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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

On to Chiang Rai

Guest Post by Amy Perry Basseches 
After Bangkok, I flew to Chiang Rai, the northernmost large city in Thailand, to begin two days in and around "The Golden Triangle," where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers (formerly one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of the world). We stayed in Chiang Saen, a part of the Chiang Rai Province that literally sits on the Mekong and from which you can see Myanmar and Laos. A "three country" boat trip can be taken here which includes travel by tuk-tuk and longtail boat, stopping at local markets, temples, and ruins. 
 
In Chiang Rai, we visited three temples, Wat Rong Seua Ten (Blue Temple), Wat Rong Kun (White Temple), and Baan Dam (Black Temple). Although sometimes historic temple ruins were present, these are modern creations: the Blue Temple was finished in 2016, the White Temple opened in 1997 and was designed by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, and the Black Temple is artist Thawan Duchanee's "artful portrayal of hell." Afterward, I loved eating at Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, Bistro & Bar, a  "Slow Food" restaurant, featuring Hill Tribe organic eggs.
 
All of the above paled in comparison to the highlight of my time in Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen, The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. The GTAEF was set up to rescue elephants, mahouts (caretakers) and mahout families from illegal logging camps, the street, and abusive shows. Our hotel (to be detailed in a separate blog post) overlooked the elephant sanctuary, home to approximately 40 elephants. Here, the elephants, mahouts, and mahout families are housed, fed, and provided health care, and the mahouts' children educated. 
 
Asian elephants are listed on The International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, which means they have had at least a 50% decrease in population in the last three generations. They face habitat loss, as well as poaching. The current best estimate for Thailand's remaining wild population is around 2000 to 4000.
 
Many tourists seek an "elephant experience" while in Thailand. Tourism remains the main income source available to keep the majority of Thailand's captive elephants fed, but it is important to work with businesses and the mahout community to promote welfare and sustainability. Especially after being in Thailand, I can say with certainty: ask ActiveTravels for assistance in choosing your elephant experience in Thailand. There are a lot of not-so-great ones offered. 
 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/05/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 04, 2019

First Stop on My Trip to Southeast Asia: Bangkok

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches  
 
"Southeast Asia has a real grip on me. From the very first time I went there, it was a fulfillment of my childhood fantasies of the way travel should be."
Anthony Bourdain
 
With this quote in mind, and Bourdain's 2001 "A Cook's Tour" in my backpack for inspiration, I set off on my first foray to Southeast Asia. Would I too feel my travel fantasies fulfilled? My son Jake had spent 3 weeks in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos during the summer of 2016; I was eager to follow in his footsteps. 
 
Bangkok is a bustling city, full of travelers from all over the world. I stayed in a hotel overlooking the Chao Phraya river, and savored my activities while moving in step with millions of others. With my guide Kim, early on Sunday morning, I set off for Wat Pho and Wat Arun, two of the famous temples in Bangkok. Wat Pho is home to the 46 meters-long "Reclining Buddha," and it is one of Thailand's oldest temples (built in the 16th century). While there, I saw a classical Thai dance lesson being taught. On Sunday mornings, Kim said, classes are offered free to local schoolchildren. We then crossed the river to Wat Arun, considered by many as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. Climbing up high, and looking back toward the river, was a highlight for me. 
 
The next day, our entire group visited the Grand Palace, an over 50-acre complex of buildings, the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. Signs are everywhere, stating: "Buddha is not for decoration. Respect is common sense." This is especially noticeable outside the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha, where people throng, a few of them tattooed with, you guessed it, images of Buddha. Sigh. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/04/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 18, 2019

ActiveTravels January Newsletter, Best of The New Travel in 2019

We look forward to bringing you the ActiveTravels January Newsletter each year because it gives us a chance to discover what's new in the world of travel. If it wows us, then it passes the test and we're excited to share it with you. Please have a look to see our roundup of the latest and greatest hotels, resorts, cruises, adventures and restaurants to debut in 2019. 

We're off to Hong Kong and Bangkok tonight for the next two weeks. We had to leave two days early to avoid the winter storm and snow headed to Boston. We'll be back on February 4th with the highlights from Amy's recent trip to Thailand and Laos. Thanks, as always, for checking in! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/18/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Join Renowned Travel Writer Fran Golden on an Alaskan Cruise this June

Fran Golden, former travel editor of the Boston Herald and author of Frommer's EasyGuide to Alaskan Cruises and Ports of Call (2018), will be hosting a select group of passengers on an Alaskan cruise June 15-22, 2019. So far 20 people have signed up to join her, but there are still berths available if you're interested. You'll board Holland America's newly refurbished Eurodam (see the latest review in Travel & Leisure) in Seattle. Then make your way up the Pacific coast with stops in Juneau, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, before arriving back in Seattle. Fran will select her favorite shore excursions along the route and provide anecdotes from her other memorable cruises. For more information, please contact ActiveTravels

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/17/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Top Dream Days of 2018, Visiting the Small Town of Francois, Newfoundland

Guest post and photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Now that I live in Toronto, it makes sense that one of my dream travel days of 2018 took place in Canada! I'm on a devoted quest to explore all 13 Canadian Provinces and Territories -- and, in October, Newfoundland's time had come. Aboard Adventure Canada's vessel Ocean Endeavour, we spent one special day visiting both La Poile Bay and Francois, along Newfoundland's southern coast. La Poile Bay is isolated, without any road connecting it to the rest of the province. After hiking high above the cove, and walking on a deserted beach, I joined others in the crazy activity of plunging into the freezing cold water.
 
Not far away is the former fishing center of Francois (pronounced fran-SWAY), surrounded by steep mountains. Residents travel on small concrete paths between their homes and various buildings in town. There are no roads, and Francois can only be accessed by boat and helicopter (and by snowmobile in the winter). Today, 89 people live in Francois. Here I kayaked peacefully around the cove, then watched divers traveling with the group go deep into Francois Bay and emerge again and again with some 300 scallop shells. These were then shucked and cooked and eaten by anyone lucky enough to get in line early. After filling our bellies, we went ashore and were hosted by the locals at a "Kitchen Party" in the Community Hall. Much music, dancing, drinking, mingling, and eating ensued -- all good-natured and fun -- especially the tunes of the renowned Alan Doyle, a Member of the Order of Canada ("for his contributions to the musical traditions of his home province of Newfoundland") who was traveling with us.
 
If you loved the Broadway show, Come From Away, treat yourself to the genuine Newfoundland. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/16/19 at 06:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Top Dream Days of 2018, Checking Out Jasper

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches

Anyone who knows me knows I love the mountains. John Muir's famous quote, "The mountains are calling and I must go," a sticker found at Yosemite National Park, adorns my laptop. So it's not a stretch to say one of my dream travel days of 2018 was in Jasper, Alberta high in the Canadian Rockies. 
 
I drove with my husband Josh from Lake Louise to Jasper on the famous Icefields Parkway. It's 143 miles, with tremendous views (13 viewpoints). I can recommend stopping at the Peyto Lake Overlook, about ½ hour outside of Lake Louise. You are rewarded at the end with the view of the intensely colored lake. 
 
Once in Jasper, we checked into our terrific hotel, The Tekarra Lodge. We had a snack while sitting in Adirondack chairs, high above the confluence of the Athabasca and Miette Rivers, and watched the swirling blue water down below. Then off on a hike we went. 
 
It's hard to top the Bald Hills Trail from Maligne Lake (5 hours round-trip), recommended by a local we met. It really had it all -- forest, alpine meadows of wildflowers, mountains, and a sweeping view back to Maligne Lake. It was a "peak" experience, which we finished off with an excellent meal at Syrahs in downtown Jasper. Elk carpaccio, warm seafood salad, smoked Alberta bison brisket ragout, and port. Fantastic!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/15/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, January 14, 2019

Top Dream Days of 2018, Horseback Riding at Dahana Ranch on the Big Island

Guest Post and Photo by Amy Perry Basseches 

One of my dream days of travel in 2018 was spent on the Big Island of Hawaii, in May. Although we needed to re-route in the week before our trip to avoid the small area in the southeast affected by the Kilauea volcano, we had a fantastic time!
 
On this particular dream day, my daughter Sophie and I began in Holualoa, an artist and coffee community in the hills above Kailua-Kona. Mamalohoa Highway winds through the heart of the town, past the wonderful Holuakoa Gardens and Café where we had brunch. Then we headed to Hawi, on the northwestern coast. Located on the slopes of the Kohala mountain, Hawi has become a popular tourist destination in recent years due to its artists' shops, delicious restaurants, and beautiful scenery. After checking into our accommodation on a small lush farm just outside of town, we drove the Kohala Mountain Road from Hawi to Waimea, for horseback riding on the Dahana Ranch and hiking in the Pololu Valley. 
 
As you drive north to Hawi from Kailua-Kona, you see mostly black lava fields along the road, then you enter an incredibly green area, full of ranches which date back to 1840s, older than the oldest ranches in the continental United States by more than 30 years! Kohala Mountain Road is stunning. At Dahana Ranch, we grew to understand the paniolo (cowboy) world better: there they breed, raise, and train a variety of horses and ponies, and also manage a 140 head cow/calf operation for beef and rodeo bucking stock. 
 
