A tram tour of Msheireb Downtown Doha (MDD), which offers an immersive and comprehensive experience with FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 activations, has become a big hit among the thousands of visitors. MDD has three zones for fans and media coming from all over the world to enjoy the games and celebrate together. The first is the Baraha Zone, the hub for watching the matches on a giant screen or in special pods which promote privacy while fostering social interaction. The second is the Heritage Zone where visitors can experience various activities and explore the essence of authentic Qatari heritage. The third is the Sikka Zone with selfie-worthy spots covering art exhibitions and cinematic works. It includes interactive zones where fans can play games and relax at cafes and restaurants. Broadcast and media facilities are also available for journalists and content creators. The activities and facilities in Zone 3 also include Conmebol Tree of Dreams, Mawater Warehouse Exhibition, Intaj – Film, Television, and Theatre Exhibition and Quest Gaming District. PICTURE: Gulf Times news editor Bonnie James.
Bali has captured the world’s imagination and inspired our true longing for an exotic and peaceful getaway, long before Julia Robert’s romance on ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Yes, I read the book, too! You can roll your eyes, but love it or hate it, the story ignited wanderlusts from all walks of life to dream of Bali.It is an ideal holiday destination, brimming with a seemingly endless supply of resorts, each with their own unique offering. A destination where a traveler can marvel for days, weeks, months if you wish, some families I personally know have made Bali their chosen home after one holiday. I for one have been here multiple times. Every trip however has given me a different perspective. Each corner has something for the soul, mind, and taste buds. That said, there’s one place I’ve been meaning to visit, since my first trip to Indonesia some eight or nine years ago. Amankila.Some hotels get quite the reputation. Celebrities flock, the yogis and peace seekers return, and the rest who have heard the stories aspire to grace these hills while attempting not to take selfies with someone famous stretched on the sun lounger next to us. Such is Amankila on Bali’s thankfully quiet east coast. One incredibly well-traveled friend – a wellness connoisseur with a hotel obsession – names it his favorite holiday destination in the world, and trust me, he’s seen a few (thousand).Chris and I were pressed against the window of an Aman car that collected us from the airport, as we arrived at an unassuming entrance. I got off and was greeted by a lovely group of four in sarongs, staff members with bright and warm smiles. Immediately, I noticed a hint of tuberose and jasmine in the air. Like all things Aman, Amankila is deeply attuned to the seasons. I paused for a minute, before walking into the lobby. I took a deep breath, exhaled, looked at Chris and whispered, ‘ I’ve always wanted to stay here’. He grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the sunlight beaming from the open lobby; “well you manifested it”, he smiled.Even though this Ed Tuttle-designed classic on Bali’s hushed east coast has been around for more than three decades, stepping inside its hilltop lobby still induces goosebumps. The view was spellbinding: three travertine pools, cascading like Balinese rice paddies towards the crashing waves of the Lombok Strait below. There’s a fringe of pink bougainvillea and a backdrop of swaying palms, plus a small army of sarong-clad staff serving fresh mangoes and passionfruit daiquiris to guests lounging at the poolside.This resort’s sweeping swathes of blonde stone walls and walkways give Amankila a very grounded feel. The creamy and white-washed tones of the buildings and décor enhance a sense of peace, as does the surrounding greenery. Like its namesake, Aman, meaning peace in Sanskrit and ‘kila’ for hills in Bahasa. The resort is on a hillside, carefully designed to make the most of the views – and so suites are reached by a network of elevated paths. There was a delightful sense of seclusion and privacy all throughout the property. All 31-suites are staggered on the side of a hill, with uninterrupted views of the ocean out front, and access to a private beach below. The suites seem more like private villas than hotel rooms.As we strolled into the Amankila suite, we were greeted by shadows of palm trees on the walkway toward the gleaming private pool, yet again, the infinite vastness of the deep-blue envelopes these peaceful hills like a mother’s warm embrace. As soon as our en-suite check in was complete, I put on my swimwear and went straight to the infinity pools and soaked up the hypnotic brightness of that perfectly clear sky, all the way to sunset. Safe to say that an Aperol Spritz or three kept Chris company while I was in water.The next day was an early start for us. We had breakfast at sunrise on gentle waves aboard Aman XVI, Amankila’s traditional ‘jukung’ outrigger, in the presence of a living legend, the glorious Mount Agung. I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude that morning. For years, three or four trips, I’ve been coming to Bali with hopes of seeing the beauty of Mount Agung in a clear day, but the island can be rather tricky on the subject of weather, and only that day, on that boat, while at Amankila, did I get all the luck I needed to finally see her in the light. I couldn’t help but get emotional. As Balinese legend has it, only the ones—who are exactly where they’re supposed to be—get to meet the goddess Agung. I was in awe to say the least.It wasn’t just the sky that was kind to us, the waters too showed gifts. As the clouds went back to cover the mountains, akin to curtains in a theatre, we jumped into the ocean and swam in the deep blue. There they were, a bale of sea turtles, eight or nine big ones, swimming around us like children in a playground. ‘As above, so below’, I thought to myself. As I was drying my hair on the outrigger, on our way back to Amankila, I remember a moment where I paused, mindfully inhaled and exhaled, I felt serenity, like I was in harmony with the sky above and the ocean below, I mean I felt it all throughout my trip, but only then did I feel it tangible.I left Amankila with a profound sense of completion. It was like coming home.
Indian cyclist Fayis Ashraf Ali, who is on a solo ride from the southern state of Kerala to London, was accorded several receptions in Doha last week during his transit of Qatar. Organised with the slogan 'From Heart to Heart' and with the objective of spreading the message of love and peace among the world population, the cycling journey is estimated to take at least 450 days during which Ali is expected to cover 30,000km in 35 countries and two continents before reaching his destination. Ali addressing a group of students at MES Indian School At the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC), the management committee and community leaders came together to fete the adventurer. The software professional-turned cross-country cyclist recalled how he quit his job, went home to support his ailing father, and later with the support of his wife and family went on a bicycle tour of eight countries in the Far East, starting from Singapore. His next mission is to travel to 35 countries and finally reach London. At MES Indian School, Ali addressed a group of enthusiastic students. He stressed the importance of youngsters developing an undaunted spirit and never-say-no attitude towards reaching goals in life. Ali encouraged the students to develop a passion for achieving remarkable things in life so as to leave a trail behind for others to emulate. Principal Hameeda Kadar congratulated him and wished him all success in his mission of spreading goodwill.
Cycling is more than a passion for Indian national Fayis Ashraf Ali, on a ride from the southern state of Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram all the way to London, upholding the message of peace for humanity. The adventurer, who was in Doha last week during his expedition, received a rousing welcome from community organisations and interacted at multiple gatherings. “My mission is to leave strong messages about peace, healthy heart, fitness, zero carbon emission, drug free campuses and eradication of polio. I believe in the potential of cycling and my ride could make impacts and changes while I interact with people from various walks of life,” Ali, who entered Qatar from Saudi Arabia with a Hayya Card, told Gulf Times. The 34-year-old engineer from Kozhikode, embarked on his expedition on August 15 with a itinerary covering 1,000 destinations across 35 countries. Driven by the inspiration and energy obtained from the last cycle ride from Kerala to Singapore in 2019, Ali decided to make an effort to do something more special. “Discussions and interactions with various stakeholders are at the core of my mission,” he said. Ali holds discussions with academic institutions, universities, community centres, socio-cultural youth groups' gatherings, local and international voluntary organisations during his expedition. In Doha, he met the functionaries of various organisations and institutions including the Indian Cultural Centre, World Malayali Federation, Chaliyar Doha, Mindtune Waves, KMCC Elathur constituency committee, Al Muftah Rent A Car and GoMosafer. He visited various places including Doha Corniche, Souq Waqif, Aspire Zone and Al Bayt Stadium. Ali, who reached Qatar after cycling through Oman, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, is leaving Doha Saturday for Kuwait. He plans to cover Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey and enter more of Europe through Greece. His first expedition to Singapore took 104 days and more than 8,000km covering Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.
After six years spent hopping around fabulous destinations around the world, I came home to the Philippines. What a welcome awaited me at Amanpulo. Amanpulo provides Castaway elegance on secluded, reef-fringed Pamalican Island, with snow-white beaches, crystal-clear seas, exquisite diving and limitless activities. After a long day at the beach, relax in the spa before retiring to your spacious casita balcony. The impossible desire of getting away from it all is somehow fulfilled by the 'peaceful island’. As soon as you check into the exclusive lounge at Manila airport, you know Amanpulo is going to be exceptional. As you wait to board a little plane destined for paradise, fresh fruit and warming food are offered. 45 minutes after takeoff, after flying over innumerable, seemingly abandoned islands, you arrive at Amanpulo's private airport. When you arrive, a golf buggy, which you have personal use of throughout your stay, whisks you off to your villa. Despite being one of the Aman group's first resorts, the villas have a timeless atmosphere with subtle Asian influences that don't appear out of place. Dark wood floors and moderate decor characterise the spacious bedroom and bathroom. All rooms have timber frames and pitched roofs with rustic island design, inspired by traditional “bahay kubo” homes. This barefoot-luxe island resort has supposedly hosted everyone from Bill Gates to Madonna. According to the Daily Mail, Madonna stayed at the hotel for a month and departed with a $6.2 million bill. Amanpulo, which means "peaceful island" in Sanskrit and Filipino, is a tropical haven for people looking for a luxurious private hideaway in the Philippines. Aman Resorts, one of the world's most exclusive luxury hotel brands, operates it. There are also other facilities to help you make the most of your visit. Aman Spa, a fitness center, a 30-meter swimming pool, four tennis courts and an outdoor Jungle Run obstacle course are all present. There's also a kids' club, a library, a store and a clubhouse. Those seeking aquatic adventure may visit the Seasports Hut, which offers a range of activities such as sunset cruises, Manamoc Island tours, sandbar outings and fishing adventures. Non-motorized water sports, such as snorkeling and diving, are also available. The 30-metre, aqua-tiled swimming pool in front of the Clubhouse is surrounded by vivid bougainvillea trellises. Relax on your umbrella-shaded sunbed or one of the three open-air salas with plush mattresses. I myself went on the Sunset Cruise, where you're perched on the upper deck of a boat gliding silently across the tranquil seas that encircle Amanpulo. It's rather stunning to see the sky shift from cherry blossom pink to deep red while eating a Mediterranean feast of cured meats and cheeses and sipping a refreshing drink. As part of my experience, I was fortunate enough to see turtles, locally known as pawikan, as they gracefully danced through the water. I liken my trip home to the islands I grew up in to how the mighty pawikan lives its life: despite the time and tide, it will always come home to a deserted beach, and when the time is right (and only then), it will emerge from the sand, heading determinedly towards the dancing lights.
