LEAD

Conscious Luxury Travel

Planning a holiday can be stressful, especially at a time in which we want to take a mindful approach to the way we consume things that potentially have a negative impact on the environment – including vacations. What if we told you that there is someone who could help you to curate the perfect luxury holiday in some of the world’s most beautiful destinations, at which your carbon footprint would be minimal? Because, Danielle Wilson Naqvi is the woman behind the bespoke travel company, Unique Family Travels, and has a passion for curating family travel itineraries that include unique experiences and stays at luxurious properties in stunning surroundings. 

Seeing a huge gap in the market for responsible travel, Danielle's partnerships are mindfully hand selected by herself, as she focuses on memorable vacations that combine luxury with sustainable eco-tourism, that are tailored to your preferences. 

Tell us a little about your background and where Unique Family Travels began for you.
I have always been a lover of travel and even did a travel degree in college before moving to Dubai 25 years ago. I have been fortunate to enjoy and explore many countries and cities around the world. For me personally, a huge part of traveling is staying at beautiful and unique properties. Once I had kids, I wanted them to enjoy travel as much as I do, so I continued exploring with all three children by my side. I never worried about their age, I just switched my focus to a more child friendly experience. 

Having managed my own PR business for the last 13 years, I decided, last year, to follow my passion of travel and start a bespoke luxury travel company. Unique Family Travels focuses on family travel itineraries and staying at luxurious, unique properties around the world. It was a nerve-wracking move but the entire business model that I had created excited me and showed me that there was a huge untapped market opportunity - so I took the plunge! This year alone I have already booked numerous family holidays from traversing Cambodia/Vietnam to sailing holidays in Croatia, walking with elephants In the Thailand Golden Triangle to silver back gorilla experiences in Rwanda, not to mention barefoot luxury island getaways in Maldives. It has been exhilarating and exciting and I am looking forward to growing my passion.
 

You specialize in sourcing sustainable yet luxury destinations and experiences. Why is that so important to you and your clients?
I am honored to be a brand ambassador for Soneva, which has two properties in the Maldives and one in Koh Kood, which is an island off Thailand. This is a brand whose entire ethos and brand ethics are centered around eco-tourism and sustainable, barefoot luxury. The founders have created the term SLOW LIFE philosophy which stands for Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences.

What this means is that the resort does not affect or damage the eco system and its surroundings. The island has a low carbon footprint. All three properties were built using sustainable materials, recycling waste materials, conserving water all to preserve the ecosystems. On the island of Soneva Fushi they have a 70kW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant which is the largest renewable energy plant in the Maldives. They also use a range of water saving technologies to reduce consumption. At Soneva Kiri they constructed a water reservoir collecting rain water that supplies the resort with fresh water.

There’s no plastic what so ever, drinks are served in glass bottles and glasses and if one breaks on the Soneva Fushi Island, there is a small glass making factory that will then create a glass bowl which your dinner maybe served in. The reefs are fully supported by conservationists protecting all species – to the point where their own sea plane will not land too close to the island in case it effects the marine life. 

They grow all the crops on the property offering farm to table dining. To me, this resort is the epitome for luxury which oozes sophistication, luxury and wealth; yet you don’t have to be dining in an air-conditioned restaurant and wearing designer clothes to be luxury, strip everything back to nature, with everything you could possible want and need with your personal butler on call. 

I personally believe consumers are becoming savvier with their travel requirements and especially more conscious about saving our planet as we become more educated on terms such as eco-tourism and sustainability. Resorts that are more conscious also offer a more unique experience such as tree house living or glamping. Travelers are now more inclined to spend on an experience that provides meaningful memories.
 

As people are now being more mindful of conscious living and travelling, what top 5 (eco-friendly/responsible) things should people consider when planning their next vacation?

  • Buy products from local artisans as the money will go towards their own family and their own needs.
  • A lot of socially conscious resorts have a CSR initiative giving back to the region such as building homes or schools for their employees, supporting conservation programs attached to the resort for example one of the initiatives the Anantara Group support is the rehabilitation of street elephants in Thailand.
  • Conserve water - use a refillable water container some hotels will provide one or take your own.
  • Don’t drop any waste into the sea or on the beach, everything you leave behind will either be swallowed up by or damage coral reefs.
  • Use local base tour operators once on the ground as they will also provide you with a more authentic experience and cost you a lot less.
     

Unique Family Travels has also recently done a Unique Girls Tour, tell us about that. And, why it could be so attractive to women in this region?
We had the most amazing time as I took 10 Arab women from the region to Thailand to discover Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. In Bangkok we stayed at the beautiful newly opened Rosewood Hotel and had dinner at the only Michelin star street food restaurant in the world Jay Fai. We then stayed at the Anantara Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai where the highlight was us walking with elephants that are being rehabilitated back into nature. We then stayed a couple of nights at the wonderful 137 Pillars in Chiang Mai before heading back to Bangkok.

These trips are designed and curated with a goal to bring together like-minded female travelers and provide them life changing and empowering experiences. All the guests are personally invited by me to join the experience.
 

Most people find planning and figuring out what to do and where to go on vacation difficult, time consuming and confusing at the best of times. How do you curate the perfect vacation?
Travel is my passion so I find joy in what others find confusing and difficult. I firstly understand a little more about my clients’ needs and wants in a holiday, then I find the perfect destination encompassing their requirements add what I believe is the best luxury property and then throw in a little “je ne sais quoi” in order to make it even more memorable. 
 

As someone who specializes in creating a luxurious escape for others, what has been your most memorable/favorite vacation to date?
I have two memorable vacations, which I enjoyed with my own family:

  • Soneva Fushi, Maldives; simply because my kids loved free diving and snorkeling, experiencing the marine life, and a superb kids club with water slides and tree houses, cinema under the stars and of course the laid back life style were as a family we had no interruptions.
  • This year my kids were finally old enough to enjoy their first real African safari. We stayed at a luxury private lodge in Welgevonden Game Reserve 3 hours from Johannesburg. The entire experience was mesmerizing from dining on a terrace watching wild elephants in front of you, to a female cheetah chasing down her prey and then feeding the kill to her cubs. The children were engrossed into the entire experience asking questions, sitting patiently and quietly and learning how to fully appreciate wildlife.  
     

Starting and running a business is no easy feat. What are the challenges you face and how do you overcome them?
Currently Unique Family Travels is a small business with very low overheads. I think my biggest challenge will be when I want to scale the business and how I go about doing that. For now, I am enjoying the challenge of growing my business, converting my passion into my work and offering a bespoke service to my clients that is rarely found in the travel industry.
 

Who are the women that inspire you and why?
I actually have a few – the will, determination and strength that Malala Yousafzai has shown as a young women and her plight for education, being one of them, and also, as the founder of an NGO in Pakistan, I admire Melinda Gates and the work her foundation is doing on a global scale. I admire women who work hard, multi task family life and their careers, who have drive and ambition but at the same time don’t take themselves too seriously.
 

As an inspirational entrepreneur, mother and wife, how do you use your enterprise to empower other women?
I wouldn’t refer to myself as an inspirational entrepreneur but I would refer to myself as a go getter and doer! I would prefer to have failed trying than never trying at all.

If you really want something you have to go out and get it and that’s proof when it comes to the biggest achievement in my life, which was starting my charity The ZB Foundation in Pakistan. My husband and I are not from a medical or in fact an NGO background but with passion and a determination not to let children die like our daughter did, we are the only screening facility in the country - over the last 20 years people have tried to offer screening however I guess we just went that extra mile!  
 

What motivates you?
Money does drive me. I aim for an abundance of money as the more money I have the more I can do with it for my family, friends and my charity. I want to see more of the world and I want my loved ones to see it with me. The more money I have the more I can fund my charity resulting in more babies tested. If you are not greedy, wealth can do so much so from a young age I have taught my children empathy and compassion so they understand that money isn’t everything - it’s simply a vessel to achieve more good in the world.  
 

Whats next for Unique Family Travels?
2020 is going to be an exciting year with the launch of our adventure eco-tourism travel arm. Like-minded adventurist will get to explore, enjoy and witness some of the most amazing places on our planet, which will be done under the umbrella of ‘socially conscious’. Eco-tourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. We will strongly adhere to that promise as I feel passionately that going forward we will all travel the world more, but we will do it not only for the experience it but also to save it for our future generations.

As featured on www.abouther.com

Image - A 2 bedroom Robinson Crusoe Villa at Soneva Fushi, Maldives 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Lead

Unique Girls Tour Thailand

 

I have just returned from our first Unique Girls Getaway to Thailand, after 4 months in the making alongside my partners Thai Tourism Board @Halathailand, involved us visiting hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and experiencing activities that showcased Thai hospitality and culture. An important aspect of this trip was to showcase unique destinations within Thailand that offer wonderful experiences and an authentic look at Thailand which does not involve the ‘conventional’ image of Thailand as simply being about shopping, beaches and partying. In fact, like most countries, Thailand has many layers of culture, adventure, hospitality, dining etc. and on this trip we were fortunate enough to peel back some of these layers.

 

I am so grateful to have experienced this trip with 10 other ladies - all from the Middle East who all offered something beautiful to the group. 6 Emirati ladies who are all successful entrepreneurs having business in F&B, fashion, engineering’s, an artist, a fabulous food & travel photographer, a beautiful, up-and coming Egyptian actress, my fantastic colleague Taya from Thai Tourism Board and Pinky our wonderful guide who without her we would have been late for everything and the ladies constant craving for Mango sticky rice would not have been satisfied  – between us we all experienced love, laughter and adventure and not to mention forging new friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.

For me personally when I travel half the fun of experiencing a new destination is the property in which you decide to stay.

For this itinerary the hotels were chosen on the fact that they all offered something unique and special which appeals to the Unique Family Travels audience and clients and each hotel went above and beyond my expectations.

 

DAY 1 Bangkok

So let me take you back to the start of our trip as we flew from Dubai to Bangkok staying at the wonderful Rosewood Bangkok. Approx. 40 mins drive from the airport and located in the business and shopping district on one of Bangkok’s busiest corners with access to the sky train. Even Central Shopping Mall is just 1 stop off the Skytrain from the Rosewood. The BTS Skytrain runs through all important downtown districts and major transport hubs in Bangkok and so is a fast and efficient way to move across the city.

 

With a striking architectural design, Rosewood is a 30-storey hotel, having been opened for  only 5 months its a dramatic addition to Bangkok’s skyline. The building is formed from two connected structures, which is supposed to symbolize wai – the Thai gesture of hands pressed together in greeting.

 

The entrance is hidden behind a discreet wall on the main road. Upon entering you take the lift to the lobby, which then opens up into a very swanky, modern and elegant reception with soft tones/colors and textures - added to this are interesting attention to detail items such as books, art and accessories.

The look and feel carries on throughout the property yet still provides a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle on the doorstep.

There are 159 rooms including 34 suites and studios. We all stayed in the Deluxe Rooms with floor to celling windows in the bedroom and bathrooms providing panoramic views of the city. The décor embraces both Thai heritage and contemporary culture. A wonderful soak in the bath which was positioned right in front of the window provided perfect views of the busy city. I loved all the little touches in the room from the ice coffee and evenings chocolates to having the brand new dyson hairdryer (which was great by the way!) surround sound system, electric sheers and curtains and a bed that felt like I was sleeping on a cloud.  Also some hotel rooms you can never work out which light switch is for what – well Rosewood made that easy with mood lighting and master switches all labeled.

 

Guests have four dining options to choose from including a brasserie, a signature Chinese restaurant, an upscale organic café G&O (Green & Organic) that offers farm to table cuisine which is situated next to the swimming pool. The pool which is mostly indoors showcases a view of the city with the noise drowned out by a large waterfall. Lennon’s is a stylish bar perched on the top floor - inspired by an old recording studio, providing a vintage yet classy feel and home to 6000 vinyl records.

