quickly and my “near death experience” sensors were screeching. We arrived at the beach in darkness.

On the way back we took a main road. There still were no lights, and the rain came, bringing distant lightning. That’s it, I thought. This is how I die. I should have chosen the Gold travel insurance package. My niece would be set for life.

I didn’t die. 

In the morning, we hired a motorbike for two days, opened Maps.Me and headed out onto the road. My mind was geared towards the pristine beaches, but Alessio wanted to scour the three waterfalls.

His favourite was Khlong Chao, where he  spent an hour “improving” the rope swing.

He also loved Huang Num Keaw waterfall, where we climbed under the cascades and showered in the waterfall together.

On the way, there is also the spectacular Macca Tree, a large tree with sprawling roots. People leave tributes at the tree due to its age and size.

The final waterfall was a little bit quieter and less fun for us – Khlong Yai Kee

We fit the beaches, villages and meals in between exploring the waterfalls. We saw many many beaches, but our favourites were:

In the far north-west, we parked the bike and walked ten or fifteen minutes along a path through thick, littered palm tree forest. The sound of the sea became closer, until we found ourselves alone, here.

Alone. Not even a barking dog.

We also lovedstrip of coast just west of Huang Num Keaw Waterfall, where there’s a small fishing village.

A lady lovingly made me a crushed ice lemon juice by pointing at the limes, smashing some ice and blending it all with sugar and water.

And finally, Ao Phrao beach down south, where we watched the sun set.

A loving special mention goes to Haad Taphao, where we ate good food pretty cheaply (fried garlic pork and shrimp dumplings) at the Seafar resort.

After the sunset, we retired to the guesthouse bar for their reggae covers of pop songs.

For our second day, we headed out on the bike to Ban Ao Yai, a small and friendly fishing village. The fish is so freshly caught it swims alive in small bathtubs in front of the restaurants.

Nearby is Ao Khlong Hin, a very beautiful and quiet beach.

We took a big lunch at the Italian owned restaurant, since we always seem to navigate to one. Also Lombardese owned, the owner is friendly, funny and the food is amazing. 

Thailandia o Roma?

Opposite is also a tiny petrol stop, where a lady has a tiny stall making coffee with tiny Italian moka pots. There’s a tiny milk jug, tiny sugar pots and tiny cacti to accompany it.
It’s like we travelled so far only to return to Italy!

Our final stop was the Tinkerbell resort, known for its horizontal palms.

We only rented the bike for two days, so our final day was spent on foot. We walked through the jungle path that so frightened me on the first night, beautiful and full of butterflies in the light of day. It took us to Bang Bao beach, which is well-recommended but I didn’t love it like the others. Especially after a shit time at the nearby resort restaurant.

Our aim was to snorkel, and you can rent a mask and snorkel from a number of places along the beach. We hired a snorkel from the resort, 100 baht plus a passport or 400 baht deposit if you aren’t a guest, and took it in turns to dive into the waters. It was so amazing to see who much life was swimming around us!

The only thing that began to bother us is that a lot of the beaches were sectioned off into private spaces for resorts, some beaches entirely private but understood the wish to protect the island from the mass tourism that has transformed some other islands. Another problem some people had was the rarity of taxis meant that the only way to get around was by motorbike. If you don’t ride, the walks are long. If you do, or like me, you have a driver then the roads are such fun to ride! It is hilly, so ensure you’re experienced enough.

It feels like a honeymooner island, which as a couple is great. There are also a small amount families, and a handful of young solo travellers or backpackers. The island has a great chilled feel, but it’s not the place for a loud crazy party, heavy drinking or a nightlife scene.

 I hope it stays like that. The calmness, cleanness and peace really makes the island so magical. There are no hawkers or hassling, and the pace of life is slowed right down. For a peaceful, beautiful and friendly small beach island, Koh Kut is the prime option.


My Pilgrimage to the Unicorn Café. 🦄

My best friend is queen of everything unicorn. It was probably the first thing I learned about her, and if she gathered all her unicorn accessories together and made a shrine, took a picture and put it online it would go viral. It’s that deep.

So when the Unicorn Cafe blew up on my newsfeed six months ago, I tagged Brooke, thinking it would be in Tokyo, Seoul, or any other place I wasn’t visiting soon. It was in Bangkok, and I had just booked flights there.”You HAVE to go there. For me.” 

There wasn’t any question. I was going there for myself. To indulge my inner child who loves kitsch and cute. I had already been to the Bear Hug Café in Chiang Mai, and when I finally got time to visit the Unicorn Café, I made it my sole mission to go.

Unicorn Cafe is closest to Chong Nonsi station in Bangkok, down a small side road near the Belgian Embassy. You can’t miss it.

Inside is an paradise of pink, purple and plushies.  

No wallpapers, floors or ceilings have been left untouched.

This includes the toilet. I’ve never used a prettier bathroom. Even the sanitary bin was on theme.

The Metro described it as looking like  “they asked a five-year-old girl to describe her dream home, and then went with exactly what she suggested.” I can confirm that is absolutely correct, and what makes it so heavenly. The five-year-old you who wanted to live in a princessy palace and eat junk food can finally live vicariously through adult-you. And adult you can pretend not to love it…

But five-year-old you cannot deny the cute. 

There isn’t much of an online menu, and if you’re in Bangkok you’re probably trying to spend a bit less, but prices aren’t as high as you’d expect. Food is around 100-250 baht.

While you wait for your food, you can change into something more… comfortable

And play with the many many plushies and wands

If for whatever reason you bring a non-believer into paradise, ensure they get with the programme immediately. No one is too cool for unicorns. The arrival of drinks usually helps.

And the food and drink is delightfully on theme. His lychee soda came with sprinkles and hearts, and his burger with a unicorn horn. My waffles and bacon were fairly normal looking (I took normal food because coloured food never looks appetising), but came with magical cutlery.

