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Okay so to say my expectations for Koh Phi Phi were low was a serious understatement. I really couldn’t bare to leave Koh Lanta and to say goodbye to all my friends. Everything I had heard about Phi Phi put me straight off the island. I know, I know, all those who have been will say it is beautiful and picturesque, some even dare say it is the prettiest of the Thai islands. I couldn’t agree less. Those who have been to Koh Lanta will understand my shock horror at seeing how dirty, chock-full of tourists and how commercialised Phi Phi is in comparison, and from the moment I arrived on the island I was already counting down to the day I could leave.

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Just to give you a taste of what my expectations were based on, a friend who I had met in Koh Lanta had just arrived from the island and she had told me about when she was swimming in the sea, felt something on her foot and picked it up thinking it was a stick – it crumbled in her hand, it was a giant lump of shit. This was definitely one of the worst stories I had heard about the island, but the others certainly didn’t paint it in a good light. So you can understand why I was instantly put off, but for the Phi Phi lovers, give me the benefit of the doubt because despite this I still went to the island to form my own opinion.

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I was staying at Rock Backpacking, which was great value for money at 300 baht a night for a dorm with fans. The toilets and showers were so clean and the guys who ran it were so helpful – all wifi on the island was abysmal though due to the sheer number of people there using it. I would recommend the hostel, although I was a little disappointed after being told it was the party hostel and finding everyone already asleep when I returned each night abut 3/4am. Wusses. There were nice people staying there, but a lot of people on holiday who were just there to get drunk and not to meet people. I prefer more backpacker central places where people actually want to get to know each other.

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My first night there was spent watching the sunset from the viewpoint – so beautiful. I actually went back another night with a new friend and a guy proposed to his girlfriend while we were up there. So cute. I found the best little place for Pad Thai – seriously a godsend after finding nothing but kebab shops elsewhere! Went back loads for authentic Thai food, which was seriously lacking in other restaurants. Had a massage, manicure and pedicure, all for £10 – bargain! Then spent the rest of the night watching boxing, fire shows and exploring. My second day was spent trying to find a clean stretch of beach where the water wasn’t covered in a layer of scum – finally found somewhere and sunbathed all day. Bumped into a couple I met on the ferry to Koh Lanta – they barely recognised me as I’m so black now. We spent the rest of the night eating food, going to the boxing – my friend actually competed for a bucket and ended up knocking the other guy out cold! Then we headed to the beach and made some other friends while watching the fire shows.

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The next day, I had booked on to a boat trip around several beaches and islands, with plenty of opportunities for snorkelling for just 600 baht (£12) Met a guy called Tibby on the boat, he was also travelling solo from his home in Belgium before starting a new job in Melbourne. Bonding over the terrible food, we snorkelled and marvelled at all the amazing fish beneath the boat – such beautiful colours! The next stop was Bamboo Island which was so perfect and untouched – the sand was pure white and the waters so clear with reef right next to the beach so perfect for more snorkelling. We got a bit carried away spotting fish and ended up being the last ones back to the boat. After a couple more stops, we ended up at Monkey Beach, where monkeys just run wild on the beach and grab food from your hands – so cheeky! I brought along some bananas and fed them, the babies were so cute! They were all so tame, usually monkeys can be a little scary.imageimage

After this, it was the highlight of the trip, we’d been waiting all day for Maya Beach (where The Beach was filmed) and it didn’t disappoint. As we pulled up in the long tail boat, it looked exactly like it does in the film, minus all those damn tourists! Such a beautiful place, you can see how it would inspire any director, set between these huge cliffs with pure white sand. I managed to find a nice empty stretch of beach to sit and chill out, then Tibby came and joined me and we took lots of photos before our time was up and we headed back to the boat. On the way back to Phi Phi, we stopped at sunset point to watch the bright orange sun burn it’s way down into the waves, dead silence on the boat, everyone was speechless at the beauty of it all.

I have so many pictures and so much to tell you guys about Phi Phi that I’ve split this into two posts for you… The next one will have the pics from Maya Bay and everything else I got up to! I will also try and share the video of the boxing on my Facebook page as it takes ages to do it on here, so give the page a like and check it out!

For those who have been to Koh Phi Phi, what did you think? I’d love to know if anyone shared my experiences or if actually you loved the the island just as it is…

Ab Lucy sign off

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Gorgeous canapés on offer

Food – for some it is merely part of surviving, of living from one moment to the next, and fuelling all your endeavours along the way. For others, it is a constant quest for new mouth-watering flavours and alluring aromas to tempt the palate and excite the senses. As a bit of a foodie, I’m always searching for a new lip-smacking experience and as you can imagine, I was in my element when the team at Jarrolds department store, in Norwich, invited me along to join them for their food blogging event to mark the opening of their new bistro restaurant, Benji’s. Offering a whole new dining experience that is a step above that of the other three restaurants and coffee shop within the store, the restaurant has a fabulous menu designed to entice even the fussiest of eaters. The restaurant has such a sophisticated feel and the fine decorative touches really make it feel warm and welcoming, as well as exclusive and a real treat.