Children are welcome at the Rosewood but the hotel has more of a grown up vibe, so I am not sure if I would check in with my kids being so young.

 

We spent two nights at the Rosewood and I’m excited to experience more of their properties, which are located across Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East.

 

After checking into the hotel our first activity was to enjoy a relaxing spa at Divana Nurture Spa, which was about 15 minutes from the hotel. We all had our own room and therapist who gave all the ladies a 90-minute Thai massage, which was well needed after our flight. The service was excellent and even though this is a very popular spa in the city, it felt very relaxed and comfortable.

 

I’m not a foodie but I do love new experiences and I will always aim to visit a Michelin Star restaurant. A few years ago I had heard of Jay Fai the only Michelin Starred street food restaurant in the world. If you have Netflix you must watch the documentary “Street Food” as they interview Jay Fai herself and she explains in detail her personal journey, which I found to be very humbling.

 

Jay Fai found fame from receiving a Michelin star two years in a row. You can always find her in the restaurant cooking as every dish is prepared by her while wearing her signature look - black apron, beanie hat, red lipstick and ski goggles to protect her eyes from long hours in front of intense heat.

Jay Fai started her roadside eatery in the 1980’s and made a name for herself by buying very high quality seafood and transforming the ingredients into soulful dishes.

Her specialty dishes are:

Crab omelet, drunken noodles, tom yum soup and crabbed yellow curry.

Daily there is a queue of approx. a four hour wait to enjoy her cooking but as we had booked in advance due to knowing her daughter who is the only fluent English speaking member of the team and manages the floor.

Even though I don’t eat seafood, I wasn’t going to leave this place without trying everything. Watching this chef maestro at work preparing her dishes while her staff move around her like clockwork is not only mesmerizing to watch but I truly had so much respect and admiration for Jay Fai

 

I had the noodles which were great and tasted like they had been cooked on a bbq (not surprising with the flames that came out of her pan (watch my video) they actually didn’t taste like the giant crab which was sitting on them. The Tom Yum soup was super spicy but not greasy, You know sometimes when you have soup and it can taste oily or leave a film in your mouth, this tasted clean and gave an explosion of flavors. In fact all the ladies truly loved the food saying it was fresh, clean and the taste was mind blowing. We were all lucky to have had our picture taken with Jay Fai and this fast became one of the highlights of the trip.

 

Dishes are approx. 600 Thai Bhat which is approx. AED 70- $20 – which is nothing for the great food and experience.

 

DAY 2 Bangkok

You can’t come to Bangkok and not experience the floating market. Its not only a place great for instagramable pictures but you can eat traditional local dishes from the many boats floating up and down the canals. Damnoen Floating Market is the busiest in Bangkok and a 2-hour drive from the city, so you have to go early.

 

Unfortunately we were all under rain ponchos covering from the rain our experience was a little different but enjoyable at the same time. The floating market is a maze of narrow canals. Female farmers wearing blue shirts and the local Thai straw hat use sampans (small wooden boats) to sell their produce fresh from their farm. Along the side were shopkeepers selling souvenirs.

 

The rain continued to come down really heavy so we cut the market short and headed to Rose Garden at Suan Sampran for lunch. We actually really enjoyed the traditional Thai buffet lunch and then the sun came out and we could experience the outdoor facilities including Patom Organic Farm and Village, which sold many handicrafts and organic produce. We also joined a workshop to make our own body scrub and oil using natural products. It was something different to try while enjoying the beautiful grounds.

 

Day 3 Chiang Rai 

An early start, as we headed back to the airport for our one-hour flight north to Chiang Rai. The ladies kind of knew where they were going but not fully aware of the experience that they were about to witness. Once we landed we had about an hours drive to the Golden Triangle.

 

North-East of Chiang Rai close to Chiang Saen lies the infamous Golden Triangle, once the center of opium production and trade in South East Asia. Those days are long gone. Now the area is peaceful and tranquil dotted with hill tribe villages, ancient temples and markets.

The Golden Triangle locally known as Sop Ruak is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet separated by the Mekong river. The border between Thailand and Myanmar is marked by the Ruak River, which flows into the Mekong at Sop Ruak.

We arrived at the Anantara Golden Triangle where we were met by all the staff who escorted us into the lobby, served drinks and gave all the ladies a welcome shoulder massage. From the check in area the views were spectacular you could see the blue of the swimming pool and the amazing dense jungle with Laos mountains in the background. With a closer look we all spotted what we had come for – the elephants as they roamed around freely.

Anantara Golden Triangle is a rustic property in the jungle with views of the Mekong River, Myanmar and Loas mountain ranges with n elephant sanctuary/camp on its doorstep. This is a property I had longed to visit and to have the amazing opportunity to walk with elephants.

 

The rooms were a great size all open plan with a large in door window which separated the bathroom from the bedroom. Touches of elephants completed the room and every room had a good size balcony with my view over looking the award winning swimming pool and jungle. I love the feeling of walking into a beautiful property that’s not only enchanting but offers a true escapism and this was exactly what I was experiencing. The energy was peaceful and relaxing; we were literally in the middle of nowhere with not a care in the world.

 

That night our hosts General Manager, Gauderic and Linda provided the most wonderful "Dine by Design"sunset dinner amidst the jungle in the bamboo forest within the elephant camp.

We were welcomed to dinner by 3 elephants along with their mahouts. These giant elephants would let you  touch them and have photos with them, these elephants are not used for activities. In fact the property is home to 22 elephants with only 8 that participate in some kind of gentle activity, as they are young, strong and in good health. 

As we sat down, to enjoy a wonderful Thai meal, the sun set and we watched all the firefly’s around us. The service was excellent especially considering we were having dinner in the jungle surrounded by nature.

 

As well as employing local staff the Anantara Golden Triangle funds the ethical elephant sanctuary/camp, which is a wonderful initiative to help street elephants rehabilitate in their natural environment. The organization running the camp is GTAEF - Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation  which supports and protects sustainable Elephant tourism while providing a home & education for the Mahout families - (a mahout is an elephant trainer, rider or keeper). GTAEF are globally recognized for responsible wildlife tourism and one of the only options in Thailand for conscious travelers who want to get up close and personal with elephants.

The elephants have 160 acres of hills and jungle to roam freely and the rivers to keep cool in. As the elephants have grown up listening to only their mahouts they are kind of conditioned to their voice. So with this in mind the foundation invited the mahouts to live onsite and to rent the elephants from them in exchange for a home and education for their families, medical insurance and jobs as the wives of the mahouts make handicrafts such as bags, table runners and the mahouts outfits (from old outfits they are recycled to make other items).

 

The oldest elephant in the camp is 62 years old and its home to only 3 males. The elephants are not allowed to breed so the males are kept away from females.

 

To answer any questions you may have on Golden Triangle Asian Elephant foundation – click to read this post: http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2019/10/02/golden-triangle-elephant-camp/

 

DAY 4 Chiang Rai

We woke up bright and early and watched the beautiful sunrise over the Laos mountains. This  was the morning I had been waiting for - to walk with elephants, And what a truly incredible experience it was! We were introduced with a talk from a member of the GTAEF team on how to act around the elephants,  informed not to walk in front of them as they can walk very fast, only walk along side them or behind them. This experience was so amazing - to walk next to these giants who quite frankly were not fazed at all with us being next to them. They did their own thing and we just slotted in next to them. They would stop to eat leaves off high branches, scratch up against the trees when they had an itch and you could take a picture when they stood still, but when they moved, you had to move with them.  It was a peaceful yet exhilarating walk and experience especially as the elephants were so quiet. They then walked into the river, as we sat to watch them on the cliff side, they splashed around in the water and the noise from them playing was incredible.

 

To have witnessed this, I can only say that the elephants are happy and free, of course they can not be put back into the wild as they have never lived in that environment however this is the closet they will get to that life and this is all thanks to the work the GTAEF is doing to and funded by the Anantara Group of hotels.

 

As this is the jungle don’t forget to bring walking clothes and trainers with you for the jungle. We were given the pants and top what the mahouts wear, which was a really nice touch. As our trainers got very muddy, the hotel offers a cleaning service and I’m pleased to say my shoes came back looking brand new. We then all enjoyed a yummy breakfast together and had the entire day ahead to enjoy the pool, spa and to explore this exceptionally unique property.

 

Anantara Golden Triangle is a wonderful child friendly property with many outdoor activities on offer by the in house team. I went to check out one of the 6 family suites, which are 2 bedrooms and a perfect size for a family of 5.

 

To fully enjoy this bucket list experience, I would highly recommend the VIP arrival treatment. This includes being picked up from the airport, then taken to the Mekong River for a 20 minute boat ride then your greeted by the elephants and invited to walk with them to the hotel. Now that’s a welcome you wouldn’t want to miss!

 

Day 5 Chiang Mai

We were now heading to our next destination Chiang Mai by road, which would take 3 hours - stopping along the way at the “Blue Temple” and the “White Temple” known as Wat Rong Khun.

 

My favorite temple was definitely the White Temple as it really stood out due to its blazing white color and the use of pieces of glass in the plaster, which sparkled in the sun. The white color signifies the purity of the Buddha, while the glass symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings. The entrance fee is only 50 Thai Bhat and well worth a visit – but go early, as it gets busy and don’t forget to make a wish!

 

The drive to Chiang Mai is relatively easy as we arrived just in time for lunch, which we had booked at Villa Mahabriom.

Wow this was a hidden gem that we really didn’t expect to be as wonderful as it was. This boutique hotel took 7 years to complete, as its 14 spacious rooms are all villas that have been meticulously restored and brought to Chiang Mai from all over Thailand. These traditional teakwood Thai homes are surrounded by beautiful gardens and offer peace and relaxation for its guests. Raised on stilts and topped with a distinctive gabled roof complete with handmade clay tiles, each villa houses a suite of bedrooms, study area and spacious Italian marble bathroom featuring the latest amenities. Some villas feature a covered, opened-air living room on the ground level decorated with object d’arts and antiques from the owners’ private collection and each individually decorated with its unique style. A few of the villas had a private swimming pool otherwise there is a large pool in the middle of the property. If you want luxury living in a traditional Thai property, this is the hotel for you.

 

After lunch we headed to a newly open spa called Fah Lanna Spa. We all enjoyed a two hour deep tissue Thai massage before heading to our next hotel which was located 10 minutes away. I was super excited as this was a hotel that I had been waiting for the ladies to experience I I new that they were in for a treat!

 

Welcome to 137 Pillars House a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

We were welcomed with open arms by the beautiful Anne, who is the General Manager of this stunning property. We checked in from the comfort of our rooms and were assigned our personal butler who was on hand via Whatsapp. To be honest I love this touch and a lot of luxury properties are starting to offer this service for convenience and all-round indulgence.

 

The spacious suites are situated in a well laid out garden and furnished in sumptuous modern interpretation of colonial style, radiating unbridled luxury.  The rooms are expansive and beautifully laid out. They are designed and built around the historic teak house of the British Borneo Company. There’s a beautiful story behind this brand which includes so much history, visit this link for more infohttps://137pillarschiangmai.com/en/our-story/

 

Visualize teak wood floors, a four-poster bed and a large outdoor seating area complete with comfortable sofas, complemented by extra-large bathrooms which feature colonial style claw tubs, as well as indoor and outdoor showers. Some of the larger suites come with private pools, which are ideal for families. The rooms have been well thought out in order to create a more relaxed at-home feel for additional comfort and relaxation.

 

By now most of you know I have a thing for baths – its apparent on my Instagram – so this beautiful white washed bathroom with clawed bath tub teamed with mosaic patterned floor tiles and vintage wall hangings gave a modern colonial twist to this utterly perfect bathroom.

