What To Do In Amsterdam?

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I spend quite a lot of time in Amsterdam and I really love it there. The people are incredibly nice, the food and bar culture are great, the city is beautiful. If you’re thinking of booking a trip (and you’ve been able to find affordable accommodation…), you should! Here are some starter recommendations for you –

Museums

My favourite museum in Amsterdam, and perhaps the world, is the Dutch Resistance Museum. This lovely museum covers all areas of resistance and asks tough questions in a kind and compassionate way – what would you do as an official under occupation? You are being told to give orders you violently disagree with, but if you resign, you know they’ll replace you with a nazi, and if you disobey they’ll kill you, then replace you with a nazi. There’s a sharp focus on everyday life and experiences which is deeply affecting. A real must see. I don’t like The Anne Frank House as much, though I loved visiting it when I’d just read the book at school. If you do want to see it, scour the website for what the current etiquette is – they keep changing it to combat crowding, and if you just turn up you will be waiting for hours and hours.

Another real favourite is Our Lord In The Attic, a perfectly preserved 17th Century town house, with a secret cathedral in the attic. Yes, really. A lovely peek into the past, with a real spectacle to finish off.

There is also a lot of art, which you will be able to find yourself – obviously, if you particularly like Rembrandt or Van Gough, go to their museums. If you are into older art go to the Rijksmuseum to ogle The Night’s Watch and their extensive collection of gems, and for more modern stuff, the Stedelijk, which is amusingly shaped like a giant bathtub.

Bars

I have a LOT of opinions on this, and a lot of favourites, but my biggest piece of advice is to always follow your nose. Amsterdam has one of the nicest, most chilled out bar scenes I’ve ever seen (I suspect because of the local habit of buying halves) and you will be able to immediately tell a potential gem from a tourist trap hellhole. But my favourite gems are –

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Brouwerij Het Ij. Windmill out of shot because we are in it.

Brouwerij Het Ij, a microbrewery and bar in a windmill. Wonderful beer and great atmosphere, but a little out of the way. It’s close to the Resistance Museum though, and they make a good double bill.

Cafe t’Smalle is a beautiful old bar with a little canal terrace in the heart of Jordaan, a prime wandering-about district. Despite the terrace, the best time to visit is winter – they serve a very seasonal, very delicious pea and ham soup, and if the canal freezes over you’ll be able to step right on it with your mulled wine.

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Paul and Fidel Catstro reading the papers.

Cafe de Wetering is a tucked away little place but worth the trek. A roaring log fire, jazz, rarely packed and a lot of interesting types of cheese. Also, a pub cat – Fidel Catstro.

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Beautiful Cafe Hoppe

Cafe Hoppe is a wonderful little bar overlooking glorious Spui. There’s sand on the floor to mop up spilt beer and you have to go behind the bar, through a hidden door and into the pub next door to go to the ladies. I really love it. Also pleasingly close to the American Book Centre (three level book shop with a TREE IN IT) and round the corner is a little chip shop where you can get mayonnaise and sate sauce as toppings (trust me).

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SO awesome!

One last very important thought about bar life in Amsterdam – it is completely normal to order a plate of cubes of cheese to go with your beer – just as you would order crisps in the UK, but it is a plate of cheese. I recommend you do this quite a lot.

Interesting Wandering Places

One of my favourite streets to nose about in is Zeedijk. This street is where the gay quarter butts up against China Town, and it is packed with lovely welcoming little bars, comic book and head shops, and restaurants that aren’t just Argentinian Steak Houses.

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View of a bridge you could be wandering over (taken from Cafe t’Smalle terrace).

I’ve mentioned a couple of places in it, but Jordaan is a paradise. Bars and great food everywhere, the best shopping, if that’s what you’re into, and loads and loads of beautifully lit bridges for you to put on instagram.

Food

My absolute favourite place to eat in Amsterdam is De Reiger, a bar and restaurant in the lovely area of Jordaan. I used to ALWAYS have the ribs, but all the food is great. Lovely staff and beautiful dark wood everywhere, a real treat.

