Thursday, 20 September 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years....No 5 Elephants at Pinnawela

We're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

Karen watches bathtime for baby elephants!

"Sri Lanka has to be one of my favourite countries – I’ve visited a few times now, and on each occasion I see new places and a different side to the Island. There’s so much to take in, so it’s hard to say where my favourite location would be, but I think I’d put the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage top of my list! It’s quite easy to get to from the coast, too, so even if you visit Sri Lanka on a beach holiday rather than a tour, try to get here.

Karen at the Pinawela elephant orphanage, Sri Lanka
Karen gets up close
Personally, I think Sri Lanka lends itself exceptionally well to a bit of touring, spending a few days in the main areas - the North has loads of historical interest, centered around Sigiriya and its famous Rock Fortress along with the ancient capitals of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura; the Central Highlands has some of Sri Lanka's most beautiful countryside with the tea plantations around Nuwara Eliya being really interesting; while the South is great for wildlife, with national parks such as Yala and Udawalawe being great for elephants and even leopard.

Schoolkids at the Pinnawela elephant orphanage, Sri Lanka
Local school kids on a day out
If you get to Pinnawela quite early, you can see the resident elephants in their forested area, a short way from the river and with plenty of space for the elephants to roam around in. The orphanage was set up to help orphaned wild elephants that were found in the area, and has now grown to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. There are elephants of all ages here - the younger ones are fed huge bottles of milk, which are glugged down in seconds!

Then it’s off to the river for bath time! It’s a short walk for the elephants (and for the visitors!) from their fields to the river, and a local restaurant offers a great viewing area – and is also perfect for a cooling drink in the tropical climate. As the elephants step in to the river, it’s the younger ones that take centre stage. Their excitement is obvious, as they start splashing in the water and jumping on to the rocks! The elephant handlers give them a good scrub in the water, making them lie down so that they can reach them properly – even a baby elephant is the size of a car.

Bathtime at the Pinnawela elephant orphange, Sri Lanka
Bath time!
It’s easy to build a visit to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in to a holidayto Sri Lanka, and many of our tours include it anyway – but even if you’re planning a week or two simply relaxing on the beach (and I admit that it’s very tempting to do absolutely nothing in Sri Lanka as the beaches are beautiful!) I’d really urge you to find the time to drag yourself away from the beach to visit this excellent elephant sanctuary.”

Next time shopping in Bangkok

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 6 Temple Spotting in Cambodia

This month we're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

Mark goes temple spotting in Cambodia.....

"The first time I really heard about Angkor Wat was 20 years ago, when I was backpacking around Thailand and made it to a temple that once stood on the edge of the Khmer empire, on what is now the border between Thailand and Cambodia - Khao Phra Viharn. This out of the way temple was in a sorry state and was around 100 miles from Angkor Wat itself, but it really gave a sense of how mighty the Khmer empire was in its heyday, and how magnificent Angkor would have been. I started finding out more about the Temples of Angkor, but it took me another 14 years to actually make it there!

Bas reliefs at Angkor Wat
Bas reliefs at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is just one part of the complex at Angkor, but is the most important and most impressive - although the slightly eerie Bayon and the jungle-clad Ta Prohm are up there in my list of favourites. There's a lot more to Angkor than just Angkor Wat itself! Having said that, as Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world and one of the finest ancient structures in Asia, it really is the main attraction for visitors to Cambodia. 

Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor
Trees and Temples at Ta Prohm
I spend three days in the area, based in the nearby town of Siem Reap, exploring the temples. Personally, while I get really excited by temples and the like, I do have a limit before I get 'templed-out', but at Angkor there's so much to see and the sites are all so varied, it's easy to really immerse yourself in the history without getting bored. Even in three days I still didn't get to see some of the outlying temples!

Angkor Wat itself is just vast - the sheer scale is incredible, and recent surveys have indicated that this was at the heart of a city of up to million people in its heyday, making it the largest city in the world at the time - by a long way. The site is over 200 acres in size, and it can easily take half a day just to take in the main features. The moat that surrounds the temple gives it a magical feel, while the temple itself is then surrounded by a wall almost 5 metres high. As you move towards the centre of the complex each level becomes increasingly higher - be warned, there are lots of uneven steps and I really felt my muscles aching at the end of the day!

Serene faces at The Bayon, Angkor
Amazing Bayon
It's the detail included at the temple that's really breathtaking, including the huge amount of intricate bas reliefs that adorn the walls of the temple and tell stories of battles, tales from the Ramayana and of day to day scenes from Khmer life - the most celebrated panels, known as the Churning of the Sea of Milk relates to the solstice and equino. Be sure to take a decent guidebook with you to really understand the intricacies of the bas reliefs, the history of the temple and the importance of the whole of Angkor! "

Watch this space for number 5...... Elephants in Sri Lanka 

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays