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Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

If you’re visiting the Hunter Valley over December and January, you simply must see the gorgeous Christmas Lights Spectacular at the Hunter Valley Gardens.

What started as a small display of lights in Australia’s largest display garden six years ago has turned into the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest and most breathtaking display of over 2 million lights.

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

The show is designed with families in mind, with roaming entertainment, a Christmas Lights Fun Zone with inflatables, jumping castles, an arcade alley and 35 metre long Super Slide, Santa’s Workshop (open until New Year’s Eve) and nightly performances by children’s musical group Little Scallywagz.

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

This year’s light displays feature world landmarks, a 6 metre giant present tree, north pole and nativity scenes, Cinderella’s castle, the Mad Hatter’s Tea party, an under water scene, with the absolute faves for us being Candy Land and the Fairy Garden.

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

Observant visitors will notice a few new additions in the gardens – animatronic dinosaurs who are on display to tell people about the new Mega Creatures display coming to the Hunter Valley Gardens from Jan 2 – so if you visit in Jan, you’ll get both displays at the same time.

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular

Tips for visiting the Christmas Lights Spectacular

  • Buy your tickets in advance to avoid the queue.
  • Arrive when the gardens open at 6:30pm. This will give you plenty of time to walk around the gardens while it’s still light enough to see the actual garden, get some food, and play in the fun zone until it gets dark enough for the lights to truly shine.
  • Keep a close eye on kids in the fun zone. We had no problems but there can be lots of big kids on the inflatables at the same time as the little ones.
  • Enjoy the roving entertainment! Our daughter loved this the most, especially the hula hoop lawn in front of the waterfall section.
  • Walk around the gardens for a second time when it’s dark. The lights are completely the focus when it’s dark and are really spectacular!

Hunter Valley Gardens Christmas Lights Spectacular
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More information

Christmas Lights Fun Zone
Open from 6:30pm – 10:00pm, $7.50 per person
Slide is for children over 120cm tall.

Food & Beverage Area
Open from 6:30pm – 10:00pm
Food includes woodfired pizza, pasta, German kitchen, snack foods, churros, coffee.

Roaming Entertainment
From 6:30pm – 9.30pm

Little Scallywagz Show
7:30pm & 8:30pm

The Christmas Lights Spectacular is on display 4th November – 26th January 2017
Cost: Family Pass (2 adults + 1 child) – Night Only
$72.00, Family Pass (2 adults + 2 children) – Night Only
$92.00

Gates open 6.30pm – 10.00pm
General Gardens open 9am – 4pm during the Christmas Lights Spectacular

Hunter Valley Gardens
Address: 2090 Broke Rd, Pokolbin

Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens

Where to stay
We highly enjoyed staying the night at the nearby Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens. The hotel is a very short 7-minute walk from Hunter Valley Gardens. The large, bright and clean rooms feature satellite TV, Wi-Fi (paid), minibars, fridges, tea and coffeemaking facilities and balconies. The pool in the centre of the resort was extremely popular with families.

Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens
Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens
2090 Broke Rd, Pokolbin
mercurehuntervalley.com.au
Get Directions

We were given complimentary tickets to see the light show at the Hunter Valley Gardens. We loved the display and all opinions are my own. We also received a media rate, which is a slightly reduced rate, when staying at the Mercure Resort. I was under no obligation to write about either the light display or hotel. 

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

Bathurst With Kids: A Road Trip Stop Over

Bathurst With Kids: A Road Trip Stop Over - North-West NSW, Australia

We recently stopped in Bathurst for a stop over on our way to Dubbo from Sydney. I prefer, when doing long drives, to push on as much as possible to stop somewhere interesting for longer rather than doing a few short stops with nothing to see or do.

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Bathurst is a great country town with plenty to occupy families for a few days, so absolutely enough to make for a memorable stopover.

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Where to eat: The Hub Espresso Bar and Eatery
We loved this family-friendly cafe that served delicious, if somewhat pricey food for adults, and a kick-ass and very affordable menu for kids. My warm Sweet Potato Salad ($18.90) was incredible, and the kid enjoyed a 0.50c babycinio and Cheese melt ($5). The cafe handed us colouring in pencils and a kids’ menu to drawn on while we waited for our delicious food.

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The Hub Espresso Bar and Eatery
52 Keppel St, Bathurst, NSW
Phone: (02) 6332 1565
Hours: Daily, 7am-3.30pm
The Hub Facebook Page

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Where to play: Bathurst Adventure Playground
This incredible playground was a major hit. Designed with a dinosaur theme, it features plenty of activities for kids of all ages and abilities, such as a dual flying fox, large metal slide & toddlers double slide, large sand pit with water spout, maze, imaginative play cubby house, rockers and whirlygigs, climbing structure and rock wall, working sun dial. sound activated dinosaur noises, musical deck notes and dinosaur sculptures & footprints. There are excellent clean bathroom and barbecue facilities and also plenty of shade cover over various elements.

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Bathurst Adventure Playground
Durham St & Hope Street, Bathurst

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Where to get dessert: Annies Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour
The best way to finish the Bathurst experience is with a sundae from Annies old fashioned 1950s-style milk bar. The pink decor is to die for, and I highly recommend the local speciality, “Sofala Gold” ice cream. With 30 flavours to choose from, there’s bound to be something everyone in the family will enjoy.

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Annies Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour
82/86 George St, Bathurst
Annies Ice Cream Parlour Facebook Page

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

How Do I Afford To Travel So Much?

How Do I Afford To Travel So Much?

This is a question I’ve been asked pretty regularly, so here it is for anyone else who is interested too.

We Live Leanly And Save
This is the main way we travel. We save money by not spending it a lot on other things. We live in a small place, don’t have a giant mortgage to pay off, and don’t buy a lot of stuff. We don’t go out a lot and have fancy dinners or buy anything that’s overly expensive.

Disney Aulani Resort & Spa via christineknight.me

We Travel Off-Season
I am always looking for the best travel deals, be it airfares, hotels or attractions. I get everything discounted if I can and travel outside of peak dates to get them. Our Aulani stay, for example, was a “stay four nights get one free” deal and included a $250 resort credit because we stayed a week before their peak season started. With attractions, I am relentless at looking for discount vouchers and Groupons. My daughter is also still young enough that we can travel outside of school holiday times without it being a drama.

