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.

Hotel review: Swissotel Resort Phuket, Thailand

Poolside at the Swissotel Resort Phuket, Thailand. photo: supplied.

With Muay Thai in the gym, a broad sweep of beautiful white-sand
beach, poolside kid manicures and Phuket’s cha long liquor at the
poolside bar, what’s not to love about this family-friendly hotel?

Set on the broad sweep of Kamala Bay, on Phuket’s west coast,
Swissotel Resort Phuket is two minutes’ walk to the beach, within
driving distance of most of the island’s attractions, but away from the
sin bins of Patong. Ideal for families, it’s the great beach holiday,
Thai style.

You can read more about my review of this Phuket family hotel here on the Traveller website. The feature appeared in Sydney’s Sun-Herald and Melbourne’s Sunday Age newspapers.

Hotel review: Swissotel Resort Phuket, Thailand

With Muay Thai in the gym, a broad sweep of beautiful white-sand beach, poolside kid manicures and Phuket’s cha long liquor at the poolside bar, what’s not to love about this family-friendly hotel?

Set on the broad sweep of Kamala Bay, on Phuket’s west coast, Swissotel Resort Phuket is two minutes’ walk to the beach, within driving distance of most of the island’s attractions, but away from the sin bins of Patong. Ideal for families, it’s the great beach holiday, Thai style.

You can read more about my review of this Phuket family hotel here on the Traveller website. The feature appeared in Sydney’s Sun-Herald and Melbourne’s Sunday Age newspapers.
swissotel-phuket
Poolside at the Swissotel Resort Phuket, Thailand. photo: supplied.

 

Japan’s Hokkaidō tops Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Asia 2016’ list

The travel lists are coming thick and fast today! Hot on the heels of world’s best airline lists, Lonely Planet has just issued its Asian hotspots for 2016.

Here’s what the Lonely Planet experts have to say:

“Lonely
Planet’s Best in Asia 2016
1.
Hokkaidō, Japan
Hokkaidō’s perfect
powder snow put it on the international map, but it has also blinded visitors
to the year-round charms of Japan’s northernmost island. Hokkaidō has
become a lot more accessible this year thanks to the new bullet train linking
its southern port city, Hakodate, to Tokyo.”
2. Shànghǎi,
China
“Looking
for the centre of the universe right now? It’s surely Shànghǎi.
This year’s a big one, with the first Disney resort in mainland China opening
here, as well as the completion of the long-awaited Shànghǎi Tower,
the world’s second tallest building.”
3. Jeonju,
South Korea
“Having long flown under the
radar as the country’s top foodie destination, Jeonju has
finally started to make mouths water further afield. The birthplace of Korea’s
most famous dish, bibimbap, now lures a younger crowd thanks to its
fast-emerging street food scene.”
4. Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
“This archipelago now ranks among
Asia’s hottest emerging destinations. With improved flight connections
from Ho Chi Minh City, there is no better place right now to feast on
fresh seafood, explore in search of a perfect beach and revel in a castaway
vibe.”
5. Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is
focusing on its natural heritage – specifically, the
UNESCO-designated geopark, a 50-sq km region to the northeast. A shuttle
bus between the geopark’s Sai Kung town and its ancient rock
formations debuted this May, hard on the heels of a ferry service to Lai
Chi Wo Village.”
6. Ipoh, Malaysia
“Malaysia’s lesser-known food
capital has new flair thanks to a crop of boutique cafes that have sprung up in
its historic quarter. At the heart of Ipoh’s renaissance is otherworldly
concept hotel Sekeping Kong Heng.”
7. Pemuteran, Indonesia
“A double bay of beaches
near Menjangan … don’t wait until everybody arrives; catch the
buzz now from this alluring mix of art-filled resorts, inventive new
restaurants and the mellowest vibe around.”
8. Trang Islands,
Thailand
Trang Islands pack
the same knockout punch as their more famous Andaman Coast neighbours; all they
lack are the crowds. Go, now – while these sleepy islands bask in untouched
splendour.”
9. Meghalaya, India
“Opportunities for hiking,
climbing, caving and rafting abound. After decades off the tourist map, people
are starting to notice this backwater. Meghalaya won’t stay
this quiet for long; go before thrill seekers storm the Khāsi Hills.”
10. Taitung, Taiwan
Taitung is Taiwan’s
secret wild card. This cradle of indigenous culture is the place to party after
harvest with music festivals and sweet millet wine. Or take advantage of this
rural county’s superb whale watching, stargazing and cycling.”  Please
note: Typhoon Nepartak has caused recent devastation; however Best
in Asia
 is a collection of great places for the next 12 months and
Taiwan has already begun the rebuilding efforts and will be welcoming
travellers again soon.
Visitors to www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-asia can
also enter a competition for the chance to win a trip for two to Lonely
Planet’s
 number-one Best in Asia 2016 destination, Hokkaidō,
Japan
, valued at AUD $10,000.”

