Why I'm Traveling: Mental Postcards From Beside the Pool

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In case you hadn't been following my Instagram page of late, I thought I'd let you know I'm just popping off to Asia for the next 3 months. 

It's something of an open ticket. However, I've landed in Singapore, the place where chewing gum is illegal. That's right, wise up London. Apparently when they installed the new metro system out here, a member of state sat on some chewing gum and that was it. Not even a day old and some numpty had already left their taint. 

So that's that. No more chewing gum in Singapore. 

I'm doing some sunning by the pool here and wanted to get some thoughts down on why I've gone traveling. So strap yourselves in I'm going to spill my heart and guts a little. 

I've lost my MOJO

As Austin Powers would say. I've been enmeshed in something of a mental funk for a while now. Partly down to a break-up, unrequited love and all that. 

I've also become very dispassionate of late with my work. Compounded by this recent slew of negativity and backlash within the Instagram community. When I first started posting on Instagram promoting my own Hawkins & Shepherd shirts I used to walk down the street with my head held high. 

Now I'm looking down the street, looking over my shoulder, on edge man. Not secure. I want to get the shot and get the hell out of there before anyone sees me and sniggers, 'there goes the instagrammers'. 

I've never been 100% comfortable doing the street style stuff if I'm honest. But I certainly had more hutzpah back in those early days. 

Line Drawn

So this is a line in the sand people. I'm hoping this trip will heal some wounds, give me time to reflect on the future rather than ruminate on the past.

Already I've done my first one-on-one yoga session, seen some beautiful architecture, I've had a dip in the pool and the good people here at the Six Senses Maxwell have pointed the toilet paper for me. 

Why you should go traveling also

As James Bond would say, 'you really should get out more, it lends perspective'. I'm hoping to meet new people out here, experience new things and shake up the mental etch a sketch. 

Whilst saying goodbye to my friends and family a strange thought came over me. Why am I saying goodbye to the people that I love. They'll still be there when I get back.

I should be saying goodbye to the trolls. Goodbye to the demons in my life. Goodbye to the heartbreak, the insecurities, all the things that have cloaked me in piss-pungent robes of dourness. 

You know it's true, you never know you're on top of a mountain until you're sliding down, and never know you're in a troth until you're climbing out. 

This will be the first of many of mental splurges. I want everyone to start thinking carefully about the ones they love. Make sure you be extra nice to at least one person a day. Have patience with those that grind your gears. Only love can conquer hate. 

Right, enough for now. Happy hour calls. 

 

 

Is This the Most Instagrammable Hotel in Bali? The Udaya Resort & Spa

If ever there was a hotel designed purely for that perfect Instagram photo, the Udaya Resort and Spa in Ubud is it. This was my final destination on my trip through Indonesia. Without your realising you may have already seen photos of this hotel in your feed or in a distant utopian dream. 

Women will love this place because it looks like something from a Disney film. Guys you'll love it too because your woman will be telling all her mates about this place and it was all your idea! The only downside is she'll be asking you to take her picture every five seconds. Either in a bathtub full of rose petals or of her eating breakfast in the pool on a tray made from floating bamboo. 

Do I get my own pool? 

Only if you book your own private villa and that is naturally, more expensive. Outside of that you will get a perfectly awesome pool that is communal but relaxing enough. 

What's in the Cultural Package? 

Admittedly I booked this package by mistake. However, a lucky accident as it came with a double bed suite, an elongated balcony, more plug sockets than a Bond Villains lair, the shower pressure reminds me that London sucks in general, 2 x spa treatments, a free lunch and dinner and a full one day tour of Bali. Anywhere you want to go! 

How much did it cost? 

£225 all in. A day! But you do get breakfast included (banana pancakes!) and afternoon tea around 2-5pm. There is evening entertainment with dancers and BBQ's. I also splashed out on 2 x 60 minute Balinese massages, but you need to book ahead for those. 

Summary

This is more of a lovers retreat than a backpackers destination. Sadly I was alone at this point of my travels, point so I had to indulge in a candlelight rooftop dinner for one. Naturally the service is something you'd expect from a luxury resort; impeccable. The complimentary yoga sessions were the perfect way to start your day.

