Hello Hanoi!

The past weekend was spent in Hanoi; the crazy beautiful mess that is the capital city of Vietnam. As a birthday gift, Sagar had booked this weekend away and I was beyond excited to explore a new part of Asia as we jumped on the plane and waved bye to a rainy Hong Kong. IMG_3231

 

The name Hanoi is a fusion of two words; Ha and Noi. Ha meaning river and Noi meaning interior and combining together to mean something along the lines of ‘the hinterland between the rivers’. Beautiful!

 

 

There is no other way to describe my initial reaction as we approached our hotel in The Old Quarter except gobsmacked! The cars horning, the swerving tuk tuks and SO MANY scooters along with the overwhelming sense of “get me outta here” 😮

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Admittedly, I am a city girl and the instant reactiveness of wanting to escape, was even a shock to myself but similar to my experience in Bangkok, the feeling was short lived and very quickly I learnt that the chaos was all part of the charm.

After arriving at our hotel, The Essence Palace Hotel, we were welcomed with refreshing fruit cocktails, a map listing the top attractions and more importantly the best food places to try in Hanoi! In true foodie style, I had pre-researched all the must try dishes for a real Hanoian experience and made a list of my own 😀

On our first evening we dined at The Green Tangerine which was very close to our hotel and recommended by the fantastic concierge who was unfortunately unable to find us a table in their very own restaurant (and obviously very popular!), Gia Ngu. As disappointed as we were not to dine there, we were quickly surprised as he explained that as a kind gesture they would be including complimentary breakfast for our stay in order for us to try some of the cuisine on offer from the restaurant. Winning!!! 🙂

As we strolled through the streets navigating our way to the restaurant, we soon learnt that there was only one way to cross the streets in Hanoi; by stepping out into the road, I kid you not! *not for the faint hearted*

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The sounds of horns can be heard for miles and after initially feeling confident that I was going to get knocked over, Sagar and I miraculously meandered our way through the traffic and made our way to the restaurant. This was partly driven by my hangry-ness and partly because the motorcyclists, tuk tuks and the very few cars were all so very skilled (or should I say experienced?) in swerving to avoid pedestrians. Feeling very happy with ourselves we stepped into the restaurant and were transformed to a whole new  world…

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A restored French colonial house with a magical courtyard, The Green Tangerine blew my mind! (and that was before even trying any food!) The cuisine here is a blend of French and Vietnamese which at first I wasn’t too keen about but looking at the chefs special menu, it wasn’t long before I’d picked at least two dishes which sounded exquisite!

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A yummy seafood platter
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Lobster mille-feuille

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three courses and several wine glasses later, Sagar and I decided to retire for the evening but not before settling our million vietnamese dong bill (around £30!). I was both amused and shocked at this bill because a) oh hey, I’m a millionaire in Vietnam! and b) Seriously? £30 for a three course meal for two and alcohol?! This was just the start of our trip to Hanoi and I was quickly realising that this would be the PERFECT destination for budget conscious travellers.

Day 2

We were awoken on day two by speakers blaring through the walls and were later informed that this is a historical element of Vietnam dating as far back as the 1960’s war years, where they delivered news and warned people to take shelter from aircraft bombing. Nowadays, the speaker broadcasts various topics from the upcoming voting day to the latest political news, flu and health hazard announcements as well as the occasional patriotic songs. As grumpy as I was when I was awoken (at least three times by 8am with a speaker right outside our room) I really respect the idea of retaining  some of the historical touches and admire their creative use of dated technology to inform the locals with up to date news. Kitsch and very vintage!

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After breakfast we took a short five minute walk over to the hotel’s Essencia Spa and Massage parlour and enjoyed a sixty minute treatment at the mere cost of approximately £15! Cheap as chips!

Feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world, we headed back to the hotel to be greeted by our city tour guide Jacelyn. Born and raised in Vietnam, Jacelyn was the perfect person to show us around Hanoi with a very professional but fun and informative approach. We walked around Hanoi as she explained the history behind some of the main attractions. We visited the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, The Presidential Palace,  One Pillar Pagoda and Hoan Kiem Lake.

