Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Natalie Visits Havana

Natalie visited Cuba recently:
“It was my first trip to this fascinating place - I visited Varadero, the beautiful countryside of Pinar del Rio and historic Trinidad, but my favourite place was Havana. I’ve been to various parts of the Caribbean in the past, but nowhere quite like Havana – it seems at times like half of it is falling down, but the charm is immediate and the character is like nowhere else I’ve been.
I loved the atmosphere of the place – some of Havana’s buildings look like they’re about to collapse, and you don’t come here for the shopping, but this all added to the feeling of a city that’s worth exploring. We had a walking tour of Old Havana (I never really did get my bearings, though, as it’s a maze of cobbled streets, lovely squares and touristy markets) and my favourite bit was having a leisurely coffee in Plaza De Armas, just watching the world go by! It’s the kind of city I could spend a lot of time getting to know, so I’m already planning a return trip!
I think my favourite hotel would be the Hotel Saratoga, as I love the combination of colonial charm and modern features. The location is superb, and many of the rooms have spectacular views over the Capitolio Building – the suites ooze character, and a Mojito at the lovely bar is a great way to start an evening!
Havana is the kind of city where you could find different areas to explore each time you visit – one visit isn’t enough!”
Check out Natalie’s Havana photo gallery at http://www.farawayescapes.co.uk/gallery/Escape%20Worldwide%20Havana%20Photo%20Gallery/
For more details of holidays to Havana visit http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/cuba/destin/hav.shtml

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Rose-Red City of Petra

On a trip to Jordan, Mark explored the famed city of Petra.
“I’m a huge fan of the Middle East’s history, with locations such as Abu Simbel in Egypt and Crac Des Chevaliers in Syria amongst my favourites. Somewhere like Jordan packs so much history in to such a small country – it’s truly fascinating. Petra has always been on my list of places to see (probably as a result of the Indiana Jones movies!) so when I was in Aqaba, there was no excuse not to visit. Being August, though, high temperatures meant that it was going to be hot going!
The entrance to Petra is really breathtaking – you’ve probably seen it on TV, but the narrow gap in the rocks known as the Siq that opens up in to the city itself makes for a spectacular entrance – with 200 metre high cliffs towering above you, the sense of adventure is at its height. Petra itself covers a fairly large area, so I found it useful to break it up in to different areas, to make the most of the location – and to avoid overdoing things in the heat! The first ‘building’ you come to as you pass through the Siq is probably its most famous – thanks, again, to Indiana Jones! The Treasury is a spectacular monument that’s beautifully carved on the outside, but a hollow chamber on the inside – a stark reminder that Petra wasn’t built from the rock – it was carved out of it.
As you pass along the Street of Facades, you’ll come to the Theatre – at this point I was able to imagine how the city would have been when it was at its height, buzzing with people passing along the main thoroughfare, stopping at the theatre or continuing on to other parts of the city.
At the furthest end of Petra is the Monastery – well worth the walk, it’s the largest structure in the City. Also known as the Dier, little is known about it, and as it feels somewhat tucked away, I had the feeling that its history wasn’t entirely peaceful. Its size is overwhelming – the entrance door to the inner chamber is eight metres high, and the fa├žade itself is over 40 metres long.
If your feet can take it (and mine could but only after a long rest under a shady tree!) head to the High Place, located on top of the mountain with impressive views – you can either take the 700 steps (as I did) or a donkey may be an easier option – personally, it looked a safer bet to walk! The High Place was a point of worship and ceremony – try to imagine the 700 steps as part of a processional route.
If you find yourself in Aqaba or one of the nearby Red Sea resorts, make the effort to go to Petra – it really is one of the most fascinating sites I’ve been to, and well worth the effort to go – although next time I may avoid the hottest time of year!"For details of holidays to Aqaba visit http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/red/destin/aqaba.shtml

More details of the holidays we offer can be found at http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

New wedding section added to our website

Hi,

We have added a new wedding section to our website at http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk .

The new area of Escape Worldwide's website: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/weddings includes wedding packages to some of our most popular destinations. These include weddings in Kenya, Tanzania, Bali, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and many more. Check out the links for your chosen area:

East Africa: Weddings on safari in Kenya or Tanzania or weddings on the beach in Zanzibar or Mombasa: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/weddings/wedsaf.shtml

Indian Ocean: Wedding in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Zanzibar: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/weddings/wedind.shtml

Far East: Weddings in Thailand, including Phuket, Koh Samui, Hua Hin, Krabi and Koh Lanta. Wedding in Bali: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/weddings/wedfar.shtml

Our staff at Escape Worldwide have travelled to pretty much all of the destinations so we have first hand knowledge of these place.

Happy travelling!

