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Thailand

Mai Thai

Now Thailand was such an exciting trip for me. I’d seen numerous friends hop off to Thailand and find themselves, under a full moon party, wearing those weird, hippy, multi coloured elephant pants. And as much as that is not my style, I realised there was something so intriguing about this magical place that I just had to go. I am quite a spiritual person, I love crystals, incense, angel cards, the lot…even a bit witchy especially with my two black cats!

I believe in the healing powers of a place or person and that energy is a huge part of life, I try to put out a strong, bright, positive energy in everyday life and keep myself around those very few special people in life that feel like sunshine. Thailand was attracting me with the positive vibes and love, that people I knew, were coming back filled with after visiting.

Now our little fur babies, I have 3 cats… Boo, Jet and Salem.. the latter two being all black and boys and Boo is our girl. We only had Jet and Boo at the time but I know anyone who loves cats or animals an worry about them when you go away for a period of time. We always end up befriending cats on holiday, in Thailand we met so many, most of them we cuddled and even went to the local shop for one to buy him crab sticks and water. We don’t really have anyone that’s able to check in on them while were away but we have found the best little kitty hotel for them and I can’t not give them a mention.. The Pets Country Manor (give them a like on Facebook and YouTube). They are a family run business, passionate about the animals they take care off. It is a luxury cattery that offer extras such as fully heated bedrooms, climbing frames and toys, lots of cuddles and TLC. Also available are extras such as Pawsome afternoon tea, Kitty tapas, iPad interactive entertainment, in room water fountains and more. We always come home to happy little kitty’s, having had peace of mind that they have been well looked after.

It was in the month of March (2018) that we decided to visit. We flew with Etihad airlines first leg Manchester – Abu Dhabi, followed by a connecting flight to Phuket. I was initially excited to fly with Etihad after hearing some good things but overall I was pretty disappointed. Firstly, considering both flights were not short, the first around 7 hours and the second just slightly longer, we were on a 787 and not an airbus. I’m sure first class would be a different story, but the plane was old, dark and dingy in economy. It was also extremely cramped, I had more room flying on Ryanair to Ibiza. Considering it was supposed to be a top class airline, I felt cramped and claustrophobic. I’m not exaggerating my knees were touching the seat in front and I’m only 5ft7, anyone taller looked physically in pain, bending all which ways to stop their knee’s digging into the back of the person in-front. There was also the issue of the food. Now I’m not expecting a 5-star restaurant style meal but I was expecting something edible. On all 4 flights, outbound and return, it did not improve. I hoped it was just an off day but oh I was so wrong. I had chicken which was grey, slimy and chewy all at the same time, I had one bite and couldn’t stomach the rest. The rest of the food I was put off simply by the disgusting smell.

No surprise here, a number of people were sick, 3 out of my 4 flights, someone vomited, not long after the food. One man just across the aisle, spewed all over the window, another lady all up the aisle and someone else in a bag just in-front. Anyone that knows me will tell you I have a weak stomach, I am not good with someone else being sick – especially the smell. Those flights were torture, with my eyes watering to stop the gagging and my head buried in my jumper. Now I know it is not the job of an air hostess to clean sick but you think something more than a quick wipe with a napkin would have been done. Some disinfectant, air freshener maybe? But no, just the linger of sick in the air for the remainder of the flight. Anyway, I think you get my point and if I continue I won’t be able to eat my lunch later. That first flight I was extremely happy to disembark in Abu Dhabi and start the mission to find something to put in my stomach.

