It’s that time of year again. The slightly weird and topsy-turvy time when retail collides with climate. At the time of writing, the UK has recently enjoyed something of an Indian summer (though I hear snow isn’t far behind) and here in Hong Kong it’s still pretty warm which means I’m still open-toed and bare sleeved, but, to be honest, I’m just a little bit over the Summer. Call me cuckoo, but when your Summer consists of 4 -6 months of fairly blistering heat and oppressive humidity, by the time Autumn officially rolls around and the shops are newly stocked with Autumn/ Winter loveliness, it is infuriating to concede that, except for a very few short weeks some time around January/February, most of what’s in store will just not work for this climate, but it doesn’t stop me wanting a piece of the action.
And so begins my annual yearning for knitwear and wool and all things snuggly. I’m clearly not the only person around here that feels this way because at the merest hint of a temperature drop, people can be seen fully Ugg’d and Moncler’d up as if in preparation for a huge snowfall, but when, in actual fact, it’s probably about 23 degrees Celsius. I applaud this blatant disregard for one’s own comfort, when form has won over function. But I know from bitter, personal experience that sticking to woollies whilst failing to layer adequately will result in the kind of ‘glow’ usually only seen on footballers at the end of a very long game, after extra time and penalties.
But this has never deterred me, it merely encourages me to seek other outlets for my woolly fixation and this year I am all about blankets and throws. For the record, a blanket officially differs from a throw on account of its size (usually just a tad larger than the mattress in order to cover a bed) and in that it usually consists of a single layer, and is usually woven. A throw is, technically, smaller, comes in a variety of knits or weaves and is more for individual snuggling. But you probably knew that already. Either way, to my mind, a blanket (or throw) is one of those purchases you probably make only occasionally – a bit like investment dressing – and therefore should last for generations and have an heirloom quality to it. It’s also a very good reason to help the economy, which also makes it the perfect gift and an entirely justifiable purchase for your own pleasure.
Here are a few that I am drooling over:
The ultimate investment piece, this fine Piece of Scottish craftsmanship ticks all the blanket boxes: Tweedy, traditional and tasseled, all that’s required is a roaring log fire and you’re good to go.
Johnstons of Elgin Lambswool Reversible Tweed Throw in ‘Spey’ 190cm x 140cm £130
The Swedes know a thing or two about keeping warm in the winter, and this lovely Blanket was inspired by Swedish folk art.
Primrose & Plum lambswool grey Bird Blanket 180cm x 130cm £130
Another Scandinavian warmer, this time from Finland. The Asteri wool blanket would work well in a modern scheme but hasn’t forgotten it’s blankety traditions with edging in blanket stitch. And what a great price.
Asteri Finnish Wool Blanket 130cm x 180cm £65
Sometimes all you need is a really great plain throw to add texture or an accent to a scheme and what’s fascinating about Laura’s gorgeous handwoven throws is that each comes with the kind of provenance that really celebrates everything that is brilliant and thriving about British craft. Made in Yorkshire, the wool is all sourced locally, sorted by Laura in her own garden to remove the “daggy bits” and is then cleaned, spun and dyed locally using only environmentally-friendly processes. Transport miles are kept to a minimum and local business are supported. The ultimate feel-good purchase in every way.
Laura’s Loom Howgill Collection Herringbone Throw 160cm x 200cm £125
I’m a huge fan of Donna Wilson’s quirky textiles but this stunning blanket, designed in conjunction with SCP, is something of a departure style-wise, but I am all over it, erm, like a blanket. The wool is all spun and dyed in England and Woven in Wales by a traditional mill that has been in the same family for years. It has the feel of a traditional Welsh Carthenni but with a more modern, geometric feel and is probably at the top of my blanket wish list.
Donna Wilson Nos Da Blanket 230cm x 200cm £299.99
Melin Tregwynt have been quietly revolutionising the aesthetics of traditional blanket weaving for years. Originators of the popular spotted motifs that can be seen everywhere now, this Welsh mill combines traditional methods with contemporary designs that are sure to convert even the most die-hard blanket haters.
Melin Tregwynt Luna Throw 150cm x 180cm £125
If you are looking for the ultimate baby gift then Woodchild’s exquisite vintage inspired fairisle knitted blankets must surely be the perfect solution? Practically perfect in every way, I am completely obsessed with this, and, as the Mother of two boys that is continually disappointed with boy-centric homewares and gifts, it satisfies my inner girly whims too.
Woodchild ‘Connor’ Baby Blanket 75cm x 100cm £89
Another great baby gift, these soft brushed cotton baby blankets eschew the twee and make a refreshing, modern change from pastels, and the red colourway works brilliantly for both sexes.
Cologne & Cotton Papoose Blanket 65cm x 110cm £15
This supersoft Shetland blanket is fun and would add a great pop of colour to a scheme- particularly a child’s bedroom- but for me it’s mostly about the green fairisle; a little bit vintage, I just can’t get enough of this type of pattern.
Atlantic Blanket Company Celtic Fringe Blanket 143cm x173cm £250
Welsh Carthenni blankets just feel so ‘right’ at the moment thanks to recent trends towards Ikats and folksy geometrics. I’ve been coveting them for years as they seem to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary so brilliantly. This rather lovely candy pink example from Blodwen is undeniably girly but utterly beautiful and I could happily redesign an entire room scheme just to incorporate it somehow.
Blodwen ‘New Traditional Welsh Carthenni’ Blanket 171cm x 264cm £300
One for the baby girls. The Matryoshka trend keeps running and running but I confess I am still charmed by these folksy little dolls. This Adorable luxurious baby blanket from the completely brilliant Studio Roam comes in a Cyclamen/Satin Pink colourway as standard but can be customised to a colour of your choice, at no extra cost, which makes for a really unique keepsake for a little one.
Studio Roam Baboushka Cashmere Blanket 80cm x 120cm £159.20
It’s not often you get a really big Hollywood actor show up in Hong Kong to perform Shakespeare on stage and, ordinarily, this wouldn’t have me automatically scrambling to the ticket hotline. But when the actor is Kevin Spacey as Richard III and the Director is Sam Mendes, you think ‘American Beauty’, and hope for similar magic. Sort of.