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney, Australia

We Only Have One Small Kid
One kid is pretty easy to tuck into travel plans. The flight is an extra big cost, but otherwise she doesn’t cost anything extra yet for accommodation because we fit into a standard hotel room, and gets into a lot of attractions for either free or a substantially discounted rate.

Observations on living in New York christineknight.me

Extending Business Trips
Most of our USA trips are extensions of my husbands work trips. We tag along where possible and then stay longer to make the most it. For example on our recent trip to New York, our accommodation was covered by my husband’s work since that’s what he was there to do, while the kid and I had a ball site seeing.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Hosted Stays
I very rarely get hosted stays or discounted media rates for hotels, but they do occasionally happen (I make it very clearly when I do!). I more frequently get media passes for attractions, which, again, I mark extremely clearly in my blog posts.

I hope this answers the question! Any more questions, throw them at me!
 

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

Luxury On The Savannah: A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Spending the night overlooking an African savannah is a life-long dream of ours. While a family trip to Africa is on the bucket list and many eons away, we discovered that it is possible to have an incredible local experience that is as close to Africa as it’s possible to get, without actually leaving Australia.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

We recently spent the night at the luxurious Zoofari Lodges at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. The 15 African-style lodges are at the edge of a large “African savannah” paddock where giraffe, zebra and eland roam freely.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

We stayed in one of the Animal View Lodges which have verandahs opening up to the savannah view and fit four people. If you have a larger group, the Bushland View Lodges sit just behind these cabins and fit six people in each, with a queen bed, two singles and a sofa bed.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

The lodges are all brand new, with gorgeous features and facilities, including a king split bed and pull out sofa bed, private ensuite, coffee and tea making facilities, mini-bar, fridge and shaded veranda with outdoor furniture. All bedding, linen and towels are provided.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Surrounding the lodges is plenty of bush, which adds to the feeling of being glamping on a safari, and it’s just a short stroll from the lodges up to the equally luxe Zoofari Lodge Guest House, where guests can relax in the pool, with a drink at the bar, or playing games in the lounge area.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

All guests of Zoofari are given two day admission to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, with check in at the lodge between 2pm and 3pm in the afternoon. We chose to spend the night before at a nearby motel and arrive at the zoo before the gates opened the following morning.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

We spent the morning and lunch time driving and cycling around the zoo (you can read more about our experience and tips for visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo here), and then drove our car out of the zoo and around the corner to the Zoofari Lodges at check in time.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Our assigned cabin was called “Bongo”, after the endangered African antelope, and we became the “Bongo” family for the duration of our stay.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

During cooler weather, there is often an afternoon behind the scenes tour of the zoo for Zoofari guests, but we visited on a scorchingly hot and our tour was instead scheduled for 8pm in the evening. In the mean time, we relaxed and enjoyed the gorgeous facilities. We watched the giraffes munch on snacks and the water buffalo and ostriches roam around the paddock, then wandered up to the guest lodge for a cool drink.

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

The guest lodge has an excellent swimming pool, but due to an unfortunate leg grazing incident by my daughter earlier in the day, we were house-bound. I was a bit worried she’d go stir crazy in the lodge, but it was set up incredibly well, catering for both adults and kids at the same time.

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

While the guests without kids sat around the bar and had a cocktail, or lounged on the verandah and read a book, we found plenty of colouring in and toys for Cheese to play with, and she even learnt the rudiments of chess.

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

At 6pm complimentary wine tasting was served, along with canapés. After sampling delicious wine from the local region (I really enjoyed some sweet wine from Mudgee), we sat at our assigned seats at 6:30 to enjoy dinner – an African-style banquet.

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Before the meal, I had a quick chat with the chef about dietary requirements, as she wanted to make sure that my daughter and I were able to find enough food to eat. The banquet is very meat heavy, so if you’re not big on meat I would advise doing similar. I really appreciated the level of concern shown for ensuring there was enough food for both myself and the picky child. The chefs in the end made special kids meals for the little ones present – fish and chips for Cheese, and nuggets and chips for another little fellow.

The dishes were brought out on large platters to share: salmon pesto pasta with chick peas, roast veggies (these were amazing!), Moroccan lamb with three berry couscous, garden salad and African rump chicken. I was served the three berry couscous on its own as well as two giant stuffed mushrooms on plates just for myself.

As each platter was eaten, more were brought out, so there was an endless amount of food if you were feeling particularly hungry. Dinner was included in the price of the Zoofari experience, but any drinks were an added extra cost. We found the price of drinks to be pretty reasonable however – the happy hour special cocktail was $10, regular cocktails $14 and a glass of wine $7.50.

Dessert was served after the dinner platters were taken away – again, African-style dishes for the adults such as cake and pudding, with plain vanilla ice cream and topping for the kids.

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

When dinner was well and truly over, we watched the sun go down over the savannah from our balcony, and it was suddenly time for the night tour. (Please excuse my lack of photos of the meal and night tour, it was too dark to get any decent shots.) The tour left at 8pm sharp and started with a visit to Cuddles, the only African elephant in Australiasia. Our tour guide, Stephen, had an enrichment toy filled with food for her. A little rattle of the toy and she came lumbering our way, so we were able to see her right up close.

While African elephants are not yet endangered, their numbers have been decimated in recent years due to poaching for their ivory tusks, at a rate of around a hundred a day. Eliminating the demand for ivory is the only way to stop poaches – remove the market and you remove the threat to the elephants. It’s tough hearing about the plight of these amazing animals and feeling helpless to do anything about it, but education is always the way forward. We need to know, and we need to teach our children, too.

After visiting Cuddles, we were taken to meet the hippos, who were happy to chow down on the food we brought while we learned about them and the work the zoo does in animal conservation.

Next on the tour was meeting endangered bongo, whom we hand fed carrots. Feeding a bongo is quite the gooey experience, as they love to have a good lick of the hand after eating the food offered. Pretty extraordinary, to be up close and feeding such a unique animal in the dark! We learned that there are only 200 of these herbivores left in the world due to the destruction of their habitat to mine for coltan, a metallic ore used in mobile phones. It was a stark reminder as to how we are destroying the wild even without realising it, and we were urged to recycle our mobile phones so the coltan can be removed and reused.

