Man has his face pierced in the temple - Vegetarian Festival Phuket

The Craziest Festival I’ve Ever Been To

The air is heavy with smoke. All I can see is a carpet of red shells, strewn across the ground like rose petals, and the sparks of fire that rip through the endless cloud.

The angry splutter of explosions intensifies – the procession must be approaching. I see the Gods first, carried high on a litter, impervious to the firecrackers launched into their thrones. Before them emerge devotees, both men and women, in vivid silk robes and huge blades or metal poles pierced through their faces They shout and quivering in religous ecstasy, some whipping themselves as they walk. Here and there, a trickle of blood runs down the steel, but mostly – and miraculously – the knives seem to pierce their skin without serious damage.

Carrying the God statues at the Vegetarian Festival Phuket

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6 Travel Hacks You’ll Wonder How You Lived Without

Whether you define yourself as digital nomad, a long-term backpacker or simply a very frequent flier, there are some hassles that come up again and again… and are guaranteed to drive you nuts. If you’re as scatty as I am, they might well have cost you a ton of time and money, too.

But life is all about learning, eh? And to help you learn from my mistakes, here are six genius travel hacks I wish I’d known about years ago.

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The day that it all went wrong

On my second night in Hua Hin, I make an elaborate show of pondering the wares of every food stall in the night market, despite knowing full well that I would end up back at the same stall as the previous night, working my way down the menu rather than working my down the street. Not that it’s a very long menu: I’d tried the noodles with tofu and prawn, and now I’m dying to try out the crispy mussel pancake with beansprouts. As far as I can work out, that is the menu.

One of my favourite things about night markets is pulling up a chair at a shared plastic table in the street, giving you a legitimate excuse to people-watch and chat to fellow diners without looking like a nutter. Yesterday this had not worked out well – a grumpy German group that seemed unused to the system had grudgingly let me take a chair at the end of their table and then pointedly ignored me in silence – but this evening, a jovial middle-aged Thai man and his Mexican friend wave at me to join them and I gratefully accept.

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It’s our gypsy blood

“Tell me again where you’re going,” says my Nan, pouring me a Bacardi and coke with significantly more Bacardi than coke. “Your dad said something about North Korea?”

We’re in her kitchen, a few miles from Heathrow Airport, where every few minutes planes roar over so low that it feels like they might take the roof with them; the kitchen we’d sat in when I was 11 and taping my first interview for a school project on family histories, when we talked for hours about growing up in wartime London because her mother couldn’t bear to let her be evacuated and I realised that real life is seeped in better stories than anything I could invent. The moment, I suppose, than sowed the seeds for a career as a journalist.

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A Sicilian Spring

It’s Easter Sunday and the church bells are ringing over Palermo. We’re sprawled on the rooftop terrace of our apartment, watching the seagulls over the domes and palazzios and the Arab-Norman towers, the blue hills and the just-glimpsed sea. Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is mingling with the shouts of a market trader and the table is littered with olives and espresso and remnants of last night’s wine.

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This may hurt a little

It’s 5.58am, I’m hungover, and I’m on a train to the city that I used to live in for a mad dash to my old GP to try and get last minute vaccinations.

Somehow, I manage to do this every single time I leave Europe. I remembered two days before I was due to go to India (a place that you really, really don’t want to visit without the right jabs, especially during the monsoon) that I had singularly failed to book an appointment, and had to sheepishly ask my friend’s mum (a doctor, thankfully, not just some sinister-sounding needle enthusiast), to inject me with all of them at once and hope for the best.

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