 

GiliFit Hostel Review: where Rocky would stay on Gili Trawangan

I heard a lot of mixed reviews about GiliFit in the lead up to my stay. GiliFit is not your 5 star Shangri-La so anyone heading to the only gym on the island of Trawangan, should first manage their expectations. That said, if your expectations on an exotic island of idyllic retreat is to find a place with helpful staff, the basic amenities and a place of character then this is certainly a decent fit. 

Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the Gili islands which can be found nested quaintly off the off the north-western shore of Bali’s neighbour, Lombok. Tourists flock to the Gili islands mainly for the diving of which there are centres on all three islands Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. 

Gili Trawangan is modest, you can walk the 7km shoreline in a matter of hours. One side of the island is more rambunctious, club-heavy, the other more tranquil and less trodden. 

GiliFit is the only gym on the island, or so I thought. There is a new gym that's opened within the busy-quarter. However, as with most modern shiny new things, it lacks the character of its counterparts. 

This gym very much feels like where Rocky would chop some wood and grow a beard, the other is more Drago-driven. 

There’s a cardio studio then the weights studio and also some free-weights outside to use. Sure there may be a little rust on the bars, but it’s part of the charm. I recommend hiring a push bike and doing a lap around the island. 

For just under £20 a night you'll be given all the basic amenities; hot water, a pool, air-conditioning, a bed, and even a tele with English speaking channels. You'll also have access to a personal trainer. Myself and my travel buddy This is Timothy enjoyed a brutal MMA workout with personal trainer Ri. 

Ri was is of Ugandan/South African descent and contorted me into shapes like he was playing a cootie catcher. (That's a deep pull for you kids). On hand are all the necessary supplements to keep you on the healthy train; protein shakes, juices, nutrition bars etc. 

Summary

Yes you'll find plenty of excoriating reviews online of GiliFit, some comparing it to a builders site etc. Some of these are old reviews. I have not received sponsorship nor any special treatment in exchange for this editorial. I was just taken in by the staff, to quote Russell Brand 'the heat of their sweetness could melt ice cones'. 

My advice is embrace the true 'Castway' vibe of this island. Forget about your hair-curlers or having the butler on call to point your toilet paper.

GiliFit is only like 5 minute walk from the main strip on the Eastern side of the island and a 15 minute walk from all the bars and nightclubs. 

Es Saadi Marrakech Resort | Hotel Review

The other week I took a mini trip over to Es Saadi, a luxury 5 star hotel and resort that boasts eight hectares of gardens in the heart of Marrakech. The resort sits in a lavish private park where you'll be invited to unburden your city woes to the singing birds that thrive amongst the palm trees, banana trees, olive trees, bougainvillea and small roses of Marrakesh.

The resort reflects a rich cultural heritage, and since 1952 has housed some of icons of mine and bygone eras; the couturier Balmain, Josephine Baker, the Rolling Stones and Leonardo DiCaprio have all frequented. 

Footnote - I did enjoy the caption on the companies website;

As you enter the hotel grounds, you have to imagine Mick Jagger, who is young, posing by the pool, .. (let's not think of a 75 year old wrinkly Mick Jagger clutching onto an 18 year old cocktail waitress shall we?). 

Here, the walls and furniture have kept the legendary Es Saadi intact, with 50's lines that delight connoisseurs. Examples of Moroccan art can be seen on every wall and corridor. It's emblematic of the young artists in the country that provide a great source of optimism and energy to the decor. 

On the quest for 'best son 2018' I took my Mum who conveniently seconded as my camera-woman for the trip. Mum is a dab hand in the kitchen so luckily the boys in the kitchen at the Moroccan restaurant Coeur des Lions and at the Gastronomic French restaurant did not disappoint. A great breadth of wines and cocktails are on hand at the Palace. 

The Spa with the indoor pool is a bloggers dream and I certainly dipped my bread, getting enough 'throwback' pictures to last me through a nuclear winter. 

The Es Saadi is conveniently located, a short ten minute ride by taxi and the old town is about 25 minutes on foot. I can recommend. It's a little slice of heaven if one wants an option to stay out of Medina and very reasonably priced too.