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The Temple of Literature was the first University in Vietnam.
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Entrance to the beautiful temple of literature where parents will bring children to pray for them to do well and excel in their school careers

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh is preserved
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The stunning Presidential Palace where you may have seen Obama visit just a few days ago!
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The One Pillar Pagoda, a buddhist temple regarded as one of the most iconic temples in Hanoi

My favourite was The Huc Bridge also known as The Sunlight Bridge which was breathtakingly beautiful. Hanoi has many lakes but the red wooden bridge is known as a major historical and cultural point in the heart of the city.

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The Huc Bridge leading to the Ngoc Son Temple

As we walked through the crowds of selfie taking tourists and locals, Jacelyn told us about the history behind the bridge and the story of the golden turtle. Legend has it that a large golden turtle arose from the lake one day and snatched a magical sword back from Emperor Le Loi, which was given to him by The Golden Turtle God to strike the Chinese Ming Dynasty. The turtle then disappeared and was never seen again. Many people believe it was The Golden Turtle God returning to reclaim his sword. Jacelyn continued to tell us that although the history behind the bridge is based on a legend, the lake is known to be the home of Hanoi’s largest turtle which was found dead in January of this year. It is said that the turtle weighed 169kg and the turtles shell reached 100cm 😮 The turtle is now known as ‘ Cu Rua’, meaning great grandfather turtle and is worshipped by many as a symbol of longevity.

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The beautiful wooden red bridge
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The Golden Turtle – it is believed that the turtle was actually this big! 😮
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Prayers at Ngoc Son Temple

After a four hour walk in 35 degrees heat, Sagar and I were well and truly ready to head back to the hotel for some down time before our evening dinner. But this wasn’t before going on a little detour with Jacelyn to try Hanoi’s infamous egg coffee, known as ‘ca phe trung‘. Navigating our way through to the motorcyclists we made our way to Cafe Dinh through the most unusual way – a tiny dark alley way, up a narrow set of steps and finally into a crowded hole in the wall type restaurant filled with groups of teenagers and young adults huddling around on small plastic chairs with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other. Jacelyn explained that this was one of the most popular places in Hanoi to try the staple drink and I watched as tourists and locals flocked in, one by one.

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Personally, I HATE coffee but there was no way I was going to miss out on an opportunity to give this infamous treat a try, especially after hearing about it so much. Much to my delight, it was delicious!! I was very sceptical about the egg component but I must say, the blends of egg, CHEESE (crazy huh!), condensed milk, vietnamese coffee powder and sugar worked surprisingly well…So well I finished the whole cup and although I was left with an intense flavour of bitter coffee in my mouth, I felt unbelievably satisfied 🙂 (Kinda tastes like tiramisu if you ask me!)

That evening, Sagar had arranged for us to have dinner at sunset at the popular restaurant Gourmet Corner. The customer service was incredible as were the passion fruit daiquiris, at a ridiculous price of around £2 each!! 😮 Best.happy.hour.EVER

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My dinner consisted of seabass and roasted vegetables for the main along with vietnamese sesame falafel and spring rolls for starters. Everything was more then satisfactory and I would definitely put this on the list of recommendations for anyone visiting Hanoi. The restaurant has a fantastic view over the city and the menu has a real mix of traditional Vietnamese dishes. After enjoying dinner and a few too many happy hour cocktails, I was surprised with an incredibly gooey chocolate birthday cake. Much to Sagar’s amusement, the waiters switched the lights off and sang Happy Birthday as I covered my face in embarrassment. Haha Two months on and still celebrating my birthday – any excuse for more birthday cakes!!! 🙂
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After being wined and dined we headed over to Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre to watch the world famous Water Puppet show, known for its traditional and spiritual creativity dating as far back as the 11th century. The concept derived from the time when villagers would use the flooded rice fields as a way to entertain locals by standing in the waist deep water and puppets performing over the water. Rods are used to support the puppets and the puppeteers are hidden behind the screens. It was a great opportunity to watch a historical form of Hanoian art in its original place. I also really enjoyed the Vietnamese orchestra formed of drums, bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals; creating songs to tell the story being acted out by the puppets.

