Marbella

About an hour’s bus journey away from Malaga is the seaside resort of Marbella. We were lucky enough to time our visit to Spain with an explosion of spring flowers.

From the elaborately displayed geraniums on every wall, to exotic bell flowers and the vivid splashes of bougainvillea on every wall, it was a colourful, eye popping floral display.

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Marbella in my mind was made infamous by the air heads  who frequent such vacuous shows such as Made in Hell and The Only way is Debauchery, or some such shite.

The hideous carrion craw of “No CARRRBBBSS IN MAARRRBBBSS” did resonant in my mind and slightly put me off visiting I have to say.

Yeap I know, I am a snob, but hey! I managed to overcome my preconceived notions of the place and was really glad that I did as it was a joy.

From the cool whitewashed maze that is the old town, to the generous sweep of the beach it is a lovely place to while away a day.

Here are a few of the snaps I took while aimlessly wandering the compact and cute little old town.

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Central to the old town is the Square of the Orange Trees – Plaza de los Naranjos.

It’s an example of Castilian Renaissance design and is a bustling central hub of restaurants and locals basking in the sunshine.

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As usual there are a multitude of tiny architectural details that I love so very much. From elaborately painted tiles to bougainvillea smothering a cafe wall.

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The colours are just perfection, from the cerise and purple blooms to the glorious blues of the Virgin’ Shrine.

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Speaking of tiles, they seem to be a regional specialty as they crop up everywhere with a variety of subject matters from local food delicacies to flamenco dancers and bull fighters.

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Then it’s off to the beach for some sangria and sunshine. There’s a fantastic sweep of sand to enjoy.

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Not sure that I would trust this shady character if I was in need of an SOS!!

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You can also see plenty of examples of the popular local snack – sardines on sticks!

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Christmas day at the beach

So, as Phuket is rip off city and the local tuc tuc mafia charge extortionate prices to get anywhere, we only went on one day trip during our week stay.

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That was on Christmas day and was a hair raising (and very bumpy) speedboat trip to Koh Phi Phi and the surrounding islands. Here’s me barely keeping my hair on!!

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We make a brief stop at Monkey Beach in Tonsai Bay. The beach got its name from the crab-eating Macaque monkey colony living here but is littered with rubbish from tourists and was quite a sad spectacle really,

The main attraction of the day was Koh Phi Phi Leh’s Maya Bay – a broken circle of crystal-clear waters surrounded by high vertical rocky cliffs.

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It is here that the Hollywood blockbuster The Beach was filmed. Simultanously putting Thailand on the mainstream map and paving the way for its inevitable downfall.

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The beach is crammed with hundreds of tourists, all vying for the ideal picture postcard snap of white sand and turquoise sea.

It is there of course, as you can see by my very carefully composed photos, hiding the multitudinous masses.

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Here’s some of the traditional Thai fishing boats moored up along the shoreline.

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We also floated past the Viking cave where swifts’ nests are harvested to prepare the world-famous bird’s nest soup.

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The platforms are a rickety looking set up. It’s amazing that anyone can do a decent days work on those.

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We then ate our Christmas lunch overlooking the beach on Koh Phi Phi Don – not bad!!!

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It’s a little bit different to sprouts and roast potatoes!!! Next up snorkeling and more beaches.

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Extortion and beach bums

So we had all sorts of plans for sight seeing in Phuket. All to be ultimately frustrated by the annoyance that I shall term the “tuk tuk mafia”.

Having done a fair old bit of travelling in Thailand, we have a pretty good idea of what is a reasonable rate for hopping in one of the little pollution belching death mobiles.

But in Phuket, and in Karon and Kata particularly, there is an unsavoury racket going on with this method of transport.

Having laughed in the face of the first driver who wanted to charge us about  £30 to travel 10 – 15 miles to see the Big Buddha, we quickly realised that the prices were completely stitched up and everyone charged the same.

Bearing in mind that the same journey in Bangkok would probably have cost about £5 you can see the issue. But tourists who have only come for a fortnight of winter sun are happy to pay the price.

However, it is not only the extortionate cost that was a problem, the drivers have formed a cartel backed up with threats and physical violence to dissuade anyone operating a reasonable alternative.

