Essential questions to ask yourself when choosing an island wedding venue
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Phuket’s golden sands, warm seas and sensational sunsets have long lured visitors from around the world, but there’s a lot more to this tropical island paradise than the beautiful beaches that fringe it’s shores, glittering temples, majestic wildlife, breathtaking seascapes, underwater wonders and a fascinating cultural heritage are yours to discover.
Here are the five essential Phuket day trips.
#1 Phang Nga Bay
JAMES BOND ISLAND – IMAGE CREDIT: TINGGLY.COM
Beckoning just off Phuket’s east coast, this sheltered bay is perfect for a luxury yacht charter or a sea kayaking trip. Glide past towering limestone karsts, visit the Panyee floating village, or paddle through caves to find hidden lagoons of ethereal beauty. In the middle of Phang Nga Bay is James Bond Island, whose steep rocky pinnacle jutting out of the emerald water has become the iconic image of Phuket and the Andaman region. A busy spot at times but a breathtaking sight nonetheless.
#2 Big Buddha
Travel to Phuket’s southeastern interior to find two of the island’s most sacred sites. Wat Chalong is a 200-year-old Buddhist temple of golden-spired marble pagodas with red-tiled roofs. At the heart of the temple is the 61-metre Phramahathat Chedi, a glimmering three-storey stupa that houses a sacred bone fragment believed to trace back to the Lord Buddha. Climb to the top level to enjoy views of the surrounding hills and the Big Buddha, an imposing 45-metre statue in pure white marble. The views extend across much of the island’s south and to the sea beyond. Entry is free for both Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha but donations are welcome. And make sure to dress modestly when visiting these religious sites.
#3 Elephant Sanctuary
IMAGE CREDIT: PHUKET ELEPHANT SANCTUARY
Elephants are highly revered in Thai culture but sadly their diminishing habitats across Southeast Asia and popular use as tourist attractions have led to their abuse and exploitation. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, opened in late 2016, offers an alternative to visitors who want to see these majestic giants without contributing to their mistreatment. Adjacent to Khao Phra Theao National Park,
Bali delivers equally extraordinary experiences to seekers of chic elegance as it does to those pursuing adrenaline, education or picture perfect mountain scapes. Here are just a few of the enriching experiences to seek out on your next visit to Bali.
Those who appreciate a well-curated cocktail will love Akademi, a hub for Bali’s growing mixology scene. Not only can you sample amazing cocktails here, but Akademi also offers regular master classes led by the internationally celebrated British mixologist Dre Masso.
JL. PETITENGET NO. 51B, SEMINYAK, BALI
IMAGE CREDIT: www.akademi-bar.com
Delve into the mysteries of Bali’s tropical produce with cocktail ingredients like mangosteen, jackfruit and salak, plus a range of unique spices and roots. Get up close and personal with luscious infused dark rums, inspired gins and araks saturated with rare botanicals from the Indonesian archipelago.
Dre brings the knowledge accumulated from trips to more than 40 countries and includes the history of flavours in his classes. Cocktail-making skills will be honed while learning about indigenous ingredients and how to balance flavours with every integral part of the recipe. A recent master class explored the two cocktails that were presented by Akademi at the Southeast Asian Finals of the Diageo World Class Mixology competition.
Other master classes have included the analysis of nutmeg and cascara (coffee fruit skin), where spices are dissected and the bar-made tincture, liqueurs and jams are tasted. Cascara was first used in Yemen, where it was infused into hot water with a powerful selection of spices to make a drink called ‘Qishr’, and has now become the star ingredient in one of Akademi’s cocktails.
The Akademi daily cocktail menu is seriously worth a visit. Check out the artisanal ceramic, copper and wooden cocktail vessels that make a clear statement about this exclusive destination.
Head into the verdant hills of Ubud and the beautiful Bridges restaurant where the Divine Wine & Cocktail Bar is located below the Riverside dining room and is the exclusive haunt of Bridges’ sommelier Rahul Mehra. Participate in an outstanding master class, listen to the river flow and enjoy the privileged view.
The first time I visited Sri Lanka there was a war on. Twenty years, 40+ visits and a beach house later, how things have changed. In 1997, tourists were restricted to the southwest corner of the island – from Bentota through Galle round to Yala National Park. Now the whole of this aptly named “island of serendipity”, is open for business, and what a delight it is to explore.
“Journeys are long although the distances are short” was the mantra of my loyal driver, Lucky, back then. And he wasn’t wrong.
To get to Colombo from the UNESCO-listed Fort at Galle (only 125km) you had to endure a 4 to 5-hour journey of hair-raising overtaking along an inadequate coast road. Traffic would grind to a halt on the approaches to Colombo, and crossing the capital to reach the airport was a war of attrition.
Now, a sparkling dual carriageway whisks you from the airport to downtown Colombo in 30 minutes and Galle can be reached in just over the hour. The delightful south-coast bays of Weligama, Dikwella, Matara and Mirissa (of whale-watching fame) are in easy reach. The Cultural Triangle, with its ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, and the historic centres of Dambulla and Sigiriya, are also much more accessible thanks to a series of newly paved and widened roads.
