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Published by Harmonia Norah, 2017-06-28 07:29:44



Norah Casey gets up close and personal with majestic Asian elephants, cycles,
kayaks and canoes her way around southern Thailand while dodging tarantulas and

munching on crispy crickets - along the way she unearths another side to Phuket.
Thailand and I go way back.
My first visit was many community. But I have also escaped to conceived notions you have, because I am
moons ago and I still some of the lesser known islands, about to reveal a different side.
remember clinging including a magical visit to Railei
petrified to the seat of a tuk- Beach, near Krabi, where a very This 10-day trip was a rip-roaring
tuk in Bangkok as it darted, lucky friend has a beautiful house rollercoaster of activity. Don’t feel you have
daredevil style, between of interconnecting rooms among to do everything we did, but I think you’ll
seven lanes of traffic and the the treetops. One of my favourite find something that will lure you to follow
odd elephant during rush hour. places to dine in the world is the in our footsteps. We stayed in palatial
I loved it. Since then, I have been lantern-strewn river terrace at the villas with pools (the stuff of dreams),
back many times and marvelled at the had lessons in Thai boxing, learned to
varied landscape, cultures and encounters Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, where cook Thai food from a master, had divine
of this complex country. It’s big and no two Somerset Maugham famously staggered down time in stunning spas, dined in one
parts are alike. Thailand is twice the size into the lobby in 1923 suffering from a of the best jazz clubs on the island and
of Britain, bigger than Germany and a bit severe attack of malaria. He also fell in love had hair-raising excursions cycling in and
smaller than Texas, but it is also one of the with the place and returned many times – around local villages. We ate like kings
most populated countries in the world, with there is a suite named for him and another and one memorable evening we chomped
67 million people. I went back and forth to famous guest, Graham Greene. on crispy crickets on the beach (yikes). We
Bangkok many times to build relations with strayed into Southern Thailand to visit an
magazine publishers, helped enormously This time, however, I was going to the elephant sanctuary, canoed down a river
by the vibrant and growing Irish ex-pat one place I had always avoided. Straight to overshadowed by dramatic Avatar-style
the heart of the biggest of Thailand’s 1,430 mountains, stayed on floating tents in
islands and a mecca for tourists. Phuket an enormous lake, kayaked to find wild
was my destination. Set aside any pre-

Canoeing up the irishtatlertravel
Khao Sok River at
Elephant Hills Elephant carwash: shower
time for Moddang

“If you are ever tempted to ride an elephant in Dara and I giving her a good scrub
Thailand, please don’t, these beautiful animals down with coconut fibres The bed alone
were never meant to carry your weight”
measures 7 x 5 ft at
The Residence

gibbons, climbed a mountain and ventured So the ban was a wise decision. However, Moddang has her own ideas
into a cave in the rainforest – a huge, dark it meant that thousands of elephants and on who is showering who
one with white catfish and deadly snakes. their mahouts were out of work, and many
ended up in the tourism industry out of Now we’re even...
So, step on board a ten-day adventure, necessity. There are about 3,000 or more
Norah Casey-style, and I guarantee you elephants working in the tourism industry Preparing pineapple, sugar cane and
will be booking flights there for your next in Thailand, many more than there are in tamarind sweets as a post-bathtime treat
holiday. the wild (there are no official estimates but
less than 2,000 elephants live in densely
Firstly, I have to tell you about the forest areas making them hard to track). So
elephants. I love elephants. I could watch when I heard about an elephant sanctuary
them for hours and I have. When I am in in the protected rainforests of Southern
Africa my absolute favourite time is in the Thailand, I wanted to make a special effort
early evening, sitting quietly among a huge to go there. And I am so glad I did.
herd chomping on grass and calling to each
other. But I also have a healthy fear of them. Elephant Hills is home to a group of
We have been charged more than once by elephants who were rescued from the
young males that we startled unexpectedly logging industry in Northern Thailand.
and protective matriarchs who let me know Now, they roam free and are living their
I was too close for comfort. So, when lives out in a blissful setting being cosseted
you get right up close to an elephant who and cared for, which is what they richly
remains docile you have to wonder how deserve after such a harsh life. I have
that happened. If you are ever tempted to never in my life stood next to an elephant
ride on the back of an elephant in Thailand – the closest was patting the trunk of the
– please don’t. These beautiful animals were elephants in Dublin Zoo growing up. So
not meant to support your weight along when I stood right next to Moddang (her
with a howdah (chair) especially when some name means small red ant) I knew that the
have to bear that weight nine hours a day, only reason I was able to stand so close to
all-year round – it causes spinal problems, her, my head resting against hers, to touch
blistering and wear and tear of their feet. her trunk, lay my hands on her neck and
So, take it firmly off your bucket list please. feed her morsels of tamarind was because
of what she had endured. She was beautiful
The reason so many elephants have to and placid and my time with her was one of
work in tourism in Thailand is ironically the most incredible elephant encounters –
because the Government banned the logging woman to woman, I have had. After hours
industry in 1989, where the majority of of washing her down and rubbing her with
domesticated elephants were employed to
systematically destroy their own habitat.

