Travel desk: Thai resorts, cycling the Van Gogh way and Philadelphia’s Magic Garden

News, deals and holiday inspiration


Five Thai resorts
Supersoakers, water balloons and all manner of spray bottles are the weapons of choice for Songkran, the world’s biggest water fight and a date in Thailand’s festival calendar. It takes place between April 13th and 15th and everyone gets involved. Here are five resorts where you can take shelter from the soaking, in luxury:

Anantara Resort & Spa, Golden Triangle
Overlooking the Mekong and right on the border with Burma and Laos, this is a stunning resort with one of the world’s most beautiful infinity pool.
Chiang Saeng;; rooms from €300

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai
A resort designed in the style of a palace, with sumptuous villas equipped with pianos and private saunas dotted about a 60-acre estate filled with gardens and rice paddies.
Chiang Mai;; rooms from €350

Six Senses Samui
An eco-friendly spa tucked away at the tip of a headland on the northeastern corner of Koh Samui, this is luxury at its most serene: private villas with sunken poolside pavilions, an organically built mud-spa with beehive-shaped treatment rooms and a private beach.
Bo Phut;; villas from €280

The Sarojin
A beautiful resort about an hour north of Phuket spread over 10 acres, right on a fabulous beach. Strategically separated pool villas and suites give guests a sense of splendid tropical isolation.
Khao Lak;; rooms from €150 in low season

Pimalai Resort & Spa, Ko Lanta
At the southern tip of Koh Lanta Yoi and part of a national park, a boutique resort built into the hillside with all the trimmings: beautifully designed villas, a great spa and an infinity pool. Direct speedboat connection to the mainland in dry season.
Kan Tiang Beach;; rooms from €226

Fancy being a hotel reviewer?
Hotel comparison site is inviting readers to become hotel testers, and is offering up to €80 for the gig. To counter the scourge of fake reviews that beset user-generated online sites, Trivago is introducing a mystery guest programme across 40 hotels in 10 cities in Ireland and the UK whereby testers sign up by checking into a hotel at the quoted rate and then filling in an extensive questionnaire (400 questions that can take 45 minutes). They will then receive between €30 and €80 directly into their accounts. The programme is already operating in 20 cities across Europe and has so far generated 20,000 reviews. To join up, see

Taking the piste
An English ski holiday company, MountainBase, has risked the wrath of the law by advertising a deal offering to pay parents’ fines levied by local authorities for taking their children skiing during the school term, when a ski break can be up to 50 per cent cheaper than during term breaks. Irish ski operators are reluctant to follow suit. Neal Collins of Topflight and, which between them have 45 per cent of the Irish ski market, says: “It’s a nice PR stunt. Families take their children on holidays during school term all the time, but doing something similar would be an irresponsible stance for us.”

Van Gogh country on a bicycle
Fancy exploring the Netherlands of Van Gogh from a bicycle saddle? The new Van Gogh Route weaves its way through 335 kilometres of Brabant countryside, where the painter was born and spent his early life.

It is divided into five separate itineraries, and cyclists can visit all the places associated with Van Gogh – from his birthplace at Zundert to where he sketched his first models at Etten – and cycle through the countryside that inspired him.

Cycling tourism is part of Dutch Tourism’s 2014 campaign, which is hardly surprising in a country with 18 million bikes and 32,000km of cycle-friendly track.

For more information see (Dutch only) or

€3 to spend a penny
Would you pay €3 to use a bathroom? Airpnp believes that enough of us will. Modelled on the successful accommodation website Airbnb, this New Orleans-based start-up has signed up private homeowners, restaurateurs, local businesses and bars to provide facilities for customer to use, at a charge.

The facilities are rated according to cleanliness, toilet paper thickness and other criteria. So far, only one Irish subscriber has signed up – an ‘entrepeeneurial’ soul in Smithfield – but it’s still early days. An App will also soon be available. See

Philadelphia’s Magic Garden
Philadelphia, sandwiched between Washington, DC and New York, is worth visiting for its art galleries, restaurants and tax-free shopping. One of its most interesting attractions is the Philadelphia Magic Garden, created by mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar over the past three decades. This outdoor sculpture garden spans half a block and is full of folk art statues, bicycle wheels, thousands of coloured glass bottles and Zagar’s handmade tiles. This month he celebrates his 75th birthday and the garden is hosting an exhibition of mosaic art that runs until April 20th.

Micro-Guide: Buenos Aires
STAY Magnolia Hotel (J Àlvarez 1746;; room from €200) Stunning boutique hotel in a perfectly restored 19th-century house.
EAT Parilla Peña (Rodríguez Peña 682; steaks around €10) Excellent midrange steakhouse where you can feast on the national dish.
DO Get a tango lesson and explore the best tango shows and milongas with the Narrative Tango Tour ( Magnolia Hotel (J Àlvarez 1746;; room from €200) Stunning boutique hotel in a perfectly restored 19th-century house.

Deals of the week
€679 AMALFI: Seven nights B&B at four-star Lidomare Hotel. Includes flights from Dublin to Naples, return transfers, taxes and charges. Based on two people sharing. Depart May; see
€975 CANADA: Three nights at three-star Best Western Primrose, Toronto and three nights at three-star Oakes Hotel, Niagara Falls. Includes flights from Dublin, taxes and charges. Book by March 30th for travel May 1st-June 15th; see
€1159 TOBAGO: Seven nights at the 4-star Bacelot Beach Club. Price includes flights. Book by March 31st; see

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