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A Day to Remember in Phuket

in Destinations/Tips/Weddings by

With its vivid blue sea, white sand beaches and fiery tropical sunsets, Phuket is amongst the world’s most favoured wedding destinations. Aside from its breathtaking natural beauty, this Thai island is home to a rich and friendly culture, incredible cuisine and some outstanding villa venues offering expert hospitality and exquisite locales for saying, “I do”.

You’ve found true love and you’re ready to commit to each other. What better way to celebrate the start of this grand adventure than with a Phuket wedding? For couples bound by love tinged with wanderlust, tying the knot in a tropical paradise offers an enticingly exotic way to launch into a journey of wedded bliss.

Malaiwana’s Villa Haleana

With its modern design and elegant furnishings, Villa Haleana is an ideal wedding villa for the stylish set. Enjoy magical sea views from its hillside setting, with Nai Thon Beach just below, perfect for taking in the sunset or going for a stroll. Located within the secure Malaiwana Estate, Villa Haleana is perfect for weddings and large celebrations, with the option of accommodating the entire wedding party in neighbouring and equally luxurious villas and residences. Found along the lesser-travelled northwest Phuket coast, between the airport and the touristy part of town, it is situated along a quiet stretch, yet walking distance from restaurants, local stores and bars. 

Absolute heaven awaits with an 18-metre pool, large pool terrace, lavish spa room, gym, and multiple areas to dine, relax and entertain. Effortlessly elegant, yet warmly welcoming, all six bedrooms offer stunning sea views. Villa Haleana can host up to 80 guests for an event.

First-hand account of a Villa Haleana bride:

On April 16, 2019, we hosted an amazing wedding in Phuket, with our beloved friends and families. It took eight months of preparation, with a lot of ups and downs leading up to the wedding day. Mother Nature added an element of fun, as it started raining during our outdoor wedding. But The Bridal Planner Team consistently supported and helped us throughout the planning process. What could have been a disaster, turned into one of the most memorable weddings ever! Our friends and family loved every moment of the indoor entertainment.

-Debbie Lee

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The Mystic Healers of Bali

in Culture/Destinations by

The otherworldly powers of Bali’s traditional healers are well documented and are part of daily life for locals and expats.

It is believed that spirits, both good and bad, abound on this Island of the Gods, and they can wreak havoc on one’s physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Everything from a broken bone to a broken heart can invoke a visit to one of more than 8,000 healers practising in Bali.

Traditional Balinese healing shot to fame with the Hollywood film, Eat Pray Love – which shone a light on the late Ubud Balian and priest, Pak Ketut Liyer. He became an instant rock star of the alternative medicine scene and his home a major tourist destination.

Healers reject being called a Balian as it’s too conceited for their spiritual calling, which is delivered through illness or an ancient family line. Balian healers specialise in specific areas such as heart problems, migraine headaches, sports injuries or the removal of spells.

The Four Types of Balian Healers

The first is a Ketakson, usually female, who will channel between the client and God, calling on the spirit of a dead person for guidance, and passing on the information.

The second is a Pica – a medium and not a formal student of traditional medicine, massage or magic. There are stories of physical objects – such as the Balinese dagger called a kris – appearing out of thin air during a session with a Pica.

The third is a Usada who receives divine knowledge during a severe illness that leads them to study the Lontars – ancient, sacred texts written on bamboo. They are a masters’ apprentice while studying anatomy, ethics, traditional herbs, massage, magic, meditation, yoga, and tantra among many subjects. Black and white magic are widely practised in Bali.

The fourth kind of Balian combines all of the above and during a session, the healer may appear mildly psychotic, hearing voices and having visions as the wisdom enters their body.

Etiquettes and Customs

Travellers can visit a Balian or even study for a few days with an expert. Etiquette must be observed, so dress modestly and be patient since locals with real illnesses will also be waiting. Bring an offering of money, but never pass cash directly to the healer.

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Inside Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival

in Culture/Destinations by

Festivals provide an interesting peek into the local culture, and Phuket’s Vegetarian Festival is no exception. Also known as Nine Emperor God Festival or Jia Chai, it falls in the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Thailand and exoticism go hand-in-hand, and this Taoist festival is celebrated with a unique zeal here. Each shrine is extensively cleaned, in anticipation of the festival and giant Go Teng poles are raised on the first day (to be lowered after the last) symbolically to allow the Jade Emperor and other Nine Emperors to come down from the heavens and walk the earth again. 

