After spending a month exploring the wild landscape of Sri Lanka, we were keen to relax and spend the next two weeks on the beach soaking up every last bit of sun before heading back to a European winter. It had been a month of constant movement and amazing adventures, but after a while you really start to need some time to just chill and we were long overdue for an actual holiday. Originally we had planned to spend two weeks exploring the Maldives but sadly bad weather put paid to those plans. So when the team at Ammatara Pura Pool Villas invited us along to stay with them in Thailand where we were promised a lovely 30 degrees, we quickly snapped up their offer. Now if you guys remember correctly, I was actually in Thailand three years ago so it felt amazing to be returning to the country that started off my three years of travelling and to be doing it with my boyfriend who was visiting for the first time. I couldn't wait to share my experiences with him and to relive some of my favourite moments with him by my side.The last time I was in Thailand - despite spending three months exploring the country - I never made it to Koh Samui and always wondered if I had missed out. Arriving on the island, we were glad to see the sun shining after a particularly stormy few days on Koh Tao where the roads had been flooded more thank ankle-deep with rainwater. I couldn't believe the sheer size of the island, compared to Koh Tao and Koh Phanang it seemed huge and a lot more commercialised, but we quickly moved out of the busiest areas as our minibus made it's way to the resort. The island is very much made up of resorts from the budget-friendly to the utmost in 5* luxury, but there is a trip to suit all. We were excited for our next adventure to be taking us to quieter area of Lamai Beach, where the extreme luxury of the Ammatara Pura Pool Villas awaited us. Arriving at the gates, we were instantly bowled over by the incredible palatial buildings and knew we were in for a real treat. As you can see from the photos, it really was an absolutely beautiful place, a real oasis in the midst of busy Koh Samui.Imagine waking up in the morning in your enormous princess-worthy bed then wandering out of your own private garden villa to find your own private pool with jacuzzi waiting just outside. Just metres away you can glimpse white sandy beaches, palm trees and fresh coconuts, and the sounds of the ocean wash over you. Styled after a 1,200 year old Thai palace, the villas and restaurant are set around a stunning temple, swimming pool and gardens for the exclusive use of the guests. With just 18 of these incredibly luxurious private villas on the property, the boutique resort offers complete privacy and a chance to really unwind on the holiday of your dreams. After so long spent on the road, we were very much in need of a real treat and a chance to just relax and we couldn't have found a better place to do it. This amazing getaway gives visitors the chance to live like royalty during their stay, designing their perfect holiday with an attentive staff who are always on hand to make it a reality.I won't lie, I felt like an absolute princess during our visit. The enormous villas are the epitome of luxury and have everything you need and everything you never dreamed you might have. From the beautiful outdoor rain shower and the huge jacuzzi bath, to the walk-in wardrobe and the gorgeous bed draped in the softest sheets which overlooks the swimming pool. With a choice of the sea view villas or the garden view, each had it's own private area complete with a patio, balcony, swimming pool with jacuzzi. We spent our days basking in the sunshine, splashing around in our own private pool overlooking the ocean or dining in the resort's beachfront restaurant on the most delicious Thai cuisine. Can we just talk about the food for a second? We're talking not just some of the most delicious Thai food I have eaten, but amazing Western options, plenty for vegetarians and even halal. We were greeted with fresh juices and breakfast each morning was an international feast of delectable delights from all over the world.The Thai owners pride themselves in the resort remaining a truly independent hotel and ensure the friendly staff are there for your every need during your stay. For guests who are looking to be pampered, the resort boasts a stunning open air yoga centre, complete with a panoramic ocean view, a fitness room equipped with state of the art machines and a spa with a huge range of treatments. The resort lies just a short and complimentary tuk-tuk ride away from the centre of Lamai, which is filled with restaurants, bars and entertainment. We had a great night when we went to watch Thai boxing at a bar in town for free, and there are plenty of opportunities to book tours or trips from the travel agents. For those who wish to explore further afield, the island lies just a couple of hours by ferry to nearby Koh Phanang and Koh Tao.It really was a perfect way to round off our time spent travelling around Asia and I can't imagine a more luxurious place to treat yourself, and your partner, to a romantic few days by the ocean. Fancy a taste of luxury? You can book a villa for your next visit to Thailand here.
Where is the most luxurious place you have stayed? Where was your favourite place in Thailand? Did you like Koh Samui?
