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    It’s All About the Islands – Thailand

    Recently, a lot of my nearest and dearest have been picking my brains on where to go in the backpacker haven of Thailand.

    Although this country is only a small slice of Asia, it is jam-packed with exciting things to see and do. From culture, wildlife, tribes and temples in the North to tans, parties, buckets and beaches in the South, it’s no surprise that choosing where to spend most of your time is a tricky task… especially when you don’t have much time to spare.

    Therefore, to get you started, here is my guide to some (they’re all amazing!) of the best islands in Thailand:

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Full Moon Party - My Culture Craving

    Koh Phangan

    Situated on the East coast of Thailand, Koh Phangan is notorious for its infamous Full Moon Parties. Brimming with booze, backpackers and bonanza, by night, Koh Phangan lights up with the buzz of travellers in search of the bright nightlife at Haad Rin beach. Fluorescent neon paint, thrill-seeking fire dancers, crazy pool parties, blaring music… Koh Phangan is complete and utter carnage!

    However, if the partying scene isn’t up your street, don’t overlook this island straight away. Offering some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, Koh Phangan’s exuberant nature and scenery are definitely still worth a visit.

    My highlights:

    – Going to a pool party at Coral Bungalows

    – The Full Moon Party

    – Unfortunately, it rained most of the time I was on Koh Phangan therefore, I didn’t get a chance to explore it as much as I’d hoped.

    It's all About the Islands - Thailand - Koh Tao - My Culture Craving

    Koh Tao

    Floating around a 1 1/2 hour boat journey North of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao is the go to island, to recover from the damage done by its rowdy neighbour. Renowned for its cheap PADI diving courses and zen atmosphere, Koh Tao is a peaceful bubble of bliss.

    Kick back on a beach bean bag, listen to the reggae music float from beach bar to bar, as the sea laps against the sand, and count your lucky stars you’re there… you will never want to leave.

    My highlights:

    – Going diving for the first time

    – Relaxing on the beach bean bags

    – Watching the sunset

    It's all About the Islands - Thailand - My Culture Craving

    Koh Lanta

    Situated around a two-hour boat journey from Phi Phi, Koh Lanta is a hub of tranquility.

    Sprinkled with cute, idyllic beach huts and uncrowded beaches, Koh Lanta is the perfect island to spend your days relaxing on the beach with a good book and your evenings sipping on an ice-cold beer whilst delving into a freshly caught fish.

    However, if you’re looking to be more Dora the Explorer than Sid the Sloth, rent a jeep or moped and explore the untouched jungle covered hills and mountains, which run through the island. Just be warned… power steering is a luxury in Thailand…

    My highlights:

    – Eating fresh fish in a beach front restaurant

    – Renting a jeep

    – Watching the sunset at Noon Sunset Viewpoint Restaurant (a must whilst on the island)

    It's all About the Islands - Phi Phi, Thailand - My Culture Craving

    Koh Phi Phi

    This is the island, which I tell every backpacker who is heading to Thailand to go to – it is paradise… and this isn’t just because Phi Phi is where I first set eyes on a turtle in the wild (woooo)…

    With its colourful sea life, clear, turquoise waters, limestone cliffs and lively beach parties, Phi Phi is Koh Phangan’s not so wild, baby sister.

    My highlights:

    – Indulging in a fresh fruit smoothie from one of the street stalls every morning

    – Kayaking to Monkey Beach

    – Going snorkeling (Phi Phi was the best place I snorkeled during my gap year… including The Whitsundays in Oz!)

    – Visiting the Phi Phi viewpoint

    – Drinking buckets and partying at the beach bars/clubs

    If you have ever been to Thailand, which islands were your favourite? Please comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know :)! For more information on how to get from one island to another, check out this website

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset

    Dorset is renowned for its impressive scenery. Therefore, what better way to explore its idyllic countryside and coastline than by whacking on your wellies and venturing out into the great outdoors.

    This morning, as soon as my friends and I spotted the clear blue sky and beaming sun, we wrapping up warm and headed towards Dancing Ledge in Purbeck.

    A country bumpkin’s hilly haven of luscious green grass, squelchy muddy puddles, rugged rock alcoves, imprinted with archaic fossils and a breathtaking view out to sea, Dancing Ledge is the perfect place to walk your worries (or hangovers) away!

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset - My Culture Craving

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset - Scenery - My Culture Craving

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset - Coastline - My Culture Craving

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset - Fossil - My Culture Craving

    After doing a spot of rock climbing and defeating the VERY steep and slippery hill, which stood between us and our car, we rewarded ourselves with a cosy pub lunch overlooking Corfe Castle.