Rules of the Festival

The name may have you believing that it is a food festival showcasing vegetarian delights. Though the streets are lined on both sides with hawkers selling vegetarian fare, it is not the highlight of the festival. Instead, it marks a period where devotees are expected to follow ten strict rules, and observe abstainance from meat, alcohol, sex, and other stimulants. The locals believe that following these rules allows them to achieve a greater level of spirituality, and is a way of honouring the Gods.

Processions

However, the festival is not celebrated behind closed doors. Like many things Thai, this too is a boisterous public celebration, and one not for the faint-hearted. The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket involves processions wherein devotees perform self mutilation and all other kinds of torture on themselves to shift ill-luck and evil from other worshipers onto themselves. They believe that by doing so, they can bring good luck to the community.

Expect vibrant and chaotic processions, with firecrackers being thrown around, lion dances, and coal-walking. You may find people with their cheeks pierced with spears, knives and other paraphernalia.

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In Phuket and Koh Samui, Where Elephants Can Just Be Themselves

in Destinations/Recreation by

Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, Elephant Whisperer and founder of the Save Elephant Foundation has devoted her life to rescuing and rehabilitating working elephants. Having launched the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai to international acclaim in 1996, Lek has now co-founded similar parks in Phuket and Koh Samui. These ethical elephant sanctuaries make a fascinating and educational day out.

The mission of the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary and Samui Elephant Sanctuary is to meet the highest standards in animal welfare and educate elephant camp owners and tourists on how to treat and respect the majestic elephant – Thailand’s national symbol.

Visitors to these sanctuaries won’t be invited to ride on the elephants’ backs, watch them do tricks, hug or bathe them – all activities that are damaging and stressful for the animals. Rather, visitors will be encouraged to simply observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat where they can just be themselves. Observation platforms overlook natural pools where visitors can watch the elephants splashing each other and covering themselves in cooling mud; open fields and jungle-covered hillsides provide plenty of space for elephant play and socializing.  

Both sanctuaries offer morning and afternoon programmes that start with video presentations to inform visitors about what to expect from their elephant encounters and explain a little about the elephants’ stories and why they so badly need protection. You will get up close and personal with the magnificent residents during their breakfast and dinner times, when you can help feed them a healthy diet of fresh fruit. In between, there’s plenty of time just to watch the elephants at play and marvel at their intelligence and grace. Both half-day sessions include a tasty Thai buffet and transfers to and from the sanctuaries. It is important to book your session in advance as neither of the sanctuaries accepts visitors outside the set programme times or who arrive without prior bookings.

 

Introducing the elephants

At Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, where the elephants can roam freely over 30 acres, you’ll make friends with Richy, Tong Kwaw, Baan Yen, Jan Jao, Gaew Ta, Madee, Kannika and Dok Gaew. All of these extraordinary elephants more than deserve their peaceful retirement – some are more than 70 years old!

At Samui Elephant Sanctuary,

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How To Get To The Home of Powder Snow, Niseko

in Destinations/Tips by

Famed for prolific white powder snow, fabulous accommodation and apres-ski scene, Niseko lures winter sports enthusiasts from around the globe.  Yet this beautiful region in the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, has more to offer than topnotch skiing and snowboarding, with stunning alpine scenery making it a popular year-round destination. Here are some insider tips on how to get to Niseko.

By Plane

Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport is just 110 km from Niseko and is well serviced by domestic and international flights from many parts of Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Hawaii. Those travelling from further afield can easily connect through Tokyo Narita International airport, with a two-hour flight time to Sapporo. Book as early as possible to get the best rates.

Ski season runs from late November to early May and if you fly into New Chitose, the quickest way to hit the ski slopes is by taxi or private transfer. Catching a bus is also cheap and easy and takes approximately 2 – 2.5 hours.

For a private door to door service try Sky Express otherwise White Liner Ski Bus, Hokkaido Resort Liner  and NGS Big Runs all have various drop off points in Niseko.  

By Land

Driving yourself is another option, but while rental cars are fitted with snow tires, it is not recommended unless you are experienced driving in wintery conditions.

Parking in Niseko is also limited in the busy winter months, so  its  better to save the car-hiring option for the summer months when you can enjoy a leisurely cruise up to the mountains, stopping to enjoy the glorious scenery along the way.

Trains also depart directly from the airport to JR Kutchan Station (a 10 minute taxi ride from Niseko), but you will need to change at Otaru station for a total travel time of around 3 hours. Japan has one of the best developed rail networks in the world which is something to consider when travelling from other regions.

If coming from Tokyo, you can experience the famous Shinkansen bullet train, which travels up to 320 km an hour and hurtles through an undersea tunnel that connects the main island of Honshu with Hokkaido.

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