I'm really excited to be sharing this post with you guys today, because not only was it a real highlight of my Sri Lanka trip, but it was also what sparked the inspiration behind the trip. Although Sri Lanka has always been a place that really ignited my imagination, it had slipped to the back of my mind and wasn't really on my list of priorities. But when an email from the team behind Diyabubula Hideaway dropped into my inbox, suddenly Sri Lanka shot pretty quickly to the top of my must-travel list. Talking about the creative atmosphere, the beautiful and historical location, the nearby national parks where hundreds of elephants gather – read more about this here – my imagination was captured and I couldn't stop talking about it. My boyfriend was curious and eager for our holiday not to end, so he decided that we were going to Sri Lanka after we left Australia, my dreams were becoming a reality and we couldn't wait to explore this whole new world. Diyabubula Hideaway was the perfect place to celebrate the halfway point of our month in this amazing country and we couldn't have been more grateful for a chance to spend a few days in this wonderful, natural, creative space.Normally I would write quite in-depth about the property, but to be honest, I think the pictures speak for themselves. The place was absolutely beautiful from the second you walked through the gates, lush green vegetation adorning every building and inviting you to breathe in the fresh air and the sights and sounds. It was magical, with every luxury you can imagine, plus the freedom and the independence to explore at your own pace with a team who would work around your plans to provide you with the finest food and service. We stayed in an overwater villa which was absolutely stunning and reminiscent of the treehouse experience I had dreamt of when I knew I was coming to Sri Lanka.The rooms were peaceful and luxurious with a huge bathroom and walk-in closet, an enormous bed overlooking the balcony where we would watch monkeys play. We were quite lucky to experience all weathers when we were there - both glorious sunshine and one evening a torrential rainstorm which was quite magical to watch through the windows, and to fall asleep to the sound of raindrops drumming on the roof. The room also came with a small kitchen with basic amenities and a lounge area downstairs.Found in central Sri Lanka, in a town called Dambulla at the edge of the Cultural Triangle, the accommodation is the creation of renowned Sri Lankan artist Laki Senanayake who designed the place as a hideaway to compliment his water garden. With just five villas available at this luxury lodge, it defines "boutique luxury" and offers each guest the finest pace to escape from the busy cities and to explore the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.With some of the country's oldest temples, ancient cities and astounding national parks right on your doorstep, there is so much to do in the local area and the helpful, and attentive staff can organise transport and guides for you. If you're less interested in the area and more in a creative escape, you're in the right place as artist Laki actually lives at the property in his own minimalist space. Each evening guests are invited to join him at his place for an amazing light and music show he has created himself, and to spend the night in discussion with the artist himself.I was so disappointed to find out Laki was away travelling at the time of our visit as I would have loved to have met him and to have heard more about his vision. But we still had the pleasure of exploring his quarters and enjoying the amazing sculptures dotted around the property, plus his amazing light show each evening. If you're a creative type yourself, this could be the perfect opportunity to indulge in creating your own art as I've heard Laki loves his visitors to try their hand at creating during their visit.Overall, an absolutely amazing stay that treated us to the ultimate luxury at this beautiful boutique lodge, and some well-needed peace and tranquility. After weeks of travelling non-stop and throwing ourselves into all of the activities, it was lovely to take some time to just relax and to have somewhere so peaceful and beautiful to do it. A huge thanks to all of the amazing staff who were so welcoming and who really made our stay at Diyabubula Hideaway a pleasure.
The rooms have different rates available – for the water villa we stayed in you can have half board for 200 euros a night or full board for 220 euros per night. (There are not many restaurants nearby and the food at Diyabubula is amazing so I would recommend full board) Or, if you fancy trying the tree house or bamboo grove, you can have half board for 180 euros or 200 euros for full board. All of these prices are for a double rather than a single. I personally think this accommodation is worth every penny and will make your stay in Sri Lanka even more magical. I really cannot recommend this place enough and although I received gifted accommodation in this case, all views remain honest and all my own. Click here for more info and to book.
Would you like to stay at Diyabubula Hideaway? Can you recommend any other accommodation in Sri Lanka? What are your priorities when booking accommodation?
One thing I really loved about Sri Lanka was that it wasn’t just beaches and cities, there was a whole other side to the country, a wild, rugged jungle waiting to be explored. With plans to explore not one, but three national parks along the way, I was excited at the thought of staying in the depths of the jungle with wild elephants and leopards hiding just beyond the boundary lines. So I was very excited when Wilpattu Treehouse invited us to come and stay with them for a few nights while we explored Wilpattu National Park up in the north-west of the country. We arrived at Wilpattu after around five hours on the buses travelling from Habarana in the Cultural Triangle and found Wilpattu to be tinier than we had imagined. With just one street heading off the main road, there are limited accommodations aimed specifically at those visiting the park. When planning your trip, you wouldn’t need much time in the area, just one full day for a safari would suffice, with a day set aside before and after for travel times.
