Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Taking a look at Vietnam with Mark from Escape Worldwide

Vietnam is one of our favourite destinations, with a great combination of incredible scenery and
 a varied history with vibrant cities, great food and exceptionally friendly people - laze on the beach, 
explore the cities, head to the hills or combine all of it!

Escape Worldwide's Mark visited most parts of the Country on a whirlwind visit recently,
and brings you his take on this incredible destination . . .

Vietnam is a country of contrasts, none more apparent than that of its two main cities, the elegant
and charming capital Hanoi; and the vibrant southern powerhouse Saigon. Vietnam’s geography
makes it easy to start your journey in one and finish in the other, and to my mind both are well
worth a few days

Meet Uncle Ho!
Hanoi's French influence is apparent in its buildings and avenues, while the Old Quarter dates back 1,000 years and is a fascinating place to wander - I got completely lost when I was here! Pretty Hoan Kiem Lake is a good place from which to get your bearings, with the photogenic Rising Sun Bridge crossing the water. Close by, Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum is most popular with Vietnamese visitors who come to see Uncle Ho’s final resting place, while his nearby former home gives you an insight into the life of the Country’s most famous leader of recent times.

Rising Sun Bridge, Hanoi
Rising Sun Bridge, Hanoi

A City of Contrasts
Saigon – or Ho Chi Minh City – is the contrast to Hanoi, where the climate is steamier and pace of life is far more frenetic - personally I prefer Saigon to Hanoi but visiting both is really worthwhile. Modern Saigon congregates at the designer boutiques close to theOpera House, while the more traditional side heads to Ben Thanh market for groceries, clothes and plenty more – it’s a great spot to pick up a souvenir too. The Reunification Palace is one of Saigon’s most striking buildings, and is now a museum preserved pretty much as it was when the Americans left in 1975; while buildings such as the post office, the Hotel De Ville and Notre Dame Cathedral show the French influence In the city. If time allows, take a trip out of the city to see the Cu Chi tunnels, a mind-boggling series of 250 km or more tunnels that criss-crossed the region at the height of the Vietnam war (although the tunnels are so small I struggled to get through!)

Cu Chi Tunnels, near Saigon
Mark in the Cu Chi Tunnels

History & Countryside of Central Vietnam
Central Vietnam is home to some of the country’s most beautiful scenery and interesting towns, with the gems of Hue and Hoi An being linked by the beautiful Hai Van Pass. The former capital of Hue is home to numerous tombs of emperors, several beautiful pagodas and the remains of the Citadel, which is an impressive complex of buildings on the banks of the Perfume River. Hoi An is perhaps the more interesting of the two and a real highlight of a trip to Vietnam, with its restored wooden buildings and long history of seafarers and traders giving it a charm that’s hard to resist - I love it! A half day walking tour of the World Heritage listed Old Town will take in the key sites including the famed Japanese Covered Bridge and the Fujian Chinese Assembly Hall.

Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An
Japanese Covered Bridge, Hoi An

Beaches, beaches, beaches!
With over 1000 miles of stunning coastline, Vietnam is home to some beautiful beaches, from the diving paradise and nightlife of Nha Trang and the restaurants and bars of Mui Ne (where I found the best bargains for meals and beer), to more peaceful spots such as Ninh Van Bay or relaxed Quy Nhon, famed for its seafood. Both Hoi An and Hue have beaches close by so are great options for a holiday that combines sightseeing with beach time. The trickiest thing about visiting Vietnam, with so much to see and do, is working out where to visit – and where to line up for next time!

Beautiful Mui Ne beach
Mui Ne Beach

The fascinating War Remnants Museum in Saigon, quite possibly the most moving museum you’re likely to visit, and one that really brings home the effects of war. 

US helicopter at the War Remnants Museum, Saigon
War Remnants Museum in Saigon, a must see!

Crossing the road in Saigon is an art form as thousands of motorbikes bear down on you, so avoid getting in to difficulties by keeping a constant pace and your wits about you!

Motorbikes in Saigon
Crossing the roads in Saigon is a fine art!

Bia hoi, or ‘fresh beer’, Vietnam’s unique draft beer that’s brewed daily and drunk immediately – and from 10p a glass it’s enjoyed the country over. Tram phan tram, as the Vietnamese say!

Beer in Vietnam - a highlight of our last trip!
Amazingly Cheap Beer

Vietnam is a simply amazing destination and a must see. I really loved the place and would really recommend it. 

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Holiday Health Experiment

84 per cent of British holidaymakers claim holidays are worth more to them in terms of wellbeing than the money they spend on them, a survey by Kuoni Travel and Nuffield Health reveals today.

The UK's largest healthcare charity and Kuoni Travel surveyed 2,845 UK adults between 14 April to 30 June 2012 to find out how a holiday can help to alleviate the effects that everyday life has on our mental and physical wellbeing.

