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An Untouched Paradise

Indeed we did, as the driver took me and my partner through kilometres of unspoilt tropical terrain, virgin rain forests, padi fields accompanied by clusters of farm houses throughout our three-hour drive from Phuket airport.
I had not even heard of the name Si Kao, a county in southern Thailand’s Trang province, before the trip. A check with several guide books, including Dorling Kindersley’s Eyewitness guide on Thailand, gave little information on the place and the resort.

I was convinced, therefore, by the brochure’s promise that we would be exploring an undiscovered corner of Thailand. We were told too that a host of authentic natural and cultural wonders would await us in the next few days.

One possible reason for the lack of literature is the fact that the resort opened only in December 2008 as Anantara’s newest destination in Thailand. The brochure also claimed that the resort on the secluded Chang Lang Beach, just an hour’s drive from Krabi and about three hours from Pulau Langkawi in Malaysia by sea, is the country’s “best-kept secret”.

“Si Kao” in Thai means the colour white, and phonetically it also sounds like “sea cow”, a dolphin-like sea creature better known to the Thais as dugongs. They are spotted mainly in areas around the Andaman Sea near the county, hence its name.

There are a total of 138 deluxe rooms and 8 suites at the resort in Si Kao. Most face a stunning still view of the Andaman Sea and two rock-like islands, Koh Mook and Koh Meng, the resort’s landmarks.

A handwritten note to me from the resort general manager Mark Hehir read: “Discover 1,000 ways to do absolutely nothing here in paradise!”

How true. The resort’s programme for guests listed 1,001 things you can do, Mondays to Sundays, from a host of sporting activities such as yoga, kite flying and beach volleyball to arts and crafts, including batik painting, mask and necklace making to trips out at sea on kayak expeditions to the Emerald Cave and snorkeling at Anantara’s private day resort at Koh Kradan nearby.

The bubbly assistant director of sales at the resort, Piyawat Kaewsanit said the Anantara Si Kao property is ideal for honeymooners because the place is quiet and far away from the crowd.

Just to create the mood perhaps, we saw in one of the resort’s two pool suites, red flower petals formed two heart shapes overlapping each other on the silky white bed spread of the king-sized bed in the bedroom. And on the breakfast table at the Leelawadee restaurant where we ate earlier we even found watermelons cut into heart-shaped slices!

“We are also promoting the resort as a wedding venue where couples can exchange their vows at our beach or poolside apart from special packages for honeymooners,” added Miss Piyawat.

Trang’s town centre is at least 45 minutes away by the resort’s free shuttle bus. There were both early morning and evening trips there by courtesy of the resort that came with a guide as well.

The early morning trip leaves as early as 7 am for breakfast with Chinese dim sum and the famous barbeque pork at Chinese restaurants set up by the many Chinese inhabitants who have lived there since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The evening trip leaving at about 6.30 pm is for dinner and to visit the night market there.

Throughout the three days we spent at the resort, we played table-tennis and badminton, attended a yoga session, spent a day sea snorkeling at Koh Kradan where the sand is silky white and the sea crystal clean and clear, we also indulged ourselves in the Anantara’s signature massage and spa treatment.

For those who like fine dining, I strongly recommend the Acqua, where Australian-born award-winning chef Kelly Brennan created for us the best Italian seafood we ever had!

At the end of our stay, we took home too, the romantic story behind the two rock islands, Koh Mook and Koh Meng, which faced our room day and night.

Once upon a time, according to legends, there lived a beautiful princess called Mook (pearl in Thai language) and her love called Meng, a young and handsome common folk. But Mook’s royal parents objected to their relationship. Determined to be together, they eloped by sea and went on board a ship which encountered a storm. The ship capsized and the two rock islands appeared afterwards. People then named the bigger rock island Mook, as it looks like her lying down face up, and the smaller but longer islands in two parts, Meng. The tragic love story adds to the romantic ambience of this honeymooners destination.

Next, the resort’s driver drove us back to Phuket for a two-night stay at the Anantara Phuket Resort & Spa, another hide-away which is ideal for lovers and honeymooners.

Besides its secluded location, accommodation at the resort is made up of villas only, all with high walls and built on stilt-like structures above ground.

There are a total of 83 villas to be exact, each with its own private pool, allowing couples absolute comfort and privacy. However, only one, the Similian Suite comes with two bedrooms to accommodate up to two couples or families with children.