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There was only way one to end a Saturday night in Hanoi, at the popular beer corner where you can purchase home made beer, also known as Bia Hoi! We had so much fun making our way through the crowds and watching the nightlife in the Old Quarter become alive! Seating ourselves outside a bar on the plastic stools, we ordered a Saigon and a Hanoi beer and watched as the donut vendors and balloon sellers made there way down the streets crowded with people. During one point of the night, the manager came running out and pointed to us to take our beers as she pulled the stools from beneath us and hastily folded away the tables. Sagar and I stood in shock wondering what was going on and why it seemed like we were being pushed away? As we walked into the bar, we got talking to some locals who were giggling as we asked what was going on. “The police are coming are we are not allowed to obstruct the road with tables and seats”. We tried our best to keep a straight face as we watched the police vans slowly drive through the narrow roads and two minutes later, out came the seats and tables again! Much to our amusement, this happened two more times during the night and Sagar and I laughed as it was a pure comedy act seeing the commotion as everyone ran to and fro! When in Hanoi…drink beer but avoid the police! :p

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And so day two of exploring Hanoi was an eye opener but also a very in depth look at the mix of countries and cultures that are embedded within. From France to China and America, the elements are blended together to create a beautiful cocktail and I think thats really something special!

..Stay tuned for Part 2 of my trip to Hanoi and be prepared to whet your appetite because i’ll be taking you on a food journey around Hanoi!!

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H

xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ko Lanta – Thailand’s paradise island

The fourth and final post on My Thailand Travel Diary takes us to Ko Lanta, a set of two Islands just south of Thailand and the absolute all round destination. The two islands named Ko Lanta Noi (Small Lanta Island) and Ko Lanta Yai (Big Lanta Island) are very well known for their long sandy white beaches and for its diving, very similar to its neighbouring island, Krabi.

During our trip here, we stayed at the  Layana Resort and Spa. There are absolutely no words to describe this place other than this how I imagine heaven to be 😮 Lush green fields which last for miles and miles, the incredible infinity pool and jacuzzi along with the fantastic customer service from the staff. The thai people are so humble, friendly and welcoming.

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It’s fair to say I spent the majority of my days here reading, watching the sunset, drinking cocktails or enjoying the beach parties in full swing with the best happy hour, barbecue and even fire blowers!

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That said, I am a cabin fever sufferer (if that is even a real word?!) AKA not being able to spend too much time in one place. And so for this reason, Lanta Old Town was the perfect adventure!! Jumping onto the tuk tuk we headed off! Upon arrival I was pretty speechless. Having not done much research beforehand, I felt like I had taken a step back in time. I learnt that Lanta Old Town is known for its traditional Thai wooden houses on stilts and it’s magical and historical feel. Oh and the seafood! My oh my, the seafood was to die for! It has a fishermen’s village vibe and the local restaurants provide only the freshest from their daily catch.

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So if you are looking for the absolute sanctuary on a stunning beach front resort which promotes nothing but absolute peace (adults only here), harmony and downtime, this is the place for you! Layana Resort and Spa exceeded expectations and was the absolute PERFECT way to end our time spent travelling around Thailand. I loved it so much that it’s down on my bucket list of places to revisit. Go on, google it and book it, you know you want to 🙂

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..Stay tuned for my next blog post following my recent trip to Hanoi 🙂

H

xoxo

My Thailand Travel Diary – Touchdown in Krabi Town

So here we are, on the west coast of southern Thailand. Enjoy the beautiful sunsets, the unspoilt beaches and the sea breeze… all with a deelish cocktail in hand!

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Our stay in Krabi would not have been the same without a pleasant stay at The Nakamanda Resort and Spa conveniently located on Ao Nang. Truly spoilt with a welcome basket of exotic fruits and champagne on ice in the most incredible villa suite, we couldn’t have been more happier to have arrived here 😮

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By the time we touched down, I was already craving the sun in my face and the sand between my toes. There is really no better feeling than being by the sea!

Our time in Krabi was split between massages, tan time on the beach, cocktails and of course…some island hopping!!

The brilliant concierge presented us with a booklet full to the brim with different tours, trips and excursions. Long tail boat, luxury boats, tours.. Name it, they’ve got it! Having been told by many that the Phi Phi Islands would be super crowded, Sagar and I decided to look for an alternative and this is when we came across the tour that would take us to the Hong Islands; a set of four small tropical islands; Hong Island Lagoon, Lading Island, Pakbia Island and Daeng Island. A 20 minute speed boat ride from Ao Nang and I was stunned by the lagoons as we approached. Incredibly crystal clear waters, the limestone rocks and the fresh air! This was really something straight out of a movie set!

