Into The Wild

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Image by: Katherine Griffiths Photography

Hundreds of dragonflies dart haphazardly around me, fracturing the silvery pink light. They snatch at small clouds of gnats and unsuspecting mosquitoes as afternoon turns to evening. The humidity slowly drops. Standing in the ‘open window’ that is my bedroom wall, I witness the sounds of larger forest life quieten and the smaller insect world increase in crescendo.

I can hear distant laughter and the tinkling of glasses. The sweat on my arms and face dries as the air cools. It’s now the twilight. The dragonflies feed with less abandonment, the forest with her large palm fronds and the vines near to me, morph into one giant silhouette against a now blue-black night sky. The last of the light disappears and standing in the dark I reflect on what an amazing place I’ve landed in.

I’m in Tambopata National Park in the South East of Peru with the award-winning ecotourism outfit – Rainforest Expeditions. I’m here to experience the Amazon, to search for the elusive Jaguar, Anacondas, the very rare Giant River Otter and the Harpy Eagle. These four species are considered, by my guide Aldo, as the top four endangered predatory creatures in the area.

Squinting at the glow of my watch I realise I’ve almost missed sundowners at the lodge bar. With the smell of dinner in the air I grab a torch, stroll the walkways to the main hub of ‘Refugio’ (the lodge) and find some of the guides and other guests already at the bar, tucking into Pisco Sours and discussing the coming days’ activities.

Refugio Lodge
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

 

Lodge walkways.
Image by Kate Walker

The perfect spot to while away the afternoon hours…
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

His incredible ear for faun calls and eye for the tiniest of movements sees me witnessing Saddle-back Tamarinds for the first time, different species of Tucan, teasing Chicken Tarantulas out of their ground burrows (this is not for the faint-hearted) and learning about the stranger of beasts (Screaming Pijas and Hoatzins to name a couple) in this huge conservation area.  We pass Walking Trees, Strangler Figs and Kapoks – the incredible and majestic trees that inspired James Cameron in the making of the film ‘Avatar’.Life, in this part of the world, is at its busiest early in the day; I’m up each day at around 06:00am to the awakening calls of Howler Monkeys and within the hour, walking the forest trails with a belly full of breakfast and in the footsteps of Aldo.

Chicken tarantula
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

Tambopata NP really is a special place. It has one of very few Macaw research/conservation and protection centres in all of South America and along with Colombia it is ranked the top spot for bird watching in South America.

Tambopata lies within the larger region of Madre de Dios (Mother of God) where 52 per cent of the forests are protected by the government. Of the 120 ‘world climates’, 80 can be found in this setting and wider Peru. This nook in the world is all about halting development and promoting conservation – it’s fantastic to see.

One of many forest trails..
Image by: © Katherine Griffiths Photography

Perched silently in a hide overlooking the clicks, I watched vibrant yellow, red and blue Scarlet Macaws socialise and parakeets group together in their tens. Bird enthusiasts can sit glued to telescopes and high-tech binoculars for hours, so if you’re all about the avian world – this is the place to be.Traipsing the forest trails and crushing dry vegetation underfoot is not conducive to glimpsing some of the more shy fauna in the region. So this is where the Clay Licks come in handy. A Clay Lick is an area, usually on the edges of a riverbank, where creatures great and small gather around exposed soil and eat the nutrient-rich clay to assist in their digestion of fruits and other vegetation. Some also believe it’s a place where Tambopata’s 1,800 species of bird come to socialise. And, Tambopata is home to the largest ‘Clay Lick’ in the world.

All you need it a cold beer and a spot to perch.
Image by Kate Walker

Afternoons saw me scaling canopy towers allowing a peak at the expanse of green I’d been moving under for days. By night there’s the opportunity to go Caiman spotting – these creatures that grow up to two meters long are far more active at night. And if the reptiles are proving difficult to hunt out then a boat ride with your head hung over the side is just as good – the stars and clarity of night sky in this corner of the planet is incredible.

Fading light on a sandy bank.
Image by Kate Walker

Sadly, I never got to see any of the mentioned top predators but I saw a huge array of other wonderful species and I’m far richer for the exposure. Refugio’s guides and staff make the experience; the lodge is an oasis of comforts in what is a wild, remote part of the world.

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Manathai Resort – Phuket

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Its intimacy, design and vibe are what make the Manathai Resort Phuket my favourite of all holiday accommodations. As a product contractor in travel, I have seen and stayed in a myriad of properties but this particular boutique space, central to Surin Beach, really appeals to my senses.

Separating from our frenzied scooter hive on highway 4025 and throttling back onto the less hurried sois (streets and alleys) of Hat Surin, we immediately felt the strain melt off our wind-swept faces. This nook in the West of Phuket is a delight. It is north of damaged Patong, central enough to access both the south and north of the island easily and Surin is considered by locals and expats alike, to be a chic weekend getaway.

There are no blazing neon signs advertising the resort. Instead, puttering along Srisunthorn road, you are met with beautiful green tiled A-frame roofs, white washed walls, trickling waters and an open plan road-front restaurant fringed with white patio umbrellas. Security waved us in and having killed the waspish drone of our scooter we were welcomed inside with lemongrass drinks and cool moving air from silent fans.

Manathai Resort Lobby & Bar

The open plan reception-cum-lounge-cum-bar is really the crux of why this place is so attractive to me. The mood here is laid back, staff come and go and never fail to greet or smile in passing, the constant warm breeze lulls you into relaxation and it’s where my partner and I tended to spend most evenings.

We, of course, explored the local scene but found ourselves returning early each night to relax on large couches, amid brightly coloured cushions with drinks, books and the days’ photos until we felt the need to drift off to bed.

