Thailand… the destination that conjures up images of vivid blue waters, white sandy beaches and well Leonardo in the 90’s with his top off. But, whilst the beaches are next level on the beauty charts, there is so much more to this country than its idyllic southern islands. So, if you’re looking for a travel spot that’s got island hopping as well as jungle, incredible food, waterfalls, temples and then some? We think Thailand could be the one for you!
Still not convinced? Read on for some of the STA Travel crew’s favourite Thailand moments and memories that venture beyond beach bum living.
Two words. THE FOOD!
Mr Kai’s in Chiang Mai, which has to be the best restaurant in the whole of Thailand. There’s always a crowd outside, Tables and chairs are set around haphazardly making a super cosy atmosphere. Everything is £2 or less. Be sure to try the northern Thai speciality of Khao Soi – a steaming bowl of tangy red curry sauce full of chicken, veg and soft noodles, topped with naughty crispy noodles. Then head to a cooking class in the area for a chilled afternoon. You get to eat everything you make!
If you can’t make it to Chiang Mai, head to Sukhumvit’s Soi 38 in Bangkok for the ultimate initiation to street food.
Everyone heads to Thailand for the beaches first off, but it’s the food and bustling market atmosphere that will keep you hooked and returning time and time again.
I fell head over heels for Rawai Beach in the south of Phuket. The hospitality shown at the Rawai Palm Beach Hotel was next level and nearby Nai Hairn Beach was a beach lovers paradise. But beyond this, a must visit is the local market where the fisherman come in every evening to showcase their catch. You get to choose which fish you want, and they’ll cook it for you right there.
From my month backpacking in Thailand – Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were my faves. There’s so many colourful temples, delicious thai food and waterfalls to bask in. The Northern hill tribes trek was fantastic, and we got to try some seriously interesting local dishes (fern anyone??).
I went to Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park – where you got to feed & bathe the elephants! But to add to this, you stay right on the lake and can kayak straight off from the deck of your hut. A pretty amazing view to wake up to, or have a beer at sunset listening to the jungle I think you’ll agree?
Daily sunsets washed down with Chang’s on the Thai islands never failed to please, but for me, it was Pai where I felt most at home.
By day, cruise the quiet roads on a moped (helmets please!) in search of the best waterfall to lounge at after stopping off for a big bowl of Thai curry and green papaya salad. By night, sip on fresh watermelon smoothies and listen to the locals rocking out Jazz and Blues. Mmmmm Perfection.
Kanchanaburi is amazing! It’s a fantastic place to chill out for 3 days after visiting Bangkok.
Many locally owned and run guest houses are located directly alongside the River Kwai and it’s a great spot to try local dishes, rent bikes and explore the surrounding forest. The Erawan Waterfalls are beautiful too and perfect for a wake-up refreshing dip. It’s also close to the three pagodas pass.
The town itself has a sad history from WW2 with strong Australian connections made famous by the book and film Bridge on the River Kwai. The WW2 museum with an international soldier cemetery is a somewhat sombre experience but provides insight into the history of the region when it was occupied by the Japanese.
Definitely my first scooter ride to Pam Bok Waterfall & The Land Split in Pai!
Hire a scooter out in the main town, and follow the road signs to the outskirts – the scooter ride itself is a lot of fun (especially if it’s your first time like it was mine) head to Pam Bok Waterfall first which is on the same stretch of road as the Land Split. The waterfall is set in a canyon with a swimming hole below, and there’s some low ledges for cliff jumping. Just chill there for a while and soak up the peaceful nature vibes.
On the way back stop off at the Land Split, which stopped the owner of the land being able to properly farm when it occurred – but he made the site into a tourist attraction to explore and walk through all the nature. It’s the owner who makes the visit – he ushers you to sit down and piles up loads of homegrown goods and drinks and only asks for a small donation. Then you can just lounge around in the hammocks for a while. If you hadn’t realised I love Pai!