 

That evening we had the pleasure of dining with Anne who explained more about the history of the property. We sat in the remarkable main heritage dining room which is held together by 137 pillars which is how the hotel was given its name.  

 

Day 6 Chiang Mai

137 Pillars House is a true beauty waiting to be enjoyed so today was a day of leisure to do absolutely nothing but to soak up the hotel in all its glory.

There are lots of peaceful areas around the hotel and in one quiet corner is the 25-metre long pool, set against a huge vertical plant wall that adds instant tropical vibes to the mood.

 

Located on the west side of the Ping river in the Wat Gate area of Chiang Mai’s historic foreign quarter, the 137 Pillars House is close to the city’s main sites, boutique shops and cafes plus the famous night market which is a 15-minute walk away and the old city can be reached by a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride.

 

For lunch we were invited to enjoy a 137 cooking class but only after we had visited the local Tanin market with one of the chefs to see the local produce. The market was nearby and actually surprisingly not busy. You name it they sold it including dry soy sauce crickets, a local delicacy, which Taya from Thai Tourism loved!

 

During our cooking class we learnt how to prepare a 3 course meal – Papaya Salad, Pad Thai noodles and for desert banana in coconut milk. Personally I’m a “Cant Cook, Wont Cook” type of person but it was apparent from my time in the cooking class that these meals are so easy to prepare as its all about the tasty ingredients that’s mixed together providing a sumptuous delight of flavors. We all had so much fun in the cooking class and were rewarded with what we cooked, our apron and a certificate!

 

137 Pillars is a beautiful escapism and a place I will surely return too. Children are welcomed at the property, there’s no kids club as such but your personal butler will help with everything you and your family need. Opt for the rooms with the private pool as the space is ideal.

 

Day 7 Bangkok

Up early and after a great breakfast we were back at the airport to head back to Bangkok for one more night before our flight to Dubai.

We checked into the fabulously grand Peninsular Bangkok. This is an elegant luxury hotel with a classical style mixed with contemporary Thai touches.  This is a property that has history, class and experience which works well for any guest wishing to stay.

 

Located on the opposite side the city on the Chao Phraya River. They have a resident boat taxi to take you across the river and to Iconsiam mall, which is literally next door to the hotel and home to many luxury and high street brands.

The hotel took us on a tour to see their larger suites – they take up an entire floor of the building with direct access to the Helipad where the hotel’s signature lifesize ‘Pagebear’ was waiting to greet us. The hotel had thoughtfully embroidered our names on our pillows on the bed, which was a beautiful touch and we all had our own tiny Pagebear with our names embroidered on. These little touches were so sweet. I personally found the rooms a little dark but they were very spacious and from my room I had a wonderful view of the pool and river.

I really liked the hotel pool which is 88 meters long and has three tiers access is via their large spa and continues to the river edge, with private pagodas as day beds.

I really enjoyed the breakfast as they offered a wonderful selection including many gluten free and diary free options and to top it off breakfast is served on the river edge.

                                                   

Day 8 Bangkok - Dubai

On our final day in Bangkok we all spent time exploring the city adding in a little shopping and time by the pool before checking out to leave for the airport.

 

My time in Thailand was an unbelievable adventure and I managed to tick walking with elephants off my bucket list. I am grateful to have shared this journey with so many wonderful women.

 

A huge thank you to the TAT team especially Taya and Pop for working closely with me to create this amazing itinerary. A huge thank you to Pinky for being the best tour guide and “Mum” we could have EVER wished for and of course all the hotels for their kind hospitality and warm service.

 

For anyone interested to replicate this Thai odyssey and get an authentic, and exhilarating experience of this magical country, please contact Unique Family Travels.

 

Watch our video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHjSKfupfmo&t=5s

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Lead Anantara

Touring North Thailand

 

My trip to Thailand, after 4 months in the making alongside my partners Thai Tourism Board @Halathailand, involved us visiting hotels in Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai and experiencing activities that showcased Thai hospitality and culture. An important aspect of this trip was to showcase unique destinations within Thailand that offer wonderful experiences and an authentic look at Thailand which does not involve the ‘conventional’ image of Thailand as simply being about shopping, beaches and partying. In fact, like most countries, Thailand has many layers of culture, adventure, hospitality, dining etc. and on this trip we were fortunate enough to peel back some of these layers.

 

I was also so grateful to have experienced this trip with 10 other ladies - all from the Middle East who all offered something beautiful to the group. 6 Emirati ladies who are all successful entrepreneurs having business in F&B, fashion, engineering’s, an artist, a fabulous food & travel photographer, a beautiful, up-and coming Egyptian actress, my fantastic colleague Taya from Thai Tourism Board and Pinky our wonderful guide who without her we would have been late for everything and the ladies constant craving for Mango sticky rice would not have been satisfied  – between us we all experienced love, laughter and adventure and not to mention forging new friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime.

For me personally when I travel half the fun of experiencing a new destination is the property in which you decide to stay.

For this itinerary the hotels were chosen on the fact that they all offered something unique and special which appeals to the Unique Family Travels audience and clients and each hotel went above and beyond my expectations.

 

DAY 1

So let me take you back to the start of our trip as we flew from Dubai to Bangkok staying at the wonderful Rosewood Bangkok. Approx. 40 mins drive from the airport and located in the business and shopping district on one of Bangkok’s busiest corners with access to the sky train. Even Central Shopping Mall is just 1 stop off the Skytrain from the Rosewood. The BTS Skytrain runs through all important downtown districts and major transport hubs in Bangkok and so is a fast and efficient way to move across the city.

 

With a striking architectural design, Rosewood is a 30-storey hotel, having been opened for  only 5 months its a dramatic addition to Bangkok’s skyline. The building is formed from two connected structures, which is supposed to symbolize wai – the Thai gesture of hands pressed together in greeting.

 

The entrance is hidden behind a discreet wall on the main road. Upon entering you take the lift to the lobby, which then opens up into a very swanky, modern and elegant reception with soft tones/colors and textures - added to this are interesting attention to detail items such as books, art and accessories.

The look and feel carries on throughout the property yet still provides a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle on the doorstep.

There are 159 rooms including 34 suites and studios. We all stayed in the Deluxe Rooms with floor to celling windows in the bedroom and bathrooms providing panoramic views of the city. The décor embraces both Thai heritage and contemporary culture. A wonderful soak in the bath which was positioned right in front of the window provided perfect views of the busy city. I loved all the little touches in the room from the ice coffee and evenings chocolates to having the brand new dyson hairdryer (which was great by the way!) surround sound system, electric sheers and curtains and a bed that felt like I was sleeping on a cloud.  Also some hotel rooms you can never work out which light switch is for what – well Rosewood made that easy with mood lighting and master switches all labeled.

 

Guests have four dining options to choose from including a brasserie, a signature Chinese restaurant, an upscale organic café G&O (Green & Organic) that offers farm to table cuisine which is situated next to the swimming pool. The pool which is mostly indoors showcases a view of the city with the noise drowned out by a large waterfall. Lennon’s is a stylish bar perched on the top floor - inspired by an old recording studio, providing a vintage yet classy feel and home to 6000 vinyl records.

Children are welcome at the Rosewood but the hotel has more of a grown up vibe, so I am not sure if I would check in with my kids being so young.

 

We spent two nights at the Rosewood and I’m excited to experience more of their properties, which are located across Asia, America, Europe and the Middle East.

 

After checking into the hotel our first activity was to enjoy a relaxing spa at Divana Nurture Spa, which was about 15 minutes from the hotel. We all had our own room and therapist who gave all the ladies a 90-minute Thai massage, which was well needed after our flight. The service was excellent and even though this is a very popular spa in the city, it felt very relaxed and comfortable.

 

I’m not a foodie but I do love new experiences and I will always aim to visit a Michelin Star restaurant. A few years ago I had heard of Jay Fai the only Michelin Starred street food restaurant in the world. If you have Netflix you must watch the documentary “Street Food” as they interview Jay Fai herself and she explains in detail her personal journey, which I found to be very humbling.

 

Jay Fai found fame from receiving a Michelin star two years in a row. You can always find her in the restaurant cooking as every dish is prepared by her while wearing her signature look - black apron, beanie hat, red lipstick and ski goggles to protect her eyes from long hours in front of intense heat.

Jay Fai started her roadside eatery in the 1980’s and made a name for herself by buying very high quality seafood and transforming the ingredients into soulful dishes.

Her specialty dishes are:

Crab omelet, drunken noodles, tom yum soup and crabbed yellow curry.

Daily there is a queue of approx. a four hour wait to enjoy her cooking but as we had booked in advance due to knowing her daughter who is the only fluent English speaking member of the team and manages the floor.

Even though I don’t eat seafood, I wasn’t going to leave this place without trying everything. Watching this chef maestro at work preparing her dishes while her staff move around her like clockwork is not only mesmerizing to watch but I truly had so much respect and admiration for Jay Fai

 

I had the noodles which were great and tasted like they had been cooked on a bbq (not surprising with the flames that came out of her pan (watch my video) they actually didn’t taste like the giant crab which was sitting on them. The Tom Yum soup was super spicy but not greasy, You know sometimes when you have soup and it can taste oily or leave a film in your mouth, this tasted clean and gave an explosion of flavors. In fact all the ladies truly loved the food saying it was fresh, clean and the taste was mind blowing. We were all lucky to have had our picture taken with Jay Fai and this fast became one of the highlights of the trip.

 

Dishes are approx. 600 Thai Bhat which is approx. AED 70- $20 – which is nothing for the great food and experience.

 

 

DAY 2

You can’t come to Bangkok and not experience the floating market. Its not only a place great for instagramable pictures but you can eat traditional local dishes from the many boats floating up and down the canals. Damnoen Floating Market is the busiest in Bangkok and a 2-hour drive from the city, so you have to go early.

 

Unfortunately we were all under rain ponchos covering from the rain our experience was a little different but enjoyable at the same time. The floating market is a maze of narrow canals. Female farmers wearing blue shirts and the local Thai straw hat use sampans (small wooden boats) to sell their produce fresh from their farm. Along the side were shopkeepers selling souvenirs.

 

The rain continued to come down really heavy so we cut the market short and headed to Rose Garden at Suan Sampran for lunch. We actually really enjoyed the traditional Thai buffet lunch and then the sun came out and we could experience the outdoor facilities including Patom Organic Farm and Village, which sold many handicrafts and organic produce. We also joined a workshop to make our own body scrub and oil using natural products. It was something different to try while enjoying the beautiful grounds.

 

Day 3

An early start, as we headed back to the airport for our one-hour flight north to Chiang Rai. The ladies kind of knew where they were going but not fully aware of the experience that they were about to witness. Once we landed we had about an hours drive to the Golden Triangle.

 

North-East of Chiang Rai close to Chiang Saen lies the infamous Golden Triangle, once the center of opium production and trade in South East Asia. Those days are long gone. Now the area is peaceful and tranquil dotted with hill tribe villages, ancient temples and markets.

The Golden Triangle locally known as Sop Ruak is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet separated by the Mekong river. The border between Thailand and Myanmar is marked by the Ruak River, which flows into the Mekong at Sop Ruak.

We arrived at the Anantara Golden Triangle where we were met by all the staff who escorted us into the lobby, served drinks and gave the ladies a welcome shoulder massage. From the check in area the views were spectacular you could see the blue of the swimming pool and the amazing dense jungle with Laos mountains in the background. With a closer look we all spotted what we had come for – the elephants as they roamed around freely.

Anantara Golden Triangle is a rustic property in the jungle hills with views of the Mekong River, Myanmar and Loas mountain ranges with an elephant sanctuary/camp on its doorstep. This is a property I had longed to visit and to have the experience of walking with elephants.

