What Islands to Visit in Thailand

There are three islands off the southern coast of Thailand—Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. Most people think of Thailand via Bangkok and scenes from the Hangover Movie, but these islands are far from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s an entirely different atmosphere filled with amazing restaurants, gorgeous beaches (many with few people), and a host of options for resorts. It’s an island vibe with a cross between Scandinavian design, marries Caribbean with a bit of Hawaiian Polynesian thrown in.

There are places you visit that change you forever and Thailand is one of those places. I have to admit I really didn’t know what to expect from my travels there and what I found was absolutely incredible—from the country, to the food and the culture—it really is worth the trip. Thailand is definitely a place that has a bit of everything to offer.

Koh Phangan

I really loved this little island and enjoyed our stay at the Anatara Rasananda Resort. You fly into Koh Samui and you’re transferred via the hotel high-speed boat to the resort (about a 40 minute ride). When you arrive, the staff is waiting on the beach to greet you. It’s a wonderful way to start your vacation.

The resort itself is a perfect blend of luxury and island nature. In the morning, you can grab a table for breakfast right on the beach and then meander up the hill to the spa situated amongst the boulders for a traditional Thai massage. They have beachfront accommodations or you can opt for being just off the beach with your own private plunge pool. Breakfast is included at the resort with fresh juices and infused waters each morning. There is also a cute little village within walking distance you can explore on your own and shop.

Koh Nang Yuan

Koh Nang Yuan National Park
A perfect snorkel spot!

Koh Nang Yuan is an island national park. It’s the perfect day trip and a great place for snorkeling in calm waters. You can also hike up to the highest point (not too strenuous of a hike) for some incredible views. Beach towels are not allowed on the sand as they impact the island’s natural habit, but they do offer chairs for rent and bathroom facilities. There is also food available for purchase. I highly recommend the coconut water, served fresh in the coconut—cool, refreshing and hydrating on a hot day.

Koh Tao

 

One thing I love about these islands is they are close enough, you can island hop. Each is maybe at best, an hour boat ride. We didn’t spend a ton of time on Koh Tao, but on our way back from the National Park, we stopped there for lunch right on the beach at Blue Water. The food was fresh and delicious and every time I think about the pad Thai and ginger tea with honey, my mouth starts watering and you certainly cannot beat the view!

Koh Samui

Kamalya Resort Thailand
The view at Kamalya

Koh Samui is the largest of the three islands and is home to the Samui International Airport offering flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong so big planes do land there. It’s also home to a variety of accommodations including Six Senses Hideaway Samui, known for sustainability, the more modern, Melati Beach Resort and Spa, and the luxurious Kamalaya, a wellness resort offering health and wellness programs including electronic detox, stress and burnout, and emotional balance to name a few.

 

This is an island that offers many options—yoga retreats like, Vikasa featuring Yoga classes and teaching certification, traditional Muay Thai boxing, beaches, nightlife and shopping. We dined at Coco Tam’s right on the beach and I highly recommend their signature dish. It’s worth every bite! It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.

Coco Tam's on the Beach
Coco Tam’s on the Beach

With the arrival of the New Year, our thoughts turn to shedding those few extra pounds, eating healthier, exercising and our next vacation. With exceptional health and wellness options allowing you to escape the craziness of life and leave your cell phone behind, Thailand has it all. From the mountains of Chiang Mai, to the urban city life of Bangkok and the slow, island pace of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, it’s a life-changing adventure with an amazing culinary scene. When I got back to the United States, I kept telling my husband I felt like all the food I was eating was dead compared to what I ate in Thailand, and I eat vegetables and fruit regularly. Everything was just so fresh, and the presentation alone was a photograph every time!

Celebrating Christmas In Scotland

Bag piping Buskers Holiday Serenade

Paula’s Perspective

Six years ago, my husband and I moved to Florida and left behind our family and friends along with all the Christmas obligations. What amazed me is how I never realized you cram all these visits, seeing everyone into just a day and half– Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. While it can be fun, it can sometimes be exhausting.

