The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand
Hotel Review: The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand
If you're looking for an abode to call your own during your stay in Thailand, it can seem a little more than overwhelming. Thankfully Danielle Norton has done the "hard" work for us, reviewing a 'calm' hotel that doesn't accept guests under 10 years of age. Where The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Phang Nga Province, Thailand. One hour’s drive north of Phuket Airport. What to expect You can find us by the pool in a cabana at The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.From the moment we are collected from the airport by Sarojin staff, until the day we leave, we are treated like treasured guests. The driver pulls over, one minute into our hour-long drive, to offer us a chilled towel and a refreshment from the esky on the front seat. We connect to the car’s wi-fi and he offers us an iPad to use on the journey.   This introduction is indicative of our entire stay at the Sarojin. As the original Lady Sarojin used to say, “excellence and nothing less”. The service at this resort is next-level and we love that every time we sit down, either poolside, in the foyer or waiting for a driver at the front of the property, an icy glass of water appears.   The Sarojin property is a paragon of meditative tropical resort gardens that encourage relaxation and deep contemplation. At night, hundreds of flickering lights glow in the ponds, bobbing like boats on a river, their reflections doubling their efforts. By day, the infinity pool and jacuzzi, surrounded by floating pavilions, glistens invitingly.   The communal spaces of the resort are designed with peace and privacy in mind. In the Pandanus Room library there are a wide range of reading materials; from novels to daily newspapers from around the world. Specific titles can be arranged on request.   A hotel that offers an ‘imagineer’ to create your special experiences is one for which I had high expectations. Staff can organise any type of romantic gesture you can come up with. Dinner on a candlelit beach is one thing but a ‘message in a bottle’ scenario for a special proposal during a couple’s beach stroll, or an engagement ring in a teapot while enjoying afternoon tea underneath a private waterfall, is quite another. The romance of this resort makes it an idyllic setting for honeymooners and loved-up couples. Fabulous food Dine out on the good stuff at The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The Ficus restaurant hosts an all-day à la carte breakfast on the central resort lake, in the shade of the ancient tree after which it is named. Hundreds of water lilies float on the water’s surface and the sun shimmers; when the complimentary sparkling wine is served with our morning croissants, it feels like the most beautiful place on Earth.   The Edge restaurant and the Beach Bar look out onto a magnificent white sand beach. The degustation menu is a delicious parade of fragrant curries and delicate flavours: a brilliant way to try every dish on the menu in small portions.   Coupled with the golden light of the early evening and a cocktail, it’s the perfect end to a day in paradise. The restaurant seems casual but the service is exquisite, and the views over the Andaman Sea are spectacular, particularly the light show created by the setting sun. The accommodation The impressive accommodation inside The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.Our room has a garden view and a luxurious outdoor ‘sala’ under which we can bask on the day bed, reading or zoning out to our hearts’ content. Inside, the king-size bed with its mountain of pillows is sumptuous, hence the availability of the aforementioned all-day breakfast.   The rooms open onto an opulent, airy bathroom, lined with smooth pebbles to give the illusion of the outdoors in the wet area where there is a choice of showerheads and a huge oval bath, big enough for two. The spacious bathroom is almost as big as the 95 square metre room. If, like me, you prefer more privacy you can request curtain dividers between bedroom and bathroom.   The resort has 28 garden residences, 14 pool residences and eight jacuzzi pool suites and six one-bedroom spa suites which are like apartments with a generous lounge area leading out to the jacuzzi on the private balcony. These alternate with pool rooms, enabling a two bedroom configuration for families or larger groups via connecting doors. We loved The incredible spa bath inside the The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The moment we set foot on the boardwalk leading from the resort’s main path to the Pathways Spa, tranquil notes of music waft around us and we breathe in deeply. Staff are eager to help us exchange our shoes for soft white spa slippers and usher us to a daybed where we sink into the soft cushions and contemplate life, looking at the leafy palm fronds in the gardens and listening to the trickling of water in the adjacent pond. A cleansing ginger tea is delivered along with a cold towel. Spa therapist, Nang, offers us four choices of oils. I opt for the romantic blend, a mixture of geranium, lavender and patchouli, keeping in tune with the theme of this honeymooner’s paradise. Nang calls it the ‘lucky oil’ and I feel very lucky indeed as I succumb to her skilled massage techniques.   The treatment room is designed to feel like the surrounding ecosystem; the floors are timber and one side of the pavilion is open to the garden. It’s soothing and rejuvenating and reminds me of the ‘forest bathing’ trend. Birds chirrup in the encircling jungle garden and the sound of waves lapping against the shore lulls me into a state of complete relaxation and surrender to the moment.   The spa menu options are plentiful. We choose the oriental-style massage – a combination of Swedish relaxation and Thai stretching techniques. Afterwards, a state of calm has infiltrated my entire being. Things to note Some of the scenery at the The Sarojin, Khao Lak, Thailand.The nearby Similan Islands has some of the best dive and snorkelling sites in the world. Sadly, when we visited they were still closed (May–October) for regeneration of the coral. Check on the state of these closures before booking.   The resort restricts children under 10. Because it is a place of peace and calm, kids must be old enough to respect this and maintain it.   A garden view room including breakfast costs from $670 per night for two people.   For more information and to book, visit Sarojin, Khao Lak.