 

The rooms were a great size, all open plan with a large in door window which separated the bathroom from the bedroom. Touches of elephants completed the room and every room had a good size balcony with my view over looking the award winning swimming pool and jungle. I loved the feeling when walking into a beautiful property that’s not only enchanting but offers a true escapism and this was exactly what I was experiencing. The energy was peaceful and relaxing; we were literally in the middle of nowhere with not a care in the world.

 

That night our hosts General Manager, Gauderic and Linda provided the most wonderful "Dine by Design"sunset dinner amidst the jungle in the bamboo forest within the elephant camp.

We were welcomed to dinner by 3 elephants along with their mahouts. These giant elephants were happy for you to touch and have photos with them. These elephants are only used to meet guests and not used for activities. In fact the property is home to 22 elephants but only 8 are used for some kind of gentle activity, as they are young, strong and in good health. 

As we sat down, to enjoy a wonderful Thai meal, the sun set and we watched all the firefly’s around us. The service was excellent especially considering we were having dinner in the jungle surrounded by nature.

 

As well as employing local staff the Anantara Golden Triangle funds the ethical elephant sanctuary/camp, which is a wonderful initiative to help street elephants rehabilitate in their natural environment. The organization running the camp is GTAEF - Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation  which supports and protects sustainable Elephant tourism while providing a home & education for the Mahout families - (a mahout is an elephant trainer, rider or keeper). GTAEF are globally recognized for responsible wildlife tourism and one of the only options in Thailand for conscious travelers who want to get up close and personal with elephants.

The elephants have 160 acres of hills and jungle to roam freely and the rivers to keep cool in. As the elephants have grown up listening to only their mahouts they are kind of conditioned to their voice. So with this in mind the foundation invited the mahouts to live onsite and to rent the elephants from them in exchange for a home and education for their families, medical insurance and jobs as the wives of the mahouts make handicrafts such as bags, table runners and the mahouts outfits (from old outfits they are recycled to make other items).

 

The oldest elephant in the camp is 62 years old and there are only 3 males. The elephants are not allowed to breed so the males are kept away from females.

 

To answer any questions you may have on Golden Triangle Asian Elephant foundation – click to read this post: http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2019/10/02/golden-triangle-elephant-camp/

 

  

DAY 4

We woke up bright and early and watch the amazing sunrise over the Laos mountains. This was the morning I had been waiting for as we were going to be walking with the elephants. What a truly incredible experience we were about to have!

We were introduced with a talk from a member of the GTAEF team on how to behave around the elephants and informed not to walk in front of them as they can walk very fast, only walking at their side or behind them. This experience was so amazing - to walk next to these giants who quite frankly were not fazed at all with us being next to them. They did their own thing and we just slotted in next to them. They would stop to eat leaves off high branches, scratch up against the trees when they had an itch and you could take a picture when they stood still, but when they moved, you had to move with them.  It was a peaceful yet exhilarating walk and experience especially as the elephants were so quiet. They then walked into the river, as we sat to watch them on the cliff side, they splashed around in the water and the noise from them playing was incredible.

 

To have witnessed this, I can only say that the elephants are happy and free, of course they can not be put back into the wild as they have never lived in that environment however this is the closet they will get to that life and this is all thanks to the work the GTAEF is doing to and funded by the Anantara Group of hotels.

 

As this is the jungle don’t forget to bring walking clothes and trainers with you. We were given the pants and top that the mahouts wear, which was a really nice touch. As our trainers got very muddy, the hotel offers a cleaning service and I’m pleased to say my shoes came back looking brand new.

We then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and had the entire day ahead to enjoy the pool, spa and explore this  exceptionally unique property.

 

Anantara Golden Triangle is a wonderful child friendly property with many outdoor activities on offer by the in house team. I went to check out one of the 6 family suites, which are 2 bedrooms and an excellent size for a family of 5.

 

To fully enjoy this bucket list experience, I would highly recommend the VIP arrival treatment. This includes being picked up from the airport, then taken to the Mekong River for a 20 minute boat ride then your greeted by the elephants and invited to walk with them to the hotel. Now that’s a welcome you wouldn’t want to miss!

 

Day 5

We were now heading to our next destination Chiang Mai by road, which would take 3 hours - stopping along the way at the “Blue Temple” and the “White Temple” known as Wat Rong Khun.

 

My favorite temple was definitely the White Temple as it really stood out due to its blazing white color and the use of pieces of glass in the plaster, which sparkled in the sun. The white color signifies the purity of the Buddha, while the glass symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings. The entrance fee is only 50 Thai Bhat and well worth a visit – but go early, as it gets busy and don’t forget to make a wish!

 

The drive to Chiang Mai is relatively easy as we arrived just in time for lunch, which we had booked at Villa Mahabriom.

Wow this was a hidden gem that we really didn’t expect to be as wonderful as it was. This boutique hotel took 7 years to complete, as its 14 spacious rooms are all villas that have been meticulously restored and brought to Chiang Mai from all over Thailand. These traditional teakwood Thai homes are surrounded by beautiful gardens and offer peace and relaxation for its guests. Raised on stilts and topped with a distinctive gabled roof complete with handmade clay tiles, each villa houses a suite of bedrooms, study area and spacious Italian marble bathroom featuring the latest amenities. Some villas feature a covered, opened-air living room on the ground level decorated with object d’arts and antiques from the owners’ private collection and each individually decorated with its unique style. A few of the villas had a private swimming pool otherwise there is a large pool in the middle of the property. If you want luxury living in a traditional Thai property, this is the hotel for you.

 

After lunch we headed to a newly open spa called Fah Lanna Spa. We all enjoyed a two hour deep tissue Thai massage before heading to our next hotel which was located 10 minutes away. I was super excited as this was a hotel that I had been waiting for the ladies to experience, I new that they were in for a treat!

Take a peak inside: - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flVJeWdXai4

 

Welcome to 137 Pillars House a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

We were welcomed with open arms by the beautiful Anne, who is the General Manager of this stunning property. We checked in from the comfort of our rooms and were assigned our personal butler who was on hand via Whatsapp. To be honest I love this touch and a lot of luxury properties are starting to offer this service for convenience and all-round indulgence.

 

The spacious suites are situated in a well laid out garden and furnished in sumptuous modern interpretation of colonial style, radiating unbridled luxury.  The rooms are expansive and beautifully laid out. They are designed and built around the historic teak house of the British Borneo Company. There’s a beautiful story behind this brand which includes so much history, visit this link for more infohttps://137pillarschiangmai.com/en/our-story/

 

Visualize teak wood floors, a four-poster bed and a large outdoor seating area complete with comfortable sofas, complemented by extra-large bathrooms which feature colonial style claw tubs, as well as indoor and outdoor showers. Some of the larger suites come with private pools, which are ideal for families. The rooms have been well thought out in order to create a more relaxed at-home feel for additional comfort and relaxation.

 

By now most of you know I have a thing for baths – its apparent on my Instagram – so this beautiful white washed bathroom with clawed bath tub teamed with mosaic patterned floor tiles and vintage wall hangings gave a modern colonial twist to this utterly perfect bathroom.

 

That evening we had the pleasure of dining with Anne who explained more about the history of the property. We sat in the remarkable main heritage dining room which is held together by 137 pillars which is how the hotel was given its name.  

 

Day 6

137 Pillars House is a true beauty waiting to be enjoyed so today was a day of leisure to do absolutely nothing but to soak up the hotel in all its glory.

There are lots of peaceful areas around the hotel and in one quiet corner is the 25-metre long pool, set against a huge vertical plant wall that adds instant tropical vibes to the mood.

 

Located on the west side of the Ping river in the Wat Gate area of Chiang Mai’s historic foreign quarter, the 137 Pillars House is close to the city’s main sites, boutique shops and cafes plus the famous night market which is a 15-minute walk away and the old city can be reached by a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride.

 

For lunch we were invited to enjoy a 137 cooking class but only after we had visited the local Tanin market with one of the chefs to see the local produce. The market was nearby and actually surprisingly not busy. You name it they sold it including dry soy sauce crickets, a local delicacy, which Taya from Thai Tourism loved!

 

During our cooking class we learnt how to prepare a 3 course meal – Papaya Salad, Pad Thai noodles and for desert banana in coconut milk. Personally I’m a “Cant Cook, Wont Cook” type of person but it was apparent from my time in the cooking class that these meals are so easy to prepare as its all about the tasty ingredients that’s mixed together providing a sumptuous delight of flavors. We all had so much fun in the cooking class and were rewarded with what we cooked, our apron and a certificate!

 

137 Pillars is a beautiful escapism and a place I will surely return too. Children are welcomed at the property, there’s no kids club as such but your personal butler will help with everything you and your family need. Opt for the rooms with the private pool as the space is ideal.

 

Day 7

Up early and after a great breakfast we were back at the airport to head back to Bangkok for one more night before our flight to Dubai.

We checked into the fabulously grand Peninsular Bangkok. This is an elegant luxury hotel with a classical style mixed with contemporary Thai touches.  This is a property that has history, class and experience which works well for any guest wishing to stay.

 

Located on the opposite side the city on the Chao Phraya River. They have a resident boat taxi to take you across the river and to Iconsiam mall, which is literally next door to the hotel and home to many luxury and high street brands.

The hotel took us on a tour to see their larger suites – they take up an entire floor of the building with direct access to the Helipad where the hotel’s signature lifesize ‘Pagebear’ was waiting to greet us. The hotel had thoughtfully embroidered our names on our pillows on the bed, which was a beautiful touch and we all had our own tiny Pagebear with our names embroidered on. These little touches were so sweet. I personally found the rooms a little dark but they were very spacious and from my room I had a wonderful view of the pool and river.

I really liked the hotel pool which is 88 meters long and has three tiers access is via their large spa and continues to the river edge, with private pagodas as day beds.

 

It’s a great hotel for children with interconnecting rooms and large suites. I really enjoyed the breakfast as they offered a wonderful selection including many gluten free and diary free options and to top it off breakfast is served on the river edge.

                                                   

Day 8

On our final day in Bangkok we all spent time exploring the city adding in a little shopping and time by the pool before checking out to leave for the airport.

 

My time in Thailand was an unbelievable adventure and I managed to tick walking with elephants off my bucket list. I am grateful to have shared this journey with so many wonderful women.

 

A huge thank you to the TAT team especially Taya and Pop for working closely with me to create this amazing itinerary. A huge thank you to Pinky for being the best tour guide and “Mum” we could have EVER wished for and of course all the hotels for their kind hospitality and warm service.

 

For anyone interested to replicate this Thai odyssey and get an authentic, and exhilarating experience of this magical country, please contact Unique Family Travels.

 

Watch our video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHjSKfupfmo&t=5s

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Lead elephants

Elephant Camp Foundation

The Golden Triangle locally known as Sop Ruak is where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet separated by the Mekong river. The border between Thailand and Myanmar is marked by the Ruak River, which flows into the Mekong at Sop Ruak.

One of the most exclusive hotels for its unique experience with elephants whom roam freely in the jungle is the Anantara Golden Triangle.

As well as employing local staff the Anantara Golden Triangle funds the ethical elephant sanctuary/camp, which is a wonderful initiative to help street elephants rehabilitate in their natural environment. The organization running the camp is GTAEF - Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation  which supports and protects sustainable Elephant tourism while providing a home & education for the Mahout families - (a mahout is an elephant trainer, rider or keeper). GTAEF are globally recognized for responsible wildlife tourism and one of the only options in Thailand for conscious travelers who want to get up close and personal with elephants.

The 22 elephants have 160 acres of hills and jungle to roam freely and the rivers to keep cool in. As the elephants have grown up listening to only their mahouts they are kind of conditioned to their voice. So with this in mind the foundation invited the mahouts to live onsite and to rent the elephants from them in exchange for a home and education for their families, medical insurance and jobs as the wives of the mahouts make handicrafts such as bags, table runners and the mahouts outfits (from old outfits they are recycled to make other items).