This sanctuary was declared a national park in 1938 and lies just 188km away from the capital, Colombo, with Wilpattu Treehouses situated just a minute’s drive from the park entrance. Visitors to the area can take full or half day jeep safaris in the park through several companies, where they can spot the likes of the Sri Lankan elephant and leopard, sloth bear, spotted deer, buffalo, sambar and mongoose. The park is also fantastic for birdwatching and has an interesting array of flora scattered amongst the dry, dense jungle which couldn’t be more different to that of Yala’s National Park. February to October is considered prime time to visit, however, we visited in late November and had amazing sightings of most animals plus perfectly fine weather. If you are arriving by public bus as we did, ask the bus driver to alert you when you arrive as you could easily miss the tiny town. Jump off the bus and grab a tuk-tuk which should cost no more than 400 rupees to drive you the 7km to the edge of the National Park where the treehouses can be found.
Now I want to take a moment to just point out that out of all the places I review and visit, whether I pay for them myself or are gifted accommodation, it is very rare that I am disappointed. I don’t write fake reviews or compromise my views for free stuff, I pride myself in being completely honest because otherwise what is the point in sharing my views? So when I am left disappointed by a place, I will also share my experiences with you so that you can make an informed decision over whether to visit during your own trip. In this case I was gifted three night's accommodation, but have remained honest in my review.
In the case of Wilpattu Treehouses, I was left a little disappointed by our stay. I had been looking forward to staying there from the beginning of our trip and saw it as a great way to round off our time in the country. However, from the moment we arrived, I could tell it wasn’t to be quite the experience I had anticipated. We arrived at 3pm to find our room was still being cleaned which wasn’t a problem, we relaxed in the lobby with a fresh lime juice until our room became available. We were excited to check out the treehouse as we could see it through the trees and bushes across the yard, it would be overlooking the rice paddy just as I had hoped. After seeing images on Booking.com and the company’s website, I was eager to have a look inside. When we made our way upstairs, on first impression we were delighted with the room which was all wood finished as a treehouse should be. We had a lovely big balcony overlooking the rice paddy, a big comfortable bed to lounge on and a lovely little bathroom with a luxurious looking shower. The website had promised luxury so this is what we were expecting and we were instantly happy with our room, but upon closer inspection we found a few issues.
The hasty cleaning after the previous guests had left late had been less thorough than it should have been, leaving us with a filthy fridge and even mouse droppings on one of the beds! We also noticed that there wasn’t really a view from the balcony as the branches from the trees completely blocked any real sight of the rice paddy. And as the afternoon drew on, the mosquitos became rife but with no mosquito net in the room and gaps by the door, we were both bitten to pieces despite using bug spray and a room repellent. We later realised that the mouse droppings had not been the fault of a stray mouse but of a regular to the room who would run around the beams at the ceiling while we sat in bed. The creature would even scamper across the room leaving droppings in the bedroom and bathroom every time we left as he searched for crumbs. I could find it cute and outdoorsy except we left the room for less than an hour for dinner, and came back to find droppings on the bed and across the floor which we had to clean up.
We also had an issue with several chipmunks and small squirrels who would run across the same beams in the evenings looking for food. We had stayed in many jungle locations by this point and can definitely appreciate the nature, but we know it is not necessary to have issues with animal faeces being found around the room. Later we also had problems with the shower, which despite just the two of us thing showers once a day, started to flood and the water would take a long time to drain. When I mentioned to the staff, I was told to clear the drain myself and if it wasn't fixed someone would be sent to check it in the morning, but no-one ever came. During our three night stay, the rooms were not cleaned once, leaving us to tidy up the animal mess left behind and to deal with a shower that would not drain. Due to the remote location, there are no restaurants around so visitors to the site will be limited to eating meals at the accommodation. These are cooked onsite by the staff and include a mixture of Sri Lankan and western breakfast, and a three course dinner with vegetarian options available. While the food was certainly good enough to survive on, it was also some of the blandest and most uninspiring food I have eaten in Sri Lanka. I was disappointed by how tasteless the meals were after eating some delicious meals since being in the country at much cheaper accommodation.
My real disappointment stemmed from the fact that Wilpattu Treehouses claimed to be luxury accommodation on their website but that the food, service and accommodation was definitely not luxury quality. The staff were lovely, but they do need to work on making their guests feel a little more welcome, and they really should have more knowledge about the bus timetable for those arriving and leaving the area. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my experience of staying in Wilpattu on the very borderline of the national park and I really cannot complain about being so close for our safari. It was a beautiful treehouse and a fantastic location, very convenient for your safari stay and truly magical to return from a day of spotting leopards and wild elephants to still hear them from your balcony. We also really loved the next-door neighbours who were having a family celebration while we were there and it was lovely to hear the music throughout the day. I just found that the disappointment over some of the less desirable features of Wilpattu Treehouses outweighed the positives for me. We stayed in the deluxe triple room, and I felt the £95 a night price (Booking.com) was far too expensive for what I could not consider a luxury stay.