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Ethical encounters with endangered Asian elephants – where you observe and possibly interact with them but refrain from riding – can be a highlight of visiting Thailand. Just make sure to do your research when choosing an elephant encounter. Twenty-two minutes: that’s how long it takes to fall in love with an Asian elephant. Within that time, I’m privy to several of 53-year-old Moddaeng’s behaviours.   I watch as she lolls in a pond with two of her pachyderm mates, submerging and rubbing her body against its muddy banks with joyful abandon. I walk alongside her as she ambles steadily towards the bathing area, awestruck to be in the presence of such a mighty, gentle, beautiful creature. I have a turn hosing mud and dust off her wrinkled skin, and am giddy with wonder when she politely requests a drink, curving the end of her trunk skywards beside the hose and allowing me to fill it to capacity.   And, finally, I gaze into one of her kind eyes and, filled with affection, lightly kiss her trunk as she patiently allows me into her personal space for a photo. An interactive elephant experience Moddaeng is one of 14 elephants – all female – here at Elephant Hills’ elephant park, an eight-hectare space nestled beneath dramatic, jungle-clad, limestone mountains in Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park, about three hours north of Phuket. Elephant Hills operates two luxury jungle camps – a floating camp set on a man-made lake, and the Elephant Camp, about a 10-minute drive from the elephant park. [caption id="attachment_39167" align="alignleft" width="1500"] A few of the 14 female elephants at Elephant Hills (photo: Kara Murphy).[/caption] A 90-minute elephant experience, included in the tariff, is a highlight of staying at the latter: in addition to observing and helping bathe the elephants, guests feed them one of their daily meals, including pineapple, sugarcane, grass, and bananas. (If you’re at all unsure about whether elephants visibly smile, just watch while they’re eating.) No more elephant riding: improving animal welfare practices One activity you won’t find here is elephant riding, although this wasn’t always the case. “[In 2010], we decided we wanted to offer a more natural experience for our elephants and a more responsible tour for [visitors],” explains Jonathan Chell, Elephant Hills’ general manager. “We [also] wanted to prove that [visitors could] appreciate these amazing animals [without riding them].”   The ecstatic faces surrounding me are evidence of that. No fellow visitor appears to be yearning for a position atop these elephants, a place that doesn’t allow you to see their sweet expressions or witness the tenderness in their eyes. Instead, this more down-to-earth encounter has each of us soaring on the inside, grateful to have the chance to be so close to these lovable creatures.   Since introducing the non-riding experience, Elephant Hills has won multiple awards for ethics in animal welfare and sustainable tourism and has worked to improve its practices. The mahouts are trained Karen Hilltribes men, says Chell. “We work with them because of their calm nature and gentle ways around the elephants.” During daylight hours, the ladies socialise and interact with one another in the free roaming pens, he explains. At sunset, their mahouts use food to lure them to chain-free (since early 2017) individual pens, where the elephants can continue touching and interacting with one another. Being mindful when choosing an elephant encounter Around the start of the 20th century, Thailand was home to approximately 100,000 Asian elephants; however, due to deforestation/habitat loss and other factors, only an estimated 1000–3000 exist in the wild in Thailand today, and another 2000–3000 in captivity. Many of the latter were once used in the logging industry but when logging was banned in 1989, elephant owners needed a way to earn an income and care for their animals. As such, some began using elephants for tourist activities. (Sadly, some are still poached from the wild for use in the tourism industry.) [caption id="attachment_39168" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Elephant Hills’ Elephant Camp covers more than 8 hectares and offers space for the elephants to roam freely (photo: Kara Murphy).[/caption] When visiting Thailand and other Asian countries, you can show your love for this endangered species by doing your research prior to travelling. If you’re seeking an elephant experience, choose one that genuinely focuses on elephant welfare, species conservation, and meaningful interactions and/or observation rather than rides, shows and tricks.   Select a place where the elephants haven’t been poached from the wild, where they’re free to roam and interact with one another and they aren’t chained or abused. Volunteer and elephant sponsorship opportunities are available in some locations (for example, Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai), and, at Elephant Hills, you can make donations that benefit elephant hospitals and wild elephant conservation projects. And, of course, never, ever buy ivory products. More ethical travel... Why we need to stop orphanage tourism The dog-sledding dilemma: should I or shouldn’t I? Why you should pay more for an African safari
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Seven sensational same-sex honeymoon destinations