Manathai Resort Deluxe Room

The room was huge, with high ceilings and shelving holding beautiful ceramics, platters, stone and wood carvings, tiles and all sorts of traditional Thai earthen wares. Huge, low-hung, pod-like lighting warmly reaches all corners and the smell of lemongrass incense and the wafting aromas of freshly cut lotus flowers polished off the setting.

Our days spent exploring Phuket Island by motorbike was a hot and sticky affair. So, returning to ultramarine blue pool waters was just bliss. Gliding up and down, eyeing out chirruping frogs in the pool’s pond edges and relishing the sound of tricking waters from enormous mossy-skinned pots just felt so luxurious and private. The place was ‘ours’ and we never felt impinged upon by other holiday makers. In fact, at any one time we spotted perhaps a couple here and there but we were never in anyone else’s company.

Summing up my surroundings:
Antique furniture, dark woods, pebble pathways, white walls, wrought iron designer lights, fresh lotus flowers, comfort and class, natural light abound, frangipanis, earthy colours and the staff.

Manager Khun Daniel and his staff were (and still are) a super crowd with attention to detail and personalised touches being their unique selling point. They are what made our stay wonderful and should we make it back to Thailand again, Manathai Resort is where we will call home.

Dusit Thani – Bangkok

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Dusit Thani – Lobby
Image by: Kate Walker

We had been trekking train platforms and streets for the better part of an hour attired in longs, closed shoes and hauling on luggage. Unaccustomed to such humidity (especially at night!), perspiration ran slick and Bangkok had us cursing our decision to train it from the airport.

Why had we passed up the convenience of an air-conditioned taxi? However, we had the hotel within sight and with one final heave, doors opened to a ‘Sawasdee Krup’ and we were warmly shown into the cool interior of one of the city’s oldest and grand hotels – Dusit Thani.

Devarana spa

Grand is the most fitting word to pin to this 41-year-old property. The upper lobby is home to reception, concierge, a variety of restaurants & bars on differing physical levels and fresh displays of tropical flowers and tranquil trickling waters.

This vast, columned space is where the majority of folk migrate to, at any hour of the day. The atmosphere is chilled, natural light floods most corners and there’s never a feeling of over-crowdedness.

Check-in was fuss-free and one of the swiftest I’ve experienced. Reception staff welcomed us with beautiful threaded Phuang Malais (Thai flower garlands) and within minutes I was peering out of my 17th floor room window across a twinkling Bangkok skyline and down into the peacefulness of Lumpini Park.

Grand room

Airline hair and the removal of city grit was the next thing to sort out and our Grand King room certainly had a bathroom equipped to deal with this. Cool marble flooring, wafting essential oil, light dimmers, complimentary soaps and shampoos, a walk-in shower large enough to fit four and a deep bathtub to boot ensured we were well scrubbed and fit to occupy D’Sens Bar for a nightcap and to toast a superb start to two weeks off in Thailand.

Occupying the 22nd (top) floor, D’Sens offers up both a bar and Michelin star restaurant catering to the fine French/Mediterranean palate. It being far too late to dine though, ‘welcome drinks’ suited just fine.

Pineapple, coconut & sours I aptly renamed “The Dusit Thani” as they were literally “heaven on earth”. Nestled deep within a stack of cushions next to a bar-length tank of kissing gouramies and pale catfish; we were content to survey the outdoor night scene in silence and save talking to-do lists and plans for the morrow.

The morrow broke to find us having slept a deep, star-fished sleep and keen to breakfast at leisure. A holiday for me is one without alarm clocks and late breakfasts…

Il Cielo laid on an array of foods. Noodle dishes and pork buns for locals and neighbouring visitors alike, pastries and cereals, meats and cheeses for the Europeans and all the components to a cooked breakfast you could wish for.

A multitude of fruits, juices, yoghurts, pancakes, smoked salmon and French toast too. Again we noted, while sipping lattes, how un-chaotic the venue was.

Il Cielo restaurant

Usually buffet breakfasts equate crowds with sometimes queues and a little elbowing for the last croissant. But our mornings in Il Cielo were super relaxed.

Breakfast items were well stocked and skilfully displayed with cheerful staff unexpectedly recalling our names and favourite hot beverages.

Bangkok hums. The city never sleeps and there’s a constant hive of activity. So instead of leaping into the mayhem on day one we decided to take it o’ so easy by the pool with books, a snack menu to hand and not a care for the time of day.

A few scattered Chaise Longues around the pool’s peripheries, a waterfall in the background and sun streaming down – the pool is an easy spot in which to do not much at all.

Peckish moments can be satisfied in any one of the hotel’s 12 restaurants, cafes and bars. Our most memorable meal was actually on our last night.

Benjarong is the hotel’s signature restaurant whipping up a wide selection of sophisticated Thai cuisine with ingredients prepared and fused according to royal Thai recipes. The Tom Yung Kung was fresh and sweet, and the seasoned Tilapia – the best flaked fish we had had in a long time.

I even managed to knock cheesecake off my partner’s all-time-favourite desert pedestal and replace it with sticky coconut rice and mango!

Il Cielo restaurant

The Dusit Thani caters exceptionally well to the business traveller, groups, trade familiarisation visitors, your average tourist and even the spa connoisseur.

The hotel is located centrally within seconds of the Skytrain, local subways, Lumpini Park as well as being minutes from the likes of Silom and the Chao Praya River. So in regards to access and getting around – it’s incredibly easy.

Staff cheerfulness and a desire to always assist, a grand but homely ambience, the choice in cuisine, plush rooms and a view out over Bangkok’s largest green patch is what made our stay.