ON a sanguine Siam Sunday, in the month of monsoon madness, I am flying through a chunky carnival ride of clouds. I am travelling from Bangkok to Thailand’s Trat region, lurching through the sky and big Buddha bellies of bursting water over thirsty rice paddies below. I am enroute to Koh Khood, the Thai island which is home to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell resorts, and beaches of the same nefarious names. But up in this scatty sky, I am wondering if this is where my fairy-tale ends. After one aborted landing, we eventually reach terra firma and I rapidly swap my terror for travel writing. Silver linings? This story is full of them.
I amble through the Thai Muslim/Hindu village of Ban Nam Chiew, past vibrant blue, aqua, orange and red timber fishing boats which contrast against the angry August sky. Ban Nam Chiew means “fast current” in Thai, and it’s apt, as this is a village which is moving with the times. During the monsoon, there is little fishing to support this tiny population which has, instead, embraced tourism. For $41, visitors can buy a two day/one-night package which includes local food, a homestay with a village family, and craft making such as traditional farmer’s hats. Ban Nam Chiew is also known for its sweet crackers crafted from coconut milk or cream, mixed with rice or tapioca and topped with brown sugar, shallots, coconut-diced carrot and sea salt.
And it’s smart women such as Tourism Project leader Surattana Phumimanoch who are embracing this change.
“The purpose of the village is for tourists to have a look and see our way of living,” she says.
“Fishermen can’t work in the monsoon season so this project will make extra income.
“This village is unique in that the Muslims and Hindus have lived together for more than 200 years. A lot of the new generation live away from the village and come back and realise the potential.”
Sated from this success story and a local seafood lunch, I board the boat for Koh Khood, the last island in the Gulf of Thailand before the Cambodian border, and what the Thai’s call “paradise on earth”.
Thailand’s fourth biggest island after Phuket, Chang, and Samui, the lesser-known Khood has such high-quality pepper, it exports this spice to Europe. You’ll also find superior seafood here. On this humid hour, I scramble onto the sticky seat of a “songtaw”, a Thai truck with two long bench seats and bars, and rollick along the island.
Outside, the emerald countryside is as lush as a Sydney socialite, peppered with pointy Thai rooves, rich rice paddies, and locals in conical hats.
I am meant to be island-hopping, snorkelling what the postcards promise are pristine waters, but the weather has dampened that plan, so instead, the next day I hop back into the sweaty songtaw, and explore the island. There’s a Thai’s fisherman’s village at Yai Bay, home to giant grouper, crab, lobster and pineapples, and a glistening golden Buddha statue. I feast on barbecued prawns for lunch at another seafood village and burst into the Gulf of Thailand ocean at Tinkerbell Beach, just as the sun explodes through the clouds for a few precious minutes.
I am staying at Cham’s House, which pays homage to an ethnic group in south-east Asia which is believed to have originated in Borneo and who, during the cruel reign of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, suffered a disproportionate number of killings. Here, it’s peaceful, where only the croaky night bushes have frogs in their throat. Outside my room, the ocean gushes peaceful platitudes at me, while inside, the geckos are goading me to write. But what? I am scratching for a story and a silver lining, knowing it’s out there somewhere. But where?
It’s a smooth flight back to Bangkok where I seek refuge at the Rembrandt, a glorious hotel surrounded by serene side streets or “sois”. If you’re looking for an Australian travel writer in bustling Bangkok, chances are you’ll find them in the Rembrandt’s Executive Lounge at 5.30pm, where the drinks poured are almost as tall as the tales told here. It’s a comforting corner in this hectic city, in the tradition of foreign correspondent’s clubs all over the world. If you squint, you can almost see the ghost of the world’s great writers lurking in the corner. I repair to the hotel’s Rang Mahal restaurant where I feast on this city’s finest Indian fare. It’s washed down with Granmonte shiraz, wine made by an award-winning female Thai wine maker who studied in Australia and whose vineyard I visited on a previous trip.
On my last day, I am a lazy lizard, floating in the pool, drinking beer with pizza, stretching out those tired travel muscles in a Thai massage and even having my hair washed and blow dried, before the flight home. While the hairdresser scratches my scalp, I keep mining my mind for the story. And as a travel writer, I should have realised, it is just this. Travel doesn’t always go to plan. It will pour big Buddha bellies of rain and you’ll be gasping for a snorkel that may never come. Travel, like flying, comes with unexpected turbulence and you will feel uncomfortable, even scared. But if you wait long enough on those sticky songtaw seats, there will be a breeze. Some seafood. A simple story about a fishing village turning to tourism. And even a break in the clouds. And you’ll take your monkey mind and plunge into the ocean, and smile at that silver lining.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Thai Airways http://www.thaiairways.com; Bangkok Airways http://www.bangkokair.com; and the Tourism Authority of Thailand https://au.tourismthailand.org
I AM cycling along Caloundra’s Coastal Pathway, scavenging snippets of conversation from the people I pass, like a cheeky seagull snatching fish and chips. On this wondrous winter day, someone is pontificating the benefits of full cream milk versus skim. I glide past without catching the answer. The air is seasoned with sea salt and pine needles on this retro ride which takes me from Moffat to Shelley Beach, and back pedals 50 years to when the Sunshine Coast was known as the Near North Coast and no one drank skim milk, nor did they smash avocadoes.