 

The oldest elephant in the camp is 62 years old and there are only 3 males. The elephants are not allowed to breed so the males are kept away from females.

 

Let me share a little more information about the foundation and how it was started.

Elephants have never been domesticated, but because even thousands of years ago they were recognized for their intelligence and learning abilities, they were trained for domestic purposes. Kings first used elephants to help fight wars through the dense jungles. Over time, elephants came to be used in the logging industry to destroy their own environment and eventually causing flooding to treeless areas.

It wasn’t until 1988 when Thailand suffered a disastrous flood and the worst in a century that the government realized exactly the harm that they were doing and on January 10, 1989 logging was banned. While undoubtedly a very wise choice as wild Asian elephants populations had greatly declined and deforestation caused the loss of lives and homes, the logging ban put about 20,000 captive Asian elephants and their mahouts out of work

It was at this time that tourism started to boom in Thailand and mahouts realized they could earn a living through elephant tourism activities.

 

So Why Not Just Release Elephants Back to the Wild?

If only it were that simple. Something undoubtedly agreed upon by John Roberts and every single person we interacted with at GTAEF and Think Elephants International is that we’d all like nothing more than to see every elephant live out its days as a wild elephant of its own free will. But there simply isn’t room for all of the Asian elephants.

The biggest threat to the Asian elephant are the loss of their habitat and the continually growing human population in tropical Asia. According to the WWF, “about 20% of the world’s human population lives in or near the present range of the Asian elephant”. The natural habitat is dwindling and migratory routes are cut off because of human settlements. As a result, elephant populations are small and unable to mingle.

 

When John Roberts first started the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, he bought an elephant from a mahout in order to rescue it. A month later, the mahout was back with another elephant. It was at that point that John realized he needed a much bigger plan. Rescuing a few elephants from begging on the streets would only be helping those few elephants.

 

Now GTAEF helps elephants and their mahouts by providing jobs for both, education for mahouts’ children, and even their wives have opportunities to earn income and help support the family and elephant. Because captive Asian elephants have never been domesticated and their DNA strands remain the same as their wild counterparts, the scientists at Think Elephants International are able to study elephant cognitive and social behaviors that would otherwise be near impossible through trying to observe wild Asian elephants.

GTAEF does not buy any elephants. They simply provide a home for both the elephant and the mahout family. The mahout is free to decide which activities his elephant will participate in and both the family and elephant are well cared for.

As a result of these forward thinking initiatives at GTAEF and the financial support of Anantara Golden Triangle, important strides are being made in teaching mahouts positive reinforcement techniques, providing education so that children of mahouts can have other career opportunities, and in understanding elephant behaviors that can in turn help with conservation efforts.

If you decide to ride an elephant – which doesn’t harm them at all, then this can be done after completing the Mahout Experience program in which you learn commands, how to ride on the neck bareback without the chair, and positive reinforcement.

If walking and riding with elephants is on your bucket list, I would highly recommended visiting Anantara Golden Triangle along with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation as your money will not only benefit the rehabilitation of the elephants but also encourage sustainable elephant tourism.

 

One of the team explains in her own words: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_-36ufsQw0&feature=youtu.be

 

For more information on the foundation please visit: https://www.helpingelephants.org/

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Lead 1

Safari With Kids In South Africa

We have just had the most amazing bucket list family experience on safari in the Welgevonden Game Reserve - a 37,000-hectare of diverse landscapes, geology and a plethora of South Africa’s most stunning wildlife as well as the Waterburg mountain range, which is estimated to be about half the age of the earth at 1.8-2.2 billion years old! 

 

Welgevonden is a malaria free game reserve and literally only 3 hours drive from Johannesburg.

 

I really believe that everybody should experience a safari holiday, its such a breathetaking and humberling experience and one that will stay locked in your heart forever.

 

The first step to booking a safari holiday is deciding where you want to go. There are so many wonderful game reserves and camps which can be a really daunting task to chose which one to visit. We new that we could combine seeing friends in Johannesburg with a safari break and Welgevonden reserve was not only close by but has received such incredible reviews.  

 

As we pulled up to the main security gates at Welgevonden everyone in the car was beyond excited. I’ve only ever flown into a safari by landing on a sandy airstrip amongst the bush, so this was an entirely new experience for me. 

 

We were greeted by Melvin our ranger from Camp Ndlovu. There are 70 different camps within Welgevonden, which I found amazing especially as during our stay we only ever saw a handful of ranger cars - that’s how large the space is.

 

Our suitcases were put in one car as we were escorted to an area for welcome drinks and an introduction about  life in the bush!

 

We had an hours drive to the lodge through the bush – it was kind of like our first game drive. There were three rows of seats in the back of the customized safari jeep, each row being slightly elevated which was so cool for the kids - they could all sit next to each, with an adult for extra safety.  Initially when the kids spotted an animal they would shout with excitement but 5 minutes in and they realized they had to whisper, no shouting, use their binoculars and listen to Melvin.

 

On the drive we saw elephants, zebra, pumba AKA water hogs, rhinos, giraffes, springbok and kudu - it all felt so surreal. The reserves terrain blew me away, we would drive through valleys, up and down mountains, rocky and sandy roads and then drive onto wide-open plains were the views were incredible. 

 

As we entered our lodge - Camp Ndlovu we could hear the beating of the drum. Pulling up to the entrance all of the staff were in line singing and dancing, what a lovely welcome. Sanet the lodge manager welcomed us with open arms and all the staff introduced themselves on first name basis. David and Patrick our waiters wanted to be called by the children Uncle David and Uncle Patrick, they were so nice - anything we wanted they would be quick to assist. It’s always the warm welcome and the friendliness of the staff when you arrive at a property that makes it stand out from the crowd and Camp Ndlovu was no exception.

 

As we walked into the main door I was quiet frankly blown away even the kids didn’t know where to look first - the emotion of everything just hit me and I felt incredibly grateful and lucky to be with my family and amazing friends standing on the most beautiful terrace with wild elephants and zebras at a watering hole right in front of me. The table was set for lunch, the swimming pool ready for the kids to jump into and the most beautifully designed rustic interior on the deck had a bottle of champagne on ice waiting to be served. 

 

I have wanted to take my children on Safari for so long, especially as their love watching wild life programs has increased over the years, but they have been too young to really appreciate the entire experience. Now at the age of 6,6 and 7, I knew that they were ready to enjoy and appreciate a safari holiday.

It's hard to comprehend that such stunning beauty is literally on my friends doorstep. Having grown up in a bustling city like Dubai, this stunning backdrop was simply breathtaking. 

 

Lunch was soon served which was wonderful - beef and chicken kebabs fresh off the bbq, prawn tempura, fresh bread and yummy salad. As much as the lunch was amazing we were all distracted by the wild animals roaming around in front of us. I do love elephants and I couldnt believe that there was one less than a 100 yards away from us, drinking water in the river below the lodge. Sometimes it really is the simple things in life that take your breath away.

 

This beautiful lodge welcomes children of all ages and can accommodate 10 people in 5 luxury suites all inclusive of 2 daily game-drives, breakfast, lunch and dinner including beverages. We had 10 people (2 families) in our group so this meant that we had the property exclusively for 5 days.... yipee!

 

My family had been given the ‘owners cottage’, which was the most wonderful 2 bedroom en-suite villa with living room, dining room, kitchen, office, outdoor bath and a large deck with a fire pit, indoor/outdoor sitting room, dining table and a large swimming pool over looking a watering hole where animals would stop to drink as they would roam by. What I loved after every evening game drive was that when you returned back to the villa the bath was ready, music was on the surround sound and the lights were dimly lite - so tranquil even a little romantic, that was until the kids would start screaming or crying

 

That afternoon the kids had a swim in the villa pool and before we knew it, standing by the watering hole, only yards away, was an elephant, wow wee!! We weren’t frightened even though this was a wild animal and even the elephant was hesitant to come so close to us. What an unbelievable experience!

 

That evening before sunset we left on an evening game drive. This is where you need to take everything with you as the weather changes as soon as the sun goes down (see below my top tips on what to pack) as the temp suddenly dropped so jumpers, hats and jackets on and we were all under the thick blankets that were on every seat in the car.  With the sunset the landscape also changed, with the red sky reflecting off the changing terrain - I managed to capture a wonderful pic of a giraffe next to a tree and of two rhinos - seriously the pictures were beautiful no filter required. Did you know that a group of giraffes is called a journey!

 

My friend Nixs is an amazing photographer, she was using her big camera while I used my iPhone XR to take videos and close up as the camera is awesome.

 

Again the kids were great, they would chat together in the car and then once we saw an animal they would be quiet and listen to Melvin.

 

Around 7.30pm we got back to the lodge for dinner. Drinks were served as we sat around the fire. The kids would play board games and then we would have dinner.  While on Safari you normally go to bed early, as it’s always an early start the next morning.

 

The next morning we woke to our wake up call at 630 am - we jumped out of bed with excitement and looked out the window as we could hear all the baboons crying and fighting. As the sun came up we ran to the main restaurant for a coffee, which Melvin had prepared and by 7am we were all in the car wrapped up in the usual winter attire and back under the thick warm blankets.

 

By 9am the sun is out and the heat has cranked up (don’t forget its winter in SA which means no rain, crisp fresh air and blue skies and the sun is always shining). Winter is also the dry season and is perfect to experience safari, as the trees are bare so it’s easy to spot animals and of course the weather is cooler. However whatever time of year you go on safari, you’re always guaranteed a wonderful experience but you’re not always guaranteed to spot the Big 5. 

 

So what is the Big 5?

The term “Big Five” originally referred to the difficulty in hunting the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. These five large African mammal species were known to be dangerous and it was considered a feat by trophy hunters to bring one home. 

Another interesting fact: ungainly as they look the hippopotamus is actually the world's deadliest large land mammal,. Hippos are aggressive creatures, and they have very sharp teeth. Did you know the hippo is part of the ‘whale’ family! Can you believe that!! 

 

Let me tell you a little bit about our wonderful guide Melvin! Melvin has been working at Welgevonden Game Reserve for over 27 years. He knows the reserve like the back of his hand - he knows everything about every single animal, he can spot an animal footprint in the sand, identify the animal and how fresh the tracks are – this is what caused us to go on a breathless track of a leopard, unfortunately it got to dark so this elusive animal (and the toughest of the Big 5 to spot) slipped away. He knows whose poo is whose and he can even make animal calling sounds. Hyena’s have the easiest to identify poo as its white and full of calcium from eating the bones left from a carcass!

 

I would say your safari experience will always boil down to how amazing your ranger is. Not only did Melvin have the experience and knowledge, he was extremely kind and patient with the children and answered all their questions.

 

As we had the lodge to ourselves we could really determine how long our drives would last for - Melvin loved this, as he didn’t have to rush back for breakfast, so we would stay out in the morning for about 6 hours in order to properly track animals.

This particular morning -. Melvin has been told that about 30 mins away a mother cheetah and her 4 cubs had been spotted so off we went to find her. We drove though narrow valleys which were covered with about 60 elephants and we even had a road block as a rhino was lying in the path of the car - when you are near elephants you must stay quiet and whisper in order for them not to charge at you however when you see a rhino you should talk loudly. This is because rhinos have poor eyesight so the noise lets them know you are there, so they feel unthreatened.  