It’s really simply a lot of fun. The food is not remarkable but no one was expecting that. Go because it’s adorable. It’s pretty, it’s silly and these kitschy cute Thai dessert cafés are so unique and adorable that they’re irresistable. This one in particular is magical, and really made my day. If nothing else, you owe it to your younger relatives… and your younger self.

Lao It Fam: A Week in Laos

The original plan for Laos was to spend a night in Vientiane, and split the rest of the time between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Travelling means your original itinerary becomes null and void, and we ended up with two nights in Vang Vieng and five in Luang Prabang. I would now do things differently – one night in Vientiane, two or three in Vang Vieng and three in Luang Prabang. 

We took the journey up to Vang Vieng straight from Vientiane airport by minibus. The minibus was an interesting adventure – we were stuffed into a tiny bus with sandbags on the floor and the back seats filled with boxes. Our journey stopped at every point someone wanted to buy fruit or baguettes from roadside sellers.

After a little over four hours, an English speaking Lao guy told us we had arrived at our stop. Rain was falling heavily and we were in a muddy open field. Aside from the bad karaoke emanating from a nearby bar, it seemed nothing like the party town I anticipated.

“Are you sure this is Vang Vieng?” Alessio asked.

“No, I’m not.”

“Maybe they just dropped us here for a joke.”

We walked across the sodden field and asked around for our guesthouse. The locals gave directions, but we feared they were just saying anything as not to ‘lose face’.

Our fears were set aside when we saw the bright yellow sign of our guesthouse. The buzzing restaurant was very welcome to us after ten hours without food, so we took our keys from the easygoing Canadian host, Amber and set down our bags.

Alessio looked around our room.

Look at the kiddy blankets!

This is backpacking.”

Two mattresses and a table in a small hut. The night before we had been sleeping in an airport again. Anything was better than that.

The morning followed a night of heavy heavy rain that had followed us from Chiang Mai – and probably London. We were undeterred from our mission – to swim in the Blue Lagoon. We sent our muddy clothes to the guesthouse laundry and hired a bike for almost double the cost of the bike in Chiang Mai and headed for the dirt tracks and wood bridges. 

An unfriendly group of Dutch tourists mocked our wrong turn and our lack of the apparently essential app Maps.Me. When asked how long they’d stay, the response was “Well, it doesn’t matter.” Icy.

Luckily, we found two friendly American cyclists on the way who were heading to the lagoon too and we travelled with them in the rain towards our destination.

The Blue Lagoon is a natural blue water lagoon pool, deep enough for weak swimmers to require life vests. There are swings, slides and branches to dive from. It is great fun, even on a rainy day. Entrance is 10,000 kip plus 10,000 for the slides and another 10,000 for the life vests.

Nearby is a little food joint where we indulged our need for pizza and hammocks. The pizza is pretty average and aroun 65,000 kip for a margherita

The skies cleared as we headed back to the town, giving a dry run through small villages full of children playing and yelling “sabaidee!”

In the evening, we met a group from our guesthouse – a motley crew of Canadians, Canadian-Italians, Northern Irish, Swedish and Australians and we headed out to the Smile Bar with them for beers and a beautiful sunset. 

And what a beautiful sunset it was. I chatted with a German photographer, with Canadians about religion, life, kindness and politics and watched two drunks kiss. Later, we headed to the popular Gary’s Irish Bar for live music and met a Chicago girl and a Northern lass who teach in Korea.

The Vang Vieng evening was such a lovely, chilled one and staying in a cosy and friendly guesthouse meant we met so many great people to chat with. Our time in Vang Vieng would end the next day after a stroll around the town.

It is often said, but it bears repeating. The bus to Luang Prabang is… shocking. We booked a minibus through our hotel for 80,000 kip. The minibus seems comfortable and we had our own space. The air conditioning was adequate. The roads however were deathly. On one stretch I became distracted with my phone and the car bounced to the extent where I hit my head off the roof. It took all my strength not to cry. This lasted for almost the entire four/five hour journey to Luang Prabang.

Once there, we took a tuk tuk from the station to our hotel but it dropped us at the Night Market. Tired and weaving through with heavy bags, it was hard to fall in love with the World Heritage City. Beyond the Night Market, the city is quite poorly lit and it took 10 minutes to find the guesthouse. When we finally did, we dropped our bags and made for the recommended Secret Pizza. My newly acquired Maps.Me told me it was a 45 minute walk, but a carb fiend and an Italian can never be put off from good pizza.

The walk was worth it. We met an Italian girl who was also seeking the elusive pizza who we dined with. She was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. She has such amazing values and travel plans, hitchhiking her way around the continent, with the eventual plan to walk from Kathmandu back to Italy. And the perfectly crisp pizza was a great backdrop to our chat.

The following day was a lazy exploration of the city and the Night Market. I have to admit, Luang Prabang is truly beautiful. It’s rich history drips from every building. The French colonial touch is very evident – both in the architecture and sadly the poverty.

… but something was lacking for me. I wanted so badly to love Luang Prabang. The city is more beautiful than I imagined, it is aesthetically stunning. It’s like a resort town. But there is a charm that’s missing. 

I remember reading a blog that described it a bit like Disneyland. It felt to me like that on the surface. Everything focused towards tourists. This is great and enables them to generate money but it lacked a charm for me. Not only this, but the prices were Disneyland prices (cafes and sometimes street food equal to London prices), the food didn’t seem as nice, the hawkers constantly seeing tourists as dollar signs – either for tuk tuks, tours, shop goods or food. It became bothersome to walk down a street, past three or four tuk tuks and be asked the same question. The tourists also seemed disrespectful. I don’t agree with clothing policing but I believe we should respect the clothing rules in the temple as tourists. People still wore shorts and spaghetti straps to the sacred temples, haggling over pennies and the infamous alms ceremony. The alms ceremony is a religious practice for the monks and is very sacred. Tourists seem to go and stick their lenses in the faces of serene monks. We decided to avoid this ceremony as not to contribute to it turning into a tourist attraction and to avoid, as Alessio calls them, “the twats”.