Our last stop on the night tour was to visit the white rhino, the second largest land animal. Using a red torch we were able to see him even in the dark, as we listened to the sad story of how the rhinos are being poached into extinction for their horns. Taronga has a breeding program in place to assist in the regeneration of the species, but the rhinos are particularly difficult animals to breed, making it a long, hard process.

Back to the cabins and to bed, it was an incredibly peaceful nights sleep until the sun came up just before 6am and the light began to stream into the cabin. There aren’t many things more beautiful than watching the sunrise, and seeing the glowing red ball rise over the savannah and highlight the animals eating their breakfast was breathtaking. A few classic Aussie wild animals joined the African ones, so our savannah included kangaroos, cockatoos and even some bush bunnies all enjoying the dawn light.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

The morning behind-the-scenes tour kicks off at 7am sharp. Mindful of the kids who aren’t able to last till afterwards for breakfast, we were given milk and cereal to tide her over.

zoofari-blog-5 Giraffe feeding at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia zoofari-blog-6 Our first stop was also the highlight, hand feeding carrots to the giraffes. They are behind a fence for our protection, their long necks enabling them to learn over and extend their long blue tongues to take the carrots from our hands. Looking up and seeing a gigantic giraffe head coming towards you is quick an unnerving experience, particularly for the younger members of the group.

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Cheese was a bit scared to feed one on her own (not surprising considering how small she is compared to them), but placing her on my hip made her feel bigger and more confident, and she declared “feeding the blue tongued giraffe” to be her favourite part of the Zoofari experience.

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After the giraffes we met the black rhino, of whom there are only 2000 left in the world. Unlike the placid white rhino, the black rhino is more aggressive – he even looked angry through the bars, which I was extremely grateful for. Our guide fed him a large plant brand near the fence so we could watch him eat as we learned about the story of the rhinos.

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From the rhinos we moved on to the lemurs. The Madagascar lemurs are the most endangered animal on the planet right now due to the destruction of their rainforest through illegal logging as well as hunting. It’s so sad to hear, and we watch the two lemurs at the zoo play happily in the early morning light, unaware of the plight of the rest of their species.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

The meerkats are up next on the agenda, one of our favourite animals. Meerkats have exploded in popularity after the Meerkat Manor TV series, as well as a TV ad that we are apparently the only people in Australian to have not seen. If you’re aged 10 or older, you can book in for a meerket encounter later on in the day.

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The last stop on our morning tour is to meet the elephants up close as they’re are having their morning beauty routine. Every day the elephants are washed thoroughly and given a bit of a pedicure, which we were able to watch up close inside the elephant enclosure. The elephant keepers were happy to give us some information on the elephants and answer our questions about their care and habits.

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We were all basically starving by that stage, so it was back to the guest lodge for a big buffet breakfast. Unlike most buffets, this one has food being constantly cooked out the back and brought into the dining area, so everything is constantly fresh and hot. The guests enjoyed scrambled eggs, pancakes, toast, granola, yogurt, cereal, bacon and breakfast buns that included poached eggs, spinach and roasted baby tomatoes (there was also a version with a sausage in it if you preferred it with meat). It was an absolute feast and we ate up, knowing we had a long drive ahead of us.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

After breakfast it was time to pack up and check out of the lodge by 10am. Many guests stayed on the next day to explore the zoo using the complimentary bikes or hiring a Zoofari electronic cart ($89 for the entire day, exclusively for Zoofari Lodge guests).

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

It was sad to say goodbye to our amazing cabin and the lovely people who we met during our stay, but oh what an experience we had!

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

In 2017 Taronga Western Plains Zoo will be opening a new Pridelands exhibit with 20 lions roaming over five hectares, and the option to drive through it on a small bus. We hope to return for this exhibit opening and stay again in this gorgeous, unique accomodation.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

More Information On Zoofari Lodges

Rates for one night accommodation in an animal view lodge starts from $309-$399 per person for adults, from $49-$79 per person for children aged 1 – 4 years old and from $149-$179 for kids aged 5 – 15 years old.

Bushland View Lodges start from $269-$359 per person for adults, from $49-$79 per person for children aged 1 – 4 years and from $149-$179 for kids aged 5 – 15 years old.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Rates are for one night accommodation and are fully inclusive of:

Two day admission to Taronga Western Plains Zoo
One night accommodation at Zoofari Lodge
Exclusive behind the scenes tours with a Zoofari Guide
African style canapés, banquet dinner and dessert
Buffet breakfast
Standard bicycle hire for two days
10% discount at the Zoo’s Souvenir Shop
10% discount voucher for Bakhita’s Café
10% discount on additional Animal Encounters

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

A Stay at Zoofari Lodges Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Zoofari Lodges at Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo
Obley Rd, Dubbo NSW 2830
Online
Get Directions

Heading to Taronga Western Plains Zoo? Read our tips on having an incredible experience.

We stayed as guests of the Zoofari Lodges. All opinions on this incredible experience are our own. 

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

9 Tips For Visting Taronga Western Plains Zoo Dubbo

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo is a road trip many Australian families have made over the past 40 years, since the zoo opened in 1977. The zoo was opened initially to provide more grazing and breeding space for large animals such as elephants and antelopes, with 35 animals from six countries.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

While the design of the zoo has remained the same, with open-range with concealed moats separating the animals from visitors, the zoo expanded significantly after a big financial investment from the government into both Taronga zoos several years back.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Both Taronga zoos focus on conservation, and at Dubbo you’re able to see their breeding plans in action. We visited in late spring and were treated with many babies around the zoo, including zebra, 10 wild dog pups, giraffes and Sabai, the three-week-old Asian elephant calf.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia 9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Also on display were the Galapagos tortoises and their babies – the first juveniles I’ve ever seen. Classified as “vulnerable” due to their decline in numbers, it was remarkable to see the tiny tortoises doing their best to bring their species back from the brink of extinction.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

The zoo is home to many endangered animals that can be seen up close around the park. With Taronga’s focus on conservation comes education – the more people who know about the plight of these animals and care enough to make a difference themselves, the better chance we have of saving these species from extinction.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Endangered animals at the park include the Asian elephants, black and white rhinoceros, the bongo, of which there are only 200 left in the wild, and the Sumatran tiger. All of the money you pay at the zoo for everything from admission to souvenirs, goes back into the upkeep of the animals and their conservation programs.

