The Other Side to Picture Perfect Film Settings

Mountain path
05 Oct 2016

Believe it or not, almost every film that you’ve ever watched will have had considerable thought put into the locations used. Many of these places have now become iconic, and tourists flock to them just so that they can say they’ve been there themselves, and get the photo to prove it.

However, there is often much more to these picture perfect film settings than people realise, and sometimes never actually see. So here at Asda Money, we’ve uncovered some of the things you can experience when visiting these destinations, besides getting that all-important photograph.


Lord of the Rings – Matamata, New Zealand

Matamata, home of the Hobbiton movie set, is an agricultural town set in the heart of New Zealand’s North Island. The film set is now a permanent attraction, complete with hobbit holes, gardens, and the Green Dragon Inn, so you really get to experience The Shire itself.  There are even regular sheep shearing displays, and a chance to feed the lambs if you visit at the right time of year.

It isn’t just a place for Tolkien fans however. Due to New Zealand’s vast natural beauty, if you’re planning on visiting the set, we recommend hiring a car so that you can explore the stunning surrounding areas.

If you head south of Matamata you’ll find the town of Rotorua, which is set on its namesake lake, renowned for its geothermal activity. You’ll find plenty of bubbling mud pools, along with the 30-metre tall Pohutu Geyser, which erupts up to 20 times a day. For those wanting a little luxury though, The Polynesian Spa is a must! The spa features 27 revitalising mineral pools, all fed by natural hot springs, and is sure to sooth away those wanderer’s sore feet.

To the north of Matamata is the Coromandel Peninsula, where you’ll find 600-year-old forestry, stunning secluded waterfalls and plant-life that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth. If you take the coastal road around the Peninsular you can stop off at a number of beaches, including Hot Water Beach, where it’s possible to dig into the sand and create your own hot pool from the natural spring waters bubbling beneath the surface.

houses in hills at hobbiton

Mamma Mia – Skopelos, Greece

Set on the fictional island of Kalokairi, the 2008 feel-good film, Mamma Mia!, was filmed mostly on the beautiful Greek island of Skopelos. Nestled amongst the Northern Sporades islands, its stunning beaches and turquoise waters proved the perfect backdrop to this ABBA-infused musical.

Skopelos has long been a popular holiday destination, which isn’t surprising considering its fantastic weather, picture-perfect coastline, and friendly Greek culture. Although you can’t fly there directly, there are plenty of flights from the UK to the neighbouring island of Skiathos. From here, it’s just a 45-minute boat ride over to the shores of Skopelos, and as soon as you get your first glimpse of this glorious island, you’ll know the journey has been worth it.

There are plenty of things to do in Skopelos, besides seeing the spots where Mamma Mia! was filmed. Mooch around the cobbled streets of Skopelos Town, where you can stock up on gifts such as handmade pottery, and admire the grand Venetian castle, sat high on the islands’ clifftops overlooking the town. Finish off your day with a fruity cocktail and one of the island’s famous desserts, which usually consist of stewed plums or prunes with yoghurt and nuts.

Skopelos is also home to a wealth of cultural curios, including the tiny chapel where Donna memorably proclaimed “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do” in Mamma Mia! Religious landmarks are one thing the island has in spades, with sites such as the Evangelistria Monastery founded back in the 1700s. It sits high up in the mountains surrounded by beautiful countryside, and although some of the buildings are now in ruin, the church and accommodation buildings have been restored. You can even buy honey, wine, and olive oil made by the monks whilst you’re there.

boat by skopelos, greece

The Beach - Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Although the eponymous location of the adventure film The Beach is portrayed as a secret, its real-world whereabouts, the island of Koh Phi Phi Lee, are now a busy tourist destination. The small enclave of paradise, Maya Bay, is the exact location where the filming took place, and dozens of visitors arrive each day by boat to experience it for themselves. Although it’s worth a trip, be prepared for very busy crowds in high season.

There are plenty of other things to do in Koh Phi Phi besides Maya Bay, which will give you further tastes of Thai paradise. The Phi Phi islands are just a 90-minute ferry trip away from Phuket, an island famous for its breath-taking beaches, tranquil waters and amazing marine life.

The famous Phi Phi viewpoint, on the island of Koh Phi Phi Don, is definitely worth the 30-minute hike up hundreds of steps and narrow twisting paths. Follow the signs on the road heading northeast from the Tonsai village, and you will be treated to some of the best views in the whole of Thailand.

Thai food is renowned for being delicious, and it’s definitely worth getting some cooking lessons whilst you are there so you can learn some of their secrets. Pum’s Thai Cooking School is known to be one of the best cookery schools in Thailand, and there are three branches across the country, one of which is on Koh Phi Phi Don. Educational and fun, cookery lessons will help you bring a little bit of Thai culture back home with you.

boats in koh phi phi

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider – Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Cambodian temple complex which features heavily in several of the action scenes in Tomb Raider is actually Siem Reap, which is famous for being the gateway to the ancient world of Cambodia. The world famous Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious monument in the world, is also an important backdrop to the film.

The temples of Siem Reap are a massive tourist attraction within themselves, and if you’re visiting Cambodia, they are unquestionably something to tick off your bucket list. Angkor Wat is considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world, so visiting this fascinating site is highly recommended. The sheer number of tourists that descend on Angkor every day is inevitable, but if you plan in advance and go early in the morning, rather than the peak time of the day, the worst of the crowds can be avoided.

When you’ve exhausted the temples, there is also plenty going on around the rest of Siem Reap. This area has reinvented itself as the epicentre of Cambodia, with world class wining and dining, amazing shopping, excellent local tours and a creative cultural scene.

Siem Reap is also the starting point for visits to the remarkable floating villages on the great Tonlé Sap lake, as well as the Phnom Kulen mountain range that divides the lush lowlands of Cambodia from the barren north. There are hundreds of other temples scattering the countryside besides the ones at Angkor, and for many visitors it’s at these lesser-known destinations that they discover the true magic of Cambodia.

angkor wat, siem reap, cambodia

If you’re planning on visiting any of the destinations that have been mentioned, remember that Asda Money offers great rates on travel money. If we don’t stock the currency that you need, in most cases we can order it in for you.

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