So we did a split trip, staying a week in Phuket and then a week in Khao Lak. There was a lot of activities we wanted to do in Phuket, followed by a more relaxed, chilled second week…So Phuket. Well Kata to be precise, just a short 20 minute drive from Phuket town, we stayed at the ‘Kata Lucky Villas’. Just a quick walk from Kata beach, the Kata lucky villas (recently renamed to Blu Pine Villas) offered us luxurious accommodation, surrounded by tropical greenery. Me and my sister shared a gorgeous room, which when we stepped out onto the terrace were greeted with the pool at the bottom of it. So we could literally get out of bed in the morning, open the sliding door and dip straight into the pool. It was gorgeous and like nowhere I had stayed before. A lot of people I know stay in hostels in Thailand and I’m not snobby but a hostel is not something I could do. I like my own space and bathroom. A holiday, although the most important thing is the location and new experiences, the accommodation is always pretty high up on my list. We spent many an afternoon relaxing on our own  private terrace, topping up our tan, having a cheeky vino, dipping in the pool for a cool off. It was a perfect place for a stunning first insight to Thailand and also a real bargain too, costing around £500 for the room for the week.

I say first look, I had been to Thailand once before but just for the day in Pattaya, when on a cruise around Vietnam. So I had never stayed in Thailand and I was already loving it!

Our first day we decided to just walk round and have an explore, first port of call – the beach! We walked through the quaint, winding road of Kata town and down to the sand of Kata Noi beach. I don’t know about you but when I think of Thailand I think of wooden swings on the beach and I was so excited to find exactly that there. We walked through the waves of the water along to a cool, little, beach side café called ‘On the rocks’ and as the name suggests it was perched right on the edge of the sand, using rocks for some of the tables and chairs, it was the perfect shady coffee break we needed. Plus they had a swing!

The white sand and the crystal blue water was just stunning, I felt so far away from the wet and windy March we’d left behind at home. I am such an ocean type of girl I love nothing more than diving into the sea, head first and soaking up all the salty goodness, it makes me feel so free and alive and so it is how I spent the rest of my day.

We ate out every night that we were in Kata. Our hotel included breakfast in our reservation which was unusual to say the least but still lovely. I think the main reason being I’m not a big breakfast eater, I’m happy with some toast and butter or yoghurt and fruit… this was a full on buffet of pasta, noodles, curry, chilli the lot. All smelling and looking beautiful, just not at 9 in the morning! There were some sausages and eggs but that’s about as normal as the options were. But what they did have was lots of lovely fresh fruit juices which were perfect for my start to the day.

There were some gorgeous restaurants in Kata town, this is where I discovered and fell in love with Thai green curry! Oh my god, it was heavenly and ever since returning from Thailand its a meal I have reciprocated many a time and has become a favourite dish of my boyfriend and I. No joke I ate it most nights of that trip, just the chicken infused with the lemongrass and spices I couldn’t get enough, I did try Thai red curry and Massaman also but always went back to the green. Some of the gorgeous restaurants were just on the side of the street with motorbikes zooming past, sweating in the humidity and even more so with the spices.

The ‘Red Duck’ was a favourite of ours, a traditional Thai restaurant  in a boutique location, a few steps from Kata beach. There was outdoor seating, which I always love and you could tell all the food was made fresh to order. I of course had the green curry and was not disappointed.

Another lovely restaurant in the area was the ‘Two Chefs’ which was a much larger, more modernised type of place, with big open windows making it an indoor/outdoor feel, it was the perfect ambience for a lovely meal. Serving a large, diverse menu ranging from Seafood, international and Asian food to Thai and even European dishes. I tried their Thai red curry which was just stunning, so aromatic and tasty and another night had fajitas. They also had the most fun, yummy cocktails, you know the type that are bright blue with umbrellas in.

For a change for our taste buds we ate a Turkish restaurant one night, which wasn’t too far from our hotel. It was called ‘KataTurk’ and it was gorgeous. As the name suggest the restaurant is predominantly Turkish style dishes but also offered some traditional Thai recipe’s too. We had hummus and dips to start with pitta and olives, I love a mezze starter, it is one of my absolute favourites. We sat outside and watched the world go by, cars and mopeds zooming through the narrow streets.

Now anyone that knows me, knows that one of my favourite cuisines is Indian, I love it all, the spices, the aromas, the heat. I am a big curry fan, the spicier the better so when we walked past a Indian themed restaurant one night, we had to check it out. ‘Golden Paradise’ it was called and it did not disappoint.