Have you been disappointed by a luxury stay? Or by any accommodation on your travels? Tell me about your worst travel accommodation experience?
I can't actually believe how much time has passed since I was in Bali living it up with one of my best friends, with the serious lack of Melbourne sunshine I'm wishing more and more that I was back there! If you've read my Bumper Guide to Bali, you'll already know my highlights and top tips for planning a trip to the island, but now I want to focus on one amazing part that you simply cannot miss out on. Gili T is probably one of the most talked about Asian islands other than the party islands in Thailand. It's the place of tropical dreams and we've all dreamt of sitting on those beautiful sunset swings at one time or another. Just a short boat ride off the coast of Bali, it's just so close it wouldn't even make sense to not spend a few days exploring the island when visiting Bali - so here's my top 20 reasons to visit:
Gili T was an amazing week I won't forget in a hurry - right now sat here in Melbourne thinking about the 10 hour shift I'm working later, I'd give anything to be back there. If you're thinking of going on holiday to Bali, make sure you include time on Gili T as it was one of my highlights of the whole month I spent over there. When it comes to booking your trip, I would really recommend booking it on arrival - by booking the boat on the spot and just booking one night's accommodation ahead of time you can end up saving a lot of money which is just more beers! By booking the hostel (La Sister Boheme) when we arrived, we were given a discount island rate that others who had pre-booked online didn't get. Obviously if you are going peak season, it's more important to ensure you have a place to stay and that not everywhere is booked out. If you're planning a trip and have any questions - leave a comment below and I'll get back to you!
Have you been to Gili T? Where did you stay/eat? What tips would you give to future travellers?
Okay so my travels kind of ran away with me and writing has taken a bit of a back seat lately. The last six weeks since I left home have given me endless reams of adventures to share with you all, but I just haven't had enough time to sit with my laptop and actually write. It's frustratingly satisfying when your life is so full that you don't have time to share it, but I can't help but miss the process of writing and sharing every step with you guys. So I'm here, I'm back guys, and I bring endless amazing photos, anecdotes and reviews of all the fabulous places I've been over the last few weeks. I'm writing this from Sydney Airport, halfway between Cairns and Tasmania, but I want to take you back in time a few weeks to when I first arrived in Bali. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Grandma's Hotels in both Kuta and Seminyak during my first week in Bali and I think it's about time I shared my experiences with you. I was invited along to review the two hotels and I was excited to check them out - as part of easing myself back into backpacker life it was nice to start out with all the luxuries of a hotel but perfectly aimed at business or budget travellers.
Grandma's Plus Hotel, Seminyak
We started off by spending a couple of nights at Grandma's Plus Hotel in Seminyak and it was a perfect place to kick off my time in Bali. The hotel is perfectly positioned to enjoy all the bars, restaurants and nightlife Seminyak has to offer while also being right next to the beach. Despite being so close to several big clubs, the hotel is very peaceful and you wouldn't even know that you were just down the road from some of the biggest nights out in the area. As we pulled up in the taxi, we were instantly impressed by the style and design of the hotel, unlike others on the street it looked almost as though it had been reclaimed by nature. The tropical greenery and vines wound through the walls and around the pathways throughout the building, it was such a unique look and I loved the way all of the interiors had been designed to fit with this natural theme. Combining natural jungle paradise vibes with a sleek, modern layout worked really well and set the hotel apart from the rest.
As we walked past the swimming pool and made our way up to our room, I was even more impressed by the high standard of comfort available for those on a budget. We had a twin room with an en suite, but doubles are also available, and my oh my, let me just tell you about the beds. Now beds are a big deal, especially when you're a budget traveler or backpacker, all too often I end up sleeping on springs or some lumpy mattress! So laying down on this incredible mattress was an absolute dream - I almost didn't get out of bed the whole time we were there! After spending a month in Bali I now know how often you get promised hot showers and actually find cold water running out of them, so the showers in the hotel were heaven - powerful and with endless hot water. The room was great, it had everything we needed and more, it was compact and well-designed so that it actually had those fun hostel vibes but with the privacy and comfort of a private room.
