Rowan and Nanda knew the kind of experience they wanted for their long-awaited honeymoon when they contacted me last autumn but were frustrated as they couldn’t decide where to go.
They wanted a blend of relaxation, adventure and luxury, but with the desired departure date and the ongoing pandemic, options were limited.
Knowing that Thailand was opening imminently and with flights from Birmingham going via Dubai, an exciting plan was forming, and within three days of speaking the honeymoon was booked.
However, it wasn’t totally plain sailing. On New Year’s Day, 12 days prior to their planned departure, the government announced a suspension on issuing Thai Passes if they hadn’t been submitted by the following day.
I was immediately on the phone to ensure they had applied for their Thai Pass. They hadn’t, so it was all systems go to get them processed within 24 hours or the trip would have had to be postponed!
It was a little complicated with numerous forms needing completion and although Nanda’s were approved and returned quickly, Rowan’s took longer and necessitated an intense period of calls before we had to involve the embassy in London and permission was granted just two days before travel.
And there were further obstacles to overcome. Whilst awaiting the passes, the goalposts were moved again with the sudden introduction of a Day 5 PCR test that had to be carried out at a government facility.
This wouldn't have been too much of an issue had they not been scheduled to be in the middle of a jungle with nowhere close to take the test. The only solution was to disappointingly cut down that part of the trip, adding the night on the mainland.
Then the UAE changed its regulations, announcing at 1pm on New Year’s Eve that arrivals from 2 January needed to have had PCR tests within 24 hours instead of 72. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to phone with the news that their tests would no longer be valid and to fly, another would be required.
It was a tearful, emotional rollercoaster for us all with now having to find somewhere willing to test and get results back on New Year’s Day in time for their flight that evening. They managed to spend New Year’s Eve getting tested in Derby but thankfully pulled it off and were finally on their way. Phew...
After a frantic build-up, we departed for Dubai on New Year’s Day. Just getting on the flight was such a relief and we were rewarded with the rare opportunity of having rows of seats to ourselves as it wasn’t busy.
Unbelievably, the COVID rules had changed again whilst we were in the air meaning another test upon arrival, though it was free, very well organised and the queue moved quickly.
Ruth had pre-arranged our transfers throughout, including for our excursions which made things so easy, and all the drivers were friendly and professional.
It was our first time to both Dubai and Thailand, and we weren't sure what to expect.
Dubai was a mixture of activities and beaches, staying at the Hilton Jumeriah Beach, a great beachside location with several restaurant options, and everything on the doorstep. Our only disappointment of a fantastic week was the breakfasts here.
It felt very family-friendly and safe with so much to do and see. We had a great time on the desert dunes excursion with quad biking, safari rides, and a show.
The Dubai World Expo isn’t for everyone, but we loved it despite some heavy rain the morning we went. It was so interesting with each country and its pavilion authentically designed.
We managed to fit in the fountain show, aquarium, Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa plus the beautiful marina, which was a short walk from the hotel with lots of places to eat and drink, as well as Pier 7 with its floors dedicated to different food places including Asia Asia, where we tried a lunch option and went back for a dinner experience.
We chose a couple of expensive restaurants to try in addition to more local type ones which were even better with a mixture of great sushi, grills and meats.
Rowan loved the coffee place Arabica which ironically had a little stall just outside the hotel even though we first found it in the Dubai Mall.
The local taxis were cheaper on the meter than the ‘lux’ ones, and service, especially at the Dubai Mall is well organised with long queues clearing quickly.
Dubai had certainly exceeded expectations, but nothing prepared us for Thailand, which was incredible - with all three parts we visited bringing a totally different experience.
We flew into Phuket, headed north to Elephant Hills, and then south to stay at the Shore at Kata Thani.
Our first hotel, The Slate, highly recommended by Ruth, was simply amazing with a contemporary dreamy design yet an authentic feel - and the pool suite we stayed in was wonderful.
There were so many swimming pools to choose from, the staff were so friendly and attentive, and breakfast was sensational. They have their own oils, soaps, creams and shops which sell their products too.
It appeared that with the sudden cut-off for the Thailand Pass, many people hadn’t made it, as things were generally much quieter than we had expected including the beautiful Nai Yang Beach on the back doorstep of the Slate.
Behind the Slate, we also found a small place called Cocos that served fantastic food. We ended up there most evenings, making friends with the owner.
Elephant Hills was in the middle of the jungle and though Covid had denied us the planned two-night stay, the one night was an unforgettable experience and so worthwhile.
The whole thing was unbelievable, from sleeping in a glamping tent, prepping food for and feeding the elephants, to trekking and cooking in the jungle. It was inspiring to see rescued elephants being treated the way they should be, in grounds and facilities with fantastic care. The staff are a total credit too.
We filled the other day with a visit to the temples and Big Buddha – an equally unforgettable experience that included the pleasure of meeting a Buddhist monk.
Just when we thought this trip couldn’t get any better, we headed south to breathtakingly beautiful Kata Thani and a stay at the incredible Shore.
The hotel, our room, the views and location left us speechless - it was the most perfect place.
We went on a fantastic boat trip around the Phi Phi islands and Monkey Bay, and despite our fears of deep water, after much encouragement from the guides, we didn’t want to stop snorkelling and get out. Maya Bay and Kata Beach were also trips we thoroughly enjoyed.
Ruth had provided us with a personal contact who helped arrange taxis and transport throughout our stay in Thailand and we also made friends with a local taxi driver in the south.
Everyone was so friendly and accommodating everywhere we went, with English widely spoken. The food was equally superb - we tried all sorts, from the hotel restaurants to the street food, and loved everything.
The whole trip was unforgettable, more than just a honeymoon, and we feel very lucky to have been able to do this. We conquered fears together (surfing, deep water, heights, elephants), ticked things from our bucket list, and had several moving experiences.
Ruth was brilliant. We had been in touch with other agents before we were given her number, but nobody had appreciated what we were looking for. She not only did so after one conversation but also understood our tastes too, which is hugely important for us.
She was there the whole way through to provide guidance and support from the logistical stresses caused by COVID to being available during the trip itself – that is what we call service.
The organisation of the trip was stressful purely because of the COVID rules constantly changing but Ruth was literally there to guide and help us whenever when we needed it.
Thank you for everything, Ruth. 😊