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RIBS. I do not eat them any more but I cherish the memories.

The Five Flies is an Amsterdam institution – they have original Rembrandts, original 17th century wallpaper, chairs names after the celebrities who’ve visited. It’s upscale French/Dutch, and really not affordable under normal circumstances, but if you pop in at about 5 and ask if they’re running their early bird offer you may get a free course meal with wine for a really reasonable price. The food is amazing. NOTE – I have been told in the past that this place is “very touristy”. Sure it is! I am a tourist so this has never really bothered me.

Bird is a lovely affordable thai place on Zeedijk – you’ll have to queue on busy nights but it’s worth it.

If you’re looking to wander around debating options until you find somewhere that strikes your fancy, I really recommend De Pijp. It’s an area full of bars and places to eat, and there always seems to be a gem. Lots of nice Indonesian places live here, but last time we ended up having sourdough pizza and craft beer from Mastino and it was amazing.

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Amazing!

Misc

A note on drugs – if you would like to smoke some pot or maybe have some mushrooms in Amsterdam, it is decriminalised and no one will mind. You will be able to tell where is selling pot because it will describe itself as a “coffeeshop” and have a little symbol, with two green and white triangles. But I would council you to be selective. A lot of the coffeeshops in the more popular areas are unpleasant tourist traps (I am especially talking about the Bulldog chain). There ARE really lovely friendly chilled out places for you to smoke if you want to! As with everything, have a look in Jordaan and follow your nose. Make sure you chat to whoever’s behind the bar and let them know if you haven’t had a joint since uni or whatever, as they will give you something pretty strong by default.

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This place sells drugs.

I don’t really like the Red Light District as I find the dawning from some tourists a bit creepy and annoying. But you can of course go there if you want. My Mum went on a tour run by a former sex worker and she said it was a fab.

I have a real soft spot for the touristy canal tours. You can catch a boat every hour from down by Central Station – Eco Tours are the best.

Leave me a comment if I’ve missed off your favourites!

Time Of The Month – January 2017

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Hello and welcome to a new series – a monthly round up of events. I’ve never been a big one for diaries, partly because, when I was 15 the boy I like found mine and read it out to everyone (if you’re reading this, fuck you Danny!) and partly because I’m a talker – I like that people can hear me. But we are in astonishing times, and I think perhaps it’s worth making a record of what it’s like – perhaps it will help my future grandchildren with their homework one day.

OR I’ll do it for two months and then get bored, like last time. Who can say! So. January –

In Reading

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Dreamy retelling of a Russian fairytale – a wild young maiden can see demons, and a snow king wants her for his wife. I think you’d probably have to Like This Kind Of Thing to really enjoy it, but I do. Not the most satisfying management of plot, but beautiful setting and characters.

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
A young girl is the daughter of a serial killer. She turns in her mother and goes to live with a new family – but her past still haunts her. Ideal example of a psychological thriller.

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So beautiful

The Wonder by Emma Donogue
Slow paced but gripping literary fiction about a young girl who insists she can survive without food. An English nurse is sent to watch the child and verify she’s not eating. I really loved this – absolutely cracking protagonist, and for a book that’s really just about sitting and watching a child not eat anything, a pacer and engaging plot.

Dragons Green by Scarlett Thomas
I can’t say too much about this one, because it’s not released for a while, but triumphant children’s debut from one of my favourite adult authors. Instant classic – full review to follow.

In Writing

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Poetry mecca. V expensive drinks though.

I am still trying to flog my beloved debut novel, but currently starting the next one. The feedback I’ve got from agents  is that the writing is very good – but either it’s not quite clicking or it’s not quite pitch-able enough. I can’t really do anything about the “clickiness” but I can fix pitch-ability, so with this new book I’m spending a LOT of time on the concept and plot plan before I start so I can have a pitch that I know is exciting and workable before I even begin. When I was doing my MA I thought that pretty much the only thing you had to worry about as a writer was the quality of your writing – this is NOT TRUE, there are loads of things you have to get right – plus a healthy dose of luck.