An island strife with history, Sri Lanka is now the place for luxury in Southeast Asia, with picturesque locations made for capturing stunning Instagram photos, and creating stories worth telling. We ventured off the beaten track to experience the best the country has to offer. Enter, Resplendent’s Ceylon Tea Trails at Hatton’s Camellia Hills. Something truly unique to this country are the dreamy tea plantations, dramatically rolling hills at the foot of small mountains, covered in endless tea leaf crops. Camellia Hills sits above the Castlereigh Reservoir in the heart of one of the many Ceylon tea plantations. A sprawling tea estate in Hill Country dotted with luxurious tea-planter bungalows with spacious rooms reminiscent of colonial times, both architecture and interior, and offer stunning views of the valley. Visiting Ceylon Tea Trails is like stepping back in time, with butler service, afternoon tea and lawn croquet juxtaposed with infinity pools and a long list of activities to choose from. Yes, they pick the menu’s vegetables straight from their own garden – each dish deserves to be called ‘fresh’. Perhaps the most memorable of this sensuous journey, the smell of tea in the air that speaks of countless stories. The five bungalows of Ceylon Tea Trails are scattered among the emerald hillsides of Sri Lanka´s Golden Valley of tea, Bogawantalawa. Around a five-hour drive from Colombo and two hours from Kandy, it is set in the cool, verdant hills so loved by the British during the colonial era. Absolutely peaceful, honeymoon-worthy with a small and charming local village you can visit. The idea is to disconnect and lose yourself in time while enjoying the pristine scenery. Hiking, biking and boat trips are offered in the surrounding area, alongside day excursions to tourist highlights such as Sri Lanka’s highest town, Nuwara Eliya, two hours away. Breakfast on the veranda and cocktails in the library. At sundown the chef talks you through his tantalising four-course menu of contemporary Western cuisine or traditional Sri Lankan fare, with homegrown vegetables and herbs from the surrounding estates’ gardens. The tea menu is extensive, the flavours are exquisite. Here, serving tea is a science. Loose leaf and brewed at the perfect temperature for the perfect amount of time. Served in fine china. Sip and relax, and yes, repeat. From sunrise, the vivid green landscape comes alive with bright pops of colour from the tea pickers clothes. Trek the plantations or take a mountain bike and join them rhythmically picking only the tips - “two leaves and one bud” to be exact. It was a whimsical experience, I have to admit. The lounge is a delight of dark wood and deep red with a warming log fire. Black and white pictures of Sri Lanka and tea plantations adorn the walls and there is even a billiards room for evening games. Step out onto the veranda with awe-inspiring lake and valley views, while the four suites – and stand-alone Owner’s Cottage – will make you feel like the guest of honour of a very well-to-do friend. Ceylon Tea Trails offers Sri Lankan hospitality at its absolute best. Each bungalow has a butler and executive chef who will take care of your every need, discussing the day’s menu and activities available over breakfast. Personal, intimate, tasteful. Hands down, a 10 out of 10.
Travelling is getting easier in line with the tectonic changes in the technology and transportation sector. But, things often don’t go well for people with special needs as some of the tourist destinations as well as the transportation facilities remain unwelcoming. Many put their travel plans on hold while others dare to overcome the challenging accessibility. Indian expatriate Ismail bin Yousaf is simply beating the impediments while inspiring specially abled persons to fly high. The native of Thrissur district of Kerala met with an accident that left him paralysed in 2012 during his work. The wheelchair-bound 32 year old is currently touring various states back home. Ismail started his journey on September 3 this year and is on the way to Leh, the picturesque hill station in India’s Northeast tip. Starting from Nedumbassery International Airport in Kochi, Ismail has so far covered various cities including Chennai, Hyderabad, Gwalior, Agra, Delhi, Chandigarh and Shimla. Also, he visited Ladakh while enjoying mountainous views and serene lakes and monasteries. “I am glad that I could visit these cities while covering the heritage sites and tourism destinations,” he told Gulf Times Community during an online conversation. Ismail managed to cover the sites while travelling in train, bus and auto rickshaw. He took a flight from Nedumbassery to Chennai from where he travelled to Hyderabad by bus and then to Gwalior and Agra by train. Ismail says that he is driven by the theory that God made him sit in a wheelchair to fly, not to confine himself. For Ismail, the wheelchair is like a throne rather than an ordeal. He is receiving a rousing welcome at various places and visited by VIPs. Ismail said he was given support by friends and relatives who visited him in various cities upon his arrival. Ismail currently works as quantity surveyor at Qatar Design Consortium. He has gone an extra mile while volunteering for various organisations and government entities. He has been volunteering for Qatar Red Crescent Society for the last three years and won the best volunteer award in 2018. He was part of the FIFA Club World Cup and Asian Games while volunteering for the mega events. He has volunteered for various events by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar Olympic Committee, Qatar Football Association, Qatar Diabetics Centre and Qatar Cancer Society. Ismail regularly attends sport events in Doha including Ooredoo Doha Marathon and Al Dana Green Run. He is part of various community organisations while discharging various roles.
Most people look forward to vacation, a week or two of exploring a new country, relaxing on the beach, doing nothing or going to visit family. I can’t do ‘nothing’ for very long, so I tend to continue with client sessions while I am travelling, simply because I love my work so much. But I know for many, going back to work after a vacation can make you feel overwhelmed. That post-vacation serenity seems to disappear the moment you step on the plane to fly home. With a little pre-vacation strategic planning for your first few days back, I believe it’s possible to still have a smile and relaxed demeanour after returning to life and work after a vacation. Over the last few days of your vacation, make a short priority list for the first things you plan to tackle upon your return. Priorities at work can change, but starting from a list gives you a better starting point. Clean up before you leave. This applies to both your workplace and your home. At work, file away those contracts that have been sitting in a stack on the floor and organise the memos on your desk. At home, spend an hour tidying up. I know that your brain is already on vacation mode and it’s tough to focus on everyday chores, but your post-vacation self will thank you. Be sure you take the trash out, clean out the fridge and vacuum. Personally, I like to check my pantry and stock up on simple non-perishable snacks. If you can, try to give yourself a buffer day in between your return home and going back to work after vacation. It may seem counter-intuitive to use a vacation day for simply being at home, but strategically; it gives you the space to get back to normal with minimal pressure. The extra day can be used for catching up on laundry, meal planning for the week, and napping to get over the jet lag. None of it is glamorous, but taking care of those tasks can make your re-entry to work much smoother. Do an online supermarket shop and plan to get it dropped off when you arrive home. That way you can avoid that midnight jetlag-powered kitchen raid for chips and chocolate and skip the take out. Wait a few days, before you start your post vacay detox. With airplane travel, time zone changes, different foods, and different activity patterns, your body and mind are already going through significant stress. Don’t add to it with challenging exercise routines or dramatic diet changes. Even if you feel that you overindulged on vacation, resist the urge to sign up for a Crossfit boot camp right away. Ease your way back with a couple of yoga classes, a swim, or a light exercise routine. The secret to keeping your sanity upon returning from vacation is a combination of smart preparation and strategic triage. * The author is a Life & Business coach. Instagram handle: @miss_shefa, Website: missshefa.com
Located between the Old City and the remarkable waterfront Boulevard, Four Seasons Hotel Baku presents guests with a special offer to explore the city once again and discover new treasures with the help of the Hotel’s Concierge team. Book a room with Rediscover Baku offer and get the fourth night complimentary with every three consecutive paid nights. The heart of Azerbaijan, the city of Baku combines both traditions and modernity changing literally every second. Chef Concierge Vusal Isagov and his team are always staying on top of new entertainment places, architectural projects, green spaces and museums to fill every visit with memorable moments and life-long experiences. Family in Style On the first day of visiting the city the best is to wander around the streets and have some shopping time along with family members. The newly opened Daniz Mall is located within five minutes walk from the Hotel. The architecture of this stunning leisure and entertainment venue is a masterpiece of eight star-shaped wings inspired by Azerbaijan’s national emblem. For a more luxury shopping experience the Concierge team recommends Port Baku Mall, located within 10 minutes drive from the Hotel. Here guests can find most popular and coveted high end international brands as well as experience personalised shopping. Time Travel Located just few steps away from the Hotel, the Old City, Azerbaijan’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, is definitely one of those places one cannot get enough of. Explore the beautiful narrow alleys, museums, mosques, hamams, Shirvanshakh Palace and monuments including the Maiden Tower dating back to the 12th century. Right from the past it is highly recommended to travel to the future by visiting Heydar Aliyev’s Cultural Center designed by Zaha Hadid. The Center consists of a museum, library, conference centre and separate room for events, celebrations and concerts. Promenade Along the Caspian Sea Hit the open road and explore Baku cruising on a scooter by the beautiful promenade along the Caspian Sea. Whether a seasoned biker or a newbie, this experience makes the perfect getaway. Escape to the Opal-Blue Waters After a day of exploring the city centre, relax at one of the private beaches located just 30 minutes drive from the property. The Concierge team of Four Seasons Hotel Baku recommends a visit to the Sea Breeze Resort with its newly opened Rose Bar Baku, as well as the Amburan Beach Club, where one can have fun spending the entire day either by the beach or pool side, enjoying DJ performances with a dining experience at both clubs’ outlets. Jaleh SPA Later, after long walks in the city and hot day at the beach, the Hotel suggests guests unwind in its Jaleh SPA, based on the 9th floor and overlooking to the picturesque Caspian Sea. A range of beauty treatments is provided by professional well-trained therapists. Culinary Journey Zafferano Restaurant is available for all admirers of Italian cuisine, where they can treat themselves with traditional dishes of central Italy by the Hotel’s culinary craftsmen led by Executive Chef Talha Barkin. Piazza Lounge is designed to surprise and treat the sweet tooth with exceptional and unique desserts created by the Executive Pastry Chef Suraj Karmakar and his team. The evening promises to be very beautiful on the cosy Eyvan Terrace, which will surprise its guests with a rich selection of exclusive cocktails and gastronomic offers. To make a reservation, book online or call +994 124042424.
