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The Muntigunung Trek – a walk on the wild side of Bali

in Recreation by

If you’ve visited Bali before, you might have taken a day trip to Kintamani to take in the stunning views across Lake Batur towards the mountains. And the experience will have stopped there. But beyond the lake and the steep mountains is a side of Bali so far off the tourism trail that few have had the chance to visit — unless they have joined the exclusive and award-winning Muntigunung Trek. Seduced by the promise of breath-taking vistas and heart-warming encounters in the once-forgotten villages of Muntigunung, we eagerly signed up and set our alarm clock for the pre-dawn start.

After driving northwards for two hours in the company of Pica, our principle guide, we stopped on the crest of the caldera to marvel at the sun rising behind the mountains beyond the lake — an early Instagram-worthy moment. “That’s where you will be trekking”, he pointed. The drive itself was part of the experience; we drove past amazing rice terraces and rural vistas, then dropped down into the caldera weaving across lava fields from Gunung Batur’s 1968 eruption and along the lake to Songan.

Ready for jaw-dropping vistas?

Time to lace up your boots, lavish on the sunscreen, have selfie-stick at the ready, select a sturdy bamboo walking stick, and  then take to the trail with Pica and the local guides as they lead their way up the steep mountainside. The views are spectacular — at one stage the trail follows the top of a ridge and the expanse of ocean shimmers towards the horizon on one side while, down a vertiginous drop far below, Lake Batur sparkles towards Kintamani perched on the far rim of the caldera.

It is unimaginable to think that this mountain trail was once the only route the women and children of the Munti villages could take to secure water for their families – a perilous five-hour round trip every day. It was also the start of their journey to go begging with their children in Ubud and on Bali’s main beach resort streets — then their only source of income.

Making a difference, step by step

But that’s one of the joys of completing the trek; with every step, you’re making a positive contribution to the livelihood and wellbeing of the island’s poorest, most neglected communities. For the trek is just one of the extraordinary initiatives that have transformed their lives,

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Samui Elephant Sanctuary Review

in Destinations/Recreation by

“For the herds of wild elephants show no resentment when domesticated animals join them. They have none of that herd instinct directed against the stranger that one finds in cattle, in small boys, and among many grown-up men. This tolerance is just one of the things about elephants which makes one realize they are big in more ways than one.”

― J.H. Williams, Elephant Bill

Samui Elephant Sanctuary opened on 16 January 2018 by Founder Wittaya Sala-Ngam and is the first ethical elephant sanctuary in Koh Samui. Currently, there are five elephants in their care; Cartoon, Kham San and Sri Nin (50 – 60 years old) who came to the sanctuary from the local riding camp on Koh Samui. The sanctuary also has two younger elephants; Nong Pech (7 years old) and Moloair (9 years old) who came to the elephant sanctuary from Surin province.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary offers tours that educate visitors about the importance of these extraordinary, majestic giants. You will be able to feed and walk and observe the elephants as they forage, socialize and play, and do what elephants do, and that’s be elephants.

These five elephants that now live, at the Samui Elephant Sanctuary, have come from an extremely hard life, working long hours in the entertainment or logging industries. These stunning animals have been beaten and made to do what their owners wanted by use of force and torture. Having a chair strapped to their back or painting a picture has never been part of their natural environment. The positive news for elephants is that times are changing and projects such as the Samui Elephant Sanctuary are becoming the new way for a tourist to experience elephants. 

The Samui Elephant Sanctuary is the perfect opportunity for families, couples, and friends to discover the life of elephants in a stunning natural setting and enjoy these beautiful creatures in a way that does not take advantage of the animal. The project works under the Save the Elephant Foundations “off Saddle” program.

On arrival, you will be welcomed by extremely friendly and highly dedicated team of staff, many of whom are volunteers, that are all committed to the well-being of the animals. The tours focus on observation of the elephant’s natural behaviors and as such, they do not allow guest to join the elephants in the mud pit or swimming pool and of course NO RIDING.

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Open Studios at Phuket Art Village

in Shops by
girl at phuket art village

A colourful and quirky artists’ enclave hidden away in the southern neighbourhood of Rawai, the Phuket Art Village is a hippy chic collection of working art studios; home to some of the island’s most outstanding local artists. Both eclectic and charming, the Phuket Art Village oozes artistic flair.

Home to a group of unique studios that were built by their artists (and are in many instances lived in) the Phuket Art Village functions as a creative space for both the artists in residence and the local community… travellers included.

phuket art village

As well as selling their wares on-site, the artists host painting classes, sculpture workshops, environmental awareness seminars and jam sessions. A visit to the village makes a good outing for art-lovers and groups of all ages including families (contact the venue in advance to find out about scheduled art workshops and shadow puppet shows for your kids).

