The Serengeti: A Luxury Camp

We last left off on the way from the Masai Mara to the Serengeti. Having seen four of the Big Five, we wondered whether it would be more of the same and worried whether we would be safari-ed out sooner than expected. We took a long 6-hour drive on a circuitous route along bad roads, apparently to avoid the direct but treacherous way that would take either three hours or three days depending on bandits and bad weather. At the Isebania-Sirari border, we had our passports stamped in a tiny, cramped office full of musty old papers on the Kenyan side and moved over to a far newer, air-conditioned counter on the Tanzanian side. While it took a while before the border officials realised that Singapore is part of the Commonwealth and required no visa for entry, we realised that the Tanzanian side seemed a lot more developed that its seemingly more well-off neighbour. This was reinforced by the change from the dusty little van to a proper four-wheel drive when the Maasai Wanderings people took over.


The ride to the camp took us down beautifully smooth tarmac roads, a far cry from the Masai Mara roads, and soon turned into flat dirt roads as we approached the Serengeti. Before long, we arrived at the main gate and took a breather to have our park permits checked. It was here also that we discovered that the Serengeti also provided flush toilets instead of leaving its visitors to the whims of nature.


In the hour’s drive to Nasikia Luxury Mobile Camp, we marvelled at the vast plains that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see in most directions, only stopped by foothills in the distance. And on the shoulder of one of these foothills was our camp. Unlike the other places we stayed at thus far, this was true camping. There wasn’t any concrete in sight. Each tent functioned as a guest room, with the large central tent being the lounge and eating area. As it was quite cold at night, there was a campfire to sit at while waiting for dinner. Here was where we enjoyed a icy bottle of Kilimanjaro beer while watching the flames dance.


The guest tents were discreetly spaced, far enough so that you don’t hear absolutely everything your neighbour is doing yet close enough for safety. We were told not to leave the tent at night, let alone walk around unaccompanied. If truly necessary, we should shine torches out of the tent to warn any animals outside and to shout for a guide to escort us. I think the main fear earlier on at night when the camp is still fairly busy is that people trip over tent pegs and low bushes in the dark. But later on at night there truly is worry about animals coming in. When we walked to our tent at night, we shone our torch out to the trees and saw several pairs of eyes glinting back. Our guide advised us not to do that as it disturbs the animals and told us that the eyes belonged to some kind of deer. There was evidence of other animals passing through the camp. Outside the kitchen tent, I noticed a mushroom growing tall out of a rather large pile of turd. The chef said that elephant dung is the most nutritious fertiliser. That notwithstanding, I was glad that (i) we didn’t have an elephant push down our tents at night and (ii) we didn’t have mushrooms at any of our meals there.


If you thought camping is hardship, think again. This is luxury camping for you, with a very comfortable four-poster bed and bathrobes all ready. The thing that reminded us that this was camping was the floor. The ground was sloping and I occasionally slid down. The metal foot of the bed was essential to stop me from sliding off!


There was an ensuite toilet to this tent too. This amazing toilet had a sink with running water, a flush toilet and a hot water shower.


I’m sure you’re wondering how a camp in the wilderness could manage running water. The tap, toilet and shower each had its own tank. While the in-room brochure advised us to be careful with our water consumption as it’s hard to truck water all the way out here, the sweet staff told us to use all we need and make ourselves at home. It was lovely how they balanced hospitality and conservationism. But I’m sure you’re wondering more about the hot water for the shower. The catch here is that showers need to be ordered 10 minutes in advance and in batches. They’d fill up the tank with hot water and then it’s up to you to use it and hope that they deliver the next batch in time. Of course, the practical solution is to either shower quickly in five minutes (a difficult task with a trickle and having to shampoo long hair), or to have your partner on standby to organise the order of the second (or third) batch of water. It was a novel experience in the sloping shower area and the occasional shower head blockage. I learned to take my shower straight after returning from the day’s drive before the weather cooled down too much. Having a hot shower in cold weather is difficult enough in an urban setting, and contending with a trickle of rapidly cooling water and shivering damply while waiting for the next batch of hot water to flow down through a twig-blocked shower head is not quite a luxury experience.


There was the one kitchen tent that turned out surprisingly good dinners! Everything worked on either gas or electricity from solar panels. They even managed to turn out a birthday cake for DC with icing on it.


We enjoyed the sunset, and thereafter a yummy dinner after some delay. Camp staff informed us that it was due to a technical difficulty. The next day, our guide Muba told us that the “technical difficulty” was really lions near the camp and all staff were on board to chase them away. Gulp.


I’m glad to report that we slept safe and sound all three nights there. Only on one night did I hear animal rustling sounds, and it was simply harumphs and the contented chomping of grass. Zzz zzz zebras.


March in Laos: The Real Monkey Business

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Did you figure out how we got from tree house to tree house? Check out the picture below and see if you can now.


There were cables strung up across different parts of the valley and also to each tree house. We were all kitted up with harnesses and a pulley and we were all set to go across the zipline. After a few zips across picturesque valleys and a couple of treks on foot, we went across the final cable to get into our tree house.


It was loads of fun because of the incredibly high speeds. It was hard to appreciate the scenery while going past really fast. I think it was also less scary seeing the river coursing down the valley so far below when you’re worried about whether or not you’ll crash into a tree on the other side.