Grandma's Plus Hotel, Legian
After a couple of nights in Seminyak, we moved to the Grandma's Plus Hotel in Legian, not far away but in a whole other section of the popular stretch of Kuta. Streets lined with shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants awaited us, this section was far busier but proves a big draw for travellers of all ages who want to relax or party on their holidays. This hotel is designed along a similar theme of jungle greens and staff welcome you in to the towering structure through a leafy pergola. This hotel is set around the restaurant where breakfast is served, with huge, high ceilings and trailing vines dangling from the rafters, it's a beautiful place to start your day with a delicious breakfast included with the room price. You can choose from an Indonesian breakfast to Eggs Benedict and all plates come with fruit and treats from the bakery - a perfect meal to set you up for a day of sunbathing or exploring.
The hotel has the feeling of an oasis after stepping off the chaotic, busy street outside into the cool, calm atmosphere, it's soothing. Again the rooms are of the usual high standard and came with all the amenities we would need during our stay, and the beds were just as comfortable as the ones I had just left behind at the other hotel. The only thing we did notice with this hotel was that there was a bit of street noise despite us being seven floors up, but understandably we the hotel was in the middle of the busiest part of Bali. I can't fault the staff at both hotels, they were amazing and so helpful. Everything from moving us into our rooms to organising taxis and even trying to help me fix a SIM card for my phone. They made our stay go from good to excellent with their great attitudes and friendly manner.
While we were staying at the hotels, we were also invited along to try out their spas. At Grandma's in Seminyak we headed to De Nyuh Spa and Salon for a full body Balinese massage - my first in the country - then at the hotel in Legian we went to Rehat Massage and Reflexology. Both spas were located within the hotel building, so super convenient if you fancy a pamper but aren't ready to face the outside world yet. Both were beautiful designed and brought instant calm and peace to you as you walked in the door, the soothing music combined with the floral displays and the dark wood kept the spas cool and laced with gentle Balinese aromas. Having now had several Balinese massages, I can say that these two massages were actually two of the best I had while in Bali. If you're staying at either hotel, I would really recommend visiting the spa for a bit of me-time - you'll come away feeling like a new person and ready to really embrace your holiday.
Have you stayed at Grandma's Hotels - how was your experience? What kind of accommodation do you normally go for on holiday?
So many bloggers focus on one type of travel, but for me that's just not possible. You see, I like to vary my travelling style as much as I do my clothes. While sometimes I'll be backpacking on a budget, I still see the importance and the fun in enjoying a slightly more luxury stay whether for a holiday or city break. For me, it's all about finding that balance between big blowouts and treating yourself, to the times when you're making every penny stretch. I find you appreciate one so much more when you've experienced the other, and you learn a heck of a lot more about money along the way. I was lucky enough to live the Absolutely Fabulous lifestyle of dreams last weekend when I was invited to review The Mandeville Hotel. In a collaboration with Maison Christian Lacroix, the entire fifth floor of this luxury boutique hotel was redesigned with each room telling a different story from the French Riviera, based on Maison Lacroix’s “Belles Rives” Collection. It was perfectly timed as the final weekend I would get to spend in London before I jet back off to the other side of the world, and as a couture treat before I head back to a life of hostels.Situated just a five minute walk from Bond Street Station, the hotel is perfectly located for a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. Actually, I was so impressed at how close it was to one of the busiest parts of London, and yet the hotel seemed a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. It was actually a lot more peaceful in the streets surrounding the hotel with people sitting out to eat and drink in restaurants. As we walked up to the hotel excited to experience the decadence of Lacroix, we were greeted by the friendly staff who offered to take our bags to the room and organise any restaurants or taxis we might require during or after our stay. As we headed up to our room, we were left to check out the fifth floor makeover. All the rooms have their own individual flair and style, from The Jardin Exotique to Midnight Blue telling the story of the secret midnight bathing society, all telling beautiful stories with inspirations from Lacroix’s upbringing combined with Grace Kelly’s 'To Catch a Thief’.If you're like me and have grown up on the antics of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, you'll probably have been just as excited as I was when the new movie came out. So to get to stay in a hotel that was every bit as fabulous as the crazy pair was one of my best London experiences yet! You'll see from the photos the decor was over the top in all the right ways and combined bright, clashing patterns and accessories with sleek designs to ensure maximum comfort. We were staying in The Jewel Box room, which combined Classic Lacroix with whimsical colours and bejeweled designs inspired by Grace Kelly’s stolen Cartier jewels. The lace and mantillas worn by women in The Camargue inspires the Macarena lace wallpaper around the room, balanced with classic Lacroix silver and black striped wallpaper, a true haven for fashion lovers. I was completely taken aback by the room when I walked it, it just screamed Absolutely Fabulous and I was so excited to be staying there. After the long journey, it was nice just to pop on the robes provided and have a coffee from the Nespresso machine in our room (I know where was the Bolly darling?!) and just take in the luxury. Heading into the gorgeous white marble bathroom, there were a selection of lovely products there to enjoy as I got ready.That night, after dinner and cocktails, we headed back to the hotel and I couldn't wait to get a good night's sleep. It turned out