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset - View - My Culture Craving

    The perfect end to our adventurous day in the countryside…

    The Great Outdoors in Purbeck, Dorset - Seaweed - My Culture Craving

    If you ever find yourself in Dorset, make sure you put aside some time to unearth this beautiful corner of the county.

    Hot Spots for the Perfect Winter Sun [Guest Post]

    Now that the festive period has come to an end and Santa has rewarded us with a post-Christmas present of sub-zero temperatures and rain (well, in England he most definitely has), it is that time of year again, when travellers around the globe begin to fantasize about what their next year of travel plans may bring.

    How else are we expected to survive the struggle of the working world?

    Unfortunately, this year is going to be a quiet one for me. But all for good reason… I will be embarking on the big Gap Year take two in December (check out my ‘What’s Next?’ page for more details), so need to save every single penny I can scrape together until then.

    However, for all of you fortunate travellers who are on the look out for a dose of culture, fun and sunshine, I’ve teamed up with Felicity from Holiday Lettings to suggest some incredible and diverse places you can go, to warm up during this winter chill.

    So, whilst you guys are enjoying the sunshine, think of poor me, at my desk, daydreaming of sipping on margaritas and sunning myself on a beach… in Mexico… whilst being fanned by hunky men… and stuffing my face with fajitas… oh how the mind wonders…

    Christine McIntosh (license) via flickr.com

    Gran Canaria, Spain

    A continent in miniature, Gran Canaria offers verdant rolling hills, stark desert terrain and a dramatic coastline. Neon seaside resorts mingle effortlessly with quaint white-washed houses and cobbled alleyways in inland hamlets. The only thing more dazzling than the island’s sunshine is its variety.

    You can jump on a camel at La Baranda Safari Park and ride through verdant groves of citrus trees, avocados and palms. Saunter through the historic streets of Las Palmas and visit the house Christopher Columbus reputedly lodged in on his 1492 Atlantic voyage. Immerse yourself in scuba diving or treat yourself to a luxurious seawater treatment at the Thalassotherapy Centre.

    Anupam_ts (license) via flickr.com

    Key West, USA

    Colourful Caribbean-style streets, divine sunsets and delectable key lime pie: this is a gorgeous tropical island. It mixes up mansions with ornate woodwork and pretty cigar-makers’ cottages, many covered in rambling moonflowers that only blossom by night.

    Tread softly among the luxuriant palms and delicate orchids at local artist Nancy Forrester’s nearby Secret Garden and hear the chatter of her rescued macaws and parrots. Tour Ernest Hemingway’s beautiful Spanish colonial villa, see the typewriter he composed masterpieces on and meet the descendants of his six-toed cat. Or pay a visit to spooky Robert the Doll at Fort East Martello Museum, the ‘haunted’ 19th-century toy who inspired Chucky from the Child’s Play films.

    Hot Spots for the Perfect Winter Sun - Cancun - My Culture Craving

    Ko Samui, Thailand

    This is the island idyll that makes Instagram images look shabby. There are crystal beaches brightened by azure waters and shaded by gently swaying coconut groves. The island blooms with lush tropical gardens, serves up steaming snacks from street food stalls and hides elaborate Buddhist temples up unexpected narrow alleyways. It’s just a pleasure to explore.

    Why not take a boat round the Ang Thong National Marine Park and absorb the scenery that inspired The Beach? Or head to the Nam Tok Na Muang fall, watch the water tumble over heather-coloured rocks and dive into the pool at the bottom. Venture to Wat Phra Yai, a 15m-tall Buddha statue set on a little rugged outcrop and powerfully silhouetted against the tropical sea and sky.

    Mispahn (license) via flickr.com

    Dubai, UAE

    Dubai is all about excess – it’s home to the richest horse race, the biggest man-made islands, the largest shopping festival and the biggest mall. Yes, it’s a stunning spot for sun, sand and shopping. But it’s also fascinating to take in this futuristic cityscape in the making, bordered by glittering ocean waves and infinite desert dunes. This is a city without limits.

    Reach for the sky from the observation deck at the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Shop till you drop at over 1,200 stores in Dubai Mall and find out more about the area’s history and traditions at the Dubai Museum. Then get lost in the maze of charming streets in the traditional Bastakiya district or drift down the vibrant alley dubbed Hindi Lane.

    Irving Huertas (license) via Wikimedia Commons

    Cancun, Mexico

    Soak up the sun alongside the iguanas and admire the exotic flowers as they add a dash of orange-red colour to the city’s vibrant plazas. Cool down with a refreshing margarita at a chilled beach-side bar as another sultry night falls; you can see the moon illuminate the white sand and reflect in the calm surface of the water.