 

We spot the mother cheetah who is taking shade under a tree with her cubs. It’s around 10am and she clearly hasn’t eaten yet as she is looking around constantly and on watch for something nice to eat. We stopped the car pretty close by so as we could watch her, her cubs were playing and one was climbing the tree. Then suddenly mum walks off up a hill close by in order for a better view. Melvin spots a couple of springbok in the distance - this guy has 20/20 vision, how he spots what he does without binoculars is incredible. The cheetah then starts walking in the direction of the springbok, with her babies slowly following behind. She crouches to take cover and then she goes for it... right in front of our eyes we witness the fastest animal on the planet kill a springbok! In short spurts a cheetah can run up to speeds of 100 – 120 km that’s 70 mph in 3 seconds! The springbok has no chance as she literally catches it and skids due to the speed of her run, she u turns and picks it back up. With the animal in her mouth she walks towards her babies and takes shade under another tree. It’s amazing to watch her motherly instincts - she gives the kill to her babies as she’s too tired to eat while she watches out for any other animals who might smell the blood of a fresh kill. Cheetahs are not very good at protecting their kill so they have to eat it quickly before lions or hyenas come and get it. Leopards on the other hand, once they have a kill will deposit it high in the trees away from reach of other animals.

 

What an experience! A National Geographic episode right in front of our eyes – we were extremely fortunate and grateful as our friends said in 10 years of Safari they had not seen a cheetah kill until now.

 

Its now time for our breakfast so Melvin finds a spot – animal free by a dried out river for us to park up and enjoy breakfast.  Our picnic was great - boiled eggs, salmon, sausages, yoghurt, muesli, you name it. It felt strange out in the open eating breakfast as any animal could appear, but Melvin has the experience so we felt totally safe.  Melvin then took the kids for an adventure to stretch their legs in the dried out riverbed explaining all types of things related to animals and plants along the way. 

 

Once back at the lodge the kids had a swim and I took the drone out. We had been given permission to use it but only on the lodge premises. The most fascinating thing happened. There was one elephant close to us who could clearly hear the noise of the drone, he would stare in its direction, bemused and then he walked way and went behind the trees. Two minutes later about 10 elephants suddenly appeared, it was like he had told all his friends to come and check out the noise. We hadn’t seen so many elephants all together next to the lodge which just goes to show that they are always so close by but hiding behind the trees – for such a large animal elephants are so quiet - you normally only hear them if they are knocking down trees. We managed to catch this incredible footage on the drone. 

 

The next morning we were up again at 6.30 and in the car by 7am with our coffees in hand. We were on a mission as this was the day we were on the hunt for lions.

It had been radioed through that all the lions were in one area of long grass which made it super hard to spot them. However the king of the jungle finally walked passed us but we noticed that he was limping - Melvin said that he must have been in a fight and that we should just leave him to rest. Lionesses are the hunters while males chill and protect the cubs even though they want to be known as the dominant ones! It’s amazing how the animals notice and hear the sound of the cars but aren’t fazed by it at all, this is because they don’t know any different. Since they were born in this reserve they have seen humans and cars and never felt threatened, as they have been left alone. 

 

During one of the game drives we followed two brother cheetahs that were about a year old. They are always spotted side by side and they walked ever so calmly past the cars. A couple of years ago when we were in the Masai Mara a cheetah jumped on the car bonnet in order to get an elevated view of the plain - it was thrilling at the time but this time we had 6 kids in the car, so thankfully they just kept on walking.

 

Melvin reassured us that the cheetahs wouldn’t come close as they are always on their guard as they and all the animals still consider humans a super predator and a threat at any time, especially if a human is outside the car.

 

One evening the lodge staff looked after the kids while the 4 adults went to watch the sun go down and enjoy a few kid free hours with a glass in hand out in the bush.  This time was precious as we enjoyed a little adult time and had great chat with Melvin. He took us to the top of the mountain, set up a little bar and shared many stories with us.

 

Once back at the lodge the kids welcomed us with a song on the drum and were so excited to show us the evening’s surprise - this really was a surprise as hidden behind a wall the staff had set up a bomo fire and bbq for dinner.

We were escorted in and the dancing commenced. Everyone was on form, dancing and singing. Even my little Sisi had a ‘dance off’ with David and let me tell you that  he had some really serious African moves. 

 

The next morning’s drive we saw 4 hippos with 2 babies basking in the sun next to a large river with crocodiles close by. As we were watching them all huddled together. something must have disturbed them as they all stood up and ran into the water and stayed underwater for a while. Adult hippos can hold their breathe under water for 5 minutes and can even sleep underwater, using a reflex that allows them to bob up, take a breath, and sink back down without waking up.

 

One afternoon my husband did a bush walk with Melvin, an experience he was so excited to do. A bush walk is a serous affair and not many rangers agree to do it as you are completely in the wild, not within the confines of a sturdy car and potentially at the mercy of wild animals. Before the start of the walk, Melvin explained some very important rules of the walk in detail: no talking, always walk behind the ranger, follow ranger hand signs to stop, crouch or slide and keep looking around and focused as any animal could appear at any time. At least the massive hunting rifle with 1 bullet (strong enough to kill an elephant and just about maim a lion – elephant skin thicker so the bullet would go straight through a lion) gave my husband some level of safety – Why only 1 bullet Melvin?: he replied calmly “because you only get 1 chance”!

 

On a safari holiday, many things need to come together to make it truly memorable. Our experience at the Welgevonden Game Reserve and at Camp Ndlovu had everything and more, it was truly a holiday to remember. I can’t recommend this enough – especially for a first time safari with kids, this was pretty priceless.

 

To find out more about Safari holidays suitable for children, contact me directly as I have teamed up with Safari lodges across Africa including, Welgevoden, Masai Mara, Kruger, Sabi Sands, Zambia, Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. 

Also UAE, KSA and Qatari passport holders do not need a visa for South Africa.

Families visiting South Africa must provide additional paperwork when traveling with children in order to board the aircraft from your point of departure. These requirements apply for all nationalities.

 

 

Safari Check list!

* Woolly hat

* Cap

* Jacket

* Jumpers

* Shorts

* Swimwear

* Binoculars

* Sun block

* Duffle bag

* Trainers

 

PS. A huge thank you to the Moulvi’s for the most wonderful holiday. And a huge thank you to all the team at Camp Ndlovu for looking after us all so well.  Please note this was not a sponsored trip.

 

Watch our video on Camp Ndlovu here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFwnfGEKNjA&t=4s

 

Watch our safari video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO-w1CmIJMw

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Soweto Lead image

Soweto

Traveling is not only a way to create wonderful memories but its also a great way to showcase to the rest of the world places that people may never get the chance to visit. Its also a wonderful way to meet people from all walks of life which in turn will put your own life into perspective.

 

 

While in Johannesburg we went on a tour of Soweto. For people that may have never heard of Soweto, which stands for South West Township – it is the largest township in Johannesburg where millions of people were displaced to during the apartheid era and is currently home to 2 million people living in a diverse environment.

 

The establishment of Soweto is, like Johannesburg, linked directly to the discovery of Gold in 1885. Thousands of people from around the world and South Africa flocked to the new town to seek their fortunes. Within 4 years Johannesburg was the second largest city. More than half the population was black, most living in multi racial shanty towns near the gold mines in the center of the town. As the gold mining industry developed, so did the need for labour increase. Migrant labor was started and most of these workers lived in mine compounds. However other workers had to find their own accommodation often in appalling conditions, with no running water, which is still apparent today.

 

Our tour guide was Zimmy , who lives in Soweto and he showed us the most authentic Soweto, not only did we see the tourist areas but we also saw the under belly of a city that suffers from crime, poverty, drug lords and prostitution.

 

Soweto is also famous for being home to two of Africa’s most prominent black men – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who at one stage of their lives lived a couple of yards away from each other on the same street – Vilakazi Street. Remarkably, this is the only road in the world that has two Nobel peace prize winners, with Tutu receiving his award in 1984 and Mandela in 1994.

 

You can take a tour around Mandela and Winnie’s house known as ‘8115’ where he lived with his two children  in 1946 – 1990 – this was just before his incarceration on Robben Island at the age of 50.

 

Mandela spent 27 years in prison and was released at the age of 77 after which he became president of South Africa at the age of 80 years old. What a man, what a story and what a legend! Even though he was 80 years old,

and despite all his struggles and hardship, he still had such strength, will power and a message he wanted to send the world.

 

Sadly you cannot go into Desmond Tutu’s house as of yet as some of his family still live in the house, however a large plaque outside on his wall, honors his legacy.

 

As you can imagine this particular Vilakazi Street has become a bustling tourist area. Close by this area is also the museum for Hector Pieterson who was a South African schoolboy aged 15 shot and killed during the Soweto uprising  when police opened fire on students protesting the enforcement of teaching in Afrikaans. 

 

A news photograph of the mortally wounded Pieterson being carried by another Soweto resident while his sister ran next to them was published around the world. This brought this brutal situation to the forefront of all media on a global scale. The anniversary of his death is designated ‘Youth Day’ when South Africans honor all young people.

 

Driving through the streets of Soweto, we couldn’t believe how diverse it was with many run down properties, wrought iron shacks as homes and then one area where the wealthy live in large gated houses, with cars and they even have manicured  gardens. Even though these people now have money – Soweto is their home so they haven’t moved out, but this has caused friction with all the other, less fortunate residents.

 

During our tour we stopped at a corner bar, where locals were chilling and enjoying a beer. There was a group of ladies all dressed in black who had attended a funeral earlier that morning. For approx. 20 Rand (AED5) you get a liter bottle of beer - no surprise that alcoholism is rife. A poster on the wall caught my attention

‘Fire arms free zone’ even though you need a license to carry a fire arm, people carry them for safety and self defense living in such a dangerous area. 

 

After the bar we then headed to an area where Zimmy our tour guide lived called Kliptown.

 

Kilptown is a massive informal settlement where thousands live in abject poverty. Residents call it ‘the place history forgot’. The people living in this area are approx 55,000 in number – however they are subject to widespread unemployment, illegal electricity connections and exposed sewage as part of their daily lives. There maybe a couple of portable toilets in the streets but they have been there for years which have most probably never been cleaned. Rumor has it that its common to find a fetus inside the loo as there’s no running water so it gets blocked (devastating)

 

Kids as young as 2 are roaming the area alone or with other young children and many of the youth hang in the streets as a way to pass the time. What is great to see if the amazing artwork/graffiti on all the walls, as spray paints have been donated to the community. We actually took a lot of paint bottles as we were informed that some of the youth want to create a wall dedicated to women!

 

Zimmy, who was our wonderful guide, is 29 years old who 9 years ago meet a guy called Bob while he was living on the streets in the city but still managing to attend college.

 

Bob brought Zimmy back to Kilptown, where he later adopted him and whom he has educated and trained him to be a tour guide in Soweto and also trained him to run the local youth centre and become a social entrepreneur, educating the people with in the community.  Today Zimmy is engaged to a lovely woman who helps him run the youth center and he has a two year old daughter. It was wonderful to meet such a person with strength and determination who wanted to change his life around, get an education and defend for himself. Zimmy is extremely eloquent, and knowledgeable who if given the chance would make a great trustworthy employee and maybe even one day run his own successful business.

 

This brings me to Bob - who is known as the “Mother Teresa” of Kliptown. For 32 years he has been helping the youth and people in his community. His message is to encourage people to work, get an education and make people understand that you have to work for what you want and need in life and not to expect it to be handed to you. Bob has adopted many children and young adults even though he can’t financially provide in the way we know how, his selfless acts of love provides a nurturing family environment- this touched my soul as love makes the world a better place.

 

I admire Bob so much as his selfless acts of kindness are providing compassion. hope and opportunities, allowing the youth who recognize it, the chance to make a better life. With a slim build and long dread locks, Bob invites us into his home within the youth centre. It has a small room (bedroom/sitting room) and kitchen which he opens to anyone and everyone.

There’s a group of kids in one corner singing to the guitar and a family in the other corner mourning the death of their 80 year old father who died a couple of hours earlier that morning with Bob being the one to assist with the funeral and the youth centre a place where the community can come together.