the room was the perfect place to relax on a Sunday evening, not a single sound from the street outside or the other rooms could be heard while we watched a movie. And when it was time for lights out, the room fell to complete darkness and silence. Combined with that incredible comfy bed and the lovely turndown service that had cleaned the room and organised the pillows for us, I was in heaven. It was the best night's sleep I've had in weeks. I woke up with a big smile on my face and ready to take on the hotel's breakfast - we'd been booked in for the full English breakfast with continental. Now I never normally order a full English breakfast so I was quite excited to have one for the first time in years - and I was so impressed with the high quality of everything on the plate, including the perfectly poached eggs. Plus over on the continental table there was plenty of fresh yoghurt, juices, fruit and muesli to choose from, as well as platters of croissants and pastries. It was the breakfast of dreams and with checkout not being until 12pm, I took advantage of the opportunity to go back to bed and catch up on even more sleep.I'd just like to say a huge thank you to all of the staff at the hotel for making our stay there exceptional. I felt so welcome from the second I walked in the door and they really worked hard to make sure every tiny detail was thought of and catered for. It really is a mark of excellence when you don't have to think of anything the whole way through your stay and come away from a weekend in London feeling rested and content - normally my weekends there leave me feeling exhausted. The Mandeville Hotel is perfect for a luxury treat if you're visiting London for a special occasion, at £317 a night for the room and full English breakfast, it is expensive but I can assure you it is worth every penny. Staying at the hotel is a whole experience that goes far beyond just a bed for the night, and one I would really recommend to anyone who fancies treating themselves. Find out more or book to stay at the website.
Have you stayed at The Mandeville Hotel - how was your stay? What other luxury hotels would you recommend in London?
Those of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter have been berating me over the last two weeks for teasing you all with photos from my rather lust-worthy holiday. Sorry, I'm so not sorry about it. It was without a doubt one of the best holidays I have ever had and oh my, have you seen how crazy beautiful Santorini is? I'm not lying when I say the Greek island has been on my Must Visit list for years, and now having spent two weeks there I can officially say it is just as incredible as I dreamed. All those times I scrolled infinitely down websites and Instagram feeds taking in every dreamy image and every scrap of information about the island, and finally I had the chance to see it with my own eyes. I am such a lucky girl. Even more so, because I wasn't supposed to be going! My parents had booked themselves a holiday, not knowing when I would be back in the country, but when they realised I would be home, they booked me on to the holiday with them as my birthday present. Officially the best parents and the best birthday present I could ever dream of.
Where to stay
We stayed on the south-east of the island in the popular resort of Perissa - it's a good choice if you find the prices a bit steep in Oia and fancy actually being on the beach. After visiting both Oia and Perissa, I would say that for a week or longer holiday, Perissa is a perfect place to stay, but if you're just going for a few days you would probably want to stay in Oia. Perissa is nestled at the bottom of the mountain and it's the only place in the world I have seen the mountains meet the ocean on a beach of black, volcanic sand. Even in peak season, Perissa has a relaxed and quiet feel to it and the beaches are never overcrowded, nor are the restaurants. It's a good place to stay if you want a mixture of relaxing, exploring and activities during your stay - we found it a great base for visiting the rest of the island and enjoying trips. The buses give you great, reliable access to other areas such as Fira, Kamari and Oia, or you could hire and car or bike. Most places in Perissa come with a pool and there are a lot of self-catering apartments available which is great for those that have children or prefer to do their own thing.I stayed in a self-catering apartment at Sandy Villas, this place was great with huge rooms, private bathrooms and balconies for each apartment. My room also came with a small kitchen including a hob, fridge and basic items. It had a bar and lounge area with wifi (although rubbish) and offered the largest swimming pool in the area. It was set back from the main strip and closer to the mountain, but I loved that it was a short walk away from everything and it meant having a stunning view of the mountain and the ocean from my balcony, and getting woken up by the donkeys in the morning. A true Greek experience. The owners were very welcoming and friendly, all of the staff were so lovely, especially when they realised I was staying alone. I was really impressed with the place and would definitely recommend it for others travelling as a group, a couple or independently. With a shallow pool, this place is well-suited to young children and many of the groups staying had children with them.If you're looking for something a bit more adult, try Anezina Villas, it's much more suited to a couple on holiday with smaller rooms and more of a hotel feel. It was a lovely apartment for my parents with a private bathroom and balcony, although they did find the rooms a little stuffy. It came with a small kitchen area with a fridge and all that was needed to make simple foods if you preferred to have breakfast at the apartment. The outside area was the absolute highlight - the bar and seating around the pool was gorgeous and for sunbathers, you were treated to the most comfortable sunbeds I have ever laid on. Short of being a waterbed, I don't think they could have been better quality. Likewise, the pool was fantastic for adults, very deep and large enough to enjoy a good swim - not great for children due to the depth.The apartments also come with a swing and play area, a hot tub, and sit nicely in the centre of the town, perfect for strolling to the beach or out to dinner. Both places were fabulous and we would really recommend them if you're planning a trip to the island.