Moving changes all that. Suddenly, there are no obligations and you have a chance to reinvent the holidays without offending anyone. Don’t get me wrong, you do miss your family and all the traditions surrounding the holidays, but it’s really exciting making new traditions.

I’ve personally always wanted to go away for Christmas—to actually wake up in a different country on Christmas morning, celebrating the holidays outside of the United States. Travel opens up your eyes to so many things, but seeing how a country celebrates Christmas is something we don’t often think of doing. And, since I started the whole Scotland thing with Sarah a few years ago, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d rather continue the adventure with!

Sarah’s Perspective

I first visited Edinburgh, Scotland in 2014 when Paula invited me as a plus one on an international business trip. She suggested a train ride from London to Edinburgh where we could explore the city for a long weekend. On the way to the Boston airport, my mother called and casually mentioned my great-grandmother was born in Scotland. She offered her date of birth and suggested I stop at a genealogical society to find out more information on her.  I was stunned as I have always considered myself Polish by heritage, but quickly took what little information she had, and stuck it in my purse. I forgot about it until we arrived in Edinburgh and walked right by Scotland’s People: a Genealogical Research Center, on the way to our hotel. This began my personal journey into my Scottish genealogy. Over the years, I spent time searching for information on a family history I didn’t know I had and developing an interest in a country that draws me in, like it’s calling me home.

Deciding to spend Christmas in Edinburgh with my family was appealing, although I had my reservations. Traveling during a major holiday can be stressful and I was concerned my children would be disappointed we weren’t following our traditional Christmas schedule. Edinburgh turned out to be a fantastic way to re-energize our family bond, discover new traditions and explore a fairy tale like landscape. Edinburgh Castle is always within the eye’s periphery when in Edinburgh and the gothic silhouette of the city is the perfect place to recapture what is magical about the holidays.

Carnival Rides Edinburgh Christmas Market
The ferris wheel all lit up for the holidays
Sarah and Rob Edinburgh Christmas Market
Strolling through the Edinburgh Christmas Market enjoying a wee dram of whiskey
Edinburgh Christmas Market Day View
A view of the market in daylight

Edinburgh has a large German style Christmas Market that begins weeks before and ends just after Christmas. We spent time exploring the vendor stalls, riding Carnival style rides, drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate made with real Bavarian melted chocolate.  We ate German sausage and Scottish meat pies, and enjoyed being serenaded by traditionally dressed bagpiping buskers.

Christmas Eve dinner was spent at The Witchery: a uniquely decorated medieval restaurant, rich in history and within the shadows of Edinburgh Castle, followed by a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens, decorated with millions of twinkling lights. Ticket holders walk through the displays as Christmas music plays in the background, and Santa and his helpers are seen preparing for what will be a long night.

The Witchery Edinburgh
Outside The Witchery for our Christmas Eve Dinner
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh
A scene from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh
Edinburgh's Royal Mile
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile decorated for the festive season

Christmas Day was spent lounging in front of our hotel provided personal Christmas tree (it was a complete surprise), opening gifts from the stockings I brought and hung in our lounge room. It was a mild, sunny day, and we hiked to both Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill: two popular and scenic over looks in Edinburgh.  Although most of the city was shut down: no public transport was available; the city was still alive with people, enjoying the beauty of The Royal Mile and other major landmarks that make Edinburgh so special. Tourist shops were open for business, as well as a wine shop and several takeaway restaurants.

Scottish Malt Whiskey Society
Entrance to the Scottish Malt Whisky Society thanks to the Eat Walk Food Tour
Makar's Mash Bar
Eat Walk Food Tour at Makar’s Mash Bar Stop–best mashed potatoes ever!
Scottish Malt Whiskey Society
Enjoying our whiskey after our Haggis tasting

My son and youngest daughter asked if this year we could celebrate the holiday with a few of the traditions we enjoyed in Scotland. I just bought a set of Christmas crackers and am researching where to buy a few Christmas Crowns.

Hiking Up to Arthur's Seat
A view on the way up to Arthur’s Seat
The View from Arthur's Seat
What a gorgeous view of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur’s Seat!
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Our first experience with Christmas Crackers!