But this is no reason to avoid Luang Prabang. I had a vision it would blow me away beyond belief and I would instantly fall in love. My expectations were too high. It doesn’t change the fact the city is breathtaking in ways I didn’t expect. It is the perfect place to take a few days to relax, stroll, swim by the river and indulge in the pricey but beautiful cafe culture. It is a tiny town and you will see the same friends again and again. We saw our American cyclist friends from Vang Vieng on two separate days, a guy from the Phousi mountain top at the waterfalls, the German photographer from Vang Vieng at the Night Market and a French girl from our waterfalls minibus near the museum.

There are other amazing things I definitely recommend:

We took a minibus for 50,000 kip to Kuang Si falls. This didn’t include the 20,000 kip entry. Kuang Si is majestic, incredible and loud

If you climb to the very top of the falls,  up the nearby dirt hills, you are rewarded with a shallow pool to swim and play in 

And great views

Carry on to the very bottom of the falls and there’s an aquamarine pool for swimming.

This was a great day, but there is so much to do! Our minibus tour only gave us two and a half hours, but we could have stayed for many more hours to see the bear sanctuary, butterfly farm, caves and swim for longer.

Another recommendation is the Uxo visitors centre.

Uxo is unexploded ordinance, and Laos is the country most affected by this. During the Indochinese war, two million tonnes of explosives were dropped onto Laos and many remain unexploded today. What this means is, over 30 decades later, Laos is still feeling the deadly impact of war. Land cannot be used for cultivation because of the risk of UXOs keeping the country in a state of underdevelopment. In rural areas, UXOs continue to take lives and maim. One person is killed by UXOs almost every day – either accidentally, or by digging for them to use and sell as scrap metal. The visitors centre aims to educate visitors on the situation, as well as educating Lao people on the risk. It is extremely informative and a great charity.

Crossing the communist bridge is daring but a lot of fun, and you can return via the 5,000 kip Bamboo Bridge.

And Utopia Bar comes well recommended but for good reason. We put it off because we were trying to keep the costs low, but ended the last night with kips to spare so we headed for a drink and a dinner with a view at Utopia. It is very chilled there, with a nice view – but there is no sunset view and sadly no more board games. Eating and drinking can be done cheaply, so go to wile away the day on the sun deck.

Some other interesting places to view, that we didn’t get to see are the Big Brother Project, which aims to educate and bring Lao language books to people who may not ever even see books. You can spend an evening chatting with locals who wish to learn English.

We did climb Mount Phousi for the sunset, and it was interesting, but by 6pm it gets so crowded that it becomes not worth it. 

Better to catch the sunset from other spots and do Phousi in the day.

So in terms of Luang Prabang, it is a beautiful city, beyond beautiful perhaps. But I found it hard to love this city. Like a handsome but vacant man. There is so much to do in and around the city which is pretty unmissable, but I felt disappointed by its lack of charm. My expectations were too high, and that was my downfall.

My foodie and activity recommendations are as follows:

  1. Secret Pizza is a budget buster, 80,000 kip for a pizza. It is made by a guy from Milan, however, and well worth the trek
  2. Kuang Si falls is also unmissable, as is the Uxo Centre. Strolling around town and just relaxing is also great.
  3. Try some of the cafes. I liked Le Banneton.
  4. Hot Lao Coffee is tasty, and available from the sandwich area of the night market. Other recommendations are the crepes and coconut pancakes.
  5. Head to Dara Market, and just around the corner is a big supermarket with real cheese and some cheaper food options if you’ll be around for a while
  6. Spend a little time strolling and watching the sunset on the river beach but swim at your own discretion!

My disappointments were

  1. The general constant tuk tuk hassling also happens in the sandwich area of the night market. Take a coffee, a crepe and maybe a shake
  2. Mount Phousi sunset. And please don’t buy one of those tiny wicker cages of birds to then release for a picture. It’s horrible.
  3. The night market in general. The food isn’t especially great, and what could be bought at one stall could be bought at many other stalls.
  4. Wat Xieng Thong was opposite our hostel, so we thought the 20,000 kip would be worth it for such a highly recommended temple. For us we could really take it or leave it

In all, I have loved Laos. I have loved the slow and relaxed pace of life. The lush green scenery is like something from National Geographic. I am sure that I will be back to visit. I found the people friendly, and it was with such ease that we met new people with great stories. I would love to explore the villages and the South more. It is a wonderful, interesting country packed with history and politics that oft goes overlooked. I wish I could have fallen in love with Luang Prabang, but the country’s beauty more than makes up for it. And in the end, I know I will really miss being woken up at dawn by the crowing chickens that are absolutely everywhere!

Colourful Chiang Mai

Our first night in the northern city of Chiang Mai began at around 6pm. We stayed just south of the Saen Pung gate, at Cloud Hotel. The bright painted walls and wicker hammocks of the guesthouse were just an introduction to how aesthetic and cinematic this town could be.

Making friends and regretting not getting the rabies jab…

The city at night is a different kind of vibrant, buzzing with night markets and bazaars. Wat Phan Tao sparkles with lanterns and the bells around the water add to the magic.

We arrived just in time for the busy Saturday walking street, a small market along the Wua Lai road in the south selling food, clothes and a few unique products. Craving any carbs apart from rice, I took a Turkish flatbread and the crisp sweet pineapple skewers I had seen all over Bangkok street stalls. 

Our travel fatigue was beginning to creep upon us, so we took an early night ready for a full day of exploring.

One of Alessio’s big excitements was the Chiang Mai monk chats. They are free exchanges with monks who wish to learn English, where you can discuss anything you want and vice versa. We chose Wat Chedi Luang for our chat – the hours are daily and from 9-6. The Wat itself is very majestic, grand lions guarding temple ruins and ornate red and gold dragons around the newer shrines. 

It was a little tricky to find the monk chat – we strolled around clockwise from the front, finding a temple women were banned from due to our inconvenient menstruation habit.

I’m on the pill I promise!

