It’s hard to narrow down the recipe for a perfect holiday to just one experience or location. I enjoy long coastal walks just as much as resting in the shadow of a tree on a challenging mountain hike. Some days I am desperate for a jungle adventure, but then there are times when I fancy exploring the art and culture of a buzzing metropolis. However, having worked ridiculously hard in the second half of 2012, I really craved a winter break that involved turquoise water, white beaches, stunning scenery and total relaxation. The location of choice had to be affordable – flight and accommodation-wise – and not too crowded, if possible.

There are very few destinations that fit all of these criteria, but thankfully the west coast of Thailand nails it.

Situated between the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, the Land of Smiles offers some of the world’s most amazing coastlines, friendly and service-orientated residents, and (and this was a real bonus for me) an environment in which women can travel alone without being hassled – and all of this without having to spend a fortune.

Tourism is well developed in Thailand – largely thanks to its numerous islands – so it can be attractive to both families and young adventurers. After a short stopover in Bangkok, I chose Koh Lanta and Koh Lipe as my destination and prime locations, because both islands are quieter than the more touristy Koh Phuket or Krabi (yet equally gorgeous).

From there, I could explore the region via daytime (or overnight) tours. These revealed some unforgettable sights: especially the elephant jungle trip in Koh Lanta itself and the stop-over at the Emerald Cave.

This spectacular laguna is situated in the middle of a tiny island in Trang district and is only accessible by swimming through an 80-metre cave at low tide. As the cave is pitch black, this certainly is not for everyone, but overcoming that fear makes it completely worth it. When you make it through the cave, you are rewarded with the most stunning white beach you will ever see and high cliffs drenched in a gleaming emerald light.  For a moment, you feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe himself or the more contemporary Leonardo Di Caprio in The Beach. Speaking of which, The Beach was actually shot at Koh Phi Phi – an island only about an hour north of the Emerald Cave!

Sadly, I only had two weeks for exploring Thailand – and that clearly is not enough time to see all of the beauty this country has to offer. So, I am definitely planning a return trip. I am particularly looking forward to travelling through the less touristy countryside in the North and visiting the border regions close to Myanmar and Cambodia.

But if you need an affordable, fun-filled break with a hint of seriously luxurious relaxation – book a ticket to the Land of Smiles. It’s a win-grin holiday destination.