Actually what really sold me on this was because it is the very last production from The Bridge Project: a “three year transatlantic partnership” between The Old Vic (of which Spacey is Artistic Director), BAM ( Brooklyn Academy of Music) and Neal Street Productions (Mendes’ production company). I don’t pretend to be a thespian, and in fact had never seen Richard III, let alone read it. But with a very vague notion of the plot (mostly lifted from study notes on the internet) and a bunch of glowing reviews gleaned from the British press in my mind, it was clear this was not to be missed and so I was thrilled to get a couple of the few remaining available seats, right up front in the circle. Result.
I won’t pretend I didn’t struggle at times with the dialogue. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Shakespeare on the stage and, like most schoolchildren, I’ve even read a few plays too. However, coming to a tragedy like Richard III as a virgin, so to speak, I probably am not the first to assert that unless a) you are currently studying or have studied Shakespeare, in earnest, and of your own volition, at a level higher than GCSE or b) you are Kenneth Branagh; then in the context of a real, live theatrical performance you will understand only about 3/4 of what is spoken; less if the character happens to be facing the other way. Throw in a bunch of symbolic and allegorical references, which would have made perfect sense to Shakespeare’s contemporaries – but would go over most modern heads quicker than a F 16 Phantom at a flyover – and you may understand why, at times, I confess to having felt a little out of my depth. Which is why, occasionally, I allowed myself to get completely distracted by the visual aspects of the play. But I’ll get to that in a moment. You probably want to know what Kev was like.
To briefly sum up the plot: Clever, charming, verbose yet bitter, Machiavellian and power-hungry deformed youngest royal sibling with maternal issues and murderous tendencies, determines to take the throne at all costs. I think. Feel free to draw your contemporary political comparisons because, right now, it seems that despotic dictators seem to be very on trend, and of course, there were parallels aplenty. It was particularly fitting therefore that Mendes should choose a modern setting, with references to Mussolini and Hitler and obviously Gaddafi, juxtoposed with more contemporary politicos (Alastair Campbell perhaps?) expert in the art of spin.
Now clearly I’m no authority on Richard III, but if, like me, you’ve seen a few Kevin Spacey films, then you can probably appreciate why Mendes was keen to get him in calipers, strap on the prosthetic hump and watch him go. Spacey has totally cornered the market in fascinatingly complex and ruthlessly charming bad guys with a devilish sense of humour, unhindered by conventional morality ; and his exceptional resume surely seems merely a lengthy preparation for this part? In short, on paper at least, Spacey is a man born to play Richard III.
It’s probably obvious that I wouldn’t have built you up like this to say he was rubbish, and in fact you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming he was utterly brilliant, completely mesmerising, and every bit as charismatic, seductive and wickedly manipulative as I’d hoped. Oh and very funny. From the moment he took to the stage in the first scene to address the audience directly; alone, clearly inebriated, while slumped in a chair wearing a paper party hat – a Pathe style newsreel of his elder brother’s coronation projected behind him – it was clear he had entered into the part utterly, with mind body and spirit; the sheer physicality of which was a huge surprise. Aside from the verbal dexterity required to sucker in, terrify or simply bamboozle anyone in his path, here is a bloke with more than his fair share of physical deformities, and yet Spacey leapt and lurched around like a force of nature with the kind of explosive, dominating, masculine energy that made Richard’s inexorable rise utterly believable. He owned that stage and, damn it, he was sexy (please don’t get me started on the mirrored shades and army uniform). If I was Lady Anne and he’d pinned me to the wall, I’m pretty sure I’d have capitulated, despite the tiny detail of him murdering her husband. And therein lies the terrifying rub; how easily we can all be seduced, and at what cost? With the benefit of hindsight, history and distance we all, rightly, condemn warmongers and dictators, but, shift your perspective nearer to that vortex of power and it’s not completely unfeasible to imagine how easy it must be to, quite literally, lose your head.
But back to the more tangible stuff. I loved the set. Think stark, grey bleached oak floorboards and walls inset only with a series of doors, each carrying a chalked x to signify yet another condemned figure. A wonky table here, a bed there, each scene contained nothing but the barest props and probably should have made me think how clever Mendes and Set Designer Tom Piper were to strip things down quite so radically, but more often had me thinking how great this would look if translated to a Plain English kitchen.
Then, of course, the costumes. I’d read that the costumes were ‘modern’ and indeed, overall, they were, but the references actually spanned both ends of the previous century and the subtleties were brilliant. Queen Elizabeth 1st and Lady Anne both rocked a kind of ultra pared down gothicism reminiscent of early McQueen or Antonio Berardi but with Elizabeth firmly channeling the 1940’s whilst the younger Ann’s costumes had a racier, Flapper edge. The Duke of Clarence, Richard’s older brother, was all pre-war 30’s Aristo in cravats and smoking jackets, until brutally murdered, as was Richard’s distant and unloving Mother (with some rather lovely floaty cowl-necked numbers) who was clearly partly at the root of his issues (you can be sure a woman is to blame for something). There were obvious Jack-booted references to Richard’s increasingly militaristic ambitions, but with some Gaddafi and Amin-esque nuances (those mirrored shades and some seriously heavy epaulettes). But the most powerful visual metaphor employed had to be the suits; slick, sharp and unambiguous in their representation of modernity, they were an effective reminder that spin and manoeuvering are still at the heart of politics and power, and thus beware the wolf in a Savile Row suit.
Stand out performances? Well the entire cast were great, but the women were all fantastic. Haydn Gwynne perfect as the strong, clever, but ultimately helpless Queen Elizabeth and Gemma Jones (who played Bridget Jones‘ Mum in the movie) was a particular favourite as the old Queen Margaret, widow of dead King Henry IV, and Mother of murdered King Edward. She actually had few lines, bar to dole out embittered curses to Richard, but mostly would hover about each time a murder occurred like a disheveled harridan: an unwanted, scornful presence that had prophesied each of them. Some actors just exude gravitas and, like Spacey, she simply had a magic quality that owned the stage.
One unexpected, but quite compelling distraction was to gawp occasionally at the two percussionists. I don’t know how usual it is to accompany Shakespeare with live percussion but I thought it worked brilliantly, and I think this is where Spacey and Mendes’ filmic sensibilities probably came in to play; creating an additional atmospheric layer of tension more usually associated with movies and TV.