 

Bobs love for his community is evident along with his spiritual drive that sustains his work and his daily message. Bob is one of those genuine people that are angels living amongst us.

 

The youth centre is small but is the pulse of this unbelievably run down area, with two toilets that Bob himself cleans and maintains. They have running water, loo paper and a bath mat – it’s the little things like this that go a long way.

 

Children as young as 2 run freely in and out of the youth centre to chat to Bob and Zimmy as they know everyone who lives in the community and their personal story.  One little boy just wanted to be held and hugged by us all - his mum an alcoholic clearly overwhelmed by her day to day life, can’t manage her son and neglects him. I managed to catch on camera this little boy and a few other boys, no older than 4 years old dancing, their faces beaming with smiles and laughter, living in the moment, with not a care in the world or the circumstances around them.

 

I am always brought to tears and humbled by meeting such selfless, kind and socially entrepreneurial people. I have visited similar areas in Dhaka, India and Pakistan and it’s evident that such communities are run and supported by angels like Bob. 

 

It doesn’t matter where we come from or what we have in life it will always come down to three things – love, food and a roof over our heads - anything more and we really do live like kings. 

 

Traveling is the window to life, an opportunity to learn and share stories.  Whatever we have in life we have everything - be grateful, be humble and thank your lucky stars that you have a place to rest at the end of every day and food to eat. 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
lead 137 Pillars

137 Pillars House

In the heart of Chiang Mai, through the teak wooden gates is a romantic and peaceful retreat waiting to be explored. Welcome to the stunningly beautiful 137 Pillars House. A member of ” Small Luxury Hotels of the World”

 

The property is rich in heritage and was given its name from the traditional teak house located in the middle of the estate, which is the main restaurant and a museum, which stands on 137 pillars and was once the headquarters of the Borneo trading company.

Rooms

The spacious suites are situated in a well laid out garden and furnished in sumptuous modern interpretation of colonial style, radiating unbridled luxury.  The rooms are expansive and beautifully laid out.

 

Visualize teak wood floors, a four-poster bed and a large outdoor seating area complete with comfortable sofas, complemented by extra-large bathrooms which feature colonial style claw tubs, as well as indoor and outdoor showers. Some of the larger suites come with private pools, which are ideal for families. The rooms have been well thought out in order to create a more relaxed at-home feel for additional comfort and relaxation.

 

By now most of you know I have a thing for baths – its apparent on my Instagram – so this beautiful white washed bathroom with clawed bath tub teamed with mosaic patterned floor tiles and vintage wall hangings gave a modern colonial twist to this utterly perfect bathroom.

 

Service

We checked in from the comfort of our room and were assigned our personal butler who was on hand via Whatsapp. To be honest I love this service and a lot of luxury properties are starting to offer it for convenience and all-round indulgence.

 

Food

The 137 Pillars caters for all dietary requirement and allergies. Breakfast is Asian style but chef is happy to make you anything you desire. Their fresh juices and ginger shots are great! For dinner you can opt between locally influenced ‘The Dining Room’ and Western themed ‘Palette, (produce grown in the hotels farm) both offer intimate dining experiences.

 

If you’re a foodie, the property offers a wonderful cooking class  showcasing how to make very tasty dishes which are actually rather simple but will leave you looking awesome at your next dinner party.

 

Relaxation

There are lots of peaceful areas around the hotel and in one quiet corner is the 25-metre long pool, set against a huge vertical plant wall that adds instant tropical vibes to the mood.

Their inhouse spa offers a vast menu of services with a couple of signature treatments.  

 

Family Friendly

Children are welcomed at the property, there’s not kids club as such but your personal butler will help with everything you and your family need. Opt for the rooms with the private pool as the space is ideal.

 

Location

Located on the west side of the Ping river in the Wat Gate area of Chiang Mai’s historic foreign quarter, the 137 Pillars House is close to the city’s main sites, boutique shops and cafes plus the famous night market which is a 15-minute walk away and the old city can be reached by a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride.

 

 

137 Pillars is a beautiful escapism and a place I will surely return too. They also have a property in Bangkok.

 

Read the beautiful story behind the brand which includes so much historyhttps://137pillarschiangmai.com/en/our-story/

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Yala Lead image

Sri Lankan Tented Lodge

The beauty of Sri Lanka is that it has so much to offer with all kinds of variety accompanied by truly unique accommodations.

 

One of the most unique experiences we just had in Sri Lanka was on the south coast was at Yala National Park staying at a Relais & Chateuax property - Wild Coast Tented Lodge - a Safari inspired luxury lodge on the boundaries of the park.

Being only a 4-hour flight from Dubai, this is the perfect introduction for taking the kids on a Safari. Yala National Park is a couple of hours drive from Colombo Airport but you can also get a sea plane to Hambantota Airport which is then only a short drive into Yala. Hopefully Hambantota Airport will soon reopen for international flights, which will make the time taken to come to this wonderful part of Sri Lanka even shorter.

 

Wild Coasted Tented Lodge instantly transported me back to Africa - a nature lovers paradise where the property mergers into its surroundings. The beautiful lodges are an interior designer’s dream - open plan safari style colonial interiors with wooded floors, leather desk and chairs with the wardrobe and bathroom door frame made out of copper pipes and cream canvas soft furnishings. A center piece free-standing copper bath in the middle of the bathroom looks out of the large window offering the perfect view of nature. The round windows and stitching on the tent panels makes it authentic. Each room comes with an integrated Sonos Sound system – but thankfully no TV – although who needs one as you have the perfect Nat Geo show right on your door step.

 

This 28 tented lodge hotel is also great for families as some of the large tents are connected to what they call “urchins” which are smaller rooms with twin beds- same design but instead of a bath they have an outdoor shower and are a little smaller in size. The most indulgent rooms are the Cocoon Pool Suites with a private plunge pool that overlooks the beach.

 

Yep I did just say beach... can you believe this wonderful resort offers not only a raw safari experience but beach life too. There's a large infinity pool that goes through the restaurant facing the beach so you can enjoy listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks while dining. This really is a one of a kind experience especially as there are not many places in the world which combines jungle life with beach life.

 

When outdoors especially on the beach you have to be vigilant as animals roam freely, one day we saw wilder beast and the next day elephants walking down the beach and if you’re lucky you may get to witness an elephant drinking at the water hole right outside you room which the lodges surround.

 

While the children played in the pool, monkeys sat on the wall and watched them and cooled down with taking a sip of the salt water swimming pool. It was great to see the kids face light up with excitement but do remember the animals are wild so you don’t know how they will react.

 

Every morning we were woken up by monkeys jumping on our roof and knocking on our door! As I pulled up the blinds and the kids jumped out of the bed, we had so many pairs of eyes looking back at us including one mama monkey had her baby in her arms - she was so cute. The kids watched them from the window and after about thirty minutes the monkeys got bored of us and moved on to the next tent.

 

That brings me to the safari experience: you can either enjoy a guided bush walk or game drives which are twice a day at 6am and 3pm. Your car and guide is provided by Wild Coast. Our first drive was in the afternoon, the kids jumped into the customized Jeep super excited ready to experience their first real Safari, seat belts on, binoculars at the ready and eager to spot animals.

 

Driving out of the lodge you get to see so many huge iguanas - some I mistook for being crocodiles - yep they were that big! Monkeys are everywhere, jumping from tree to tree.

We drove up to the main gate where one of the Yala park rangers jumped into our car with his walker talkie at the ready as when an animal is spotted they radio through to other cars to let them know. Yala is split into 5 zones with the zone we were in being 140 sq kilometers. Home to crocodiles, elephants, deer, monkeys, water buffalo, wild boar and approx. 35 leopards and 20 brown bears.

 

The weather makes a huge impact on the animals that you will see on safari and as the land was dry - due to little rain, this meant the elephants were harder to spot as they were in search of water holes. This was the first Safari I have ever done where we saw more leopards than elephants. Even when I was on safari in the Masai Mara we didn’t get to spot a single leopard but day one of our safari in Sri Lanka and we saw 3! My husband even spotted one walking through the bush, I don’t know how seeing as leopards are so well camouflaged. We stopped the car and this amazing calm and elegant cat walked straight past us ignoring the fact that we were there. The kids were amazed, kept quiet and watched with open mouths.

 

A little further on and there were a few 4x4s all together with their engines turned off, a sign that a animal has been spotted and to wait in silence. We joined the group and waited patiently. This is the point when you realize if your kids are ready for the real safari experience. The three of them sat patiently upright looking through their binoculars waiting until we spotted in the bush an elephant wanting to cross the path to join the other female elephants on the other side. Female elephants always stay together while the males wander alone.

This elephant walked straight past us ignorant to her surrounding - all the cars and people and stomped into the bush crushing plants in her path. I’m a huge lover of these beautiful creatures and seeing them in the wild is always so enchanting.

 

Kumar was our guide, he was excellent especially when explaining everything to the children. Considering rangers do this all day everyday, It’s amazing to hear how passionate and knowledgeable they are about the animals and their habitat and they really do know the park like the back of their hand. His eyes were super sharp, he could spot a baby croc lying on a log in the distance and he could tell from paw prints in the sand how close an animal was.

 

Before the morning drive you could grab a snack and coffee and then post drive, breakfast would be waiting to be served. While eating it was so nice hearing the kids talk about the drive and tell all the staff what they saw and of course show all their photos and videos.

 

Sundowners are served on the beach early evening after safari, which I really loved, its such a beautiful way to end a safari.  Beanbags are laid out facing the ocean so as you could watch the sun go down and chat to the game park rangers and conservationists.

 

Later on at night, through a pathway of candles, dinner is served under a canopy of stars and the light from the full moon is so beautiful as it shines down on the ocean. The main restaurant which sits under a canopy with the swimming pool going through it, is efficiently managed by Mr. Dhammika and his team who were all extremely helpful and attentive- nothing is too much to ask. All the food is a la carte with enough options including a vast choice of gluten and diary free options. If your looking for a yummy cocktail Dhammika loves to mix up one of his amazing treats.

 

After dinner a ranger will escort you back to your room just incase there’s an unexpected guest outside your room!!

 

There are so many reasons to love Wild Coasted Lodge but we have to applaud them as the entire lodge is designed to have a minimal impact on the surrounding eco system. Solar power is used to heat water and run the air conditioner. They also run a junior rangers program, which introduces all aspects of the wilderness to local kids from camping to tracking animals.

 

Resplendent Ceylon and Dilmah Conservation are also just about to open an on-site Leopard Research Center to support the work of the wilderness and wildlife conservation trust whose founders are pioneering research on the Sri Lankan leopard. This is a similar program to the one they have in the tea plantation areas of Sri Lanka.

 

Overall, Wild Coast Tented Lodge, on the south coast of Sri Lanka on the boundaries of Yala National Park is an unforgettable experience. The combination of jungle wildlife and raw beaches will impress even the most jaded of travelers while the luxury-tented accommodations truly elevate the concept of luxury eco-tourism.

 

Watch my videos here:

 

Wild Coast Tented Lodge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzaUSQ-WKUM

 

Elephants 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yShTREPzF58

 

Bears

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idaAdDyUNLE

 

 

For more information on Relais Chateaux resorts in Sri Lanka visit

https://www.resplendentceylon.com/

 

How to get there:

Emirates and Fly Dubai fly directly into Colombo 

Cinnamon Air Seaplane from Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport flies to multiple landing strips on the island

www.cinnamonair.com

 

 

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Anantara Kulutara

Anantara Sri Lanka

Anantara Peace (Haven) and Serenity – Sri Lanka

 

We recently came back from a wonderful stay at the stunning Anantara Peace Haven in Tangalle. From the second you walk into the property, with the melodic sound of a traditional Sri Lankan welcome song, the view from the open reception greets you with spectacular force and you know you are in for a special stay. The hotel sits on a rocky outcrop of the south coast so you can imagine just how wonderful are the panoramic views of the grounds, beach and ocean.