This month I’ve been particularly struck by how much people really go out of their way to help me with my writing – friends who read plot outlines multiple times and put up with me whining and defending them, and agents who send long heartfelt emails when a simple “no thanks” is more than some of them do. It’s looking like a dispiritingly long road ahead to even getting a book published, but at least this is an industry where everyone involved seems to really love what they do.

I’ve had two gigs this month, hence the gratuitous picture of the Royal Albert Hall. One was here, at the Hammer and Tongue National Championships, where I did the team slam representing Oxford. We didn’t win. Another was the Oxford Anti-Slam, where the point is to write the worst poem possible. I thought mine was pretty terrible, but then this guy bit a can of beer open, sprayed it over the audience, and then covered the stage in meat.

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This guy

I have been trying to do two new things this month – one is to get up an hour earlier every day and do a bit of writing. That’s going well and sponsors the fact this blog post is going up at all. The other is that I’m aiming for 100 rejections this year, to break my fear of failure. That is also going fine.

This month’s rejections – 5
Rejections this year – 5

In Politics

BLOODY HELL. What a shit show, eh? President Trump has been in office for about 10 days now, and already done a load of egregious bullshit, included but not limited to –

  • Signing orders to build That Wall
  • Restricting funding to overseas organisations that even mention abortion
  • Signing orders to press ahead with the Dakota Pipeline, and, most egregiously
  • Working towards his stated campaign goal of banning all muslims from the entering the US – INCLUDING the ones who are already citizens.
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Nope indeed.

Meanwhile in Brexitland (the shittest theme park ever) our politicians have been costing up to Trump and all even the head of the Labour party is compelling his MPs to vote in favour of Article 50.

All of this has combined to create a climate of extreme confusion and horror. Trump is acting, quite literally, like The Joker from Batman. International relations are crumbling. BUT there is also quite a lot of hope in the air. The global Women’s March on the 21st felt like a real moment of cohesion. Last night’s Anti-Muslim-Ban march was beautiful – thousands of people who thought like me, all who thought it enough to turn up on a few hours notice on a weeknight at stand in the cold for two hours. The scientists and the park rangers have started organising. And everyone’s talking about politics, for better or worse.

In Life

Not a huge amount happening, on the life front. I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of keeping chickens in the back garden, but I’m worried it’ll ruin our lives. I bought a tweed jacket in the sale. I lost half a stone. Paul and the rabbit are still alive.

My only news to report is that I have now been with my husband for FIVE YEARS. Five years since we met online and he sent me a message that contained words that indicated he had read and understood my profile, and not just a picture of his penis.

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And that’s pretty much it. What have you all been upto?

 

Doing Your Tax Return Isn’t That Bad

“Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.”

– Hilary Mantel’s top tip for writing.

People really do wang on about doing their tax returns, especially in creative circles. The way people talk about it, you’d think you had to fill out the form in Russian, in triplicate, halfway up Everest.

As a consequence of all this fuss, when I came to do my first ever tax return last year, I was TERRIFIED. Proper, waking up at night in tears frightened. Mainly I was worried that –
I wouldn’t be able to do it
It would take a million hours
I would fuck it up
I would owe the government shitloads of money and that would make me a Bad Person and a hypocrite because of all my anti-cuts activism etc
I would ultimately get arrested and go to prison due to tax evasion. Like Al Capone.

None of these things happened.

Obviously, tax isn’t the most interesting thing you’ll do as a writer, but what no one tells you about paying tax on your standard yes-I-have-a-day-job-but-I-earn-some-bucks-on-the-side project is, it really isn’t that hard. This year I did my tax return in the space of two hours, while watching Netflix. Granted, I am a poet, so I do not make very much money. But I think maybe some of you, dear readers, are in the same position. So for your delectation, here are my Top Tax Tips. I hope you are enjoying my super sexy new year’s blogging.

What Exactly Happens?