There was just one probably slightly irrational niggle. It should have come as no surprise that an Anglo-American cast would have a mixed bag of English and American accents. My problem was not of either but more when they occasionally converged in a sort of mid-Atlantic, strained hybrid. It drove me potty to hear otherwise fairly clipped attempts at ‘posh Shakespearean’ English, only to murder it with the likes of ‘Bucking-Ham‘ with the emphasis on the Ham like a deli offering. I realise this is acutely pedantic, but it’s the kind of thing that really bugs me, if not others. My husband muttered something about it being necessary for proper annunciation but to me it was about as excruciating as Hugh Grant trying to estuarise his native English Toff accent in About A Boy. For me, some of the more interesting characters were those that spoke with clear regional accents – from both sides of the pond – and they annunciated perfectly. That, and the bladder-slackening length (almost 3 1/2 hours) were minor gripes when it was clear we’d just witnessed what will undoubtedly go down as one of the great performances of this despicable, but ultimately fascinating, character.
If you’ve read my other posts about my recent two week stint on Koh Samui – alone with the kids- and prior to Daddy’s arrival, then you may appreciate just how much we appreciated his eventual arrival. The kids: whom, despite my best efforts to be entertaining and fun, clearly ranked me a poor second to Daddy. Me: well obviously because I’d missed his company, but if I’m slightly more honest, I simply yearned to lie horizontally in daylight hours because, as the sole steadying chaperone to a newly toddling child, I was developing the aches- and tan- of a hunchback. I was longing to take a shower without two other spacially unaware people sharing it with me, and more importantly, I needed to Spa. And so it was we excitedly greeted Daddy at the airport with
barely concealed ulterior motives huge smiles and enthusiastic hugs because we knew, from that point on, the holiday was about to get considerably better.
Blue skies all the way for Daddy
The very best part was getting our own wheels. Daddy was brave enough to negotiate the roads and so we hired a car. At around £25 per day for a standard 4 door Toyota Vios, car hire represents pretty good value in comparison to taxis. It gave us the freedom to really explore, provided a handy dumping ground for excess kit while out, and some much needed air con between excursions. Samui was totally without roads in the 1970’s when travellers first discovered its idyllic palm fringed beaches. There is now a very handy (from a motorist’s perspective) ring road circling the entire island, which is easily navigable in just a couple of hours. It’s not always pretty (what ring road ever is?) and you’ll find a lot of tat along the way, particularly along the developed East coast, but head West and things get considerably more rural, and the interior backdrop of dense, mountainous jungle is fairly dramatic and rather lovely. Out here you can still find the ‘real’ Samui; stretches of empty beaches, rustic wooden houses on stilts that exude genuine charm, and acres of as-yet-unspoiled coconut plantations and the occasional waterfall. It’s lush and green, but, importantly when you are traveling with kids, fairly compact and so you are never far from worldly necessities. Negotiating the dusty back roads can take some patience and nerve (and good suspension) but you will be rewarded with a glimpse into a far slower pace of life, and some good photo opportunities to share on Facebook with friends that holidayed in the rain back home.
Samui chic- you could do a lot worse than channel his look this Autumn:
But it was more sybaritic pleasures that were on my mind. Two weeks of kid-friendly activities had me wanting for a little more luxury and lot of pampering. I kicked off with a trip to The Sundays Sanctuary Resort and Spa set fairly high up a hill in forest behind a temple in Bophut. The spa isn’t big, or particularly fancy but is set in a lovely little jungle-like clearing, with steam room, outdoor plunge pool with little waterfall and open air massage area (Sala). I’m a total sucker for outdoor spas in hot countries. I can think of hardly anything better than lying with eyes closed listening only to the sounds of waves or trickling water and birdsong, with the occasional cool breeze wafting over me as I am scrubbed, wrapped and massaged into oblivion by smiling professionals. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take an indoor massage too, but I usually find I am too easily distracted by the music, invariably played at the wrong level, and always on a loop; whereupon I find myself playing silent ‘name that tune’ to pan-piped versions of Greensleeves or Dido. It’s not entirely relaxing.
Admittedly these outdoor affairs have their distractions too. You will often find yourself separated from other patrons by a mere curtain. Sounds awful but I can assure you, once you’ve all settled into your own personal state of massage Nirvana, you completely forget that anyone else even exists, unless of course they are French and taking great lengths to explain, very loudly, in broken English to the Thai Massage Therapist, that they have back problems. At one point, mid way through my own treatment, I was quietly enjoying a refreshing and delicious cup of ginger tea. Suddenly a largish black cocoon-like object fell from the roof and landed in the lap of the Masseuse who promptly squealed and jumped away. Naturally I inquired as to its origin which, to my mind, was still firmly in the ballpark of chrysalis/butterfly . She smiled and said “No, Gecko poo”. Eyes widening, I inquired further as to its possible size whilst eying the rafters for Geckos with crocodile-like proportions. She shrugged and held her fingers about 5 or 6 inches apart. Now I probably don’t need to point out the mental calculations that were going on in my brain but that’s like us doing a poo about a foot and a half long. Either way, it was all slightly disturbing but, most of all, it was definitely messing with the zen thing I had going on. I laughed it off, however, and tried to lighten the moment by asking if she felt lucky. She stared at me blankly and so I went on to explain that in the UK, if a pigeon poos on you, it’s considered lucky. Her English vocabulary, whilst fairly good, probably only centred on spa-related talk and so this was now a little out of the box . So she smiled at me in the benevolent and forgiving way that Thai people do, whilst eying me with the slightly incredulous and irritated look of a woman who had just been pood on by another creature, and replied with a flat, “No”. At that point the Frenchman cleared his throat and signaled the end of the conversation. I settled back to my treatment and tried hard not to think about what lay above.
And so over the following couple of weeks I mixed it up with inexpensive 300 baht massages at walk-in places (Chaweng has some great options) and the occasional posher treatment at nicer resorts. In truth, it’s hard to get a bad massage in Thailand and there is often little difference in the quality of the treatment itself, it often comes down to setting and attention to detail. I’ve tried all kinds of treatments and i’m not at all keen on overly faddy things like gold leaf facials but a new one this time, and the one I’ve gone absolutely ga ga over, was the Luk Pra Kob massage at the Eranda Spa. A traditional hour long Thai massage is followed by a further hour long massage with hot compresses filled with Thai herbs. It was quite literally two hours of utter bliss and particularly recommended for aching muscles after sport, as the hot compresses literally seem to melt away deep tissue aches and pains. Best massage ever and ideal for ‘toddler back’. It’s outdoors (but with indoor rooms too), with a steam cave and cascading plunge pool and the hillside setting, high up in the trees looking out to sea, is breathtaking. Best of all, it’s very reasonably priced. And no Gecko poo.
