I’m on a plane and a Humphrey Bogart film is playing on the seat next to me. I think of the photos on the wall of the Mandarin Oriental Elbow Beach Resort Bermuda and smile. To be alive in those days. To have been at the 1925 party with the hair and dresses on the patio.
What do you think it would be like to have your passions and activism rewarded by being flown across the globe, given VIP access and hosted (along with your Mom) at stunning Thai resorts while you met elephants and reported on polo matches? Cinderella meets Madagascar kind of movie, right? Nope. For 13-year-old elephant lover and polo enthusiast Jonny Gray of London, Ontario, the dream became a reality. Named this year’s Roving Elephant Reporter for the 11th Annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Hua Hin, Thailand Sept. 12-16, 2012, he was given the experience of a lifetime.
As the Roving Elephant Reporter, Jonny became a star of the elephant polo circuit, delivering a television report and enjoying VIP access to all areas of the four-day event, including exclusive interviews with participating players, elephant experts, and celebrities. Jonny and his mother, Jacquelyn Doucette, spent seven-nights stay at Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas Riverside Resort & Spa in Bangkok and Anantara Hua Hin Resort & Spa in Thailand. UrbanMommies was granted an exclusive interview with Jonny and he shares about his love of animals, activism and his travels.
UM: What first made you like elephants?
JG: My first exposure to elephants was through the African Lion Safari near Cambridge, Ontario where we loved to watch the elephants have a bath. I fell in love with how they interacted with each other like a family and how they seemed so bonded with their trainers. I dreamed about seeing them one day in the wild on a safari but never thought it would be so soon!
UM: When you were selected to become the Roving Elephant Reporter how did you feel? Had to traveled overseas before?
JG: When I first got the news I won I was speechless and then I became scared because I was worried about the responsibility of being a reporter on this charity event. I didn’t know what to expect! Eventually I became excited about traveling to a new part if the world and experiencing all it had to offer. I had traveled to Europe but never to Asia.
UM: What are 5 things you packed for the airplane?
JG: The flight to Thailand was very long. It took us over a day to get there and we stopped in Belgium and India on the way. To keep me busy I packed my iPod for music, a good book, lots of snacks (gummy worms!!) and a travel pillow so that I could sleep.
UM: What would you tell other kids about rescued elephants in Thailand?
JG: There are over 1500 elephants that live in captivity working on the streets in Thailand. Although most are treated as well as possible by their owners they still live a life of poverty without much to eat and poor living circumstances. Many people recognize that this is a big problem in Thailand and are making efforts to help them. My experience is with the elephants which have been rescued by Anantara Resorts. They provide a wonderful life for thirty rescued elephants where they spoiled and doted on. You can visit these elephants and learn to take care of them if oh ever get a chance to visit Thailand!!
The charity polo tournament that I was reporting on helps to support these elephants as well as providing funding for an elephant hospital and ambulance, and even research with elephants.
UM: How would you advise other kids to become animal activists?
JG: I believe that animal activism starts at home. My parents have taught me that animals need our respect and protection. We have always taken care of baby or injured birds, rabbits, chipmunks and mice that we have found on our property. We learned what they needed to eat and how to take care of them from the internet. We have also adopted dogs which needed homes and because we are on a farm we did the same with horses. Awareness that animals need our help, and learning about endangered species, is an important step towards being an animal activist. You can learn about the animal rescues in your community and see if they need volunteers, but even just spreading the word about these foundations helps to raise awareness about the needs of the animals in our communities. I think a great idea is to have a birthday party which ask for donations of pet food or toys instead of gifts to be given to your local animal rescue is a great way for kids to help!!
UM: You stayed at the Anantara Riverside Resort & Spas. What were your favourite things about the hotels?
JG: I had the privilege to stay at Two resorts in Thailand. The first one was the Anantara riverside resort and spa in Bangkok and the second one was their resort in Hua Hin. One thing I loved about the resorts was all the tropical plants that we don’t see in Canada. I felt like I was staying in the rain forest! The food was amazing too! However, by far the best thing about the Anantara chain of resorts was the people. They were so friendly and helpful they made me feel at home eventhough I was half a world away.
UM: Finally – tell me about the other activities you did while you weren’t busy reporting!