The people have spoken and they have said, yes, Australia wants marriage equality. About time, right? OK, so gay marriage is not yet fait accompli yet – it’s up to us to ensure that our elected members follow the will of the people to pass the law. But it got us thinking; with the tide of LGBTI nuptials set to be unleashed, so will there be a demand for drool-worthy honeymoons to boot. Here’s our pick of amazing LGBTI-friendly destinations worthy of your upcoming special day, writes Steve Madgwick. 1. Thailand: Bangkok and beyond Long before the same-sex marriage juggernaut’s journey around the free-thinking countries of the world, Thailand was quietly and consistently stocking up on its gay-friendly credentials, thanks in part to Thai Buddhism’s tolerant nature.   Naturally, many gravitate towards one of southern Thailand’s Ko paradises: Samui, Pha Ngan et al or the lesser-travelled west coast islands, but ensure you schedule in some Bangkok time; it’s LGBTI scene is mercurial.   To get yourself primed for the celebration, check out: Bangkok’s best rooftop bars.   Alternatively: The Philippines has one of the highest acceptance rates of homosexuality in Asia and a tonne of honeymoon delights to match. Check out: Secret travel gems of Philippines. 2. Balearic Islands, Spain: The other side of Ibiza Surprisingly, Spain is on par with The Netherlands for its liberal attitude towards same-sex relationships (legalised in 2005), offering plenty of long-established and sunny LGBTI hotspots to spend your first weeks together in bliss. Forty kilometres south-west of Barcelona, Sitges is one of the most buoyant and long-lasting gay scenes in all of Europe, with plenty of breezy beachside bars and clubs to ease you into matrimony.   Across the Balearic Sea, Ibiza has been an open-minded sanctuary since at least the ’90s. It needn’t be a 24-hour party though; book into a chic stay like ‘designer farmhouse’ Granja Ibiza, reasonably isolated yet close enough if you feel like dipping into the action.   Time to go to Spain? Check out: Retreat from party central to Ibiza’s designer farmhouse 3. Iceland: The Nordic alternative As a same-sex marriage honeymoon destination, Iceland is a heady mix of tolerance (it was the first country with an openly gay head of government) and adventure. With filmic waterfalls and dramatic volcanoes that will grace your digital photo frame for decades to come, Iceland’s supernova popularity seems like it will never fade.   Capital Reykjavik is energetic, progressive, inclusive and just plain fun, so long as you pack your stamina. There’s plenty of queer celebrations to align your honeymoon with, such as Gay Pride (August) and Bears on Ice (September).   Time to go Inside Iceland? Check out: Inside Ieland   Add a stop-over: Super-hip Copenhagen sports Europe's oldest openly gay bar, Centralhjørnet (1950s), plus a micro-world of LGBTI-friendly boutique stays and businesses. Check out: Uber cool Copenhagen 4. Mykonos: King of the Greek Islands Statistically, Greece isn’t quite up with other progressive European powerhouses for accommodating LGBTI travel, but there are spectacular acceptations, many of which, thankfully, lie in the Greek Islands. The star is Mykonos, a hub for gay men in particular since the mid-70s, which now boasts a slew of specialist gay stays such as The Elysium Hotel.   The Greek Island trimmings are irresistible for any new couple, from archetypal whitewashed cottages to the romance-stoking clear waters of the Aegean, and you can easily avoid the island’s party scene by booking into the pared-back chic of stays like the San Giorgio Hotel.   Time to go to Greece? Check out: Mediterranean paradise: San Giorgio Hotel. 5. New Zealand: Land of the Long Pink Cloud The Land of the Long White Cloud has been a popular destination for LGBTI Australians since the country trumped us by changing gay marriage laws way back in 2013. N-Zed certainly got a huge head-start: there are already plenty of gay-friendly homestays on both islands plus destinations events, such as Gay Ski Week in stunning Queenstown.   It’s not just proximity and economy that makes Kiwiland a bounty for honeymooners, with refined, world-class high-end accommodation options such as Huka Lodge, perfect for your once-in-a-lifetime festivity.   Time to go to New Zealand? Check out: Huka Lodge: A Royal Retreat   Alternatively: If it’s lush green landscapes with progressive cities that have their own pride parades you’re after, you could just as easily consider Canada and same-sex marriage newcomer Ireland.  6. Paris: a city for all lovers Paris is unquestionably the universal city of love, which was enshrined into French law back in 2013. Classic Paris attractions need little introduction, but the city boasts an incredibly vigorous LGBTI community, which you’ll find out if you spend an evening wandering the inner arrondissements.   For a classic romantic night out with a view, head to 58 Tour Eiffel restaurant and then follow your noses through the vibrant culture of Le Marais.   Add a stopover: It’s hard to find a more pulsating gay scene (dating back to the 1920s) than Berlin’s with a world of subcultures to explore. Head to Kreuzberg, Prenzlauerberg and Schoneberg if you’re looking to celebrate your nuptials all night long. Check out 5 of Berlin’s best.  7. Outside Trump’s America: Island’s in the stream Judging by recent political momentum, the Land of the Free is not so free anymore, but don’t write off the whole of the USA as your honeymoon destination option just because of a bad egg or two. Of course, there’s the obvious first-stops; San Francisco and New York, both the scene of many an LGBTI civil rights victory, and all that goes with that.   But push on further to the ’50s flair of Palm Springs (160 kilometres from Los Angeles), which opens its arms wider than most North American cities with plenty of single sex stays (some clothing optional) for freedom and sunseekers.   There are plenty of other surprise pockets elsewhere, too, such as Providence (Rhode Island), which takes off over summer during the Rhode Island PrideFest (June).   Happy honeymooning!    
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