For reasons of etiquette it was tricky to get a photo of a spa, so here’s some squid:
I hesitate to venture the opinion that a Thai curry must surely have overtaken the Indian version in the hearts of the British? Strangely, I think I barely ate a curry the entire time I was in Koh Samui, though that’s not to say there wasn’t a delicious abundance of the stuff but for me it was all about the seafood. The simple places were preferable and one of our favourite meals was a lunch at Bang Por beach; a low key, virtually empty stretch of narrow beach on the North West coast. There are a few well regarded seafood restaurants dotted along a short stretch of the ring road. They offer few frills (think basic kitchens and plastic tables and chairs) but who needs linen napkins when you have great fresh food, with the sea just a few feet away and the sand under your toes?
Nothing wrong with a bit of Formica when the grub is as good as this:
For a slightly more upmarket, and even more idyllic beachside experience we loved the fabulous Five Islands restaurant in a totally unspoiled part of the island where local fisherman beat the sea with sticks to encourage fish into their nets then use Water Buffalo to haul in the catch. Diners go to catch the gorgeous sunsets and for the stunning views out to the Angthong National Marine Park. We arrived late afternoon and had the beach to ourselves, save for a Buffalo and a couple of other diners. It was magical, and had the kids not reached meltdown stage we might still be there now.
From the sublime to the apparently ridiculous: Buffet Brunches to be specific. We’d been told that for some, Sundays in Samui was all about brunch at one of two resorts: Nikki Beach on the West coast and Beach Republic on the East. The marketing from both is clearly aimed at everything we aren’t: young, thin and childless, with a penchant for champagne fueled ‘sexy’ Ibiza-style ‘fun’. And if you aren’t entirely certain of your suitability for such resorts, there are helpful posters and ads all around the Island featuring very young, very thin, and very ‘sexy’ girls in suitably microscopic bikinis to guide you. It all sounded excruciatingly try-hard and yet I had it on very good authority that we should take the kids and go. In truth there was a tiny part of me (the part that used to love dancing till 6 am, though never in a bikini) that secretly wanted to see what it was all about. And so I squeezed into the Liz Hurley, brushed my hair, and we headed off to Lipa Noi to hang with the beautiful people.
Beach Republic. Same same but different:
En route we decided to make a small detour to visit a temple: Wat Khunaram, ostensibly so our eldest could see something cultural, but if I’m honest, to see the mummified body of a deceased Monk, Loung Pordaeng, who died nearly 30 years ago in the meditation position. Before his death he requested that, after death, should his body not decompose, he be kept in an upright coffin at the temple to inspire future generations to follow the path of Buddhism. In a slightly disconcerting, but ultimately practical gesture, once his eyes had sunken into his sockets, the other monks had thoughtfully placed sunglasses on him. I’d seen pictures and, I have to admit, they were some funky shades he was rocking and cemented the idea in my mind that this was something I had to see.
We turned up and ascertained we were the only visitors. The temple buildings are charming and refreshingly ungarish, but in truth, there isn’t much to see and there wasn’t a (living) soul in sight. We were slightly surprised therefore to suddenly see a real live Monk sitting cross-legged, apparently guarding the entrance to the building housing the dead Monk. He seemed to be in quiet contemplation, or asleep; either way we figured our presence would be a little disturbing and began heading back to the car. The Monk immediately beckoned us over, however, and seemed genuinely pleased of the company all the while exuding that serene-yet-slightly-intimidating zen thing that Monks do. He then gestured to us to stand before a large urn containing hundreds of unlit incense sticks, and before we could make a polite retreat, handed each of us a fresh stick. I could just about see the dead monk in a case behind the urn, but between gold leaf applied to the glass and the incense sticks, the view wasn’t great. It was clear however, that he was no longer wearing the shades, and in fact, for a man who had been dead for almost 30 years, actually looked a little better than the real live Monk who now had us sitting cross legged on the floor in front of him. Mostly, however, I was finding it hard to think about anything because beads of sweat were forming on my brow wondering what horrors my kids would inflict upon this moment and at what point the youngest would poke his incense stick into the Monk.
Miraculously, however, both sat utterly still while he proceeded to gently, and silently, bless each of us. He finished up by tying little fluorescent woven cotton bracelets around our wrists (quite deftly in my case as it is forbidden for a Monk to touch, or be touched, by a woman) and sat back serenely to smile and coo silently over our youngest. It was all quite unexpected, yet strangely humbling, and we did indeed ‘feel’ genuinely really blessed. After a discreet donation we quietly mumbled reverential Basil Faulty style thank you’s, in the way that only awkward non-religious English people could, whilst simultaneously each dragging a child a little too fast as we walked backwards all the way to the car. The Monk simply smiled and waved benevolently in the way you do with half wits . Once in the safety of the car we were able to take a more relaxed look at the previous events, and reflect on our own spirituality, or possible lack thereof. My eldest however, had other ideas. “Yes Mummy, but tell me more about the dead guy”. Chips and blocks you may say and so, with Damien Hirst’s iconic instillation in mind, we spent the rest of the journey attempting to gently discuss the Physical Impossibility of Death, and what possibly lies beyond, to a very excited four year old who had just seen the corpse of a dead Monk in a glass box. And it wasn’t even lunch time.
It may surprise you to learn that Nikki Beach was a blast. For the second time that day we were given a bracelet to wear, only this one indicated more earthly pleasures; free reign on the buffet (which was excellent by the way). And no, the irony was not lost on us. From the moment we arrived, we and our kids, were treated fabulously by the utterly charming and mercifully unpretentious staff. The decor was actually pretty chic, but the vibe was laid back and better still, there were no stick insects dancing sexily in bikinis; rather a mixed bag of very normal, very friendly family groups and couples just doing their own thing. Ok so there was one couple who had clearly taken the marketing to heart who posed and preened so self-consciously, it bordered on ridiculous. But they were the exception, and admittedly pretty funny. The music was great (in my book you can’t really go wrong with early 80’s grooves and a bit of Bobby Brown). Best of all: my youngest fell asleep for over two blissful hours which meant Mummy got to eat and enjoy a couple of glasses of the bubbly stuff in peace. It was if the stars in the heavens had aligned perfectly, and someone ‘up there’ was smiling upon us. And who knows, thanks to our little day-glo bracelets, maybe they were? God works in mysterious ways, so I’m told.
