Saturday, 1 April 2017

Ladies Day at Cheltenham Races

I am currently absolutely swamped with uni work as it's my final few weeks until I'm finally done for good! I was lucky enough to take some time out, however, for a lovely at the Cheltenham Races. I was invited, along with a few other bloggers, by Ladbrokes to experience the Golden Package on Ladies Day at the races on the 15th March. I couldn't contain my excitement when I received the email asking me if I would like to attend - I had never been to the races before and always wanted to go! And what better way to spend Ladies Day than eating lovely food and placing a few bets?! I was even lucky enough to enjoy the experience with my mum, who is also a blogger, which was amazing as being away at uni means I don't get to see her too much. 

We left the house at 7am (yes... 7am) to drive from South West Wales to Cheltenham for the races. I live in Bristol, however I was visiting home in Wales so decided to drive up with my mum instead. In typical Amy style, I managed to tear the ligaments in my ankle just a few days before the races. It was difficult to walk too much on it and I had to wear a huge bulky support but I was looking forward to the races so much that I decided to go anyway. It meant that I had to sacrifice my heels, though, which was pretty annoying! 

By the time we arrived, the sun was shining and it was really warm - a beautiful spring day. The traffic was very heavy around the area due to the races so we were a teeny bit late, but the parking was very organised and straight forward which was good. 
Our base was at the Festival Restaurant, where we had a table for the entire day. The staff were all really friendly and helpful; the service was super quick and I felt very welcome. The restaurant itself was impressive, with a window overlooking the winner's enclosure and big screens showing the races. The atmosphere in the restaurant was great, and very infectious. So infectious, in fact, that me and my mum bought a lucky dip of bets and decided to get in on the action! The restaurant was buzzing, full of tables and people. Private toilets also meant that we got to avoid the queues! There was also a walking betting service on offer which was a great touch, especially for those who can't make it down to place a bet for every race. 

When I think back to the food, my mouth literally waters. It was so good. For my starter I ordered the Coin Valley Tsar salmon, which was incredible. It was a generous portion and the salmon was done perfectly, served with Cheltenham beetroot and horseradish yogurt and topped with caramelised hazelnuts. It went down nicely with a glass of champagne, too! 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

My Experience: Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos

Out of all the places I visited in Laos, the Kuang Si Waterfalls in Luang Prabang were definitely at the top of my favourites list. Located 29km south of Luang Prabang, the waterfalls were a 30 minute drive from the centre in a tuk tuk (Thai equivalent of a taxi) or there was the option to hire out a moped and drive there yourself. Lewis and I chose to take the easier option and took a tuk tuk to the falls - tuk tuks are super easy to find and hire; we pretty much just walked outside of our guest house and came across one offering to take us to the waterfalls for a reasonable price (after some haggling!). Our journey to the falls was the first time I was able to properly see a little bit of Laos after landing there the day before, and there was a real natural beauty about it. We passed through small, dusty villages where children played bare foot and local women sold fruit and vegetables on the roads. We drove past rice fields that spread out as far as the eye could see and watched as locals tended to their crops and fished in lakes and rivers. Occasionally we passed a beautiful statue of a Buddha or could see a grand temple in the distance, surrounded by the incredible mountain backdrop. There was an unspoiled, natural beauty about Laos and I loved it.

On our arrival at the falls we paid 20,000 kip (£2.00) each to one of the locals, which goes towards maintaining the bridges and walkways throughout the falls. We walked up to the starting trail which lead to the waterfall and pools and, suddenly, we were surrounded by luscious jungle and beautiful green plants. It was around 4pm so the air was starting to cool and the sun was losing its height, casting subtle shadows and highlighting the tropical greenery all around us. To say the trail seemed inviting would be an understatement! We followed the trail for a couple of minutes, and then came across the famous bear sanctuary that is situated on route to the falls. The sanctuary holds two Asian black bears that were rescued from poachers. We glanced in the enclosures on our way through but couldn't see any bears so decided to carry on. Just as we were following the trail away from the sanctuary and on to the falls, a big black ball of fur caught our eye - there was a bear in one of the top enclosures! We walked slightly off the trail to get closer and have a look, watching it play clumsily on a big piece of wood. One thing I'd never noticed about bears before is just how long and sharp their claws are. We headed back onto the trail and carried on walking through the impressive jungle and greenery.