as asa sas asa
as asasas

as asa sas asa
as asasas

“The virgin rainforests nature took its course, this area was also ‘room’ with a view I have stayed in. After a
of Khao Sok are 160 home to a huge coral reef five times bigger quick lunch at the floating pontoon dining
million years old, more than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. area we jumped into our kayaks to try them
diverse and ancient The dense forests provide protection to at out. Dara managed after a couple of starts
than the Amazon” least five per cent of the world’s species, however I fell out, scrambled in again and
including many of the most endangered; fell out the other side, drank a fair bit of the
coconut fibres and feeding her sugar cane, tigers, Asian elephants, boars, tapirs and lake and, with as much dignity as I could
bamboo and fruit she rewarded me by white-handed gibbons. Over time, nature muster, lowered myself gently into the seat
showering me back. A wonderful moment. and man have changed the landscape and managed to stay balanced.
Spending time with the elephants was to dramatic effect. When we arrived at
definitely the highlight of our three days Ratchaprapha Dam the enormity of that We headed off for a jungle climb in the
with the Elephant Hills team, but we had change was evident. Work began on the Khlong Saeng sanctuary – a five kilometre
many more adventures besides. dam in 1982 to provide a steady water hike in 35-degree heat and high humidity.
supply into the south of Thailand, flooding The forest was dense at times, but our guide,
The team picked us up from our hotel this mountainous area including many Siang, always found a way through the
in Phuket and drove us north to Khao homes and village temples. Local people bamboo and ferns, stopping occasionally
Sok, a protected primary rainforest were relocated, over 100 tiny islands were to point out a 300-year-old Sompong tree
region in South Thailand. After towering above us, or the exoskeleton of
a day of canoeing on the Sok formed and a gigantic 165 square foot a cicada he spotted on a leaf. Every now
River, meeting the elephants, lake replaced the rural landscape. and then he raced ahead as he spotted a
feasting on local Thai food As we hopped on board a long- tarantula scurrying back to its burrow, a
and being entertained with tail boat to take us to our flying lizard or a flock of hornbills flying
traditional Thai dancing floating tents in the more low over the trees. After about an hour’s
by local school girls, remote area of the lake, I climb we reached the steep downward
we returned to our tent was conscious of us gliding opening to Pron Pet Cave and stopped to
exhausted. Apart from a battle over all those dwellings, draw breath and put on our head torches.
of wills with a very determined farms and sacred places deep This was a first for me. We scrambled over
and hungry lizard searching for food below us. jagged stones and skirted around rocky
in our backpacks, we slept well and woke Jagged, chalky limestone outcrops, clinging to the wall, and finally
ready for the journey north to Cheow Lan we reached the sandy floor of the outer
Lake. karsts erupt out of tranquil, green cave area immediately encountering a dark
waters creating a surreal backdrop as we pool with a white catfish. I wouldn’t have
The virgin rainforests in Khao Sok are skimmed over the lake’s surface to our new been hugging that wall quite so closely if
160 million years old – more diverse and home at Rainforest Camp. Finally, a line of I had known what lurked in the shadows
more ancient than the Amazon. Before green floating tents tethered together, each of the crevices. Vim, our Elephant Hills
with a small deck and bright yellow kayak, guide and constant companion, shone her
came into sight – quite possibly the best


