Expats: tips from Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai

I’ve been on the hunt for Aussie expats around the world to share
tips from their adopted home towns for a column in Sydney’s Sun-Herald
and Melbourne’s Sunday Age.

Melburnian Chris Chun is a fantastic artist and illustrator living in
Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s north, so I tapped him for some great places
to eat, drink, see and what to avoid (He says: “keep your shirt on,
men!”)

Click here to read about Chris’ Chiang Mai, on the Traveller website.

You can see Chris’ beautiful work here.

Tonga: pitch perfect

Tongan Beach Resort  PHOTO: Belle Jackson

“We Tongans party today, and there’s nothing on the table tomorrow,” a
Tongan woman tells me as we queue at Tongatapu’s airport. It’s 2am, I
haven’t even set foot in the country and already I’ve been warned that
Tongans are hardened socialites.

Looking around, I realise it’s true. You’re nobody if you’re not
kissing a staff member. Customs officers, passport controllers, baggage
handlers – they’re all wrapped in warm, loving embraces from the
passengers from our plane, all serenade by a tuneful, live ukulele band.
I guess there’s a reason why Captain Cook called them the Friendly
Islands.

My recent story in Air Niugini’s inflight magazine, Paradise,
finds the song of Tonga, from ukulele bands at the airport to the
ancient, deep and almost mournful whalesong that reverberates through
the water and into my bones.

It’s not a country high on the tourism radar, and I can’t work out
why. Surely the great Aussie tropical getaway is the new one-two – first
stop Fiji, second stop Tonga (the whale-loving archipelago of Vava’u is
now connected by direct flights to the Fijian capital, Nadi).

Tonga: pitch perfect

Tonga Belinda Jackson.JPG
Tongan Beach Resort  PHOTO:Belle Jackson

“We Tongans party today, and there’s nothing on the table tomorrow,” a Tongan woman tells me as we queue at Tongatapu’s airport. It’s 2am, I haven’t even set foot in the country and already I’ve been warned that Tongans are hardened socialites.

Looking around, I realise it’s true. You’re nobody if you’re not kissing a staff member. Customs officers, passport controllers, baggage handlers – they’re all wrapped in warm, loving embraces from the passengers from our plane, all serenade by a tuneful, live ukulele band. I guess there’s a reason why Captain Cook called them the Friendly Islands.

My recent story in Air Niugini’s inflight magazine, Paradise, finds the song of Tonga, from ukulele bands at the airport to the ancient, deep and almost mournful whalesong that reverberates through the water and into my bones.

It’s not a country high on the tourism radar, and I can’t work out why. Surely the great Aussie tropical getaway is the new one-two – first stop Fiji, second stop Tonga (the whale-loving archipelago of Vava’u is now connected by direct flights to the Fijian capital, Nadi).

 

 

From Rajasthani fortress to boutique hotel

Oh I’ve been bad – this poor blog! But the reason for my neglect is good: I’ve been tromping around the wilds of Rajasthan, specifically Bishangarh, a little village about an hour north of Jaipur.

FortBishangarh
Photo: Belle Jackson

The lure was the opening of the new Alila Fort Bishangarh, a fortress turned boutique hotel. I went crazy on instagram – take a look.

It took seven years to convert the 230-year-old fort, and it still retains a tang of military austerity. Happily, the dungeon is free of bats, snakes and gunpowder: it’s now an Alila spa, and staircases lead to rooftop restaurants or a little yoga platform. I did a little housework, cooking flatbread over an open fire in a mud-floor house, I cycled past camel carts and flocks of goats and took a brief pilgrimage to a Hindu temple – interspersed with cool, scented towels, sugared lime juice and dips in this pool (below) because hey, it’s monsoon season in this part of the world, and why suffer if you don’t have to?

My first review is out, for the Sydney Morning Herald/Sunday Age Traveller: click here to read it. If you’re planning a sojourn to Jaipur in the near future, this hotel absolutely must be on your list.

FortBishangarhpool.JPG
Photo: Belle Jackson

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Just the tonic: blending health and hedonism on the Dawn Princess

Thick and rich, the mud seems to pulsate with a life of its own, like an extra from Doctor Who. Scooping a hearty handful, it’s just begging to be slapped on your face.

Standing
in a green paddock in rural Fiji, clad only in swimmers and smothered
from ponytail to toenail in the green-grey goop that smells like cattle
dip, it’s not what I had in mind when I signed up for a seaward jaunt on
board Australia’s best-loved ship, the Dawn Princess. Don’t get me
wrong: it’s great fun, just greatly unexpected.

To read more about life on the good ship Dawn Princess, click here.

 This story was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.