Bath time in Sri Lanka

A while ago Karen visited the Pinnawella Elephant Orphanage as part of a tour of Sri Lanka.
“Sri Lanka has to be one of my favourite countries – I’ve visited a few times now, and on each occasion I see new places and a different side to the Island. There’s so much to take in, so it’s hard to say where my favourite location would be, but I think I’d put the Pinnawella Elephant Orphanage top of my list! It’s quite easy to get to from the coast, too, so even if you visit Sri Lanka on a beach holiday rather than a tour, try to get here.
If you get here quite early, you can see the elephants in their forested area, a short way from the river and with plenty of space for the elephants to roam around in. The younger ones are fed huge bottles of milk, which are glugged down in seconds!
Then it’s off to the river for bath time! It’s a short walk from the elephants (and for the visitors!) from their fields to the river, and a local restaurant offers a great viewing area – and is also perfect for a cooling drink in the tropical climate. As the elephants step in to the river, it’s the younger ones that take centre stage. Their excitement is obvious, as they start splashing in the water and jumping on to the rocks! The elephant handlers give them a good scrub in the water, making them lie down so that they can reach them properly – even a baby elephant is the size of a car.
It’s easy to build a visit to the Pinnawella Elephant Orphanage in to a holiday to Sri Lanka, and many of our tours include it anyway – but even if you’re planning a week or two simply relaxing on the beach (and I admit that it’s very tempting to do absolutely nothing in Sri Lanka as the beaches are beautiful!) I’d really urge you to find the time to drag yourself away from the beach to visit this excellent elephant sanctuary.”
Links:
Main page: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/ind/destin/sriT.shtml
Gallery: http://www.farawayescapes.co.uk/gallery/Escape%20Worldwide%20Sri%20Lanka%20Inland%20Photo%20Gallery/

More from #Escape #Worldwide: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Shopping in Hong Kong

“Hong Kong is renowned for its shopping, and we spent a day taking in some of the different options on offer. First stop was the renowned Nathan Road, often called the “Golden Mile” for its shopping opportunities. Starting at the harbour and heading north, Nathan Road is Hong Kong’s commercial heart, and offers everything from jewellery and souvenirs to hi-fi’s and cameras. It’s a hectic, full-on part of the City, although Kowloon Park, located part way up Nathan Road, offers a welcome respite to the hubbub of the shopping.
We weren’t just window-shopping, though – we were on a mission! First on our list was a Sony PSP, so we headed to the shopping centres of Tsim Sha Tsui East, where the cheapest electronic gadgets could be found. This area of Kowloon is built on reclaimed land and is home to various shopping centres – compare prices in different shops before you buy, and be sure to take your knowledge of other shops prices with you to barter the prices down. We managed to get the price down quite considerably, and a free game thrown in too! What’s more, this being the Far East, we got the latest model in a limited edition colour.
Next on the list was Tiger Balm, the Far East’s miracle cure-all – OK, so you can buy it in the UK and on pretty much every street corner across the Far East, but in the spirit of shopping, we headed to the Temple Street area of Kowloon, an area with a traditional Chinese feel. Temple Street itself comes to life at night with its superb night market, but we headed for a department store for our purchase as it was daytime. For a city that’s had such a strong British influence for so many years, Hong Kong can be surprisingly ‘Chinese’ at times, and this area of Kowloon typifies this - we did manage to get our purchase in the department store, but it really felt that we’d entered a different country to the westernised glitz further down Nathan Road.
Finally, I wanted to get a Maneki Neko – a Chinese lucky cat – for our office, as they’re supposed to bring prosperity (even the plastic, battery operated ones!) so it was back down to Nathan Road, where you can buy anything and everything. A couple of shops and HKG$20 later and I’d got exactly what I wanted – a gold, waving cat that now sits proudly on our filing cabinet!
Our advice for a day shopping in Hong Kong would be to treat it as a sightseeing trip, rather than a shopping expedition – take in the different areas of the city to buy different items. It’s good to have specific items in mind as there’s simply so much on offer, and bartering in certain shops is the name of the game – know what you want to pay before you even leave your hotel!”
Links:
For holidays to Hong Kong visit http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/asia/destin/Hkg.shtml
View our Hong Kong photo gallery: http://www.farawayescapes.co.uk/gallery/Escape%20Worldwide%20Hong%20Kong%20General%20Photo%20Gallery/
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Friday, 12 June 2009

Getting Around Bangkok

Bangkok’s traffic congestion is notorious, so on a recent trip to the Thai capital, Mark looked at different ways of getting around!

