The Elephant in the Room – Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary

So, I guess I need to start of by addressing the elephant in the room… I am painfully aware that I haven’t blogged for 249 days… To anyone that is new here (welcome!), when I left off on September 4th I was bracing myself for Hurricane Irma and naively assuming that nothing too bad would happen. Needless to say that wasn’t quite the case. 

Unfortunately, I still find it very hard to read or watch anything hurricane-related, and the idea of writing about it has been a source of a lot of anxiety for me. Maybe one day there will be a hurricane post, but it certainly won’t be today. I’m sorry. Anyway… enough of the metaphorical elephant, can we talk about literal elephants now?? 

 

We recently got back from the most wonderful Asian adventures (more on these to come!), comprising four countries, six cities and a good few bucket-list items checked. One of the ones I had most been looking forward to was visiting the elephants in Thailand! And it certainly did not disappoint… 

Chiang Mai was the last city on our itinerary, and I had patiently been waiting for our elephant encounter. I knew that I wanted to find an ethical elephant sanctuary, with no riding, tying up or stress for the elephants and fortunately Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary delivered the exact elephant experience we were looking for. 

 

Lanna Kingdom is about an hour’s drive North of Chiang Mai. We were met by our friendly guide bright and early at our hotel and we hit the road, stopping along the way to gather up the rest of our group. (Lanna Kingdom restrict their groups to less than 15 people so that the elephants don’t get overwhelmed and so that each visitor can get some time getting to know the elephants.)

We arrived to Lanna Kingdom and quickly changed into the more elephant suitable attire that they provide (you’re going to get wet and muddy, in the best way possible, so keep that in mind!) all the while marveling at the five magnificent creatures just strolling around. 

 

Each of the elephants has their own mahout and you are introduced to the elephants with them. We had arrived just in time for breakfast so first on the agenda was handing them their corn and bananas. We also received a quick but informative briefing about the  sanctuary and the elephants themselves, a little about their background and characters. All of their elephants have been purchased from logging camps, riding camps or circuses and many of them still bear the scars and the branding from their previous homes. It is fantastic to know that they can live out the rest of their days safely at Lanna Kingdom. They all have big personalities (excuse the pun) but none more so than the baby of the bunch, little Lanna, sooooo mischievous – you couldn’t help but feel for her mahout as she lead him on a merry dance around the property, charging around and generally misbehaving as only a little elephant can. 

 

After feeding the elephants (a bizarre experience that I can only liken to trying to post food into the nozzle of a very wet vacuum cleaner) their bananas (be sure to remember to say ‘di di’ (good girl) when she takes one). We then headed down to the river to start bathing the elephants. The schedule at Lanna Kingdom is pretty fluid, the same items need to get done every day, but they are somewhat lead by the elephants and what they’re in the mood for. 

 

We also helped out making the elephant ‘medicine balls’ – just three ingredients, these are needed to keep our favourite pachyderms ‘regular’. Banana is muddled with sugarcane and sour tamarind in a large pestle and mortar before being scooped out and fed to them. The sweetness of the sugarcane and their favourite bananas help to make the sour tamarind (the key ingredient) more palatable. 

 

Lastly it was mud spa time, definitely the messiest but probably the most fun, the elephants head to the water hole so that you can rub the mud into their skin, which is necessary to keep their skin healthy.

 

There’s always time for a water fight too…

Before heading back into the city there is just enough time for lunch! Delicious vegetarian pad Thai and slices of fresh watermelon we’re waiting for us. All the tasty food smells proved a bit too much of a temptation for baby Lanna and she squeezed herself into the enclosure in order to try and steal some watermelon. 

 

We opted for the half day tour and we found that was the perfect amount of time with the elephants and still allowed us time to explore Chiang Mai. The cost of our tour was B2,500. More about the tour options available can be found on their website here

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, why not? Find lots of our Asian travels there)

A Sneak Peek Inside My… Hurricane Kit

No sooner have I returned from my holidays and already a hurricane is on our doorstep. Never are you more aware of the beauty and power of Mother Nature than when you live in a hurricane belt.

Living in the Caribbean for as long as I have, I am no stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms but, by and large, (barring TS Otto that sent mudslides into my house in 2010) Mother Nature has been pretty kind to us in the BVI for the last decade. This year though, the gloves are off and we already suffered a huge storm in early August that caused widespread flooding and extensive damage to homes and businesses across the islands. Now Hurricane Irma is headed our way and looking increasingly like she’ll be at Cat 3 or 4 strength when she lands on Wednesday/Thursday.


‘M’ stands for Major Hurricane… 🙁

We only have to look at the damage done in Texas recently to know that these storms are not to be messed with and my heart goes out to all those suffering in Harvey’s wake, especially as I make my own preparations for Irma’s arrival.

