Monday, June 24, 2013

WE HAVE JUST BEEN TO BOTSWANA, part 1, Camping tour

Botswana. The real thing. Here we travel with Birgit Borgström, one of our most experienced travel consultants, on a camping tour through the raw magnificence of Botswana to luxury lodges near the Victoria Falls.  Her account is straightforward, Finnish plain speaking. When Birgit praises something you know it is really good…

Her pictures exude the deep call of the wild and some camping secrets...

On this tour with Africa’s prizewinning luxury safari operator AndBeyond there are unforgettable moments, the best of which was floating on a mokoro (dugout canoe) on the waterways of the Okavango...



Birgit spent 8 nights in the bush in tents at 4 different places Nxabega, Moremi, Savute and Chobe. They flew to Nxabega airstrip in the Okavango Delta and then a short flight to Moremi but most of the tour was overland. From Khwai there was a whole day game drive to Savute, Chobe National Park, and a few more long, sometimes bumpy but very interesting drives.

Accommodation

“Like camping in my youth, but better,” says Birgit.  The tents had showers under open sky surrounded by canvas and closed in private toilet areas and sleeping areas, some with places to store clothes.

Just canvas between you and the wilderness
Your hand basin and fresh clean towels

Warm showers in private quarters under open sky
“The beds were extremely good, better than at home!” comments Birgit.

"Camping in my youth did not have an en-suite WC..."
The menu included some delightful soups and lovely muffins. The personnel in all camps were nice, some especially nice, comments Birgit. “They all tried their best for us to be satisfied.”


She found the ranger Sam Kudomo was the most enthusiastic man regarding  knowledge of nature and the animals and their behaviour. “He was a lovely person with great sense of humour. He made our trip, and five stars to him,” says Birgit.


San Kudomo

Animal sightings and game drives

Some highlights:
Wild dogs - lovely reunion.




Long game drive to Savute, Chobe National Park with good animal sightings, lot of zebras, elephants, few wildebeest and birds.
Hornbill surveying the savanna
From Savute again a longer game drive to Serondela, northern Chobe nature park. On this trip they saw elephants playing in the water, buffalos lying in the water, lions in the bushes and so on, lots of birds.
“Here our **joy** was that there were hundreds of grasshoppers on our terrace area trying to come and have fun with us during the night…”, says Birgit with some dry Finnish humour, pointing out again that this is a trip for people who accept nature.
“And next morning there were millions of ants everywhere, which had woken  up because of the night’s rain.”


The bigger animals were more her style...


Elephants loving the water...
From here they drove to Kasane and did a pleasant boat trip on Chobe river, at the border of Botswana and Namibia, drinking pink champagne. Because of high water levels at Sedudu Island, where normally there are a lot of animals, they saw only crocodiles and hippos on the shore.
From Kasane they drove to the Zimbabwe border and from there to Elephant Camp (about one hour drive). Back to civilization, and the Victoria Falls…

Who to go

Nature lovers will find this the ultimate in luxury. But you need to love the wilderness with passion...and accept bumpy roads and occasional flying things. The beds are fabulous, the tents are comfortable, the food pleasant, the staff warm and nice, but needless to say your canvas "hotels" are not all the way up the luxury scale to Singita, Four Seasons, Aman or other more stationary Select products...

Next blog – Elephant Camp

Friday, June 14, 2013

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Amanpuri

If you were concerned that Phuket is overrun with tourists, read this. Our very discerning product manager Neil Bedford has found a lot of secluded and sophisticated charm on that large island, starting with one of the top luxury classics - Amanpuri...


Pansea Beach is undoubtedly the Select Collection winner of ‘best beach in Phuket’. An absolutely perfect white sand bay with a scattering of coconut palms, the odd oversized boulder for perching on to admire the view (and be admired in the case of many of the clientele who stay here) and no day trippers.

The hotel's Italian and Thai restaurants are invariably voted as the best on the island (though we felt Amanpuri’s ‘lunch on the rocks’ was equally memorable) while the spacious Pavilions are the ideal refuge from the sun and to cosy up at the end of the day.

Combine all of this with the intimate and discreet service which is a key part of any at Amanresort and you will find that Amanpuri is extremely hard to beat…


And a lush tropical feel, here too at Amanpuri's main pool -
haunt of beautiful people

Rooms

Beautiful stilted pavilions are dotted around a hillside coconut plantation situated on the peninsula of Pansea Beach. Their traditional Thai Lanna style exteriors reveal open plan interiors with the typically large bathroom/dressing rooms that you are always pleased to find in Amanresorts. Each pavilion has it’s own outdoor sala (with varying views depending on room type) where we enjoyed freshly laid out passion fruit, lychees and rambutan every day.

We would suggest that when deciding on the premium you are happy to pay for your view, you may like to consider how much time you plan to linger on the sala enjoying your private vistas. If you do not have your own pool then there is only so long you can enjoy the heat and instead you might want to spend this extra amount on the spa (see below)….

The very best room types are located toward the tip of the peninsula and here you should choose a partial ocean pool pavilion (private pool and ocean view) or an ocean facing villa (larger private pool, larger room and the best ocean view).