Well-known as an outstanding tourist destination, Kenya is a country of dynamic extremes and definitive contrasts, situated at the very heart of the Great Rift valley of East Africa. Many people have referred to Kenya as East Africa in microcosm, dominating the East African Economy. Kenya is famous for its great diversity both culturally and physically, making travellers to navigate long distances to have a taste of the beautiful coastline of the Indian Ocean, world-class wildlife viewing, classic game reserves mixed up with colourful tribal cultures, melting point of traditional cuisines among many more. Kenya’s classic savannah safaris have been considered as the top tourist attraction in East Africa for many years making Kenya among the most visited countries in Africa. Against that background, let us take you through a journey of the endless beautiful destinations to visit in Kenya. NATIONAL RESERVES AND GAME PARKS Kenya hosts a staggering diversity of national parks and game reserves across the country including the Maasai Mara National park, the Amboseli national park, the Lake Nakuru national park, the Mount Kenya national park among many more. The Maasai Mara National Park Located in a growing, vibrant and cosmopolitan town in South West Kenya known as Narok, Maasai Mara is the largest national game reserve in Kenya, reachable approximately by a half an hour by air transport or three hours by road transport from Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. The Maasai Mara national park obtained its name from the ancestral inhabitants of Narok, the Maasai, who are a Nilotic community that migrated into that region from the Nile basin. The Maasai Mara quite possibly the most famous and significant wildlife conservation area in Africa., incredibly famous for its outstanding populace of wild animals such as the lion, cheetah, the African bush elephant, leopards, zebras, hippos, wildebeests, gazelles, crocodiles among many more. The Maasai Mara national reserve is proximate to Tanzania’s Serengeti national park. The two parks are well known for their characteristic phenomenon known as the Great Migration. In the great migration, wildebeests migrate from the Maasai Mara national park into the Serengeti national park and back between the months of July and October annually. The great migration was selected as one among the seven national wonders of Africa and also one among the ten wonders of the word. The Maasai Mara is additionally known for its incredible predator sceneries because of its somewhat huge populace of lion, cheetah, crocodiles, particularly during the dry season between December and February. Best time to Visit: July to October Accommodation: There as a plenty of lodges and campsites both inside and outside Maasai Mara Amboseli National Park After the Maasai Mara national reserve, Amboseli national park is the second most famous national park in Kenya, located in South Eastern Kenya, 215km from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. The Amboseli national park obtained its name from a word in the Maa language of the Maasai people, which means salty and dusty place, a perfect description of the region’s arid conditions. The Amboseli national park is characterised by a fantastic array of large herd of elephants. Tourists get the opportunity to see free ranging elephants up close, making it to be famously known as the “The home of African elephants”. Moreover, the park offers opportunity to view other wild animals such as lions, cheetahs, blue wildebeests, buffalos, impala, hyenas. The park is also home to more than 600 species of birds Additionally, the Amboseli national park has views of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is the largest free standing mountain in Africa. The park also offers an opportunity for nature lovers to experience a contrast between the parched areas of the dry lake bed and the oasis of the swamps which includes a dried up Pleistocene lake and semi-arid vegetation. Best time to visit: June to October Accommodation: Campsites inside the park Directions: By road, a 4-hour drive from Kenya’s Capital City Nairobi or daily scheduled flight from Wilson airport The Tsavo national Park The Tsavo national park is Kenya’s biggest national park at approximately 13,000 square kilometres, covering four percent of the country. The park is divided into Tsavo East and Tsavo West sections. Together, these sections envelop river streams, cascades, savannah, an enormous rock level and a noteworthy variety of diverse wildlife including the famous big five, consisting of rhino, buffalo, lion, elephant and leopard. Additionally, Tsavo national park provides a home to diverse bird species such as the black kite, sacred ibis, crowed crane and love birds. Located 267km from Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, the Tsavo national park is well known for photographic sceneries of huge elephant groups rolling and bathing in red sand. Additionally, the Galana river passes through the park, providing contrast to the dominant arid weather conditions, which provides an amazing photo-worthy sightings for nature lovers. Other attractions of Tsavo national park include the Yatta plateau, the 290km length world’s longest lava flow from the Oldonyo Sabuk mountain. The park is also home to the Luggard falls which is a series of white water rapids on the Galana river. Additionally, the park also hosts the Mudanda rock which is a stratified rock that acts a water catchment that supplies water for a natural dam which provides a viewing point for wild animals as they come to drink water during the dry seasons of the year. The Tsavo west section of the park is generally wetter and geologically diverse. This section contains the loveliest section of the northern part of the park. Attractions in Tsavo west national park include the Mzima springs, series of natural springs with huge populaces of hippos and crocodiles., the Chaimu crater, an incredible scenery of bird predators. Best time to visit: May to October Accommodation: Voi Wildlife lodges, Internal park campsites Mount Kenya National Park Located 138 kilometres from Nairobi, Mt. Kenya national park is UNESCO’s biosphere reserve that gives an uncommon display of tropical snow. One of the key attractions is the national park is the country’s highest peak at 5199 metres. The mountain consists of three glacier cloaked peaks that were formed after a series of volcanic eruptions namely Batian, Nelion and Lenana. Although Batian is the highest peak, Nelion is considered as a tougher and a more complex peak to climb due to difficult mist and ice conditions and also length of the route. Lenana is the lowest peak and considered by most travellers the easiest climb. Mt. Kenya national park also incorporates a great scenic beauty of flora and fauna including dense alpine forests, bamboo pockets, cape bufallos, elephants, and black and white colobus monkeys. Best time to Visit: January to February and July to October Accommodation: Mountain huts, lodges and private campsites Directions: 3-4hr drive from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi Lake Nakuru National Park Lake Nakuru national park is situated in Central Kenya, well known for its colossal herds of pink flamingos nesting along the shores of lake Nakuru. Due to the continually shifting pink mass, the surface of lake Nakuru is hardly visible. The thousands of flamingos thronging the shores of lake Nakuru provide beautiful photographic sightings through the baboon cliff vantage point. Created in the year 1961, lake Nakuru national park has been home to more than 400 types of bird species which have always been a major tourist attraction. Additionally, other attractions at the park include wild animals such as black rhinos, giraffes, pythons, cheetahs, leopards and a Kenyan subspecies known as waterbucks. Other than flamingos, lake Nakuru national park hosts a myriad of bird species such as African fish eagle, Hemrkop, Pied king fisher among other birds of different kind. Best time to visit: Throughout the year Accommodation: Two main lodges inside the park and private campsites COASTLINE OF THE INDIAN OCEAN The diversity of Kenya’s national sceneries dazzles all those who visit the country. Apart from the opportunity to view wildlife through the thrilling safari experience, Kenya hosts a stunning coastline with the best beaches in the world with so much to offer including water sports, high adrenaline activities, beautiful coastlines with white sandy beaches, colourful coral reefs, and simple breeze providing a serene haven to relax and enjoy as you watch the sunset. Here are some of the attractive coastal tourist destination in Kenya: Diani Beach Located approximately 500km from Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, Diani is one of the most famous beaches in Africa. The world travel awards voted Diani as Africa’s number one beach destination for the fifth year running since the year 2015 for its pearl white sand, crystal clear waters of the Indian ocean and doted palm trees which create a haven of tranquillity that defines paradise. Apart from the scenic beauty, other attractions in Diani include availability of a myriad of fish species such as the whale shark, dolphin, octopus, blue marlin, sailfish, barracuda, gilt heads among many more, whereby visitors get an opportunity to dive into the Indian ocean to swim with these magnificent yet amiable creatures. The Diani beach is also well known for its coral reefs, widespread vegetation and underwater sand bars. Other tourist’s attractions in Diani include skydiving that gives visitors an opportunity to experience the thrill of free fall and magnificent canopy of the verdant vegetation, the coastline and the surrounding area. Additionally, the crystal clear, beautifully deep blue waters of the Indian ocean provide a beautiful spot for swimming for tourists. Best time to Visit: January to March, October to December Accommodation: Luxurious Diani hotels, lodges and camping sites Wasini Island The Wasini island