I got my curry fix, we all had beautifully marinated, hot curries. I had a jalfrezi but between us tried a Madras, Balti and Tandoori chicken. It came just as I’d expect in my favourite Indian restaurant with rice, chips and Naan bread it was heavenly and highly recommended.

Another place we loved was ‘Ska Bar’ on Kata beach, we found it when we ate at the ‘Kata Seafood restaurant’ one night, not being a huge seafood fan I opted for my fave green curry again. But with a view of the beach we noticed a pool of energy in the corner of the sand, nestled into the corner of the sand, up in the rocks was a Reggae themed bar. Equipped with colourful cocktails, Jamaican flags, Bob Marleys ‘Jammin’ coming through the speakers, it was the perfect place for a chilled cocktail under the moonlight. Half way through our first drink the beach started to light up with flames, when a trio of dancers began to do a show, fire breathing, fireworks – the lot! It was amazing and got us in the party mood… a few more cocktails went down very easily after that.

We stayed closer to Phuket because we had a number of places we really wanted to visit in the area. One being the ‘Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.’ Now I love elephants they are such amazing creatures and I was desperate to see them but I don’t agree with riding elephants, I think its cruel. Each to their own, I’m not saying it’s a horrible thing to do, just personally I didn’t want somewhere that allows you to ride on their backs, I wanted to see them and feed them but more just watch these incredible animals .

This place was incredible, the ‘Phuket Elephant Sanctuary’ is the first ethical sanctuary in Phuket. A final home for retired and rescued elephants from trekking and circuses. Set over 30 acres of lush jungle, we got to experience first-hand the elephants rehabilitating back into forest life after decades of abuse. It was a special place where we could watch these gentle giants roam and bathe, get close on their terms and also have the chance to feed them.

The day was quite surreal and also eye-opening. It is a place where they rescue these amazing animals, they are taken care off and allowed to roam free, they are not held in by fences or chains, they are fed a healthy diet and are monitored by a specialised vet.  These are special elephants who have been rescued from horrendous situations where they had been beaten, chained and forced to carry humans, as well as heavy chairs on their backs for hours on end, every day. Even at 70 years old they were still forced to do such tiring activities. Imagine expecting your 70 year old grandmother to carry something so heavy for 12 hours every day, she would not survive and a lot of them don’t. Just some of the elephants we met on this incredible day had been through hell. One of them was blind from humans catapulting rocks at her. Another had a broken leg that was slowly recovering after it crippled from years and years of trekking, the weight and pressure taken its toll on her ageing joints. I have no idea how anyone could ever be cruel to innocent animals, especially something as magnificent as an elephant. The experience of just being so close, being able to watch them happy and free, feed them and stand next to one was a much greater privilege than riding one. What they offer here at the sanctuary is very special and I am so grateful I got the chance to visit.

We went for the morning program which started around 9:30am and finished around 1pm. When we arrived at the sanctuary, it was so picturesque. A stunning jungle, dotted with ponds, wide open fields and hillsides for the elephants to roam. We started our visit up on the treetop reception and observation platform where we were shown a presentation and educational video to prepare us for our encounter with the elephants. It was explaining why they needed to be protected and some of the traumatic lifestyles they had come from.

After that we were able to feed them, baskets of bananas, pineapples, cucumber and melons were provided for each of us in our small group to have a chance, at this point we were told about some of the elephants backgrounds and history.

After their breakfast we were able to walk with them down to the jungle, by keeping a safe distance and watching them from the observation decks, the elephants had the opportunity to display their natural behaviour, bathing, roaming and socialising with each other, it was just incredible to watch.

The sanctuary was very strict, the safety of their elephants their top priority which I loved and everyone respected. There was no bathing with them, which is a popular activity in Thailand. No rides, shows, trunk hugging, elephant kisses, loud noisy groups or people crowding the elephants. We were able to give them a stroke if they chose to come to a viewing deck of their own accord. Which luckily enough one came to have a nosey in ours.

