TRAVEL: Top Things To Do in ARCACHON and La TESTE-de-BUCH


Located some 55kms from Bordeaux is another arrondissement called Arcachon which sits on the banks of the Atlantic coast. Compared with most towns in France, our friends at Wikipedia say Arcachon is fairly young at around 150 years old. Prior to it being officially acknowledged by Emperor Napoleon III as a town, Arcachon is said to be just a sprawling forest of pine, oaks, and strawberry trees with almost zero road links. Today, however, Arcachon is fast becoming famous for its fine beaches, the remarkable Arcachon houses so unique in architecture, great seafood, while neighbouring La Teste-de-Buch is home to the famous Grande Dune du Pilat. After spending the previous day gallivanting around Sauternes, my In-Laws took us on a road trip to these two arrondissements and what we have seen there certainly confirmed raves by tourists.

1. Arcachon Beaches. In Arcachon, you will find a long stretch of fine sandy beaches that has become so popular with beachcombers and surfers, too, especially during summer. As it was winter when we came here, we saw only a handful of people braving the icy cold temperature. There are restaurants and bars along Boulevard de l’Ocean, as well as private properties lucky (or wealthy) enough to hog a slice of this natural beauty.

I love the beach, even in winter.

I love the beach, even in winter.

From here, you can also take the boat for a tour around the Birds Island.

Up for some bird watching? You wouldn't want to skip this one!

Up for some bird watching? You wouldn’t want to skip this one!

Or simply roam around the city centre and take photos.

Fresh fruits at the local marché

Fresh fruits at the local marché

Picturesque Arcachon.

Picturesque Arcachon.

Walk the world one city at a time.

Walk the world one city at a time.

2. Grande Dune du Pilat. When my in-laws told us that we will pass by the Grande Dune du Pilat after our trip to Arcachon beach, it didn’t really occur to me that it would be as astonishing as the one that greeted us when we arrived at the site. First of all (and pardon me for my ignorance), I didn’t really think that there could be a sand dune in Europe and one as tall as this one in Pilat. My husband and I have been to the Red Dune in Dubai, and though Le Grande Dune du Pilat is nowhere near it in terms of size and the fine quality of the sand, it more than made up for its lack with the fantastic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Arcachon Bay from the top and the verdant forest in surrounding areas. They say that the dune is about 118m above sea level and stretches up to nearly 3kms, making it the highest sand dune in Europe.

The largest sand dune in Europe.

The largest sand dune in Europe.

Dune du Pilat offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay and the surrounding verdant forest.

Dune du Pilat offers a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Arcachon Bay and the surrounding verdant forest.

The climb up can be a little challenging but like I said, totally worth the spectacular view from the top. It was very cold the afternoon that we visited with the wind occasionally blowing in freezing gusts, making the climb all the more fun. I can only imagine how even more beautiful it can be up there during summer! There is no fee charged for visitors and there’s one or two snack shops at the base of the dune if you ever feel the need to snack or hydrate before and after the climb. There are toilets and souvenir shops as well. This is definitely a great place to visit when in the region.

The Atlantic Ocean down below.

The Atlantic Ocean below.

3.  (Sea)Food trip. Arcachon takes pride in being recognised as one of the top four places for best oysters in France, alongside Normandy, Brittany and Marennes-Oléron. I must confess that we didn’t exactly have our seafood trip in Arcachon but rather, at this port-side restaurant in La Teste-de-Buch called Restaurant du Port.  Which, if my non-existent geographical knowledge is to be trusted, is really just next to Arcachon. It was still low tide when we got to the restaurant but the water quickly rose to cradle the little colourful sailboats up in its arms, lending the whole scene a slight touch of romance (because we all know France really goes hand-in-hand with romance).

View from Restaurant du Port.

View from Restaurant du Port.

We ordered from the menu escale and got a plate of oysters each for starters and they were truly fresh and delicious! We tried Loubine à la plancha, Pavé de Boeuf and Parillada plus crême brulée and tarte aux noix for desserts – all top-notch in terms of taste and portion.

Les huitres!

Les huitres!

Loubine à la plancha

Loubine à la plancha

Tarte aux Noix

Tarte aux Noix

If I’m not mistaken, the set meal costs around 20 euros, which is quite reasonable given the quality and taste of the food. Overall, this is a great restaurant to visit and you must not leave without sampling their seafood dishes (oysters, especially), which is what they are mainly known for. C’est très delicieux!

