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Tips - page 5

Travel ingenuity from our island hopping holiday experts

Elite Guide to Phang Nga Bay

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Island Phang Nga Bay

Between Phuket Island and Krabi on Thailand’s mainland is a remarkable 400-square kilometre inlet known as Phang Nga Bay. Named after the indigenous people (pangan) of the Malay Peninsula and its surrounding islands, the province of Phang Nga is rich with stories of pirates, sea-gypsies and Malay fisherman dating back hundreds of years. Many people of Phang Nga still maintain the humble, traditional way of life of their forefathers, pulling fresh lobsters from the sea to sell in Phuket, whilst others have embraced the area’s growing tourist trade and now work as guides.

While Phang Nga Bay is rich in folklore, it is most widely famed for the hauntingly beautiful limestone karsts that jut out of the sea, many resembling unfinished clay vessels upon a potter’s wheel. These colourful islets with their toupees of lush tropical vegetation were carved out over millions of years, and now host some of the world’s most spectacular sea caves, along with Thailand’s largest mangrove reserve.

SIGHTS

The unbelievably emerald-green waters of Phang Nga Bay are a delight to explore in a traditional long-tailed fishing boat, canoe, kayak or speedboat. Here are some of our personal favourites for when it comes time to plan your visit to this natural wonderland.

James Bond Island

Featured in the James Bond films, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the sight commonly referred to as ‘James Bond Island’ is also called Koh Tapu.

Here one can pace the twenty steps made famous by the suspenseful duel scene starring Roger Moore, or venture along a shaded path past an enormous limestone fissure to a smoothed-out sea cave that opens to breath-taking views of the Andaman Sea. Two small beaches line its shores and offer a great place to burrow in the golden sands while oohing over the marvellous scenery.

Limestone Caves and Hongs

Many tour operators provide the opportunity to explore the countless limestone caves and hongs (rooms) of Phang Nga Bay. The best way to witness these extraordinary natural wonders is by canoe, where local guides leisurely paddle one into vast cave systems littered with stalagmites and stalactites. These skeletons, created by a build-up of calcium carbonate, are visually stunning, especially when contrasted with the lush tropical backdrops that glow during the day.

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Thinking of going to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival?

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phuket vegetarian festival

During the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the Phuket Vegetarian Festival (or jia chai in local Hokkien Chinese dialect) is held. The colourful event celebrates the Chinese community’s belief that abstinence from meat, sex and alcohol and merit making at the many Chinese shrines and temples throughout the seven to ten-day festival, will cleanse the body, mind, and spirit.

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival can be, hold on, IS a rather gruesome, crazy and loud experience, but saying all that, it is one of the most interesting, colourful, amazing and yes gruesome and loudest festivals I have ever seen.

not recommended for the faint-hearted

If the festival is on your bucket list, the finale in Phuket town is the part you cannot miss, but make sure you take earplugs and a mask, oh yes and perhaps a few drinks.

A little history lesson

It is believed that in 1825 when Phuket was the tin mining capital of Asia, a wandering Chinese opera group, who were performing on the island to entertaining the tin miners of whom a large percentage where Chinese, fell ill with malaria. The opera group decided to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and also pray to the Nine Emperor Gods, which they believed would purify their mind and body.

As with many stories, this one has a happy ending, and the opera group made a complete recovery, which lead to everyone celebrating the fact they had survived what was and still is a fatal illness, and a festival was held to honor the gods.

My first experience, and it was an experience

Phuket Vegetarian Festival, October 2007. I had never encountered anything like this before and, although I had done some research and knew a little bit of what to expect, I was so wrong. On the first day, the whole island seemed to be waiting for the sun to go down so that the ceremonies could start, the anticipation was like a haze over Phuket. Everyone dressed in white, the official colour for everyone to wear. I knew that each night there would be these ceremonies at all the Chinese temples around Phuket, and the ceremonies included fire walking and climbing sword ladders. I also knew that some people would become mediums for the gods, and these men and women would pierce their cheeks with metal spikes,

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Milestone Birthday Trips: Celebration Inspiration

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Bali party villa Umah Daun Umalas

We know what you’ve been doing in our villas and we like it. Your birthday parties are fabulous. The surprises, the laughs, the photos – incredible. We can’t think of a better reason for a memorable holiday in our villas, or a better way to celebrate a big birthday.

Are you (or someone you’d love to celebrate) approaching a 30th, 40th, 50th or 60th birthday? Planning a destination event to celebrate is easier than you might think.

James, who just turned 30, planned his Bali Birthday by himself and was very pleased with how it turned out.

“I’ve loved every minute of this holiday and that’s because of the fantastic Villa Umah Daun and Elite Havens team. Thanks for making my 30th birthday my best yet!”

He started planning his birthday trip about one year in advance, when it occurred to him that the big 3-0 was a good excuse to bring people together for a holiday in Bali. The hardest thing about coordinating a group holiday – picking the date – was done. Before calendars filled up with too many other appointments and occasions, James’s 30th was penciled in.

