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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Me & Mum’s Epic South Island Adventure, Days 4-6

DAY 4

Distressingly, we wake to find that we are still in a car, in a field, in the cold, surrounded by mist, using towels as blankets, and with only some 3-day-old bread and a slightly sad looking carrot for breakfast. On the plus side, we’re already in the car. And there’s a text from my Aunt Josie so say the Lindauer is already chilling in the fridge. To Nelson!

Oh, wait, Mum can’t find her keys. She rummages around on the floor under her seat looking for them. “Oh, I’ve found your passport,” she says. “OHMYGODREALLY?” I squeal. “No, not really.” Mum finds her little joke inordinately funny.

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Me & Mum’s Epic South Island Adventure: Days 2-3

DAY 2

10:30am: Head out to pick up our hire car. We are met by a very sweet, very camp boy who describes everything as adorable. After giving us a list of adorable towns and adorable places we should visit, he takes us to the “adorable” car. Mum immediately crushes his enthusiasm by suggesting that the car, which is tiny, mustard-coloured and looks a bit like her old KA, is not adorable. “That’s no way to talk about the Golden Chariot,” I venture. Car boy brightens up. He finds the new nickname adorable.

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Me & Mum’s Epic South Island Adventure: Day One

After the best part of a year apart, I’m finally reuniting with my Mum (who is Kiwi) in New Zealand. After scooting around the North Island visiting family and old friends I haven’t seen for over a decade, we’ve now embarked on a three week road trip around the South Island, which neither of us have properly explored before.

Three weeks in a tiny car with your mother might sound like a recipe for disaster, but luckily my Mum is nuts in all the best ways…. 

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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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