After the experience we then enjoyed a beautiful lunch, back up on the tree top viewing platform. It was a buffet style, help yourself and it was delicious. It was included in the price of your ticket which is 3,000 THB around 71 GBP … but for the experience, time and the contribution to the sanctuary I think the day is well worth the fee. It is a day I certainly will not forget.

Another reason we stayed in the Phuket area was my desperation to visit the ‘Phi Phi Islands’ and from Phuket harbour was the easiest, quickest boat ride to the islands. We did a day tour, stopping at spots to snorkel and at both Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le, as well as Khai Nai island. We hopped on a 4 motored speed boat early in the morning and off we went. It took around 90 minutes before the stunning islands began to come into view, I was so excited it had always been a dream of mine to go.

The islands were gorgeous no matter where we got off an explored, we had a number of stops to just enjoy. Always greeted by white powdery sand and turquoise blue waters. A highlight of the day was stopping out at sea over a reef where we could jump off the boat and snorkel. There was hundreds of tropical fish, one of the most beautiful snorkelling experiences of my life. I even saw a huge family of Nemo’s – luckily a friend I made on the boat had an underwater camera and snapped a pic of them. It was very deep where we were, sometimes you couldn’t even see the bottom, I had a slight apprehension of sharks sneaking up on me but the experience was too cool to pass up.

The best part of the entire day was jumping off the boat at Maya Bay. Now if you’ve seen the 1999 film ‘The Beach’ then this is the beach of that film. Maya bay is famous and a popular destination for tourists and I could see why. Maya bay is stunning and sheltered by 100m high cliffs on three sides, inside the bay there are several beaches, however some only exist at low tide. The main one is around 200m long with silky white sand, crystal clear water, underwater colourful coral and an array of tropical fish.

 It was stunning, however since the filming of the beach and the beauty of this bay it has become very overcrowded, we were lucky and it wasn’t too packed. Even so there was still around 30 boats anchored up in the deeper waters of the bay, a constant stream of visitors snorkelling and exploring. There is a fee to enter the bay as it is part of a national park. It is only 400 baht (so less than 10 GBP) and for most people included in the boat trip.

Another day in Phuket we decided to treat ourselves to some luxury and it was honestly so cheap that we couldn’t not indulge ourselves in a little bit of a spa afternoon. So the 4 of us popped off to Thai spa/salon called ‘Sabai Sabai massage and beauty’ in Kata beach. Danielle opted for a foot treatment and Me, Mum and Dad decided on a Thai back massage. Well what an experience! They took me and my mum into the same room, two gorgeous beds, next to each other, a smell of essential oil in the air and the calm tunes of spa music playing out. We were on the second floor and in front of a lovely big window, letting the light stream in. They told us to remove our clothes, even bras and lay face down on the bed.

The massage was lovely, a nice deep pressure in my tight shoulders, neck and back and about 30 mins of relaxation later came the weird part. I say weird but it was just not expected. I felt these bare feet in the backs of my thighs and a harder pressure than before, I mean she was only a petite lady who was massaging me but I was thinking surely she’s not standing on me, that only jokingly happens in the films right?

So I had a sneak peek across at my mum to see she had a small Thai lady walking up and down her legs and back too. After that, starting at my toes, one by one she cracked them all, she wiggled my knees and cracked my fingers and wrists before moving onto my neck and ears. Now my boyfriend is a chiropractor, the whole time I thinking please don’t crack my back he will go mad! They didn’t luckily but she did then pull my arms back behind my body, put her knee into my back and pulled me up into almost a yoga ‘locust pose’. Which was fine, other than the fact I was topless, braless and in front of a huge glass window! I looked at my mum in the same position and we both burst out laughing. What an experience it was, I felt great after it and I even paid for another Thai massage at the airport before we left.

