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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Top Two New Family Travel Adventures to Asia

Steer clear of the usual family travel tourist traps this year with an off-the-beaten-track adventure the entire family will remember forever.


Offering parents and kids alike the chance to get right into the heart of rural Thailand, a new Elephants & Rafts tour promises adventure, education and a multitude of once-in-a-lifetime moments. Starting in Bangkok, the itinerary takes in Chiang Mai by sleeper train, jungle treks, local markets, an elephant ride through untouched forest, a bamboo river rafting trip as well as two nights in remote hill-tribe villages learning the ways of life in rural Thailand, before heading back to Bangkok for a long-tail boat trip. Thailand Uncovered is offering a nine-day private Elephants & Rafts tour from £900 ($1360) per person. Suitable for children aged seven years and over and valid for selected private departures throughout 2013, the price includes transfers, varied accommodation (five-star hotels, basic village huts and an overnight sleeper train) on a mixed-board basis and the services of an expert guide. 


This off the beaten track vacation provides a doorway to a forgotten culture which traces its origins to ancient tribal history. Greener Pastures, an ecotourism enterprise based in Northeast India - that promotes responsible tours to exotic destinations around the region - has just launched a first ever tour to the Aoling Festival in Nagaland, considered to be one of India's remotest regions. Celebrated by the Konyak Tribe during the first week of April, the festival marks the coming of a new year and of spring season.

Once upon a time one of the deadliest headhunters in all of Asia, the tribe today lives peacefully, spending most of their farming, fishing and hunting. But come April, the tribe comes together to celebrate the traditional Aoling. Wearing vibrant tribal clothing, elaborate dances are performed which tell of Konyak culture and bravery. Invitations are not needed and visitors to the festival are often overwhelmed by the hospitality of the locals.

The director of Greener Pastures, Vaivhav, tells me "The inhabitants, the tattooed warrior Konyaks, are unarguably one of India's most fascinating tribes. This makes the Aoling Festival a truly unique and offbeat experience...with the launch of this tour, we wish to showcase this incredible culture to the world and hope that awareness will benefit the tribe."

The tour begins in the town of Dibrugarh in Northeast India. Known as the 'tea country of the world', from Dibrugarh, the tour crosses the medieval ruins of the Ahom Dynasty at Sivasagar heading for the hill town of Mon in eastern and remote Nagaland.  Apart from participation in the festivities, the tour also provides visitors with an opportunity to visit various Konyak villages, visit their houses, interact and learn about their way of life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top 3 Tours That Not Only Feel Good - they Do Good

When it comes to family travel, finding an authentic way to immerse your kids in another culture is always a challenge. But if the thought of sitting on yet another theme park tour bus rates L for Lame, then a no-holds-barred, cultural adventure could just fit the bill. As less and less of us are temped by a 'fake break' where our kids are charmed away by nannies and nurtured in a corner of the resort well out of ear-shot, I'm offering a round-up of the best specialist led environmental tours that won't scar and pollute the natural beauty you come looking for - a visit with your kids might even help. 

1. South Africa Sacred Sites Hikes
Southern Africa's San Bushman - 'the Khomani'- are genetically linked to all the peoples of the earth. They are the First People. Yet Southern Africa's ancient & prehistoric Sacred Sites are being degraded at an alarming rate. Now The Sacred Site Foundation of Southern Africa (SSFSA) is setting out to protect ancient & prehistoric Sacred Sites around Table Mountain, the Western Cape & Southern Africa. And they do this by organising Sacred Site day hiking tours lasting from 2 hours to several days. The Sacred Site Foundation of Southern Africa - led by author & researcher Dean Liprin - is working hard to advise, research, protect, develop and raise public consciousness about the prehistoric sacred sites and heritage of South Africa. The culural hikes are a big draw for visitors interested in more than sundowners and simply topping up their tan.
2. Whale Watching

Whales Worldwide specialises in small group excursions and each whale watching adventure includes first class accommodation and private transfers as well as the services of a qualified and experienced guide throughout. 
With over twenty five years' experience of observing marine wildlife Nic Slocum combines his expertise and passion for adventure, wildlife and the environment by offering exclusive, fully guided whale watching adventure tours worldwide. "From swimming with Humpback Whales off the Dominican Republic or Tonga to close encounters with Pacific Gray Whales in Mexico or Southern Right Whales off Patagonia...our sole objective is to achieve, quite literally that 'once in a lifetime' encounter." Nic told me. An authority on the threats facing these unique marine mammals, Nic Slocum has reviewed whale watching guidelines around the world and established one of the most comprehensive codes of conduct for boat based whale watching operations. His education and first-hand knowledge of the animals make him a simply outstanding environmental and educational leader. 