“The first time I came to Bangkok was 1991, and I can remember to this day taking four hours to get from the edge of town to the city centre – a journey that should have taken half an hour on a good day. 17 years later, things have improved with new forms of transport, but the City’s traffic is still amongst the worst in Asia. Beating the jams is considered sport in Bangkok!
The best thing to happen to Bangkok’s transport system is the fantastic Skytrain, an easy to use monorail network that links most of the areas of the city that are important to the visitor. Frequent and air-conditioned, the high-level tracks give excellent views of the city centre and the stations are well located. An unlimited day pass costs about £1.50 – worth it for the air-con alone!
For a more traditional view of the city, take the Skytrain to Taksin station and walk down the steps to the river. Here, express boats zip up and down the river, offering a bus-style service to points up and down the river – take the boat to the Grand Palace, Wat Po or the Temple of Dawn – a local boat will cost you around 10p. It’s more than just transport, though, as the boats are a way of life, and you’ll see daily life Bangkok-style while aboard.
It’s essential to take a tuk-tuk ride while in Bangkok – not for the faint-hearted, though, and make sure not to put your arms outside of the vehicle, as they’ll squeeze through the narrowest of spaces, whether you like it or not! Typically Thai, tuk-tuk’s are open-sided three-wheel vehicles that wiz around parts of the city that are heavily congested – you’ll get a face-full of fumes and a street-level view of the city – if you keep your eyes open! Bargain hard before you get in, though, as there seems to be two price brackets – one for locals and one for tourists.
To complete my circuit of Bangkok, I took a tuk-tuk to Hualamphong station, Bangkok’s main railway station, and the starting point for the City’s latest transport system, the underground MRT subway. As a London underground user, Bangkok’s MRT is a breath of fresh air, with air-con trains, spacious stations and surprisingly few users. The system is efficient and links Hualamphong to Silom Road, the Convention Centre and the Sukhumvit areas of the city. Personally, I find the Skytrain to be the best form of transport in the city as it has the advantage of giving great views from it’s high-level tracks, so I’d always stay in a hotel that has easy access to the network!“
Links:
Main page: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/thai/destin/bkk.shtml
Gallery: http://www.farawayescapes.co.uk/gallery/Escape%20Worldwide%20Bangkok%20Photo%20Gallery/

Visit #EscapeWorldwide for loads of holiday ideas: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Being James Bond

“On a recent trip to Southern Thailand, we were looking for some adventure, but nothing too strenuous – no mountaineering, white water rafting or getting up close to wildlife. We preferred a softer option, with a bit of glamour thrown in.
We decided to hire a speedboat for the day and head out from Krabi to the surrounding islands and coastline of Phang Nga Bay. This has to be amongst the most beautiful coastlines in the world, and as we were visiting in July, when the area was quiet due to it being low season, it felt like we had the whole area to ourselves! This is an excellent time to travel if you don’t mind some rain, generally in the evenings, and can take advantage of the lower prices and more peaceful beaches.
Our day of glamour and excitement started at breakfast, when there was a call to say that our speedboat had arrived at the jetty for us – not your usual start to the day. Our twin engine speedboat, complete with two crew, was going to take us to wherever we wanted to go – we decided to head towards Koh Yao, and to the small islands of Koh Hong and Koh Phak Bia. As we picked up speed and left our hotel and Krabi behind, the speedboat bounced along the water in the sun, passing headlands and islands – it felt just like being in a Bond movie!
After half an hour or so we came to Koh Hong, so-called because of its internal cave (‘hong’ means ‘room’ in Thai), with its picture-perfect crescent of white sand, topped with towering limestone cliffs at both ends. The water was so clear you could see the fish and coral as the boat came to shore! We spend a leisurely hour or so snorkelling and chilling out, feeling like we’d moved from ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ to ‘The Beach’. Eventually, a second boat arrived on the island, so it was time for us to move on to somewhere even quieter – we wanted a whole island to ourselves!
We zipped along once more, passing towering limestone outcrops and small islands circled by white beaches, before arriving at tiny Koh Phak Bia, our very own deserted island! Little more than a rocky outcrop and a finger of sand, we spent the afternoon chilling out and taking it all in. We’d come prepared with a picnic – cold fried rice in a polystyrene tray and a bag of chillis to add some heat, together with a bottle of cheap fizzy wine from the local 7-Eleven – more backpacker than Bond, but a perfect way to spend the day!“
Links:
Main page: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/thai/destin/kbv.shtml
Gallery: http://www.farawayescapes.co.uk/gallery/Escape%20Worldwide%20Krabi%20Photo%20Gallery/