These are a few of our Favorite Festive Things to do In Edinburgh:

Edinburgh Christmas Market

Royal Botanic Gardens

Eat Walk Food Tour

The Witchery

Mimi’s Bake Shop

Hiking Up to Arthur’s Seat

A Scotland Do It Yourself Pub Crawl

Traveling during the holidays can be a fun, enriching experience.  Scotland is a magical, soulful country that makes you believe in the magic of Christmas all over again.

Two Family Friendly Destinations for 2019

2019 Family Friendly Locations
Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay at night

Singapore is a very young country with a booming economy and so much development happening, if you have visited recently, it may be unrecognizable the next time you are there. A relatively small Island off the coast of Malaysia, Singapore has had many rulers, and only became an Independent country 50 years ago. The Singapore of 50 years ago was teetering on the brink of destruction, but in just one generation, they have become one of the richest countries in the world. Impressive sky scrapers and new modern design are weaved into the older, culturally diverse neighborhoods with their own cuisines and decor, including a Colonial District, in remembrance of English colonial rule. While most of the population is of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian descent, English is the primary language. The temperature hovers right around 80 degrees year round, and the sun rises and sets everyday at 7. There are modern amenities , one of the world’s largest casinos, gorgeous resorts with beautiful beaches, world class zoos and jungle safaris, as well as a Universal Studios amusement park. Just a few of their top attractions are:

  1. Gardens by the Bay
  2. Sentosa Island
  3. MacRitchie Reservoir
  4. Orchard Road

Why We Want to go:

So many experiences in one destination: The Glitz of Tokyo, a visit to the Serengeti, US quality amusement parks, all encompassing southeast Asian and Indian cuisine in one location, world class shopping, year round inviting weather.

Why is it a hot Destination for 2019:

If you haven’t seen the hottest film of 2018 or read the book, you need to. For Americans, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, put Singapore on our radars.

The Azores, Portugal

Azores

These 9 Islands, located approximately 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, are an outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination. Known for its magnificent volcanic landscape, visitors can hike to breathtaking panoramic peaks, swim in crater lakes, explore lava tubes, bathe in hot springs, and discover a variety of oceanic activities, such as boating, snorkeling and surfing. I became interested in visiting the Azores after I discovered there are non stop flights from Boston with a flight time of approximately 4.5 hours and an equally short trip can be easily found from New York City. The descriptions are similar to the Hawaiian Island activity offerings, but Oahu is more of a 17 hour flight time for us. The top attractions in the Azores include:

  1. Sete Cidades Crater Lake
  2. Terra Nostra Gardens
  3. Algar do Carveo and Gruta das Torres
  4. Marina of Horta

Why We Want to Go:

We love tropical weather and plenty of outdoor activities to keep us busy. One of the most difficult things about family travel is the getting there. These islands are exactly the right balance of close proximity to us, lots of activities, a beautiful location, and affordability.

Why is it a Hot Destination for 2019

Delta recently announced a new direct flight from the northeast, beginning in May 2019. Boston already has a direct flight in place through the Azores own airline, ANA. For those looking for an island getaway with a wide array of outdoor activities and world class cuisine and accommodations, but don’t want the big commitment flying to Hawaii can take, these islands just became irresistible. New York to San Pedro averages just about 5 hours. Hotels average a $120.00 a night and dinner is less than $25.00 per person in the Azores. Compared to Hawaii, this is an incredible steal.

Exploring Montage Palmetto Bluff–A South Carolina Oasis

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Your swing awaits on the walking trails of Montage Palmetto Bluff Resort

Stunning, I must have used these words a thousand times on my recent trip to Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina. Just 30 minutes from the great city of Savannah, Georgia (a personal bucket list city for me), it was a nice easy drive from central Florida and absolutely, without a doubt worth going to from anywhere in the country. The resort is set on over 20,000 acres and the scenery is just absolutely gorgeous. There is no detail forgotten and just when you think, “It can’t get any better than this,” it does.

The grounds are gorgeous with stunning views and walking trails, enticing you bounce out of bed early to get your morning run or walk in (They even have a running concierge). I selected a trail taking me along the river to a mossy oak covered path of trees. Throughout the property, there are many bridges and quaint spots—like the town center with the picturesque church—perfect for a destination wedding. There is something for the entire family and because of the various types of accommodations and activities, this property is perfect for multi-generational travel as well.

