Elephant walk The Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort, in northern Thailand, tried to phase out elephant trekking for its guests a couple of years ago, according to a recent blog written by its director of elephants and conservation efforts, John Roberts. This was apparently because letting tourists ride around on elephants is widely frowned upon, although Roberts does not agree that it does the animals any harm. Due to high demand from guests, however, the plan was shelved and the upmarket resort still offers elephant-back rides, either on treks around the local countryside or through a Mahout Experience, whereby guests “learn to drive an elephant, trek along beautiful nature trails on the neck of your trusty steed, and take part in the river bathing ritual”. Elsewhere in Thailand, elephant walking is increasingly being offered as an alternative to riding, as is the case with the Isan Explorer (www.isanexplorer.com) tour mentioned here a few months ago, which is operated in partnership with the Save Elephant Foundation (www.saveelephant.org). Perhaps with this in mind, Anantara has just begun offering its own Walking with Giants experience, whereby guests spend a couple of hours strolling alongside the elephants to their bathing or play areas (top) in the company of their mahouts and a resident vet or biologist. For further details, visit goldentriangle.anantara.com, and click the Elephant Camp link.
Change of Tune Tune Hotels, a budget accommodation franchise launched by AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes in 2007, has just lost about half its portfolio, following franchise partner Red Planet’s rebranding of more than 20 Tune properties to Red Planet Hotels. The new brand owns and operates 23 budget hotels in Japan (Tokyo and Okinawa), Thailand (Bangkok, Hat Yai, Pattaya and Phuket), Indonesia (seven locations) and the Philippines (10 locations), and has released a Red Planet Hotels mobile app that facilitates easy and cheap reservations and features an “in-stay” mode that provides guests with updated local information during their sojourn. See www.redplanethotels.com for a look at the hotels, and to sign up for a loyalty scheme that provides a 10 per cent discount on the best available room rates.
Family freebie The Mandarin Oriental Pudong Shanghai (below) is running a Family Fun package that includes one free Club River View Room if you book an Executive Suite, or one free Club Mandarin River View Room when you book a Harbour City Suite. Rates start from 3,700 yuan (HK$4,700) per night, and include all-day club lounge access for up to four people. For more information and reservations for the offer, which is available until the end of this month, visit www.mandarinoriental.com/shanghai and click Offers.
Coming soon Originally scheduled for last May, the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul (below) is now promising to open at the end of next month, although reservations are still only being accepted from October 28. Located close to the Gwanghwamun subway station, the 317-room hotel offers all the usual luxury-by-numbers amenities and facilities, and the city’s “largest luxury hotel accommodations”. The property is the first Four Seasons to open in South Korea. Three fine-dining restaurants will serve Japanese, Chinese and Italian cuisine (quattro stagioni pizza, anyone?) and there’s a signature spa and Korean sauna. For a closer look and opening offers, go to www.fourseasons.com/seoul.
Deal of the week Westminster Travel’s new two-night package to Hiroshima (below), which ties in with Dragonair’s upcoming return to the city after a 12-year absence, runs from August 16 to the end of this year. Prices range from HK$3,710 to HK$4,400, depending on which hotel you choose, but to avoid substantial flight surcharges you’ll need to travel between August 24 and September 24. The five hotels on offer are all home-grown brands with unfamiliar names, but the best according to TripAdvisor contributors is the Hotel Granvia, which is ranked second, just below the Sheraton, and is priced from HK$4,250. Prices include round-trip, economy-class flights with Dragonair, breakfast and travel insurance. For a full list of hotels and reservations, visit www.westminstertravel.com.