JG: I was so busy in Thailand reporting on the tournament that I had to decide between two activities – a Thai cooking class and a trip to Monkey Mountain. Well, I chose Monkey Mountain because I heard it was an incredible experience and I was right! As we drove up the mountain we started to see monkeys occasionally and we were pretty excited because we had never seen monkeys in the wild before. At the top of the mountain, we met a lady who sold peanuts to feed to the monkeys. When we bought a bucket full from her, monkeys started coming from everywhere and suddenly there were hundreds of monkeys surrounding me wanting a peanut. It was crazy! The monkeys were so fast and they climbed everywhere to get a peanut, even on my head. I was really scared at first but after the peanuts were all gone, I got three more buckets just so I could experience it again!!
Once you have kids, the days of stolen mini-breaks with your honey are pretty much gone, unless you have a great nanny or very forbearing parents nearby! Traveling with a family can be tricky and expensive, but it is possible to enjoy a vacation with the kids; in fact, sometimes it’s even more fun than vacationing alone with your partner…although it is a different kind of “fun!” Here are the top 10 travel destinations for kids.
Every fall, luxury brand Louis Vuitton publishes gorgeous and super-helpful guides for some of the greatest cities in the world. We tried the European editions (surprise surprise), and were able to discover off-the-beaten track lounges in Paris and family-friendly, hip gems in Rome. Note to self: they also look great on your bookshelf, and they’re nice and light to pack.
Image Courtesy: www.luxuo.com
Was that Jen Aniston? Maybe – if her people are in the know. This place rocks. Beautiful clientele, superior staff and the most gorgeous views on the Riviera Maya. (But without the paparazzi.) Located in a stunning gated town south of Playa del Carmen, the Omni is the gem of Puerto Aventuras, and is steps away from the dolphin lagoon that flanks the marina. Yes – you can swim with the dolphins. Or just watch the free show every night. Be sure you feed the sea lions and manatees too (did you know they eat lettuce?).
Upon check-in to the Omni, you are greeted with a cool towel and royal welcome. Rooms sport outdoor bathtubs, natural stone finishes and pass-throughs for your breakfast which can be taken on your private patio. Linens are soft, the complimentary water is lovely (after a few margaritas) and the lobby is one of the most romantic places you could possibly be in the evening. Illuminated coconut shells hang from the bar as spa-like music wafts from the rafters.
For children, there are a few attractions that are guaranteed to excite. The kid’s pool is warm and shallow, and friends are in great supply. The beach boasts some of the softest, whitest sand imaginable, and canopied beds and large round sofa-chairs invite you to flop around the pool deck. Naptime made easy. BTW, you can hang at the pool bar with it’s grand staircase to the beach while you watch the kids play. The staff never neglect placing a hyacinth in the curtain tiebacks, and pineapples are placed on the hot tub bar tables – complete with funny faces made out of fruit.
The MG Gym & Spa is exceptional and overlooks the crescent beach and blue-green waters. If you hit the gym early, you beat the heat and stay in bikini shape. Make sure you ask for Tarzan as a trainer. (Yes. That is actually his name and he is the spitting image of Fabio. Honest.) Even if you’ve never seen the inside of a gym, he’ll run through the machines and tailor exercises to your body while entertaining you with his endless wit. You’ve actually done 12 reps already and didn’t even notice.
Dive Aventuras, the scuba shop, is located right on the premises and is more spa than dive outfit. Your tanks and snorkels are carried the short walk to the dive boat, and you have the opportunity to see incredible sea life and be back before the kids even miss you. The stunning reefs are so close that your spouse won’t be ticked off at how long you’ve been gone. Turtles, moray eels and tiger fish are easily found by the dive masters. The best news? Andreas is always very happy to oblige the little people who want to try on ‘tiny wetsuits’ and watch the pool divers practice.
Strolling around the Puerto Aventuras marina, there are many restaurants and great shops (corona bikini or wrestling mask anyone?). Residents favour golf carts as a means of transportation, and deep sea fishing charters leave the marina regularly. Both sights provide constant amusement for the kids. Sun, great food, white sand, dolphins, five-star hotel and an endless stream of amusement for children. The perfect Mexican vacation.
I think it’s been a while since the heyday of travel – when hopping on a plane was an experience in itself. I know my mom always looked forward to being able to just sit for a few hours and have someone bring her a hot meal and a glass of wine (obviously I was older by this point!) while she thumbed a book or napped. Unless you’re flying first class or by private jet, it’s safe to say those days are long gone, and now the “fun” of air travel begins before you’ve even hit the departure lounge.