I always think it’s best to know before you go, so if you’re heading out to Taronga Western Plains Zoo soon, these tips might help you out.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

1. Plan to spend two days there
One day is pretty rushed and there is a lot to see and do, including free talks by keepers as well as upgraded activities that cost a bit extra. Admission for two days is included in a one-day entry, so it also makes your money go further.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

2. Book a bike or buggy
You can get around the zoo with your own car, but what’s the fun in that? The most popular mode of transport is an electronic buggy ($69 for 3 hours). To secure one, arrive at least 10 minutes before opening time as they book out fast.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Our favourite way to see the zoo was by bike, as it allows you get off the main road and ride through the bush trails as well as getting some exercise. You can bring your own bikes or hire them ($15 for a bike, $25 for a bike with kid seat, $29 for a bike with caboose for the entire day).

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

3. Arrive early
The animals are most active in the early morning. On a hot day, by midday the animals are all snoozing in the shade, so it’s worth your while to be early.

Giraffe feeding at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

4. Book an animal encounter
The cheapest and most fun is the giraffe feeding for $7 per person. Who doesn’t want the chance to feed one of these majestic creatures? More info on animal encounters here.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

5. Follow the keepers’ talk schedule
The scheduled talks start early in the morning when the zoo opens and continue around the zoo path, so you can easily just go from one to the next. The main benefit in this is the keepers usually feed the animals at the same time as their talk so you can see them close up and active. We visited the hippos, for example, before the talk and couldn’t even see them in their large enclosure. When we returned for the talk, the keeper had them right up near the visitors’ platform showing off their massive teeth.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

6. Bring your own food
While there is a cafe at the entrance and a kiosk halfway around the 6km circuit, the food at the zoo is basic and expensive. There are plenty of picnic spots around the zoo in the shade so if you can bring your own food I would highly recommend it.

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

7. Book online
If you book your tickets online, you get 20% off entry fees. You can also book animal encounters online – and I highly advise you do so well in advance of your trip, as the popular ones book up very quickly. Book your tickets here.

Best Western Bluegum Motor Inn, Dubbo, Australia

8. Book accomodation in advance
We drove up from Sydney the day before and stayed the night in the excellent Best Western Bluegum Motor Inn. For $175 a night we were given an upgrade to a gorgeous newly renovated family room with air conditioning, one queen and two single beds, a fridge with no mini bar (hooray!), free internet, complimentary water, milk and apples. The motor inn is right in the centre of Dubbo, only a few minutes drive from several restaurants and a large Coles, plus there is a park with a playground across the road. It’s an 8 minute drive from the Best Western to Dubbo zoo.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

9. Splurge on a Zoofari Lodge
This was hands down one of the most incredible accomodation experiences we’ve had. We stayed overnight in a Zoofari Lodge within the zoo – a luxe cabin situated right on the edge of an African savannah where giraffe, zebra and eland roam freely.

Staying at the Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Dubbo Zoo, Australia

Watching the sun go down and come up again the next morning over this gorgeous landscape is an experience that won’t be forgotten. (An animal view Zoofari lodge costs from $309 per adult per night. More info here.)

9 Tips For Visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, Australia

Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Obley Rd, Dubbo NSW 2830
Hours: Daily, 9am-4pm
Online
Get Directions

We received entry as guests of Taronga’s Zoofari Lodges. All opinions and tips are 100% our own.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our time at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand was life changing. We are a family of animal lovers and visiting these elephants in Chiang Mai has been at the top of our travel list for a good 10 years. To finally see the elephants in person and learn about these magnificent creatures was an experience that none of us will ever forget.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park was established in the 1990s by Sangduen “Lek” (Thai for “Shorty”) Chailertas, a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The park is located some 60km from Chiang Mai city, and has provided a sanctuary for rescued elephants from all over Thailand. There are currently around 75 elephants that call the park home, the majority of whom have been rescued, with a few born into the park. The youngest elephant at the park when we visited was five months old.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

In more recent years, the park operators, in conjunction with the Save the Elephant Foundation, have also opened the Erawan Elephant Retirement Park in southwestern Thailand and branch elephant parks in Suri and in Cambodia to enable them to expand their rescue operations.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

As the park receives no government funding, it operates under a business model in which tourists pay to visit and help care for the animals, with an option to stay for extended periods as a volunteer.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While the park initially opened to rescue and care for elephants, their mission has expanded to care for any animal in need of sanctuary. Animals at the park now include over 400 dogs (many of whom were rescued from a typhoon in Bangkok), a large herd of water buffalo that started as 7 and multiplied to 80, monkeys, cats and a pig.

The park has created its own ecosystem where any scraps go to feed the water buffalo and pig. What the park doesn’t grow itself is bought from local farmers to provide them an income, and the manure from the animals is turn given back to the farmers to fertilise their crops.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We chose to stay overnight at the park for the most in depth experience possible while visiting with our child. There is no age restriction on visitors to the park, but I wouldn’t recommend bringing small children who are unable to follow instructions. The park belongs to the elephants and humans are just visitors walking among them, keeping out of their way.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

As the park is some ways out of Chiang Mai, we stayed the night before at the Shangri La, and were picked up early in the morning by our tour guide, Deng. He is one of many locals who have been employed by the park to teach visitors about the plight of the endangered elephants.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The drive takes about an hour in a very comfortable minivan, and our education starts here. We watch a video that teaches us about a cruel process called “Phajaan” where elephants are “broken in”, which literally involves crushing their spirit and often breaking their bodies in the process.