Thankfully we have the weather reports to keep us updated (I’ve also downloaded a really helpful app – Hurricane Tracker for $3.99) and we watch anxiously as she creeps ever closer… Still, forewarned is forearmed and these next couple of days will be spent stocking up on all the necessities and readying the house as best we can (readputting up the hurricane shutters, setting out the sandbags and hoping for the best…).

Obviously, we are keeping all of our fingers and toes firmly crossed that Irma causes no trouble for anyone, but the motto that I’ve always adhered to is ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best’.

Want to see which supplies I will be packing to see me through the storm?

:: Water – the general rule of thumb is that you should pack one gallon of drinking water per person/per day (this should include animals) so for our little family we ideally need 4 gallons of water per day and we should aim to have enough to cover 3-7 days at least (More water will be needed for cleaning and washing.)

:: Canned food, non-perishable items and pet food – tinned soup, protein/granola bars, nuts (anything you can eat right out of the packet), crackers, cans of Beefaroni (don’t judge me…) and Pringles have always featured in my hurricane supplies since they can be eaten hot or cold, if absolutely necessary. I also like to ensure that I have an adequate supply of teabags (I might live in the Caribbean but I’m still British after all!)

A tiny selection of what I have squirreled away…

:: Passport, cash and important family documents – in a ziplock bag or waterproof box you need to ensure that you have your passport or travel documents, as much cash as you’re comfortable withdrawing (ATMs could be down for a while) and any insurance policy documents or other Id and banking docs.

:: Torches, batteries, candles and matches – no two ways about it, you’re going to be without power for some period of time, the question is, just for how long? Having an adequate supply of candles and torches will make life a lot easier. Then just grab a good book and hunker down. Be sure to fully power up your phone, kindle, laptop, tablet etc to keep them going for as long as possible.

:: Portable chargers – I mentioned these in a previous post here, they are great for travel and an island essential to see you through the regular power cuts. But, never are they more useful than during hurricane season. I have two (one large and one small) and will be fully charging them both. This will hopefully mean that I can keep my phone powered – then I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the phone signal holds out.

:: Books, playing cards and board games – not withstanding the fact that you have fully charged all your electronic devices, they are still unlikely to see you all the way through the power cuts. August’s storm saw some houses without power for 3-4 days and that’s nothing in the grand scheme of potential issues post-hurricane. My new favourite game is Monopoly Deal but you should also make sure you have a good book to read and maybe use this time as an opportunity to brush up on your poker skills with friends.

:: Wine, rum, gin etc – two words… hurricane party! It’s not big and it’s certainly not clever but, having a few cocktails sure does make being cooped up inside in the dark a little easier to cope with. (Whatever gets you through… right?) Get together with some friends, it’s going to be a long night!

:: First Aid Kit and Prescription Meds – for all the obvious reasons you’ll want to make sure that you have a small first aid kit (our one (linked) is fab and reasonably priced) along with at least a 2 week supply of your usual prescription meds.

:: Wet wipes, dry shampoo, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and other personal hygiene supplies – as unpalatable as it is to think about, you may be without running water for a while… a pack of wet wipes, hand sanitizer and some dry shampoo will help you freshen up, since you’ll be wanting to save the bulk of your fresh water for drinking. I’m packing up all my mini travel supplies as we will be de-camping to a friend’s house to ride out the storm.

:: Change of clothes and spare underwear – you never know if, or when, you might have to evacuate at short notice. Have a grab-bag packed and ready to go, just in case.

:: Other useful items – battery-powered radio, paper plates/cups, cooler with ice, can-opener/bottle opener, duct tape, tool kit, fire extinguisher and car charger.

Apologies, all these supplies don’t exactly make for the prettiest pictures, but they are very useful 🙂

Anyone got any tips to see me through this storm and the rest of hurricane season??

Wish us luck!!

Charlie x

Residents of Houston still need our support – find out more about how you can donate here

This post contains links to products that I use and love – they are not affiliate links, I just like to share. 

River Exe Cafe, Exmouth

A couple of years ago my sister introduced our family to the River Exe Cafe (she has always been our guru when it comes to where to go and what to do in Devon) and since then it has become a firm family favourite, our go-to for lunches when we’re reunited and celebrations in the summertime. 

Just a short ferry ride from Exmouth Marina and sitting out on a barge in the middle of the Exe Estuary, the River Exe Cafe is the perfect place for a sunny, seafood lunch with indoor and outdoor seating available on this custom-built floating restaurant. Just be sure to make your reservation in advance as it is often booked-up weeks in advance, especially in July and August. 

Reservations are made via their website through Open Table where you are able to book your table and your water taxi at the same time. The water taxis take 12 passengers at a time and you have 2 hrs from the time you arrive at the restaurant before they will arrive to take you back. The Puffin water taxis cost £5 per person return, payable directly to the boatman. 