The monks sit in a verandah near the on site university, to the right of the temple ruin. They welcome you over, and chat as you wish. I asked about being kinder, being good and accepting oneself. On the latter topic, our monk, Somnang said “You just accept yourself!” But HOW, man? “You just accept! I mean, this is the body you have, the eyes you have, nose, ears… why wouldn’t you accept that? There is only one you and you have one body. You have to know yourself.” as if it were the simplest, least complex concept ever. “Oh yeah,” I said. “I guess.”

The conversation wraps up whenever you want. We chatted casually about for 45 minutes. As they are learning English, they are not entirely fluent and learn new words with you and will also teach you Thai words and Buddhist concepts. You don’t have to be Buddhist to chat, I’m not, and I overheard a Nihilist girl challenge two monks as to why we were here, why bother living, if we all die eventually. The only prerequisites are to be open minded and friendly.

We went for walk, feeling calm and intrigued by Somnang’s ideas. On this walk, we came across Wat Buppharam, a 20bht entry wat. Although Alessio was not convinced – I could see it was beautiful and the fee was absolutely worth it. It became my favourite wat in Chiang Mai.

The evening was creeping on, and we did a quick exploration of the Night Bazaar which hadn’t quite opened, then to the East Gate where the Sunday Walking Street was starting up.

The East side of the city is where a lot of hostels and guesthouses are but I didn’t like it a lot. It was a bit skeevy and not quite as magical as the centre or the West where we stayed. The Sunday Walking Street however was much better than the Saturday walking street or any of the Bangkok markets. It was enormous, the entire length of the Ratchadamnoen Road. What made it special was in between the usual food stalls and vendors selling things you see everywhere, were many unique sellers. Sunglasses, artworks, souvenirs – all unique to the market. It was pretty linear and easy to navigate unlike Bangkok’s Chatuchak, also. 

The only thing I didn’t like was that quite a few of the performers were blind or otherwise disabled and it felt a bit exploitative, but I don’t have enough knowledge to comment too much.
The following day, we planned to visit Doi Inthanon with a songthaew. Then I became sick. Food poisoning sick. It took only five days to take me down. I rode it out pretty easily, and by the afternoon we walked to the bear hug cafe, a kitschy teddybear themed cafe in the East.

Followed by a juice bar called Amazing Alleyway, instead. The fantastic juices were only part of the fun.

Keeping it real

This lazy theme followed to the next and final day in Chiang Mai, a completely rained out day. Undeterred, we woke late and hired a scooter for half the day, where we explored the city, took a dinner and rode at speed around Chiang Mai.

It was a great way to end our time in the magical city and if we had more time, Chiang Rai, Doi Inthanon and perhaps the elephant sanctuary would be on the list but I was happy anyway to explore and discover in our own way, ending up well within budget.

My personal tips:

– A few people told me Chiang Mai was a bit seedy – I experienced none of that. I stayed in the south on Tippanet Road, by Saen Pung Gate. It was very calm, beautiful and not at all dingy.

– Go to Amazing Alleyway and Bear Hug Cafe

– I recommend hiring a bike, we did it for 150 baht for a half day. Take the bike on the smooth roads of the town or head out of town for some scenery or the popular Doi Suthep

– If you can only see one market, definitely go to the Sunday Walking Street! It feels much more authentic than many other markets.

– Monk Chats are free, aside from the cost of the entry to the wat. We chose Wat Chedi Luang and didn’t feel rushed. 

Two Sides of Bangkok Shopping

Our second day in Bangkok was lazy . In fact, we slept until 2pm. Wearily rolling out of bed like we do in London, we planned to see New Bangkok – the malls and streets around them. 

We walked to the EmQuartier – a huge, fancy mall with jazzy music pumping from speakers outside. 

As two non-shoppers, we were a bit bored, so we took the Skytrain onwards to Siam, where there were more malls. 

Siam Paragon was enormous and just as fancy/boring as EmQuartier, but Siam Centre felt a bit more fun. We took some snacks (in the form of delicious dutch pancakes, fluffy poffertjes) and strolled around the Sephora (!) and departments selling only jelly shoes and only cars.

Around the shopping malls there are some pretty cool streets and eateries, we stopped at a Japanese restaurant called TokQ where the dishes come on little trains!

From there, we walked the 40 minutes home enjoying the walk along the sky passages between Siam and Chit Lom and the entirely Arabic oriented shopping complexes by the seedier Nana. Our home turf of Asok was paradise to see after a long and diverse walk, so we stopped for a beer before heading home to bed.

The second shopping day followed a sleepless night and our check out. Our enormous tortoise shell bags fixed to our backs as we made our way to Mo Chit, we knew the visit to Chatuchak market would be hard work.

After meandering through a few stalls, labouring with the weight on our backs, we took a new technique. One of us would stroll and the other would stay with the bags. Only that way could we find any treasure in this market.

I went first. My mission was food and a look around. The web of stalls beckoned you left, right, forward and behind, with the only real way to discover the right way is to guess. My favourite stalls were the flower stalls, bright with petals or thick with ferns. 

Another kawaii brand, “Kiss Me Doll” was a sweet delight of pastel decorated scarves out of my current budget. Even in the sale.

 As I exited the main part of the market, I made for the food stalls outside. I was hoping to find the popular Hello Garlic, but after searching for an hour and finding only similar style vendors, I opted for streaky pork (50bht) and the popular honey roast pork skewers (80bht), as well as a large cup of iced lemon juice (25bht), all to share. 155bht in two is around £1.50 each. Not bad for a filling brunch! My favourites were the pork and juice – the streaky pork would have been yummier if it were warmer. 

Unlike the neat, pristine departments of EmQuartier and Siam Paragon, Chatuchak was disorderly, dark and with every metre packed with something different. The character, noise and lack of global chains in the market was so much more preferable and fascinating.
From Mo Chit, the A1 bus or taxis head to Don Muang, where we take an onward plane to Chiang Mai!
Bangkok shopping tips!
– The large malls really do have similar prices to Western malls, and for that reason, going there is only worth it to look around.

– Another mistake I made was buying cream at a Boots. I chose the cheapest one – not realising they contain skin lightening cream!