Overall, Samui has been a great location for a far flung family holiday (even if it’s not so far flung to us). It’s less developed with slightly poorer infracstructure than Phuket, and in truth isn’t as ‘grown up’ (read: over-developed) but for me there’s no comparison in terms of natural beauty, particularly when you factor in the stunning Angthong Marine park and direct neighbour, Koh Phagnan, which are both easy day trips. There’s definitely more for kids to do on Samui and there is a rustic charm still in evidence despite the inexorable push of development. English is widely spoken and aside from the occasional power outage to remind you that you aren’t in Kansas anymore, there is every facility you could wish for (but do be careful what you put down the toilet thanks to Samui’s delicate sewage system). Some people prefer to stick to more familiar surroundings, closer to home, and usually I’d agree; but if you’re considering a great escape from all the doom and gloom in the UK or indeed anywhere, you could do a lot worse than heading to Koh Samui.
Here’s a few suggestions for things to see and do:
Eat : It goes without saying that you will not be left wanting for delicious food as there are restaurants absolutely everywhere, from the very modest to show-stoppers in dramatic locations. A must is the seafood (i’m a big fan of Pomfret) and don’t be afraid to try street snacks from one of the local sellers, including pancakes; the subject of which was made (in)famous by a certain guidebook’s sniffy references to the hoards of backpackers following the ‘Banana Pancake Trail’. For a change from Thai, we loved Ad Hoc : A chic beachside restaurant between Bang Rak and Bophut serving really delicious and authentic Italian food with homemade pasta and a decent wine list. Run by a lovely couple- preppy Minnesotan Tim, and his chilled Japanese wife, Yuri- they barely batted an eyelid when our eldest threw up on a chair and tried to (lovingly) strangle their cat. Forget crayons and ice cream factories, that’s what I call a truly child-friendly restaurant.
Spa – from the uber posh Six Senses or Four Seasons to simple places next to Bungalow operations on the beach, you are never more than a few paces away from a massage place or spa. There are too many to list but my favourite was the aforementioned Eranda Herbal Spa up in the hills in North Chaweng. I also heard very good things about Tamarind Springs down south in Lamai. Many offer complimentary hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Explore – hire a moped or car and drive around the island. Head west around Lipa Noi for the real Samui with empty beaches and great sunsets. The interior is mountainous and covered in dense jungle-like forest and there are lookout points for stunning views out to Sea. There are several waterfalls which you can trek to or take a four wheel drive tour. Elephant trekking seems to be a big draw though I’m never entirely comfortable with that kind of thing, but bizarrely I contemplated taking our eldest to one of the famous local Buffalo fights as he became utterly obsessed with the bovine creatures, which can be spotted everywhere. I was told the bouts last seconds and end with no serious injuries, after a bit of rutting, when the first one to get bored walks away. Thankfully I thought better of it and we stuck to chasing chickens.
Big Buddha – has to be done if newish built temples are your thing (though I confess I did it the first time around on my initial trip in 2001 and didn’t feel the need to do it again this time). Standing 12 meters high and visible from outer space..I’m kidding. It’s actually visible from a few kilometres away and is incredibly gold but makes for quite a particularly striking landmark as you fly in and worth at least one visit.
Koh Phagnan – Samui’s neighboring island, situated off the north coast. Famous for the rave-y ‘Full Moon’ parties, but don’t let that put you off. I first visited 10 years ago when there was only one road and the only means to get there was on a traditional longtail boat across open sea from which I arrived soaked and deafened. A daily Catamaran does a far more civilized job in just half an hour and so day trips with non-swimming juveniles are entirely possible, and there are a smattering of high-end resorts should you wish to stay a while in style. I’m pleased to report that more roads and inevitable development hasn’t ruined the place, in fact it’s really very charming and maintains a genuinely low key backpacker-y vibe with stunning beaches, lush interior (much of which is protected) and spectacular views. We shared a Songthaew (open-backed pick-up converted to take passengers like a taxi) with chatty traveller types: a couple of Irish professional tap dancers – en route to a vegetarian retreat – and a Korean/German Christian Pastor- who was celebrating passing his studies 6 months early – and headed to Haad Rin for lunch and to hang out on the beach. It was just like old times in so many ways, which pleased me immensely.
Angthong Marine Park – alas our nerves weren’t up to a boat trip given our youngest is just 14 months old but it has to be a must-do for anyone else and there are various tour operators offering options to this stunning archipelago of limestone islands situated just to the North West of Samui, or flash some cash for a private boat charter. Fish, dive, snorkel, visit caves and deserted beaches or see the stunning turquoise lagoon in the middle of Ko Mae Ko (Mother Island).
Fisherman’s Village in Bophut. My favourite ‘touristy’ bit. A bustley, vibey little area next to the beach and full of character with great little restaurants in traditional shophouses (thanks in no small part to a small contingent of French expats who have opened businesses there, and who are also responsible for the best bakeries on the island, naturellement). Every Friday night the place really comes alive as traffic is banned and it becomes a ‘Walking Street’ with lots of stalls selling knick-knacks, clothes, snacks and cocktails. It’s busy, but great fun and very family- friendly. The Hansar is a boutique hotel situated right next to the beach at one end, with a great open-air bar – perfect for Sundowners.
Nathong – the main town and probably ignored by most tourists unless passing through to the ferry piers. We liked the slightly shabby- but charming- workaday feel and the (admittedly faint) whiff of 50’s Havana about it, particularly the traditional shophouses along the main street housing everyday items along with obligatory tourist paraphernalia.
The lone stint in Thailand with the kids has been fun, but hard work. Not quite travelling in the backpacker sense, but more than a holiday; I’d like to think our time here on Koh Samui, alone without Daddy, was really almost a lesson in how to live a more pared down life, without so much stuff. Actually what this translates to is a lesson in being Chief Entertainments Officer for Mummy, with not nearly enough alcohol. Mid-range holiday villas generally do not come with bedrooms full of toys and satellite TV with a full package of kids’ channels. They are also remarkably non kid-proof (think stone floors, glass tables and sliding doors to pools only a few feet away, not to mention the steep wooden stairs in ours). Keeping two boys under the age of five (the youngest just 14 months old) occupied has been quite the challenge, and very different to doing it in the safe surroundings of home, with all the familiar comforts and routine distractions to occupy them.