Anyway, that’s quite enough about the logistics, you want to hear about the food – right?! You won’t be disappointed! 

The River Exe Cafe is known for fine British dining and their fresh local seafood (you come past the mussel boat that supplies their mussels on your way out on the Puffin boat, so it doesn’t get more local than that). 

We were thrilled to wake up the morning of our lunch to find that the sun was shining and it was the perfect weather for our day out on the water. When you are making your reservation weeks or months in advance the weather on the day is a bit of a lottery during our fine British summer. Our reservation was for 2 pm so we were to meet our ferry captain at the harbour at 1:45 pm. We had a few minutes spare to stroll down to the harbour enjoying the sights, the boats, the brightly coloured houses. We made our way down to the Visitors Pontoon where you meet your boatman – he checked our names off his list and then we were on our way! 


You head out onto the estuary against the tide, so your ferry journey on the way out to the restaurant is approximately 15-20 minutes. Plenty of time to review the menus and make your food choices, tummies starting to rumble in anticipation of the delicious food that awaits. 


Our table of 5 wanted to try as many different dishes as possible and decided that three courses would almost certainly be necessary (we are predictable little piglets) – clam chowder, fried baby squid, moules, fish and chips, scallops, mackerel rillettes and monkfish were all on our list – a seafood feast! 

I started off with the Lyme Bay scallops, baked in coral butter and white port, topped with a crunchy Parmesan crumble. Three fat and juicy scallops, perfectly cooked and served in their own shells on a little bed of salty samphire. 


My dad enjoyed the clam chowder, which contained a touch of curry for a tasty but untraditional flair, beautifully finished with a generous garnish of fresh dill. 

The mackerel rillettes and goats cheese mousse starters on the specials menu were declared delicious and were creatively presented too. 

For my main course I just had to go for the Exmouth mussels served in the classic Marinière style. I opted for the starter-sized portion as the servings are generous and I had a hankering for a side of the crispy truffle and Parmesan fries to dunk in the creamy, white wine sauce. My sister, on the other hand, swears by the Devon cider and smoked bacon sauce for her mussels. With six different flavour mussel options to choose from, I look forward to trying other combinations on future visits. 

The monkfish special came with crispy duck, lentil and parsnip salsa, piles of samphire and a curry sauce, with the meaty fish soaking up all the flavours. 


Crispy beer-battered fish served with chunky chips and mushy peas.

Not pictured were our desserts of apple tarte tatin with toffee sauce and individual pots of Dunstaple Farm ice creams. 

With a food menu prominently featuring local produce and seafood, the wine list and drinks menu more than matches up with local beers and ciders, Devon craft lagers and even Pebblebed wines from nearby Topsham.



We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and look forward to more next summer! You’ve still got a few more weeks to get down there and try it out for yourselves. What are you waiting for?

You can follow along on my UK adventures on Instagram, here, as we’re off up to North West Wales for more British beach adventures in Abersoch. 

Charlie x

Corsairs Beach Bar & Restaurant, Jost Van Dyke

Believe it or not, even after nearly a decade of living in this little island community – there are still things that I want/have wanted to do which I just haaaaaaven’t quite got around to yet… This weekend I was finally able to make one of those dreams a reality.


Ever since I saw Corsairs Beach Bar & Restaurant on Jost Van Dyke featuring prominently in the list of BVI restaurants on TripAdvisor years ago (consistently voted #1 out of 198 restaurants in the BVI) I have been wondering about the beach bar getting all these rave foodie reviews and, on Sunday, I was finally able to try it out!


We were out on a big boat day with friends – 50 people on 4 large speedboats to be specific and – as we cruised over from Virgin Gorda and headed towards Jost (with a quick stop en route at Sandy Spit for a slip ‘n’ slide flip-cup race, naturally), we browsed through their mouth-watering menu so that we could call in our order ahead of our arrival. (You can find their menu here – those lobster cojones sound amazing, right?)


As you head inside Corsairs, greeted first by the (fake) pirate maître d’ and then by your (very real) monocle-wearing host, Captain Vinny Terranova – you can’t help but look around and take in all the artwork, the graffiti, the signs, the stickers and the general paraphernalia. Sure, there are more than a couple of beach bars around the world that have gone with this theme of decor, but you get the feeling that Corsairs has a little something else up its sleeve, a certain je ne sais quoi… Could it be the motorcycles parked out front? The friendly bearded barstaff? Or maybe it was one too many glasses of their signature voodoo juice? But Corsairs certainly has a unique atmosphere.


I’m sorry – I didn’t catch the maître d’s name… seems friendly enough, a bit quiet though!


Captain Vinny and his bottle of Voodoo Juice – I watched him make it and it is guaranteed to put hairs on your chest! 