Sleeping in straw huts with views of the mountains in Pai was a big highlight for me!
But devouring everything in sight with the locals at Chiang Mai‘s forever bustling night markets, green Thai curry for breakfast (you will learn to love this) and snorkelling off the beaches of Koh Tao are pretty well up there on the best moment list too.
It’s got to be Kanchanaburi for me too.
I spent a few months working there and often found myself in one of the many cool cafes. De’Tal has great smoothies, perfect for cooling down while walking around exploring and 10 O’Clock Cafe has the best cheesecake in all of Thailand! Vegetarians are also well looked after at On’s Thai Issan, a small vegetarian restaurant on the main backpacker strip. On also offers cooking classes with groups and teaches you how to make amazing veggie Thai curries.
There are some amazing temple complexes in the area so it’s worth hiring a Tuk-tuk driver for the day to take you around some of them. The most well-known is Wat Ban Tham, also known as Dragon Temple because the temple’s entrance is through a dragon’s mouth. My favourite temple complex in the area is the beautiful Wat Tham Sua (also sometimes seen as Wat Tum Seu and not be confused with another temple with a similar name in Krabi).
As much as I love the big city chaos of Bangkok and the dreamy Koh Tao beaches, my absolute favourite Thailand memory was volunteering with children in the Sangkhlaburi district. It’s pretty far off the beaten track (no Chang singlets to be seen!) and the local make up is super diverse – there’s a huge mix of Karen, Mon, Thai and Burmese ethnicities who all call this place home.
Our volunteer tasks included making bricks, working on a new water pipe and singing along (very badly) to nursery rhymes, and we spent our spare time exploring the huge Buddha statues dotted around the district, sans annoying backpackers with selfie sticks (except for ourselves, of course). Wandering the night market was another highlight, if not a bit tricky with hardly any English menus! Apparently, the desperation for banana roti with custard is something that transcends the boundaries of language. Sangkhlaburi isn’t your usual Thailand travel brochure destination, but for us it was eye-opening and incredibly fulfilling. Totally worth adding to your Southeast Asian adventure!
Cheer up chappy! We know it’s Blue Monday but blue is definitely NOT a colour we associate with being down in the dumps. How could it be when you’ve got the Philippines’ turquoise oceans, Santorini’s dome roofs and the mountain city of blue, Chefchaouen? Here’s our top 11 destinations where you’ll be seeing things with azure tinted glasses.
A city that’s painted blue, but won’t have you feeling a single shade of it. Wander around the tourist-free narrow alleys in the Medina and pinkie-promise us you won’t leave without trying a cup of freshly made mint tea. It’s known in Morocco to bring you health benefits that will help sip those blues away!
Read more: Morocco travel guide
Do as the Western Aussies do and say ‘Catch ya’ to snoozy Sundays and hello to Sunday sessions! Whether it’s a go hard or go home (at 10pm) kind of deal, a few beers by the beach or a perfectly crafted cocktail on a rooftop, we’ve broken down our pick of the bunch to show that Perth has got you covered.
Deliciously fresh seafood, a glass (or many) of Margaret River wine and some seriously glammed up individuals? This year-round Sunday sesh is a classy affair or at least that’s how it begins!
More city dweller than beach bum? Round off the weekend amongst the skyscrapers at Perth’s largest rooftop bar. A vibrant combo of multi-coloured seating, astro-turf and feel-good vibes from live DJ’s. They even throw in a sky line sunset to ogle at, cocktail in hand.
After catching a wave on Cottesloe beach and a quick change from ‘thongs’ to shoes join the crowds that swarm to OBH for its banging beats and sundowners. You’ll find the beer garden rammed and kicking off until closing with old school hip-hop and RnB so be prepared to get you dance face on.
Despite its vast size, be prepared to fight for your seat at this Perth favourite! Ease yourself in with the brewery’s tasting board (one each?) before heading outdoors and digging in to a bowl of their famously moreish fries washed down with a couple of cold ones. You can even have a pre-party on the Qantas flight there and sip on Little Creatures beers up in the air.