– The shopping malls in Siam are a lot more interesting than EmQuartier, they are great for strolling around – and there’s a Sephora!

– Also great about Siam is if you are into Japanese fashion, there are a few kitschy/kawaii shops and restaurants in the area near Siam BTS station

– Chatuchak Weekend Market is incredible, both in quality and quantity. Get there for about 9am to get your bearings. There are maps in the outside quarters, and once you know your way around it’s easier to find the items you like. You could easily spend a day there, so prepared to shop and walk a lot! That’s what we did wrong! It is a weekend market, so whilst I think it is open on other days, it’s at its best on Saturdays and Sundays.

Old Bangkok Charm

I was told so many times I wouldn’t like Bangkok. It was dirty, seedy and far too hot. I also had my own prejudices but I wanted so badly to like this city. I decided to keep the negatives to one side.

It started off interestingly. The taxi from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport sped through the city, unfurling huge concrete junctions spiralling above us alongside the dazzling tower blocks and enormous billboards. 

I was oddly charmed.

Then we pulled into a side street and our taxi driver announced “Sukhumvit 33, aaah! This road is your hotel!”

My eyes narrowed. The dark street was lit by the signs above dubious massage parlours. Girls in tight dresses and heels tapped on their phone and chatted animatedly. After days of meticulously scouring the internet for a hotel away from the sex tourism of Bangkok, I had seemingly found the one street in the whole area buzzing with trade. I took a deep breath, left the taxi and entered the hotel.

More than you bargain for in each of these establishments

The hotel was a welcome respite after twenty one hours of sleeping and eating in airports and a further twelve on planes. Three large and dusty cities clung to my skin and I was glad to get out of my jeans and polo and into a shower. Which is when I noticed our hotel has a Tokyo Sukkuri Toilet. In other words, with a twist of a dial the toilet will gladly wash your ass and genitals. Biggest “thanks… i think?” moment so far. Do be gentle with these things by the way, one rough twist of the dial meant water sprayed all the way to the bathroom mirror. Not fun.

A… pleasant surprise?

After refreshing ourselves, we headed out for the night into the city. Our hotel was in Phrom Phong, not too far from the EmQuartier shopping centre. It was closed at the time, but the Christmas lights still sparkled and made the place seem magical.

Feels like the Oscars

We strolled around and found a small bar with Thai food and fun music. As we flicked through the menu we were joined by two middle aged British guys who cheerfully greeted us and began to chat about their life and our plans. Both lived in Bangkok and seemed friendly until their quips about me “spending the entire time with my legs in the air” and better yet, “oh I’d never go back home. I’m not a racist, but all the Lithuanians going over there – it looks nothing like my country any more.”

… a Western man, sitting in a bar in an Asian country that he moved to, bemoaning European economic migrants. Makes sense.

Our tiredness and boredom of these guys led us to an early night. I struggled to sleep, but we forced ourselves out of bed early the next day for a busy day of temple touring and exploring.

The first stop were the riverside wats: Wat Arun, Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. All three are well trodden on the tourist trail, but well worth the visit because the pictures don’t do them justice.

To get there, we took the Skytrain which was efficient and generally fast – but being used to the London Underground I did get a bit impatient. We disembarked at Safan Taksin to get the river boat to Wat Arun – all in all around 300 bht for two. 

Wat Arun is a large complex of temples, ornate and spectacular. There are many places to enter, pray and contemplate, as well as places to buy snacks and coffees. It is a very calm place. Be warned – the steps around the wat are very steep. You don’t want to be claiming on your insurance on the first day.

Wat Arun is on one side of the river with the other two on the opposite side, starting with Wat Arun meant we only had to do a ferry crossing once. The crossing is 4 bht.

From where we crossed, we had to weave through a market which I suspect was Tha Tien market. There are many things on offer like spices and dried fish, resulting in a very stimulating sensory experience! 

Once you leave the market you are at Wat Pho. The pictures do not do it justice, and it is very hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the Reclining Buddha. It is MASSIVE.


 There is also a complex of temples around this wat and a lot of free water to stay hydrated in the claustrophobic city heat!

By this time we were beginning to get hungry, but the journey between Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew was very short on places to eat. Because of the King’s recent passing, the streets were packed with mourners in black, ready to pay their respects to the King at the Grand Palace. It is a 10 minute walk, but there are lots of diversions at the moment and our hunger made it that much harder.

Thank God, then, for the Thais beckoning us to a busy stall to eat. Our scam sensors were high, and we were ready to refuse until the lady shouted “Free!”

Our attention was piqued and a box of chicken noodles placed into our hands with a carton and bottle of water. Ravenous, after eating only prawns and a small portion of aeroplane rice the day before, we shovelled the lightly spiced noodles down our throat and walked to the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace has an entrance fee of 500bht, roughly £11.50. This seemed pretty steep to our mind and we were getting a bit tired in our jetlagged haze so we skipped it in favour of resting in a nearby park.

As we rested, a man came eager to advise. Again, we were skeptical but he simply told us to visit a few more temples and left without pickpocketing or pushing anything on us at all.

So off we went to discover more of this city. We ended up walking around local areas with no tourists until we ended up at the golden mount – by far my favourite sight.

A peaceful temple, 300+ steps to the top and pretty flamingo adorned waterfall shrines? Well, why not.

The views were stunning and the atmosphere so calming. The scents of water running through dense plants and incense made this all the more blissful.

We descended the spiral stairs and walked some more through streets free of any other tourists. The carpenters stared in wonderment, breaking into smiles eventually, and the street hawkers who  had only Thais queuing round the block. 

Our next stop would be Chinatown, but the trek took us to the most bewildering sight yet – a market comprised of ONLY phone cases. Each little square stall sold hundreds and hundreds of phone cases.

The unusual market is five minutes from Wat Kamalawat. This temple is the most Chinese temple in Bangkok and hosts a monastic school for young monks. We had finally found Chinatown.

Chinatown is busy, fast and full of market stalls selling Chinese food and goods. I loved the bright vibrant atmosphere, even though night was falling and the stalls were beginning to shut.