 

HOTEL ES SAADI MARRAKECH LOCATION

The Best Things to Do in Penang, Malaysia | City Tour

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With sunny, warm, tropical weather for 12 months of the year it's easy to see why us Brits have such an attraction to Malaysia and after spending a week in Penang, I now know why there is an affinity to this particular city in our great history. Penang is located in the northwest sector of Malaysia and is an Island just off of the mainland city of Sungai Petani with Georgetown as its capital. If you are a backpacker entering Malaysia from the south of Thailand it's a great location to visit straight after having a relaxed few days on the beaches of Langkawi and before heading on to Kuala Lumpur for some city life.

Penang is geographically situated between the laid-back beaches of Langkawi and the city life of KL. With beautiful beaches, exceptional shopping and history dating back to 1786 Penang is seemingly an amalgamation of these two great locations that it's sandwiched between.

From the 6th February 2018 the world's number one airline Qatar Airways opened up a new route from Doha to Penang so it's never been a better time to experience this incredible island city. Flights now operate from Doha to Penang 3 times per week (Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday's) and is increasing to 4 flights later on in the year due to high demand. If you wanted to fly from London Heathrow to Penang via Qatar Airways the flight duration would be 15 hours and 25 minutes including a 1hr 35m connection time at Doha airport. The London Heathrow to Doha flight is 6hr 50m leaving at 15:05 UK time and arriving at 00:55 Qatari time, the connecting flight leaves Qatar at 02:30 and arrives in Penang, Malaysia after a 7hour flight at 14:30 local time.

Before I get on to listing my top tourist spots and things to see in Penang, here are a few hidden gems that are not listed in many Penang tour guides:

The Antarabangsa Enterprise is somewhat an institution in Penang. It's an off licence where you can buy the cheapest beer in Penang, it's not a bar although there are plastic chairs kerbside to drink the beers you have just brought from the store. A backpacker and local favourite.

If you are after cheap backpacker accommodation and a laid back lifestyle head straight to Chulia Street and Love Lane. The cheapest room I found was around 50 Malaysian Ringgit.

Spend time at the Durian farm of Balik Pulau which offers cheap home stay with the local farmers.

A few wacky but wonderful places include the Upside Down Museum on Kimberley Street in Georgetown. Or how about visiting the Trick Art Museum where art comes alive and finally not for the faint hearted there is the Ghost Museum

TOP TIP: If you are drinking with a Chinese local and you 'cheers' your glasses there are rules! Cheers normally and you should take a sip of your drink, cheers with the top of the glass and this indicates that you have to finish whatever you have left in your glass...you've be warned!

After spending a full week in Penang, here are the best touristy things to do in Penang and my recommended time of stay to make the most of the attraction and to help you to plan your days efficiently.

 

1. Pinang Peranakan Mansion

 

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion in George Town, Penang, Malaysia, is a museum dedicated to Penang's Peranakan heritage. (1 Hour).

2. Street Food

If you ask any local "What is the best thing about Penang?" they will say the street food. Visit New Lane, McCalister Road, Kimberley Street and the Red Garden Food Court for the best street food in Penang. (All day every day).

3. Religious Buildings

Where else on this planet can you find a Christian Church, Hindu Temple, Buddhist Temple, Chinese Temple and Muslim Mosque situated close to each other in harmony? The diverse culture of Penang should be an inspiration to the world. (Half a day on foot in Georgetown).

4. Learn the Art of Batik

Visit one of the many traditional Batik Art museums or small family run factories to give an insight into the beautiful Malaysian craft. (30 Minutes - 1 Hour).

5. Visit the Best Beaches of Penang

Penang is an island and therefore has a coastline full of great beaches, some of the best include Batu Ferringhi, Teluk Bahang, Monkey Beach, Kerachut Beach and Pulau Betong (which is where the locals go - so must be incredible). (Half Day or Day Trips).

6. Penang Hill

Penang Hill is a hill resort comprising a group of peaks on Penang Island, Malaysia. It is located within the Air Itam suburb, 6 km west of the city centre of George Town. Get to the summit by a  railway which is a tourist attraction in itself. Once at the top of Penang hill there are a variety of different attractions such as a canopy walk and nature trails. (2-3 Hours).

7. Clan Jetties of Penang

Busy, scenic destination featuring a traditional village of rustic houses on stilts over the water. (30-60 minutes).

