Homestay at Smiling Gecko Farmhouse

Smiling Gecko GuesthouseThe Smiling Gecko Farmhouse is an NGO-run project located in the rural and naturally stunning Kompong Chhnang province, just 90 minutes’ drive from Phnom Penh in the small village of Sameakki Mean Chey.  Here guests are greeted with an upscale homestay/farmstay set in beautiful countryside.  The accommodation consists of traditional Khmer style homes fitted with air-conditioning and all the necessary creature comforts.  There is a large swimming pool and organically-grown produce cultivated on the farm (or sourced from local markets if not grown).  A number of local families also live on the farm giving it a real community feel.  Many of these villagers are from the poorest slums in Phnom Penh and have been given the opportunity to create a better life for themselves through the project.  Activities include visiting markets, interacting with local families, enjoying the beautiful rural landscape surrounding the farm, discovering unknown Angkor era-temples and enjoying a ride on the uniquely Cambodian Bamboo Train.

This is an authentic experience that’s ideal for families, couples or singles for one or two nights. While the lodgings are upscale, they are also built in a traditional style to provide a heart-warming off the beaten track encounter and a truly Cambodian experience that supports a very good cause.

Why not add a couple of days to your Cambodia holiday by staying at the Smiling Gecko Guesthouse?  World Discovery’s Cambodia offers a selection of sample tours.

Into the Spiritual Heart of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Wat Xieng ThongAssisted by our expert guides, guests are introduced to the deeply spiritual nature of this serene country.  We visit the ancient temple of Wat Mano or Wat Thatluang in Luang Prabang where a senior monk is renowned for dispelling evil and has performed a number of important ceremonies to protect local people from bad spirits.  Later in the day we stop at a meditation centre to learn more about this calming practice before transferring to a nearby village.  Here we board a boat to cross the Mekong River to an ancient temple located in the middle of a tranquil forest.  At the temple we sit down with the monks and novices to learn more about their daily practices.  Later in the day we visit a riverside fishing village to meet locals and discover the laid back traits of rural Lao life.  Don’t forget your camera as it is a great opportunity to capture a deeper reflection of Lao Culture.  Guests are welcomed in the village with a traditional Laotian Baci ceremony.  ‘Baci’ plays an important role even today to welcome or farewell, bring good luck and ward of bad spirits for any major event in the life of local people.

A stay in Luang Prabang is included in World Discovery’s ‘Laos Discovery’ tour

Traditional Textiles in Laos

Ock Tock ClockRenowned textile boutique shop Ock Pop Tock continues to lead the field in Luang Prabang in the production of traditional Lao textiles.   The store offers textiles and material which are either made in Luang Prabang or at its Living Crafts Centre, in collaboration with rural Lao artisans through the company’s Village Weaver Projects.  The main objective is to keep the traditional weaving techniques alive for future generations as well as displaying the unique beauty of Lao textiles.

A variety of textiles are on display, each coming with motifs crafted from generation to generation by local master weavers to give an insight into the culture and history that influence the designs.  Both traditional and more modern designs are featured in the showroom and include intricate wall hangings, silk scarves, pillow collections and also showcases its latest range of modern hemp and cotton garments designed for both men and women.

World Discovery’s Laos Express tour includes 3 nights in Luang Prabang.

Is India’s Sunderbans region ready for international tourism?

20170131_123058World Discovery’s Roy Davies recently paid a visit to the Sunderbans in the Ganges Delta.

Billed as the ‘World’s largest mangrove forest’ and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this huge tract of wilderness (the greater part of which is actually in Bangladesh) is also claimed to be home to the greatest number of Bengal Tigers on the planet.  It is undoubtedly a unique eco-system, covering a total area of some 4,264 square miles, but is it geared up to take international tourists?

Roy has his doubts.

POSITIVES

It’s different, it’s reasonably accessible – a 2 to 3 hour drive from Kolkata depending on traffic – and it’s certainly a bolt hole from the noise and pollution of the city.  Birdwatchers will enjoy the number and variety of species.

NEGATIVES

T20170131_110455he chances of seeing a tiger – despite the high population – are minimal.  Travel in the Sunderbans is by water, on noisy boats that announce their arrival to any creature that may be near the water’s edge well in advance.  Tigers simply disappear into the mangrove forest well before a boat gets near them.  Additionally, many of the boats are used by local Indian visitors as ‘party’ or ‘booze’ cruises, which only makes the noise problem more acute.  This also adds to the pollution in the waterways as the usual method of disposal (plastic bottles, food cartons) is to chuck things overboard.  The few landing sites that have been set up are constructed in non-eco-friendly concrete and (again) no self-respecting tiger is going to come within a 100 metres of these crude fenced-off walkways.  I suppose it’s not surprising that the ‘canopy walks’ are unimpressive when the height of the mangrove forest rarely rises above 3 or 4 metres!

Accommodation in the Sunderbans is also of a generally poor standard, well below what the majority of international passengers are looking for.

20170131_075125-e1500393532573.jpgAll in all, a disappointing destination.  For those who simply want to relax in a quiet rural environment and enjoy some village walks and bird-watching (and are prepared to accept simple accommodation), it can probably provide some pleasant relaxation and enjoyment, but the Sunderbans is not the must-see up-and-coming destination that the Indian Tourist Authorities are promoting!

The Wildebeest Migration arrives in the Mara

ImageIt’s the Great Migration time again at the Porini Lion Camp in the Masai Mara.   This is the time of year when several hundred wildebeest start crossing the Mara River.  Many wildebeest and zebra will also cross the Sand River while more spill into the Mara Triangle from the Serengeti across the border in Tanzania.

It may take days, weeks or even another month before we see the last of the Wildebeest make their way down towards the river in an attempt at the crossing. Do not miss out on the opportunity to witness this wonder.

We still have limited availability for the migration period so don’t miss out and book a safari to witness this amazing spectacle.  World Discovery’s Maasai Safari includes 3 nights in the Porini Lion Camp.