Co-founder of Experience Travel Group, Tom Armstrong, discovered the hidden riches of Malaysia. On an in-depth research trip, he found some fantastic experiences you could include in your holiday, the Suka Suka Homestay is but one example. Here he reviews his time with Aziz and family, the hosts – I hope you’ll feel inspired.
Travel expert Sara recently went on her own personal holiday to Sri Lanka with 12 members of her family. As an avid wildlife enthusiast, her father suggested an early morning whale watching experience. He made the arrangements himself during our holiday but the experience was less than dreamy. Here Sara reports back on how NOT to do whale watching.
Matt recently visited Soneva Fushi and Jani, two luxurious resorts in The Maldives. On returning to the office, we found it interesting to think about the various kinds of ‘luxury’ available, and also what the word actually means.
It’s really tough to capture what ‘luxury’ actually is; we all talk about it quite a lot, especially in the travel sphere and I’ve often wondered how to quantify and explain it, especially when talking to other travellers.
As my experience has grown over the years, and I’ve been lucky enough to stay in many “luxury” hotels, I’ve realised how difficult it is to define a luxury hotel, let alone categorise it. Ultimately it’s all about the individual experience you have and how it fits with you as a person. This is when hotels like Soneva Fushi and Jani come into their element; here, the accommodation and service blend to provide an incredibly personal, relaxing and awe-inspiring experience.
If I can’t get to sleep at night, sometimes I just think of my time in The Maldives. It is one of the most relaxing places I have been on this earth and, for me, no other place can quite compare with it. Everyone in the office knows this all too well, and when I was planning my most recent trip to Sri Lanka I just couldn’t resist adding on 5 nights in The Maldives, only this time I was staying at a particularly special place.
The Maldives has over 250 resorts, nearly all of them on private islands, and it just seems to be an unstoppable force in terms of growth; about 10 resorts have opened this year alone, many of them 5* or above. It’s becoming more difficult to choose between the options and ever more important to be able to discern between the different types of luxury on offer.
I’ve been a fan of the Soneva luxury concept from the beginning. Co-founders Sonu and Eva opened their first hotel in 1995 in The Maldives and have honed their unique philosophy over the past 20 years. They have a brand that values understated touches of luxury, stunning architectural design, barefoot living, making the most of the beautiful natural world surrounding their properties and placing environmental protection at the forefront.
I have to say that I keep my finger on the pulse with travel news and about two years ago I first heard about Soneva Jani being built – this was something on a new scale, even for TMaldives (which is already mind-blowing in what it has to offer): 5 islands with 25 water villas and the biggest overwater structure, plus a 5.8km beyond-imaginable lagoon. Just outrageous even on paper, I dreamed about going.
It all starts with the ‘no shoes, no news’ concept. As soon as you step onto the resort your shoes are taken from you and, for however long you stay, you go around the resort barefoot. Does it sound gimmicky? A little, but all you can do is relax with soft sand between your feet, glorious sunshine and turquoise ocean everywhere on the horizon – with no worldly worries to distract you.
There’s no plastic on the island; a special glass blowing factory recycles glasses and the resort grows as much food on the island as it can to cater for the guests. The retractable rooves in over-water villas are incredible and the slide down into the ocean from your bedroom is the stuff of childhood dreams.
Luxury is so much more than just a picture-postcard image of a stunning resort and Soneva resorts prove this. It’s about attention to detail, personalisation, and providing an experience of dreams. For those looking for a particularly special place to stay, I’d certainly recommend either Soneva Fushi or the newly opened Soneva Jani – both would make for a spectacular experience.
Nestled in the dense forests of Ulu Muda forest, The Earth Lodge is one of the most unique and remote lodges in all of Southeast Asia. It provides an adventure guests will likely remember for the rest of their lives. Here, co-founder of Experience Travel Group, Tom, reviews his Earth Lodge experience.