8. Street Art

There is a thriving street art scene that is present throughout Georgetown, just explore the area around Love Lane and you'll find loads of unique artwork on every spare canvas wall. (Half a day on foot in Georgetown, maybe combine with a tour of the Religious Temples).

9. Entopia, The Penang Butterfly Farm

There is more to Entopia than 10,000-20,000 butterflies fluttering around in a big domed shelter. This indoor sanctuary is full of live butterflies & other insects such as dragonflies, plus interactive workshops for adults and children. (30 minutes-2 Hours depending on how much of the interactive workshops you attend).

10. The Gravityz, Outdoor Adventure Platform

If you're afraid of heights this is probably not for you, head up to The Top which is on the 65th floor of the Komtar Tower in Georgetown, Penang. Test your nerve by tackling the glass walkway (Sky Walk) as a warmup for The Gravityz which is an outdoor platform/assault course on the outside of the building where you're strapped on to a safety line.  (1-2 Hours enjoy the views at the bar as an added benefit).

11. Pay Respect to the Fallen Founders of Penang

This is a bit of an odd tourist destination but this is rumoured to be the oldest cemetery in Malaysia and buried here are some incredible men & women who helped shape Penang into what it ultimately is today. The Old Protestant Cemetery, also known as Northam Road Cemetery is now listed as a Class 1 Heritage Site and is maintained by the Penang Heritage Trust. (15-20 minutes).

12. Coffee Shops

Make sure you sample the local coffee shops in the old colonial buildings of Georgetown. I stumbled across what I think is the best cafe in Penang, it's a lovely coffee shop called Bean Sprout Cafe. (Whenever you need that caffeine fix).

13. Tropical Spice Garden

Take your mosquito repellent with you as this is a real Tropical Spice Garden forest in the middle of the city. Sample and learn about the plants, leaves, flowers or roots that make all of the fine spices used in the Malaysian food.  (2 Hours).

14. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is located at Leith Street in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. The mansion's indigo-blue outer wall makes it a very distinct building in the area, and it is often popularly referred to as The Blue Mansion. (1 Hour).

Top 10 Hotel Rooms to Stay in Before You Die

I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to have visited some of the most amazing countries, cities and tiny little fishing villages in the world. I've travelled around South East Asia many times, South America, most of Europe and Africa...although there is still so much more to see. As I sit here planning my next short break to Greece, holiday to Havana and backpacking adventure - I've been researching some of the most amazing hotels in the world and here are my Top 10 (In no particular order, as that would be too tough to work out).

1. HOTEL KAKSLAUTTANEN, FINLAND

I'm going to save this location for a very special 'one-off' occasions, as for me there is nothing more romantic than staying in a glass topped cabin, cozied up in a 12tog duvet viewing the Northern lights whilst its freezing cold outside. Located on the edge of wilderness close to the Urho Kekkonen National Park, you can also explore the surrounding areas on reindeer or husky safaris as well as sampling your skills at ice-fishing, snowboarding or even cross-country skiing.

2. SINGITA MARA RIVER TENTED CAMP, TANZANIA

Located on The Serengeti, a vast ecosystem in East Africa spanning over a massive 12,000 square miles and is home to the largest mammal migration in the world. Singita Mara is a tented camp of just six luxurious tents and offers stunning views of the Serengeti plains as well as located on a perfect spot for migrating wildebeest. As well as guided safari tours, this hotel also offers spa facilities and focuses on relaxation with no TVs for distraction, just good food, company and wine of course!

3. LONGITUDE 131, AUSTRALIA

Located in the world heritage listed wilderness of Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park this unique camp site could be one of the most remote camp sites in the world! Longitude 131 takes glamping to a completely new level, with fine dining and majestic views.

4. LIKULIKU LAGOON RESORT, FIJI

Close your eyes and picture secluded islands, clear blue skies, shallow turquoise seas, coral reefs and a beach hut on stilts over looking the most epic of all sunsets....you'll probably picture this place. Total paradise. 

5. KATIKIES, SANTORINI

This boutique hotel is the spiritual home of the fashion blogger! Perfect white walls, infinity pool and a suitcase or 5 of gifted clothes - you'll never be out of Instagram inspirations at this hotel. 