Also opened last year, it is located on Phuket’s north-east coast at the serene Mai Khao Beach, which is the area’s longest. It is also close to the green forests of Sirinath National Park.

The villa resort is just 15 minutes away from the airport and about three quarters of an hour’s drive from Phuket town, as well as the bustling beach of Patong further down south.

Like the resort in Si Kao, the environment is relatively untouched, offering the visitor a world away from the everyday. You can see Phuket through fresh eyes, not one crowded with Westerners and their bikini-clad babes drinking beers in road-side bars and local stalls selling anything from snacks and toiletries to souvenir T-shirts and beach wear.

The resort’s director of sales and marketing Narelle McDougall said its selling point would be its location, which is in Phuket and yet far away from the more crowded beaches in the south.

“So we thought it is an ideal destination for couples, especially honeymooners, whom we are targeting,” she added. Indeed, the high-standard of hospitality would make any newly-wed couple feel special immediately upon stepping into the reception area, a single-storey building built in contemporary Southern Thai Style.

The pretty and polite hostess who spoke perfect English introduced herself first before driving us to our villa just minutes away on an electric-driven buggy.

Like the resort in Si Kao, the gardens at this villa resort were designed by the renowned architect and landscape guru Bill Bensley.

Few would not be wowed by the interior of each of the villas. All feature an expansive bedroom, dressing room, indoor bathroom and of course, outdoor private pool separated from the bedroom by a wooden sliding door. Raise the curtains, slide the doors open and you can plunge straight into the meter-deep terrazzo tub pool.

There are plenty of other sporting facilities available at the resort, including a public pool with a sun deck, three tennis courts and a fitness studio. Water sports available at the private beach there include windsurfing, sailing and kayaking. Others facilities are a library, a spa, gift shop and boutique and the Turtle Club for children.

We found all the F&B outlets in the resort excellent, especially The Tree House, on top of its signature restaurant, La Sala. The Tree House, a bar, is so called because of the spiral staircase winding round an old Banyan tree leading to it.

The view from the lofty height is breathtaking with a good view of the villas in the compound as well as a glimpse of the Andaman Sea on a clear day.

For dinner on our second and last night there, we tried dining by design at our own villa with recommendations of mainly Thai dishes from the chief waiter at La Sala which also serves Italian and Sicilian specialities for their dine-in guests.

Later in the evening, two restaurant staff came and set up the dinner table complete with white table cloth for us at the appointed time, agreeing to return three hours later to pack up after we ate. We ended up having the most romantic, candle-lit dinner of our lives at the open air living sala by the pool in our villa all alone. The experience of the food and wine we had under the candlelight and the moon-lit sky and the conversations we shared during the meal will last us a long long time I am sure.

Need I say more? For romantics who like the sun and want to be alone with your special one, Anantara’s resort and spa in Si Kao and Phuket are the places to go.

– See more at: http://wedding-travel.com/an-untouched-paradise.aspx#sthash.G3t3sGsL.dpuf

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Italy Wedding

Planning to go overseas for your wedding photo shoot? Happy couple Samuel Wee, 31, and Lee Ling Ling, 30, shares with us their experience.
Ling Ling: We took our wedding photos in Tindari and Taormina, Sicily. The first photo shoot was done in Tindari. We even did a couple of shots during lunch en route to the Greek-Roman archaeological site of Tindari. It was a cosy restaurant with large cellars of wine. The food was great as well. We tasted many local produces including cheese, wine, antipasti…

The rest of the photo shoot was done at the archaeological site. There is a large church that is situated at the edge of the cliff called the Black Madonna of Tindari. The view from the church window is fantastic as it overlooks the sea.

Excluding our 2 wedding planners, we had an entourage of 2 other humans! Just my sister and 2-year old niece. 🙂 it was a small and simple affair. My niece even celebrated her birthday in Sicily.

W&T: Which service provider did you engage to do it?

Ling Ling: Olga from Guinone Wedding

W&T: What was the damage? (i.e. How much did it cost?)

Ling Ling: We customized the wedding to include a tour of Italy as well. It was 3 weeks of fun, sights and feasting. Can’t really recall the exact damage, but I must say it was worth every penny spent!

Ling Ling: Olga helped us manage the paperwork needed for the wedding, flowers, make up, air tickets, land transfers, accommodation and our meals for the three week trip.

