Like many people who visit Thailand, the lure of learning Muay Thai was strong for Tom and me. At this point we’d been travelling for a year, had eaten and drank waaaay too much and (unlike Tom) I’d done barely any exercise. I was more unfit and out of shape than I’d ever been, and Muay Thai training seemed the perfect way to remedy that. Three weeks might not be nearly long enough to go from lazy layabout to Thai fighter, but it’s long enough to notice improvement and get back on track.
Bangkok is paradise for a food lover. You can’t cross a street without the aroma of frying garlic and chillies drawing you in, or smoke pouring from a street food grill hitting your nose. Everywhere you go, there’s a new temptation, whether it’s a spicy papaya salad, fragrant coconut milk curry or traditional roti pancakes sizzling away. You could spend weeks wandering these chaotic streets and barely scratch the culinary surface of this city, but many people only spend a few days in Bangkok. If you’re just passing through and want to make the most of your time here (i.e. eat as much as possible), there are a few things you can do to experience how diverse and delicious the food scene here is.
As the biggest travel destination in Thailand, Phuket encapsulates both the good and bad sides of Thai tourism. I recently spent a month here, and while overcrowded beaches and rowdy bars are part and parcel of resort towns like Patong, scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover a whole other side to this island. From trying traditional Thai experiences, visiting secret beaches and kicking back at the very best hotels, here are my top four reasons to visit Phuket.
It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic place than Bali. With ornate Hindu temples, verdant green rice fields and white sand beaches, this beautiful Indonesian island encapsulates the idea of paradise. As one of the world’s top destinations for holistic retreats and a mecca for yoga enthusiasts, the concept of health and wellness permeates many aspects of tourism here. As a result, it’s also a dream for vegetarians and vegans — more so than any other country I’ve visited so far on this year-long trip.
Writers are often prone to hyperbole, but it’s no exaggeration to say that The Siam is Bangkok’s best hotel. Rated number one on TripAdvisor, The Siam sits in prime position along the Chao Praya River and provides the perfect blend of antique allure and contemporary comfort. Setting foot in this 39-room luxury retreat is like stepping back into a bygone era. The cool building offers respite from the sultry heat, and its refined, serene elegance are welcome after bustling, buzzing downtown Bangkok. Considered by many to be the best hotel in Thailand, not just Bangkok, what is it exactly about The Siam that’s so special?
There are few places as entrenched in spirituality, health and wellness as Bali. As such, few places are more suited to a yoga and meditation retreat. This beautiful Indonesian island has its fair share of luxury havens, but critics seem in agreement as to which one is best. Bali Floating Leaf is “the premiere retreat center with the best personalized service,” according to VOGUE. Condé Nast Traveller considers it one of the “world’s best yoga and wellness retreats,” and Harper’s BAZAAR brands it “the number one choice for luxury oriented, eco-conscious travellers.” So what exactly makes Floating Leaf so special?
Australia is such a vast country that writing an article about the best veggie hotspots would only offer the thinnest insight into the food scene here. Most visitors tend to stick to the ever-popular East Coast, which stretches from Cairns down to Melbourne. While not the capital, Sydney is indisputably the business and tourism hub of Australia: almost all visitors will find themselves here at one point, and the city has as many exciting food options as you’d expect. The appreciation for vegetarian food in Australia was not, on the whole, as prevalent as in other countries I’d visited (many people I encountered seemed to genuinely think I only ate vegetables), but there is still a growing vegetarian movement here.
As the world’s sixth largest country, Australia’s size means you can spend years exploring and still not scratch the surface of what it has to offer. Most visitors tend to stick to the ever-popular East Coast, which stretches from Cairns at the top to Melbourne at the bottom. Whether you’re looking for a glamorous beach retreat, a cosmopolitan city adventure or an idyllically peaceful hideaway, you’ll find it all down under. From north to south, here are five of the most unique luxury hotels on Australia’s East Coast.
Bali has been a popular travel destination for years, but ever since Eat, Pray, Love hit shelves and cinemas, the number of tourists flocking to this Indonesian island has skyrocketed. As a result, places like Seminyak and Ubud can be uncomfortably crowded, packed with people invariably chugging cheap cocktails or searching for some kind of spiritual fulfilment. But there are parts of Bali that have remained unscathed. Located on the south-western tip of Bali’s Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu has long been beloved by surfers and peace-seeking travellers, but retains a sense of peace that’s lacking in other Bali hotspots. Weaving old with new, the rugged cliffs here are home to the 11th century Pura Luhur Uluwatu Temple as well as several five-star luxury resorts.
Outside of Australia the name Noosa Heads might not ring a bell, but its reputation stretches far Down Under. Billed as the Australian Hamptons, this sunny Queensland beach town is every bit as glamorous as its counterpart, and just as beautiful. Located about a two hour drive north of Brisbane, Noosa’s tropical climate, excellent shopping and upscale dining has made it a mecca for luxury-seekers across the world. Celebrity sightings are aplenty (Richard Branson, Russell Crowe and Greg Kinnear are all fans) and the cosmopolitan crowd who flock here spend around $940 million per year. But despite its parallels with the Hamptons, Noosa is entirely unique.
Mexican restaurants are a dime a dozen in most American cities, and Las Vegas is no exception. In and around the famous Strip are a peppering of taco joints and burrito bars, most serving up the usual fare. But as with most things, the City of Sin has taken Mexican food one step further. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has no less than 17 restaurants — a number that doesn’t seem so high once you consider its 2,995 rooms. Deciding where to eat can be a test, but as a serious aficionado of Mexican food, I had my heart set on guacamole and tacos. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas had bigger ideas. What’s the only thing better than Mexican food? Mexican and Chinese food.