6. TAJ LAKE PALACE, INDIA

I mean, how does this even exist...what a complete architecture and engineering genius. This floating hotel was built in the 1740s on Lake Pichola in Udaipur which makes it even more impressive. 

7. AMANGIRI, UTAH

A remote hideaway in Americas South-West, situated in a protected valley within the canyons. The hotel itself is designed to blend into its surroundings with hues of ochre, yellow and pink - where geographical nature meets contemporary life. 

8. NORTH ISLAND, SEYCHELLES

11 Luxury villas, white sandy beaches, scuba-diving, luxury dining and somewhere to watch the sunrise and sunsets with someone special in your life.

9. PALIAS NAMASKAR, MARRAKESH

A fashion bloggers little brother or sister alongside Santorini! Contemporary in it's hotel offerings yet medieval in its design. A perfect tranquillity between desert and majestic mountains - a destination for relaxation.

10. DESERT NIGHTS CAMP, OMAN

Pitch up at this deluxe hotel settled in the Wahiba Sands in Oman only a two-hour drive from the capital city of Muscat. The tents are air-conditioned with their own private terrace over looking the stunning view of the Wahiba Sands.

WHAT TO PACK FOR A BEACH HOLIDAY

When you click book for your next holiday destination it can be the biggest high of the year, swiftly followed by panic (as you inevitably need a new wardrobe to take with you!), then stress (because you have spent way too much on new clothes). Fast forward a month and I'm now sitting by the infinity pool in Barcelona at the Grand Hotel Central on the same weekend as the F1 Grand Prix, well done me! Although I'm travelling with Emily Hartridge who isn't much into F1, bummer! 

Trying to save some pennies, we booked an EasyJet flight out there and therefore limited to 10kg of baggage, so packing has to be well thought out. What I tend to do is pack outfits that can be worn Day-to-Night, or if you wear something in the evening - the next day you can wear the top/shirt again with your swimming shorts. I constantly tell myself pack light and smart. My packing technique is to go through all of my drawers at home and pick out everything I would like to take with me and sprawl it all out over my bed. I then go through a process of elimination, do I really need 3 white t-shirts? 4 pairs of jeans? Probably not. Finally I try to work out outfit combinations with what I have left in the shrinking pile of clothes - if you have space left over, pack a couple of wild card pieces!

Debenhams and in particular Jasper Conran have an excellent extensive new season, on trend collection perfect for a beach or tropical getaway and you can shop entire outfits without having to bother going from shop to shop and inevitably ending back in Debenhams! Barcelona was going to range from 20-26 degrees Celsius in the daytime and drop to around 13 degrees in the evening, so I wanted light weight fabrics nothing too heavy for example linens and lightweight cottons are perfect. 

When choosing the outfit below - a classic linen short sleeved white shirt was a must. Its versatile enough to be worn as I have with a pair of blue tailored shorts or open buttoned over a t-shirt for cooler evenings. The shorts come tailored to just above the knee length, which allows enough fabric to add 1, 2 or even 3 rolls to modify the length to suit your own personal style. Flip-flops are my normal beach footwear of choice, however when you are combining beach, sight seeing, lunch, dinner and drinks into one day, slip-on shoes are a must. Finally I have accessorised a typical pastel summer outfit with a couple of bold pieces. Firstly the Jasper Conran black watch and finally my favourite piece of the entire look, some brown tortoise shell sunglasses.

So jet off in style this summer whether you are heading off for a tropical beach holiday or a city break, shop the Debenhams holiday collection and you'll have your suitcase sorted in no time.

 

SHOP THE LOOK

Photography by Emily Hartridge

MY HOLIDAY TO THAILAND

As I sit here writing this wide awake at 5am due the jet lag from my recent 3 week trip to Thailand, I thought it would be a good idea to reminisce and reflect on what was a mixed-bag of a trip. If you follow me on Instagram you may already have the impression that this Thailand trip looked amazing and that everyone got along and had such a great time...well I wish that were true. I have a pair of Gucci tortoiseshell sunglasses that when worn makes everything and everyone look like they are in HD with a better tan than what they actually have, its fake, unreal - much like social media and in particular Instagram.

