Thailand is one of those rare places that looks just as good as the postcards would have you believe. Bright turquoise sea, colourful markets and those beautiful green forests – it’s basically like stepping into an HDR photo.
The three main islands on the Samui archipelago, Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan, all have their own merits, so I suggest you don’t get picky. Enjoy all three in their own right.
This is the most famous of the eastern Thai islands. It’s a really fashionable destination, and not just for those of us on a shoestring budget – you could rock up to the Six Senses, or The Library, which TripAdvisor called ‘the trendiest hotel in Thailand’. If you’re lucky, you might catch the likes of Mick Jagger performing at the Secret Garden Sunday Sessions on Big Buddha Beach.
Even if you’re not that interested in make-up in everyday life, travelling can change that. For one thing, any combination of jet lag, rough ferry crossings, late night road trips and weird eating patterns can play havoc with your skin, and that’s before sizzling heat or bitterly cold winds come into the equation too. Suddenly a slick of colour or a soothing skin cream seems like a very good idea, and it’s the perfect time to invest in travel beauty products.
With a slew of special offers running in high street stores all year round, World Duty Free isn’t always the cheapest place to shop. Rather than pinning your hopes on airport bargains, I suggest you stock up on basics before you travel, and save some room in your suitcase to bring home new and distinctive beauty products – either for yourself or to use as souvenirs. And if you go to South Korea, expect beauty-savvy friends to be insanely jealous, as it’s a mecca for cosmetics.
Some people have a thing against organised tour holidays. They think there’s no adventure involved, that it’s all about strict plans and blithely following the leader, with no room for fun or independence; I’m going to prove it’s far from the truth. My three group tour experiences were very different, but they all helped me to get more from the country I was visiting, and they were anything but dull.
First I headed to Berlin, Dresden and Colditz with Riviera Travel, a British company that mainly has middle-aged and mature customers – I went with my mum and I was the only one of the entire group not to have either a husband, a pension plan or the symptoms of the menopause. However, I learned loads and had plenty of free time to explore, even making it to Sachsenhausen for the afternoon.
Another year of travel highs and lows has gone by, so it’s time for a review of poppy-filled, sports-dominated, battle-scarred 2014. The stories below stood out for me as the most realistic insights into much-discussed destinations and travel habits.
Trouble in Paradise
Thailand suffered from the effects of harsh military rule and the aftershock of a tragic double murder, claiming the lives of two British holidaymakers. The country’s Tourism Authority is now trying to put a positive spin on martial law, claiming it offers greater safety for visitors, but the increased presence of the police and the army isn’t appealing to everyone. During the darkest times for Thailand, Russian tourists helped to boost the economy, but the falling value of the rouble has seen fewer Russian arrivals. Fortunately, high-spending Chinese visitors have helped Thailand get back on its feet again. This is all the more important as it’s now been 10 years since the devastating Boxing Day tsunami claimed 8,000 lives and affected 12,000 homes.
There are moments when you’re in the thick of your time away and you start taking experiences in your stride, as if it’s commonplace to wake up in an incredible eco hotel and then scramble up rocks to glimpse an incredible panorama, just days after you’ve sipped fresh coconut water from the source and ridden on the back of an elephant.
Flash forward a few more days and you’re haggling like a pro in the market, making a ferry crossing in a storm and… somehow making it through the trip with an ever-increasing inner ear infection brewing under the surface the whole time (more on that later). Then you come home and think, I really did all that? Little old me? Yup. Somehow, I did.
Whilst I’ve accumulated a daft amount of photos taken at sea or surrounded by greenery, the real colour of Thailand during my trip would have to be orange. Little orange glows took me from the monastery at the Big Buddha in Koh Samui to the Queen’s Cabaret in Koh Tao and the cookery class of Chef Tummy in Koh Pha Ngan.
That’s why I thought it would be more appropriate to base my photo essay not on the blues and greens that surrounded me, but on the orange that somehow flowed from a monk’s robes drying on a washing line to a ladyboy’s costume being worn proudly on stage.
After nine incredible days in Thailand, one of the first pieces of advice I’d give to any rock and metal fans hoping to visit is: do not pass up the chance to hit Samui Rock Cafe. Whilst Thailand is undoubtedly known for being a party destination, what nobody tells you is that the party is often limited to dance, house and dubstep music.
These are three genres I could normally withstand on a night out with a beer in my hand and new-found friends to dance with, but which left me climbing the walls after I’d heard one too many songs with no lyrics and a relentless ‘doof-doof-doof’ beat slamming into my ear drums. Sorry, but they just don’t come close to a bit of Baba O’Riley, All Right Now or Smoke on the Water.
(To be read with the strains of ‘The Final Countdown’ playing in the background, for that added sense of drama that only a power ballad can bring, and a bit of assonance with the title).
Only a couple of weeks ago, I was hanging around Reykjavik with my friend and we’d pass a Thai shop most days when we were going to and from our hotel. It was full to the brim with Thai furniture and trinkets, especially those little hypnotic waving cat figures, known as Beckoning Cats. Every time we’d give the waving golden yellow cats a little hello wave back, for luck, and I’d wonder what Thailand was really like. Well, last Thursday I got one massive step closer to actually finding out, as I was somehow lucky enough to win a Thai island hopping adventure with Contiki, through their Blogger Challenge (which was launched at the brilliant Traverse 2013 conference in Brighton)!
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.