TRAVEL: Tailor-made fun in the sun in PHUKET


The party island of Phuket is officially our most-visited place, having just concluded our long weekend Christmas getaway there. It was our third time to celebrate Christmas on the island, an every-other-year holiday tradition Hubby and I started back in 2010, and our fourth trip overall. While that hardly qualifies us as experts, we have certainly seen and experienced more of this island than perhaps any average holiday-maker.

I have loved Phuket from the first moment I set foot on the island. It certainly isn’t the best island there is but there is just something about Phuket that draws us in and keeps us coming back for more – no matter how many times I keep telling Hubby that we should probably give Phuket a rest and go somewhere else next time. A little digression, if I may: We were in the same speedboat as this young French couple when we did the Phan Nga Bay tour and the guy, who himself is an intrepid traveler, said that among all the islands that he has visited in Asia he liked El Nido the most. He said not even James Bond Island or Koh Phi Phi comes close. It’s a shame that I have not been to El Nido myself, but I have seen enough photos and videos and heard first-hand account from friends to know that this cannot possibly be a fib. So yes, El Nido is definitely in our future travel plans. Now back to Phuket. You see, it’s not so easy to write-off this gem of an island given that it’s only a mere 1.5 hours air travel time from Singapore and there are flights galore! Besides, when you only have one long weekend to scratch the beach-itch, you really wouldn’t want to spend several hours cramped in the whatever-happened-to-leg-room budget airline seats when you could already be sampling pad thai or tom kha gai in one of the restaurants in Kamala, in your sexy swimsuits and with your toes buried in the soft white sand, for example. If you have been to Phuket, chances are, you probably love it for some of the reasons that we do. If you don’t like it, however, then it’s just too bad.

So here’s our definitive list of things to do in Phuket. I will be using photos from both our recent and older trips so don’t get too shocked by the weight gain and more pronounced appearances of crow’s feet, age spots and flab because sweetheart, we aren’t so young and so tight anymore.

1. Explore Patong on foot. This place certainly makes no apologies for what it is: tacky, sultry, campy, hot, crowded, boisterous, sexy, delicious, morally-bent, cheap, expensive, delightful, relaxing, capricious…all that and much more coming at you all at the same time! It can get a little too much but once you get used to the cacophony of noise, colour, taste, scent and feel of Phuket, trust me, it will grow on you.

Walking around Patong. December 2010.

…is all you need. Patong, December 2014.

2. Rent a motorbike and visit the more pleasant and less congested beaches of Surin, Karon, Kamala and Kata. Of the four, Surin is our favourite and this place just keeps changing each time we visit so it never gets old or boring.

Rent a motorbike to get around Phuket. August 2014.

3. Eat as much of your favourite Thai dishes and dare to discover a few others (deep-fried bugs, for example) because you know as well as I do that these delicious authentic Thai cooking is terribly hard to find in other countries. And even if you’re lucky enough to find a good one, you can bet it’s not going to be as cheap.

My all-time favourite, Tom Kha Kai.

4. Book a trip to see the Koh Phi Phi island. You’ve seen the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, I presume? This area here is where some scenes of the movie were supposed to have been shot. Gorgeous island but just overly crowded especially during peak season.

Koh Phi Phi Island tour. December 2012.

Just wow.

Just wow.

5. Experience the Phang Nga 7-island Tour at least once. They say if you have a choice between Phi Phi and Phang Nga, you pick the latter because there are more activities and views to enjoy. The Phang Nga Tour includes the famous James Bond Island as one of the stops. We don’t dare play favourites because we like both (Phi Phi and Phang Nga), but yes, the 30-minute canoe experience at Koh Hong and the small cave exploration before that were quite nice. Koh Hong is one of the seven islands in Phang Nga.

James Bond Island tour. December 2014.

Canoeing at Koh Hong Island. December 2014.

6. Go elephant trekking and enjoy traversing the tropical jungle paths while comfortably seated on the back of these gentle giants. Afterwards, you can pay extra Baht to buy bananas to feed the elephants with, at the observation kiosk. They even have baby elephants dancing and doing tricks that will make you go awww and turn your heart into a big puddle of mush inside your chest.

Our second time to go elephant trekking and this time, we caught the beautiful sunset on our way back and it nearly brought tears to my eyes, I remember. December 2012.

7. Visit Wat Chalong, arguably the most visited Buddhist temple in Phuket. Thais offer flowers and light candles at the central temple by way of making merit or showing gratitude for wishes granted. You will also hear firecrackers exploding loudly which generally comes from this brick oven-like dome close opposite the main temple.