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The starter platters really did have something for everyone!

Upon arrival, we were welcomed with champagne and canapés – a warm greeting if ever there was one – with the intricately designed snacks artfully arranged on platters decorated with flowers. Each platter showcased the fantastic array of flavours evident throughout the menu, with some delicious battered smoky barbecue chicken served with a fiery sweet chilli sauce, plus a wonderful goats cheese and beetroot stack (cheese provided by local Fielding Cottage), and finally some crab towers that were packed with flavour. All of these delectable delights left us wowed by the combination of flavours that perfectly complemented the other tastes. Shortly after the introductions, we were treated to a cooking demonstration by the head chef, who has years of experience working in top London hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. He swiftly whipped up a treat for the nose and the eyes with pan-fried sea bass on a bed of artichokes, samphire and salsa verde, with seasonal vegetables. It smelt absolutely divine, and looked so simple to prepare, although I’m sure mine would not look half as presentable as his. Reflecting the constant changes to the menu, this dish will only be available for a couple more weeks as samphire goes out of season. Using only local produce and producers, the restaurant’s menu is dependent on what is available within Norfolk.

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Myself with Leah of Roots & Toots (left) and Gabriella of La Scarpetta (right)

After the demonstration, we headed downstairs for a look around the deli and home-ware department, both of which had us all drooling over treats – both of the food and kitchen-ware variety! We moved between the shelves, checking out everything from chocolate pasta to parsnip and chilli chutneys, lusting over everything from Emma Bridgewater mugs and egg cups, to Artisan mixers. We were lucky enough to have a demonstration of one of the Sage by Heston Blumenthal smoothie makers, which was so easy to use and made the tastiest ginger, apple, orange and kale smoothies – a perfect palate cleanser before we headed back upstairs for our dinner. On the walk back upstairs, I finally got to indulge in that dream of having a department store closed just for you and yes, I did feel exactly like Topshop’s Chloe Green, it was great to wander around the shoe department without any shoppers in my way!

The amazing seafood starter platters

The amazing seafood starter platters

There are not enough words in the English language to do justice to describing the amazing spread that awaited us back in the restaurant, with multiple platters lined up and packed with the most incredible selection of seafood, meats, vegetarian and even floral treats! I can’t list everything that was there, but you’ll be able to see from the photos the delicious piles of scallops, smoked salmon and mackerel, prawns on the fish platters. On the vegetarian plate, there were various raw vegetables, plus roasted aubergine and peppers, hummus and an onion chutney, with pitta and even edible flowers! Over on the meats platter, there were piles of chicken with peanut and barbecue sauces, mini sausages with a tomato sauce, terrine which went beautifully with an apple sauce and much more. It’s making my mouth water again just thinking about it – and I haven’t even added the photos yet! The food was accompanied by a great range of wines and soft drinks, for those of us who were driving, plus plenty of foodie chat about our favourite restaurants and dishes – thanks for the recommendations guys!

And some of the treats on the meat platters

And some of the treats on the meat platters

Shortly after, the main came out and although we already knew what it was, we once again marvelled at the beauty of the colours on the plate, before tucking in excitedly. It was an amazing dish, so tasty and I would really recommend trying it before it disappears off the menu! I’m a big lover of seafood dishes anyway, but this was a particular treat and I loved the sea bass – one of my favourite fish – with the salsa verde, it really enhanced the flavour, as did the delicious artichokes. It was so lovely to sit round with other bloggers who love food and local produce as much as I do, and how better to finish the evening than with a selection of the very finest local cheeses and chocolates?

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The main event – pan fried sea bass

We had a fantastic talk by Sam Steggles of Fielding Cottage, a family business based in Honingham who create their very own goats cheese, meat and skin care products. We tried two types of delicious cheeses, the Norfolk Mardler and the Wensum White, and I have to say the creamier Wensum White was my favourite, with a texture rather reminiscent of Brie – one of my absolute favourite cheeses. This was followed by one of the creators behind Dolce Momento, a company with a passion for the tastes of Brazil who develop an exciting and varied range of gourmet brigadeiros, cakes and treats. The chocolates were gorgeous in appearance and you really could see why them were such a hit at weddings with such stunning presentation. And the tastes were truly out of this world, with an amazing chilli and cinnamon one, plus delicious milk and dark chocolate treats – all sweeter and gooier than the average ganache thanks to condensed milk, good taste and a lot of love. A perfect end to an amazing evening.

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Thanks guys! Looking forward to the next event!

A huge thanks to the team at Jarrolds for inviting me along, I had the most amazing night and loved meeting all the other bloggers. I look forward to more events in the future, but in the meantime, you guys should all get yourselves to Norwich and check out this amazing hidden gem – have fun working your way through the menu and enjoy the fact that you are eating local and supporting local businesses. They’re much more important than eating out at yet another boring, soulless chain restaurant!

Have you eaten out at Jarrolds – what did you think? Will you be checking out the new menu at Benji’s?

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