The video explains that elephants are taken from their mothers as babies or bred in forced breeding centres and then put through this barbaric process in order to make them compliment and easily trained for circuses, logging, which, despite being banned is still used in remote areas, and the popular animal trekking.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Once at the park we meet the elephants. Up high on a viewing platform we feed them fruit directly into their trunks, which they throw into their mouths like candy. Elephants are herbivores that spend around 12-18 hours a day feeding, so a lot of our interaction with them involves food.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

There are strict rules at the park which visitors must agree to obey to be able to meet the elephants – both for their protection and for ours.There is no touching elephants unless you are feeding them at the same time, and no straying off the paths or away from the guides. The welfare of the elephants is at the heart of every rule, but these are also dangerous animals who are roaming freely. No one wants their own story to end getting crushed by an elephant in Thailand.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We are taken around the park to meet the elephants up close. Some have formed new herds, some prefer to be on their own. Each elephant is at a different stage of rehabilitation. Some are more comfortable with people, some less so, and we keep well clear of these. When we hear the elephants’ stories we are brought to tears.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Broken backs through carrying tourists in trekking camps. Blind eyes from tourist camera flashes and gouged by their owners for not obeying orders. Broken legs from treading on landmines while illegally logging. Our hearts break over and over and it’s impossible to hold tears back when we see ripped ears and misshapen limbs on these magnificent animals that deserve so much better.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The elephants come to the park bearing a lifetime of scars. Their owners are usually only willing to part with them once they are too old and broken to be of serve any longer, and they want to buy a new elephant to replace it. While the elephants are occasionally given to the park by owners who have genuinely loved them, the majority are purchased, which is where the money visitors pay to visit the park goes to. It did not sit well with any of us that the buying of these elephants actually helps the cycle of elephant abuse continue, but it’s also clear that at the moment that there is no other way to assist the elephants while there is no government legislation to protect them.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While the stories we hear about the elephants’ history are desperately sad, their future is bright. The park gives them acres to roam in freedom and plenty of nourishing food to eat. There are no more chains, no more heavy loads to carry, just days spend wandering through grassy fields, playing in rivers and taking mud baths.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We watch the elephants frolic in the river, playing games and grabbing each other with their trunks. They throw mud on their backs to keep cool and rub up against each other in the shade. The elephants are joyful and playful, newly formed families enjoying their lives once more.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Later in the afternoon we are taken to our room to settle in. It’s much more luxurious than the basic accommodation we had been expecting, and from the balcony we can see the elephants being taken into the large enclosures that they spend the night in, for the protection of both them and the neighbouring villages. We are in awe to be so close – but during the night when they talk amongst themselves instead of sleeping, we are a bit less glad of our close proximity – it’s like sleeping in the jungle!

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our second day in the park is much like the first – meeting more elephants, feeding them more fruit, watching them play and making their food. The best moment of each day is washing the elephants in the river to rid them of the fly eggs that stick to their backs and irritate them.

elephants-42

The elephants stand happily in the water munching on fruit while we are armed with small buckets and hurl water at their enormous backs. Elephants can’t smile but I swear there is a grin on the face of our grand old lady as she is cooled down by her willing minions on each side.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

This park is a powerful place to visit, and it’s clear that we are not the only people to have found it to be a profoundly moving experience. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to arrive with the intention to visit for a week and then stay on indefinitely, so moved by their mission and their desire to make a difference in the lives of the elephants and other animals.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our stay is only two short days. We are in disbelief when it flies by so quickly and we have to say good bye to the elephants we have fallen in love with. We are told that elephants never forget, and I hope that they can make peace with their devastating past and remember the kindness they have been shown in their new lives by the people who are so passionate about their welfare.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We are all changed by our experience, including five-year-old Cheese. She tells everyone back in Sydney not to ride the elephants “because they’re blind”, which confuses many people about why we took her to see blind elephants, but nevertheless, the message is there and she’s helping spread it.

This is teaching the next generation about conservation at its finest – learning through seeing, doing, hearing, touching. The kind of teaching that encourages children to care through first hand experience, that reaches their hearts and helps them grow up to be passionate advocates for animals and the environment.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Months afterwards, my daughter is still bringing up moments from our visit. “Do you remember when we fed the elephants?” she asked me on the way to school one morning, out of the blue. “And we washed them in the river?”. She says it in wonderment, like she can’t believe that those amazing experiences in her memory are real. I absolutely do remember. There is no way I will ever forget.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tips for visiting the Elephant Nature Park
  • The only way to visit the park is by booking on a day tour, an overnight tour, or a week long volunteer stay through their website. You cannot turn up on your own without a booking.
  • Pack and apply plenty of mosquito repellant.
  • Pack shoes for walking through fields as well as going into the water. Shoes like Crocs that are slip on and off and water resistant are ideal.
  • Bring Thai or US power adapters.
  • There is plenty of water available and you will be given a reusable water bottle.
  • The food served is all vegan.
  • Book as far in advance as you can as the park is extremely popular and tours book up fast.
  • Bring some spare money for buying snacks and souvenirs. We bought some gorgeous wood elephants carved by the mahouts of their charges. We had no problems bringing these back into Australia.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tips for visiting with kids

  • Kids of any age can visit the park for the day or stay overnight. This includes babies.
  • Judge wisely whether your kids are the right age and temperament to visit. Are they old enough to follow directions and keep out of harms way?
  • Visiting the Elephant Nature Park is only possible through their guided tour programs, which involve a lot of talking and walking. Ensure that kids are able to keep up with the group on foot (we had to carry Cheese a fair bit when her legs got tired) and either listen to the guides or quietly entertain themselves while the guides are talking to the group.
  • Dress them to get dirty! Expect to get filthy, sweaty and wet and dress accordingly. Part of the tour involves going into the river knee deep to wash the elephant so bring water shoes, as well as sneakers to walk around the grounds in.
  • Pack food they will eat. If you have a fussy eater like ours, bring food they will eat if they turn their noses up at the delicious vegan food on offer. We had some nut bars and the like that kept our fussy five-year-old going.
  • For their own safety, ensure that your kids understand the rules of the park regarding behaviour around the elephants. Repeat them frequently with little ones!
  • The park is one giant teaching moment for kids, so use the opportunity to talk to them about the situation with elephants in terms they can understand if they’re little like ours. Topics to discuss include not only the issues facing elephants in captivity in Thailand, but the loss of habitat for the Asian elephant and what that means, including their classification as an endangered animal, how elephant families operate and the differences between Asian elephants and African elephants, for example.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

How do you know if a sanctuary is legit?
It can be really hard to tell as many places who call themselves an elephant sanctuary still mistreat elephants for tourists. I suggest looking at reviews and photos on TripAdvisor to do some research and look for the following things which are harmful to the elephants, they you won’t find in a true sanctuary:

1. The elephants are in chains. The elephants should never be chained.
2. The elephants have people riding them, with or without a chair. Elephants should never be ridden.
3. The baby elephants have been separated from their herd. The herd values babies above all else and do not willing let people get close to them.
4. The elephants perform tricks. They should never perform tricks!