Where to eat
If you're heading to Perissa, have a wonderful time. It's a fantastic place to stay and perfect for a holiday in Santorini. If you have any questions about the area or planning your trip, leave a comment and I'll do my best to help you out!
I've been travelling since I was barely a few months old and throughout a lifetime of travelling I've collected endless precious memories of exotic sights, sounds, smells. From a young age one of my favourite memories was always of getting to know the locals, whether that meant being taught to fish then barbecuing up the catch of the day with them, watching morning prayers and being blessed by priests or drinking rum on the beach. Getting to know the true culture of a country is only possible by spending time talking to and living with the locals - seeing the world through their eyes. When I was backpacking across Asia and Australia solo, it was just as important to try and have a truly authentic experience alongside all the fun and games that comes with backpacker culture. I don't choose one over the other, I think we have so much to gain by experiencing both when we travel. The more I experience of one, the more I crave of the other.Thinking back over the last 18 months, some of my most incredible memories come from the experiences I had when I truly immersed myself in the culture of the amazing countries I was exploring. When I got lost in the old town of Phuket and stumbled into a famous artist's gallery where I spent the evening talking art and painting with his daughters. The time when I spent a week living with a group of Thai Rastafarians who taught me about their favourite jazz musicians and how to crack coconuts. When I was almost adopted by an incredible woman who treated me like a daughter, introduced me to all her friends and taught me all about the ruins of temples dotted around her city. In Vietnam, the elderly gentleman who told me all about what it was like to live through the Vietnam War and how his family survived. Crossing oceans and desert to outback Australia, the amazing friends who helped me cope with three months of farm work with lazy days at the river and long nights laying in a ute under the stars. I feel so lucky to have experienced such things.Then I heard about Homestay – an alternative accommodation choice to hotels and hostels where guests rent a room in the home of a local – sounds amazing right? It offers you a totally different experience and a chance to really experience the culture, and daily life in the area you visit. Homestay.com is running in over 150 countries globally, with 25,000 live hosts ready to welcome guests and some incredible accommodation opportunities just waiting to be explored. While many of my friends have recommended trying out Couchsurfing or Airbnb for a more authentic experience when travelling, I haven't yet had the opportunity to try any of these schemes. But already Homestay has proven popular with solo travellers and backpackers who want to take the opportunity to try something a bit different and experience some magnificent properties around the world. I love the idea of getting away from hotels, which can feel so impersonal, and hostels, which can sometimes be overwhelmed by backpackers who are more interested in getting drunk. This is a great way of getting to enjoy a night in your own room, while getting to experience the life of the natives.There are so many amazing affordable options worth exploring, including a traditional Balinese house just steps away from Pulagan Rice Field UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its very own family temple for just $14 a night. In Costa Rica, travellers can stay in a treehouse surrounded by flowers and fruit orchards in the hills of San Antonio de Escazu from just $71 a night. Or stay on an organic farm in a jungle village in Northern Thailand where they grow everything from bok choi and lemongrass to longan and lychee, and guests can learn the art of Karen weaving, bamboo rafting and bathe in waterfalls for $29 a night.For those who fancy testing their sea legs, there is even an option to sail from one Greek Island to another on a 50ft yacht with Steph and Andy, and their two ship cats Puss and Fluff, for $213 a night. Or if you really need to get away from it all, you can experience that real millionaire lifestyle for the tiny price tag of $169 a night when you stay on your own 75,000 sq ft private island of Zopango, Nicaragua. Head to a lakeside retreat in Halifax, Canada, to experience a one-of-a-kind home with stunning scenic lake views from $64 a night, or New Zealand offers a converted barn overlooking Mount Taranaki, an active volcano, from $73 a night. Mountain lovers will be in their element with the wooden chalet awaiting guests in Poland from $23 a night, at the base of the Tatras Mountains it draws skiers, mountain climbers and hikers all year round.
What an amazing experience to stay in any of these unique locations – I'd love to try out Homestay on one of my next trips across Europe. If you fancy doing the same, click here to book online.
Have you tried staying with the locals – what your best native experience? What was the most unique accommodation you have ever stayed in?