If drinking in a converted shipping container isn’t edgy enough, Embargo throws in a roof deck, live entertainment and a selection of food trucks to force even the coolest foodie to jump for joy. If you like your booze eclectic and served up with a feast, be sure to check out this touring bar.
So, if the January blues are getting you down, head for the most sunshine filled town in Australia (3200 hours a year) and ditch Sunday as the day of rest and make it the day of the SESH.
BUT getting to the land Down Under all starts with a lengthy flight (eek). But there’s now no need to hang around in airports… Fly direct to Perth from London Heathrow on a Qantas Dreamliner from 25 March 2018 – making cruising the sky comfortable and spacious with snacks on tap at the bar and a snazzy mood light integrated into the seat. Now THAT we can handle! Fancy exploring two destinations in one? Pit stop at the cultural hot pot that is Singapore on route.
Head over to our Qantas flight page to browse and grab yourself a deal!
To some of us, December is all about Mariah Carey Christmas tunes and digesting an obscene amount of food. Yet for others in the world, it’s all about steamy saunas and wearing outrageously bright underwear. In spirit of this, we’ve rounded up our 12 favourite quirky traditions and unique December events from across the globe. So, let’s get the bauble rolling…
1. Oaxaca, Mexico – Night of Radishes
If you thought pumpkin carving was bloody hard, how about trying to carve roses, animals and kings out of radishes? Eek! Noche de Rabanos is thought to have come about when merchants sculpted veg to attract housewives leaving midnight mass. Since then, it’s become kind of a big deal. The impressive vegetable sculptures are displayed in Oaxaca’s Zócalo (the main plaza) and judged on December 23rd, with the winners bagging a cash prize and serious street cred too.
2. Japan – KFC Xmas day Launched in the 1970s to satisfy foreigners Christmas cravings, queuing up on Christmas Eve to pick up the Colonel’s fried chicken party barrel has now become a popular tradition. With sides, cake and even champagne! Why slave in the kitchen for hours when you could please the fam with a pre-ordered KFC dinner package? Japan, we’ll take note.
3. Iceland – Killer cats What all fashionistas dream of hearing… in Icelandic folklore, it’s believed that unless you get a new piece of clothing for Christmas, you’ll be gobbled up by a huge black cat that scours Iceland come Christmas Eve. So, the more new clothes we receive, the safer we are right? Shopping spreeeee!
4. Philippines – Giant Lantern Festival
Star-shaped, brightly coloured lanterns, or parols, are a Filipino symbol of Christmas and can be seen hung up outside homes, along streets and even on palm trees on the beach. But if you’re looking for the best of the best, head to the Christmas capital, San Fernando City for their epic annual Giant Lantern Festival. Marvel at the individually crafted giant lanterns, made up of thousands of bulbs, twinkle and dance to the accompanying music. And we thought putting the lights around the Christmas tree was a mind-overload…
5. USA – The Running of the Santa’s bar crawl
Watch the streets fill up with Santa lookalikes as they run across the finish line and raise money (and a beer bottle) for local charities. What begun as 40 mischievous, booze craving Santa’s in Philadelphia has developed into a national bar crawl with live bands, a short run and a whole load of drink specials. On your marks, get set, SANTA!
6. South Africa – Wavescape Surf and Ocean Festival
For one week every December, Capetonian’s get together to celebrate something very close to their hearts: surf and ocean culture. This year, they’re highlighting the creative women of South Africa in a female dominated line-up of ocean-conscious events showcasing the talents of local photographers, activists and scientists. G’wan, ladies!
7. Estonia – Steamy saunas Preparing the house for family to arrive at Christmas can be a long task. But Estonians know the perfect way to appreciate the calm before the storm and reward themselves for all their hard work: a sauna sesh. So, let’s get hot and steamy and celebrate Christmas Eve the Estonian way.