You go online and log on to a government website. You fill out a long online form which asks you a long list of very specific questions which are mostly irrelevant to you, such as “are you a share fisherman?”. The most important of these questions is “how much did you earn and spend on your business last year?”. You need to find a load of bits of paper because they will also ask you how much interest you paid, what contributions you made to your student loans, how much tax you paid through your day job, etc etc etc. The bits of paper are the hardest bit. At the end of the form, it tells you how much tax you owe. You pay it. That’s it.

Keeping Records, Somehow

Every year I resolve to keep my income and expenditure records properly. I make a spreadsheet on my phone, and find a special pouch to keep my receipts in, and promise myself that every month, minimum, I’ll update both of them and print and copy everything and put it in my tax folder and blah blah blah. I have never ever ever done any of this though. What I actually do is search the word “invoice” in my email records to get my income and collect together the receipts of any claimable expenses as long as a) I remember buying them and b) I bought them online, because if I got it IRL I’ll have lost it already. This actually works fine for me, as I never earn any money other than through invoicing and as for the expenses… meh. I don’t care if I over pay my tax a little bit. Your system can (should) be different to mine, but you have to have one.

Start Early

The first ever time you do your taxes, two things need to happen – you have to register as self employed and you have to register separately with their online portal. This involves requesting a code and waiting to have it delivered to you POSTALLY, which can take like a month. So get cracking on all of this pretty much the end of the first tax year you earnt anything
BUT NOTE. I didn’t follow this advice at all and phoned the helpline in tears on the 20th of January having realised I had no time to do any of this. And it was actually fine and I didn’t get fined. Which brings me to –

Ask for Help

I phoned the tax people twice, for clarification on things I had found confusing/because I thought I had cocked it all up. On both occasions it took the best part of a lunch hour to get the information I want and I found it pretty stressful. On both occasions they completely resolved my problem, once by telling me that I could have a deadline extension because I was new and once by telling me that the fee I’d called to query had already been cancelled. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not as unpleasant as being on hold to any other organisation, but I will say that their lines are staffed by real people, and they want help you pay your tax because of course they do.

Should you get an Accountant?

If you earn your living through your work, yes sure probably, unless you’re above average with admin. They’ll probably save you more than you pay them, if your income is over a couple of grand. But what I would maybe suggest is to not expect an accountant to make it all go away. 90% of dealing with tax returns is working out how much you spent and earnt through various means. You still have to do that if you have help – they won’t automatically know.

Final Thought

As long as you pay at least enough tax, no one is going to have any beef with you. So if you have to estimate anything, just over estimate it and you’re fine. Chuck yourself into it and have a crack, and if you mess it up, phone and get help.

Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

511mjgviklWith Good Me Bad Me, Ali Land has given us the perfect psychological thriller.

Annie’s mother is a serial killer. For years, she’s been killing little children and getting away with it. But one day, aged 15, Annie can’t take the horror of her mother’s actions any more and turns her into the police. Annie is given a new name (Milly), a new foster family and a new life – but her mothers trial date is looming and she knows she’ll have to testify.

And all this happens in just the first couple of chapters.

This breakneck paced and deeply engaging book is a real treat. I read the whole thing in under a day – a day I was really meant to be doing something else. The characterisation is terrific – both the slow creepy build of getting to know Milly, and the rich creation of the incidental characters. Milly’s spoilt, vicious step-sister and dim, desperate friend were particular treats to read.

The voice of the novel is extraordinary, capturing the conflict at the heart of Milly’s character – with a mother like hers, will she ever turn out to be good? Offering no easy answers, this is a perfect book club read – a novel that makes you want to argue about the characters as if they’re your friends.

Essentially, this book does everything that a psychological thriller should, and does it well. A flawed but magnetic protagonist, an unflinching delving into our messiest emotions, a lingering sense that all is not what it seems… And crucially, a pace so quick that it never occurs to you for a moment to wander off. This book demands your attention, taking over lunch hours and bus rides until it’s done.