The Wat Chalong. December 2014.

One of the temples at Wat Chalong.

8. Drive up north to see the Big Buddha. This is probably one of the most recognisable structures in the northern part of Phuket, In fact, you will see the Buddha from any vantage point on this side of the island. Ladies who are wearing shorts and sleeveless tops will be given sarongs to cover up bare extremities. Entrance is free and the view is spectacular from here.

Behold the Big Buddha in Phuket. December 2014.

Big Buddha Phuket_vickyras

9. Take the most awesome sunset photos at Phromthep Cape. Or just about any panoramic photo and selfie shot, in case you’re there before sunset. Been here twice before and yes, the view is just spectacular, especially on a bright and sunny day.

Fantastic view from Phromtep Cape on a sunny day. December 2010.

Elephant sculptures of different sizes at the Phromtep Cape.

Elephant sculptures of different sizes at the Phromtep Cape. August 2014.

10. Catch the fascinating nighttime Thai cultural show at Fantasea. Be mesmerised by Thailand’s rich and exotic heritage and ancient traditions with some of the coolest technology and special effects. Watch out for the elephants. They will bring you to tears with their cuteness.

The Thai cultural show at Fantasea is a must-see when you’re in Phuket. The elephants were sensational!

11. Try the famous Phuket banana-nutella pancake and other flavours available. You are bound to feel that all-too-familiar tightening on your pant’s waistband after eating copious amount of this dangerous concoction but trust me, it’s worth the calories my friend.

I must always have my banana-nutella pancake when in Phuket. Try and I bet you’ll love it!

Banana-Nutella  pancake at  Surin Beach. December 2010.

Banana-Nutella pancake at Surin Beach. December 2010.

12. Dine at MK Gold (the duck with green noodles is an absolute must-try!) and watch a movie (or two) at Jungceylon Mall. On our recent trip alone, we watched Exodus and The Hobbit, and all because we love the cinemas here. The seats are perfectly plush and comfortable and the screen is huge!

Go for the duck dish, dimsum and steamboat ala carte. YUM! December 2014.

13. Get a facial treatment in any one of the facial centres in Jungceylon and get rid of those hard-to-eliminate blackheads and other skin impurities. They usually have a treatment package that already includes facial cleansing, blackheads and whiteheads removal, facial scrub and mask and a few minutes of soothing facial massage, ranging from 500 to 900 Bht.

14. Get all your skin and beauty swag at Boots. I love going to this shop because somehow I feel like I am getting a good deal when I buy my moisturisers, creams, oils, etc from here.

I can’t believe all these cost me only 56sgd! Boots loot, December 2014.

15. Try any one of the fish spas scattered all over Patong and get those dead skin and dirt nibbled away by these hungry little suckers. A caveat: If you are too sensitive to aggressive nibbling and gets tickled easily, you may want to rethink your decision. But try anyway ‘coz YOLO, right?

Ça chatouille! December 2012.

16. Indulge in a one-hour Thai massage on the beach. And a foot scrub, too, while you’re at it. The price has gone up a bit now to around 400-500 Bht for a one-hour session but still well worth it. Tips are not mandatory but encouraged.

Foot scrub and massage on the beach is always a great idea. Surin Beach, December 2014.

17. Explore Phuket City. Though there isn’t much here based on what we have experienced when we drove out to the city in the morning (the weekend night market seems to be a crowd-drawer from what we have read on the internet), we did, however, discover this quaint little café called The Circle Coffee Boutique where they serve delicious homemade cakes and pastries. Look it up when in town.

#Foodporn. December 2014.

18. Yoga anywhere but especially on the beach.

Surin Beach, August 2014.

Heart opener. Karon Beach, December 2014.

19. Soak in the sun. But don’t forget to slap on generous layers of sunblock for protection. Your skin will thank you for it later.

#Pinkythetravelingpig likes it hot. As do I. Surin Beach, December 2014.

20. And get one last massage at Let’s Relax. There’s a plethora of massage centres to choose from (dodgy or otherwise) but personally, we like going to Let’s Relax.

Nothing quite like a fantastic Thai message to cap our holiday. Let’s Relax Phuket, December 2014.

I’m fairly certain that even with these 20-odd things I have listed down, I (probably) barely scratched the surface because Phuket is just…larger-than-life, in many ways. And that’s probably why we can’t stay away for a long period of time. We may not be going back to Phuket anytime soon but we have Krabi on our March travel calendar. That’s going to be another epic beach trip for sure. Abangan!