There are several studios and galleries to explore within the village. Most are open daily, although hours vary depending on the season. Here we introduce two of the artists you might meet:

niran art gallery

Niran Art Gallery

A slight, kind and softly-spoken man originally from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, artist Niran Chanhom relocated to Phuket several years ago because of his love for the sea. And it is the sea that has become his greatest inspiration.

painting at niran art gallery in phuket

Driftwood in all shapes and sizes collected from Phuket’s various beaches are the beating heart of many of his creations. His artistic flair is perhaps best captured in his life-size wooden sculptures of fish and other marine life. These driftwood sea creatures are not only beautiful, but also reflect Niran’s hopes of protecting the ocean.

phuket art village

While making art from driftwood will always be his favourite medium, in recent years Niran has evolved his craft and taken to large canvases – often depicting a lonely fisherman with his fishing pole or catch of the day – to let his creativity explode. His abstract paintings are both bright and colourful and introduce new characters to his artistic line-up. Niran’s latest works are a series of mismatched faces and a few smaller pieces that highlight the bond between mother and child.

phuket art gallery

A visit to Niran’s art gallery in Phuket is an opportunity to admire his work and get up close and personal with the artist himself.

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Through the Keyhole: Villa Sammasan

in Destinations by
Surin family villa

Villa Sammasan owners tell us about their stunning ocean view home over looking Surin Beach on Phuket’s west coast.

Surin villa with view

Why did you choose to buy your villa in Phuket and at this location?

We bought the villa because it had an all-encompassing view from every room looking over the Andaman Sea and you can walk to the beach. We saw many places, but they were in the mountains far away from the beach.  The house is perfectly positioned to capture the sunset each night, and you get an immediate view from every part of the house.

We also liked the clean, modern architecture, with its flow and design. There is a sprawling private master suite with its own balcony and Jacuzzi and lots of space. You can walk straight from the living area out onto the terrace and to the pool, so its central to the house.  And you can sit in the living room and see the pool, sala and view beyond. We also have a private TV room and secluded rooms with their own ensuite and balconies downstairs.

Villa Sammasan - Surin, Phuket

What is your inspiration for the villa design?

Sammasan looks outwards towards Surin Beach and the Andaman Sea and the headlands, one of which is home to Thailand’s top resort, the Amanpuri. So we wanted to capture the seaside with a beachhouse feel, a kind of Cape Cod design, with Thai influences. Hence you see lots of white walls, but with splashes of colour and art and design that inspires. You have a modern Poliform kitchen but with a traditional Thai sala. It’s the blend of the traditional with the very modern.

What features make the villa unique?

The view. The spaciousness. The art. The location. The furniture. The colours inside  complement the views outside. This all influences the mood. Anyone who appreciates art and design will enjoy this boutique villa.

Surin private pool villa

What would you like guests to experience at your villa?

A home away from home in a fantastic location. A place to rest and relax after going out into the hustle and bustle of Phuket.  Enjoy the shade in the morning and then at the end of the day, watch the sun set over the Andaman on the lounges or in the outdoor sala. You can go out or you can stay in the villa and watch the beauty of nature unfold outside.  

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Sri Lanka surfing gems

in Recreation by

Along Sri Lanka’s beautiful southern coastline, famed for its underwater marine life and wetland reserves, what surfers most admire at Sri Lanka’s family beaches are the world-class waves. No surfer can resist palm fringed shores and the opportunity to surf in calm blue waters with sea turtles. Read on for my insider tips about surfing in southern Sri Lanka, whether it’s for a dedicated surf trip or just a day trip from Galle.

In February 2018 I flew into Colombo, jumped straight into a taxi with my board and zero prior knowledge about the paradise that awaited me. I did what any surfer would: I headed south to the sea! Okay, I wasn’t quite that aimless. Luckily, a dear friend was there to meet me and show me the ropes. My expectations of this surfers’ paradise were blown out of the water, exceeded dramatically.

Sri Lanka map

take me to paradise  

Let’s start with the village of Midigama, where nights are spent dreaming of the next wave. This surfer Heaven is outside of Weligama Bay, just 40 minutes from Galle by car or taxi, or the more local options, a bus or tuk-tuk. If you’re planning on bringing your own surfboard to Sri Lanka the options are slightly more limited as they’re not allowed on the buses. But most tuk-tuk’s have a roof rack and proper straps and will usually be a cheaper (and more exciting) ride than a taxi.

You’ll pass by many small villages, each with their own hidden surf gems, but Midigama has the magic. In less than two kilometers you can find five breaks that cater to surfers from beginner to advanced. Whether you want to grab a longboard and surf a ‘mellow’ right over deep soft reef or are a bit more experienced and want to get barrelled at Ram’s – it’s all within walking distance.

midigama sri lanka

Midigama surfing spots

Lazy Right at Midigama Beach is exactly what it sounds like – probably the most mellow, soft, right hand wave in the South Coast area. This break can pick up some bigger swell that makes it fun for more advanced surfers, too. On average it’s the safest reef break you’ll find in South Sri Lanka, great for beginner and intermediate surfers to improve confidence and surfing skills.

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