Bluffton, South Carolina

Montage Palmetto Bluff Conservancy

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The quaint village–perfect for a destination wedding!

Montage Palmetto Bluff has three types of accommodations—inn guest rooms and suites, cottages/residences and village homes. Guests of the resort can enjoy the entire property and the resort fee includes the use of kayaks and canoes, fishing poles, tennis, croquet use of the pool and spa facility (spa treatments are extra), fitness center and  fitness classes and a plethora of activities the resort has to offer. It even includes the gratuities for the bellman, housekeeping and the concierge.  The property boasts a Jack Nicholas 18-hole signature, private golf course, so if you aren’t a guest of the resort, you aren’t getting in. (Highly recommended on the golf club menu is the hotdog. It’s all beef, wrapped in bacon and well, shall we say some things are just worth having and this was.) Both golf and bike rentals are available at additional fees.

Montage Palmetto Bluff May River Golf Course
Views from the May River Golf Course

One of the things that excited me the most was seeing kids riding bikes everywhere. These days’ kids spend a lot of time indoors, so it was really nice to see them out enjoying the day with their families. And, who wouldn’t when you have an awesome bicycle with a bell and a basket? There is also a state of the art bowling alley and a game room on property. Did I mention the awesome tree houses? Just seeing a tree house brings me back to my childhood, I mean, “Who didn’t want a tree house growing up?” There are two of them on property—one more than four stories high with incredible views of the waterways.

img_33271

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Two awesome tree houses on the property
Montage Palmetto Bluff Bowling Alley
The state of the art bowling alley at Montage

We were treated to a tour of the lowlands of South Carolina. (I always recommend to clients to get out on the water if you have the chance. It changes your perspective of your vacation destination.) Our guide, who is also the fishing guide, entertained us with tales from a neighboring island where a landowner had placed buffalo so he could hunt. The problem was, he didn’t realize buffalo could swim and they escaped. Unfortunately for the buffalo, they escaped to a hunting lodge and as a result, one of the buffalo heads can be found inside the restaurant on the property, appropriately named, “Buffalo’s.”

Montage Palmetto Bluff
Sampling a local dish at Culinary Heirlooms

img_3330Other highlights include, the island for awesome family days, the homemade hot sauce at Cole’s, the food (delicious), Culinary Heirlooms (local cuisine featured every night at 5 pm for guests to sample), the luxurious and beautifully appointed spa (best facial I’ve ever had), and the s’mores cart. The inn offers fires and s’mores every night with a cart full of homemade marshmallows in different flavors (we were told to try the lemon marshmallow with the dark chocolate) and two different kinds of chocolate. It’s like you died and went to s’mores heaven! “Porching” occurs every day from 3:30 to 5:30pm at the River House where cookies, sweet tea, and lemonade are served and guests can hang out and enjoy the view of the river from their porch rocker. We didn’t have the good fortune to attend this event, but if it is anything like the shortbread cookies we experienced in our room every night, we’re absolutely certain we will not miss it next time.

Montage Palmetto Bluff
The s’more’s cart–chocolate and homemade marshmallows!

img_3270Montage Palmetto Bluff is a haven for families and couples looking to escape from it all and experience the outdoors. It’s just good old fashioned fun. There is no “I” left undotted, no “T” left uncrossed here. They go out of their way and the attention to detail is unfounded. A little boy I met put it perfectly when I asked him what his favorite thing was he had done there on vacation, “I get to shoot a bow and arrow.” He hadn’t even done it yet, but it was his favorite thing. Montage Palmetto Bluff is just that—it’s your favorite thing to do, even though you haven’t done it yet.

Getting there: Fly into Savannah, Georgia (airport code SAV). Transportation to the resort can be arranged or you can rent a car and drive. It’s about 30 minutes.

Guests of the resort who are the Art of Travel clients receive a room upgrade (subject to availability), a $60 dollar daily breakfast credit per room, and a $100 spa credit per stay.