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Get more information about the plight of the endangered elephants in Thailand from the Save The Elephant Organisation.

Elephant Nature Park Office
1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing,
Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
elephantnaturepark.org

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

Thailand Travel Guide: The Best Bits of Phuket

Thailand Travel Guide: The Best of Phuket

Phuket is a large island in the south of Thailand. It’s so big, at 49km long, that it doesn’t actually feel like an island at all. Famous for it’s stunning beaches and tourists who love to party, the beautiful hospitality and rich culture of this part of Thailand can be overlooked.

Whether you spend a few days or a week in Phuket, here are five ways to spend your Thailand vacay that will leave you feeling refreshed, enriched and enlightened.

Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Beaches
There is no doubt that the beaches in Thailand are just stunning and you can’t write a guide to Phuket without mentioning them. White sand and clear blue water –  the beaches in Phuket are just heavenly. Depending on the time of year you visit swimming at the beaches may or may not be an option. During the wet season, box jellyfish are more prevalent, so keep a look out. Some of the Phuket beaches are also known for heavy rips, so be safe when you swim.

Big Buddha, Phuket, Thailand

Big Buddha
It’s hard not to notice Phuket’s Big Buddha from around the island. The imposing 45 metre tall statue and temple sits on top of is one of the the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and is one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks.

Big Buddha, Phuket, Thailand

The view from the top of the hill is also stunning, making it a popular place to watch the sunset.

Phuket Old Town, Thailand

Old Phuket Town
Take a stroll through Old Phuket Town to discover shrines, temples (Buddhist and Chinese), beautifully preserved ‘shophouses’ and little cafés. The town was built during Phuket’s tin boom of the 19th Century and has several excellently preserved, grandiose Sino-colonial mansions once lived in by the tin barons over a hundred years ago.

Phuket Old Town, Thailand

While you will need to hire a car to get to Phuket Old Town, it’s small enough to walk around in when you get there. If it’s raining or too hot, the Phuket Trickeye Museum is a fun place to stop by in Old Phuket Town with kids.

Wat Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Wat Suwan Khiri Khet (Karon Temple or Wat Karon)
Wander through the main road in Karon and you’ll find the stunning Wat Karon. This relatively new temple is a stunning place to visit any day of the week. We met kind monks who introduced us to one of their chickens, George.

Wat Karon, Phuket, Thailand

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 4pm the Karon markets pop up inside the compound.

Phuket Day Trips: Phang Nga Bay & James Bond Island

Day trip: Phang Nga Bay
The islands surrounding Phuket are just gorgeous. We took the Two Sea Tour sea kayaking around Phang Nga Bay. You can read more about it here.

What to avoid:
Please don’t ride elephants, watch an elephant show or have your photo taken with an animal on the street (such as monkeys). These animals are treated cruelly and participating in these activities enables the businesses to continue to run. More info on animal cruelty in Thailand here.

When to visit Thailand:
We visited Phuket at the end of monsoon season (early October), and did experience quite a lot of rain. The rain was mostly in the mornings and late afternoon/evening, however, so there was still enough of the day that was try to get out and enjoy.

What to pack:
Mosquito repellant
Sunscreen
Scarf to cover shoulders if visiting temples
Loose, light layers
Hat, swimmers, sunglasses, goggles
Comfortable walking shoes

What to wear:
The Thai people tend to dress quite conservatively. Tourists can wear shorts and tanks tops, but avoid showing too much skin when you’re not at the hotel. If you’re visiting a temple, wear pants or a skirt that covers your knees. Some temples will also require shoulders being covered.

Money in Thailand
1AUD is about equal to 30THB. A plate of Thai food at a local restaurant will cost about 50-60THB.

Getting around: common forms of transport
Red buses: We caught one and it cost 40THB for the three of us. It’s basically a small bus with the back area wide open. Please jump on and off when they need to.
Tuk-tuk: Around 100THB for a short distance. Ask for the cost in advance and wedge kids in the middle, tight.
Taxi: Arrange the amount in advance. Call for a taxi from hotels.
Hire car and driver: We hired a car and driver to take us to Old Phuket Town and Big Buddha. It was quite pricey, at 700THB an hour, with a minimum of three hours plus the fourth hour for free.

Hotel Review: Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort & Spa

Where to stay:
In Phuket we were hosted at the Novotel Phuket Surin Beach Resort for three nights, and the Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort and Spa for three nights. Both hotels were gorgeous, 4-star properties.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a city for those who want to experience the beating heart of Thailand’s history and culture. The city was founded in 1296 as the capitol of Lanna kingdom – a state centered in present-day Northern Thailand from the 13th to 18th centuries. Surrounded by mountains and jungles, the city is naturally beautifully – add in the hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples that are built within it, and you have the best of nature and culture in the one spot.

Chiang Mai Old City, Thailand

Many travellers, including ourselves, visited Chiang Mai to see the Old City area, which is surrounded by an actual moat and still retains pieces of walls – a reminder of its important history as a centre for culture and religion in northern Thailand.

Chiang Mai Old City, Thailand

The majority of the ancient monuments in Chiang Mai were ruined over the years, through earth quakes and wars, and what we see today in the city is the result of an extensive restoration project by Unesco and the Japanese government in the 1990s.

While there are hundreds of temples to visit, you can’t (and probably don’t want to) see them all. Here are the five that our family thought were must-see temples in Chiang Mai. (See the end of the post for tips on visiting the temples with kids.)