    Make the most of this special environment. You can roam the archaeological site of San Miguelito and admire Mayan structures, from imposing palaces to the 8m-tall Gran Piramide (Grand Pyramid) dating from 1250. Go for a dip at Playa Langosta beach where the sand is coral-coloured and the waters are perfect for snorkelling. Or explore the nearby Crococun Zoo, a former crocodile farm turned conservation centre, and pet the spider monkeys.

    *Please note that this is not a sponsored post and the article was personally chosen and endorsed by myself*.

    Have you got any winter getaways planned? Comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know!!

    The Taj Mahal in All its Glory – Agra, India

    On New Year’s Day last year, my Mother and I were lucky enough to spend the day wandering around the magnificent Taj Mahal.

    Located around a 4 hour drive/train journey from Delhi, this white marble mausoleum stands proudly in the city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh.

    Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahanin in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, between 1632 and 1653, the Taj Mahal is a masterpiece of complete and utter beauty, love and splendor.

    Whether you decide to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise, sunset or during the day, due to pollution laws, you must buy your tickets (750/- approximately £8 per person – BARGAIN) at a ticket office on the outskirts of the Taj. From there, you can walk or, hop onto an electric bus, which will take you to one of the many entrances, where your journey into Mughal history, breathtaking architecture and selfie taking with locals (I’m talking, with every single Indian man, woman and family…), will begin.

    Included in the price of your ticket, you are given a bottle of water, some shoe covers and the option of having a tour guide.

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Shoes - My Culture Craving

    Although the idea of having a tour guide may be off putting, if you haven’t researched the history, the intricate detail or the different sections of the Taj Mahal, and are willing to pay a small tip, then it is definitely worth the small hassle… and on the plus side, your guide can also take your obligatory ‘we went to the Taj Mahal’ group photos for you…

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Pose - My Culture Craving

    My Mother and I opted to go without a tour guide, simply because I had used one on my first visit and, because of this, convinced my Mum that I could impart the same Taj wisdom as the guides.

    In reality, I was slightly hungover and reciting my Lonely Planet…

    However, despite myyyyyyy not so great guidance, we soon found ourselves approaching the large terracotta coloured gate, which stood between us and the Taj Mahal.

    Excited, apprehensive and intrigued… we made our way through.

    It felt like a surreal mirage. The crisp green gardens, the sensational symmetry, the iridescent water fountains, which give you an increased sense of illusion – and the white marble Taj Mahal. Standing tall on its opalescent podium. In all its glory…

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - From Afar - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Agra - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - India - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal in all its Glory - Detailing - My Culture Craving

    The Taj Mahal is seeped in such love and grandeur, it is no wonder (see what I’ve done there…) it’s one of the Great Wonders of Our World.

    Facts and advice about the Taj Mahal:

    – When going through the arch, which leads to the Taj Mahal, dip your head until you are half way through the archway and look up… you won’t believe your eyes!

    – The Taj Mahal is elevated off of the ground so that it only has the sky as a backdrop.

    – If you place a torch against the semi-precious stones inside the Taj Mahal, they glow.

    – If you are a tourist, when you are queuing to view the tomb inside the Taj, it is likely that the guards will push you in front of the locals to go in.

    – It is closed on Fridays.

    Have you ever visited the Taj Mahal? If you have, what was your highlight? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Five Great Things to do Whilst in Edinburgh, Scotland

    Edinburgh is architecturally unique, steeped in history and buzzing with people out and about drinking, eating and sightseeing.

    But, where to start? Here are five great things to see and do whilst in the Scottish capital:

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Edinburgh Dungeons - My Culture Craving

    Edinburgh Dungeons

    Edinburgh Dungeons was an unplanned activity, which ended up being one of the main highlights of our trip!

    After a few glasses of vino, we headed towards the dark dungeons, eagerly awaiting what we had in store. Once we’d paid the rather steep £16.50 entry fee, we were led into the first ‘scene’ of our frightening dungeon experience – the Judge and Courtroom.

    We then huddled together and retreated into the darkness, through a series of thrilling, fun and educational scenes – including a spooky boat trip, a creepy tour of a torture chamber, a humorous mirror maze and an exciting drop ride, which provided us with some invaluable photos at the end.

    Although admission to the dungeons may seem rather expensive if you are travelling on a budget, it is definitely worth the dent in your pocket!

    With over an hour of laughter, screaming, history and special effects, Edinburgh Dungeons is a great day out and a fun way to learn about the city’s gory past.