is characterized by a sense of uniqueness as it has no vehicles, carts or bicycles. The small coastal town that is situated 75km off the coastal city of Mombasa is additionally home to humpback whales and dolphins. The sea in Wasini island is crystal clear with high water visibility which enables visitors to view sea creatures while snorkelling alongside a variety of sea dwelling creatures. Additionally, the clear ocean waters of the Indian ocean provide an opportunity for swimming and deep diving to visitors. Best time to visit: January to March, October to December Accommodation: Nearby beach hotels Watamu Beaches A small town located approximately 100km north of the coastal city of Mombasa hosting some of the best beaches in Kenya. Watamu beaches consists of three bays which include the blue bay, the Watamu bay and the turtle bay. The Watamu beaches are made so alluring by the shinning white sand and the crystal clear ocean waters that stay clear through the year. Watamu beaches are also characterized with coral reefs that provide an ideal opportunity for snorkelling. The gentle breezes experienced at the Watamu beaches provide a good spot for kite surfers as well. Wasini town also hosts a kite surfing school right on the beach for novices who would wish to get trained. Additionally, Watamu offers extra tourist attractions such as the Arabuko Sokoke woodland which is hosts wild animals such as elephants, monkeys and a rare kind of bird species such as Mida creek, Golden oriole, Black Cucco shrike, and the African pygmy kingfisher. Best time to visit: January to March, October to December Accommodation: Nearby beach hotels HISTORICAL DESTINATIONS Kenya hosts tourist destinations whereby visitors can get a more educational emersion into Kenya’s rich history and culture. Ranging from ancient forts to mysterious caves to historical town centres, these historical destinations provide visitors an opportunity to appreciate Kenya’s historical background. The National Nairobi Museum Set up in the 1920’s the Nairobi national museum is ostensibly the most suitable spot to obtain information about the history, culture and contemporary art of the country. This destination also provides information about the country’s unique flora and fauna. Additionally, the Nairobi national museum displays artefacts and a myriad of artistic works from Kenya’s different cultural groups. Moreover, tourists visit the museum to see the display of historical works of the famous Leakey family who studied the evolution of man. Visitors also get to see countless art pieces, and information regarding Kenya’s wildlife dating back to the colonial period. Best time to visit: Throughout the year Accommodation: Nearby hotels in Nairobi Mombasa Old Town The old town of Mombasa is an area of approximately 72,000 square metres whereby most of the heritage of Kenya’s second largest city are confined in. The Mombasa Old town was originally inhabited by richly diverse ancient communities such as the Asians, Arabs, Portuguese, and the British who have co-habited the area from the precolonial period to date. The dynamic socio-economic activities of these communities have created a unique culture that the Mombasa old town is known about. The Mombasa old town has attracted thousands of tourists from all over the world to see the collection of historical buildings that were constructed in the precolonial period and exist until today. These buildings contain beautifully curved doors as well as elegantly styled balconies attached to their historical cultures of the original inhabitants of the area. Best time to visit: Throughout the year Accommodation: Nearby hotels in Mombasa. Fort Jesus, Mombasa Constructed in 1593 by King Phillipn1 of Portugal, Fort Jesus is one of the essential tourist attractions in the coastal city of Mombasa. It is one of the best preserved military architecture from Portugal that was constructed to guard the Mombasa Port from Arabic invaders. Over the years, Fort Jesus has been well kept for tourists to have a memorable tour of the historical facility including checking out the torture chambers where slaves were locked up in captivity before they were traded. A defining characteristic feature of Fort Jesus is the giant canon guns pointing towards the Indian Ocean which were used by the Portuguese inhabitants to defend the island from Arabic invaders. Best time to visit: Throughout the year Accommodation: Nearby hotels in Mombasa
* Eid al-Adha staycation package will make it a 'holiday to remember' from July 20 to 25 The St Regis Doha has announced a series of specials on a myriad of its facilities in line with the upcoming Eid al-Adha and summer celebrations. "For this season, guests will be delighted with exceptional recreational activities through the S. Regis brand's famous ritual, the Family Traditions programme," The St Regis Doha said in a press statement. Wissam Suleiman, Multi-Property general manager of The St Regis Doha and The St Regis Residence Doha, said: “We have always emphasised the importance of family, and the signature 'Family Traditions' programme is the perfect chance to capture the essence and meaning of family during the Eid al-Adha holiday. Our newly-launched programme is targeted to creating extraordinary magic for the little guests and their parents, and involves a series of fun activities and thoughtful experiences. "It is important to point out that kids' activities will be held in compliance with Covid-19 health and safety rules and regulations, especially those related to social distancing and venue capacities. In this atmosphere of wonder and unique charms, children can thrive and create lifelong memories." The Eid al-Adha staycation package "reflects once again the commitment of The St Regis Doha to cherished rituals even in the opulent turndown service", the statement notes. The package includes daily breakfast for two adults and two children under five years old, complimentary treats upon check-in, personalised message, delicate treats, child-sized robe, slippers and kids’ activities such as dancing, a sand castle building competition on The St Regis Doha private beach, magic show, water games hand crafts and more. "The St Regis Doha is all about luxury and excellence, offering an extensive range of leisure facilities as well as 4,000sqm of meeting and conference space, making it the preferred destination for both leisure and business travellers. The magnificent ballroom, the largest with natural light, is a popular choice for prestigious weddings across the region," the statement added. For more information about the Family Traditions programme or to make a reservation, one can call 44460000, email to [email protected] or visit https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dohxr-the-st-regis-doha/
Eid al-Adha staycations are "more temping" in Qatar with Hilton The Pearl Hotel & Residences offering a "great deal that lets guests stay longer for less". Guests booking three nights or more at the contemporary Hilton The Pearl, from where they can explore the delights of The Pearl-Qatar on foot, get 20% off on normal room rates, making it a "great option for family staycations", according to a press statement. Eid staycation guests can opt for the property’s spacious one- or two-bedroom suites or connecting family suites, which have their own kitchens and balconies offering "fabulous views" of Lusail, Porto Arabia or the Venice-inspired Qanat Quartier canals and sunset vistas. “In addition, we have gone out of our way to ensure there are a host of entertainment, dining and leisure offers for adults and kids alike to ensure all can really relax after the challenging year we have all had,” said Hassan El Wahidi, the hotel’s general manager. Guests can start the day with "rich breakfast options served up at the chic and cozy" The Kitchen restaurant, renowned for the use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients, or a range of in-room choices from the extensive room service menu before heading out to enjoy the temperature-controlled outdoor pool. Young guests will love the Hilton The Pearl's Kids' Club where a skilled supervisory team serves up a whole bunch of surprise activities for little ones making Eid al-Adha a holiday for the entire family. And while the little ones are in the safe care of the Kids’ Club team, the adults can luxuriate and refresh with a range of special offers at the hotel’s eforea Spa & Health Club. Guests booking three treatments qualify for a fourth free of charge while those booking a 60-minute spa treatment also qualify for a free treatment. Special for Eid al-Adha is a 60-minute Sothys customised relaxing massage, followed by a 30-minute scrub at QR599 and the ‘Summer Quick Fix', which lets guests relax while lounging around the pool with a 15-minute head and shoulders or foot massage at QR100. Throughout their stay, guests can also take advantage of happy hour room service prices from 12noon to 6pm or savour Hilton The Pearl’s food and beverage line-up, which includes The Kitchen restaurant, the Lobby Café and its special afternoon tea, and the recently opened Levantine, which is Qatar’s contemporary home of soulful Lebanese cuisine where menu dishes are created with the flair of celebrity chef Joe Barza. Levantine will be serving up a special Eid al-Adha set dinner menu rich in Middle Eastern fare starting with traditional Moroccan Harira Soup, followed by regional favourite salads and dips of Fattoush, tabbouleh, hummus bi tahine, mouhamarit batenjen (V/N/G), labneh Beyrouthi and mutabal batenjen served alongside choices of Kibbeh Basil, traditional oriental lamb, and cheese pies and the spicy Batata Harra roasted potato. Mains of roast leg of lamb marinated with Arabic spices and rice and boneless chicken leg are served with lemon, zaatar, flamed eggplant, tahini, labneh, pomegranate and Burghul Bidfeen – a mix of chickpeas, meat, and pine nuts. Rounding off this Middle Eastern feast are a satisfying choice of rice pudding, the perennial regional favourite Umm Ali or fruit salad.