The research showed that taking a break can improve our lives in four key ways:
  • It enables us to break out of our routine
  • Gives us an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones
  • Gives us fresh perspective on our lives
  • Enables us to relax and recharge our batteries
These benefits explain why almost a third (32 per cent) of Britons say that every pound they spend on a holiday is worth 2-4 times more to them in terms of wellbeing, 21 per cent say it’s worth 5-7 times more, more than a quarter (27 per cent) say that its worth 8-10 times more, and 4 per cent say its worth over 11 times more. Interestingly, of those surveyed 67 per cent said it took up to four days to stop worrying about work, this breaks down into:
  • 44 percent said it took between 1 and 2 days
  • 23 per cent said it took between 3 and 4 days
  • Younger adults (16-24) were most likely to worry the longest (74 per cent)
Chris Jones, Head of Physiology at Nuffield Health, said: “On a day-to-day basis, our bodies give us subtle physical signals for stress or tiredness that may be caused by our busy modern lives and we all intuitively know that a holiday can help us re-charge our batteries. The fact that two-thirds of people are taking up to four days to switch off maybe an important indicator of how we manage stress from our everyday lives.”

This survey is part of a bigger research study Kuoni and Nuffield Health are doing this year called The Holiday Health Experiment.  Across August, Kuoni are sending three different couples away on three radically different types of holiday - to Amazonian Peru, to Thailand and to the Maldives.  Nuffield Health and psychotherapist, Christine Webber, will be conducting medical tests on the couples before, during and after the holidays.

Says Chris Jones: “This case study-based experiment will give us an interesting insight into how holidays may impact on a person’s wellbeing.  I am looking forward to analysing the data from this unique experiment which will hopefully focus people’s minds on the importance of managing everyday stress and worries – perhaps from work - and ensure time is built into their busy lives to improve their wellbeing.”

And nearly two thirds (63%) of UK adults say that holidays most impact on their physical and emotional wellbeing because it gives them a chance to relax.

And talking of emotions, half of the people who travel with their partner said that the most significant benefit of their holiday was the chance to reconnect with their loved one.  This might explain why luxurious beach holidays are so popular with travelling lovers.

Says Christine Webber, psychotherapist on this project: “People in the UK have serious worries about money, their futures and their careers. Many individuals are having to work increasingly long hours with a lengthy commute on top in a bid to save their jobs. Exhaustion is commonplace, both in those working and those who are wearing themselves out trying to find a job. And the current prevailing mood for many Britons is one of intense anxiety - because no one seems to know how long the current downturn will continue.

“This sort of situation has a massive impact on family life in general, and on relationships between couples in particular. Anecdotally, we know that holidays can help people to re-charge their batteries, and to re-connect with each other and rediscover the joy they find in each other’s company. We also know that when most people say ‘I need a holiday’ what they mean is that they need sleep, sun, a change of scene, plenty of rest, and time for their nearest and dearest. I am looking forward immensely to finding out if a holiday does indeed repair the damage that our normal lives can inflict on us. I also hope to discover whether people can be aware of the factors that bring about positive changes during vacations, and can then introduce some of these factors on their return home, in a bid to make their normal day-to-day existences more mentally and physically healthy.”

Derek Jones, MD Kuoni, said: “This study highlights the health benefits of a significant 10-day to two week holiday.  Kuoni is well known for its expertise in tailor-making trips to long-haul destinations across the globe, and it seems more time away means the better we unwind and recover from the demands of our busy lives.”

Regional highlights:
  • 38 per cent of Londoners say that the greatest impact of a holiday is giving their body a chance to recover and 25 per cent say that relaxation is what they value most about a holiday
  • Londoners are also the most likely to say their daily life is time pressured (56 per cent)
  •  76 per cent of Glaswegians say that relaxation on holiday has the greatest impact on their physical and emotional wellbeing (the highest percentage across the UK) 
  • 44 per cent of people from Manchester and Newcastle prioritise the opportunity a holiday provides to help you switch off
Top five places where people say they have good everyday health: 
  • Brighton
  • Newcastle
  • Plymouth
  • Nottingham and Cardiff
  • Sheffield
 Top five places where holiday-goers live who claim work worries cloud up to four days of their summer break: 
  • Cardiff (81 per cent)
  • Belfast (76 per cent)
  • Sheffield (72 per cent)
  • Plymouth, London and Birmingham (68 per cent)

Source: http://www.kuoni.co.uk/en/holiday-health-experiment/pages/survey-results.aspx#/ 

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Trip to Mauritius - Part 4........ the end

We arrived at the Heritage Le Telfair for the night and wow what a place. The reception area has a cool, colonial feel and the view out over the swimming and resort was simply stunning. I was taken and checked into my room, sorry, suite!

My suite at the Heritage Le Telfair

After dinner at the fine dining Gin'Jar restaurants which we had the most amazing sushi start and steak main course it was time to retire for the evening.... well actually it was time to head to the very classy Cavendish bar for a finally beer or two.

The following morning we were treated to a lovely breakfast just by the beach at the stunning sister hotel, the Heritage Awaili Golf Resort & Spa, which is a great 5* all inclusive property next door to the Le Telfair and has a great African Feel, with a wide choice or bars and restaurants and a long stretch of beach.