After a couple of minutes the trail opened out and we came across the first and lowest azure pool. We both stood in awe as we admired the beautiful, layered pools cascading clear, turquoise water. The air had cooled even more now that we were near water which was both refreshing and rejuvenating, and our surroundings seemed so... alive. The noise of the wildlife around us was buzzing with atmosphere - there were birds tweeting, crickets calling, lizards crackling leaves as they scurried past. The soothing sounds of the water trickling and gushing through the pools wet my appetite for a swim. All of my senses seemed to be heightened while surrounded by this beautiful bubble of nature - the plants were greener and more vibrant and the water was clearer than any I'd seen before, the air was dense with moisture and what seemed like magic and the sun was dancing elegantly in the trees casting beautiful shadows. And there was hardly anyone around! After I'd managed to take my eyes away from the fairytale-esque scene in front of us, I noticed that there were only a couple of quiet people taking photos and absorbing the nature around them. Not at all the tourist trap I was expecting! After admiring the pool for a little longer, we decided to go on to the next.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Sukosol Hotel, Bangkok

On my recent travels I was lucky enough to review a room in the Sukosol Hotel, which is located in Bangkok. After two long flights (which totalled up to around 15 hours), I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Bangkok airport where Lewis was waiting to meet me. We hopped on a train directly from the airport and took it to the very last stop, Phaya Thai, which is where the hotel was. We got off the train and were met with a humungous rain shower, but luckily for us, the hotel was located conveniently close to the airport rail link we'd just taken. After a quick five minute walk we arrived outside the Sukosol Hotel - a large, impressive building with a beautiful side walkway that boasted a fountain surrounded by chic tables and chairs and luscious green foliage. From the moment we arrived I was blown away by the beautiful architecture and decoration of the building - it was modern and chic, while still featuring beautiful Asian aesthetics and a unique Thai style. We walked into the hotel lobby - a huge, open-spaced room with crisp white flooring and marble desks - to check in. All of the staff were extremely nice and welcoming, and we were given the key to our room: an executive room on the 24th floor. A member of staff then helped us with our luggage to the lifts, showing us where breakfast would be held along the way. The ground floor of the hotel was absolutely beautiful, offering small gift shops, a quaint jewellery shop, restaurants, a bakery and a bar. The walkways were lined with historic artefacts and art presented in glass cabinets, which were both beautiful and classy. I felt like I was in a chic, upper class museum rather than a hotel lobby!

Our Room

Our room felt more like a luxurious mini apartment than a hotel room - it was beautifully set out and felt very welcoming. As you opened the door, there was a little hallway which featured a cabinet showcasing various drinks which were available to buy and then pay for on your departure. There was also a little cabinet with tea and coffee facilities as well as complimentary water, which had a small refrigerated mini bar underneath. At least we wouldn't be thirsty! Our executive suite had two bathrooms - one near the front door which was simply a toilet and sink (a very beautiful toilet and sink at that - marble of course), and an ensuite in our bedroom. The ensuite had a huge deep bath and a big shower, along with counter space and a big mirror. There was complimentary Thai aroma shampoo, soap and shower gel, along with fluffy towels and bath robes for afterwards. The bedroom itself was open, spacious and welcoming, boasting impressive panoramic views of the city. It was amazing to wake up and open the curtains overlooking the bustling city of Bangkok - and it also looked incredible lit up at night. Our king size bed was very comfortable, and the sheets were crisp and clean - the whole suite, in fact, was exceptionally clean. In the bedroom was a television on the wall, an executive desk with booklets and information on the hotel and surrounding area and a beautifully stylish armchair. The whole room had a 'warm' feel to it - from the thick fluffy carpets to the cosy lamps. It was lovely! Next to the bedroom was another spacious, open-planned room which featured wooden flooring and incredible Thai-themed art. In there was a dining table with four chairs - a lovely touch if you want to order room service and sit down and have dinner. There was also a set of chic armchairs, a sofa along with a coffee table and a beautiful big chest. This room also had gorgeous views of the city; it was the perfect place to enjoy a morning cup of tea and take care of some emails. The whole suite was immaculate, sophisticated and absolutely perfect - it was honestly a slice of paradise in a big, chaotic city. Our room also had free wifi, universal power outlets (very helpful) and a 24-hour room service.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Things To Do In Luang Prabang, Laos

1. Visit the Kuang Si Waterfalls 

When visiting Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si Waterfalls, the largest falls in Luang Prabang, should be top of your list. Expect natural waterfalls, azure pools and beautiful clear turquoise water cascading down rocks. There are swimming spots and luscious green tropical trails to walk along, and benches placed in the shade for those who aren't so keen to swim. The falls are dense with greenery and luscious jungle which means the majority of the falls are under shade, making it the perfect spot to escape the heat and humidity for a few hours. When visiting, we took a tuk tuk there, but other alternatives are to rent out a moped and drive there yourself or take a mini-bus or boat ride. There is an admission fee of 20,000 kip (£2.00) which goes towards maintaining the paths and walkways. On your walk to the falls you will also pass through the famous bear sanctuary, where you will have the chance to see two Asian black bears that have been rescued from poachers!
To read all about my experience at the Kuang Si Falls, click here.