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We made a pit stop at each one and dipped our toes in the water, discovered caves, took a billion selfies and enjoyed some down time (golden skin is not even the word!) We then ended the day at Hong Island Bay which blew my mind. The most perfect place to sit back, relax and to unwind and reflect over the past month as I scrolled through my phone and enjoyed the gazillion wedding photos and videos that had already been sent to us by friends. All whilst staring in awe at our backdrop 😮 Just take a look for yourself….

 

After a long but dreamy day on the islands, we retired back to our favourite restaurant conveniently located just outside our hotel; Ban Thai. And of course I ordered the same dishes I did every other day we had been there as well as my regular (and most favourite!) cocktail; the pina colada!

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Our visit to Krabi although only four days, gave us a real sense of peace and relaxation. The Nakamanda Resort and Spa was really in the middle of nowhere and this was absolutely fine by me – a tranquil haven in the country I had longed to visit for so so long!

And to end our visit, my sweet sweet husband surprised me with the ultimate romantic date night – dinner on a private secluded beach at sunset with our own waiter, a three course dinner tailored to our tastes and even our own music selection! Get in!! (Mega brownie points! :p ) This was truly a night I will never forget. The colours of the sky as they blended and the flicker of the candlelight as we toasted to our future made me beam with happiness!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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So there you have it, for those of you who want a relaxed stay in Thailand and away from the herds of tourists, pick Krabi! It is also an excellent choice for those who like rock climbing, snorkelling and water sports in general. I may have got stung by a jelly fish but I’ll 100% be returning to Krabi one day…

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Join me tomorrow for the final stop on this travel diary. I will be taking you to a location which oozes nothing but absolute luxury! You won’t want to miss this…

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H

xoxo

My Thailand Travel Diary – Just chillin’ in Chiang Mai

So with a “see ya later Bangkok” followed by a short one hour flight, we arrived in Northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai. A good friend of mine comes from Chiang Mai and this meant that I had already painted a picture of what I imagined it to be like but I was soon to discover that it was all this and more!

Arriving at The Tamarind Village, I squealed as I spotted the huge pool and the gorgeous lanna style villas all within the grounds of an old tamarind orchard. This boutique hotel was on the top of my list for several reasons. Firstly, the two hour massage that awaited us and secondly for its central location! Although it is located on the main street of Ratchadamnoen, it feels like you are a million miles away. Just what I needed after a crazy busy few days in Bangkok.

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It quickly became apparent that Chiang Mai was the absolute contrast of Bangkok providing a real alternate; rather than being stuck in the traffic jams, you can stroll around on foot and check out the picturesque old town or take a short bike ride out of town to the rainforest and explore one of the many beautiful treks. There is a very cool atmosphere and such a great variety of things to do in the ancient city.  I loved visiting some of the local temples such as the Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chiang Mai and my absolute favourite, Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep located in the Doi Suthep mountain. Being hindu myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find aspects of both Buddhism and Hinduism within.

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – The Golden Mount is exceptionally beautiful! 😮
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Beautiful landscape of Doi Suthep
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I spy with my little eye, Ganesh! 🙂
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Just another selfie because..why not??

If you’re a foodie like me, you will have the best time EVER in Thailand. I had an absolute ball hangin’ out with local lass Kim who taught both Sagar and I how to cook up a real spicy storm in true thai style! Walking through the various fruit and veg markets, Kim explained the history behind the Thai cuisine, the ingredients and what flavours they bring to the the infamous dishes. Next, we were invited into her kitchen for a private one on one tutorial and were given a menu to choose from.

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With Kim supervising, the two of us had such a fun time discovering the spices, smells and tastes of each and every ingredient to be used in our dishes. And at the end of it, we sat down and enjoyed an incredibly tasty four course meal of pad thai, chicken in coconut milk soup, red curry and ending with the addictive sticky rice pudding with mango. This was a super way to spend some quality time together as well as rustling up some good grub. This is definitely one for the bucket list if you are visiting Thailand.

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To end the day, a relaxed stroll around the Sunday night markets! Lucky for us, the market was located directly outside of our hotel and as we walked through the stores, I realised just how creative this place is! Handmade jewellery, handbags, pashminas and art work cover the streets. Pops of colour, magicians and lots and lots of  yummy thai street food. So dreamy! If you are planning a holiday and time permits, be sure to add Chiang Mai to your list!