The pool and grounds provided plenty of fun, and the iPad (don’t leave home without one) and a few cheap plastic toys purchased from the local supermarket bought me a little more time, but the reality was clear; we needed to get out and do stuff or the kids would turn feral. I’d tried Mummy-friendly activities such as pottering around the delightful Fisherman’s village in Bophut, but, for some reason, the boys failed to share my enthusiasm. Then there were my attempts at al fresco lunches at low-key beachside restaurants which, at best, without Daddy on hand to help corral, resulted in a table of barely touched food and invariably saw me dripping in sweat and bellowing at the eldest to stay in the shallows whilst simultaneously saving the youngest from repeatedly kamikaze-ing out of a high chair; at worst: a young, toned Italian tourist in very tiny trunks appeared from the beach to ask the entire restaurant who ‘owns’ the small boy who had fallen down wooden steps to the beach and was lying face down, crying in the sand, because he’d injured his eye. Oh the shame (despite telling him numerous times not to play on the bloody stairs), and so, with a weary admission of ‘ownership’ I hauled him up to see he had indeed grazed his eye but, thankfully, was mostly just a little shaken.
It was clear however, that some things were just beyond my capabilities and I was going to have to put aside my own expectations of what constitutes a holiday and should embrace the inevitable – days filled with animal shows, water parks, indoor play rooms, and a particular favourite: football golf (yup- like mini golf but with footballs). A positive was that we found a regular taxi driver who became something of a personal chauffeur, and buddy for my eldest. Whilst not particularly cheap in comparison to other costs here, taxis will take you to your destination and more often than not, will wait and take you home again – all for an agreed price. The more intrepid hire cars or mopeds and drive themselves, but neither were suitable options for me given I am essentially a non driver (though I have passed my test).
The Samui I first visited 10 years ago was firmly geared towards the needs of low-budget travellers and that’s still clearly in evidence in some of the main touristy (and sometimes downright naff) areas such as Chaweng and Lamai on the East coast – but now the vibe in those places is more low-budget package tourist than outright backpacker (though the beaches are lovely and worth visiting). Things are changing, however, with an influx of luxury and boutique resorts such as W, Four Seasons and Six Senses on the North and West Coasts, and this has raised the bar too in terms of dining options and there is now a slew of destination restaurants touting ‘fine dining’. Some might say that this is ruining the charm, but not I. That’s not to say coast-to-coast luxury resorts are my thing either; rather an eclectic mix of shabby and chic, if you like, and Samui, whilst some way from being the ‘new Bali’, is displaying a growing sophistication which has encouraged more families and couples with more discerning tastes. This means, unusually for a tropical island destination, the options for family friendly activities isn’t too bad (though you’ll need to be realistic in your expectations when it comes to animal-related attractions, Longleat they are not). The best thing about travelling with children in Thailand (and particularly babies) is that you’re never made to feel as though you are second class citizens. Quite the contrary, a baby will be treated like a rock star, and by default, you become their entourage who can bask, very comfortably, in their reflected glory. It has never failed to amaze me how Asian people of either sex, and literally any age, will coo genuinely over your kids. Try walking into a 7-11 near you with a 14 month old who wants to poke the 22-year-old (male) assistant. At best, you will be met with embarrassment and barely concealed revulsion; Go East and you will be met with smiles and clucks, and “BeeBee!!”. It’s wonderful.
And so we settled into a routine of sorts: chilled mornings by the pool followed by activities in the afternoon. With more judicious planning (i.e later in day to coincide with afternoon nap time for little one) we even managed the occasional lunch and, latterly, the odd dinner. Sure there were meltdowns and hissy fits (me) and I can’t overstate enough how tricksy it can be to keep two young, super-energetic boys from doing damage to themselves (or others)- a bit like herding cats – but my kids did not want for fun, and loved the barefoot life spotting buffalo and chasing chickens. It is entirely possible to holiday alone with young kids on a tropical island, but you need an inordinate amount of patience and must be prepared to just get out there and get on with it; and in truth it’s less of a holiday for the grown-up and more about effective troop management. But if you should ever find yourself in Koh Samui with kids (with or without a Significant Other) here are a few suggestions for things to do:
Coco Splash Water Park – owned and run by a lovely French couple, this outdoor park, with slides and a jacuzzi pool is small but lots of fun, particularly for younger kids. They serve great Thai and western food and grown-ups can book a massage in one of the Salas (Cabanas). You may even get to meet the resident bunny rabbit: Coco, who hops around uncaged.
Fairways Indoor Soft Play room – Great for when your little ones need a break from the sun, or if it’s raining. With bouncy castles, climbing frames and slides, there’s also a nice cafe downstairs with free wi-fi serving decent coffee and food. 18 months to 8 years old.
Crocodile Farm and Snake Show – possibly worth an hour or so if you really need to touch a snake or get relatively close to mostly fairly docile-looking crocs. There are a few bored monkeys in cages too. Situated just round the corner from Fairways right near the airport.
Football Golf – touted as a ‘unique’ alternative to mini golf and set in an, admittedly nice, coconut plantation, this is a popular distraction for family groups and particularly the big male ones. My boys loved it even if the little one preferred to get in the holes. Round includes a free beer or soft drink.
Mini Golf International – no footballs here but set on the hillside in the grounds of a private house in Cheong Mon, this makes for a pleasant hour or so.
Samui Go-Kart – Kids can ride in a double kart with an adult and you have the option of 45 or 75kph max speed. Hairy stuff but great fun if speed is your thing.
Samui Aquarium and Tiger Zoo – the aquarium isnt too bad, with plenty of weird and wonderful specimens – the shark tanks were pretty cool and you could feed turtles – but you’d be correct in assuming the Tiger side has a somewhat Soviet-era feel to it, though they do appear healthy and well taken care of.
Paradise Park – lots of people recommended this place to me, and the setting – high up in the hilly jungle-like interior looking out to sea and the Anthong Marine Park- is breathtaking. The grounds are also pretty nice and there’s even an infinity pool should you fancy a dip. I just had a really hard time with the way some of the animals (beautiful parrots and gibbons) were tethered (chained) and at the mercy of the throngs of tourists who wanted to touch and take endless photos of them. This wasn’t to say they didn’t appear well fed and cared for, but it just ruined the whole thing for me. Unfortunately my eldest adored the place and particularly the deer enclosure and petting area containing bunnies, guinea pigs and albino hedgehogs.
Elephant Trekking – there are various opportunities to get close to elephants (many as part of a 4 wheel drive ‘safari’ into the jungle-like interior) but this was a tad too intrepid for us with a 1 year old so perhaps better suited to slightly older kids, but seemed to be pretty popular.