Christmas gift guide for people who love to travel

Buy a goat for Christmas…you know you want to,
worldvision.com/gifts

Thought about giving someone a goat for Christmas?  It’s time for *drum roll* the Christmas gift guide for travellers.

No matter where your stocking is hung, in a snowy pine
forest or on the walls of a beach shack, here are Christmas gift ideas that will
travel – or will inspire you travel. Here are a couple of suggestions from the story, which was published in the Traveller section of Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper. Gifts range from $10 bags up to a slick weekend in Thailand.

Feel good, make others feel good buying a World Vision gift in their
name. Shop online (no postage or wrapping required) to give a child inrural Cambodia some school pencils or hey, buy a family a llama. You
know you want to. From $5 to $197, worldvision.com.au/gifts.

Add a touch of Scandi style to your Christmas babes with this 100 per
cent organic cotton baby travel blanket. One side is a smart neutral
grey (to go with whatever you’re wearing) the other is a monochromatic,
seasonal forest print, $75, jasperandeve.com.au.

From e-book readers to luxury weekends, if you’re an
armchair traveller or enjoy road trips, click on to my story in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper for some crackers Christmas ideas for the traveller in your life.

  

In the raw in Phuket, Tiger trims down, checking out the Flying Doctors: Takeoff travel news

FOOD
In the raw on Phuket
The luxury Sri Panwa hotel on Phuket’s southern coastline
has opened its newest dining option, an authentic Japanese restaurant called Baba
IKI. Order from the sake cocktail list and get up close and personal at the
sushi bar with head Chef Haru, who trained under Iron Chef Boontum Pakpo. Top
picks include the toro sashimi (premium tuna belly) and sake
sashimi (Norwegian salmon). Seating 60 people, Baba IKI has expansive views
over the Andaman Sea. This is the fourth restaurant at the hotel on Cape Panwa including
Baba Soul Food, which serves traditional southern Thai cuisine such as as Hell
Chicken and crab and coconut curry.  The
hotel has been named Thailand’s best resort and its Baba Nest rooftop bar one
of the world’s best beach bars. A night in the pool suite ocean view costs from $800. See sripanwa.com.

AIRLINE
Tiger trims
carry-on kilos
Low-cost airline TigerAir is dropping its free carry-on luggage
limits to 7kg a person on flights booked from March 17 for travel from April
17. Currently, passengers are allowed to bring two pieces of cabin luggage
weighing up to 10kg in total. The airline said the move will help prevent
over-filled overhead lockers and save time both on the plane and at check-in.
Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Rex Airlines have 7kg carry-on limits on their economy
domestic routes, while Qantas allows two bags of 7kg, totalling 14kg. TigerAir
passengers can buy an additional 5kg of carry-on luggage, bringing the total to
12kg, with its new Cabin+ product, which costs from $18 in advance or from $36
at check-in. See tigerair.com.

KIDS
Backyard explorers
Teach the kids a love of the great outdoors, stylishly, with
a night under canvas in the new Joey tent. Created by outdoor goods
manufacturer Homecamp, the sturdy Joey is made
from canvas, has a waterproof floor and is fire and mould resistant. Pitching
at just under a meter high and 1.4m wide, it fits in the backyard or pitch it beside
the family tent for a kids-only zone on holidays. The Joey weighs 8kg and will
sleep three little ones. So all you have to worry about now is dead torch
batteries and marshmallow overdoses. Costs $325. See homecamp.com.au. 
BOOK
Gallipoli No. 1 destination

Travellers wanting to visit the battle sites of
Gallipoli, Turkey, are being advised to avoid not only ANZAC Day, on April 25,
but also weekends until mid-June. Lonely Planet named the Gallipoli Peninsula
the world’s number one travel destination for 2015, and its new Turkey guide
advises that massive crowds are expected to visit the Gallipoli Peninsula
Historical National Park this year, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the
Gallipoli landing. Author James Bainbridge adds that weekends in September are
another peak time, when vacationing Turks visit the region. Lonely Planet
Turkey (14th Edition), $39.99.See lonelyplanet.com.