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Temples. Rugs and Pigeons

I was recentlyh on a trip to Egypt with #EscapeWorldwide. I’m a big fan of Egypt and its history – to my mind it’s the kind of history that’s obvious. Perhaps I was scarred at school by visits to Roman ruins that looked more like a pile of rocks than the remains of a powerful civilization, but these days I’m not too in to historical sights, but Egypt is different. Here, history comes alive and you can really see how these temples and statues that are thousands of years old would have been in their heyday. What’s more, you don’t have to travel too far, or get too far off the beaten track, to take it all in – my idea of ideal history!
Luxor itself is the main gateway to Upper Egypt’s historical highlights, and while you won’t get to see the Pyramid at Giza from here, most other well-known Egyptian sites are easily accessible for the town. It’s a fairly small town that’s straightforward to negotiate, focussed along the east bank of the Nile, giving the town an impressive setting. The Corniche that runs along the Nile itself is home to many of Luxor’s hotels, while away from the river is the more traditional part of town, with local restaurants and the market area. This part of town is perfect for picking up a bargain, so long as your bartering skills are up to scratch! I picked up a rather colourful rug, made of camel hair (or so I’m told) that cost me £15 – a bargain (or so I’d told) as the seller was losing money himself (or so I’m told). Still, it looks excellent at home and you won’t see anything quite like it on the high street!
Let’s talk temples. If you spend some time in Upper Egypt there’s a risk you may get temple-overload. There are dozens of amazing temples and monuments that, in most locations, would be a major attraction in their own right. Here, where there are so many amazingly preserved temples and monuments, you’ll do well to come away knowing the difference between Nefertari and Nefertiti. To my mind, the Temple of Karnak, Valley of the Kings and Temple of Hapshetsut are the most impressive sights in the Luxor area. If you’re on a Nile cruise, the setting of the Temple of Philae near Aswan is simply stunning, while the Temples of Abu Simbel, in the far south of Egypt are perhaps the single most impressive historical site I’ve ever been to – personally, I rate them above the Pyramids (although Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Java are up there too!) – a bit more effort to get to, but really worthwhile. The great thing about Luxor is that these amazing temples and monuments are easily accessible – the Temple of Karnak, for example, is a few minutes by taxi from most hotels, and the town itself is only a five hour flight from the UK!
Away from the temples, I spent one morning in the market, shopping – other than the colourful rug (and a particularly iffy alabaster carving of Nefertiti herself that’s unlikely to appear on the mantelpiece any day soon) I came away laden with spices at rock-bottom prices - big bags of black pepper, coriander seeds and cardamom, far cheaper that you’d get them for in the UK. I’m always one for trying local food, too, and the market area is good for this – one evening I plumped for pigeon, and while it wasn’t the meatiest of birds, it was certainly a very local experience! That’s the great thing about Egypt – it’s so close and so easy to visit, but it’s still a fascinating place with a huge amount of interest, and you’ll be sure to have a very local experience.

More details of our Egypt Holidays can be found at: http://www.redseaescapes.co.uk

Our full range of holidays: http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Friday, 5 June 2009

Lazy Days in the Maldives

Darren recently spent five nights in the Maldives, hopping between islands to check out the facilities on offer, and generally doing very little in the Indian Ocean sun – he’d call it hard work but we know better!
“I’d be the first to admit that the Maldives isn’t the kind of destination I’d normally go for, as I tend to like getting out and about, exploring local places and eating in different restaurants when I’m on holiday. However, after a few days here, I’m smitten! I’m amazed just how easy I found it to do absolutely nothing, and I’m already planning a return trip.
Take somewhere like Kuramathi Island, for example – three resorts on one island stretching over 2 kilometres, with some shared facilities and enough going on to keep me entertained, but plenty of space to chill out. After a leisurely breakfast we set off to the tip of the island, not really realising that we’d be covering the entire 2 km to get there! At the tip of the island is a sand bar that stretches off in to the distance – picture postcard stuff, with the bluest sea imaginable lapping the sand bar and the clearest sky above. We spent a few minutes taking it all in, paddling in the sea and lying on the sand, before heading in to some shade – the sun in this part of the world is very intense!
Next in our active day of doing very little was snorkelling – had we been more energetic diving was on offer, but that would have meant we actually had to do something, and I was getting in to the whole theory of doing very little surprisingly well! The snorkelling in the Maldives is superb – straight off the beach and you’re immersed in another world. As with many islands, Kuramathi has a large lagoon that’s ideal for snorkelling, and at the edge of this is a wall of coral where the sea suddenly deepens. The reef sharks kind of put me off getting too close, although it did seem a little like hard work to get there.
After all that activity it was time to relax, so I took a good book and sat on my balcony, chilling out. Later in the afternoon, a shoal of stingray come to the shore to be fed, while herons look on and tease the fish – or maybe the fish tease the herons, it’s hard to say! And there’s only one way to finish off such a relaxing day of doing very little – in the bar, with a cool beer. Here, though, the bar is on the beach, with bean bags dotted across the sand. Heaven!”
Check out Darren’s photo gallery at http://www.farawayescapes.co.uk/gallery/Escape%20Worldwide%20Maldives%20Photo%20Gallery/
For more details of holidays to the Maldives visit http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/ind/destin/mle.shtml