W&T: How did you come up with the idea of holding your wedding overseas while holidaying? We understand that it was a small and intimate event – was it always in your personality to do something spontaneous and unconventional like this?

Ling Ling: It wasn’t really that spontaneous.  We did think of getting hitched overseas just because we thought it would be more intimate. We wanted the occasion to be just for the two of us. It was something different and definitely unique from those other run of-the-mill weddings.

W&T: What were the steps to planning and how long did it take for you to plan for the wedding? What were some of the difficulties you faced during the planning stage?

Ling Ling: We searched online for wedding planners that were based in Italy. There were a lot of to and fro emails to determine their package price and what the package covers. We were even contemplating not getting married overseas because the process involved was complicated and coupled with our inability to speak Italian.

Then, we were doing our shopping at Vivo and stumbled upon a wedding fair. Usually we don’t go to such fairs, but one of the booth had pictures of Rome on it. We decided  to visit the booth. And it was Olga’s booth. And thankfully she could help us with the solemnization process. We came across many companies offering wedding shoots in Italy, but not many have the experience or necessary contacts to hold a solemnization for foreigners in Italy.

We did have to go through a bit of planning with Olga. We took about 3months+ to work out the details. Since there weren’t many guests, that logistic part was a non-issue.

The first thing that needed to be sorted out was of course to inform our family members and friends on our plan to get married overseas. We definitely needed their blessings. Then somehow the other things like finding the wedding dresses and tailoring a suit just came along smoothly.  I had two dresses. One was bought off the rack and simple. It was easier to carry around as well.  Initially i didn’t want to get a wedding dress because I didn’t want to lug it around for three weeks. But Olga introduced me to La Vita Brides. We met her about two weeks before we flew off. And managed to get a dress without having to do any fitting!  I wore the white dress for the photoshoot and the simple purple dress for the solemnisation.

The most painful part was settling the paperwork involved to get married in Italy. As I am a M’sian citizen, I had to travel to KL to sort out the documentation and translation (to Italian) required. It involved multiple trips to various government agencies and embassy to prove my legal single status. My husband’s paperwork was so much simpler. Just a trip down to ROM and MFA was required.

When we at Taormina, we needed to do some pre-registration before the ceremony day. We had to go to the local city council office and then to the local police station to declare that we are actually present in Taormina. Thankfully, we had Sabrina (Olga’s business partner) who spoke the local Sicilian dialect. She managed to get the paper work sorted out within the day. What amazes me is that the forms and certificate is handwritten. The form/marriage contract was A3 in size. Our wedding certification had our named written in cursive writing. It is a very unique document.

We had a ball of a time with our photographer and videographer. I guess it is important to be able to have fun during your photo shoot.

W&T: What was the theme/concept for your wedding decorations at the venue? (We would also appreciate it if you could provide some pictures!)

Ling Ling: It was a simple wedding ceremony solemnised by a Mayor of Taormina. The venue was a old historical building that was already very uniquely decorated. It served as a town hall (a venue for marriages). Since it was very quaint and charming on its own, so we only had simple decorations of flower bouquet at the table.  The flowers matched my dress that was a light violet.

Our ring pillows wasn’t the typical one, we used the flower bouquet as our ring pillow.  We were told we are probably the first Singaporean couple to marry in Taormina. They even gave us a commemorative book on Taormina as a souvenir. Olga served as our translator. Sabrina and my sister was our witness.

After the ceremony, we had a cake cutting ceremony in a public square. With tourists as our witness. We popped a bottle of champagne and shared it with tourists and locals alike. As part of the local tradition, we gave out local sweets called confetti. It is almond encased with a hard white sugary shell. We offered it to tourists, even their local policemen. Guests are supposed to take the sweets (in Odd numbers) as a token of good luck and blessings to the couple.

W&T: What did you and your husband do after the wedding? Was the rest of the 3-week holiday like your honeymoon?

Ling Ling: After the wedding, we took more photos near the coast of Taormina. There was this small island called Isola Bella that was accessible via land at low tide. It was really fun, not to mention wet!

We then had a romantic candlelight dinner at the restaurant that had a sea view. It was a single private dinner table at the edge of the cliff and the food was simply great. Just two of us and the occasional waiter.