The Beach – duh…actually I always find the beach rather stressful with very young children who want to eat sand and repeatedly dive in to the sea, all while refusing to wear a hat in often blistering conditions. So we preferred to time it around the afternoon nap when we could settle at a beachside Thai restaurant and our eldest could run about while we ‘supervised’ with delicious, inexpensive grub and an ice cold beer or two. Perfect.
My final post will have the benefit of Daddy’s presence which means Mummy gets to share some of the more grown-up things Samui has to offer.
I’m back in Koh Samui; an island I first visited ten years ago, as part of a brief, but fairly impromptu lone sabbatical to Thailand during a stressful time in my life. I’d read Alex Garland’s The Beach, seen the film and needed a change of scenery, and some fun. This was back in the days of cheap long haul flights and a weak Thai Baht meant you could live pretty well on very little once there. The added lure of exotic, palm-fringed beaches and chaotic towns providing a frisson of danger, cemented the decision to throw caution to the wind and take off on an adventure. I felt ever-so-slightly reckless but incredibly brave and, landing in the madness of Bangkok was every bit as exciting and exhilarating as I’d anticipated; a vibrant sensorial pummeling. It was all completely intoxicating to me, and so, with the help of some rather fabulous transvestites selling rocket-fueled cocktails from a psychedelic camper van on the Khao San Road, I started as I meant to go on, and got suitably intoxicated.
All of that seems an entire lifetime away and, indeed, would have seemed inconceivable at the time to think of me now; married with two young boys and living only a hop, skip and a jump away from Thailand. At just over two hours flight, however, Koh Samui is – to an expat like me (in terms of distance at least) – what Spain, Italy or The Algarve is to sun-starved Brits. And so, in a moment of madness, I decided to apply a slightly reverse-escapist logic in order to flee the oppressive heat of Hong Kong in August; by preceding a planned family holiday here (with Daddy) with two weeks of me flying solo with the boys in a villa (actually a less glamorous sounding mews house, in a small private development with shared pool, but very nice nonetheless). Ordinarily the thought of holidaying alone with kids on a tropical island wouldn’t be so daunting if I was staying in a hotel, but the key words to note here are ‘self’ and ‘catering’. That means no room service, restaurant, concierge or babysitting to provide a welcome respite or extra pair of hands; when the eyes you already don’t have in the back of your head, just aren’t enough.
I’d barely left the airport when the first curveball was served- my phone wasn’t picking up a local network. I realised it was locked to my Hong Kong provider and was therefore useless until I could get it unlocked and purchase a local Sim card. To be incommunicado in Thailand with two young children is a little unsettling. The issue was compounded by our location. We’d arrived at night so it was tricky to ascertain exactly where we were in relation to anything but it was clear we weren’t actually near to anything much at all, other than other houses. Daylight confirmed that we were, in fact, situated down a quiet residential lane – in Bang Rak on the North coast- with a couple of other small villa rental developments, and local housing which consists of rustic wooden cottages and modest bungalows amid swaying coconut palms. All very picturesque, but we needed supplies and not a taxi in sight and the couple of housekeeping staff milling around spoke no English and were little help. In fact to find a taxi would actually require a 15 minute walk to the main drag along dusty, pot-hole ridden roads with no pavements, amid throngs of mopeds and 4 wheel drives which appear, seemingly, out of nowhere. Throw in some mangey wildlife consisting of stray cats, dogs and chickens to line the way and you may see why I began to question my decision to brave it alone with a 14 month old in a pushchair and a 4 year old who hates walking.
Nice gaff..but a bit of a schlep from the main road:
I decided that ‘wing it’ was the only way forward and packed the children up, took a deep breath and we all marched out into the searing Thai sun to negotiate all of the above. Needless to say, we didn’t fall into any pot holes, get mauled by rabid dogs or even (astonishingly) get run over, though it did (and still does) get a little hairy at times out on those roads. Actually I was completely thrilled with the fact we were somewhat off the beaten track and could see right off the bat that this would be a very pleasant location and very much the ‘real’ Thailand.
My eldest was thrilled with the local wildlife (note this was at the very end of our lane which was well Tarmac’d, things actually got worse as you headed onto the road proper):
Eventually we got to the main road where we took a quick detour to check out Bang Rak beach. It was Rubbish:
I am, of course, kidding. It’s a peach of a beach actually. And so, feeling pretty happy that we had such a nice beach close(ish) by, we then flagged down a taxi which took us to what has become something of a routine trip; Tesco Lotus. Probably more ‘Lotus’ than the Tesco we know and love, but has what you need and a great little food court with Thai grub that is perfect for take-away dinner back at the house. I found a chap who unlocked the phone and gave me contact with the world. My eldest discovered Swenson ice cream and, to my slight horror (which later turned to prayers of thanks when I was tearing my hair out for distractions) one of those noisy little arcade places full of driving and shooting games and airplane rides. This definitely wasn’t the chicest of starts, but it was the beginning of our little adventure and, once the adrenaline levels had dipped somewhat, I realised we were going to be just fine. All I needed to do next was figure out how we were going to fill our days..
I’ll be posting more from sunny Koh Samui and my adventures in lone- parent vacationing over the next week or so.
I do not have a garden. Very few people in Hong Kong do. Space is at a premium, property prices are eye-watering and it’s so darn hot for most of the year, you’re finding reasons to scuttle inside to the air conditioning rather than get busy with the pruning shears. This wasn’t always the case. When we first moved here, we had a very pleasant little garden and I even – ludicrously, given it’s petite proportions – employed a gardener. This wasn’t entirely because I am a lazy expat wife and useless with plants (I would kill mould if I could get it to grow), it was a necessity. You see one of the drawbacks to living in a virtually garden-free city, is that it is almost impossible to buy a lawnmower. If you have outside space, you either pave it, or employ a man-with-a-mower. We had lawn, and Jun was ‘the man’.
Fast forward a few years, and several moves later, not only has the garden gone, but so has a balcony. I have come to the conclusion that, out here, gardens are only good for snakes and mosquitoes (we had a particularly delightful nest of deadly pit vipers in aforementioned garden) and balconies are only for old (dead) Christmas trees, bicycles and the occasional crafty ciggy. They are not for sitting on and they are NOT, in my hands anyway, a vertiginously placed oasis of green in a concrete jungle.