For his friends and family in Australia and New Zealand, the travel distance to Bali was feasible, so the invitation to his special ends-in-an-0 birthday was hard to turn down. A group of twenty agreed to join James for his milestone birthday trip, and the rest quickly fell into place.

They chose two Elite Havens villas – Villa Umah Daun and Villa Surya Damai. Both are five-bedroom villa rentals in Umalas (smack between the tourist haunts of Seminyak and Canggu).

Bali Birthday Party at Villa Umah Daun

According to the B-day boy, everyone was blown away by the size of the villas, their amenities and the personal service they received from start to finish. James reserved the villas directly with Elite Havens, so our team were aware of his birthday and his preferences before arrival.

A milestone birthday trip means your fête will exceed the 24-hours of your birthDAY. You don’t have to choose between having a daytime pool party or a barbecue or a dinner party or hire a band or go out dancing – you can do them all.

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Beach reads for your trip

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reading in a hammock

Want some tips on what to read this summer? To keep you company in the airport lounge or by the pool, here is our pick of new book releases for summer 2017, plus some classic reads that bring to life the island paradise in Bali, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

The writer’s eagerly anticipated second novel comes 20 years after her breathtaking first, award-winning The God Of Small Things. It’s a sprawling story; its various settings across India, from the hubbub of Old Delhi to turbulent Kashmir, serve as backdrop to a vast cast of unique characters. It deals with issues from the personal – abandonment, transgender issues – to the social – partition, Kashmir independence – vividly brought to life in Roy’s superlative lyrical prose.

Standard Deviation – Katherine Heiny

Described by the Washington Post as a “blissful summer novel”, Standard Deviation tells the story of Graham and his inimitable second wife Audra, a kind of 21st Century, sexually liberated version of Jane Austen’s Emma – curious, well-meaning, and an insatiable gossip. The novel is a brilliantly funny look at mid-life, marriage, and raising children with learning difficulties (their son has Asperger’s and is a prodigal talent at origami).

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

Who doesn’t love a mystery seen through the eyes of curious children? The Trouble With Goats and Sheep follows two 10-year-olds’ mission to uncover the bewildering disappearance of their neighbour in the searingly hot English summer of 1976 (seriously – ask any Brit over the age of 50 and they’ll tell you about the summer of ’76). Equally heartwarming and gripping, it’s also a wonderful window into the idiosyncrasies of small town British life in the 1970s – and the Brits’ obsession with weather.

All Grown Up – Jami Attenberg

The story of 39-year-old Andrea – single, child-free and living in New York City – may sound like tired chick-lit you’ve read before, but Jami Attenberg’s fifth novel is anything but. In Andrea, Attenberg has created a brilliantly nuanced heroine – flawed, human, and likeable. This wry commentary on how the grass isn’t really greener on the other side is sharply funny, and sometimes raw and tragic. The Guardian rates this as the author’s best novel yet.

White Tears – Hari Kunzru

A sharp satire of cultural appropriation and the urban white privileged youth,

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A Mini Guide on Exploring Galle Fort

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The city of Galle, on Sri Lanka’s idyllic southern coast, is home to one of the island’s best-preserved colonial fortresses. It is also one of the best examples of a European-built fortified city in south and south east Asia.

Dating back to the 16th century, and washed on three sides by the Indian Ocean, Galle Fort is a hybrid of Portuguese, Dutch and British design.

The fort is ringed by a series of bastions and walls constructed from lime and coral, and within these walls are some of Sri Lanka’s most characterful homes.

Among these sought-after properties are the luxury private rental villas No. 39 Galle Fort, a spacious three-bedroom family home, and Ambassador’s House, a huge five-bedroom townhouse with lap pool.

Both of these Galle Fort villas are situated on historic Lighthouse Street, just a stroll away from colonial churches, cafés, boutiques and museums.

Explore on foot
You can now walk nearly all the way around the grass-tufted ramparts, admiring the views of the red-tiled rooftops of the fort on one side, and Indian Ocean vistas on the other. The best place to start your stroll is at the Galle Dutch Hospital (on the corner of the banyan-tree-shaded Law Court Square), a majestic building that’s now home to restaurants and shops. Heading south, the next landmark you approach is the fort’s British-era lighthouse, dating to 1938, which punctures the south-eastern corner of Galle Fort.

A little further along is Flag Rock, which is worth a pause to watch young kamikaze Sri Lankans dive acrobatically into the sea for a few hundred rupees. The western ramparts are great for sunset watching, and for joining an impromptu cricket game, while the three northern bastions (Sun, Moon and Star) face inland, forming the highest part of the ramparts and incorporating a tall clock tower. They offer superb views of the new town and international test cricket ground.

Where to eat and what to buy?
Galle Fort is increasingly cosmopolitan. Over the last five years the charming streets of this old town have mushroomed with little cafés, restaurants specialising in healthy fare, one-of-a-kind boutiques and design stores, and even a couple of delicious gelato outlets – we love Pedlars Inn Gelato on Pedlars Street.

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