We ventured onwards towards Hua Lamphong station, where we took the Metro to Sukhumvit station, and headed back home via a small Japanese restaurant, where we ate delicious char siu pork and teriyaki chicken. 

Tired, with sore feet, we washed the city dust off our skin and slept.

Best of 2016 Tour: Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders

Last in my 2016 top three is Edinburgh and the English/Scottish borders. 

Last year for Christmas, Alessio played an ace and got me a weekend break for two. He played it nonchalant, I could bring anyone I wanted but he knew he’d be my “for two” companion.

After lots of deliberation, planning, reading good and bad reviews I narrowed it down to a hotel in the New Forest (ponies), a cottage in York (proximity to a Betty’s Tea Room) and a wildcard guesthouse in Northumberland. The wildcard had zero bad reviews. 

Betty’s very nearly swung it for me, but Alessio declared how much he wanted to visit Scotland. I looked at flights and trains to Edinburgh and waved goodbye to fulfilling my dream of going to Betty’s. The wildcard had won.

We flew up to Edinburgh because it was both faster and cheaper – and were rewarded with extra leg room

And this magazine.

What is it about arriving in Scotland that makes people twats?

Why did so many Londoners screech about how much colder it is when London was only three degrees warmer?

Why did I begin speaking in a Scottish accent and informing Alessio “they don’t say yes here, they say ‘oh, aye’. If you say yes they won’t understand.”

It was so easy to get from the airport into the town and much quicker than the Gatwick Express. We were quickly and cheaply on the bus, and walking through the gorgeous Princes Street Gardens.

From there and over the bridge it’s easy to get to the Old Town. The Old Town is a lovely walk, stretching from Holyrood to Edinburgh Castle. There are lots of side streets and alleys to amble down, dotted with modern chains. Whilst it looks very old and photogenic, many of the shops were touristy. They sold gifts, kilts and shortbreads but nothing felt authentic. 

Edinburgh is very small, so after a short while, we took a dinner in a small cafe. This caused a row because in the five (twenty) minutes it took for me to choose a menu item, they sold out entirely of eggs. This put Alessio into a bad mood, then they took about forty five minutes to make his meal, forgetting mine entirely. An American couple next to us bonded with us over this plight, because the woman ordered tea and she finished her meal before it arrived. The waiters were all lovely, however.

From our time in the old town, we headed to the train station. The centre of Edinburgh is very small in comparison to London, so everywhere is quickly walkable. Our trains were replacement buses, so we expected to get to our next destination at 6pm.

We got there for 3pm. Berwick-upon-Tweed. 

It was chilly cold, but the sun was beating down. We took a walk through the park to see this beautiful view of the viaduct and the Tweed river, all the way to the town centre.

The town itself was very quiet – being a small town on a Sunday evening most places were shut, so we took a bus to our onward journey – Cornhill-on-Tweed.

I had never heard of Cornhill, but it is a village on the borders of Scotland where an adorable guesthouse lies.

The Old Schoolhouse is a converted school, run by two locals Judith and Noel. The second we arrived, Judith called us into the front room and provided us with home made scones and coffee. We chatted for ages about their family and ours, the local area, London and Edinburgh. Truly, it felt like coming into the home of an old family friend.

Judith allowed us some time to rest and choose a local pub, wherein Noel would later run us up there in his car. 

There are a few local pubs, as well as the stately home next door. All the local businesses support each other and the locals are all eager to say hi and greet you. We were even invited to join the raffle to win a massive onion that was about eight or nine inches big!

In the morning, Judith took us with her to walk her dog round the estate of neighbours. The stately home is now a hotel, but we got a lovely little tour. We had a wonderful breakfast of local foods, cheeses and meats, then she dropped us to Berwick where we could stroll and catch our train back to Scotland.

Berwick has this lovely coast, with the lighthouse. This, and the viaduct, were my favourite parts of Berwick itself.

We headed back on the train to Edinburgh where it began to rain. As we had already seen the most touristy sights, we decided to grab an enormous dinner opposite the Waverley station forgetting that Northern portions are so much bigger than London portions.

This was at the Juniper Edinburgh, where we ordered macaroni cheese and potato rösti. The food was delicious, there was just a lot of it!

That meal and the cocktail was our farewell to the North, we flew back to London and wrote a thank you email to Judith and Noel.

What we didn’t expect was to receive, two months later, a handwritten card from Judith!

It was so sweet and thoughtful of her to do this. I cannot recommend their guesthouse enough, and it’s a great base for exploring areas both more North and more South. If we had more time, we would have flown into Edinburgh and explored just the same, but also dedicated time to seeing the villages along the border and travelling more southern into Northumberland to see Holy Island and the Lindisfarne Nature Reserve.

It was such a surprisingly lovely trip, made all the better by our hosts Judith and Noel. I can’t recommed Tillmouth Old Schoolhouse enough.

Best of 2016 Tour: Chania, Crete.

For the past three years I have made it so I am never in the country on my birthday. This year, I wanted scorchingly hot weather, impeccable beaches and low airfares. Chania in Crete won out.

There are several other great destinations in Crete: Malia has a fabulous party scene and Heraklion has the buzzing old town. Further East in Lassithi are the luxury resorts but I chose Chania because I wanted to balance a great local scene with easy access to the stunning beaches further west. 

It just so happened that my manager and boyfriend’s sister both saw Crete’s appeal in the same early-summer era so it was a popular destination that summer.

Our resort was Kalamaki – chosen for being less tacky and touristy, but not pure dead. It also looked a bit prettier than some of the other recommendations.

The flight from the UK was around four hours, with two hours ahead time difference once we got into Crete. 

I wish to now applaud what is easily the greatest technological advancement of my time: e-boarding passes.

Please, if you’re still printing out boarding passes like an elderly, arrêtez. You deserve better. If you’re capable of using the e-passport gates then please get yourself the Easyjet, Ryanair, Emirates… whoever, app and use the QR code boarding passes on your phone. No print outs needed.