However, in the spirit of female contrariness, I have decided now is the time to add more green into my life. So I will bring the outside in. I will do it in style and, more importantly, in a way that is easy to maintain and can’t be too easily mutilated by the small, destructive paws of a toddler. I will make a Terrarium.
For those not familiar with the concept (or too young) they are essentially a ‘garden-in-a-jar’ (although any suitable see-thru vessel will do). All the rage in the 70’s, these kitsch, miniature biospheres fell out of favour. Presumably when people realised that not only did they did have a tendency to look a bit naff, but that the containment factor was actually a bit of a hindrance; too much water and your succulents resemble a primordial mush, too little and you quickly acquire a post-apocalyptic desert-scape. Both equally tricky looks to pair with a macrame table cloth.
Seems they’re slowly making a bit of an ironic (of course) comeback on both sides of the Atlantic. Recently The Telegraph and NY Times ran pieces devoted to their revival and i’ve noticed them popping up on design blogs over the last few years ( Design*Sponge featured a brilliant ‘how-to’ video from Tassy of Sprout in Brooklyn, NYC, you can view here).
Today’s Terrarium lovers, it seems, aren’t afraid to inject a little humour and originality into their creations (miniature fornicating gnomes anyone?) but my favourites are the chic, modern arrangements, particularly the hanging variety. I also love the trend for repurposing antique and vintage glassware such as apothecary jars and cloches, which I think work best when you are aiming for a more,ahem, ‘romantic’ look.
I was torn. Much was dependent upon the kinds of plants I could get my hands on. After a surprisingly successful trip to my local supermarket for miniature plants, and one to Ikea for some pebbles, sand and suitable receptacles, I decided I would try both looks. But first I needed guidance, and I implore you now, do not even attempt to try this at home without first checking out the rather marvelous blog of Tovah Martin.
I quickly realised, however, that my plants were probably still a tad too big, and I couldn’t get one of the essential components: charcoal (helps to absorb yukky bacterial spores and any gunk that might fester and ruin your plantings). But impatient as I am, I decided to roll with what I had and let fate decide. Here is my ‘wing it big-time guide’ to planting a Terrarium:
Step one: add drainage course (ie pebbles- about one inch, or half that if you are me and run out of pebbles).
Step two: add charcoal (or greenish dyed sand from Ikea if you are me- note the sand has completely covered the pebbles. Hmmph).
Step three: add soil (I kind of got this bit right but you need a special cactus/succulent mix and I think a couple of mine fall under this category, so the multi-purpose soil mightn’t go down quite so well with them). The pebbles and soil should fill your container by about a third (or halfway if you are applying my rules).
Step four: add your plants (try not to lacerate and shed all the really nice leaves when placing into the container, like I did). If leaves etc do shed on to the soil, remove – the last thing you need is for your hard work to become a study in decomposition. (Oh and try not to lacerate the last very few remaining good leaves when rescuing the other previously dislodged/lacerated leaves).
Step five: admire your
stumps handiwork. I give this one about a 6 out of 10, but it works in the space, and looks a tad more retro than I expected, so I’m happy. (ah yes, and Instragram helps a lot).
Now I would be lying if I said I didn’t think this was more of a success. In fact I would say it’s a TOTAL garden-party-in-a-vase 🙂
The great thing about this little project was how relatively easy it was to achieve fairly satisfying results. If, like me, you have little patience, then a Terrarium presents a pleasingly quick-hit opportunity to impress with “and here’s one I made earlier”. All that remains to be seen is how long I can keep their contents alive. Place your bets ladies and gentlemen….
I came late to the pom pom party. In fact had I not been drooling regularly over kids’ room tours on ohdeedoh and various style blogs, they may yet have passed me by. But slowly I noticed these ethereal tissue paper bundles floating in some very chic nurseries and once I’d ascertained exactly what they were, and how to get them, I was on a mission. It seems that i’ve missed a trick because they have, in fact, become something of a phenomenon in crafty circles since their ‘invention’ by Martha Stewart some time around 2006. Whether or not this is entirely true, Her Royal Homeliness does have a knack for taking a craft trend and giving it a contemporary spin and if the images on the MS website don’t tempt you then you will probably never be a convert (you can buy them via the MSL Amazon store here)
They’re surprisingly easy to make too. You can follow her little tutorial here:
You need a pack of tissue paper (12 sheets should give you nice full poms), some florist’s wire and monofilament or ribbon to hang.
1. Stack your tissue. Fold the tissue, accordion style, in 1 1/2″ wide folds, creasing the folds.
2. Fold a length of florist’s wire in half. Slip over middle of folded tissue, twist. Trim the ends of the tissue (rounded or pointed depending on preference).
3. Turn on side and pull a layer at a time up and out, pulling away from centre.
4. Tie monofilament to wire for hanging
Of course, I realise any DIY bride, party and wedding planner worth their salt can whip up a roomful of these frothy little beauties blindfolded, but I wanted a more permanent reason to use them. So, as I’m a sucker for anything that will give the decor in my blah rented apartment in Hong Kong a bit of oomph without a) spending too much and b) infuriating the landlord, I determined that I needed to work them in to my own home. Hubby quickly vetoed any area he uses regularly (‘but surely they would look more masculine in monochrome shades?!’) So that left the kids’ rooms and the perfect opportunity to indulge my pom pom fixation, because they are both still at the age where MUMMY DEAREST KNOWS BEST mwah ha ha. So the baby (boy) got the pom poms and all my husband could say to the contrary was “you DO know he’s a boy, right?”. Pah.
Here they are in situ:
I realise my primping leaves a lot to be desired but this would be a pretty dull corner of the room without the poms don’t you think? Not too girly?
More pom pom loveliness (not mine by the way):
There are plenty of online stores devoted to poms (try Etsy) and many have a wide selection of sizes and colours and you generally choose between rounded or pointed petal ends. The more layers of tissue, the fuller your finished poms. They come folded and ‘unbloomed’ with wire, or ribbon, for hanging. It will probably take you a tad longer than you expect to get the knack (my tip: don’t pull too gently, be confident – fast and random is better) but I can assure you; a fully bloomed and primped pom pom is a very, VERY satisfying thing to behold. Just beware of primp fever. Once you start, it’s really very difficult to stop.
I purchased my Pom Poms from I Have Ribbon (U.S) Visit their Etsy store here (they ship internationally).
Check out this great little ‘pom blooming’ tutorial on You Tube from Paperwhite Pom-Poms.