8. Hawaii – Kauai Festival of Lights Well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a shed-load of twinkling lights and homemade decs, now would it? This festival began in honour of the awesome Auntie Josie who made Christmas decorations out of recycled materials and opened her ‘Christmas House’ up for visitors to come and marvel at them. Her multi-thousand dollars’ worth of art work can now be viewed by the public at the Historic County Building, as well as their own selection of illuminated Christmas decorations.
9. Colombia – We heart yellow undies
Travelling to Colombia during New Years? Well, we hope you’ve packed your yellow undies because when the clock strikes 12, you’re going to need them! But why? Well according to Colombian tradition, wearing these banana hued briefs will bring wealth and prosperity in the coming year. So, if you’re looking to get rich quick this could be the ticket.
10. New Zealand – National Secret Santa
In New Zealand they’re taking Secret Santa to a whole new level! Since 2010, anyone can enter the national Secret Santa via Twitter and be matched with another twitter user taking part. Participants tweet hints of their interests and what they might like, and then the rest is over to the buyer to nail the perfect pressie. You can even get matched with the Prime Minister or a celeb! Pressurrrre.
TODAY’S THE DAY SANTAS! It’s #NZSecretSanta dispatch day!
Us Elves will be very busy today, so please be extra nice and extra patient with us as we get your presents on their way to you. pic.twitter.com/6q5a6QxtWB
— NZ Secret Santa (@nzsecretsanta) December 17, 2017
11. Austria – Creepy Krampus
If you’re a bit of a scrooge, perhaps Austria’s Krampus is more your vibe? Santa’s evil companion is a terrifying beast; half goat, half demon with horns, fangs, a chain and bells. So, if you’ve been bad this year jeeez get ready to run for it because according to folklore this guy is headed your way! On December 5th men dressed in Krampus costumes can be seen parading in Austria’s town centres and you can even nibble on a choccie version of the best.
12. UK – Christmas crackers
When it comes to sitting down at the dinner table to marvel at the in-sane spread of yummy delights before your eyes, the Brits have a bicep twitching task to complete before they dig in – crackers. With the help of the person sat next to you, hold one end and pull open your Christmas cracker to reveal a tacky ASF novelty gift, awful dad joke and paper crown to regal up your Xmas outfit.
Now you’re a pro on all things December, test your knowledge with our Facebook Live Quiz to be in with a chance of winning a travel voucher worth £500! What a way to start off 2018…For more details head here >
Glide by canoe into the mesmerising caves of stalagmites and stalactites of this UNESCO World Heritage site in Puerto Princesa. Spot bats and swifts as they fly among the ancient rock formations as well as monkeys and crab-eating macaques in the surrounding forests. Be sure to book in advance, this place is popular!
Pull up to remote Kalipayan Island and prepare for a night under the stars with nothing but the waves and rustle of the trees to disturb the silence. Go for a late-night swim, and if you’re lucky, catch sight of the plankton glowing and lighting up the way.
It comes as no surprise that Palawan and its islands look just as insane below the shoreline as they do above. Get ready to plunge into an underwater world of coral reefs, starfish, tropical Nemo fish and cruising turtles so awesome you’ll never want to surface.
Work those biceps and explore the vivid, clear waterways of El Nido’s big lagoon. Look up and catch a glimpse of eagles circling the skyline as well as monkeys playfully swinging through the trees.
There’s only one way to see El Nido’s iconic islands, and it’s reclined, drink in hand on the top deck of a boat. Carve through azure waters and take in the views of floating limestone cliffs and white sandy beaches fringed with swaying palm trees.
Ask most people what superpower they’d have and we can guarantee a fair few would choose to fly. Well here’s the next best thing… zip line from one island to another and take El Nido’s tropical glory along the way. Go head first a la superman or sit back and enjoy the ride!