The days thereafter were just as fun and exciting. We visited other parts of Sicily such as Syracusa, Milazzo, Messina and Parlemo. Somewhere near Syracusa at a port town called Augusta, we had the best grilled swordfish ever! We even managed to catch a play at an ancient Roman Theatre in Syracusa.

The hilarious part of the trip was when we got lost on our way to Augusta. We actually arrived at a junction that had two signs pointing to our destination. One sign pointed left and another pointed right. What made it funnier was when we asked a local for directions. She said to go straight, and then we drove straight and ended at a t-junction. We couldn’t go straight any further. But somehow, we managed to get to our destination.

Then we took a ship to the volcanic island of Stromboli. It’s a beautiful island with black sand beaches. Black because of the volcanic ash and minerals. The beach and the sea is gorgeous. It would be another perfect venue to hold a wedding and photo shoot. The seafood is fantastic. We even climbed up the volcano in attempt to catch some eruptions. We started the climb at 6pm and reached the peak at 8plus. But alas, it was too cloudy and we didn’t managed to see any eruption.

We then sailed for Naples and spent a week in Tuscany. Places that we visited in Tuscany included Florence, Sienna, San Gimignano, Montepulciano (where they shoot the movie Twilight) and Cortona. We also visited Rome and Venice.

Olga and Sabrina was our tour guide throughout most of the trip. We ate where the locals ate and most of the menu was not in English. This is the best way to immerse yourself in their culture. We even attended a local pasta festival in Cortona, Tuscany. At this festival, the community comes together to cook and raise funds. There was dancing, live band and a fun fair. I won a pink pig soft toy.

Olga and Sabrina gave us a surprise wedding gift when we were at Tuscany. They took us on a boat to watch the sunset on one of the lakes on Tuscany, Lake Tresimeno. They dropped us off at Isola Maggiore, which is a tourist hotspot during summer. As it was not summer yet, the island was pretty much deserted. Besides the handful of island inhabitants, there were countless wild hares and peasants. I had a fun time trying to capture their photos. After touring the island, we got back onto the boat to enjoy our dinner while watching the sunset. We danced under the moonlight as well. It was very enjoyable as we had Olga, Sabrina as company, along with the three men who ran the boat cruise business. It was a very fun evening.

One thing that stood out from the trip is the food. Our only complaint is there is too much food! We ate like a local for most of our trip and didn’t had to worry about the costs as it was covered by our wedding package. Some notable delicacies include grilled swordfish at Sicily, Cornetto (pastry rolled into the cone with fresh cream inside), vongole (glorious clams), pasta, wine, seven layered Sicilian cake, cheese with marmalade, coffee and fresh tomatoes.

W&T:  Do you know of anyone who held their wedding overseas too? Do you think this is a trend that is starting to be popular with Singaporean couples?

Ling Ling: I know of a few. Most couples still prefer to hold a wedding locally because it’s easier to manage logistically and definitely cheaper. For those who did theirs overseas, it’s usually the solemnisation part, but the actual traditonal ceremony and dinner will usually be held in Singapore. Traditional parents are also opposed to the thought of their children getting married in a foreign land.

W&T: What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages to holding your wedding overseas?

Ling Ling: Advantages: A different environment and a different climate! Your wedding will be unique and look different from other local weddings. The photos also won’t be the typical fort canning, botanic gardens and shenton way/boat quay. If you are in a country like Europe, the weather is cooler and the couple will not be sweating and melting under their gowns and suits.

Disadvantages: Could be costly if the affair is going to be elaborate or involves flying relatives and friends. The paperwork involved can be quite tiring as you cannot really outsource this totally to your planner. Couples have to understand that the culture overseas is different from Singapore. For example, In Italy, offices and shops close in the afternoon especially in areas outside of Rome. So, if you need paperwork to be done, make sure there is ample time. Communication may be an issue in non-English speaking countries.

W&T: For couples who are thinking of holding their wedding overseas, what would be your best piece of advice to them?

Ling Ling: If you get the blessings from your parents to have it overseas, go for it. It is definitely more fun and thrilling. Get a planner, preferably someone familiar with the country your wedding is held. Better still get a local. Please also cater time for planning. A wedding overseas may take more time to plan and work out the official paperwork. Please also do your sums and have some buffer for additional things. Lastly, do remember that a wedding is just an event that marks the start of a lifelong marriage. All the best to your wedding!

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