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Suan Dok
This monastery was build on a flower garden in 1373, and features a large, gilded chedi, that lies behind a sea of white memorial chedi that each honour a member of the Thai royal family.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Suan Dok was the furthest temple away from where we stayed, so we had it first on our list to visit one day, and caught a red bus from it to the old city.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai
Location: outside of the moat

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh
The 14th-century Wat Phra Singh is perhaps the most popular temple to visit in Chiang Mai owing to it’s lavish exterior.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

The temple is also an important religious site, attracting a large amount of worshippers both to the main building and also inside Wihan Lai Kham, a small chapel in the rear of the temple grounds that houses a famous Buddha image known as Phra Singh (Lion Buddha).

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Location: inside the moat

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang
Built in the 15th-century, Wat Chedi Luang has a towering Lanna-style chedi which was once possibly the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang also once held the famous Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha) that has since been removed for safety reasons. A jade replica of the Buddha sides in its place, a gift from the Thai king in 1995 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the chedi.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai
Location: inside the moat

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Pan Tao
This temple carved from teak wood dates back to the mid 1880s and was formerly part of a royal palace.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Take a stroll through the gorgeous compound, full of fluttering orange flags, and look for the striking peacock and dog image on the temple’s facade – it represents the astrological year of birth of the royal resident who once lived here.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Location: inside the moat

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai
Wat Chiang Man

Our favourite temple, Wat Chiang Man is the oldest in the city, created by its founder, Phaya Mengrai, around 1296.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

The temple is tucked away in a corner of the old city, off the beaten path, so doesn’t see as many tourists as Wat Phra Singh or Wat Chedi Luang.

In front of the ordination hall lies an impressive chedi on top of a stone slab, carved with dragons, elephants and an engraving from 1581 that is the earliest known reference to the city’s origin.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s oldest temple was established by the city’s founder, Phaya Mengrai, sometime around 1296. In front of the ubosot (ordination hall), a stone slab, engraved in 1581, bears the earliest known reference to the city’s founding. Inside the hall lies a Buddha image cast in 1465, making it the oldest-known image created by the Lanna kingdom.

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai  Location: inside the moat

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

Visiting temples with children
We took our five-year-old with us to Chiang Mai and she really enjoyed our temple treks. It was a great opportunity to discuss religion, Buddha, faith, prayer and so forth. The temples are all in use and have many Buddhist visitors who come to pray in them, so if you’re visiting with your kids, please ensure they are respectful to the religious meaning and use of them. This means keeping a close eye on what they’re up to and touching, making sure they speak in soft voices and not letting them run around. Kids should also dress appropriately – so same rules for kids as for adults, which is cover your knees, and, in some temples, also cover your shoulders.

I would advise mapping out the temples you want to visit and seeing them in order from furthest from your hotel to closest – that way if your kids get sick of seeing temples and you want to call it a day early, it’s fast to get home and easy to resume the following day where you left off.

If you’re travelling to Chiang Mai with kids, get more great tips here.

When to visit Thailand
We visited Phuket at the end of monsoon season (early October), and did experience quite a lot of rain. The rain was mostly in the mornings and late afternoon/evening, however, so there was still enough of the day that was try to get out and enjoy.

What to pack
Mosquito repellant
Sunscreen
Scarf to cover shoulders if visiting temples
Loose, light layers
Hat, swimmers, sunglasses, goggles
Comfortable walking shoes

Thailand Travel Guide: 5 Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai

What to wear
The Thai people tend to dress quite conservatively. Tourists can wear shorts and tanks tops, but avoid showing too much skin when you’re not at the hotel. If you’re visiting a temple, wear pants or a skirt that covers your knees. Some temples will also require shoulders being covered.

Money in Thailand
1AUD is about equal to 30THB. A plate of Thai food at a local restaurant will cost about 50-60THB.

Tuk-tuk, Chiang Mai

Getting around: common forms of transport
Red buses: We caught one and it cost 40THB for the three of us. It’s basically a small bus with the back area wide open. Please jump on and off when they need to.
Tuk-tuk: Around 100THB for a short distance. Ask for the cost in advance and wedge kids in the middle, tight.
Taxi: Arrange the amount in advance. Call for a taxi from hotels.

Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai

Where to stay
We loved our stay at the Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

The Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai smells like heaven. There is no other word for it. As we walk in from the hot Chiang Mai street outside, the blast of air conditioning hits us, fragranced sweetly with we-have-no-idea-what, but boy does it smell incredible. We take a deep breath, sigh, and know that we are going to love this hotel.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

A 5-star hotel situated perfectly near to Chiang Mai’s old city and night bazaar, the Shangri-La is paradise for the weary traveller. Decorated beautifully in a contemporary Northern Thai style, the hotel is luxurious, elegant and feels completely indulgent.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our room is the most basic available, with a king bed and rollaway. It’s spacious, bright and airy, with a gorgeously big bathroom including shower and full-size bathtub. The complimentary wi-fi is fast and easy to use.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The package we booked includes daily buffet breakfast, which we enjoy every morning in Kad Kafe, an impressive room with soaring ceilings and bold lighting fixtures.

HOtel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The buffet offers a wide assortment of Western and Asian cuisines, with our favourite stations being the made-to-order omelettes (mine), the made-to-order noodle soup (the husband’s) and the pastry and pancakes (the child’s).

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The chef in charge of the pancakes makes Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes for my daughter every day and she almost squeals with excitement – especially when he adds a bow one morning and turns it into Minnie Mouse for her.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

The staff offer us endless delicious drinks – tea, coffee, hot chocolate and special Thai juice made from a local flower that is especially good to get the digestive system going in the morning.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the chefs pops by our table with local dishes to sample – sticky rice wrapped up in leaves. They offer Cheese colouring in sheets and crayons to occupy her while we are savouring our meals. The food is delicious, the atmosphere relaxing, and we are in heaven.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you’re planning on dining frequently at the hotel during your stay, you can select the Children’s Meal Plan, which gives kids under the age of 6 complimentary buffet meals in All Day Dining and Pool Cafes when accompanied by a paying adult, up to a maximum of 2 children. In excess of 2 children under the age of 6 and for all children above 6 and below 12, a 50% discount of the buffet price will be given.