My journey back in time begins in a baby blue kombi van which dates back to 1962 as we wind our way from Maroochydore, Alexandra Headland and through Mooloolaba to Caloundra. The Eagles are crooning Peaceful Easy Feeling and I alternate between staring at the ocean and our long-haired driver Michael Turner, whose blonde locks speak of surf and sunshine. In Michael’s Deluxe Kombi Service, you can perch on a bench seat of a split screen Kombi, without a seat belt, open the sunroof and invite the Sunshine Coast in. After he’s dropped us at our accommodation, Michael plans a sneaky swim before his next appointment. Michael is my kind of man.
We arrive at Rumba Beach Resort, which was once the site of a former Salvation Army summer holiday camp, but these days boasts boutique one, two and three bedroom apartments which maintain that old-fashioned hospitality. Upon arrival, you’ll receive a “Rise and Shine” card which entitles you to complimentary coffee and muffins on your first morning. General Manager Bill Darby says Caloundra still carries a “country town” feeling where you can park the car and not touch it for a week.
“Caloundra is a relaxing, Queensland seaside holiday. It is not the kind of place where you feel you have to get dressed up,” he says.
“It is just beautiful. It is vintage. It is going through that renaissance.”
Over at Caloundra House Boats, Bruce Boucaut is putting the finishing touches to Australia’s first “water glamper”, a floating camping site with all of the benefits of land glamping, and which will be located anywhere in the inshore waters around Caloundra and the Pumicestone Passage. We eat afternoon tea Sunshine Coast style – Moreton Bay Bugs, Mooloolaba prawns and locally-caught sand crab – while Bruce shows us his latest projects, as well as a house boat which is already in operation and ideal for a weekend on Caloundra’s calm waters. Bruce will even pop over with a seafood platter for you, should you so desire. This is pure seduction, Sunshine Coast style.
It’s all hops and hipsters at the Moffat Beach Brewing Company whose brews have recently picked up one gold and two silvers in the National Beer Awards. In this casual, retro setting (there’s even a Space Invader machine), you’ll find the likes of Psychotic Girl, Hipster Doofus and Fu-Manchu on tap here. Owner and brewer Matt Wilson opened the café five years ago and immediately installed beer taps as “there was nowhere to get a beer around here.”
“I started brewing at home to educate myself,” he says.
“We thought we would do something different and it has worked for us. We wanted and needed to be different. That’s the opening we saw.”
Pull up a perch, have a coldie with Matt and watch the blue waters of Moffat Beach.
Later that night I find myself in Spinners Bar & Bowl, one of Caloundra’s newest attractions, which offers state-of-the-art ten-pin bowling facilities and a juke box with retro selections to convince you leap on to the dance floor replete with smoke machine. The joint is pumping with a colourful crowd which likes to adorn itself with piercings and tattoos. Fifty years ago, only sailors had tattoos and pirates wore earrings. (I’ve never actually met a pirate but I’m sure I’d find them fascinating). I feel slightly underdressed with no ink and only two modest ear piercings but with a bar and pizza menu to boot, pretty soon I am walking on sunshine on this journey through time with my new mates.
The next morning, it’s breakfast at Sandbar Café Kiosk overlooking Pumicestone Passage before we kit up and head across the passage with Fishing Australia’s Rob Paxevanos, an Aussie angling expert. There’s plenty of boat hire operators around these parts and the bream, flathead and whiting are apparently biting. I spend a good hour lure fishing from the beach off the tip of Bribie Island with a pitying pelican the only witness to my fishing frustration. Actually, I haven’t felt this calm in ages, simply standing on the shore, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair. I’m fully focused on my fishing and I realise it’s just like a meditation class, with a pole. I haven’t jagged any fish but I reckon I’ve caught Sunshine Coast fever, and like so many Brisbanites over the past 50 years, I’ll be back.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Sunshine Coast Tourism http://www.visitsunshinecoast.com; and Tourism Queensland http://www.queensland.com
I’m home from Canada and before I head off on my next trip, I thought I’d sign off with some of the characters I met on this incredible journey. Canadians, it must be said, are the most perky people you’ll ever meet. Fresh, friendly, fun…see below why I adored them so much.