2. Relax at Utopia 

Utopia is a bar and restaurant on the riverside that is described as 'zen by day, groovy by night'. Boasting beautiful tropical gardens, riverside decks, a volleyball court and an airy jungle lounge, Utopia has become the number one stop for people travelling through Luang Prabang. In the day you can sit back and relax on the comfy cushions and beds overlooking the riverside, and at night you can expect to dance, drink and mingle with other travellers. Utopia offers a good, diverse menu and the food is very tasty - try one of their fruit shakes to give you an extra boost in the morning! There is a curfew of 11.30pm for all bars in Luang Prabang so make sure you get there early to find a spot and enjoy some drinks. It has become a bit of a trend to visit the bowling alley when Utopia closes - the bowling alley is the only place that stays open later. Find a group (there are always plenty of people flooding there), jump in a tuk tuk and enjoy some drunk bowling!

3. Go to the Handicraft Night Market

Compared to other markets and street events, the Luang Prabang Handicraft Night Market is a lot less crowded and nicer to walk around. The market is pretty big, selling souvenirs from beautifully crafted bags, blankets, lanterns and ash trays to jewellery and clothing - and it's all pretty cheap. The market also offers a range of different foods all of reasonable prices, from your traditional Laos dishes to more Western-based foods. There is a lovely buzz and atmosphere round the market; it's a great chance to try out some new street foods and pick up some handmade gifts. The market takes place between 5pm and 11pm every evening, closing off the whole street to vehicles. Be prepared to barter and haggle prices!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Importance of Travel Insurance - My Experience

On January 8th I hopped on a plane (two planes, in fact) and flew out to South East Asia to visit my boyfriend who has opened up a bar in Laos. I had never flown on my own before, and had never gone too far East, so this was a huge adventure for me (there will be many blog posts about my adventures to follow!). In the few weeks before I was due to set off, I made sure that I had everything sorted out and organised - nothing was going to catch me off guard and nothing was going to affect my time out there - be it illnesses, sunburn or injuries (ha... little did I know). I stocked up on suncream, aftersun, malaria tablets, insect repellent, painkillers, received three vaccinations in the doctors and was completely ready. The day before I was due to depart, my dad called me asking whether I had sorted out any travel insurance. Insurance? Admittedly, travel insurance was something that had completely slipped my mind. In the past I'd paid for insurance on several things - house insurance, phone insurance, item insurance - and I felt it was just money going down the drain. I never had to claim anything, I never had to use the insurance and I never got any real benefit out of it. Last year, I had to pay £10 a month to insure my belongings in my shared student house and, of course, never saw the money again. So how much more essential could travel insurance really be? Did I actually need it?

Just as I was about to start Googling cheap travel insurance companies, my dad told me that he was in the process of sorting it out for me. He secured my insurance through American Express, and paid around £30 for the Gold AMT package. And that was the end of that. The next day, I flew out to Bangkok and spent the next two weeks travelling down through Laos with Lewis (which was absolutely beautiful by the way - as I said, there will be many posts to follow). We spent the last week of my holiday in Don Det (a little island off Southern Laos) where his bar is and soaked up the 35 degree heat there while wining and dining with all the glorious Asian food.

Around three days before my flight back home, I started to feel weird. We were sat in a bar overlooking the Mekong River with the intention of going for dinner afterwards, but for some reason I just could not drink the mojito in front of me (and trust me, the moment I couldn't drink a mojito was the moment I knew something must be seriously wrong). My stomach was unsettled, I could feel a migraine coming on and the thought of eating or drinking anything was making it twenty times worse. I nipped off to the toilet to try and compose myself and sort myself out, only to find that my body was having none of it - it wanted all the contents of my stomach out, right there. And that's where it started. I was sick, and sick, and sick, and when I thought I was done being sick I was sick again. I managed to stumble back into the bar to tell Lewis that we had to leave, and proceeded to be sick on the way back to our guesthouse too. That night turned out to be one of the worst, and sickest, nights of my life. By the end my entire body was exhausted. My eyes were rolling back, I was passing out in between being sick and I couldn't even get the energy to sit up. Any drop of liquid that I had over the following 48 hours would completely set me off again and trigger the whole situation all over again. I couldn't leave my bed for the next two days, I couldn't eat, I couldn't drink and I was certainly in no state to be getting a 12 hour bus followed by a 16 hour flight home. My flight had cost me over £400 and we looked into buying me a new flight home a few days later but they were so expensive - it was going to cost me £350 alone, and that wasn't including the extra accommodation and travel I was going to have to pay for.