Marriott Executive Apartments, part of Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio of 30 leading brands, has announced its debut in Qatar with the opening of Marriott Executive Apartments City Center Doha. Owned by Al Rayyan Tourism Investment Company (ARTIC), the leading Qatar and international hotel investment company, the elevated serviced apartments answer to the rapidly growing demand for longer stay accommodations which offer a sophisticated experience with amenities and services that mirror the comforts of home. “We are pleased to build on our fantastic relationship with ARTIC and open the first Marriott Executive Apartments in Qatar. With the current trend for ‘bleisure’ travel, we believe this opening will cater for guests looking to mix business and leisure travel by creating a ‘home from home’ feeling for their longer stay,” said Safak Guvenc, Area Vice President, Gulf, Levant and Turkey, Marriott International. “This opening reflects ARTIC’s investment strategy focused on high quality hospitality assets in premium destinations that enable us to create significant additional value through redevelopment, rebranding or reformatting in partnership with leading global operators like Marriott International. Marriott Executive Apartments City Center Doha enhances our extended stay and serviced apartment offering and underlines our commitment to providing a full range of accommodation at the highest quality and standards of service. This is one of six properties in Qatar that we plan to launch with Marriott International this year, as we continue to balance our growing portfolio of operating assets with a healthy future project pipeline and contribute to the continuing expansion and range of Qatar’s hospitality sector in the process,” said Tarek El Sayed, CEO and Managing Director, ARTIC. Marriott Executive Apartments City Center Doha features 254 modern residential apartments. The spacious studio, one, two and three-bedroom apartments offer separate living, sleeping and working areas so guests can live comfortably and thrive during their stay. At Marriott Executive Apartments City Center Doha guests can dine at Campagnia Caffé, a bright, vibrant space where guests can relax, socialise or work while enjoying freshly baked pastries, healthy salads and wraps. Each apartment offers cooking facilities, allowing guests to dine as if at home. During their stay guests will enjoy free Wi-Fi, a rooftop pool with expansive views of Doha’s skyline, an indoor pool with a jacuzzi, and a 24-hour well equipped fitness centre. Centrally located in West Bay, Doha’s thriving business and diplomatic district, the hotel is in close proximity to Doha Exhibition & Convention Center and City Center Mall, and is near to some of the city’s most famous sites including the Qatar National Museum, Museum of Islamic Art, Doha Corniche, Souq Waqif and Katara Cultural Village. West Bay metro station is a short 5-minute walk from the hotel, while Hamad International Airport is a 21-kilometre drive. “We are excited to welcome guests to enjoy a premium and trusted home-away-from-home experience at Marriott Executive Apartments in Doha. Our team are ambassadors of the guest journey and will provide tailored services so guests can connect, accomplish and explore during their stay,” said Rick Enders, Multi-Property General Manager, Marriott International, Qatar. To mark the opening of Marriott Executive Apartments City Center Doha guests staying between 1st April – 31st August 2021 can earn 1,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night, in addition to a QAR 75 voucher to avail at Campagnia Caffé. For more information, please visit www.marriottexecutiveapartmentsdoha.com
A quick weekend getaway at one of the pristine beaches or a walk through heritage sites is always an option for Qatar residents to help themselves relax and unwind. Most residents opt for a drive out of the city to explore outer Doha. This, they do with family or friends and in a group of like-minded people. Sanchari Qatar is one such group of travel enthusiasts. However, what makes this group special is a host of factors. They promote traveling while focusing on preserving nature and helping underprivileged people travel and explore by organising affordable trips. “Our motto is Travel with Nature and we do justice to this by exploring while ensuring our activities cause no any harm to the nature,"says Hafeezullah K V, one of the key functionaries of Sanchari Qatar. The group was formed by expatriates as a chapter of Kerala-based Sanchari group that has more than 60,000 members across the world. Formed in 2015, Sanchari has so far organised 18 trips attended by families as well as bachelors. Initially, the functions started with morning walks that later grew to include trips. A core team identifies a place and ensures it has optimum facilities by holding a field visit ahead of the trip. A date is announced and the message is disseminated through the group's social media platform. “We try to make our trips affordable and cost effective by planning properly and taking expert advice. The duties are decided among the members and vehicles are arranged. Group members help each other meet transportation requirements," Hafeezullah disclosed. The group ensures no waste is littered at the sites visited and holds a cleanliness drive in order to stress the message of environmental protection. During some trips, experts are invited to hold talks on the preserving nature. In a bid to encourage enthusiasts, the group holds travelogue writing contests in which the best writers are given prizes. Sanchari has a passion for exploring new and less frequented places. “We explored the Azerbaijani beach at Al Shamal before it became a favourite spot for weekend tourism," he said. Tips are shared on social media platforms after every trip is held in order to help tourists select destinations and reach them easily. Sanchari is planning a slew of programmes to promote travelling while helping underprivileged expats explore Qatar. “There are people who never go for a drive in Qatar. Some are least aware and interested while others are unable to afford trips. We are looking to help such residents while organising exclusive trips for them," he said. The plan is to select such residents,arrange transportation and take them to tourist destinations within and outside of Doha. The plan includes introducing them to facilities like Doha Metro. “The plan had been in the making and steps had been completed but it was put on hold after Covid-19 pandemic," Hafeezullah said expressing confidence of implementing the plan soon.
Surprised faces on jet skis, dhows and yachts near Al-Safliya Island watched as three long-distance swimmers, three supporting kayaks and one stand-up paddler reached the shore of the island. Carly-Jane Figgis, Bruno Gilbert and Jeroen Brons, keen competitive members of Angry Dragons Qatar, a dragon boat club in Doha, had put themselves to sea for 90 minutes from Viva Bahriya beach and swam no less than 3.2kms. They concluded a journey that started in January when the swimmers set themselves for the ‘Al-Safliya Swim Challenge’ as part of their pledge for Qatar Green Building Council’s ‘Sustainability Week’ starting from tomorrow. Carly-Jane, the only female swimmer said: “We were supposed to do a long swim only as a preparation for our crossing to the island this weekend to coincide with the start of the Sustainability Week but we were so close that we decided to push it all the way across the channel.” Initially a 600m swim to the bay barrier and back was like reaching the end of the world and would be celebrated with glee, but rapidly the regular distances increased to 2km and up, once to 5km. Neither choppy water, high water temperatures nor an occasional jellyfish would shrink the training spirit of the swimmers, who see long distance open water swimming as a way to exercise in nature, in a rhythmic cadence of a wide variety of muscles. On the day itself, Giselle Reis, Ewa Merchel, Abhi Mukherji and Kasia Muniak, dragon boaters themselves, supported with kayaks and one SUP, for safety, carrying water and moral support. With the three swimmers they formed a diverse group of six nationalities, a beautiful cultural diversity so typical in Qatar. The diversity of life was also visible in the salty water, as they encountered little crabs on the shoreline, tropical fishes of various sizes near the rocks and a sea turtle. A short break on the island enabled them to enjoy amazing views of the Doha skyline, before returning to the mainland, completing 6.4km in three hours of swimming and having burnt over 2,000 calories.
When one sees the map of the world, Qatar may seem geographically smaller but it is second to none when it comes to major international achievements and visionary steps. One More Orbit is the accomplishment that to a great extent owns its success to the visionary mindset that has already been driving Qatar to international repute and glory. The identically named documentary and the flight it recorded circumnavigating the Earth in record speed might not have been possible if Qatar Executive had not courageously offered one of its premier jets for the journey. Marking the 50th anniversary of man’s landing on moon, the One More Orbit mission team and Qatar Executive joined hands last year for the world circumnavigation speed record using the Gulfstream G650ER plane. The documentary that was recently screened for a select gathering at Novo Cinema in Souq Waqif offers real time excitement and the challenges that both the flight and the film crew faced during the world record flight. The QE Gulfstream G650ER departed Cape Canaveral on July 9, 2019 at 9:32am to begin its pole-to-pole mission. The onboard One More Orbit team comprised Terry Virts, Nasa astronaut; Hamish Harding, Action Aviation chairman; Jacob Obe Bech, Jeremy Ascough and Yevgen Vasylenko, Qatar Executive pilots; Benjamin Reuger, Qatar Executive engineer; Magdalena Starowicz, flight attendant; Jannicke Mikkelsen, live streaming cinematographer, with friends and families of the crew completed the team. The mission was split into four sectors. The first leg was from Nasa Shuttle landing facility in Florida in US to Astana in Kazakhstan. The second flight was from Astana to Mauritius. The third leg was from Mauritius to Chile, considered the most dangerous. The final flight was from Chile to back to Nasa, Florida, with refuelling pit stops at each location. The aircraft landed at Kennedy Space Centre on July 11, successfully setting the new world record of flying pole to pole in 46 hours, 39 minutes and 38 seconds, breaking the previous record time of 52 hours and 32 minutes. Qatar Executive and the One More Orbit team also broke 11 other records during the mission. These records include: North Pole to South Pole in 22 hours, 7 minutes; Cape Canaveral to North Pole in 7 hours, 34 minutes; Cape Canaveral to Astana in 12 hours, 16 minutes; North Pole to Astana in 4 hours, 42 minutes; North Pole to Mauritius in 13 hours, 24 minutes; Astana to South Pole in 17 hours, 25 minutes; Mauritius to South Pole in 8 hours, 43 minutes; Mauritius to Punta Arenas, Chile in 12 hours, 28 minutes; South Pole to Punta Arenas in 3 hours, 45 minutes; South Pole to Cape Canaveral in 14 hours, 45 minutes; and Punta Arenas to Cape Canaveral in 11 hours. In addition to setting the new pole-to-pole world speed record, Magdalena Starowicz, Qatar Executive’s flight attendant during the mission, became the first woman in history to complete the polar circumnavigation of the earth. The mission was not easy as the crew had to maintain the weight in the flight, its temperature, and speed keeping in mind the weather conditions, the refuelling landing, the on flight schedule, the varying temperatures in both the poles etc. The One More Orbit team shot the documentary capturing all the drama, excitement and challenges of the entire mission, from planning through to execution and finally, the successful touchdown at Cape Canaveral, the home of Nasa. The documentary was produced by Untitled and directed by Nasa astronaut Terry Virts, one of the team members on board the Gulfstream G650ER during the mission. Talking to Community on the eve of the special screening of the documentary One More Orbit in Doha, Jim Evans, executive producer of Untitled Inc., a Los Angeles-based production house, said: “Many people said that One More Orbit was not possible. Within five weeks, we assembled a multicultural film crew from dozens of countries around the world and live streamed the entire event, working with Inmarsat [a British satellite telecommunications company] and SD Com [a PR and press agency, specialised in in transport and logistics] to reposition satellites specifically for the mission. “We faced real problem in coping with the ideal weight that we could carry during the flight to keep it lighter — to be faster. We also worked with Nasa and had to move the satellites ensuring the live streaming and determining the location of the flight. We wanted to have some big acting names but again it would overload the jet. Multi-talented astronaut Terry Virts, a former commander of the International Space Station, excelled himself directing the documentary, while simultaneously participating in the record.” Terry said: “One More Orbit mission is so much more than just a world record. It is an adventure unlike any other. Celebrating Apollo’s 50th and Magellan’s [Ferdinand Magellan, organiser of the first circumnavigation of the Earth in 1519] 500th anniversaries, we did something that had never been done before, with an amazing international crew. There has also never been a documentary made like this done before and we hope the viewers will laugh, feel the tension of crossing the South Pole in the Antarctic winter and be inspired.” Ettore Rodaro, executive vice-president, Qatar Executive, said: “The successful accomplishment of this mission has been possible thanks to meticulous preparation on all levels, throughout all departments of Qatar Executive. Thanks to the Qatar Airways network around the globe, we were able to prepare every fuel stop efficiently and swiftly, a major component in breaking the world speed records. We wrote history during that mission, something that will remain in the books for a long time. It is an exciting feeling to have mastered the challenge through excellent teamwork and using first-class equipment. “I have nothing to do with the film business; I am really excited to see the documentary. It has been pretty amazing. The project also shows how amazing Qatar as a country is providing us with such an opportunity. We actually transported our brand all over the world. “Qatar Executive is the launch customer for Gulfstream’s recently introduced flagship jet, the Gulfstream G700TM. The new aircraft brings an unprecedented combination of performance, technology and cabin size to Qatar Executive’s fleet.”
