It is very difficult to choose five beautiful beaches in a country that has more beautiful beaches than I will one day have vintage china tea cups (I have three so far, but I’m working on it). So how do you go about choosing between these tropical paradises? The answer is: with great difficulty. But of all the spectacular beaches in Thailand, the following five certainly leave a lasting impression:

1. Maya bay

Located in Koh Phi Phi Ley, this stunning bay became famous for being the destination chosen to make the film ‘The Beach’. Since then, it has attracted huge numbers of visitors. This has the obvious drawback of tourists often packing together like sardines on the beach to look at the landscape but, it has to be said, this landscape is breath-taking.

The beach opens out onto an expanse of clear, turquoise water; the bay is encircled by 100-metre limestone cliffs; and the coral filled waters hold plenty of marine life, making this a perfect location for divers.

Maya Bay

2. Sunrise Beach

Sunrise Beach compromises the perimeter of the east of the island Koh Lipe and, as you may surmise from the name, this beach offers one spectacular view of the sunrise!  While Koh Lipe has a number of great beaches to choose from, Sunrise Beach has the advantage of being tranquil as well as gorgeous. At it’s back are tall, luxurious trees that offer shelter; and this beach is made distinctive by a stretch of sand that curves a ring around part of the ocean (a unique and often photographed part of the landscape).

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3. Freedom Beach

This is one of the least accessible beaches in Phuket, but arguably the best. Tranquil and set against a backdrop of thick jungle, this beach creates the illusion that you have stumbled into paradise. The crystal clear water holds colourful coral reefs, making it one of the best places for snorkelling in Phuket. The beach is cared for by locals and the ban on motor boats and jet skis (which are seriously annoying when you aren’t riding them)   makes this beach a very quiet, relaxing place.

Freedom beach

4. Railey Beach

This beach is one of the most popular in Thailand and can be found near the town of Krabi, along a narrow peninsula, in the south-west of Thailand (where it is much less touristy and much more relaxed). This beach looks incredible: the water is crystal clear; the sand is white and fine as powder; and it is surrounded by tall, jagged cliffs, which attracts rock climbers from all over the world.

railey beach

5. Phang Nga Bay (James Bond Beach)

For better or worse, this location will always be associated, for me, with that scene from ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ where Christopher Lee and Roger Moore have a pistol duel (who am I kidding, that scene is great).

Although Phang Nga Bay does not share the powdery white sand and flawless turquoise waters of my other choices, the rugged landscape and fascinating rock formation (in particular the tall islet ‘Ko Tapu’) makes it just as breath-taking to behold.

Thailand beach

Although there are downsides to all of these gorgeous beaches- whether it be an entrance fee, too many tourists, long boat rides or paranoia that Scaramanga is going to jump out at you holding a golden gun- they are all unique, all breath-taking and all examples of what makes Thailand so wonderful.

The Silk Road is historically fascinating- a network of routes dating back over two thousand years that were central to trade between the West and East. The scenery itself resembles silk; stretches of land that reaches out for miles and miles over mountains and deserts, interspersed with cities that appear to rise as though from dust.

My chance to travel there came in the form of the Vodkatrain. It is not, as you might suppose, a sleek glass train where you are served shots of vodka (which would be amazing, by the way) but a series of trains that take you through Russia, down to Mongolia and through to Beijing throughout the course of 21 days.

The Beginning

My friend and I began our journey in St Petersburg, where we met our group and our first Honcho (a guide assigned to you by Vodkatrain at each destination to answer pretty much any question you can think of). After the meeting we set out together to explore St Petersburg. It was a fabulous start to the journey: a gorgeous city, brimming with some of the most stunning examples of baroque and neo-classical architecture, not to mention St Issac’s Cathedral, which you should look at last because that thing will blind you.

From the opulent beauty of St Petersburg we left for the huge, modern Moscow and took in as much of the city as possible before catching our next train. I have to say that, with more money, I could have spent several days in St Petersburg and Moscow, and, with even more money, would have attended several performances at the legendary Mariinsky and Bolshoi Opera Houses (I managed to convince my group to go with me to both buildings before they pulled me away to the nearest bar).

But our train was waiting and, by the time we boarded, armed with visas and vodka, we were buzzing with excitement and, as it turned out, there were many good times ahead.

 

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulafunnell/
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulafunnell/

The Train

I love this method of travel. There is something magical about watching the landscape changing from your window; it really gives you a perspective on the vastness of the land you cover. The trains were comfortable and combined group members with local travellers: we got chatting to really interesting people.

I found the cheapest way to eat on the train was to buy food from people at the various train platforms you will stop at (you can budget around £2.50- £7 per meal).

The Accommodation

All the accommodation was arranged by Vodkatrain. My favourite places were: Tatania’s guesthouse, a Siberian wooden chalet at Lake Baikal, where the host cooked us delicious Russian food; and the Ger camp in Mongolio, which was brilliant- definitely the best accommodation we stayed in.