Beaming smiles, energetic and beyond polite; the Filipino locals are a welcoming bunch who are always open to sharing their lifestyle, history and traditions with you. Join an educational tour, climb a coconut tree, learn to cook or get involved in community projects and turn your adventure into more than just holiday.
With coconut trees a plenty, sipping on fresh coconut water every day is a reality in the Philippines (without the £££ price tag). Prefer your beverage more party than healthista? No problem, add a shot of rum and coconut milk and get loco on a ‘Coco Loco’.
From traditional Adobo and creamy coconut munggo bean curry to fresh grilled fish and crispy veggie spring rolls dipped in banana ketchup (warning highly addictive). Treat your taste buds to the flavours of the Philippines, all washed down with a fresh watermelon shake.
Embark on a short walk through the jungle of Paradise Island and finally wash off all that freaking sand with a dunk in the cool, clear pools of Bigaho Falls. Be extra cautious on the last part of the climb, those rocks get real slippery.
Tell your pals and family that you’re headed to Australia and you’ll no doubt get remarks like “aren’t you scared you’ll get eaten by a shark/ bitten by a spider/ or boxed by a kangaroo?”.
Umm, that’s not why we booked the flight, no… and while the wildlife in Australia can be pretty deadly, there are so many fluffy critters, impressive birds and serene underwater beings to ogle at, without the risk factor.
With this in mind, here are our fave spots in Western Australia to channel your inner David Attenborough and experience the unique animals and nature that flourish there.
Big fan of the film ‘Flipper’? Well, this is the real deal. Catch sight of the local friendly dolphins as they peruse Monkey Mia’s coast. If you’re headed out for a swim or kayak, you might get the opportunity to be at one with this flippered crew as they cruise around you.
Australia likes its birds SUPERSIZED. Spot groups of emus playing on the beach and in the water, as well as the majestic giant pelicans that nestle on Shark bay’s shoreline.
A triple whammy of sea life to see (and a lot more). Turtles and manta rays can be spotted year-round at Ningaloo reef, so get your go pro stick and snorkel gear at the ready for a turtle-y awesome selfie with these peaceful swimmers. But now for the big guys, from late March to late July, get ready to share water space with the incredible whale shark. One for the bucket list, there’s no doubt about it.
If scaling red rock formations, jumping into gorges and bathing in natural lagoons is your thing then Karijini is a must-do. This incredible ecosystem is home to a fair few Aussie animal favourites such as red kangaroos, rock-wallabies, echidnas and bats that litter the sky at dusk.
You won’t catch a glimpse of these cutie pies anywhere else, so ‘Rotto’ is worth the ferry ride from Perth just for that! However, once you’re there you’ll soon realise you’re in some kind of WA island paradise: secluded coves with white sandy beaches, a shipwreck dive spot offshore, coral formations to uncover snorkelling, and a seriously good beer selection at the Rotto Beach hotel. Don’t want to leave? Then don’t. Stay the night and camp under the stars.
Yep, there are camels in the outback of Australia. Lots of camels in fact! Head to cable beach in Broome just before sunset and watch these unusual animals stroll calmly across the horizon. Think Arabian-nights but Aussie style.
So there you have it, just a sprinkle of the unique wildlife that can be discovered in Western Australia, the rest is over to you!
Spend more time on the lookout for animals and less time on the planning. Explore all these spots and more on one of our small group tours, designed for backpackers.
As worldly wanderers we like to play the field when it comes to city experiences. Some call it fickle, we call it a thirst for the new and this time our heart has been stolen by Vancouver. With both nature and metropolitan cool, what more could one ask for in a city? Here are 10 reasons why we’re crushing on Vancouver.
1. Bad-ass totem poles
Only 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver, and you’ll be transported into a unique world Northwest Coast First Nations Art. Colourful totem poles, intricate weavings as well as contemporary artworks can all be discovered in the impressive Museum of Anthropology.