Thailand — that Land of Smiles — is amongst a handful of countries that probably can afford to do even without any roadshow to promote its touristy avatar. Why, it already counts as one of the world’s premier destinations. But, of course that has never stopped it from always looking out to improve and make the tourist at home with all the wonders of vacation. There is however, so much more to the country than just those exotic resorts and azure waters that take your breath away — some distance removed from the urban heat. My latest visit came as part of a media tour recently, where we travelled northwards after the familiar Bangkok round. A round-up of what was in store is in order. Space constraints mean this piece, for all its pull, may still be restrictive in some ways. But you get the drift. Should be enough to push you to explore in ways similar or better! The Grand Palace No visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to The Grand Palace. In fact, be prepared to be intimidated! There’s a rich vein of history at every turn and with grandeur to boot. Stunning structures of great artistry will simply blow you away. It’s all so well preserved that it’s hard to fathom that the complex was established way back in 1782 — made up of royal and throne halls, government offices and the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It covers an area of 218,000 square metres and is surrounded by four walls, totaling 1,900 metres in length. The palace was built after the accession of King Rama I. Prior to this, the royal palace and centre of administration had been located in Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The new monarch decided to establish a new capital on the opposite side of the river. By his royal command, a palace was built to serve not only as his residence but also as the site of administrative offices. The royal compound has been known since then as The Grand Palace. The robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by the king — an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar. Thai kings stopped living in the palace around the turn of the 20th century, but the palace complex is still used to mark all kinds of other ceremonial and auspicious events. Chakrapong Mosque Chakrapong Mosque is a historic mosque located in Bang Lamphu, Phra Nakhon district of Bangkok. It was built by locals who migrated from the southern province of Pattani due to the war in the reign of King Rama I in the Rattanakosin period. Originally, the mosque had a one-storey wooden house used for religious teaching and ceremony, and a minaret used for calling prayers. After renovation, the mosque became a two-storey concrete building with mixed Arabic and Persian décor, which is simple but was renamed to coincide with the Chakrabongse road, where it was located. The building’s components such as the stencil of wooden windows and the minbar (place where the imam sits) — are made of teak and assembled together without nails, showing the craftsmanship and expertise of the old generations. There are two large clocks that have been installed since the first year that these were introduced into Thailand. The mosque also houses a Thai translation of the Quran initiated by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great. Metro Forest A man-made forest in eastern Bangkok, The Metro-Forest — or simply ‘A Forest in the City’, it is a relatively new eco-tourism spot which inspires you to new heights. The project aims to help visitors of all ages recognise the importance of urban forests and motivate them to plant trees in their homes. One of the most impressive features is the skywalk and the 23-metre high observation tower. The tower not only offers a unique vantage point to admire all the green space, but also protects the 279 native plant species in the forest below. The site constitutes 75% natural forests, 10% water resources and the rest houses a multipurpose area and exhibition venue. The buildings here are designed to be in line with ecology, enriching the area and connecting humanity with nature. A true inspiration to the inner green activist in you, be sure to see the natural forest, rammed earth wall, seed wall, exhibition room, mini theatre that even opens into the green expanse after you’ve watched a helpful documentary, roof garden, sky walk, observation tower and a PV cell. Phyathai 2 Hospital Thailand is a choice destination for medical tourism. There are a number of medical facilities offering specialised treatment, relaxed stay and post-op procedures — all at an affordable cost. One such facility is the Phyathai 2 Hospital in Bangkok. For more than three decades, it has been a leading source of satisfactory services with its state-of-the-art technology coupled with the signature Thai hospitality. Consisting of two buildings joined by a walkway, the hospital provides healthcare under the avowed mission to deliver the best possible care. Our team was able to visit a wide spectrum of these facilities with a detailed presentation given by its management and panel of expert doctors and surgeons. While the exceptional level of service was evident, what stands out is its excellent green credentials. Each year, thousands of patients from all over the world come to 550-bed Phyathai 2 Hospital, seeking consultation, a second opinion and medical treatment in a world class environment — right from the provision of convenient communication channels in their language of choice to the end of last treatment. The average number of outpatients is 50,000 per month and in-patients 1,600 per month. It was the first hospital to receive accreditation for high-quality assurance and customer satisfaction and a plethora of awards such as the most trusted hospital in Thailand in 2007, Thailand Energy Award 2010, ASEAN Energy Award 2011, ISO 14001(Environmental Management), ISO 50001(Energy Management), etc. Mae Fah Luang Foundation under Royal Patronage The not-for-profit organisation was inspired by Princess Srinagarindra — also known as the Princess Mother with happiness, sustainability and stability at its core. The foundation fosters stainable development — economically, socially, culturally and environmentally by implementing development projects; integrating and collaborating with strategic partners; providing consultation and imparting training. The foundation has a 3S Model development framework divided into three phases: survival, sufficiency and sustainability to ‘help the people help themselves. In 1988, the foundation undertook the Doi Tung Development Project, which has become the recognised sustainable development model in Thailand and the world. Doi Tung Development Project It’s hard not to be impressed by the dedication and commitment of the Thai Royal Family and the unreserved love of their people, especially those at the bottom rung of the ladder. One towering figure was Princess Srinagarindra, the Princess Mother of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, who established the Doi Tung Development Project, one of the flagship projects of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, in 1988 on Doi Tung, a high mountain in the northernmost province of Chiang Rai. The project area covers approximately 15,000 hectares, benefiting approximately 11,000 people from 29 villages. Doi Tung was once a secluded area in the heart of the Golden Triangle — a hub of illicit opium production. The problems of Doi Tung were complex. The watershed area was denuded by slash and burn cultivation, and further accelerated by opium growing. The residents were of six ethnic groups without Thai citizenship. They struggled to survive without infrastructure or government support. Armed groups occupied parts of the area, which made it even more difficult for government officials to provide any assistance to the local residents. The Princess Mother decided to improve the conditions of Doi Tung, socially, economically, and environmentally, commitment by building her home in Doi Tung, giving hope to the ethnic minorities and providing opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Her vision was to allow people and nature to coexist in harmony, by aligning the people’s interests with the preservation of the natural environment and providing opportunities for all, regardless of race or religion. The Hall of Inspiration This is a stunning mixed-media exhibition that compiles the history of the Mahidol royal family, the parenting principles of the Princess Mother, who raised two sons and a daughter to be loved by the people — owed no doubt to a phenomenal 4,000 plus royally initiated projects of King Rama IX — the last monarch. The exhibition is a worthy tribute to those services. The Colours of Doi Tung Festival If natural colours were to decide the outlook of a tourist country, you could look no further than perhaps, the Mae Fah Luang Garden, resplendent as it is with a sea of colourful flowers, plants and trees. But like elsewhere, natural beauty is not the only thing that catches your eye. Also competing for your attention are sideway stalls selling food of the indigenous variety — including seeds — and ethnic wear stalls with plenty of cultural vistas all around. We were lucky in that we stepped into the last two days of a two-month long annual Family-Friendly Festival! The Hall of Opium How many countries can boast of success as sweeping as Thailand in eliminating the menace of drug trade that made the Golden Triangle — a border area surrounding the country and neighbouring Laos and Myanmar — quite the global hub of poppy fields, drug smugglers and opium warlords throughout the Sixties to the early Nineties? The Princess Mother also expressed her desire to educate people on the background of opium, and the Hall of Opium was created as a result. The Hall of Opium is one impressive entity and it beggars belief not to bet on coming out a changed person: the sheer scale of history, genesis of the trade and more significantly, the pitfalls of indulgence with more relatable figures of modern history affected by it leave you plenty of room for reflection. While intended for people of all ages and all nationalities, the target audience of the Hall of Opium is teens and young adults, the most susceptible to the lure of illegal drugs, to show them how opium addiction became a world-wide problem, and how drug abuse affects individuals, their families, neighbourhoods, and even country. Covering an area of 5,600 square meters, the exhibition in the Hall of Opium is the result of almost a decade of research. Here visitors learn about the 5,000-year history of opium: how it was a drug to treat illnesses, how its use spread throughout the world, how imperialist expansion used opium in the economic colonisation and control of China, and how it eventually came to dominate the Golden Triangle as well as other parts of the world such as Afghanistan. Visitors also learn about current issues of addiction and illegal drugs, efforts to control drugs, and the impacts of drug abuse and addiction. Prince Chakrabandh Pensiri Center This was easily one of the highlights of the trip. The plantation had a picturesque setting — long rows of green plantation contrasting the blue yonder. The staff duly explained the key project that aims to improve and develop plant varieties and produce high quality seed that can resist diseases and pests. The centre sprang from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s decision to designate the Chaipattana Foundation in commemoration of the 100th birthday anniversary of His Highness Prince Chakrabandh Pensiri, who was an extinguished scholar. The plant varieties are adequately developed and selected so they can generate fine quality of produce for local households. Apart from serving as a centre for plant development, it offers visitors a place to relax and enjoy the majestic scenery. Rows and rows of fresh organic fruits and vegetables are enough to tempt the inner foodie in you. Just as well that we had a taste of Nature’s gifts at the nearby Jun Ka Pak restaurant serving Thai and fusion cuisine. Chiang Rai Night Bazaar The experience was like a calling to live in the spirit of the moment. For some time, we almost forgot it was a bazaar with plenty to enthuse the average Joe: from the sheer variety of street food to made-to-order souvenirs to regular wear. A large assembly of people — of all ages, some past their primes — were dancing and singing to the beat of a group belting out numbers onstage not far from the stalls. It was the perfect setting past the sunset after a busy day. For the discerning traveler, there’s a range of hill-tribe craft such as knitted scarves, embroidered bags, silver jewellery, bed spreads, wallets and fashion accessories along with tees, sneakers as well as sculptural art and handicraft. Karen Long Neck Village There are various village locations between Chiang Mai and the Golden Triangle, and our group was able to visit one on the last day of the visit where the famous hill tribespeople were busy selling wide-ranging ethnic articles. The outstanding feature, which they are known for, of course, are the brass rings that girls and women wear. At first look, you might wonder how this can at all be conceived as an idea of beauty — long necks — let alone worn for an entire life, but there it is. They seemed at peace with it, even female children. The idea is to start before puberty so that the body gets used to it. My takeaway from the Long Neck Karen Village? Hard working people, in the throes of life’s struggles like elsewhere, but doing so with a smile. When I slipped into a de rigueur impulse to seek a discount for a souvenir, the seller politely declined, then argued that she had spent hours making it. It felt good to honour the labour of love.