Heritage Awaili Golf Resort and Spa
After inspecting both hotels we were then told that it was lunchtime.... great we thought, but little did we know that they meant we were cooking our own lunch. Yep we were having a cookery course at Le Telfairs Annabella's . It was the most fun I'd had in ages. I was in charge of making the bread and the chef was great, spent ages with us all explaining the spices and how everything worked, people told me I looked the part in my chef's outfit...what do you think:

Me at the cookery course at Heritage Le Telfair
The cookery course was great fun and the afternoon was then spent doing not alot, enjoying the sun, beach and the simple amazing Spa at the Le Telfair.

For our last night we checked into on of the Heritage Villas. The Villas are exclusive private villas, all with a swimming pool, huge patio area and your own golf buggy for getting around. The Villas are set overlooking the amazing golf course and the perfect family get away, just minutes, by your golf buggy to the beach and the C Beach Club. 

The great Golf Course

The following morning we went out on a tour of the Frederica Nature Reserve, on quad bikes! After a quick lesson on how to drive these great vehicles we headed off into the reserve for some siteseeing, spotting the deer and also heading to the stunning waterfall.

Our finally lunch was had at the C Beach Club, chilling out with an amazing pizza and a cheeky glass or two of white wine before heading back to the villa to pack before flying back to Britain. 

Though my visit to Mauritius was only brief, I managed to get a really good feel for the island which has simply stunning beaches, amazingly friendly people, fine food and stunning hotels. I will defiantly be return to Mauritius for a holiday.... you should go!

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Monday, 9 July 2012

Trip to Mauritius - Part 3........

We arrive for the night at the lovely Veranda Paul and Virginie Hotel  which is a lovely boutique hotel on Mauritius North Coast by Grand Gaube. The property had a lovely, romantic feel with friendly staff and spacious rooms. We arrive just in time for a delicious buffet dinner, before a few drinks (or should I saw amazing home grown flavoured rums) at the bar. The following morning awoke to a beautiful blue sky and views of Coin De Mire. After a quick dip in one of the hotels pools headed to breakfast.

One of the pools at Veranda Paul and Virginie
After breakfast we checked out and headed East. The coast line and beaches on the East are stunning with crystal blue seas and white sandy beaches.

Beaches on Mauritius East Coast
We stopped of lunch and a spot of free time at the Veranda Palmar Beach Hotel, which is a lovely little resort set on a stunning beach. The hotel offers All Inclusive so you don't need to worry about a thing other than kicking back and doing pretty much nothing. Though it's only a 3* the Veranda Palmar had everything you needed for a great stay with plenty of rooms, good sized rooms and even a spa. We had a fantastic lunch on the beach before taking to a sun lounge for a couple of well earned hours of soaking up the rays.

The lovely Veranda Palmar Beach Hotel 
After a couple of hours well earned sun bathing we headed south down to Bel Ombre.The roads are pretty good in Mauritius so getting around the island is pretty easy and straight forward and many people hire a car, though to be honest when I'm on holiday I like everything done for me!

Domaine de Bel Ombre - http://www.domainedebelombre.mu/ is a 2,500 hectare estate located on the South West of the island. The estate was created in 1765 and is now home to two stunning hotels, amazing private villas, an award winning golf course, Nature Reserve and Le Ch√Ęteau fine dining restaurant.

When we arrived we check into the stunning Heritage Le Telfair........

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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Trip to Mauritius - Part 2........

Next stop Pamplemousse Garden, which were renamed Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens in 1988 but still tends to be known by it's former name. The Gardens are stunning, a collection of amazing tropical planets and trees and is a haven from the heat of this tropical paradise island. I spent a couple of hours strolling around, visiting the lilly pond, with some amazingly huge water lilies and looking at the fruit bats sunning themselves in the palm trees.

Amazing water liles in the garden

Next....work time, I went to visit a lovely hotel call the Veranda Pointe Aux Biches, one which we use alot and try to visit whenever we are in Mauritius, just to check it is still as great as it always is. The hotel has a great, relaxed beach feel, and it works to a philosophy that, shoes off when you arrive and stay off until you leave, a real kick back and relax hotel. One of my favourite areas of the hotel is the Footloose Bar, which has a great chill out vibe and a great range of drinks.....all work honest!

Footloose Bar at the Veranda Pointe Aux Biches

The hotel was kind enough to offer us lunch and boy, what a lunch, how big were the prawns in my prawn / chicken curry: 

The amazing Prawn and Chicken Curry
After lunch I then headed to the East Coast for my nights stay at the romantic Veranda Paul et Virginie, on the way we stopped for a quick photo opportunity at the Cap Malheureux Church.This beautiful church is in an lovely location, just off the beach and is stunning with the sun bouncing off the red tiled roof and with fantastic view over Coin De Mire. 

Coin De Mire

Next stop, over night at Veranda Paul et Virginie....... 

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