The hill stations of Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Horton Plains are still not easy to reach by road, although the train is a popular, more relaxing alternative. But once there, the stunning tea plantations and panoramic trekking country make for a magical setting. Sit back in a planter’s chair, sip a G&T and enjoy the colonial splendour.
Take your time, slow down to Sri Lanka speed
Pasikudah, Trincomalee and the Jaffna Peninsula were pretty much off limits to all but the brave and/or foolhardy until 2009, so visiting the stunning beaches of the east coast was nearly impossible. Gravel tracks, frequent check points, mine sappers and curfews made travel long and arduous – our worst east-to-west-coast road trip took staggering 17 hours at the height of the conflict. Today, seeing 300 wild elephants watering at dusk in Minneriya National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list, as should the spice gardens around Kandy and the crystal clear waters of Nilaveli Beach running up to Pigeon Island.
Phuket is well known for its sea, sand and sunsets, but those who venture into the blue beyond the beach will discover another island delight: snorkelling.
The Andaman Sea is rich with tropical sea life and dotted with idyllic islands, and a short boat journey from Phuket will bring you to several fascinating underwater sites. Here’s a brief guide to some of the best snorkelling sites around Phuket and how to get there.
Though it’s certainly no longer the untouched paradise portrayed in Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie ‘The Beach’, the Phi Phi island archipelago, with beaches of glittering white sands framed by dramatically steep cliffs, is still a wondrous sight.
When snorkelling Phi Phi island, the depths reveal sites teeming with colourful fish, especially among the fertile reefs near the uninhabited Bamboo island. Found about an hour’s boat ride to the east of Phuket, Phi Phi is best visited during the calmer months of December through March.
KHAI ISLAND – IMAGE CREDIT: EMOTIONTRAVEL.CO.TH
Just 15 minutes away from Phuket’s southwest coast lies the tiny Coral island, with two beaches and a resident family of hornbills to visit between snorkelling sessions. Thirty minutes further are the Raya islands with shallow reefs ideal for exploration by snorkel. Raya Yai, with just a few resorts and no cars, has some spectacular beaches for relaxing breaks in between snorkel outings.
Young explorers will love the Khai islands, a trio of tiny isles of sand and rock that resemble eggs (‘khai’ in Thai) floating in the water. Khai Nok, Khai Nui and Khai Nai are easily accessible and ideal for snorkelling with kids, just 20 minutes east of Phuket and surrounded with clear shallow waters and fertile reefs. Young children need only stand in the shallows to spot at least a few fishes. It does get busy here at times so try to come outside of peak visiting hours for a more peaceful trip.
SNORKELLING THE SIMILAN ISLANDS – IMAGE CREDIT: ORIGINALDIVING.COM
The diamond in the crown of the Phuket snorkelling experience is the Similans, a stunning nine-island archipelago with crystal clear waters and an incredible variety of reefs and marine life. It’s a bit of a hike to get there: an hour’s drive north to Tablamu pier on the mainland,
The number one place for a romantic getaway, the dream honeymoon destination, the primo anniversary escape?
It’s got to be the Bali, Indonesia. Beach lovers can’t resist the lure of this spiritual island, where tropical luxury is at its best (and lovers can’t resist each other).
More specifically, it’s got to be Seminyak, where wining and dining is effortless and hideaways like The Layar are beyond kitted out for high-end leisure.
THE LAYAR DESIGNER VILLAS & SPA
Get comfortable with cool spacious interiors, zillion thread count sheets and an open living area next to a private swimming pool and manicured tropical garden. A dramatic slanted ceiling overhead makes your very private villa like a personal theatre where you can display your affection. O Romeo!
THE LAYAR – PRIVATE LUXURY VILLA
If only Shakespeare’s famed duo had dashed off to Bali, theirs would be a very different play with all the passion and none of the tragedy. It’s a romantic’s Heaven on Earth thanks to the natural beauty and wealth of things to do. For the couple’s getaway of a lifetime, forget R+J and take your cues for romance from this script instead.
THE LAYAR – ROOM SERVICE
Act I. Scene I. Luxury one-bedroom villa. A warm welcome note and chilled champagne on the table.
Borrowing a page from The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene, surprise is an easy road to romance. Being in a new place for the first time serves up a bit of wonder, but a love of travel doesn’t necessarily bring people together. It’s the thoughtful surprises (and bold moves, says Greene) planned by one person for the other that bring back flutters of new love.
A simple request when booking is all it takes to set the scene for arrival however you’d like. Arrange special occasions and activities in advance – leave the legwork to your hosts while you go barefoot and enjoy your holiday worry free.
Act II. Scene II. The beach. Golden sand surrounds. Palm trees sway in the pleasant sea breeze.
Roses, chocolates and sweet surprises are strong symbols in the book of love, but the best romances have more to the plot.