By Kamran Rehmat There are multiple engaging areas and aspects to a familiarisation trip such as one to Thailand, but each time you realise one is not enough. ‘The Land of Smiles’ — as it is popularly known — immediately strikes you as (why it is) one of the world’s premier tourist destinations even if you have not been here before. But if you have, chances are you just take it for granted. Because somehow they have managed to whittle it down to a simple enough equation: smile = happy tourist. The figures speak for themselves: 2020 marks the 60th anniversary of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways International — the pillars of Thai tourism. Today, the kingdom enjoys 40 million arrivals and 3 trillion bhats in income according to Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire, Thailand’s second longest serving travel trade journalist, and author of The Greatest Story in Global Tourism History. That being said, just pigeonholing it in one (admittedly, massive) area would be a tad one-dimensional — even unfair — given how rich the tapestry is. But let’s start with the smiles anyway. In moments of solitude, one has often wondered how Thais manage to keep that emoticon-like spread regardless of how tough life is — and it always is, in some part of this cinder of a planet! The standard outsider explanation, of course, redounds to “laughing all the way to the bank”. But that, in my considered opinion, is a rather lazy inference with a pronounced business rider. It does not take into account what lies beneath that effusive smile. Could this simply be a natural byproduct of religion, culture, values? I had this engaging casual conversation with a senior Thai official, who, agreed with me on those derivatives as well as the calm and serenity one had experienced in another predominantly Buddhist nation — Sri Lanka — as an expat resident. But he told me how it was also viewed as a “weakness” by a few, who deduced that the Thais were “too soft” — as a people and country. At the end of this conversation, one just opined how the world would be a much better place if there were similarly other “soft” nations. Consider. Thailand is now exporting ‘Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP)’ in a conscientious endeavour to help other nations achieve sustainable development goals! At a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press briefing in Bangkok, its finer details were shared with our media group from the Middle East. In fact, Saowalak Pornwilassiri, of the Department of South Asia, African and Middle East Affairs, disclosed that Thai diplomatic missions abroad had a new mandate vis-à-vis SEP. Fresh from leading the Asean with panache as its chair last year, Thailand is swearing by the uncanny scruples of taking every willing partner along on a journey for collective rewards. When this scribe asked about the ‘novelty factor’ in passing the ingredients of success to other nations with the possibility that they may go on to rise as similar powers or even better, she reasoned that ultimately, it benefited humanity and that was the only motivating goal for Bangkok in proactively helping other capitals. If nothing else, it surely is a recipe for winning friends and perhaps influencing people (Dale Carnegie, anyone?) swiftly! Natapanu Nopakun, Deputy Director General, Department of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the tour was part of a studied endeavour to familiarise media professionals with the diversity of Thailand. In this regard, he highlighted the economic vistas and tourism (including medical tourism, which also makes the country a choice destination), but with a greater emphasis on ‘sustainable development’, which he drove home was entirely homegrown in Thailand’s case. It was a recurring theme throughout the tour and Assistant Professor Dr Molraudee Saratun of the Sustainable Development and Sufficiency Economy, Studies Center, National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), painstakingly explained the philosophy that has enabled Thailand to become the success story it is today and how it was trying to fashion the same elsewhere with a profound commitment. In a frank exchange where a figure of $63 billion turnover was trotted out for the last year, Nopakun said that while tourism had been pivotal in making Thailand a hub, the country believed in — and practised — responsibility to ecology. “We believe in maintaining a fine balance; we offer value for money, but money on its own is not our goal. (Hence) our tourism is not only for the rich indulging in luxury, but it caters to all tiers where the prime goal is to maintain environment-friendly tourism. We don’t aspire for too many just to make more money. It is important to maintain eco-friendly tourism and sustain all good practices,” he pointed out. Perhaps, the spirit was encapsulated none better than by this inscription on a signpost one saw: “We are supposed to plant a tree in the people’s heart and those people will plant tree in the land”— King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) Over the years, Thailand has developed indigenous marketing schemes to promote tourism and it has also been creative in using tourism as a bridge to enhance diplomatic relations. However, late King Bhumibol inspired the development of sustainable tourism by empowering local communities as well as preserving the environment and natural resources (in the round-up that follows on the select few sites this scribe visited, this is a central theme of Thailand’s green outlook). Islam in Thailand: A look at history and the burgeoning Halal industry Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been for some time now, a go-to destination for even people of other faiths particularly, Muslims, from the Middle East, and closer home, the GCC. In fact, it is already the top ranked destination in Asia for Muslims. The reason is not hard to understand. It has also evolved into a dedicated tourism industry catering to the Islamic faith: from running halal hotels and food to the many places of worship that enable Muslims to have a relaxed vacation. Similarly, patients coming from the Middle East and GCC have been benefiting from medical tourism in completely safe and secure environs with dedicated help right from native language communication tools to treatment and post- treatment stay in the country, and resultant follow-ups. Associate Professor Dr Pakorn Priyakorn, Chairman of the International Task Force, Office of the Sheikhul Islam of Thailand, was at hand to give the media a detailed presentation on his behalf and answer questions related to various issues falling under the subject. Going back in time, he said, historically, politically and culturally, Muslims have been an integral part of the social and economic development of Thailand for nearly five centuries. Islam is the second biggest religion in the kingdom and enjoys royal and official patronage. Muslims number approximately 5.9 million. He felt that part of the Thai success story was owed to peaceful coexistence by intent. The Sheikhul Islam was first established and appointed by King Songtham in 1602 AD. Islam is the dominant religion in four southernmost provinces. He disclosed that there were nearly 4,000 mosques in the country, and 185 of these were in Bangkok alone. But none of this backgrounder would be complete with a word on halal food. Coined as ‘Kitchen of The World’ since 2000, Thailand is one of the world’s top 10 Halal food exporting countries and all this is owed to an elaborate paraphernalia manned and overseen by Muslim researchers and food inspectors in a detailed set-up. Dr Priyakorn, who is also Director, The Halal Standards Institute of Thailand, ran a documentary on the subject to enlighten the visitors on how — and what — Thailand manages to dutifully respond to the need for Muslims to lead their lives in conjunction with Islam where halal food is concerned. Thailand’s status in the Muslim world is also embellished by the fact that it also enjoys Observer Status in the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.
I went away as a kid into the service and came back an old man. I had experienced life in a different way. I saw death firsthand and lived off the land. I knew what it was like to be hungry and mostly to fear the unknown. From day to day, you didn’t know if you were going to make it. The first thing that gets into your mind when you see a dead guy is: This could have been me. I was inducted into the Army on October 16, 1941, when I was 21. My basic training was at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and then I was assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to the 9th Infantry Division. I was primarily a rifleman, but my speciality was in high explosives. My job was to find mines. I was at Fort Bragg when the Pearl Harbor attack happened. Most of the soldiers in my outfit, the 15th Engineer Combat Battalion, were from New England. They were really nice guys, working stiffs like I was, punched a clock. When my squad looked for mines, we’d have four guys with mine detectors and we’d be about 10 feet apart. We would scan the ground, and when we found a mine, we would mark it with a rod and a flag that said MINE. We’d open up a lane. Then the rest of our outfit would come in and they’d disarm the mines or detonate them. They had the really tough part. The first casualty in our outfit was a medic. He was on his way to a latrine and a sniper picked him off. That happened in Africa. In Europe, a good friend of mine from Scranton stepped on an antipersonnel mine and it blew him in half. I was in the area when it happened. I heard the explosion, but we heard a lot of explosions and you never knew it was going to be one of us. We covered him with a GI blanket. Especially in Europe, we blew up pillboxes. You couldn’t destroy them, you’d have to have an atomic bomb for that, but we could disable them. We’d destroy the insides. There was a pillbox that my squad had to disable. Four of us had wooden boxes of TNT, 40 pounds of it. The pillbox was inactive. If there were Germans in there, they weren’t firing, or they were hiding somewhere else. We had to prepare the fuse, and we had to know how much time we’d have after we set it. We timed the fuse for four minutes and lit it. I was the last guy out. We got a good ways from there, and we were looking at our watches. Five, 10 minutes and it didn’t go off. I turned to my foxhole buddy and said, “You know what this means.” “Yeah, you’ve got to go down there and see what happened.” I said, “I can’t ask anybody to go, but I want you to come with me.” So we went down there. What happened was, I was panicking after we lit the fuse — I had to get out of there and I slammed the door shut and the fuse was under the door. It burned to the door and stopped. It was a heavy steel door, flush with the floor. I should have closed it partly. We relit the fuse and got away from there, and this time the pillbox blew. The danger in horseplay The war in Africa was a different kind of war that we weren’t trained to do. In Europe, you knew where the enemy was. In the desert, you had to look for them. We went on patrol at nighttime to make contact. At the Kasserine Pass (in Tunisia), we were supporting services on the periphery. We got some of the shelling, but we weren’t in combat. We were behind the guys in the front lines, and when they retreated, we just packed up and followed them. After the African campaign, we invaded Sicily. Most of our combat was in the area of Mount Etna, the volcano. It was woods like the Poconos. The Germans were retreating, and the natives took good care of us. They made spaghetti. We paid them with cigarettes, instant coffee, tea bags. We gave the kids chocolate candy. We dealt with mines, but they weren’t as extensive as they were in Africa and later on in Europe. One day we were on R&R, rest and recuperation. Three of us were swimming in our skivvies in the Mediterranean, horsing around. We didn’t know it, but we were drifting out, caught