Our last night in Phuket before heading to our next destination was fun. A little too fun for me and my sister. After our meal me and Danielle decided we wanted a little something more so found a little shack of a bar on the edge of the road. We sat on high stools in the front, watching people walk by and just chatted away. We ordered a cocktail although better description would be a shit mix. There was no menu or list …the owner, a nice local lady asked us what alcohol we liked and what fruit and she would make us her own concoctions. I told her I liked Gin and anything fruity and Dani told her vodka, they were nice but god they were strong, and with every cocktail came a free shot. Considering we’d already been drinking wine with our meal it didn’t take long before we were tipsy. The owner gave us the ipad to control the music in the bar, which we loved, we were singing, dancing and waving to everyone who passed. A number of cocktails later and we decided to call it a night and zigzagged back to our hotel.

The next morning, we woke up so hungover, sick and feeling sorry for ourselves we remembered we had to pack and get in our taxi to Khao Lak. Our next destination. We lay in bed psyching ourselves up to pack, we literally threw everything into our cases and got out. We had booked a taxi to take us 2 hours up to Khao Lak. It was a nice mini bus so we each had a row to ourselves. I’m not the best traveller in a car, I get motion sickness, especially in a morning and even more so hungover. At home for any long drives I’d always rather be the driver than passenger so I can avoid this. I had to have a carrier bag on my knee just in case I needed to throw up, but I held myself together. Longest, hardest car ride ever. You think we’d learn our lessons!

So Khao Lak is just 80km north of Phuket, sitting on the Andaman seaboard it is the perfect oasis for relaxation. It has a 3 national parks, sweeping hills and beautiful beaches that go on for miles. We stayed in the heart of Bang Niang village at the most gorgeous resort called ‘The Waters’. Embraced by water as the name suggest, boasting around 100 swim up rooms it was the perfect retreat for pure blissful relaxation. Me and my sister shared a swim up room, we thought our room in Kata was stunning but this place was something else. The room brought us direct access to the pool from our extra large private terrace, located in the water. The room offered modern amenities, a floor to ceiling glass window and bright lovely lighting. We spent a lot of our afternoons, after a morning of exploring, just chilling and enjoying this incredible resort.

We became fond of two restaurants during our week here. The first was our hotel’s own Italian themed ‘Amici’. We ate there on a number of occasions and the food was delicious. We tried an array of dishes on our numerous visits and everything was so tasty. I love Italian food anyway but this food was outstanding. From the A la carte menu I tried Bruschetta and caprese salad as starters. Mains I just love pasta so always opted for that, even though I tried a piece of my sisters pizza one night and it was so good. The ‘spaghetti arabbiatta’ was my favourite, I love a good rich, spicy tomato sauce and with a generous helping of garlic it was just perfect. The ‘fusilli bolognese’ and ‘Ravioli Al Formaggi’ were also lovely and recommended dishes. You didn’t have to be a hotel guest to eat at the restaurant either so it was genuinely just one of the best restaurants we discovered.

Another lovely one was also a hotel’s restaurant we found on the first day. We were looking for a bite to eat after our journey and to soak up our hangover and so headed to the beach front. There we came across the ‘La Flora’ hotel and their beachfront restaurant ‘ View 59’. We had lunch under the shade of a nice parasol, the club sandwich went down a treat, with the view of the beach just infront and the sound of the gentle waves just hitting the shore it was paradise. We ate there on a number of occasions and enjoyed their delicious food. I was a huge fan of the green curry (surprise, surprise) but it was so spicy and kind of addicting actually. It was just such a beautiful setting, we would get there just before sunset and sit on a table out on the sand and watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand before we enjoyed our food. One night we even went down to the sea and released some lanterns under the moonlight, it was stunning.

One morning we decided to have a look around the Bang Niang Market which  is a famous, year round market specialising in hand-made crafts and street food. We spent a few hours just wandering around the endless stalls of beautifully made bags and clothes, we got some chimes, fruity oil for our skin and even a Tibetan singing bowl. Some of the items were so unique, it was amazing just to explore the market. The food on the other hand, I’m glad I wasn’t hungry because the food was definitely not up my street. It consisted of a lot of bugs … crickets, locust, silk worms, cockroaches the lot. There was lovely stalls filled with fresh fruit and veg but seeing people eating scorpions from a stick had put me off.