After a crazy month of travelling and partying full throttle across Laos and Vietnam, and after an emotionally draining couple of days in Phnom Penh, my body was crying out for a break. So after doing a bit of research, I decided to head for the coastline and to spend a few days relaxing on a beach somewhere. Sihanoukville seemed a natural choice being just a few hours from Phnom Penh, and a perfect place to spend a few days before heading over to Koh Rong which had come highly recommended from so many other travellers. I arrived in Sihanoukville around five hours later than planned after discovering quite how shocking the transport is in Cambodia, and as I mentioned in a previous post, was robbed as soon as I arrived. So I didn't arrive in the best frame of mind and when the heavens opened and a huge storm crashed around my hostel - One Stop - I decided to write the day off and go to bed. I woke up early and was pretty disappointed to see cloudy skies outside, but went out for a walk to explore the town with a girl I met in my hostel. I'll be honest, I don't know what I was expecting but the Sihanoukville was a drab, dirty place with way too many tuk tuk drivers lining the streets and leering at us. I spent a couple of days there but it was a power cut that finally made me switch hostels to a cheaper and better equipped one - Led Zephyr bar - down the road. I was really unimpressed by the social side of One Stop and the fact that they were the only place to not have a back-up generator and yet charged the most was ridiculous - even the pool didn't make up for it.I spent the next couple of days escaping each day from the town and heading to nearby Otres Beach with Naomi, here we could get away from the sleazy nature of Sihanoukville. Otres Beach is beautiful - it is one of my favourite places in Cambodia and one of the few places I actually enjoyed. I actually returned from Koh Rong early to spend the best part of a week staying at Otres Beach because it was one of the few places I actually felt comfortable and could avoid the hassle of staying at the other end. Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville is pretty disgusting, with broken glass and various other treats lurking in the sand, and some really persistent touts who just won't leave you alone to sunbathe. I walked on the beach once and that was more than enough for me, Otres is far more untouched and is only really starting to be properly developed now so it offered the peace and quiet I was craving. For around a week I stayed there at Indigo on Otres which is one of the first accommodations you will find along the strip. I decided to treat myself a bit and paid for a bungalow to myself for the week which was a teensy bit more expensive but worth it to have my own space and a lock on my door - it made me feel a lot safer than I had previously.I spent my days lounging on sun beds outside hippie bar Blame Canada, which had the perfect combination of great food, tunes and a laid back atmosphere. I loved spending my days there chatting to backpackers, those on holiday and the guys who worked there. Being there in low season had a few downsides elsewhere like the lack of people to party with, but that was perfect for Otres - it meant I had the whole beach mostly to myself. My own Cambodian paradise! The days were spent swimming in the crystal clear waters and trying to avoid the odd jellyfish, eating fresh fruit and chatting to the ladies who wandered along the beaches offering massages. I can't deny I indulged a few times and found one woman in particular who gave the best massages. Followed by a fresh coconut - it was pretty perfect. My evenings were spent blogging, visiting the local market with some friends I met in Laos, and relaxing - something I hadn't had time to do for weeks. It was really great to have some time just to read and listen to music, to watch the stunning sunsets and take long walks along the bay. The weather was amazing, baking hot days usually with the entertainment of a crazy afternoon storm to cool things down a bit. I'm so glad that I made the decision to leave Koh Rong early so I could really appreciate Otres Beach.Another highlight was going to the market one evening - just a short tuk tuk ride away from the beach, it was a special event held on Thursday nights in the village. There was a huge selection of delicious food on offer including some great vegan and vegetarian options, pizzas, Mexican food and more. There were also some fabulous cocktail bars plus am absinthe bar, along with a few clothing stalls dotted around - one even offering to cover you in glitter and sparkles for a small donation. All of this was soundtracked by a fantastic collection of live bands and acts under a huge sky full of stars. It was a pretty perfect night and I would really recommend you all check it out if you visit. I would also recommend that you eat at Friends Forever at least once during your stay - it's an all white restaurant next to Blame Canada and it does amazing food. Apparently the pizzas are incredible, and if the pasta I had was anything to go by they must be pretty damn good. I'd also recommend my favourite dish - the spicy Asian salad was so tasty! Just a word of warning, although I felt this was one of the safest places I went in Cambodia, be careful on the road between Sihanoukville and Otres Beach. My friend was catching a tuk tuk back to Sihanoukville alone after we spent a day on the beach and a man jumped into the back as it went along the road and tried to rape her. She had to jump out of a moving vehicle to get away and the tuk tuk driver didn't even bat an eyelid. Don't get too comfortable and end up putting yourself at risk, always remember you are in a very much still developing country and travel with someone. Safety in numbers.
Have you been to Otres Beach - where did you stay? Can you recommend any other good places to eat and things to do?