Recreation

Must-see places and can’t miss things to do from Malé to Bali

Where in the World? The Biggest Asian Elephant Gathering

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The Gathering at Minneriya National Park

Elephants are amazing. There’s something about their grey leathery hides, their tiny soulful eyes, their wispy mop-like tails and their playful trunks. Oh, and I love it when they run!

Given my penchant for Pachyderms I couldn’t be living in a better place than Sri Lanka, land of the Asian Elephant. There are thought to be around 2,500-3,500 wild elephants on this 65,000-square-kilometre island, mostly living in protected national parks and reserves, which are connected via ‘elephant corridors’ – forested passageways.

 

Minneriya National Park elephant reserve

One of the world’s most significant elephant phenomena happens in Minneriya National Park – a protected 8,890-hectare reserve within Sri Lanka’s famed Cultural Triangle. Every year, from the beginning of the dry season – usually late August – groups of elephants start to congregate around the receding waters of the Minneriya Tank, a vast and ancient waterbody spanning some 4670 acres, which was built by the ‘tank-building’ King Mahasena in the 3rd century. This tank at the centre of the reserve never empties so when other drinking sources become scarce, elephants find their way here to drink, bathe and feast on the young shoots of grass that flourish on the edges of the tank as the water recedes.

This phenomenon, which usually lasts until the monsoon begins in October, is known as The Gathering. The term was coined less than a decade ago by renowned Sri Lankan naturalist Gehan de Silva Wijerathne, and since then crowds of visitors have come to observe these majestic creatures in their natural setting. As many as 300 elephants have been recorded at the tank at any one time; it’s thought to be the biggest gathering of Asian elephants in the world. Minneriya forms part of an elephant corridor that links Kaudulla and Wasgamuwa national parks, all located in Sri Lanka’s North Central region.

 

Minneriya National Park See Asian elephants at the gathering

Last September I was lucky enough to witness this natural spectacle for myself. The afternoon is the best time of day to observe the elephants, so I was at the park by 2.30pm to meet up with my driver and tracker. Jeep drivers double up as safari guides, though trackers (some are former poachers) are often more experienced at sighting wildlife. Luckily, mine spoke English.

We drove slowly, taking in the park’s scenery as our guide scanned the forest for any signs of movement.

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Top Five Phuket Day Trips

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Phuket Thailand Elephants

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 Phuket

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

Phuket 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

Elephants in Thailand

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,

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Bali Highs

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Bali Thrilling Things to Do

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.

 

WICKED APERITIFS

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.

Bali cocktails Akademi bar

AKADEMI COCKTAILS
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.

 

WINE TIPS-Y

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.

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Snorkelling Phuket’s Underwater Eden

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Snorkelling Phi Phi Islands Phuket

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.

Sea Turtle Khai Island 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 Similan Islands 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,

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Exploring Phuket’s Wild Side

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Phuket’s tropical heat makes it tempting to laze days away on the beach, but those seeking adventure will find plenty of action-packed activities on and around the island.

The warm, clear waters of the Andaman Sea, the island’s lush interior and a growing number of adventure and sports operators all offer plenty of adrenalin-fuelled fun while connecting with nature.  

Surfing and standup paddle boarding: From October through May, when the south-west monsoon brings bigger waves, Phuket is a surfer’s dream – especially off Kata Beach. During the rest of the year, calmer conditions mean smooth, glassy water in the bays, perfect for standup paddle boarding (SUP).

Sailing: Phuket is a great place to learn to sail or hone your sailing skills with lessons and yacht charters available at all the island’s marinas. The Phuket Yacht Club in Chalong hosts regular races and lessons, and its fleet of small dinghies are perfect for kids learning the ropes.  

Scuba diving: A prime launching point for exploring the Andaman’s fascinating sea life, Phuket welcomes divers of all abilities. Several PADI-certified shops around the island offer instruction and day trips to nearby sites including the sapphire waters of the Similan islands. 

Kiteboarding: Kiteboarders should head to Rawai or Nai Yang beaches where colourful kites pull riders at breathtaking speed across the bay. Rentals and lessons are available for learners.  

Wakeboarding: Board riding is not just surfer territory in Phuket. The island has two inland cable wakeboard parks that see everyone from beginners to world champions flying and flipping their way around the course. Try Phuket Wake Park near Patong or Anthem Wake Park in Cherng Talay, not far from Surin and Bang Tao beaches. 

Cycling: Phuket is not big on bike lanes, so two-wheeled explorers may want to try a guided cycling trip rather than navigating their own route. Amazing Bike Tours offers day tours to off-the-beaten-track locations that provide healthy doses of fresh air and beautiful sights. An especially scenic trip takes cyclists to the nearby island of Koh Yao Noi, along peaceful rural roads with magnificent views across Phang Nga Bay. 

Ziplining: Soar like an eagle through the treetops on ziplines that give you a bird’s eye view of Phuket’s jungle landscape.

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