Then that's when I remembered my travel insurance. I hadn't looked into it properly before I left, so I wasn't sure how it would work but Lewis called up my dad (I was honestly too sick and weak to even speak properly) and told him what had happened, asking if he could get in touch with my travel insurance company and see if they could help. Within a couple of hours Lewis was directly speaking to them and they said that if I could provide evidence (from a doctor) of my sickness then they would be able to help with costs of a new flight and accommodation for the time being. There was no doctor on the island we were staying (typical) so I just about managed to climb into a boat and we went over to the mainland where I was seen by a doctor who put me on 18 (!!!) pills a day and gave me two ginormous injections. He said I was too sick to fly, but that to get an official certificate I would have to travel two hours to a big hospital where they could give me one. To cut a few long stories short, I couldn't travel to the hospital that day (busses and sickness don't mix well) but was able to get there the next day where I got my certificate. I sent it straight over to my insurance company, and they said that they could cover my case. From there on, the people in my insurance company who covered my case were so lovely and helpful. They paid directly for the extra accommodation for me to stay in, and had booked me a new flight a week later within a couple of days. They even said that once I returned home, I could even claim money back on things such as food and travel which had cost me extra. They kept in touch with me every step of the way, and as I got better they still covered my extra accommodation and travel costs - which could have left my bank balance in an awful position.

I wanted to write this blog post simply to stress the importance of travel insurance and to demonstrate how helpful and beneficial it can be. If you go away without travel insurance and end up getting sick or injured, it can end up costing you an absolute fortune. If I did not have travel insurance, it would have been extremely difficult to pay for a new flight home - not to mention extra accommodation and travel costs. If you're going away somewhere or are off travelling, make sure you invest in travel insurance. You only pay a small sum and it can save you a lot of money!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Inky & Bear Temporary Tattoos

I've been wanting to get a tattoo for a while now, but being the most indecisive person in the world (I can't even decide on the colour of my earrings), permanently inking my skin somewhat scares me. What if I don't like it? What if its too big? How much is laser removal?! When I was younger, I was a pretty big fan of temporary tattoos - my favourite being Minnie Mouse on my ankle when I was about 7. These days, temporary tattoos don't seem to appeal to older people - at the age of 20 I just can't bring myself to get that lovely Minnie Mouse on my ankle again. So, imagine my excitement when temporary tattoo specialists Inky & Bear asked me if I wanted to try out some of their beautiful (and more mature!) hand-illustrated temporary tattoos! Finally, a chance to decorate my skin without having to permanently ink it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Inky & Bear is an independent artistic boutique, founded by two sisters Laurie and Lily Gee, who manufacture beautifully detailed hand-illustrated temporary tattoos. Each tattoo is hand designed by the sisters, boasting intricate and striking detailing. Inspired by the planet, nature and animals, Inky & Bear designs range from simple woodland animals to magnificent mythical creatures, all rich in colour. Think mermaids, butterflies, fawns, unicorns, ladybirds... there is a design for everyone.

On a beautiful day in Brighton, I decided a trip to the beach and then the pier would be the perfect opportunity to try out the temporary tattoos (and to get Lewis on the pier... ha). The two designs I wore was a gorgeous elephant on my back and a small whale on my wrist. The designs are simply transferred onto the skin in exactly the same way that your typical temporary tattoos are - just peel the plastic film off, apply a damp cloth and press the design onto your skin, holding for around a minute. Super easy, super quick.

After a couple of hours on the beach, a few hours on Brighton pier, dinner out and the walk back to Lewis's, my temporary tattoos were still looking as good as new and hadn't peeled or smudged (a problem I recall having with temporary tattoos when I was younger). At the end of the day, the tattoos were super easy to remove from my skin - as the elephant was on my back I did not want it to rub off on my sheets, so simply peeled it off and there was no trace or stains left on my skin. Overall I was super impressed with the quality of Inky & Bear and can highly recommend them for anyone who wants to try out some tattoos without the hassle of permanent ink. These temporary tattoos would be perfect for festivals, parties and events - and they would make the perfect gift for a friend or family member too. The tattoos range from £3.50-£6.00.

Have you tried Inky & Bear before?