“Jagged, chalky limestone karsts erupt out of The Huntsman spider,
tranquil waters, creating a surreal backdrop one of the many cave
as we skimmed over the lake’s surface” residents

torch this way and that to reveal ever more The journey home was eventful – we Siang, our guide, with
frightening, but also fascinating inhabitants. could hear the rare white-handed gibbon Dara on the climb up
Huntsmen spiders (whole families and calling in the trees and stopped to watch
expectant mothers) were in residence a troop of langur monkeys frolic in the
along with the strange Whip spiders – branches. A beautiful white belly sea eagle
also known as tailless scorpions (pictured soared above us and in the distance we
opposite). Cave Racer snakes were curled could see a herd of wild bison grazing in
up contentedly (thankfully) and way above the dusky evening.
us was the distant drum of thousands of
fruit bats. “Turn off your torches,” she After a hearty Thai buffet dinner with
said. And we did. I have never known such a small group of fellow adventurers we
blackness. If someone had kidnapped us called it a night, the lapping of the water
and left us in the middle of this cavernous rocking us gently off to sleep in our
space we would never have got out alive. floating bedrooms. There couldn’t have
Heart hammering, we flicked the light back been a more perfect day.
on and I watched a white scorpion scuttling
off a few feet from us. It was an experience! For full details of Elephant
Hills safaris see or
email [email protected]

Pron Pet Cave – home to
spiders, scorpions, snakes and
thousands of fruit bats

Sampling the
local cuisine

as asa sas asa
as asasas

ALANYAANNTRAERSAOPRHTU&KSEPTAhere are lots of great reasons

to choose the Anantara
Phuket Layan Resort & Spa

T and I discovered most of
– especially as Umberto was laughing so
much there were tears rolling down his
face – joined by all the other onlookers
who couldn’t believe some eejit Irish

them during the three nights woman had fallen for his trickery. The

we spent there. Apart from the gorgeous waiter quickly put a cocktail in my hand

villa with our own private pool, which and whispered…“We’d never eat those

was divine – a sublime spa indulgence, things, they’re really only for show.” The

some high-energy Mauy Thai boxing and cocktail helped, a mix of Thai whiskey,

the best Thai cooking lesson ever, there Sake, melon cordial and apple juice

were three things that stood out for me. (surprisingly good).

One was the beautifully secluded, That evening he hosted a farewell round of incredible dishes chosen
especially by Umberto. We chatted
private Layan beach. The dinner for us in the Anantara’s on into the night as a fiery moon rose
behind us and the perfectly matched
resort is tucked away Dee Plee Thai restaurant. We robust malbec lowered in our glasses. A
great night.
on a little oasis on the had spent a few hours the
My lasting memories of our three
north-western coast of day before learning to cook days at the luxurious Anantara Layan
were a mix of supreme relaxation and
Phuket, looking out Thai food with Chef Peter high energy. The challenge of enjoying
time away is to unwind and de-stress
over the Andaman Sea Srichan. Our Thai taste in those first few days. As I wandered
along the beach in the early morning,
– a tranquil haven on buds were more honed I could feel my mind clearing and the
beauty of the sea always works a special
an otherwise beach- by spending time tasting magic. It was beyond lovely to wander
from the bedroom to the pool at the villa
busy island. Thai people Peter and myself, various herbs and spices. and just enjoy a solitary swim in the
are always polite, but the cooking up a storm Thai food is a rich fusion of bright sunshine and, for over two hours,
impeccable and friendly many cultures, some borrowed I put myself in the capable hands of an
exceptional therapist at the spa who
service from the staff at the wholesale, but most adapted to soaked me in a milky bath with purple
royal orchids and massaged all the jet
Anantara was a step above. And suit local tastes. Traders from India lag, muscle aches and tensions away.

finally, their Executive Chef, Umberto brought tamarind, Massaman curry came But we also had great fun and tried
out new things. Mauy Thai (boxing) is a
Piccolini who is funny, charming and from Persian influences, the Chinese and great work out, we are much better Thai
cooks now thanks to Peter at the Spice
passionate about cooking. Vietnamese brought the noodles, rice and Spoons Cookery School, and I even tried
crispy fried cricket and survived. Above
And he’s very persuasive. Who else could coconut milk. all, I remember the incredible food served
with diligence by Peter and described
tempt me to chomp down on spicy fried The Dee Plee serves an interesting drink with passion by Umberto. You’ll love it.

cricket and sea cicadas (sea worms) one as you arrive which is a marvel. It’s a Anantara Phuket Layan Resort & Spa;; Tel: +66 76 317 200 or
glorious evening as the sun was setting. Butterfly Pea Flower juice and it arrives as email [email protected]

Umberto is a no-nonsense Italian from a vivid blue drink. We never tired of the

Bergamo who was not impressed with next bit… a mini-chemistry experiment

my girlie squeals and prancing about as I takes place as the waitress adds lime and,

tried to put that cricket on a stick into my hey presto, the drink turns violet right

mouth. “Just eat it, it’s good protein and before your eyes.