Their lunch menu features high-end fast food. Fresh Ahi tuna nachos with seaweed salad, crispy wonton chips and pickled ginger. Their Corsairs burger topped with blue cheese, port onion jam, BBQ sauce and thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, served in a brioche bun with truffle fries on the side. There’s even a Kobe beef burger, which sounds phenomenal, if your wallet will stretch to it. It’s casual fare done exceptionally well.

What did I go for, I hear you ask? I just had to try out their lobster roll – a buttery brioche bun piled high with juicy Maine lobster with their moreish truffle fries on the side. I couldn’t resist! (Greedy little piglet…)

Lobster roll 


Ahi tuna nachos

Vinny and his team were not even remotely fazed by our group of 50 who had ordered in 4 separate groups minutes before docking and before long plates starting flying out of the kitchen, stacked high with their massive burgers (portions are large!!)


Huge Corsairs burger – fries mostly devoured before I could get the camera out… 

Sadly, we couldn’t stay for dinner as the rest of our afternoon plans (which may or may not have included the Willy-T) were calling us. Which clearly means that I shall have to pay (at least) one more visit as there are a couple of dishes on their dinner menu which have my name on them!


Read more about where you should be eating in my BVI restaurant guide here. Clearly an update is needed as I have a few more foodie stops that need including – Corsairs Beach Bar & Restaurant among them.

Charlie x

Corsairs Beach Bar & Restaurant is located on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Contact them on +1 284 495 9294 or find more information at www.corsairsbvi.com.

 

Easy Cocktails That Impress

Little known fact about me – for 6 years I worked in cocktail bars (very, very busy cocktail bars).

The downside of this is that I am unapologetically snobby about my cocktails. I don’t like my mojitos too sweet, God help you if you go anywhere near my margarita with sour mix, I want my drinks garnished correctly, I demand quality spirits with clean, fresh ingredients and I mix a mean iced tea (actually about 20 variations thereof).

The upside is that I can teach you a few things about mixed drinks.

Now, unlike most cocktail guides, I don’t expect everyone to keep a fully stocked bar cart, so I’m listing my favourite recipes based on the 4-key white spirits. This way, no matter which of the staples you happen to have on hand, you can rustle up a tasty libation.

Tequila

The simplest and most beautiful tequila drink (in my humble opinion) is the Paloma. Wonderfully sharp and refreshing – only 5 ingredients required.

Refreshing Grapefruit and Tequila Palomas

tequila

grapefruit juice

simple syrup*

club soda

fresh lime juice

:: Mix equal parts grapefruit juice, tequila and club soda (1/4 cup) – add a teaspoon of simple syrup and a quarter lime squeezed. Stir and serve over ice. Garnish with a slice of lime or grapefruit. (Salt rim on the glass or a sprig of rosemary are also optional extras). Serve and enjoy!

FYI – many recipes will just mix tequila with a grapefruit soda and it is still very tasty, but I’d urge you to try making it from scratch – it is so much better!
Gin

Elevating the classic G&T with the quintessentially British pink gin.

gin

angostura bitters

fresh lime juice

tonic

:: Add two shots of your preferred gin with five dashes of angostura bitters and a quarter lime squeezed to a large glass with ice – top with tonic water – stir and serve garnished with a slice of lemon.

Vodka – the secret to this is a good quality (read: fiery) ginger beer – the Moscow mule.

Cold Moscow Mules - Ginger Beer, lime and Vodka

Vodka

Fresh Lime Juice

Ginger Beer

:: Add two shots of your favourite vodka to a tall glass (or copper mug, if you have one) and half a lime squeezed (some recipes call for you to drop the lime shell into your drink – I’ll leave that up to you) and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a wheel of lime and enjoy!

Rum

Ernest Hemingway’s favourite, the classic daiquiri. Not all daiquiris are blended with fruit. In fact, I much prefer it when they’re not. A classic daiquiri requires only three ingredients. (Not to be confused with a Hemingway – which is a different variation altogether).

The glass of alcoholic cocktails Daiquiri consists of rum on the leaves of lime, elderflower syrup stands on wooden table on black background
a good white rum

fresh lime juice

simple syrup*

:: Add two shots of white rum with the juice of one lime and a teaspoon of simple syrup. Shake vigorously over ice and pour into a coupe/martini glass. Enjoy!

(This is the only recipe that actually needs a cocktail shaker or any equipment – apologies for that.)
*You will have noticed that a couple of these recipes require a simple syrup. Easily made you will need equal parts granulated white sugar and water. Pour one cup boiling water and one cup sugar into a pan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Be careful not to let it boil. When dissolved let the syrup cool and pour into a sterilized bottle or jar. It will keep in the fridge for up to a month. Once you have mastered basic simple syrup you can then start exploring herb infusions (basil and rosemary are two of my favourites) but that’s a lesson for another time… 🙂

So there you have it – a clean and effortless cocktail that you can throw together no matter which spirit you happen to have at home – just in time for the weekend!

Charlie x