A rich, dark and gripping psychological thriller, this bold debut will be everywhere this year. Don’t be like I was and refuse to read something (The Girl On The Train) because it’s “too popular” – if you like this kind of book, get a copy NOW for your next long train journey. An absolute cracker.

5/5

Trip to Thailand – Part Two, Khao Sok National Park

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After the joy of drinking and reading in Khao Lak, we headed to Khao Sok national park to stay in Elephant Hills, an adventure tour outfit who offer elephant experiences, jungle tours and luxury jungle accommodation.

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Diligently spotting stuff over breakfast.

Our first night, we stayed in the jungle camp, in a tent – but with a bed and en suite. It was kind of amazing, but also slightly terrifying. Cicadas are a lot bigger than I thought they were – bigger than my hand – and they sound like car alarms. Also, as a western tourist, you can’t get away from other western tourists. One girl had a long moan about how she could believe that it was raining, when she’d come all the way from England to try and get some nice weather, and it was so unfair that it wasn’t sunny for her. Paul sweetly pointed out that as we were staying in a rainforest it was maybe to be expected, which I found very funny but she did not.

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This elephant is obligingly getting muddy so we can wash her.

The elephant experience is the main attraction of elephant hills, and they are rightly very proud of their elephants and how they’re kept. We did a lot of research before we went to make sure we were using an ethical company where the animals weren’t hurt, chained, or ridden by tourists. Our elephant was a retired logging elephant, who now has a job standing patiently while tourists wash and feed her.

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Paul is pretending to wash this elephant, but really he is just stroking her trunk and staring at her lovingly.

Elephants are a lot warmer and more bristly than I’d expected, and they are massive. It’s weird being with a creature who’s so obviously intelligent, but whose whole body is so different to yours. The guides told us stories about the elephants working out how to help them and using their initiative to solve problems around the camp (like in kicking at a tree stump to loosen it). As you can see, we can’t reach our elephant’s back to wash it. She held her trunk up to the hose we were using, sucked in a load of water and then used it to rinse herself where we couldn’t reach.

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I am feeding this elephant, and laughing because she is very snatchy.

We also got to cut up food and hand it to the elephants, which is delightful. One of them tapped me on the shoulder with her trunk because I was taking too long. Amazing.

One final fact about elephants – when they get old, they get pale pinky spots on their trunks and ears, just like we go grey, except they start grey and go me-coloured! Isn’t that amazing?

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ELEPHANTS, man. They are great.

The next day we hopped over to our second base – a floating lake camp. I had sort of forgotten about this bit because I was so excited about being allowed to touch an elephant, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable, magical bits of the holiday.

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We are v stoked to be on our first long tailed boat trip, but our guides give zero fucks about this method of transport.

We were taken to this little slice of heaven. All of these cabins are an individual room for two, each with its own bathroom and deck and canoe. I don’t know why, but I was SO impressed with the canoe. They back onto a pontoon kind of thing, but then it’s just jungle – no way onto land at all.

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Floating lake camp! Room comes complete with personal kayak.

The lake is actually man made, and very recent. A whole district was flooded and a dam built to bring hydro electricity to the area in the 1980s. At the deepest point, 100 metres down, there is still the remains of a Buddhist monastery and a few villages.

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Trying not to think about how deep it is in there…

This means that even though we’re on the water and it feels like it should be sea level, we’re actually really high and so the clouds do this, which I will never get tired of ever ever –

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View from a floating tent.

We took our kayak out and had a little explore – someone had told us there were a family of gibbons around the corner from the tents. We didn’t see the gibbons but we did see some long tailed langurs, eagles, spiders, dragonflies and a swarm of pissed off crickets (we paddled through their waterlogged field).

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I didn’t choose the deck life.

We were then taken away by another long-tailed boat (already becoming normal and therefore not pictured) to trek through a patch of jungle on one of the bigger islands on the lake. These islands are protected national park with rangers minding them to make sure there’s no hunting. They are among the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. I struggle to describe how shocking it felt – we were HIKING through and ACTUAL JUNGLE like on the TELLY or something. The richness and lushness of it blew my mind.