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The Shangri-La is known for it’s gorgeous pool, so we head there as soon we can to check it out. The one large pool is set in grounds with plenty of lush greenery surrounding, giving it a distinctly jungle feel.

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There is a large shallow end in the pool, perfect for our preschooler, and a small kiddie pool nearby for babies and toddlers. If you’re not the designated swimming parent, choose from plenty of plenty of beach chairs to relax in.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

If the weather turns foul there is a decent sized kids playroom inside the hotel. There is no child minding, however – the room is available for parents to take their kids and stay with them while they play.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We use the hotel as our base over the next two days to explore Chiang Mai. It’s about a 25 minute walk to the Thapae Gate of the old city, which is now pedestrianised and most people’s starting off point for exploring the historic part of Chiang Mai. With little legs in our part, we catch a cab to the gate and walk from there (160THB or about $6AUD). To get back to the hotel, we catch a tuk-tuk (100THB or around $4AUD).

The hotel is also close to Chiang Mai’s airport, so on our last morning we take a quick 15 minute cab trip to catch our plane home. Three nights wasn’t anywhere near long enough to explore this gorgeous city.

Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand Hotel Review: Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Shangri-La Hotel
89/8 Muang, Chang Klan Rd, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
Shangri La Hotel Chiang Mai, Chang Khlan, Chiang Mai, Thailand
We booked their current best rate package including room plus breakfast, from 4,500 THB per night. This offer is available from 4 Mar 2016 through 20 Dec 2016. Rates are subject to 18.7 % service charge and government taxes.

This post contains affiliate links. If you book a room through my link I will receive a small commission. Our stay at the Shangri-La was self funded. Thanks for supporting me and my site!

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!

Travel Guide: Phuket For Kids, Thailand

Thailand: Phuket With Kids

Thailand is famous for it’s stunning beaches, beautiful hospitality and enriching culture. In recent years Thailand has become a popular place for families to vacay – a part of which might be attributed to how strong the Aussie dollar is against the Thai Baht. In Thailand, it’s very possible to stay at a 4 or 5-star resort for a fraction of the price of a similar hotel in Australia.

In addition to being an affordable holiday, Thailand is very welcoming to families. There are plenty of things to do in Phuket with kids! We visited Phuket with our five-year-old and found plenty to see outside of the resorts that spanned nature, culture and religion, all in just a few short days. We found plenty in Phuket for kids to entertain us for several days.

Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Beaches
There is no doubt that the beaches in Thailand are just stunning. White sand and clear blue water – just heavenly. Depending on the time of year you visit swimming at the beaches may or may not be an option. During the wet season, box jellyfish are more prevalent, so keep a look out. Some of the Phuket beaches are also known for heavy rips, so be safe when you swim.

Big Buddha, Phuket, Thailand

Big Buddha
It’s hard not to notice Phuket’s Big Buddha from around the island. The imposing 45 metre tall statue and temple sits on top of is one of the the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and is one of the island’s most important and revered landmarks.

Big Buddha, Phuket, Thailand

The view from the top of the hill is also stunning, making it a popular place to watch the sunset.

Phuket Old Town, Thailand

Old Phuket Town
Take a stroll through Old Phuket Town to discover shrines, temples (Buddhist and Chinese), beautifully preserved ‘shophouses’ and little cafés. The town was built during Phuket’s tin boom of the 19th Century and has several excellently preserved, grandiose Sino-colonial mansions once lived in by the tin barons over a hundred years ago.

Phuket Old Town, Thailand

While you will need to hire a car to get to Phuket Old Town, it’s small enough to walk around in when you get there. If it’s raining or too hot, the Phuket Trickeye Museum is a fun place to stop by in Old Phuket Town with kids.

Wat Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Wat Suwan Khiri Khet (Karon Temple or Wat Karon)
Wander through the main road in Karon and you’ll find the stunning Wat Karon. This relatively new temple is a stunning place to visit any day of the week. We met kind monks who introduced us to one of their chickens, George.

Wat Karon, Phuket, Thailand

On Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 4pm the Karon markets pop up inside the compound.

Phuket Day Trips: Phang Nga Bay & James Bond Island

Day trip: Phang Nga Bay
The islands surrounding Phuket are just gorgeous. We took the Two Sea Tour sea kayaking around Phang Nga Bay. You can read more about it here.

What to avoid:
Please don’t ride elephants, watch an elephant show or have your photo taken with an animal on the street (such as monkeys). These animals are treated cruelly and participating in these activities enables the businesses to continue to run. More info on animal cruelty in Thailand here.

When to visit Thailand:
We visited Phuket at the end of monsoon season (early October), and did experience quite a lot of rain. The rain was mostly in the mornings and late afternoon/evening, however, so there was still enough of the day that was try to get out and enjoy.

What to pack:
Mosquito repellant
Sunscreen
Scarf to cover shoulders if visiting temples
Loose, light layers
Hat, swimmers, sunglasses, goggles
Comfortable walking shoes

What to wear:
The Thai people tend to dress quite conservatively. Tourists can wear shorts and tanks tops, but avoid showing too much skin when you’re not at the hotel. If you’re visiting a temple, wear pants or a skirt that covers your knees. Some temples will also require shoulders being covered.

Money in Thailand
1AUD is about equal to 30THB. A plate of Thai food at a local restaurant will cost about 50-60THB.

Getting around: common forms of transport
Red buses: We caught one and it cost 40THB for the three of us. It’s basically a small bus with the back area wide open. Please jump on and off when they need to.
Tuk-tuk: Around 100THB for a short distance. Ask for the cost in advance and wedge kids in the middle, tight.
Taxi: Arrange the amount in advance. Call for a taxi from hotels.
Hire car and driver: We hired a car and driver to take us to Old Phuket Town and Big Buddha. It was quite pricey, at 700THB an hour, with a minimum of three hours plus the fourth hour for free.

Hotel Review: Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort & Spa

Where to stay:
In Phuket we were hosted at the Novotel Phuket Surin Beach Resort for three nights, and the Novotel Phuket Karon Beach Resort and Spa for three nights. Both hotels were gorgeous, 4-star properties.

Christine Knight
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!