We were in Sri Lanka touring the south coast and I had decided to start at the southern tip of the island in Tangalle pronounced Tan-GAH-leh and then head slowly back up the coast to Colombo. If you wish to cut out the drive time you can take a seaplane from Colombo to Tangalle where you will land at what might be the world’s most picturesque airport in Dickwella, just a shack near a dock on Mawella Lagoon, about 15 minutes from Tangalle. The 40-minute plane ride will spare you the 3.5-hour drive and provides a mesmerizing bird’s eye view of Sri Lanka.

 

Sadly since the deal with China has run into problems Hambantota Airport is temporarily closed for international flights, otherwise Fly Dubai flew directly from Dubai and being only an hour away from Tangalle is another fast way to get to the Sri Lankan south coast.

 

We were shown to our villa by tuk tuk – a lovely alternative to a golf buggy.  On the way to the villas you past the spa and gym, the kids club and once over the little bridge you spot two resident cows whom my kids named Milky and Clover. Around the grounds you will find a couple of hammocks where you can relax and enjoy the many squirrels, peacocks and a massive Sri Lankan turkey which looked very amusing walking by!

 

The 2 bedroom double story villas don’t have sea views but are more secluded and offer wonderful garden views with a really large private pool. Upon seeing the villa we immediately fell in love, it was so spacious, comfortable and felt like home. Spread across two floors the floor to ceiling windows let in so much natural light and picture perfect views.

The ground floor has a separate kitchen and bathroom and a large open living/dining room with sliding doors opening onto the garden and pool.  There is a large bedroom with two queen beds, a separate walk in open wardrobe and large bathroom, which included a bath and an outdoor shower. Upstairs is the large master bedroom with a separate walk wardrobe and a large bathroom.  What makes you feel really at home are the little touches such as a selection of books on the bed side tables and in the kids room they even had children’s books. If you’re a keen artist, in the master bedroom they had a desk complete with a large sketch pad and pencils and with the outdoor views, its certainly offers a great artist canvas.

 

The children loved the beach, there’s a surf school however the water was a bit rough for swimming in the sea, but that didn’t stop them from having fun playing on the rocks screaming as the large waves crashed against the side.  In the trees they had a tree swing which provided so much entertainment. The beach is raw, untouched and provided that sense of escapism. I love walking on the beach with the kids, kicking the water, collecting shells, which we always make into an adventure – well that’s my version anyway as my husband encourages the kids to climb the high rocks and jump off totally fearless while I am a nervous anxious wreck!

 

The large hotel pool is on two levels, offering various degrees of infinity inspired vistas. The shallow end has beds soaking in the water which are great for keeping cool.

 

I really enjoyed the cliff side restaurant Ll Mare , not only for its floodlight views of the ocean and the sounds of the waves but the food was amazing.  It serves Italian cuisine, which I don’t always eat, but with so many gluten free options paired with a nice bottle of red wine and the kids happily enjoying their pasta, it was a perfect dinner.

 

The other restaurant offers buffet for dinner and breakfast. With a vast variety of Sri Lankan and western dishes plus freshly squeezed juices from the "raw bar" which were delicious every morning - we were always spoilt for choice.

 

During the day we enjoyed lunch at the poolside bar and I believe during peak season the Verala beachside restaurant is another great option!

 

If you want to venture out of the hotel and into Tangalle you can discover the charm of rural fishing villages and fields of rice paddies, interspersed with Buddhist temples. Rekawa Beach is not far away and is famous for five species of turtles nesting on the beach, including the very rare hawksbill and leather back turtles.

 

It’s also a suitable base for combining a beach holiday with a visit to Udawalewe National Park and Yala National Park. We visited Udawalewe Park, two years ago which was amazing as we got to see so many elephants in their natural habitat - you can read our review here:

 http://www.uniquefamilytravels.com/2018/09/10/elephant-safari-in-sri-lanka/

 

So if you plan on visiting Tangalle you have to stay at Anantara Peace Haven - luckily for you they are a partner of Unique Family Travels so we can offer amazing rates and packages.

 

Heres a snap shot of the resort: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1whMl5JqL4

 

Anantara Kalutara

 

Our last destination on our road trip was Anantara Kalutara which is nearer to the airport and a great place for people to enjoy a few days who have been in the Kandy area and want a hotel not too far from the airport. This property is not as luxurious as its sister property Peace Haven, but its warm, friendly and amazing for kids. In fact from the moment you arrive the hotel is focused on the children as they gift them a very cute handmade elephant rucksack each and wooden jigsaws.

 

Let me start with the thrilling zipline/abseiling and rock climbing area, which is simply awesome. If my adrenalin junkie kids could have stayed on this all day they would have. They rock climbed and abseiled a wall of 10m and the zip line is 165 meters going over the lagoon. This was extremely well managed with the most gentle and sweet staff who made sure the kids were harnessed safely and encouraged them to have multiple turns.

 

Next to a fully equipped gym there is also a kids club with an indoor and outdoor area and a teenagers games room. Around the hotel are giant chessboards, which the kids enjoyed, especially my eldest who is really into chess now! There was also an area to learn archery.

 

On the far side of the resort there’s a cute duck pond and on the edge of the lagoon is the coolest tree house accessible by ladder and a swing over the lagoon which you get to from a little bridge – talk about back to basics fun fun fun!

 

We had a lovely large 2-bedroom villa with a swimming pool in the middle of the hotel courtyard. It was really comfortable and spacious but it offers no views as it has a wall around the villa providing privacy.

The hotel has two large swimming pools – one by the main restaurant where a lot of the hotel rooms look out onto which also has a dedicated kids pool and the other one is a large lap infinity pool but it’s adults only and has a bar/restaurant attached to it.   

 

Due to the lack of tourism in Sri Lanka since the start of the year, only one restaurant was open which served buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner – for me, I like a little variety so the chef went above and beyond to assist with this and I can’t thank them enough for being ever so caring, thoughtful and considerate to my families needs.

 

When we checked out of this splendid property I was blown away by the farewell ritual we received which is customary to Sri Lankan life. A young man sang a beautiful prayer with the most angelic voice, which was so moving, while he also tied a thread around everyone’s right wrist in order to wish us safe travels – a simple but powerful gesture that really touched me and my family and truly reinforced the feeling that Sri Lankans are the most soulful people and despite the recent tragedy, tourism in this magical place will come flowing back strongly.

 

Watch our videos here:

 

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple
Our Villa at Cape Weligama Lead

Cape Weligama

This was our second visit to Cape Weligama, a stunning cliff top resort and a true hidden gem. Up a winding road, off the beaten path until you can’t go any further are two large gates - once through these gates you are greeted with 12 acres of lush vegetation and ridiculous views of the coast and the town of Weligama.

 

This is a resort where you can literally switch off and enjoy total R&R. Its peaceful, offers tranquility and its private, you may not see another person staying at the resort during the entire day. There’s a dedicated kids pool if you want your children to play with other kids and for child free guests there is an amazing 60 meter infinity half moon adult pool, which is just simply WOW! We actually put the kids in the kids club for a couple of hours just so we could enjoy the beauty of this pool and its views and we were so lucky to spot a whale in the distance! Weligama is known for being the best spot for whale and dolphin watching, so make sure you book a trip to witness these beautiful creatures.

The kids club, referred to as the “Jungle Nook” is on the smaller size but it still provides enough activities to keep them busy including arts and crafts. We also gave the children a culinary experience by putting them in a cooking class. If they had been a little older they could have made a unique Sri Lankan dish to enjoy for lunch but instead chef showed them how to make iced tea and decorate cup cakes. For this they used “Tableau” the chef’s table dining experience, which is housed separately on the cape.

 

Each of the stunning villas are in clusters of 2 or 3 and come with a shared 15 meter swimming pool in the most immaculate lush gardens, most of them with sea views. Each cluster is named after a famous adventurer such as Samuel Baker, Ernst Haeckel, Marco Polo to name a few. This is a perfect resort for large families traveling together but need their own villas as you can all be next to each other yet still have your own space. Designed by renowned Thai architect Lek Bunnag, the resort is an upscale evocation of a Sri Lankan village. Each of the spacious villas is topped by terracotta roofs and surrounded by flower-filled gardens. 

 

Our two bedroom villa was perfect for my family providing enough space, beautiful grounds for the kids to play and of course a swimming pool. I have a thing for bathrooms and this bathroom was so big with a shower/steam room, large bath, double sinks on either sides of the wall and a large walk in wardrobe. Also such a genius idea - they had a beautiful chest in the bathroom which hid a massage bed so as you could have the spa message service in the comfort of your own room.

 

The villa’s sound system is run on Sonos which we use at home so we already had the app on our phone so the volume quality was great and the Smart TV is loaded with a vast collection of movies and television shows.   

 

There are a couple of options for dining starting with the main restaurant “Ocean Terrace” positioned at the top of the cape all open fronted and showcases the most wonderful panoramic views. With a vast menu including a large selection of gluten free and diary free options, this is a great spot for breakfast or dinner.

 

For breakfast one morning we were offered a floating breakfast which is part of the Cape Weligama experience and is at no extra cost. You order what you would like to eat the night before, set a time and in the morning your food is waiting to be served to you in the swimming pool. I loved this experience but my kids were so confused! I always tell them not to eat in the pool or even go in the pool straight after they have eaten, but this experience goes against everything I have told them – they could now eat their pancakes and coco pops in the pool!!! It was very amusing to watch the kids try and eat and also a perfect picture/Insta opportunity.

 

For lunch you can have a more relaxed vibe, either ordering to your villa as they will set up the dining area on your terrace or you can go to the surf bar, which has a pool table, and out door seating. The Surf Bar is also attached to a fully equipped gym, so while the husband burnt a few calories, I piled them on enjoying a couple of glasses of rose!

 

As Cape Weligama is owned by Resplendent Ceylon (Owners of Dilmah Tea) you have to experience their afternoon high tea, which is served in the elegant setting, of “Cape Club” - we also enjoyed sundowners and evening drinks in this bar/lounge that invokes a lot of Sri Lanka’s colonial history with pictures, paintings and old books.

 

The resort does provide buggies to get around the property but its much more fun to experience the grounds by walking. We were told that there were 4 “look out spots” on the cliff edge all named after whales, which had been spotted in the sea below. One of these divine hidden spots, called “lookout blue’ is also a beautiful location to enjoy a private al fresco dinner, the sound of the waves crashing below being your only soundtrack.

 

Cape Weligama is the perfect resort for romantics and families. Switch off and totally chill out in luxurious settings and breathtaking views – all of Sri Lanka at its true finest.

 

Watch our video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T__xrEMXASg&feature=youtu.be

 

Dani
Family Friendly Couple

dani-footer

About Us

As an avid traveler, pre and post my three children, and a lover of boutique hotels, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively, stay at unique properties and take adventures off the beaten track.

I've been lucky to see and enjoy so much that I think now is the perfect time to share my travel experiences, so I have created Unique Family Travel - a company where my team and I can develop bespoke, wonderful and unique travel experiences for you and your family. I can guarantee our experiences aren't available on the likes of large booking websites as we take you on a tailored journey which caters to your specific needs.

Each destination and journey should be a timeless memory, created for you and your family and captured in fantastic memories to keep forever. We can help with this simply because that's how I would do it for myself, my family and friends!

Do get in touch with us, drop us a line and lets get you going on your next amazing, unique travel experience.

Happy Travels

Love Dani

PS. All photos on this site are taken by me, mostly on my iphone :)

Start planning today and get in touch

+97150 6882308

Partner

© 2019 Unique Family Travels. All rights reserved. | Company Registered under ARTE EXPERIENCE GROUP FZE