NEWS
Check-up at the Flying Doctor
The Royal Flying Doctor Service in Broken Hill has opened
a new GP clinic beside its visitor centre, where travellers heading into
central Australia can seek medical advice and ensure they’re in fine form for
the road. The RFDS has visitor centres at Broken Hill, Longreach, Alice
Springs, Kalgoorlie and Dubbo, as well as Charleville, which also as a GP
clinic. Last year, its 63 aircraft flew more than 26 million kilometres caring
for 282,000 people, and says about a quarter of its emergency medical evacuations
are road warriors driving in the outback. Broken Hill is 935km from Sydney and
725km from Melbourne, and the last medical service until Alice Springs, so plug
the new Clive Bishop Medical Centre into your GPS: it’s at the RFDS Base on
Airport Rd, next to Broken Hill Airport, open 9am to 5pm, Monday-Friday. The
Bruce Langford Visitor Centre lets you go behind the scenes and into the RFDS
airport hangar, open seven days. For medical appointments, call (08) 8080 3780.
To donate to the not-for-profit service, see flyingdoctor.org.au.
GEAR
Indigenous inspiration
Wear your country with pride with this fashion range
designed by indigenous artists. The Community Unity lifestyle bag is painted by
artist Robert Levi and measures 45×36.5cm. It’s made from polyester drill by indigenous
clothing brand Bundarra which designs, cuts and sews all its garments
here in Australia. Levi, who is from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, says
the bag’s design shows hope for indigenous unification. It’s one of several designs across Bundarra’s range, which includes fashion leggings and its new
singlets. Bags cost $39.95. See bundarra.org.



This weekly column by Belinda Jackson is published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newpaper’s Traveller section.

Airline review: Jetstar business class

THE ROUTE Melbourne to Phuket.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME None unless you pay an additional $200 for a Business Max bundle,
which earns points with Qantas Frequent Flyer or Emirates Skywards Miles
and gives access to the Qantas Club lounge.
CLASS Business class, seat 3C (aisle).
DURATION Eight hours and 50 minutes.
FREQUENCY  Jetstar began flying three times a week between Melbourne (Tullamarine) and Phuket on the Dreamliner on February 9.

THE SEAT
38-inch (92.5-centimetre) pitch, 19-inch (48-centimetre) width. There
are just 21 business class seats with a 2-3-2 layout, and it’s fully
booked.
BAGGAGE Checked luggage up to 30 kilograms and two carry-on bags, each up to seven kilograms.
COMFORT  It’s a low-cost carrier, so don’t expect lie-flat beds. The grey
leather recliners are like business class of yore: they’re broad and tip
back to a snooze-worthy level, though it does become squeezy for the
passenger behind, working on their laptop. The Dreamliner offers decent
27 centimetre (10.6-inch) screens, big overhead lockers that I can
actually reach and windows that are nearly half as big again as other
aircraft. Instead of shades, Dreamliners have an electronic dimmer
which, when the afternoon sun hits the window, turns the cabin a curious
aquamarine colour, surely like snoozing in a fish tank? Despite the
captain’s warning of some bumps, the flight is mostly smooth, another
Dreamliner feature.
The middle seat: Jetstar business class.
Jetstar’s Dreamliner business class seats.
ENTERTAINMENT  Even at 40,000 feet, you can’t escape Two and a Half Men reruns. The new releases selection is extremely modest in size and the “summer blockbuster” section is dated (Avatar was released in 2009). Still, I’m happy with a new Maggie Smith film, My Old Lady,
and even test out the “health videos”, a blend of natural sounds,
orchestral music and seascapes of NSW’s Wattamolla Beach – a sort of
Enya-meets-Sharon O’Neill clip. I’m very surprised to find the R-rated Game of Thrones
available. I think I’ve selected one episode without full-frontal
nudity but I’m mistaken. Luckily, there’s a bulkhead between me and the
small children behind. I could turn on the “Seat Chat” feature to see if
someone wanted to chat online with me, but perhaps not …
SERVICE  We’re stuck on the tarmac for 25 minutes awaiting late paperwork, but
it’s no hardship in business class, where the Piper-Heidsieck champagne
is making a showing. The flight touches down just a shade off schedule.
Staff are informative (but not too chatty), though obviously still
becoming familiar with the new aircraft’s features.

