Whenever the grey and cold get a bit too much, I let my mind wander back to this:

The stretch of sea between Phuket and Koh Yao Noi was smooth and still as a lake. I’d read about Six Senses years ago, somewhere in the pages of a glossy magazine. The article described villas perched high on a hill, cooling private pools to linger in, a butler to care for guests’ every need – the sort of place, in short, I could only afford in my most indulgent day dreams.

I’d been restless about the trip for weeks. I’d quit my job the week before, and it marked, for me, the symbolic end of my stay in Singapore, an end to the weeks and months of anxiety, the endless hours in the office, my wretched health. I sighed as the boat curved before the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga bay, heading for the private pier of the resort.

How can I describe perfection? The villas were beautiful, little nests of day beds and mosquito nets, hidden behind bamboo walls and lush vegetation.

Every thing was quiet and welcoming. It would be so easy to never leave the resort. There is simply too much to enjoy. I could have spent half a day selecting a pillow from the extensive menu, or trying out the scented toiletries (lemongrass? aloe vera? unscented?), or playing chess, or learning to thai box or kayak or snorkel or…

I settled for eating my body weight in charcuterie and strolls along the private beach. The water itself was a bit disappointing, silty underfoot and not the clear turquoise of my fantasies. But the view was beautiful, the perfect place to watch the large, graceful hornbills who nest at one end of the beach.

The view was at its best from the Hilltop Reserve, a luxurious private residence that had just recently been converted to a restaurant and pool area for all the guests. I’d never quite understood the term “infinity pool”, until I floated in the hilltop pool, its crystalline water blending into the bay beyond, so that I was simultaneously towering above and part of the endless sea.

On Friday night, a large screen materialised behind the pool, with the moon illuminating the bay behind it, and the smiling staff brought round little bowls of popcorn to enjoy with the film. I sipped a lychee martini and watched The Devil wears Prada, acutely aware of how utterly, utterly spoiled I was. Did I mention the all day all you can eat free ice cream buffet? There were also cakes, biscuits and macarons if delicious home made ice cream in exotic flavours is not your thing.

I could kick myself for not having taken a camera to the spa, because it was glorious. Huge stone tubs large enough to stand in, massage rooms filled with sunlight and orchids and waterfalls, expert masseuses almost managing to send me to sleep.

When I returned to the villa, the staff had left a new bookmark in my opened book. “Slow Life”, it said, and this is, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have ever been given. I’d struggled that morning at the yoga class, my lungs constricted with the effort of clearing my head and forgetting about my daily worries, unable to fully appreciate the stunning view from the purpose built platform.

But as I sped away from Yao Noi, rushing in the dark towards the spectacular sunset, life suddenly seemed full of calm, and possibilities.

 

Where: Six Senses Yao Noi, about halfway between Krabi and Phuket. The hotel arranges speed boat transfers from either airport.

Tip: The list price for one night at the resort is a ridiculous £600+. I went during the rainy season in October, at a fraction of the price with an Agoda deal. The weather was stunning. If you’re a neurotic mess like I am, stay for a week if you can afford it, three days is not long enough to unwind and enjoy all the facilities.

 

To say that I’m not much of a backpacker would be a gross understatement. Nothing fills me with more dread than the thought of a sweaty, mud stained pack being shoved in the faces of unsuspecting fellow travellers, or the need to carry your own sheets for stays in dubious guesthouses, or, horror of horrors, a shared dorm room.

Shared. Dorm. Room. *shudder*.

I was forced to stay one night in Sihanoukville a few weeks ago, upon returning from an idyllic island a couple of hours from the coast. Sihanoukville! Paedophilia capital of Cambodia! It lives up to its reputation, and has very little going for it. A few vaguely sordid, ramshackle streets, with the best beaches roped off for luxury developments with all the charm of a discount supermarket.

This time I headed to Otres beach, the furthest from town and fairly quiet, if non-descript. It’s very clean and lined with some nicely designed beach bars, with lots of comfy chairs for lounging about in, and not as many vendors harassing you for bracelets/drugs/pineapples/massages. I’m really selling this, aren’t I?