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I hope you enjoyed exploring my little snapshot of Chiang Mai and please join me tomorrow for some sun, sand and sea in Krabi!

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H

xoxo

My Thailand Travel Diary – One night in Bangkok

This time last year I was back in London, newly wed and having major holiday blues. And why? Because I had just returned from two weeks travelling a country that gave me so much in return. Thailand awakened my senses; the smells, the sights, the sounds and the lights. And so, for the next few days, I will be taking you on a journey through Thailand. I hope you will enjoy the adventure through my eyes.

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Enjoying the city lights from Vertigo & Moon Bar, Banyan Tree Hotel
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…About to enjoy a hangover martini at the Sky Bar, Lebua State Tower

First stop Bangkok!! Feeling half sleepy and half ecstatic to a) finally be off the plane and b) Argh, I’m in THAILAND…we stumbled into a cab and set off on our way to the first of many destinations. And so the story goes a little somethin’ like this – Bangkok had me..but not before avoiding two near death experiences. The car swayed to the side, the brakes came on and the car went skidding to a halt. Sagar and I were thrown out of our seats and woken from our jet lagged nap with our jaws dropped open. Picture this – the truck in front of us was carrying milk and SOMEHOW the milk cartons started falling out and onto the highway. (The crazy busy kinda highway with cars travelling at least 60mph! :o) The driver of the truck slowed down as the passenger gets out 😮 and tries to collect the milk cartons and in the meantime, our driver almost kills us (but aww he would’ve saved the crazy milkman I guess! :/ )

Well, I promise you, Bangkok’s not all that bad.. Haha 🙂 In fact, it grew on me. And very quickly!

 

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Time out on the rooftop at Chatrium Hotel on the riverside.

Within our short but sweet three days spent gallivanting the temples, eating our way through the local food shacks and sipping on cocktails up in the clouds overlooking the hustle and bustle of the city below, I realised how much I loved this place. Asia’s city that never sleeps!! I sat on our hotel balcony and watched the twinkling little lights below – the market vendors, the taxi drivers, the flashing lights.. but they never stopped! Drinking a few too many Singha beers, I remained there until around 3am, taking in the smells and the sounds and finally the city began to wind down…but not for long! By 6am the sun was awake in all its glory and the street vendors and taxis were back to buzzing around the city. Bangkok is not for the faint hearted I must admit. The streets are jam packed, as are the endless miles of luxury malls and the night markets. In the same sense, this is what I take away with me; the sense of adventure, excitement and a thirst for the unknown in this never ending melting pot.

A day in Bangkok:

  1. Explore the Grand PalaceIMG_7061Your trip to Bangkok will truly be incomplete if you do not see this incredible sight. Here you will be presented with a huge complex of incredibly impressive buildings which contain very famous temples such as the Emerald Buddha and the Reclining Buddha is just a ten minute walk away. Just be sure to cover your shoulders and whatever you do, do not wear shorts OR you will be asked to wear a very pretty *ahem* fluorescent green robe (Don’t learn the hard way as I did guys!! *facepalm*) You can easily spend half a day exploring this wonder and so book yourself in for a massage straight after. Bangkok has the best massage salons and they are absolute cheap as chips! My favourite experience was the traditional thai massage at Nemita Spa as part of the beautiful Chatrium Hotel Riverside.
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Prayers at The Golden Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782.
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Hangin’ out with the reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, Grand Palace. This is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok. The statue representing Buddha lying down is a major icon of Buddhism. Definitely one not to be missed. Absolutely stunning and quite surreal!
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The Reclining Buddha

2. Head over to Asiatique The Riverfront for a stroll along the riverfront with a cool beer, some night bazaar shopping and of course the incredible variety of restaurants. You may even find some live music at the local bars. It really reminded me of London’s Southbank; a super relaxed way to wind down from a busy day soaking in the history and culture at the Grand Palace.

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3. One of my favourite things to do in Bangkok – enjoying the sky views from one of their many luxurious rooftop bars with a cocktail or two. The perfect way to end a perfect day.

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Sipping on a cocktail (with a popsicle) at Sirocco SkyBar at the Lebua State Tower. You may remember this place from The Hangover II? Well, it is just as cool in real life!

 

On My Thailand Travel Diary tomorrow; travel with me to Northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai where I will be cooking up a storm!

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H

xoxo