FOOD We’re served dinner and supper on this afternoon/evening service. The
appetisers, two little savoury tarts, are dry and pretty unappealing
but the Chinese spiced duck leg tastes as good as it smells. The
Australian cheese plate finishes me off. But wait… the staff circle
again, this time with Baileys or a Rutherglen muscadelle and chocolates
and shortbreads. Bizarrely, supper arrives just two hours later, and
still only 4½ hours into the flight, for those who didn’t eat a
three-course lunch. The chicken BLT is so large that eating it just
isn’t ladylike, but I persist and it’s a winner. The Eden Road
chardonnay from Tumbarumba is a welcome respite from the sauvignon
blanc.

THE VERDICT Jetstar’s business class prices reflects the fact that it’s a
low-cost carrier, with seats priced from $949 one-way ($399 in economy).
The convenient day flight to Phuket departs 3pm and arrives at 8pm.
However, I pity those who draw the short straw and get the middle seat
in the 2-3-2 formation: it seems to defeat the purpose of flying
business.

Tested by Belinda Jackson, who flew courtesy of Jetstar. See jetstar.com.

This review by Belinda Jackson was published in the Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section.

Things to do in Phuket, Thailand: One day three ways

PENNY PINCH

Amble down to the food carts that congregate outside the mosque at
Bang Tao before 9am for a classic breakfast of lod chong (bright green
pandan noodles with coconut milk and red sugar) and sweet tea with
Carnation milk, served in a huge glass stein (THB40). Hitting the beach
is now a cheaper proposition since the government has stopped daybed
hires. Go early to nab a shady spot then call for a beachside massage
(THB500). Lunch is  hokkien noodles at third-generation run Mee Ton Poe:
order the fish curry in banana leaf, mee tom yum (tom yum soup with
noodle) and mee hokkien. Arroy mak mak! (Yum! THB100) Tap into Phuket’s
Buddhist roots at the Big Buddha overlooking Chalong, then stop into the
super-ornate Chalong temple (free) before winding down with a Singha
beer and sunset over three beaches (Kata Noi, Kata and Karon) from the
Karon View Point (THB80). Dinner is by the obliging women who set up
their food carts in Kalim Bay, till 9pm (THB100). Looking is free on
crazy Bangla Road, with its ladyboy and girl-a-go-go bars. Thus dazzled,
doss in one of the Old Town’s gorgeous, tiny guesthouses – try Na Siam
(171 Soi Soon Uthit, facebook.com/nasiamguesthouseandcafe, THB800/double).
TOTAL THB 1620 ($64)

Charming: Dibuk Road, Old Phuket Town. Photo: Getty Images

EASY DOES IT

Call for mango juice and house-made croissants at your digs, the
four-star Swissotel Resort Phuket, but go easy before you line up for a
quick Muay Thai session at the hotel (free). Hot enough for you? Cool
down with a dip from a longtail boat, which you can hire off Kamala
Beach and cruise to little Laem Singh beach (TBH1500). Lunch is a chance
to rub shoulders with Thai starlets at One Chun restaurant: order the
rich, creamy crab and coconut curry (48/1 Thepkrasattri Rd, Old Town,
THB280), then unravel the cuisine’s secrets through an afternoon at the
Blue Elephant Cooking School, (THB 2800, 96 Krabi Rd, Phuket Town, blueelephant.com/phuket).
After slaving in the kitchen, reward yourself with sunset drinks and
dinner at BiMi on the swank strip of Surin Beach: don’t go past the
whole grilled snapper with spicy jim jaew sauce. Pair with a mojito made
from local Cha Long Bay rum (THB820, bimibeachclub.com)
or grab a Sly Thai vodka/limoncello/lime cocktail next door at Catch
Beach Club (THB290), then it’s sweet dreams at the nearby Swissotel,
which has one, two and three-bed suites (From THB 4720 a night, one-bed
deluxe suite with breakfast, swissotel.com).
TOTAL THB 10410 ($413)

