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)

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

The Little Secret in Nature’s Little Secrets

The BVI is known as Nature’s Little Secrets (we’re proud of this – it’s even on our license plates) – and with good reason – we’re miles from anyone, fairly torturous to get to (usually 2-3 flights and sometimes a ferry or two depending on which island you’re staying on) and oftentimes people have no idea where we are (confession: I didn’t either before I moved here). 

But, when you do get here (occasionally minus your luggage), all of the travel is worthwhile – cerulean blue waters, white sand beaches, private anchorages, picture-perfect palms and laid back vibes – paradise awaits you. 

But I think that there’s one even more secretive secret in Nature’s Little Secrets and that’s the Fat Virgin Cafe tucked away in the North Sound and accessible only by boat. 

This weekend a small group of us took the new ferry service (in conjunction with YCCS) over to enjoy lunch – a quick and easy 5 minute boat ride from Gun Creek. 


We pulled up to the dock and found a seat at one of the brightly coloured picnic benches – quickly ordering a few beers and lemonades to mix up shandies and quench our thirst. (There may have been a margarita or two in there too).



Unfortunately a few of the menu items weren’t available since they had been busy the previous night – but they had their wonderful BLT sandwiches. A classic which they have freshened up with a basil mayonnaise and made even more decadent with the inclusion of melted brie. Delicious! 



We ordered a few rounds of sandwiches and a roti (a signature West Indian dish – comprising a lightly spiced chicken and potato curry covered in a soft wrap made of chickpea flour and served with mango chutney – a must try while you’re in the islands).

The desserts looked soooooo tempting (chocolate oblivion, hell yes!) but we were truly too full and needed a quick stroll after lunch to walk it off. 



Highly recommend making the trip over if you’re ever in the area – and, if you do, let me know what you think! 

Charlie x

A Tourist In My Own Town

A couple of weeks back some very good friends of mine from Tortola had family visiting. During these precious weeks of quality family time they (obviously) wanted to include some Virgin Gorda adventures and I was lucky enough to be invited along for the ride.

Picture Perfect Palms

Picture Perfect Palms

Virgin Gorda is arguably one of the most beautiful of the British Virgin Islands (no bias here… honest.) with unique and award-winning (or at the very least highly-rated) geological features like The Baths and some of the prettiest beaches around. Surrounded by this beauty every day (and coupled with the fact that I spend most of my time getting myself to and from working on Tortola) I am very much guilty of taking a lot of this for granted and have, so far, only explored an embarrassingly small slice of my new island paradise. Their brief visit was the ideal opportunity to open my eyes and appreciate all the natural beauty on my doorstep and to play at being a tourist in my own town. Stop number one on our itinerary was The Crawl, a secluded beach spot that I had not yet found the time to visit on my own. Virgin Gorda’s infamous granite boulders form a ring creating a beautifully sheltered little pool. The sand is beautifully white, the sea is brilliantly turquoise and (most importantly) we were the only ones down there… We only stopped in briefly before continuing on to the Baths, but there are some perfectly shaded picnic benches down there along with BBQ facilities, so it would be the ideal spot to fill a cooler and grill some meat with friends on a lazy Sunday.

WP_20150710_10_59_32_Panorama

#Nofilter

#Nofilter

Next stop was the Baths – Virgin Gorda’s most famous landmark and the busiest tourist destination*, rightfully so. The Baths is a unique geological formation, a result of volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Over time the granite that was deposited by the volcano has eroded away to form piles of boulders as big as buildings – some up to 40 ft long. These boulders form natural tidal pools with scenic grottoes, tunnels and archways to be explored. The National Trust has constructed steps and rails to assist you as you move through the rocks between Spring Bay and Devil’s Bay.**

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Sun-dappled grotto – and prime photo opp location.

AdobePhotoshopExpress_68079a01edb44b33b083759611d0eec7 WP_20150710_11_31_18_Pro AdobePhotoshopExpress_45c5dcfe6122466db400aa7f09c61c7a Our final destination was a long, leisurely lunch up at Hog’s Heaven on the way to Leverick Bay. Hog’s Heaven benefits from one of THE BEST views in the BVI (in my humble opinion) looking out onto the islands of the North Sound, including Necker and Moskito (made famous and owned by Sir Richard Branson), Saba Rock, Eustatia and Prickly Pear. On clear days you can see Anegada in the distance and might even catch a glimpse of Sir Richard kite-boarding between the islands.***AdobePhotoshopExpress_8fa6f7ed9e27449585ead1ec1effbee4 As the name suggests, Hog’s Heaven is famous for their BBQ’ed pork and ribs, although there are plenty of other delicious alternatives (but really… you have to try the ribs). The fruit smoothies are excellent although, rather unusually, you will need to specify if you want yours without rum… *wonders how many small children have been caught out by this*

* I strongly suggest that you check the Cruise Ship schedule before planning a visit. On Cruise Ship days the Baths can become unpleasantly congested (much of the walk is single-file) and are to be avoided.

** While not exactly strenuous the walk through the Baths does require a minimal level of fitness.

*** Not guaranteed… 😉