After riding, we wanted to stretch our own legs. From Waimea to Honokaa, our destination was the Pololu Valley, on the way back to Hawi. Down a steep trail for about ½ hour, we soaked in the dramatic northeastern Big Island coastline. At the bottom, we were rewarded by a fairly isolated black sand beach, a lone woman practicing yoga, and a few brave souls camping overnight. Spectacular!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/14/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, January 11, 2019

Top 5 Dream Days of 2018, A Rejuvenating Stay at Gorman Chairback Lodge

My cabin at AMC's Gorman Chairback Lodge overlooked Long Pond, a serene 4-mile-long body of water surrounded by the ridges of the nearby Appalachian Trail. As soon as we plopped down our luggage, we heard the first of many loon calls, that unmistakable yodel echoing across the lake. All was bliss from this point onward. Smelling the sweet pine and peering at mountains with few, if any signs of civilization. It's no surprise that this locale in Maine's North Woods has been hosting guests since 1867. We jumped in an Old Town canoe and followed families of loons and mergansers, before spotting a bald eagle atop a dead hemlock tree. The waters of Long Pond were like glass, reflecting the surrounding mountains atop the surface. All you could hear was that mesmerizing call of the loon and there was no other traffic on the pond. No boats, no canoes, nothing. Nothing but serenity. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/11/19 at 05:59 AM
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Top 5 Dream Days of 2018, On the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

In November, I visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with my friend, Dan, a great admirer and collector of bourbon. We toured 5 distilleries during our time in Kentucky Bourbon Country. We really enjoyed the tasting at Heaven Hill (where we purchased coveted Old Fitzgerald 14-year-old bottles to bring home) and doing the hard hat tour at the 1930s industrial complex still in use at Buffalo Trace. Yet, it was hard to top our visit to Wild Turkey in serene bluegrass country outside Lawrenceburg. One look at those rickhouses blackened on the outside from evaporation and you can sense the history. In fact, a distillery has been operating at this same site since 1869. We had a wonderful guide, Edwina, who showed us the whole process of making bourbon, from seeing the mash bills and fermentation tanks to walking inside one of those old rickhouses and eyeing all those barrels stacked to the ceiling. Outside, the rolling hills led to a bridge over the Kentucky River and the countryside was aflame in late fall foliage. 

 
Then we were back at the newly revamped Visitors Center tasting the wares and meeting the Buddha of Bourbon, 84-year-old Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, who's been working at Wild Turkey the past 64 years. "When I started here, bourbon was a southern gentlemen's drink. Now just as many women are buying a bottle as men," says Jimmy. He also notes that Wild Turkey is the top selling bourbon in Japan and Australia. We talked for another 15 minutes before getting Jimmy to sign a bottle of Russell's Reserve 10 year. Definitely a highlight of our trip. 
 
After meeting Jimmy, we drove on backcountry roads past the rolling hills of bluegrass and horse farms of rural Kentucky to reach The Stave, a new stylish roadhouse restaurant and bar recommended to me by a friend in nearby Lexington. The owner, Rebecca, has designed many restaurants in the region. One step inside the cozy interior and it's hard not be charmed by both the look and the folks working here. The Stave made its debut in September just down the road from the Woodford Reserve distillery, a National Historic Landmark, and the impressive circa-1887 Castle & Key distillery that just reopened this year making vodka, gin, and eventually bourbon. Start with warm black-eyed pea fritters with tangy sweet onion relish and cucumber salad, or the deviled eggs dusted with paprika and served on pickled greens. Then get ready for their version of the Louisville Hot Brown, this time served on corn bread instead of the typical white bread. Delicious!
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/10/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Top 5 Dream Days of 2018, Checking Out the Street Art and Botero’s in Medellin

This past June I had the good fortune to travel with a wonderful guide, Pablo Ospina, through his hometown of Medellin, Colombia. Our first stop was Communa 13 to see the magnificent and ever-growing street art in this neighborhood, which not too long ago was one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of South America. While we strolled, Pablo gave me the history of Medellin, this city of 4 million nestled in the valley close to a mile high. When he was growing up, there were car bombs and constant fighting between the government and the guerilla forces of FARC, with the remnants of Escobar's drug ring thrown in for more chaos. Now the city has rose from the ashes and what a remarkable job it's doing. Not only is it safe, but it has one of the best climates in the world, 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Many people are retiring to the city to enjoy the weather and the only public transit system in Colombia, which includes cable cars and outdoor escalators.

 
When we descended from Communa 13 on the escalators and spotted about 5 tour groups heading up to the street art (we had the place to ourselves since Pablo wisely headed here first), we took a cable car up into the hillside for glorious vistas of the city ringed by jagged peaks. Then it was on to the city center to see the Botero sculptures and his paintings in the nearby Museo de Antioquia. Botero not only donated his impressive sculptures, paintings, and watercolors to his boyhood museum, he bequeathed his collection of contemporary art by Stella, Frankenthaler, and Andy Katz, among others. For lunch, we headed to the large botanical garden in the center of the city and its signature restaurant, In Situ. One sip of the sublime coconut lemonade and that would be my drink of choice throughout the week. After lunch, we strolled the gardens and spotted large lizards amidst the orchids and bamboo trees. Seven hours after picking me up, Pablo dropped me back off at my hotel. It was indeed a Dream Day. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 01/09/19 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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