And then there’s the real deal…
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada http://www.keepexploring.ca
I’m currently up in Canada on assignment but thought I’d share the captivating colours of this country which made my world so bright last week while exploring Nova Scotia on the Atlantic Coast. If I were a house painter, I’d love to live here. Heck, I’d love to live here anyway. And here are some of the reasons, in pictures below, why.
The Global Goddess is on assignment in Canada as a guest of Destination Canada http://www.keepexploring.ca
ROMANCING THE REEF
Regular Global Goddess readers will know that she is enamoured with two things: falling in love and Queensland. Combine the two and you’ve got a romantic getaway at the Reef House in Palm Cove. The last time I was in Palm Cove was many moons ago, following a luxury train journey 30 hours from Brisbane to Cairns. The Reef House encapsulates colonial beach-house ambience, personal service and laid-back luxury. The romance package, valid until March 31, 2014 is priced from $549 and includes two nights “colonial beach house” accommodation for two; a bottle of sparkling wine in room on arrival; tropical continental breakfast daily for two on the Reef House Ocean View Deck; Two $25 Day Spa vouchers for use at the Reef House Day Spa; Evening two-course Romantic Dinner for two at Reef House Restaurant; Complimentary “Brigadier’s Punch” in the Brigadier’s Lounge daily at twilight; and Complimentary wi-fi, plus in-house movies with a use of DVD player and DVD library. Phew! Now, I just need to find me a fella. http://www.reefhouse.com.au
CATCH THE LASTEST AT HUKA LODGE
Across the ditch, and at one of her favourite places on the planet – New Zealand – the fine folk at the Huka Lodge are harking back to their past and offering a fun fishing package. Few know it, but the elegant Huka Lodge started out as a simple fishing camp in the 1920s. So it seems only fitting that those who book for a two-night stay, for a minimum of five Junior Lodge Suites (on a double-occupancy basis) will receive a complimentary trout fishing adventure for the entire party on Lake Taupo. Guests will be treated to a two-hour charter on board a private launch with expert fishing guides from Chris Jolly Outdoors. The package is available until December 14, 2013. While The Global Goddess enjoys a spot of fishing (she’s caught her fair share of Mangrove Jacks up in North Queensland), these days it’s more likely to be men she’s hoping to take the bait. Still, fresh trout caught from Lake Taupo wouldn’t be half bad either. http://www.hukalodge.co.nz
In case you needed further convincing, Fiji has just rolled out a new campaign in which it portrays this idyllic island nation as the happiest place on earth. Using the slogan: “Fiji – where happiness finds you”, the campaign showcases the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups, Denarau, Nadi, the highlands and the Coral Coast on Viti Levu and Tavenui on the north. In terms of the happiest place on earth, there’s no argument here from The Global Goddess who travelled to Fiji in May. I was fortunate to stay at The Outrigger, Fiji and happiness practically chased me everywhere, particularly when my private butler arrived with canapés and champagne. Oh, and if you get the chance, try the Pure Fiji skincare product range. It’s truly sublime. http://www.fiji.travel.com and http://www.outriggerfiji.com
SPRING INTO SPRING WITH THIS SPA TREATMENT
In winter, The Global Goddess had the good fortune of undergoing the Bamboo Bliss spa treatment at the Hilton, Surfers Paradise. One of her lucky followers (and if you’re not a follower, why on earth not?) also won the same treatment in one of The Global Goddess’ regular competitions. Now, the Hilton is back with a special spring spa treatment. Available at both the Melbourne and Surfers Paradise eforea: spa at Hilton, this 90-minute treatment uses internationally-acclaimed Kerstin Florian products. The $155 treatment includes an organic wildflower foot soak and full body massage with warm rose porphyry stones to clear energy pathways. To book, go to http://www.eforeaspa.com.au/special-offers.html
THE GONGS ARE RINGING AT GAIA
In August, The Global Goddess experienced the peace and serenity that is Gaia Retreat & Spa in the Byron Bay Hinterland. One of her lucky readers even won a two-night package there valued at $1595. It seems the Goddess is not the only one who thinks this is one special place owned by Olivia Newton-John. Gaia has been honoured at Australia’s Leading Boutique Hotel and Australia’s Leading Spa Resort at the World Travel Awards in Dubai. Gaia Director Gregg Cave also received the International Hotel & Property Award “Asia-Pacific Spa Hotel” for his design work at the International Design and Architecture Awards in London last week. For those who haven’t visited the retreat, here’s Five Golden Gaia Guidelines by which to enhance your life:
1. Eat well and drink plenty of water
2. Take quiet moments throughout the day and have plenty of sleep at night
3. Moderation and a little abstinence can go a long way in creating the new you
4. Exercise daily and moving the body is the key to optimum health
5. Do your best and be thankful and grateful for what you have already achieved.