 

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kirksiang/
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kirksiang/

The Highlights

Of course St Petersburg- one of the places that I definitely want to return to- left a lasting impression. The train itself was a lot of fun and the day we all went swimming in Lake Baikal (which was freezing). Each of our destinations were very interesting, made more so by some really great Honchos. By the time we got to Beijing I was sad that it was all coming to an end, but Beijing is a fantastic city and was a hugely enjoyable finish to the tour. We ate some of best food I’ve ever tasted; we found lots of places to shop; and we met some wonderful local people. The city is also home to some magnificent landmarks, including the tranquil Temple of Heaven, the vast Forbidden City, and, of course, the Great Wall of China (which we ended up walking for far too long because no-one wanted to be the person who suggested turning back).

Although we were exhausted by the end of the 21 days, and we were very hungover at points during the 21 days, there is no doubt that this experience- hilarious and beautiful in equal measures- is not one that any of us will forget in a hurry.

You can find out more about Vodkatrain here.

There are six ‘small group adventures’ to choose from depending on your interests, time scale and budget (prices range greatly from £2,380 for ‘The Cossack’ and £945 for the ‘Budgeting Bolshevik’). The website will give you a good idea of how much you should be budgeting for food and entrance fees in each city.

 

I first visited Rome in my final year at university, a birthday present from my wonderful sister. We set off with our friend and all agreed that Rome was going to be an entirely stress-free experience. We were not going to budget; we were going to enjoy every moment.

This cavalier attitude, while wonderful during the three days I stayed in the aptly named ‘eternal city’, seemed somewhat reckless when I spent the remainder of the semester living on cereal and tinned soup. It is at this point you realize that throwing money about as if it were going out of fashion is, in fact, a very ill advised thing to do and that, as much as you would like it to be the case, you are not Princess Ann from Roman Holiday.

On a brighter note, I have returned to Rome since and managed to do so without devastating my bank balance.  So here is my advice on how to save money in one of Europe’s most stunning and expensive cities:

Travel

It is easy to find a cheap flight to Rome (you can get a return from Stansted, London from only £53); it is also easy to not spend much on travel once you are there. On my first trip we took a taxi from the airport at a fixed price of €30.

For a much cheaper alternative take a bus from Ciampino Airport to the underground station ‘Anagnini’ (€1,20). Then get the metro for €1 to whichever station is closest to where you’re staying.

Once you arrive, you’ll find that Rome really isn’t that big a place, so it’s easy to plan your route each morning and travel around on foot.

Accommodation

On my first trip we stayed in a lovely apartment but this is because my sister is, as previously mentioned, an awesome person.

On my second trip I stayed at Hotel Beautiful Hostel, about a minute away from the Termini station. You can get a room here from €30 to €60 depending on the time of year.

For a cheaper options, it is well worth looking at Airbnb  where you can find a room in Rome for as little as €10 a night if you don’t mind sharing!

Food

This was, by far, the biggest expense of my first trip to Rome. We ate out every night and often during the day. We bought coffee and gelato and ordered way too much wine. On the second trip, we went to a grocery shop near Termini station on the first day and ended up saving a lot of money (this obviously didn’t include gelato, which remained as much a feature of my second trip).

If you do want to eat out be sure to check the menu first and never just walk into a café and order over the counter. Prices tend to be astronomical just outside of landmarks, as we discovered when my sister unwittingly ordered a ten euro glass of orange juice outside of the Coliseum.

If you want to eat out, it’s advantageous to ask the locals. We were recommended two great places to eat:  Sfizio Pizza near Termini station (around €8 per head); and Picculo Buco, a family run restaurant near the Trevi Fountain (this cost about €10 per head).

Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/
Photo Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/

Tour Guides

Whenever you approach an important landmark you will be bombarded with tour guides. We went on two tours on my first trip to Rome: one of the Vatican City, which was brilliant; one of the Coliseum and the Ancient City, which was not. The latter literally consisted of us paying someone to take us inside and say ‘this is where gladiators used to fight… feel free to go take some photos of yourself posing as gladiators and meet me by the pillar in half an hour’.  To top it all off we went to the wrong pillar and lost our guide, who was carrying our tickets to the Ancient City (this was, admittedly, our own fault).

For those on a budget, there is a great organization that offers free walking tours in Rome. These are licensed and expert tour guides who will take you around the city for free (they do rely on tips but this is still a cheaper alternative).

Budget for Rome

So to summarize, here is a rough budget for a trip to Rome:

Flights: £53 plus €6 to and from the airport

Accommodation: €10 to €30 a night

Groceries: They came to roughly €10, which included packed lunches.

Restaurants: If you want to eat out, you can do so for €5- €15 per head. Save money by making a packed lunch during the day and remember there are water fountains to drink from all around the city.

Entry fees: There are plenty of things to see in Rome that don’t cost a cent, but, on both trips, we agreed to allow about €10 per day.

Nights out: Agree on a budget beforehand and stick to it. Avoid tourist bars, which are always very expensive- drink with the locals!

Gelato: No budget.

 Do you have any tips for travelling on a budget in Rome? If you do, let us know in the comments below!