2-bedroom partial ocean view pavilion

Spa magic

The Amanpuri spa is very special is the first full-service spa in the Aman group. Their signature treatment combining traditional Thai massage, steam room, body scrub and finally a relaxing oil massage left us wanting to bring the entire spa back home so we could enjoy it every day for the next 10 years. (For real spa/wellness addicts you may like to ask us about the Amanpuri Wellness Retreat which runs 1st July – 31st August 2013.)

Getting around the tropical grounds - Aman buggy

Must do

Amanpuri run a daily (in season) shared cruise along the Phuket coastline to deserted bays, islands and snorkeling spots which is well worth trying if you cannot find a boat of your fancy to charter from the fleet they have at their personal disposal which range from 20 to 110ft. As an alternative to blissfully romantic evenings at Amanpuri, visit Catch Beach Club (5 mins walk) on nearby Surin Beach. Ideal for sundowners and a chilled out Ibiza style atmosphere, it’s a fun option for a night that can go on until  the early hours…

...and take a leisurely afternoon tea....

How to get to Amanpuri

25 mins by car from Phuket international airport.

Why go

This is one of the very best beach hotels in Thailand and the place to go if you are looking for assured and understated luxury.

Monday, June 10, 2013

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Heading north in Thailand is a great idea, suggests our product manager Neil Bedford after his recent trip.  For top luxury in magical natural setting - Four Seasons Chiang Mai.


Here you can drink in the lush feel of the tropics by the gorgeous swimming pool overlooking the paddy fields. Add to your sense of well-being, by working out at the extremely impressive modern gym, or letting tension drop away at the highly regarded spa.  Or take a path to better (more exotic) eating...

The hotel's cooking school is widely regarded as one of the best in the country - and has a dedicated building which is very impressive. The restaurants have a focus on fresh Thai food and they also do a great afternoon tea. Must do is The “chefs table” dinner.

Cooking school - great value for top luxury

Private dining in the cooking school with numerous dishes cooked in front of you. If you like to join in you can help as well! Must book ahead.

Leisurely breakfast

Rooms

64 pavilions (all the same beautiful wooden Lanna style on stilts which only vary according to the view), 12 pool villas (spacious and secluded), 17 residences and 5 vast residence villas (1-4 bedrooms with pool).

All pavilions lie in a horseshoe around paddy fields/lake. Pavilions are Lanna-style with ornately carved woods. The higher the price of the pavilion the better the view.


Pool villa
Pool villas are very impressive with luxurious hideaway feel, hidden in the trees.

Residence rooms are in a big separate building that feels basically like a separate ‘club’ section of the hotel. These are designed as apartments and you may perhaps not feel of the essence of the hotel here.

The residence villas are great for groups of friends but families need to be aware bedrooms are separate so you need to walk to a different building (within the villa complex) to access each room.


How to get to Four Seasons Chiang Mai

 45 mins from Chiang Mai airport. Same distance from the city itself.

Why go

To try something different during your Thailand trip. Direct flights to Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui (as well as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hongkong) make it an easy 3 night add-on.

Must do

Have a half day guided tour of Chiang Mai (impressive temples and markets - doesn’t have the congestion of Bangkok) and spend the rest of the time enjoying the hotel. And don't forget the chef's table dinner...

See also our web page.

Monday, June 3, 2013

HOTEL CHECK THAILAND, Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai

During a 2-week Thailand trip our product manager Neil Bedford visited our special Collection hotels and resorts. He heartily recommends going north on your next trip...and trying this charming property...

The architecture of Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai is amazing and it feels as if the hotel was or is a temple or palace. In fact it blends very well with Chiang Mai’s enchanting temple heritage.


The swimming pool is surrounded by the typical towers and ornate decor of the property. We were also very impressed by the spa and several good dining options.  Another advantage is that it is also really convenient to head in to Chiang Mai itself during the day or for dinner (just 15 minutes drive).


Rooms

123 suites, villas and residences.

Colonial suites (and deluxe colonial suites which are 20 sqm bigger and may have an extra toilet) are extremely impressive. We liked our Grand Deluxe suite - loving the colonial style, and the massive balcony looking over the pool and gardens. Really ‘wow’ when you walk in! Beautifully decorated as well as practical. Do request pool view, and for families request pool view ground floor as you then have pool just metres away. 

Deluxe colonial suite
Villas are done Thai style - which we found most impressive. Our favourite villas (each a Thai style free-standing pavilion) had private pools and Jacuzzi overlooking the hotel's own rice fields.

Pool villa

Why go

To try something different during your Thailand trip. Direct flights to Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui (as well as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hongkong) make it an easy 3 night add-on.

Have a couple of half day guided tour of Chiang Mai (impressive temples, markets and doesn’t have the congestion of Bangkok) and the rest enjoying the hotel. Easy to dine out in Chiang Mai and shop in the street markets (famous Sunday market as well as more touristy daily night market).

How to get to Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai

15 mins from Chiang Mai airport. Same distance from the city itself.

Must do

A traditional Thai massage in the hotel spa.