AN EXOTIC WINTER GETAWAY: THAILAND
First things first. Christmas in a hot country is EPIC. If you enjoy your damp, cold and frankly uninspiring English Christmas - then stop reading here. If family tradition won't allow it, then take this trip in the depressing New Year aftermath that is January. I promise you either way, you will be well rewarded for taking the plunge.
Whilst everybody else is pretending to have fun squishing around the mud in wellies and staving off the drizzle in raincoats, you will be instagramming photos of yourself in a bikini on a tropical beach and will return with a summer glow, usually only achieved with the fake stuff.
So. Where did we go and what did we do? Well, Thailand can be a tough sell - you want to avoid the 'Gap Yah' vibes but then again it's a long way to go for two weeks without factoring in activities. Luckily though, my family incorporates a range of ages and interests (and capacities to deal with the sun!) so hopefully everyone can find something to tempt them in amongst this long list of things to do...
HOTEL & LOCATION
I couldn't recommend the Cape Sienna Phuket (http://www.capesienna.com/photo.html) more highly. It is not the most glamorous nor expensive hotel you could find in Phuket by far, however I can guarantee it has a great combination of friendly staff, very comfortable rooms and delicious restaurants.
It has an amazing sunbathing terrace with an infinity pool overlooking the sea - this is where I spent many a happy morning reading my books. It also boasts a wonderful sundowners terrace called the Vanilla Sky Lounge, where we went most nights to watch the stunning Thai sunset.
The hotel itself is located a little way up a hill from the very relaxed Kamala Beach which has a range of beachside restaurants for the evening, when you fancy some freshly caught fish thrown onto the BBQ. Nothing fancy, but eating out at night in the warmth, then padding back through the sand to your hotel, really is a luxury!
A specific Kamala recommendation for dinner would definitely be The Deck (http://www.taoshagroup.com/the-deck-restaurant.html) and for some lively post-dinner drinks with reggae music and board games, head down to the colourful Bob's Bar.
Heading out of Kamala and along the coast in a tuk-tuk, you will arrive in the rather gaudy tourist hotspot of Patong.
This isn't a town I enjoyed hugely, it is aesthetically not that beautiful, however we did spend a nice early evening strolling around the local market and along the length of the beach.
It is also home to the Bangla Boxing Stadium where we headed one night for Muay Thai (http://www.banglaboxingstadiumpatong.com/) boxing. I would definitely schedule this cultural activity into the itinerary.
At the top of the hill, as you drive into Patong, you actually come across three brilliant restaurants, all of which we tried and loved. I believe they are part of the same ownership group, however they each have a very different vibe and style of food.
My favourite was the traditional Thai, Baan Rim Pa (http://www.baanrimpa.com/thai-restaurant/), where we spent Christmas Eve. The restaurant itself is set in a treehouse with incredible views overlooking the sea and the night lights of Patong. It is candlelit so you are given a torch to read the menu with. This makes it feel really quite special and, it doesn't even need mentioning because it's a given, but the Thai food is sublime.
Joe's Downstairs (http://www.baanrimpa.com/seaside-restaurant/index.php) is directly next door but has modern decor and a more international menu, which is brilliant. Also make sure to ask for the tapas menu for starter options, as you can't see this on the internet. If you are fancying a break from the spicy Thai cuisine (which I couldn't stomach everyday!) then this is a perfect option.
Da Maurizios, directly next door to Joe's, is also worth a try. it is a beautiful Italian restaurant with delicous pasta and meat dishes to choose from. With these lovely three options - you'll, like us, be coming back time and again to make sure you try them all!
A real surprise of the trip was Phuket Town. I hadn't initially had it on my list of 'must-visits' however one overcast afternoon, we decided to venture across the island to check it out... And what a rewarding afternoon it was.
The thing that surprised me the most was the amazing cafe culture which has been curated by the locals. There are so many coffee shops to choose from. Grab a flat white from Eleven Two & Co (http://eleventwoandco.com/) to energise your shopping trip around the town.
Also drop into A Dessert Moment (https://www.facebook.com/adessertmomentsthailand/) for an afternoon sweet treat or refreshing iced juice!
For dinner head to the Blue Elephant for an authentic thai evening (http://www.blueelephant.com/phuket/)
For a great stretch of beach to sunbathe on, then seamlessly move to evening dinner and an after-party, head down to Surin.
My favourite spots are Catch Beach Club (http://www.catchbeachclub.com/) and Salt (http://www.saltonsurin.com/) which wouldn't look out of place in St Tropez or Marbella but are hidden gems that aren't nearly as expensive, nor exclusive.
BIG BUDDHA & WAT CHALONG
For a touch of culture - and i'm not usually the first one on the tour bus! - grab a tuk-tuk for the morning to take you up to the dizzy heights of Big Buddha. It's an impressive stone buddha monument with amazing lookout areas for views over Phuket.
It only takes a short time to wander around so then head to Wat Chalong (http://www.phuket.com/island/wat-chalong.htm), an ornate and extremely picturesque collection of Buddhist temples.
Elephant trekking isn't for everyone - I understand some people have very strong views on this - so let me quickly and briefly give you my recommendation and then we can move on.
Siam Safari is a high-end, quiet and beautiful setting for a short elephant trek. It is the only elephant camp in Phuket & South Thailand to be certified by the Thai Government and I truly believe the elephants here are happy and well looked after.
We had a great time trekking through beautiful forest and stopping for photos in front of seaview. There was also a section of the trip dedicated to educating you about the welfare of elephants.
Highly informative and amazing to see these beautiful animals up close - I would say if you are keen to see them up close, this is the safari option to choose.
PHI PHI ISLANDS BOAT TRIP
Warning! This is not for the faint-hearted! The hour long boat ride to the islands is somewhat treacherous and bumpy - granted we sat at the front of the boat - but you would not want to do it after a mad night out!
However, if you can survive the journey, you are well rewarded upon arrival.
Yes, this is probably the most touristy and busy activity you will do all holiday. But sadly there is no way around it unless you want to travel separately to the smaller and more isolated islands where there will be less tourists.
Happy exploring Thailand travellers! X