Mushroom Point has been described by the internets, repeatedly, as a smurf village. That sounds far more sinister than it actually is. It’s a charming little compound of circular huts topped with tall straw roofs.

I stayed in Mushroom 7, with its own private bathroom in a separate shroom.

Even though the place is run by an assortment of Europeans in white dreads and rather glassy expressions, everything is spotlessly clean, efficiently run and very well maintained. The food was tasty and generous, and my onwards tuk tuk and bus ticket organised flawlessly.

There are some lovely design touches throughout, and with the hammocks, books and movie screenings in the lounge area near the entrance this makes for a very peaceful and mellow place to hang out, backpack or no.

Bungalows are $25, and dorm rooms (ew ew ew!) $7.

Where: Mushroom Point, at the very end of Otres beach, Sihanoukville

Website: The website is under construction, but there’s a facebook page.

Tip: Don’t look up if you don’t like giant spiders.

 

 

 

 

Over the past year I’ve been to Jakarta no less than 11 times. I’ve never quite gotten used to the immensity and drabness of the place, with its senseless traffic, oppressive malls and heart-breaking poverty. The city stretches out for miles, as large and populous as London, but with none of the open spaces, pretty shops or vivacious life that dazzles and energises. It’s hard to breathe, and the skies are that certain shade of polluted grey that fill you with weariness and gloom.

So if you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to spend more than a week in this dismal capital, make sure you head to Pulau Macan for the weekend. There are many other islands to visit in the Pulau Seribu, the thousand islands off the coast of Jakarta, but the infrastucture is poorly developed and ageing, and I’ve heard horror stories and reports of badly cared for, dirty beaches.

The journey starts early on a Saturday morning at Marina Ancol, where the fetid, stinking water fills the traveller with apprehension, and mild regret for that early breakfast. Over the course of the two hour speedboat ride the water turns slowly from grey to blue, dotted here and there with little islands, a mosque peeking from behind low red roofs, jettys jutting out invitingly.

Pulau Macan, the Tiger Island, is a tiny lump of land surrounded by shallow, crystal clear turquoise waters. It’s been developed as an eco-resort, with a dozen huts and cottages scattered about the island, and shared but attractive toilets and showers. It’s all reclaimed wood, solar energy, rain water collection and locally sourced food and staff.

I felt the knots of anxiety and dread loosen as soon as I stepped into my driftwood hut, an open wooden platform set right by the edge of the water. There was a simple and comfortable bed swathed in soft cotton and a mosquito net, a pretty paper lamp, bamboo shades on three sides, and that gentle lapping water beyond a small private terrace. A few steps took me directly into the waters, where the recovering reef is full of life. I spent hours snorkelling, though you have to watch for jelly fish and urchins in certain areas, and particularly territorial (though harmless) fish near the main stairs into the water.  Those bastards will head butt you in the leg the first chance they get. I can still recall the strange, alien shapes of the urchins swaying in the currents, with brightly lit blue and orange spots on their bodies. It was peaceful and soothing and I let my mind drift, and rest.

There’s not much else to do on the island. You can paddle or row across to the even smaller island a stone’s throw away, with a beautiful cove of white sand and turquoise water, or rest in one of the hammocs or sofas in the communal area. The hearty and satisfying meals are taken communally from a mostly vegetarian buffet, with snacks available throughout the day. Peanut butter and jelly on hot toast was perfect after a long swim.

It’s all very friendly, relaxed and low key, and perhaps my favourite getaway so far in South East Asia. It’s out of the way for most travellers, so you’re only likely to find locals and expats there. Conversations are hushed and gentle, and if you would rather keep to yourself no one will mind. At night I woke up and walked to the edge of the platform. Everything – the water, the dark shadows of the trees, my skin – felt alive and whole. My eyes filled with the startling silver light of the moon, and I breathed freely, tasting the quiet of the night.

Is it worth the $200 per person (including the speed boat) for a week end? It never even mattered.

Where: Pulau Macan, a 2 hour speed boat ride from Jakarta’s Marina Ancol

Website: http://www.pulaumacan

Tips: Book a couple of weeks ahead, it quickly fills up at the week end. No need to bring snorkelling gear or water shoes, they are provided.