But you do slow down in the end. Occasionally if you don’t build up enough momentum you end up slowing down too fast and have to climb the rest of the, thankfully, short way back to the receiving platform.


There were some problems with rats at another tree house and this cat was despatched to get rid of them. Of course it didn’t have its own harness, so into a sack it went. It wasn’t too happy about the disrespectful treatment and gave its ride a good scratch when freed. At least it must’ve been in cat heaven hunting all the rats on the tree.


It’s a pity I didn’t get any good pictures while on the zipline. Most of the time I was going to fast to frame the picture well, other times it was unfocussed and most time I was just having too much fun to even want to consider marring the experience by watching my camera fall hundreds of metres into the river below.


Nonetheless, the dusk views from the tree houses were pretty amazing. It was good enough seeing this, it didn’t matter that we hardly saw any wildlife.


Except this lizard that one of the local guides gamely displayed on his shirt.

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It was a lovely two and a half days running round the forest ziplining like rabid monkeys across the cables over and over and over and over again. It was great getting to know the others in the group swapping stories by candlelight at night, then going to sleep and waking up to another day of ziplining again. It really was worth coming all this while to Laos for this.


March in Laos: Tree Houses

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As I mentioned earlier,  Siamesecat and I were up to some monkey business. We’d booked a couple nights’ stay in what was touted as a gibbon sanctuary. To cut the suspense, we didn’t see a single monkey, gibbon or not, in our three days and two nights in the forest. It was probably because we made so much noise tramping along the paths that we hardly even saw birds, let alone simians.


Anyhow, it was lovely being right in the thick of nature. After being dropped off from the van that took us to Ban Toup from Huay Xai, it was a good two-hour walk from the little dot of a village to where we spied the first sign to our accommodation for the night.


I’d never stayed in a tree house before and this excited me to no end. Seeing the first one looming ahead in the distance filled me with awe. It amazed me to think of how the first plank had to be hauled up to the top and painstakingly assembled, of course by hand, plank by plank and nail by nail.


As we approached one by one, we were amazed by how well-made the tree house was, and how much space there was inside.


The view from the top was lovely. This particular tree house had a stream running below it. It was great just leaning against the railing and doing nothing except enjoy the scenery.


There was plenty of space for the six of us. The tree house turned into a bit of a tent city at night as each pair of mattresses had a thick mosquito net strung over it. We were definitely glad to put up the nets so that we could escape from the incredibly lot of insects at night. It was the jungle after all. In fact the only entertainment at night ,given that there was no electricity, was chatting in the candlelight. That until Discovery Channel came on, live mind you, as someone spied a large spider champing in its prey in one of the webbed alcoves.


Meals were lovely. It was mainly plainly cooked vegetables with rice, but they were always skilfully cooked with a deft hand that I couldn’t help marvel that none of us particularly missed meat nor did anyone complain that the food was monotonous. There was plenty of fruit and occasionally one of our guides would swing by and ceremoniously cut up a pineapple or mango for us to devour.


Smoking was not allowed in case of forest fires and drinking was only possible if we’d paid our guides an exorbitant sum to go out to Ban Toup for a warm beer. It was worth the hassle at all, so all the exercise in the day, healthy food and early nights going to bed soon after the sun went down, coupled with the fresh, fresh air made it feel like we were on a health camp. It was lovely.


We didn’t have electricity at the tree house but we certainly did have running water. It was a bit of a pleasant shock to come into a tree house and see the sink and tap and use it to wash my hands. They’d rigged up a series of pipes and pumps to get filtered water running to each tree house. It was fantastic. There was a toilet and shower in the tree house too. Toilet paper had to be disposed of separately because it took ages to break down and having squares of toilet paper litter the ground below wouldn’t do at all in an eco-sanctuary. It was lovely taking a shower in the open concept bathroom, though standing on the slats and seeing how far one could fall was a tad frightening. However,  looking out at the valley from this height really took singing in the shower to a new level.


One thing you may wonder is: if we were so high up in the tree, how did we get there? Well, we certainly didn’t climb up, that’s for sure. Believe me, nobody in their right mind would walk under a tree house with this kind of toilet system. It wasn’t quite a boot camp. Guess, I’ll tell you in my next post.

Dear Dessert at Camp

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DC and I were stuck for options one evening and we ended up at Camp for dessert. While the food was fine, it was horrifyingly expensive. A juice and dessert each cost us slightly more than $40.

Nevertheless, the strawberry shortcake was rather good. I liked how fresh strawberry was baked into the tasty cake. The creme anglaise instead of boring vanilla ice cream was a very welcome change. While the presentation in mess tin was quite cute, the high sides of the tin made it hard to dig into the food, so it kind of evened out plus and minus.


The green tea and tofu tiramisu was quite interesting. It was hardly tiramisu to me as there wasn’t liqueur nor coffee in the mix. I could only taste the macha powder sprinkled on top, no green tea anywhere else in the dessert. The cake layer was kueh bolu and the cream layer had a centre of tau hway which I liked very much. It was a very imaginative dessert, though I’d probably not order it again as it didn’t really wow the tastebuds.


House, Barracks and Camp
8D Dempsey Road
#01-01 to 06 Tanglin Village (Dempsey Road)
Tel: 6475 7787 / 6479 9212