I didn't post one picture without some sort of filter applied. It made me think, why does everything have to be perfect? The perfect holiday, the perfect job, the perfect relationship...why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect or perceiving the perfect life and if everything was perfect, would you still find fault, can something be too perfect that it becomes faulty? I mean take the below for example, is anything really wrong with the first picture? No, not really, in fact it is probably better and more natural than the second edited one. My point being: in relationships we sometimes fall into the trap of trying to mould your girlfriend/boyfriends/Jobs/Friends into perfection for you. However take a step back, remove the filter and you'll probably find that they are perfect just the way they are.

My Thailand trip started of with a long journey from London to Koh Phi Phi where we were spending New Year. An eleven hour flight to Bangkok, followed by an internal flight to Phuket, taxi to the port then a two hour boat to Koh Phi Phi...actually it wasn't that bad! 

We stayed in Princess Resort on Phi Phi which was a very nice modern resort in the island. The only thing with it is that they are still expanding so there is quite a lot of building works going on. We were here for 5 nights and in hindsight far too long.

You see, Phi Phi used to be one of those places where backpackers sought paradise, natural beauty and a good level of nightlife. Whereas now the beaches are packed and the nightlife has taken over. I never thought I would see the day when Phi Phi would have 'beer pong' bars with gap-year students touting you into their bars with free shots and 2-4-1 buckets, I mean what is this, Magaluf? It certainly felt like it on a night time.

Nightlife aside, which really wasn't my scene...there are still pockets of beauty. Like Maya Bay, where Sophie and I got a long-tail boat early one morning to see the national park in its unspoilt self with only a handful of people on The Beach.

On to Koh Lanta for two nights. Not too far from Phi Phi and much more chilled out. The beaches seem to go on forever and the vibe is very much - chill out on the beach, have dinner and a few drinks whilst watching fire displays. 

RaiLay beach was our next stop. To get here you have to get a boat to Ao Nang which is the main town in Krabi and from there RaiLay is a short 10 minute long-tail tax boat ride. When you get to RaiLay, you arrive at RaiLay West, this is where all the expensive resorts are - take a short 10 minute walk to RaiLay East which is where the more affordable guesthouses are. 

I loved this place, the beach is over looked either side by two large limestone cliffs and the town has a chilled out 'Bob Marley' vibe to it. If you love great food, a bit of rock climbing, beachlife and time to reflect - this is your place.

At this point I had to goodbye to Sophie who was flying back to London, whereas I had another week in the sun! So we took the boat to Phuket, stayed one night in the best ever hotel I have ever set foot in, called The Shore. There was a massive LOL moment, as when we arrived the staff assumed we were on our honeymoon hahahahaha, we should have milked it a little more than just the free bottle of champagne we got! 

From 5 star luxury to the seedy but intriguing night life of the Patong - we headed out to have a few drinks and visit Thailand's notorious Ping-Pong bars and looking back it has to be one of the funniest and enjoyable nights of the holiday.

Up at the crack of dawn to head to the airport where Sophie go on a flight back to Bangkok then London and I flew to Koh Samui and got a boat straight to Koh Phangan. 

I never thought I would say it but Haad Rin (the Full Moon Party Beach) on Koh Phangan was totally dead, quiet and eery. I guess everyone vacates the island after the New Years parties and we were a week too late.

Saying that, we stayed in Coco Huts which is one of the best places to stay in Haad Rin. Its only a 5 minute walk to the Full Moon beach and all of the nightlife, but you are far enough away to get a good night sleep (gosh I'm old!). Coco Hut Villas is on Haad Leela, which is quiet and much nicer during the day to relax on rather than Haad Rin, where tourists piss in the sea all night long!

After a lot of island hoping we made it to Koh Tao, where we spend 5 nights. Koh Tao is great, it is the best mix between island beach life and night life. Good food with plenty to keep you occupied.

Lee and myself did a spot of sea fishing and ended up catching dinner that night. We also met up with lots of friends from back home and people we have met along the way plus went sunset paddle-boarding.

Another must do if you are on the island is to visit Koh Nangyuan which is a 5 minute long-tail boat ride from Koh Tao but is a national park (closes at 5pm) and offers the most stunning viewpoint of the island.

I do hope you have enjoyed this brief insight into my trip to Thailand. If you have any questions or want travel advice, I have been many times and visited a lot of places above and beyond what I have explained here. So comment below and I'll reply to your messages.