My favourite cruise in Vietnam

 

Dragon Pearl, Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

In northern Vietnam 170km from Hanoi lies Ha Long Bay, one of the most scenic places I have ever visited. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this place deserves 2-3 days to enjoy the serene, calm karst landscape of countless large and small islands of different shapes and sizes rising abruptly from the sea. There are also caves, small secluded beaches and floating fishing villages not to mention the sunsets, sunrises and starry nights. With countless cruises to choose from, the Dragon Pearl is a good option as a fairly new 3-deck Chinese wooden junk with fully equipped en-suite cabins, a bar, restaurant, outside dining area and sundeck.

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My favourite cooking school in North Thailand

Baan Thai Cookery School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Picked up in a sawngthaew from your hotel, once at  Baan Thai Cookery School you don pretty aprons and bandanas, and head straight  to the local markets to buy weird and wonderful fresh ingredients. On return to the cooking school, prepare to eat! To start, a Thai “welcome pack” consisting of chilli, peanuts, coconut, dried shrimp, ginger and shallot self-assembled in a cone leaf of some sort, accompanied by some sticky rice and banana and mangosteen. Next we cooked up one of my favourites – chicken and cashew nut, immediately followed by a spicy noodle salad and chicken in coconut milk soup. We used little green chillies for this, how many was up to the individual punter. After a brief 30 minute break which involved lying on the floor under the fan propped up by those Thai triangular pyramidal cushions, soon enough it was back to the grind to make some red curry paste. This involved finely cutting up heaps of herbs and roots and then grinding them up in a heavy duty mortar and pestle until we had dead arms. Before we knew it we were back sweating up a storm in front of an oil-filled wok frying up fish cakes and cooking red curry chicken. A kilo or 2 heavier, we were then escorted home. Fantastic day, but my hot tip is: Don’t eat the day (or 2) before.

My favourite trek in Vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam

At China’s door step, 2000m above sea level in northwest Vietnam lies the quiet mountain town of Sapa. Surrounded by spectacular scenery of mountains shrouded in mist and sloping rice terraces cascading down the hillside, Sapa is also home to a great diversity of ethnic minority groups. Now a popular spot for treks, these excursions can vary from reasonably easy one day hikes to harder multi-day treks with overnight homestays in the villages surrounding Sapa. Whether it is a clear day enabling amazing views of the valleys below, or a crisp misty day amongst the trees in the clouds, the beauty and rich culture of this corner of Vietnam is a special experience.

 

My favourite intersection

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan

Who knew that an intersection could be so exciting? But Shibuya is just that. A densely populated area of Tokyo, Shibuya Station is one of Tokyo’s busiest railway stations, and the surrounding area is known as one of the fashion centres and nightlife hotspots of Japan. Perhaps the highlight of Shibuya however, is its scramble crossing intersection – the busiest in the world. Bordered by crowded meeting places, large TV screens, countless advertising signs and (sadly) Starbucks’ second highest revenue generating location, Shibuya sees 50,000 people cross every half an hour. A must-see location on any Tokyo stop, my tip is to definitely visit it at night, and in the rain for extra giggles with the umbrella dodging!

Question: Where’s a secluded honeymoon spot in Thailand?

Koh Yao Yai Village, Koh Yao Yai, Thailand

I recently was asked by my dear friend Amy “We’re flying into Phuket for our honeymoon, and looking for somewhere beautiful for that much-needed relaxation – somewhere that feels a bit special and away from the crowds, but is still easy to access from Phuket“. This was easy – Koh Yao Yai Village immediately came to mind. Located on an island in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, these eco-friendly bungalows are where we spent the last few nights of our own honeymoon two years ago. It is a stunning spot, and a quiet refuge that feels worlds away from the nearby crowds of Phuket. Koh Yao Yai instead remains a natural beauty, and is often described as one of the last islands in the region to not be overly developed. Koh Yao Yai Village is full of special and unique touches, like the daily weather forecast pinned to the bungalow wall, and the “Have a sweet dream” note posted on your pillow each evening following the turn down service. In such quiet surroundings, what better way to while away the day than to relax on your verandah’s daybed with a good book, or chill by the infinity pool admiring the view.

My favourite Thai resort

Cape Sienna, Phuket, Thailand

Cape Sienna is a chic and modern resort perched on a hill facing the long stretch of Kamala beach, an attractive and more quiet beach in west Phuket. To be honest I haven’t stayed here, but I did get married here. From the road it does not look like anything special, but  once you exit the elevator at the reception level, or higher at the Plum Restaurant or Vanilla Sky Bar, you are greeted with 180+ degree views of Kamala  and the Andaman Sea. Sipping a coconut martini at Vanilla Sky with those vistas is a little piece of paradise. And so was marrying my husband there with our family and friends watching. So if in Phuket, make sure to steer well clear of Patong and stay a few nights at Cape Sienna. That or get married there.