you really only taste the spice,” he told me Our Thai meze included papaya salad,

firmly. By now his booming Italian accent chicken rice balls wrapped in pandan

had attracted the attention of most of leaves, deliciously light raw tuna garb,

the other staff so, out of embarrassment spicy beef and prawn fish cakes. I made

that I might cause offence about my the traditional chilli paste for the table – a

squeamishness at eating something that workout between courses that involves a

they considered a Thai delicacy, I closed mortar and pestle with onion, lime juice,

my eyes and bit into some legs and the fish sauce, and chilli, spring onion, sugar

head. He was right, I could only taste and tamarind juice with lots of pauses for

the spices. But the idea of what I had in tasting during the ritual.
The table was soon laden with another
my mouth made it very hard to swallow


After scaling mountains, tummies were full. We wobbled back to his perch at the bar and as we entered
trekking jungles and living in the Villa and had to lie down to recover. he shouted across the music – “you must
tents it was beyond surreal be the Irish ones?” Was it that obvious I
to find ourselves in a villa The award-winning Ayurveda Spa wondered (not a red hair between us)?
bigger than our house, at is not to be missed and I needed some He jostled us both to the bar, shouted for
the luxurious Banyan Tree Phuket. The intensive work on aching muscles from two Proseccos as I meekly pointed out
villa was spectacular. Dara hardly left the mountain climb the day before. My that my boy was only 16. “More for you
his personal ‘mini-apartment’ with his my dear,” he bellowed, giving me a hug
own sitting room, bedroom, outside Luxurious and clasping my hand as though we were
shower, indoor shower, a pristine white finishing touches long lost friends. I felt we were too. We
bathtub and all the technology a boy of ate wonderful chicken with truffle and
16 might require after time in the non-wifi 60-minute, deep tissue, Balinese Massage honey and Dara enjoyed great spaghetti
wilderness. I must admit it was hard to was exceptional. All of the staff undergo Bolognese. The decor is 20s-inspired,
wrench myself away from my own opulent intensive training and my therapist had a black and white, with flashes of chrome.
suite of rooms, but I did manage to saunter miraculous touch using thumb and palm The band was great and silently on the
out to the pool and the hot tub at regular pressure and skilful strokes to ease out the wall behind them there was a young
intervals. We were winding down after a muscle tension from the jungle excursions. debonair, Stewart Granger, passionately
hectic few days and neither of us wanted embracing Ann Blyth in the 1953 movie
to do much other than laze about and One lunchtime I met up with Ludo All The Brothers Were Valiant. If you go
enjoy the serenely beautiful surroundings Gallerne, sales and marketing for the to Phuket, book it, it’s a little gem of a
of our own personal space. Banyan Tree, and we enjoyed world- place. (The Siam Supper Club; Tel: +66
class Japanese cooking by Master Chef 76 270 936 [email protected];
We availed of the free bikes at the resort Shiraishi Kikuo at Tamarind (one of the
about an hour after we checked in – the many restaurants at the resort). Ludo
place is so big that you need buggies to talked through the renovations currently The Banyan Tree regularly scoops Condé
get anywhere, so we had the freedom to taking place. While we were there some Nast Traveller awards and is currently
areas and restaurants were closed for the listed eighth in the Top 100 Resorts of
roam about and explore the village and the refurbishment and the big unveiling is the World, and with good reason. It is
beach. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast expected later this year. He gave us a great nestled within the Laguna Phuket village,
on our first morning – a spectacular recommendation for a supper club with a community of residences, restaurants
diet-challenging spread of Asian and live jazz music that tempted us out that and bars which enjoys a long sandy beach
international dishes and we ate our way night. And we were so glad we did. He told looking out over the Andaman Sea. The
through a fair portion of it, returning to us the food was great and the atmosphere resort also boasts an 18-hole golf course,
sample treats and delights even when our fantastic, but the real draw was the larger tennis courts, children’s club and much
than life owner, a man by the name of Sean more besides. The Banyan Tree Phuket is a
Power (Malaysian-born, Canadian-reared classy, sumptuous resort the only problem
and of Irish heritage, of course). He was is… you may never want to leave.
right on all three.
Banyan Tree Phuket;;
Sean commanded the restaurant from +80030020000; [email protected]

Travel from Dublin to Phuket with Etihad
who have daily flights via Abu Dhabi and
you can also fly via Hong Kong;

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