3. Phillipines Home Stays
A new and fast growing homestay network, run by Flip Flop Tours Inc., provides adventurous travellers with a front row seat into this unique and welcoming culture. FlipFlop's aim is to give visitors an experience very different to what they might find in their own country. For only 600PHP (that's just £9.50 or $15) per night, travellers get to live like a local, staying with a Filipino family, experiencing their way of life. Homestays can be booked online and are located in the islands of Malapascua, Bantayan, Palawan and Bohol around the Philippines. The Filipino-New Zealand team who operate Flip Flop Inc. is led by Anna Cleal, who first travelled to the Philippines for civil engineering work in 2008, and was amazed that so little was known about this tropical paradise. She has made it her mission to encourage more travellers to hit the Philippines shores in ways that benefit local communities. "Often beach resorts have serious environmental impacts and pop up in areas where the average income is $1 per day," Anna Cleal told me. "The homestay program aims to direct money into the heart of some of these communities, as well as hoping to provide travellers with more of an experience."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bucket List Trips to Tanzania


My good friends at small group tour operator Encounters Travel today launched a selection of eight brand-new tours in Africa, which offer a wealth of once-in-a-lifetime experiences... from gorilla trekking and white water rafting in Uganda, to searching for big game in remote Zambia and kayaking on Lake Malawi.

Another destination they tackle extensively is Tanzania - a country famed for Mt Kilimanjaro, tallest mountain in Africa - as much as its wildlife, and especially during the great migration. Here are my two top tips for exploring Tanzania. Both options offer a combination of raw, bucket-list adventure with the comfort of staying in quality hotels and lodges. And if - like me - you care about leaving a positive impression and impact on the countries you visit, it's worth knowing that every project you book contributes to local projects on the ground.

Explore East Africa 

Encounters Travel is offering a brand-new Savannah & Sands tour of Tanzania (with a touch of Kenya thrown in) Available for travel throughout 2013 from £1399 ($2910) per person, the price includes airport transfers, 11 nights’ varied accommodation in hotels, lodges and safari camps on a mixed-board basis, all entrance fees as well as a local tour guide throughout. Flights are excluded. Offering a perfect mix of wildlife and relaxation, this tour provides a great introduction to East Africa. Arriving in Nairobi, head south across the border to Arusha, gateway to the wildlife heart of Tanzania, followed by a Serengeti safari, making stops at the Ngorongoro crater, home to an unrivalled density of wildlife, and Olduvai Gorge - said to be the birth place of man! After the wildlife experience head towards Zanzibar, via the mountain town of Lushoto. Visit historic Stone Town and its spice markets, then relax at the beach and enjoy a spot of swimming and snorkelling, before finishing in Dar es Salaam.

Climb Africa’s Tallest Mountain

Experience stunning panoramic views on one of the world’s most renowned walking routes, on a Classic Kilimanjaro Trek with Encounters Travel. The adventure specialist is offering this iconic climb of Africa’s tallest mountain from £1099 ($2290) per person in 2013. The price includes airport transfers, seven nights’ varied accommodation in hotels and mountain lodges on a full-board basis, all entrance fees as well as a local tour guide throughout. Flights are excluded. This trek takes guests on the popular Marangu route, which steadily climbs through rainforest, heath and moorland, stopping at Zebra Rocks, so-called because of its distinctive black and white stripes, before reaching alpine desert in the saddle of Kilimanjaro. After six hard and breathless days, the group finally reaches Uhuru Peak (5,895 m) - nicknamed the ‘Roof of Africa’.