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Explorer face.

As this completely serious photograph demonstrates, everything in the jungle was astonishing.

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Amazing jungle scenes.

None of these photos really show this, but the climb was seriously steep. I thought the bamboo canes were just silly tourist props to make us feel extra badass, but they were genuinely necessary for negotiating the terrain. At several points the tree roots arranged themselves into a kind of staircase to climb up – that’s how steep it was.

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Swinging on a mother flipping vine like something out of the Jungle Book

One of my favourite things we saw was this tree complete with claw marks from a bear. Our guide said they were left from a sun bear climbing it about three years ago, to get at the honey in a beehive at the top. Its paws must have been pretty much the same size as mine.

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Roar of the bear, yeah? Grrrrrr…

After climbing all the way to the top of the peak, we descended into a cave full of enormous spiders and bats. Bats en masse make the most eerie noise – a kind of chitttering squeaking chorus that sounds like nightmares. But it was still cool to see the creepy little buggers chilling in their bat cave.

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It is so beautiful and we climbed it ALL.

This last image is one of my favourite pictures of the holiday.

I have spent this year being quite afraid of things. Cutting my hours at work, and Brexit, and politics of all kinds and physical danger and flying and worrying about flying and and and and… I love this last picture. This is the kind of scenario that would normally really freak me out – I’ve got this thing about bridges, and anything that I think looks too “rickety”. But look at me! I’m not scared.

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Most intrepid socks ever.

You can see behind me here that there’s a storm coming in. It hit just as we were about to get on the boat back to the camp and got worse and worse through dinner. Because all the power is solar and it runs out if you use too much, we stayed in the bar for a while rather than going back to our room, chatting with the other people on the tour about how the day had gone, and the things we’d seen. The storm got worse. Talk turned to the American election. No one had data but we were all pretty sure Hilary had won. I mean, obviously, right? One of the guys asked the barman if he could get a signal and he could.

Less than five minutes later, a lightning bolt hit, maybe 100 feet away from us. Sky full of light, deafening crack of thunder, both at exactly the same time. Everyone screamed. Most of us clutched at the table, pawed at the floor. And one of the lads said something like –

“God. He’s set off the nukes already!”

And I, the girl who started crying when Tesco stopped stocking marmite because “it’s the start of food shortages”? I laughed.

Trip to Thailand – Part 1, Khao Lak

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I’ve just come back from my very delayed honeymoon! Did you miss me? Why do you mean, you didn’t notice I’d gone because I’m a wildly inconsistent blogger? Rude.

Like almost everyone I know who got married this year, we did two weeks in Thailand as our honeymoon and it was so so blissful. Neither of us had ever been to South East Asia (or, actually, Asia) before and we were looking for a little bit of an adventure.

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Our favourite hammock, with unfavourable weather conditions in the background.

We stayed in the Centara Seaview Resort, Khao Lak, for our first five nights. Khao Lak is a very chilled out beach resort tourist town – a bit sleepy perhaps, and maybe not somewhere I’d go with friends, but for a beachy honeymoon, pretty perfect.

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One of the hotel’s many deserted pools.

The hotel was lovely. There were five pools and a private beach, and as we avoided high season almost nothing was crowded when we were there. There were three hammocks on the beach and we got one of them every day – there just didn’t seem to be that many people around.

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We also had an underwater camera.

We visited in early November which is the very beginning of the dry season. While we were in Khao Lak it rained for an hour or two pretty much every day – which I quite liked. It was still warm enough to walk around in a swimming costume while this was going on, and it brought down the temperature to make it more manageable. But if rain every day (even lovely tropical warm rain) is going to make you miserable, you probably want to go in more like February-April kind of time.

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POOL BAR. Loved the pool bar.

There are a lot of pool photos in this post because this is pretty much all we did during the day. There are trips you can take, but all of them were more easily accessible from Krabi, where we were going next. We just sort of lazed around and drank near water. I read four books in five days and became so relaxed and happy I was able to have a conversation about the consequences of Brexit without crying. Hurray!