I didn’t even get paid for that promo!

Nor this one.

After our efficient flight, we arrived in Chania Town by taxi. Assuming that, in thirty + celcius heat, no sleep and a tiny breakfast, we were raring to go, we set out for Kalamaki resort on foot. Atrocious idea. We had no maps, no phone data, and we what we expected to be a 15 minute walk was in fact a 20 minute car journey.

Tired, hungry and jetlagged, we reached our hotel to find there is no one on reception. 

We exchanged that look that couples do. One of us fucked up. We know exactly who (me, this time. I am the administrator in this union) but if either of us says anything we will break into a massive argument.

“I’ll call the woman.” I said.

Alessio said okay, in the tone of voice that really means “just fucking sort it”.

I called the woman and a man picked up. He spoke English, then passed me to the owner who spoke ONLY GREEK.

“Kalimera! Ah, … … …”

“Uh, kalimera… sorry, erm … okay”

She very quickly appeared, told us in broken English that we are very early and have to wait, so we did. We took to the sun loungers and slept – I also took the above selfie – until finally, our much smoother check in.

Once we were checked in, and had obligatory sex in our new home for the week, we did the also obligatory “shop for huge bottles of water” that all Brits Abroad do. We booked two excursions in the town – the strip along the beach in Kalamaki is a little bit dry if you’re used to busier, more touristy resorts, but there are plenty of places to buy food, eat out and book excursions. But it’s a very pretty strip. 

Co ordinating with the florals on the beach front.

That’s one thing about Crete, and beach holidays in general. There’s only so much pool-beach-pool-bar I can do before I get bored, and I resent staying in the same area. If you stay only in Kalamaki you may as well only stay for three days.

Walking further down the beach, more Eastwards, you come to some busier beaches. Dolphin beach is fun, and a biological revelation. Did you know sea urchins don’t look like mini Ursulas? I didn’t. 

No poor unfortunate souls here!

My boyfriend went swimming on Dolphin Beach and returned horrified. 

“There, baby, is ALL ricchi”

“Who’s Ricky?” I asked, taking another selfie for the fans.

Who cares about ricchi when your tits are this crinkly?

“The ricchi, baby! Ricchi di mare!”

It translates to sea urchins, and I had never seen one, nor learned to fear them in my entire life. They are tiny spiky Sonic the Hedgehogs that live as close to beachbumming tourists because they’re spiteful little shits. They exist ONLY to ruin your holiday. If your bed was watery, you bet these assholes would camp there too.

After having our day spoiled by sea urchins, we moved westwards down the seafront to Iguana Beach, which was fucking hilarious.

It’s Crete’s… wait for it… most ethnic beach.

What was the most ethnic thing there?

This Caribbean chica.

Oh and… this.

I’m sorry. I’ll stop laughing in 2087.

We saw all this in a day, and there’s a conveniently placed Lidl so you can stock up on food and drinks there, then head back west via the beaches.

They are lovely beaches, but incomparable in size and beauty to two of the most famous in Greece: Elafonisi and Balos beach.

Elafonisi we visited on my birthday, and we may or may not have rowed due to tireness and a reluctance on his part to take sufficient pictures of me. On my birthday!

No ricchi here!

It’s known for its sands near the water, where crushed up corals result in this gorgeous soft pink colour. Happy birthday moi.

The journey was a bus ride of no more than two hours, with a stop off at some riveting (not) caves, then straight down to the beach. One big complaint I see is that in the summer months it is crowded. There are people, but I am not so needy I require an entire beach to myself? There are plenty of quieter patches because it’s colossal but if you want complete silence, this beach may not be your pick. It is popular and for good reasons.

The second excursion beach was Balos.

Similarly to Elafonisi, because we didn’t rent a car, we did a hired excursion. The bus which took us to a pier. From there you boarded a titanic with about seven million tourists on it. We found a seat in a quiet shaded area of the boat. We were joined by an Australian family who sat behind us, the girl shouting about how her Dad “ALWAYS ruins the holiday” and one sweet lady on our table – who was later joined by three of her loudmouth friends.

We escaped.

After such an enjoyable journey, with no free food provided, we pulled into Gramvousa port. This was a quick stop on the boat journey to Balos, but we had around 45 minutes to rest and relax on a tiny beach.

Us, and about three other packed boats. This was Gramvousa before we all piled off. Lovely, right? 

As the boats emptied it honestly looked like a pilgrimage. Some people journeyed to the top of the mountain, but most piled onto the sand. The boats were mostly from continental Europe, all of whom know about ricchi di mare. And in the picture, any black space you see is probably a sea urchin. There were trillions on that beach. It was the China of the sea urchin universe. So the tourists had a field day screeching about the murderous little sea creatures.

We didn’t spend long there, it was beautiful but there wasn’t enough space for the people who arrived. The boat continued onto Balos, this pretty little lagoon.

I am not an expert geographer, but when they say lagoon they mean it.

Rather than the boat journey, you can also take a car then trek down the hills to the beach, but the car journey down is not very simple and the trek back up in the heat is hellish. The only other alternative is the boat, because the land is surrounded by hills and water.

The beach area is also very shallow, to my surprise. It is made up of sand and delightfully warm puddles, so not your typical beach. I liked this about it though, it’s a great beach for playing and paddling. We got out our beach tennis game for a play.

But it’s also worthwhile remembering that all those on the boats in Gramvousa will be there in Balos – and then some. It is big enough for you to play and have fun, but you are always very near someone. For that matter, an old lady laughed at my beach yoga attempts. I’m sorry, but I had to “accidentally” splash her. 

It’s a lot like Elafonisi in that there are many people and it’s touristy, but its beauty and the gorgeous waters mean it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to have a play, it’s a great beach for that. And the artistic talents of its visitors…

I think I maybe preferred Elafonisi. It had the edge in terms of beauty but I would never skip Balos, and its warm clear waters are breathtaking.

Aside from beaches, Chania town deserves a solid visit. Spend some time meandering through the small streets of the old town. There are shops, restaurants and slices of history in the synagogues and churches.