Sarah Blaine is the co-founder of a pioneering project, to get Thai elephants back into their natural forest environment, living in their natural family groups. Here she shares her insider insights into elephant tourism in Thailand.
Ait, one of our in country partners in Laos shares his latest experience for nature lovers. Involving some moderate level treks and spending night in the trees in your very own hanging spherical basket, it’s an unusual experience of a lifetime.
Sarah Blaine’s life changed after a visit to Thailand volunteering at an elephant project. Recognizing the obstacles the animals, mahout handlers and local families face, she set up Mahouts Elephant Foundation whose aim is to support responsible tourism in the country. Here she shares her story and details of her latest project: walking with elephants.
We’re walking 40km on the south downs, whatever the weather!, and we need your help! We want to raise £1000 to contribute to education in Myanmar. Will you support us in our aim?
We invited Duncan, founder of our destination charity: Heal Kids, to talk about how travel inspired him to set up the foundation. On his visit to Bagan, he met a group of streetchildren all wishing they could go to school. Struck by their drive to learn, he went back out just a month or so after returning from his holiday to make a difference and start empowering locals to improve their own lives.
Teardrop hotels feature some of our most popular boutique properties in Sri Lanka, including the stunning boutique heritage villa the Wallawwa. We’re incredibly excited about the recently opened Fort Bazaar, lovingly restored by the group. Here, we invited Henry (Managing Director) to talk a little bit about his interested in Sri Lanka and the process behind restoring this heritage property. Over to Henry:
Co-founders Sam and Tom recently visited the off-the-beaten-track region of Mannar, Sri Lanka with travel photographer Damon Wilder. Situated in the northwest of the country, it’s a flat, wild west kind of landscape with an overlooked culture and identity. Here Sam reviews the new holiday experiences we have in development on the island:
There are a range of beaches with a mixture of accommodation options in Malaysian Borneo. In certain regions to the far east of the island we must also consider FCO advice when looking for a brilliant beach stay. This guide will provide you with a brief overview of what the beaches in this area have to offer so you can start planning your perfect Borneo beach holiday.
Organising our first ever collection of small group holidays to Sri Lanka, meet Zoe Experience Travel Group’s travel specialist extraordinaire and learn about her new exciting holiday to the northern region of this beguiling island.
ETG stopped selling Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage years ago after our own findings from company investigations and supporting reports from animal welfare experts at NGOs such as the Born Free Foundation. Here we hope to empower you in making an informed decision about visiting the ‘orphanage.’
Well off the beaten path in central Vietnam lies Son Doong cave, the biggest in the world. Discovered by Howard and Debora, a couple from Bradford, they have now started an eco-tourism project guiding visitors through this natural wonder. ETG went to explore.
One of our travel specialists, Lauren, recently tried out our new whale watching experience off the coast of Mirissa, Sri Lanka. Spotting them from a new smaller, faster speed boat – it made for an unforgettable memory.
Philippa Kaye, our ‘on the ground’ travel expert in Delhi, says everyone travelling to India should stay in a homestay. I was surprised because for me ‘homestays’ conjure images of quaint local houses, with pretty basic conditions, in remote rural locations – they certainly weren’t for everyone. I went to investigate myself to resolve the great Indian homestay conundrum.
A luxury camping experience can really help you get back to nature without giving up on comfort. Think sumptuous canopy beds, wooden decking and antique furnishings – set against stunning natural landscapes, of course.
Eco Lodges offer guests a much deeper insight into a destination and can make the difference between a good holiday and an unforgettable experience. From the inclusion of local communities, to the design of the accommodation itself, its the personality of the accommodation that makes your stay much more insightful.
I have been thinking about this blog for a while. As we are developing and refining our sustainable travel product, this issue has kept cropping up and quite frankly, I simply can’t decide what to do about it! The issue I am talking about is that of elephant riding throughout our destination countries.
One of our favourite hotels in SE Asia – the Shinta Mani is set to re-open on the 01st June after a major refurbishment.