SPLASH OUT

Get the yacht to pick you up at Cape Panwa Marina for Thai-style
breakfast aboard its five-hour cruise – leap off for a snorkel and kayak
through the Andaman Sea (thailuxurycharters.com,THB130,000)
then jump ship at Kalim Beach for lunch by the seaside at the modestly
named Joe’s Downstairs, where chef Aaron Hooper has been named
Thailand’s top chef. Order his Blue Crab Cake and/or Joe’s Famous Burger
(baanrimpa.com
THB1500) but don’t go overboard: this afternoon you’re hanging from the
treetops on a zipline eco-adventure, and the weight limit is 120kg (flyinghanuman.com,
THB3250). Dust down and gloss up to rub shoulders with royalty and
Rockefellers at sunset drinks at one of Phuket’s best bars with a view,
Baba Nest, in the luxe Sri Panwa hotel. For real, undumbed-down Thai
food, take a table at the hotel’s Baba Soul Food restaurant or order the
luxe toro sushi and do a Phuket versus Canadian Maine lobster
comparison at its new Japanese Baba Iki restaurant (THB5100) then call
for champagne and party the night away in your private plunge pool (sripanwa.com, from THB22,400 a night, pool suite ocean view).
TOTAL 162250 ($6448)

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Swissotel Resort Phuket and Sri Panwa. 


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

Famous Flyer: Deborah Hutton

Hutton rates driving through Provence as her best holiday experience.

An African safari and the Maldives are on Deborah Hutton’s wish list.

WHICH WAS YOUR BEST HOLIDAY?
Renting
a car in Paris and driving to St Tropez over four days. I stayed at
little inns and ate at great restaurants through Provence, really
getting a feel for the country. It ended with the madness of St Tropez,
which is FUN in capital letters.

AND THE BEST HOTEL YOU’VE STAYED IN?
The
Soho in London – I love the position and it has the most divine suites –
and the tiny, tiny Eichardt’s Private Hotel in Queenstown. The
interiors are by Virginia Fisher, who does all the Huka Retreats. It’s
right in the centre of Queenstown with a great little bar downstairs.
You go in for five minutes and the next day, they’re like, “Hello
Deborah, that was a pinot, wasn’t it?’ They really get you.

WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU?
The
same as everyone else – my iPad, my earplugs, and eye mask. I do have a
little baby travel pillow I always squeeze into an air suction bag, so I
have the consistency of a good pillow.

WHAT DO YOU NEED FOR A PERFECT HOLIDAY?
There
has to be a great golf course – that’s generally what I look for first.
It’s also got to be warm, with a beach (though I can do pool), with
good friends and good restaurants.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST PIECE OF TRAVEL ADVICE?
I
always photocopy my passport and credit cards, and I always split my
credit cards up, leaving one in the hotel safe and one in my wallet.
It’s gotten me out of trouble before, when I had my bag stolen in Ibiza
(surprise, surprise!).

AND YOUR WORST EXPERIENCE ON HOLIDAY?
My
pals booked a “divine design hotel” in Koh Samui. The pool’s filtration
system was broken, and it was green. And there was no restaurant, you
ate in bures on the beach. And then the weather turned. No pool, rain
and sitting cross-legged on the beach, eating bad Thai? I booked a
flight back to Bangkok and checked into The Peninsula hotel.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST PACKING MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE?
Leaving
it too late to pack, because I then pack too much. You just hate
yourself on long-haul trips every time you have to repack.

WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO TO NEXT?
At
the top of my list is an African safari and the Maldives. I would stay
at one of the Evason resorts in the Maldives. They’re just heaven on a
stick. I see photos of the beautiful water and think, “That’s just me”.
And I want a cocktail and I want one with an umbrella. To me, that
screams “holiday!”

Deborah Hutton is an ambassador for NRMA’s Living Well Navigator, livingwellnavigator.com.au.

Interview by Belinda Jackson

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper’s Traveller section

Walking Phuket’s old town

Just back from Phuket, I absolutely fell in love with the colours and history of Phuket old town. It’s chocked with gorgeous cafes, guesthouses and weird trinket shops wedged between mechanics, junk rooms and people’s homes. If you’re following my Instagram feed
(@global_salsa), THANK YOU and sorry, you may well be sick of these
photos. If not, here are a few of my favourites. I’ll be posting up
more in the next few days, once this vicious cold abates (thank you,
also, Thai aircon, this is not the first time you’ve done this to me).

Gorgeous guesthouse

Raya restaurant

Snapped on Yaowarat Street (also spelt Yaowarad or even Yaowaraj – go figure)
There are some truly spectacular tiles on the doorsteps of the old town’s shops and houses.
I couldn’t get my feet out of the road, so you get the lot: tiles and toes.

Traffic tears past at a manic rate, but this grand little corner seems woefully neglected.

See what I mean about these tiles? They’re just fabulous.