Now Khao Lak I felt was a very special place. On December 26th 2004, they were one of the worst affected areas in Thailand, hit by the tsunami. The 2004 tsunami was the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded, devastating the coastlines of 14 countries and claiming over a quarter of a million lives, it is without a doubt a disaster no one will ever forget. Waves up to 30 meters high hit beaches all over, the worst affected being Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The effects of the mega quake and tsunami were particularly devastating in Khao Lak, the death count coming in at 4,000 was a big underestimation, unofficial counts reached over 10,000 people killed or missing.

In the years since the disaster, Khao Lak has bounced back with vigour and has been entirely rebuilt. In its efforts to rebuild, gone are the bungalows and cabins and in their place stand sturdy built boutique hotels.

There are numerous memorials all around the area and honestly they never got easier to see. Tree stumps with photographs, flowers, notes and candles in memory of the deceased and the lost. It was heart-breaking to walk along the beach in such a happy and beautiful place and think of the terror of that day happening right where I was stood. The local people were all so lovely and I think just grateful to have rebuilt their lives and also survived.

There is a ‘Tsunami memorial park’ in Khao Lak, where you can see a sculpture in the shape of a wave dedicated to all those who lost their lives. There is also a police boat that was washed up in land by the wave. I didn’t go inside the museum itself but wandered around the memorial and boat which just makes you feel very emotional but also a sense of happiness at how this town has managed to pick themselves up, dust themselves and carry on with life.

One afternoon we decided to visit the ‘Khao Lak Orchid Beach Resort’. Now if you’ve seen the 2012 emotional film ‘The Impossible’ you will recognise this place from my pictures as the hotel where the family are playing in the pool when the Tsunami hits and also where the ‘real life family’ faced this terrifying sequence of events. As the film is based on a ‘real life’ family I wanted to visit the hotel that they were actually at when this disaster hit, as well as walk on the same ground as Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.

Thailand was an extremely special place. A place I found the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation, a place I can’t wait to return too and be able to explore more. A place I felt equally ecstatic and emotional while exploring. A place I feel has so much more to offer and I can’t wait to find it, Thailand I’ll be back for you one day.

15 thoughts on “Blog

    1. I’m planning my Greek getaway for 2022 and couldn’t decide where to go but now my minds set on Rhodes .I have to go see these places you describe..so thank you Natalie..keep on going inspiring people to travel ..

      Like

  1. Wow ! Love the New Zealand blog….I’m looking to go around New Zealand one day and never thought about doing a cruise.. Love the pictures of the Sounds ..

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your blog! I love Crete and this introduced me to new places! Excellent writing/narrative👍❤️! Appreciated all the well placed pictures. I’m a retired English teacher so I enjoy seeing young ones use their talent and skills. Bravo!

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  3. Oh my goodness. I lost myself in your Crete blog…I just want to Be reckless and go pack my case and get on the next flight to Crete …..you’ve gave me a bit of escapism in worrying times..Thank you..

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  4. Félicitations pour l’ écriture de ce récit ainsi que pour les belles photos.
    On a l’ impression de participer à votre voyage !!!
    Un grand BRAVO

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Loved all the articles…esp Ibiza . You have a unique style of writing that draws the reader in. Can’t wait to see your other destinations…. I’m planning my holiday for next year to Ibiza and I will be taking up some of your suggestions . Will keep you posted..

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  6. Merci Natalie pour ce beau voyage à Hawaï.
    Reportage et ressenti très différents par rapport à la Crète, sans doute parce que je ne suis jamais allé à Hawaï !!!!
    Votre “travail” est remarquable.
    Profitez bien de votre jeunesse et de votre joie de vivre, mais prenez soin de vous en ces temps difficiles.

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