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Spinach restaurant, Khao Lak. We ate there twice on one day…

The main reason we selected Thailand as a holiday destination was FOOD. I love Thai food. This was a great call! In Khao Lak almost everywhere we went did what they called “European style Thai” which means food that they have cooked especially light on the chillis because they’re sick of Westerners whining at them that they can’t eat anything. The result is a lot like a Thai meal you’d get in England, but with more aromatics and creamier coconut milk. Delightful! Almost everywhere had loads of veggie options and some even did things like ask if you want soy rather than fish sauce if you order tofu.

What did take some getting used to was that the English rules of how to select a nice restaurant didn’t really apply. Most of the buildings don’t have walls and there are big gaps in the street with building work, so you have to sort of pick your way along the road. In England I would just turn round when faced with this kind of thing, but we found some of the best places a little bit of a clamber away. Khao Lak was hit very hard by the Boxing Day Tsunami back in 2004, and they’re still rebuilding, which perhaps explains the gaps in the street.

Additionally, restaurants might also be taking in laundry and weighing it out behind you. A massive red flag in England – but in Thailand absolutely no indication of the food.

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Pancakes!!

It was also in Khao Lak we encountered Thai pancakes – an exciting new breed of pancakes very different to the crepe or the English or American pancakes. They’re made by stretching out a dough (like you would with a pizza) and then filling with chopped banana and frying in lots of oil. AMAZING.

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Mr Chay’s bar, Khao Lak

Like with restaurants, in a country where it never really dips below 20 degrees, most bars do not really have walls and they will almost never have things on draft – it’s just, do you want a bottle of beer, or a cocktail, or what? The above picture is our favourite bar in Khao Lak. It’s in the middle of Bang Niang market and is only open when the market is – Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. It’s presided over by Mr Chay himself and an army of cheerful bartenders. As was pretty common in bars and restaurants, Mr Chay had a wall of photos of the late King up behind the bar – but he’d obviously chosen his favourite photos. Two that really stood out were the King holding his baby son, and playing the saxophone. There was also a picture of Mr Chay’s own son with a guitar, captioned “in 2020 I’ll be playing in my Dad’s bar”.

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Nature Bar, Khao Lak

This is our other favourite bar. We asked them why it smelled no amazing in there, and they took us outside to see that what we’d thought was a pillar holding the roof up was actually a massive tree, strung all over with Jasmine vines.

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Late night beach swing

And that was pretty much it! We just swam and read and ate curry and drank bottles of Chang on the beach. And it was WONDERFUL.

We booked this trip through Trailfinders, who did not in any way pay me to write this post but I would still recommend them.

Book Review – Christmas At The Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

This charming page-turner is a true delight. The third515yyk3cx1l-_sx316_bo1204203200_ in the Little Beach Street Bakery series, this book follows feisty baker Polly, her fiancé Huckle and their pet puffin Neil through a sweet and amusing account of the run up to Christmas, dealing with the pressures of work, the problems of their friends and the return of an important figure from Polly’s past. Funny, warm and engaging, Christmas At The Little Beach Street Bakery is a pleasure to read.

Colgan’s strength is her characters and setting – the characters really pop, and she manages to make them all likeable but still compelling. The setting of a remote island in Cornwall is almost a character in and of itself, and is so vividly painted it makes this an easy book to escape into.

Sadly the story in this installment felt slightly forced. I didn’t feel this in the previous two titles, but it seemed that there were a couple too many stretched coincidences and far-fetched incidents for me. The final resolution of the central problem of the book, as well, was not cleaned up fully and didn’t deliver the catharsis it promised.

Overall this is a fine example of its genre. While not quite as neat as some of Colgan’s other work, nonetheless it provides an absorbing, amusing and reassuring read. Unlike many similar books, Colgan neatly avoids the schmaltz without sacrificing sweetness.

Rating: 4/5 pints of cider

Serving Suggestion: Read on the morning commute, starting on the 1st of December.