Foliage covered wooden huts, the scent of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and all the melted Nutella. Yep you’ve got it, Christmas markets are on their way and boy does Europe know how to put on a show! So grab a scarf, mittens and a bag to fill up with decorations and get exploring some of Europe’s most enchanting offerings. We’ll meet you in the beer tent…
With its medieval layout, baroque cityscape, and cobblestone streets, the heart of Lithuania’s capital city, Vilnius, charms in any season of the year. But with a dusting of snow across the medieval castles, Vilnius is all the more stunning, especially when viewed from the 22nd floor from the town’s coveted Skybar. We can’t explain the locals love for Frank Zappa, but during the winter months – this laid back city is a truly enchanting wonderland.
If like many a modern traveller, your ideal trip is sussing out the area with the use of your mouth and stomach, we reckon the culinary hot spot Japan might just be the place for you. Pokémon flavoured Mcflurries, curries served in toilets and cheap Japanese beers down Piss Alley? We are soy into these bizarre but delicious Japanese eateries. No more Mr Rice Guy it’s time to get weird!
What makes a scrumptious bowl of somen noodles even better? Having to catch them with your chopsticks as they zoom out of a bamboo waterfall. Move aside bungy jumps, this is our kind of adrenalin rush.
Banana and chocolate Pikachu McFlurry? Erm can this be made global please? The rest of the flavours however are pretty alternative. Think broccoli flavour for Bulbasaur and habanero pepper for Charmander. Move aside green smoothie, I’ll have a Bulbasaur ice cream to go!
Hold up, we don’t mean literally! This kitsch Taiwanese chain has made it on the Tokyo food scene, serving up curries, noodles and even swirling chocolate ice cream (so wrong it’s right?) in miniature toilets.
Like the intricate art produced in Japan, the coffee maestros here have taken latte designs to a whole new level. 3D cats, Hello Kitty, pandas and more can all be seen in your cup’s foam. Head to Loger café for an instagrammable latte that’s almost too adorable to drink.
If slicing open a perfectly poached egg gets you going, then Omurice at Kichi Kichi will push you into egg-loving overload. No yolk! Sculpted fried rice is wrapped in the fluffiest of omelettes topped with a soy-ketchup sauce.
A savoury cabbage-based pancake that is cheap, filling and comes ‘okonomi’ – aka how you like. Watch the bonito fish flakes dance from the heat and ponder what makes the okonomiyaki sauce so incredibly tasty.
The name doesn’t exactly scream ‘eat here’ but Piss Alley has an interesting history that dates back to post-war Japan. What started out as an illegal drinking quarter, feels like a trip back in time and is a prime spot for beers on a budget and a hearty Yakitori stew.
This local favourite gave birth to Tokyo’s take on the traditional Ramen. With over sixty years of experience, you know this warming noodle soup broth is going to be delicious!
Located right in the heart of the Tsukiji fish market, the sushi served here is as close to the source as it gets. Shake up your wake-up meal and try their famous sushi brekkie platter (warning the queues are longggg).
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As delicious and unique as it is raw vegan, this Osaka café serves up colourful fusions of traditional Japanese ingredients and western dishes. We recommend the raw matcha cheesecake for an innocently sweet treat.
If this isn’t enough to get you hungry explorers packing your bags and heading to Japan pronto. Check out our destination guide for more tips and inspo.
As the largest resort in North America, you’ve no doubt heard about Whistler’s epic snowfall and opportunities to shred the gnarliest powder around! However, for those professional snow-ploughers, there is so much more to Whistler Blackcomb, that goes beyond the ski season. We’ve rounded up our fave 11 activities to do in winter through to summer.
Winter is for dive-bombing into several inches of fresh powder and cosying up in bars…
Well, we thought we’d get it over with at the beginning. Yes, this place is a snow-lovers playground and it deserves that adoration. From the rookie skier to the pro, there is a slope for you. A little more experienced? Choose one of the safe off-piste routes and explore the back country.