A cheaper bus service was once trialed years ago but after the driver was pulled from his vehicle and badly beaten it was abandoned.

Apparently the local police and local government are well aware of the problem but dare not address it. It continues to be the biggest cause of complaints from tourists yet no action is taken. It certainly put me off ever returning to Phuket and I would not recommend anyone else visit either sadly.

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So, since we couldn’t afford to see anything at all in Phuket we had to spend all our time lounging on the beach. I know – it’s a hard life!!

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Check out the flabby, pasty blob that washed up on the shore line . .

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Karon beach is a long, sandy curve of white sandy with the obligatory turquoise sea lapping away at the shore.

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From dusting off the grains of sand, to tapping to turn the page of my Kindle, it was sheer slothful idleness!!

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But I did get fairly bored after a while it has to be said! I am not a beach lover particularly, it does get a tad tedious after a while.

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Especially as the spectre of the unvisited Giant Buddha, just ten miles away, hovered in the back of my mind.

Amalfi coast – spectacular

Neil surveys the view at the pretty coastal town of Amalfi. It is indeed Salad days . . . .

Here’s a different view of Amalfi, a gorgeous little piece of paradise.

A speciality of the region – delicate, ornate little painted tiles. Next to the obligitory moped!!!

Here’s another of the beautiful little villages on the Amalfi coast – Positano. Where houses tumble down the hillside to the beach.

Next we visit Pompeii, a huge site in the shadow of the brooding and treacherous Vesuvius.

Beach picnics and Olympics . . .

So as Barcelona is so eye wateringly expensive to eat out, we are the experts at supermarket shopping and impromptu picnics.

Here’s Neil on the beach at La Barceloneta with one of our many on the cheap meals!! (Looks like he has given himself a rather painful injury on the left . . )

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La Barceloneta is a lovely little beach resort in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona. We watched the surfers coming perilously close to shore and people taking part in Tai Chi on the beach, there’s a really chilled out and cool feel to the place.

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Here we are at the end of the day on the beach, I’m a bit sun burnt and Neil’s wearing girls sunglasses. A normal day all in all.

La Barceloneta is also close to the Port Olímpic a marina  that hosted the sailing events for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

We visited the Olympic stadium at Montjuic but couldn’t get into the main arena as there was a huge dog show going on!!

Here’s Neil outside with some of the weird architecture created for the event. The white structure is the Montjuïc Communications Tower

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Thailand ends on a high, azure seas and picture postcard beaches – I am in hell

So after the serenity of the old capital, the mania of Chinatown, the sobering WW2 reminders and the swim down the river Kwai, we had to end our holiday in typical style, on one of Thailand’s many idylic, gorgeous, perfect, pristine, baking hot beaches.

We stayed in Ao Nang, Krabi. A nice little town that has easy access to some of the most picturesque azure waters and white sands.

The area is renowned for its impressive karst formations that jut out of the sea as well as its”hongs” – caverns in the rocks that you can canoe through.

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Sadly for me, a combination of 36 degrees and no shade to be seen for miles = hell on earth!!!

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As  I watched a seemingly endless parade of perfectly proportioned, honey golden, waif like women parading in their perfectly fitting string bikinis with not a pimple of cellulite to be seen, how I sulked, sun burnt, heat rashed and in the most unfortunate all in one swimsuit known to mankind . .

Not really a bathing beauty . . . . . . .

But the beaches at Krabi really are lovely!!! We stayed at the Ao Nang Paradise resort. http://www.aonang-paradise-resort.com

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It is about ten minutes walk to the beach along the main street crammed with shops, bars and restaurants. Set in a lovely garden, backed with magnificent mountain views. It’s a brilliant place, would definitely recommend!

The main beach at Krabi has some inquisitive, hungry little locals . . .

Neil gets a close up call from one of Krabi beach monkeys!

But they are soooo cute!! We took a speed boat trip to several of the islands off Krabi, including Railey beach, Chicken Island and Poda. We also checked out Phra Nang where the James Bond film Man with the Golden Gun was filmed.

All in all a lovely, albeit too hot for me, end to our first experience of Thailand!!!