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Whisky - My Culture Craving

    Whisky Tasting

    I’m not a fan of good ol’ whisky. However, as I was travelling with a couple of people who love this potent drink, I bit the bullet and gave a bit of whisky tasting a go… I’m sorry to say, that it didn’t change my opinion on this classic Scottish drink…

    Throughout Edinburgh, there are a number of options of how/where you can do whisky tasting.

    If you are keen to learn about the in-depth history of whisky and how it is made, then the Scotch Whisky Experience is probably your best option. Situated next to the castle, it guides you through a replica distillery, whilst educating you on the processes involved in making whisky… and, of course, you are provided with samples along the way.

    Ticket prices range from £14 – £60 (depending on what tour you book on to). Check out their website to find out more about the different tours they have on offer.

    As we were on a budget, we decided to create our own whisky tasting experience in a traditional, beamed pub in Edinburgh’s old town. We all chose a couple of different whiskys each, took a sip or two (depending on how horrible they were) and passed them on.

    With a vast choice of over 50 different whiskys in most of the pubs in Edinburgh, you won’t go short on finding a new tipple to try.

    After tasting the whisky, which was described as ‘sea salty’ and smelt and tasted a little like TCP, we admitted defeat and ordered a bottle of wine… but at least we gave it a good go…

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Castle - My Culture Craving

    Edinburgh Castle

    Situated on top of a rock overlooking Edinburgh, you can almost envision the battles and sieges, which once took place at this iconic castle. Seeped in generations of regal history and with the best views in the city, this is a must see whilst in Edinburgh.

    However, with the entry fee priced at an eye-watering £16 per person, I’d advise putting aside a whole day to wander around and discover the stories behind this fascinating building.

    Five Great Things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland - Tartan - My Culture Craving

    Tartan Weaving Mill

    As an avid tartan lover, this is something, which I wish I could have done whilst in Edinburgh. However unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to fit it in.

    Situated next to Edinburgh castle and spread over five floors, the Tartan Weaving Mill shows visitors the vast processes involved in…dum dum dummmm, the production of tartan. From the shearing of sheep to the making of kilts, you are bound to learn everything there is to know about this intricate process.

    And unless you get lured in by the numerous shops, entry is free, making it a great and educational afternoon out without any need to worry about your budget!

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Edinburgh -My Culture Craving

    Take a Wander

    I always find that I get the most out of a new city when I go out, walk in any direction and see where I end up. On this occasion, I headed in the direction of Edinburgh’s old town. Atop a steep hill, I stumbled across the city’s charming cobbled streets, charismatic, dark stone buildings, tartan strewn shops, cute traditional cafes and restaurants, outstanding castle and snug pubs.

    Get walking, admire Edinburgh’s allure and ensure to look up – the building’s historic charm is something not to be missed.

    If you have ever been to Edinburgh, what would you add to this list? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!!

    Too Many Pies, Too Many Many Pies…

    During my recent trip to Edinburgh my friends and I stumbled upon the perfect hangover cure… A TRADITIONAL PIE SHOP.

    Looking a little rough around the edges from the outside, The Pie Maker could be mistaken for a dodgy diner. However, like a lot of traditional eateries, once we took the plunge inside, it was a gem.

    It was everything you could ever want from a pie shop.

    Traditional, wholesome, cheap (£1.50 pies!) and delicious. I went up to the counter at least three times to try as many of their heavenly pastries as possible.

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Shop - My Culture Craving

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Food - My Culture Craving

    From freshly baked steak and ale and chicken and mushroom pies to Scottish haggis, turnip and mash pies, mac n’ cheese pies and tatty dogs – a yummy marriage of hot dog and fried potato – here, you can be as adventurous or traditional as you please (check out their menu here).

    After admiring their wide choice of succulent pies, slices and sausage rolls as well as their mouth-watering sweet pastries, we chose our pies and perched on the stools, which lined the room. I went for the haggis, turnip and mash pie (£1.60), which was scrumptious and, a great way to sample some of Scotland’s traditional delicacies!

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - My Culture Craving

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Haggis Pie - My Culture Craving

    I then delved into the ever so unhealthy yet, ever so irresistible mac n’ cheese pie…

    Pie Maker, Edinburgh - Mac n' Cheese Pie - My Culture Craving

    After sampling everyone else’s pies and tatty dogs, we decided that it was time to stop eating, waddle our way to the nearest pub and wash all of the food down with a warming glass of red.

    If you are heading to Edinburgh anytime soon, make sure you check out The Pie Maker! It is cheap, cheerful and yumtastic!

    Keep an eye out on the blog for more posts on my trip to Edinburgh.

    I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and have a Happy, Sloshy New Year!