New Zealand is known for its Middle Earth–inspiring beauty, Maori culture and passion for rugby more than for its food. Yet the endless swaths of farmland and 8,700 miles of coastline mean that meat and seafood feature strongly, and popular national dishes include roast lamb, oysters, and fish and chips. But vegetarianism has been increasingly steadily, and in the past five years the number of vegetarian Kiwis has reportedly grown 27 percent. During my time here I found that while there were few exclusively vegetarian eateries, most cafés and restaurants have several decent meat-free free options. Naturally, some are (much) better than others. Here’s where to find the best vegetarian food in New Zealand.
Known more for its beautiful beaches, rich culture and warm hospitality than for its food, Fiji has a far more extensive culinary repertoire than one might think. This group of South Pacific islands has a deep and diverse culture, and its cuisine takes influence from India, China, Polynesia, Melanesia, Rotuma and several other Pacific Islands. But just how diverse is the vegetarian food in Fiji? Read the full article on Food Republic HERE.
(This article is now featured on Huffington Post – click here to read). Since leaving the UK to travel the world last year, I’ve visited many beautiful and exotic beach destinations, but Fiji perhaps best encapsulates the idea of tropical paradise. Almost every way you turn you’ll find palm trees swaying in the breeze, turquoise ocean shimmering on the horizon, and brightly coloured flowers adorning almost everything. But with over 330 islands and thousands of hotels and resorts, deciding where to stay in Fiji can be difficult. Rather than spend my time in Fiji kicking back on the beach in just one place, I wanted to travel around and see which places stuck out to me.
It didn’t take long to realise that Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is pretty special, even as far as luxury resorts go. Perhaps it was the all-singing, all-clapping welcome from the staff, which even for Fijian standards was warm. Perhaps it was the fact that the resort has a ‘pillow library’. It might have had something to do with the breathtaking beach vistas, which perfectly encapsulate the idea of tropical paradise: palm trees sway gently in the warm breeze, and clear, calm waters sparkle under the hot sun and deep blue sky. Whatever it was, it took about five minutes to realise that this would be a luxury travel experience entirely out of the ordinary…
Lima, Peru’s sprawling and chaotic capital, has long been overlooked. Less picturesque than the country’s second city Arequipa, and less steeped in Inca history than Cusco, many travellers would often bypass Lima altogether. But things have changed. In recent years Lima has been steadily carving out a reputation as not only the gastronomic capital of South America, but also as one of the coolest cities on the continent.
After spending the past eight months travelling through Latin America, our two week layover in the US felt very welcome. It was so good to be able to communicate easily again (our Spanish sucked), and it was also good to enjoy that excellent customer service. Not that Latin America had bad service (apart from Bolivia…), but it’s just SO good over here. So when we arrived in Las Vegas, the city of hedonism, excess, consumerism and glamour, we thought we may as go all out.
“The only way to experience Yosemite is by sleeping under the stars.” I read this years ago and it stayed with me. I’d wanted to visit California’s Yosemite National Park for a long, long time, and this January we got the opportunity. Sleeping under the stars, however, was out of the question, because our visit coincided with the heaviest snowfall in years.
Despite many people telling me I’d find it hard to find healthy, varied options, on the whole Central America surprised me by how veggie-friendly it could be. The standout was Guatemala, but each country’s people offered up their own unique meat-free treats and happily tweaked their dishes for vegetarians. So how hard would it be to find the best vegetarian food in Panama?
Antigua Guatemala was the first place I fell in love with on this trip. This Central American colonial town has it all – incredible food, absorbing culture and jaw-dropping vistas – and over six months after my visit (where does the time go??) it’s still on my mind. I’m making it a personal mission to encourage as many people to go to Guatemala as possible; along with Peru, it’s my favourite country so far and an absolute joy to explore. If you’re considering visiting Antigua, check out the city guide I’ve written for Suitcase Magazine for some advice, tips and tricks.
(Check out Part I of this blog entry HERE) Inca Trail Day Three: Winay Huayna & Intipata So, day three of the Inca trail. After the challenge of Dead Woman’s Pass, we were told that day three would be both easier and more enjoyable. It certainly started well: we were treated to a lie-in until 6:00am! As a troubled sleeper, I was definitely feeling the previous 3:45 and 5:00 am starts, but it was still hard not to feel upbeat on what was widely rumoured to be the best day of the trek.
Out of all the things I was most excited about in South America, hiking the Inca trail was number one. This isn’t original. As Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, Machu Picchu has around 1.2 million visitors a year, although most of these get the train up from the nearby town of Agua Calientes. But for many backpackers, trekking to Machu Picchu is the only way to get there.
The last leg of our nearly six-week long Colombian adventure came to close where we started off – on the hot Caribbean coast. After several weeks in Medellin we caught a flight to Santa Marta to explore the best this region has to offer. And according to word of mouth, that was Tayrona National Park. While that certainly didn’t disappoint, my favourite place in this region – and probably Colombia on the whole – took me entirely by surprise…
Costa Rica has come a long way. Described in the 18th century as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all of America,” today it is by far the richest and most stable country in Central America. Long popular with tourists due to its wildlife, beaches and exceptional coffee, in recent years Costa Rica has been busy advancing its gastronomic reputation too. But this is a country where most national dishes (“tico” to the locals) revolve around rice and beans with seafood or meat. Remove that from the equation, and how does Costa Rica’s vegetarian food fare?
Of all the countries we’re visiting on this trip, Colombia has drawn the strongest reaction. The country’s reputation for drugs, kidnapping and murder is well established, but nowhere else is more infamous than Medellin, once dubbed the “most dangerous city on earth”. This was a city utterly torn apart by cartels and drug lords, and none were so notorious as Pablo Escobar.