The shops have lovely wares – like all places the more authentic and traditional items are pricey. The market was a little unremarkable – plenty of cheeses and food but little in the way of unique or different gifts.

The waterfront offers a nice stroll and view, but be mindful that you will find pricey and low quality restaurants. Good restaurants don’t have picture menus.

There’s a pretty little stroll to the lighthouse there, which is what we did on the last day before our flight.

Really, in terms of food, it’s okay. It’s not a foodie destination and the food it’s known for is not really my bag. We mostly cooked in our apartment to save a bit of money, but we enjoyed great meats at a hotel bar on my birthday with a delicious salad and pita.

And FREE raki refills, which is like a Greek grappa. Don’t knock eating at home though – our apartment had a barbecue. We had never grilled before, but we stuck some coals and paper on the barbie and waited. And waited. Nothing. I headed to the local store, determined to have our barbecue, and picked up what I hoped was barbecue fluid.

“Can I use this on the barbecue?” I asked the gentleman.

“No!” He said horrified. “You will…” and gestured an explosion. He led me back to the barbecue section and gave me a bottle. “This is for barbecues.”

Given that I had seen him all week and never warmed to him, I didn’t quite trust him. I was all out of options, so I purchased it and headed back to the hotel. The result was as follows

One successful barbecue, completely done by me. I mean it, completely by me.

That’s how we rounded up our visit.

Truly, Crete in July was lovely. It was exceptionally hot, very busy and the bigger beaches were definitely not “untouched” but I had a great time. One downer was that people stared at me a lot, always a killer on a holiday. I would however, definitely recommend Chania in Crete if you’re looking for warmth, fun and beautiful beaches and a bit of a buzz. Oh, and an ethnic beach. Sorry. I’ll stop.

Best of 2016 Tour: Valtournenche, Aosta Valley

My plan, after my Mum passed was to get out of town and out of London and away from condolences. The earliest time I could leave, the better. 

As it happens, as it always happens, my boyfriend was conveniently going to Italy two weeks later. 

You know, like how he was conveniently going to Italy two weeks after we met, and I was also conveniently going to Italy two weeks after we met.
I do always enjoy a venture to Italy and that is primarily because of this bastion of all great European things.

Yes, Carrefour. Part of why I voted remain was the hope we’d get one here.

Anyway, his bi-annual trip home was to include skiing. Great for him, but I’m Caribbean. We do beaches and dancehall. We don’t typically throw ourselves down snow capped mountains.

“Have you seen Cool Runnings?” I asked him. In all earnestness, he replied no. I didn’t have the energy to explain that reference.

So there I found myself, atop the Italian branch of the Matterhorn or one of his cousin Valtournenche mountains.

It was an alright view.

Climb every mountain

This, however, was not.

For people who don’t ski – perhaps your ancestors are from hot countries too – ski attire feels like NASA space mission attire. Those boots are harder to walk in than McQueen heels. They hurt, there is no fashion in the cut of the ski gear and the layers are too hot.

That’s right. Too hot. What they don’t tell you is it’s HOT on the slopes. Plummeting into twenty inch deep snow is a relief. That was my excuse anyway.

How jarring.

My boyfriend has been skiing since he was a zygote. He was in the ovary when he was first taking on black pistes (not a euphemism) so going back to basics with me was not easy.

“Eh, you just push yourself DOWN the slope”

“What if I go too fast.”

“You won’t”

“What’s to stop me skiing all the way down and ending up in Austria?”

“You won’t. The way you brake and stop is like this *weird leg movement*.”

And this is where I struggle. When I am bad at something, I am really bad. If I catch a ball, it’s a surprise for everyone involved. Whatever leg movement he did to show me how to brake was an absolute MYTH.

There is only one way to stop when you are hurtling down a mountain attached to two planks of wood. Falling. Chuck yourself down. 

I was on the skinniest, tiniest ant hill of a slope, it wasn’t even a training slope, it was the bit of snow to get to the training slope and I was whizzing down the side of the alps at 95 miles an hour. I could see death ahead of me. At one point I actually could see why people enjoy this. I saw my future as an olympic skiier flash before my eyes. Then, I was heading off the mini slope and further down this mountain. Suddenly it wasn’t my future but my entire life flashing before my eyes. 

Implement Operation: Emergency Brakes! Falling into the snow. For a meter at least, my fallen body was STILL skidding and I was sure I’d skid until I fell off the mountain entirely. It was, absolutely, time to stop.

My boyfriend and his very lovely and patient childhood friend Carla went off on the black pistes and I headed to get a tan.

I was the only non-white anything there.

I took off the SHOCKING boots and propped myself up at the chalet. I believe they call it aprés-ski in the biz. But that assumes you’ve actually done some skiing.

Apparently up in the North they eat a lot of deers. Since the Italian lady at the chalet responded in English to my “una bottiglia di acqua, per favore” I figured I’d stick to things I can order confidently. Like this plate of pasta al pesto

Valtournenche ski slopes probably doesn’t have the best aprés-ski scene in the biz since I’ve definitely eaten better but the hours of relaxation was excellent. I had such a good sunbathing sesh that I was really disappointed when the skiiers told me time was up.

My disappointment was rapidly replaced by HORROR when they told me the only way back down the mountain (which we had taken a ski lift up) was on ski. Absolutely fucking not.

Eventually, we managed to beg and seduce the operator to let us back down the lifts for free. I think he took one look at me and took pity.

Once we were back in his Lombardia home, his skiing family and friends, entirely made up of skiiers, all found my failings HILARIOUS. They reassured me I’d improve but they assume I will ever torture myself like that again.

Valtournenche, however, and Val d’Aosta is very beautiful. It has a French or Swiss vibe, especially with the dual names, but I understand the language which is a bonus and a half. Despite being honest to god the only brown person on the slopes, no one really stared which endears me to any place. And just look at that winter sky! That’s how, despite my ski horror, Valtournenche in Val d’Aosta made my Best of 2016 travel