in the undertow. How were we going to make it back? One guy lost it completely. I had to turn him around to hold him, because if I faced him, he’d grab ahold of me and we’d both go down. I could hold him with one arm, because he wasn’t struggling, he was so out of it. My other buddy, Billy Davidson, was giving up, willing to die. He said to me, “Save yourself.” He was within my reach, so with my other hand, I held onto him by the back of his skivvies. I said, “Don’t fight the ocean. Just keep your head up, save your strength.” I knew what I was doing. When I was a kid, I was a good swimmer. I was a junior lifeguard and I was on the swim team at Jordan Park. But I couldn’t have lasted forever. A fisherman came by and saw that we were in trouble. He had a big wooden boat, and he hauled us in one at a time. He saved all our lives. When he brought us to shore, he took off. They laid us out on the beach and we couldn’t move. We were exhausted. We went on to England to prepare for the invasion of Europe. On June 10, 1944, D-Day plus four, we crossed the English Channel on an LCT, a landing craft tank, and landed in Normandy at Utah Beach. The LCT didn’t bring us all the way in to shore. When it stopped, we walked down the ramp into water up to our waists. We held our rifles up. The noise was deafening. There were shells popping all over, dead bodies scattered around. The beach was so crowded with men and material, it was impossible to find each other. You didn’t know who was beside you, only that he was a soldier, too. I didn’t see anyone else in my outfit for 10 days. It was chaos. I was on the beach and inland a little bit for five days. Then our commanders started pushing us off the beachhead because we had to make way for stuff coming in. We encountered paratroopers hanging in trees –– dead. The Germans had killed them in the trees. Gnawing hunger, bitter cold When you’re hungry, that’s an itch you can’t scratch. In France, we were held up at the hedgerows. Kitchen couldn’t get to us. My buddy pulled onions for dinner. Raw onions burn all the way down. A day later, you drink water and it burns all the way down. In the Huertgen Forest (on the border between Belgium and Germany), there was a lot of frostbite. People had frozen feet, and we didn’t eat. Where would we go to eat? Our kitchen couldn’t get up there to feed us. I was fortunate. I didn’t get frostbite, and neither did my foxhole buddy Joe Dempsey — he was a detective from Brooklyn. During the Battle of the Bulge, it was 8 degrees and we couldn’t dig a foxhole. The Germans had artillery that was considered an air burst. It would hit the tops of the trees. The trees were sometimes sheared in half, and a lot of them were turned over. Joe and I would crawl under these fallen trees in the snow and hug each other to keep warm. Sometimes I wonder how I ever got through that, not only me but all of us there. One of the most horrendous noises I experienced was lying on my belly with shrapnel flying overhead, sucking air. That was horrible, frightful. At Elsenborn (in Belgium) we came to a forced-labour camp. There were French, Italians and other nationals in there. They would do farmers’ work in the fields. An old guy, a German civilian, ran the place. We didn’t know it was a camp until we got to the gate. Some of the prisoners came running up to us. They were the walking dead, skinny as hell. We couldn’t do anything for them. That was for our rear echelon. After the Germans were driven off the Rhine at Remagen, they zeroed in on the bridge and fired 88 millimetre shells every 10 minutes. It was harassing fire. When the shelling stopped, you looked at your watch and said, I’ve got 10 minutes to get the hell out of here. We ran across, and when we got to the other side, they started shelling again. The Germans had rigged the bridge with explosives, but it never blew up. A few days later, the bridge collapsed. When we were held up in a town in Germany, we usually stayed in a house. A couple of us guys were in this one house, and a woman lived there. She was a teacher and spoke English well. We got to talking to her, and she couldn’t believe that we didn’t rape or kill her. The German people had been warned about Americans. She made us some scrambled eggs in a big frying pan and said, “I’ve got to tell you something.” She had a young daughter. We said, “Where is she?” There was a mat on the kitchen floor, and she pulled it away and there was a trap door. The kid, 12 years old or so, was hiding under the trap door. We gave her cake and candy. When we came to the Elbe River, there was hardly any fighting, only snipers. We weren’t aware that we shouldn’t be going any farther. The Russians weren’t supposed to go any farther than the Elbe on their side. We got over on the wrong side and our officers stopped us when they got orders from headquarters. We had to turn around and go back. The war was over. I got through it all without a scratch — me and my buddy from Brooklyn. We were just plain lucky. His 100th birthday is in February. —The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania)/TNS
The scene is a nailbiter. It’s two hours before Luis has to deliver his toddler son, Noah, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be deported. He’ll reunite his son with the boy’s mom, Kenia. She’s Luis’ girlfriend, and she’s six months pregnant. But like his young family, Luis is also undocumented. If he steps into the ICE handoff facility to see her for the last time, he may be arrested and deported as well. On the verge of losing his childhood sweetheart, his son and his unborn baby, he decides the risk is worth it. And by the close of the first episode, viewers are left hanging, with one of the year’s most intense TV cliff-hangers. Unlike Succession, the umpteenth drama about a depraved rich white family behaving badly, there has been little social media buzz about the dirty politics and harrowing situations chronicled in Netflix’s six-part docuseries Living Undocumented since it premiered this month. Living Undocumented, from executive producers Selena Gomez, Aaron Saidman and Eli Holzman, relates the stories of eight families ripped apart by President Trump’s hard-line stance against undocumented immigrants. It’s suspenseful, full of conflict and heartbreak – but it appears audiences aren’t as willing to watch when the drama is real and the people in question would likely be dismissed as “the help” in Logan Roy’s world. It’s one of several excellent documentaries, each focused on the fraught subject of immigration, buried under the deluge of way too much TV. The Feeling of Being Watched, a feature-length film that premiered Monday as part of PBS’ long-running documentary showcase POV, portrays the FBI surveillance of a Muslim immigrant community in the Chicago suburbs. Journalist Assia Boundaoui, who grew up in the town, digs into the FBI’s Operation Vulgar Betrayal (yes, you read that right) after 9/11. She gives voice to those watched in their mosques, businesses, even at home. Says one hijab-clad woman of the car following her: “It’s like in the movies, where those pizza vans are just sitting, staked out in front of your house.” Also upcoming from PBS is the Frontline documentary Zero Tolerance, billed as “an investigation into how Donald Trump made opposition to immigration the signature policy of his presidency and used anti-immigration fervour to animate his supporters and fuel a political movement.” And HBO’s Liberty: Mother of Exiles explores the history of the Statue of Liberty, a beacon of hope for, well, it’s written right at her feet: the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. In telling her story, the film also tells the story of how the United States was built on waves of migrants, and that story doesn’t end with archival photos of Irish and Italians being processed at Ellis Island. The influx of Central American families – not just single men – seeking refuge has surged, despite the current administration’s attempt to use its draconian policies as a deterrent. The result of the state-sanctioned separation of children from their parents is footage of a humanitarian crisis most Americans never thought they’d witness, stories of atrocities they’d never thought they’d hear: Crying toddlers in make-shift detention centres begging for their parents. Kids locked in cages. And, in the worst cases, children dying in custody. But the news has pivoted, like it always does, to another crisis, despite the on-going crisis at the border. Each production looks at the increasingly narrow path to citizenship from different perspectives, whether in real time, through the lens of history or via an investigative expose. All demolish the idea of these recent arrivals as the Other. Their stories as individuals seeking a better life, and as groups fleeing poverty and violence in parts of Central America, the Middle East and Africa, are human and relatable. Scripted television has also begun to tackle immigrant stories from a more compassionate perspective, moving beyond tropes that position Mexicans, Chinese, Indians and others as the punchline, if not an open threat. Immigrants now write and/or star in their own comedies, from Fresh Off the Boat to One Day at a Time to Master of None to Ramy. Dramas such as HBO’s gripping The Night Of and Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black have also delved into the communities behind the headlines, in addition to dealing with xenophobia in the justice system. It’s still an experiment, of course, like the winnowing segment of TV that’s not made up of remakes of popular TV series from the 1980s or 1990s. Just this week, NBC replaced freshman series Sunnyside with Will & Grace on its fall schedule, avoiding the bad press of an outright cancellation by making the remaining episodes available online. It starred Kal Penn as a former New York City councilman hired by a group of immigrants in Queens to help them navigate their quest for citizenship. (Sunnyside is being shopped to streaming outlets, according to Penn). And, as Hollywood Reporter critic Daniel Fienberg points out, for every attempt at a warm-hearted take on the immigrant experience (CBS’ Bob Hearts Abishola), there’s a quiver of lazy procedural subplots about ICE. Which means it’s been largely left to documentaries – traditionally one of the most under-appreciated, under-covered and under-watched genres on television, save for the occasional true-crime humdinger – to pick up the slack. But are we paying enough attention? The answer is no, partly because it’s so hard to cut through the chaos. The past three years have been a whiplash of actions and reactions: Immigrants have been demonised and championed, banned and welcomed, locked up and given refuge. And unscripted TV, faster and more agile than its scripted counterpart, offers an essential document of the ever-changing landscape. In fact, the rapidly paced Living Undocumented is so up to date – and down on the ground – it almost feels like a live stream. It was shot in 2018 and follows mothers, fathers and their children as they try to navigate the rapidly changing rules of legal immigration. The endings of most of these stories in the age of ICE raids and zero tolerance aren’t happy ones, of course. And that’s if they actually come to a close. The deported will face the beginning of a new saga back home. Those still hiding out, whether in Los Angeles or a suburb in Florida, continue to live in fear. Luis, who immigrated from Honduras to the US in 2012, made enough as a construction worker to finally bring his family here. We are with him when they’re about to be ripped apart. In one scene before he hands off Noah to ICE to be reunited with his mother – and then deported – he puts the young boy on the phone with Kenia. Tell your mom you love her, he says to the squirming youngster in Spanish. The boy plays with his Spider-Man sunglasses and talks in non-sequiturs, like little kids do. Finally he pays attention. “Te amo, Mommy,” he says through the phone. She sobs. And so will you. — Los Angeles Times