Sunday, 28 October 2012

48 hours in Bangkok, Thailand


At Escape Worldwide we travel to Bangkok frequently, to get to know this fast-paced city as well as possible, Darren visited Bangkok last month and stayed at the Rembrandt Hotel, Mark was at the Dusit Thani recently and Karen stayed at the Royal Orchid Sheraton on her last trip.



DAY 1 - MORNING
Start your visit to Bangkok by hopping on the Skytrain and travelling down to Taksin Station on the Silom line - the Skytrain is by far the best way to get around, and an all-day pass will cost you around £2, which is worth it for the air conditioning alone! 

Temple guardian at the Grand Palace

At Taksin station, walk towards the river and hop on one of the public boats that ply the waters of the Chao Phraya - it's a great way to see the city from a different angle, and at around 20p for the trip to Chang Pier, it's a bargain too!

From Chang pier it's a few minutes walk to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is Bangkok's premier attraction and is well worth a few hours of your time - rent an audio headset tour at the entrance. This huge complex sits close to the banks of the river, and there are over 100 buildings in total, including royal ceremonial rooms and ornate temple structures. The Emerald Buddha itself is one of the most revered in Thailand.

AFTERNOON

Grab a tuk tuk - but bargain hard first!











Grab a bite to eat in one of the local restaurants close to the Grand Palace before heading next door to Wat Po, the oldest wat - or temple - in Bangkok and home to one of the longest reclining Buddha in Thailand - at 46m long and finished in gold leaf, it's quite a sight! From here, wave down a tuk tuk and barter with your driver to take you back to your hotel via a number of bangkok's lesser-known temples - we'd suggest a 2 hour trip taking in Wat Traimit and Wat Saket, and aim to pay around 400 Baht.

EVENING
After you've popped back to your hotel to freshen up, jump back on the Skytrain and head to Sala Daeng station. From here it's a few minutes walk to the Banyan Tree Hotel, where there's a cool drink with your name on it at the stunning Latitude Lounge & Bar, located on the 52nd floor of the hotel and with spectacular views in all directions. Then head up to the roof for dinner at Vertigo (book in advance), a stylish option and one of the world's highest restaurants - being open-air things are weather-dependent, but it's such a unique experience, and the steak is incredible!

Back at street-level, head over to Patpong night market for some bargain hunting - you'll have to haggle hard to get the best prices. Our tip is to go in at one third of the original price with a smile on your face, and start walking off when your offer is declined - you'll soon see the prices tumbling!

DAY 2 - MORNING
This morning make an early start and head to Lumphini Park to partake in a spot of t'ai chi - or just to watch the legions of Chinesewho take part daily. Lumphini Park is Bangkok's largest park and a great place for a bit of breathing space from the bustle of Bangkok's streets. From here, pop back to the river and over to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, one of Bangkok's most striking temples dominated by its 82m prang (spire). From here, cross back to the east bank of Chao Phraya River and in to the Chinatown district of the city, a vibrant neighbourhood located close to the river. From Ratchawong pier head inland and take a right in to Sampeng Lane, where you can barter for everything you didn't know you needed - lucky Chinese waving cat, anyone? Keep an eye out for the old Bangkok Bank building, one of the oldest commercial buildings in the city and a good example of local architecture. Work your way through streets specializing in everything from gold to mangoes, and in to Soi 16, where the array of freshly plucked ducks, scaled fish and unidentifiable pickles are up for grabs - lunch, anyone? 

Longhaul holidays from Escape Worldwide - Chao Phraya River, Bangkok

AFTERNOON
If it's all getting a bit too local, it's time for some alternative retail therapy. Catch a tuk tuk over to MBK, our favourite shopping centre in the city. There are bargains galore on the third floor indoor market - it's like Patpong but without the need to haggle! There's a great food court on the top floor, which will set you in good stead for the shopping centres that line this area of Ploenchit Road. There's everything from Thai handicrafts to Gucci handbags here.

EVENING
Start your final night with drinks at Red Sky on the 55th floor of the Centara Grand at CentralWorld, a sophisticated open-air wine bar with superb views across the city. For dinner, head to one of Bangkok's night markets for a tasty treat of local food, at a low price - the new kid on the block is the Asiatique night bazaar, located by the river. It's part shopping centre, part market and part entertainment complex, but the Isaan sausages for 30 Baht a pop are worth a visit alone!


Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 
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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years....No 1 the Masai Mara



We're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.



Mark gets far too close to a cheetah! 

"It’s an early start this morning for a game drive from our home on the Masai Mara, the Mara Serena. We've been on safari for four days now and I'm getting in to the swing of things, with early starts to see the wildlife first thing in the morning when its all quite active, before the daytime temperatures start to rise and the big cats head for a snooze.  After a quick coffee we’re leaving the lodge at 6am, but it’s not long before the excitement starts. Within a few miles of the lodge we’ve already seen a herd of around 30 elephants crossing the plains, and a pack of the somewhat ungainly looking bat-eared foxes, but there's so much going on it's hard to know where to look. That's the thing about the Masai Mara - there's always so much activity going on, and being a relatively small national park you never seem to be too far away from the action. 
Cheetah with her two cubs, Masai Mara Kenya
Mark came across this amazing Cheetah and her cubs

After a few minutes of us staring at her, and her assessing us, the cheetah comes down from the hillock and heads in our direction. She decides to use our vehicle as a lookout, and jumps on the spare tyre on the back to get a better view of the area, popping her head over the roof of the vehicle – I'm not sure who was more surprised, us at having a cheetah stare at us, or her finding a whole load of 'wildlife' in her new lookout point! We’re all pinned to our seats in awe, but the driver seems quite relaxed. He tells us that this kind of thing happens some time, although it’s only once the cheetah has gone that he admits it’s never happened to him before! After a few minutes of us staring at her, and her assessing us, the cheetah comes down from the hillock and heads in our direction. She decides to use our vehicle as a lookout, and jumps on the spare tyre on the back to get a better view of the area, popping her head over the roof of the vehicle – I'm not sure who was more surprised, us at having a cheetah stare at us, or her finding a whole load of 'wildlife' in her new lookout point! We’re all pinned to our seats in awe, but the driver seems quite relaxed. He tells us that this kind of thing happens some time, although it’s only once the cheetah has gone that he admits it’s never happened to him before!
Mark with the cheetah on the back of the vehicle
Mark with a Cheetah on the back of the vehicle
On the way back to the lodge we stop at the Mara River for a few minutes to watch a herd of hippopotamus making their way upstream. We can’t tell if they’re playing or fighting with each other, but their noises sound distinctly like laughter. Just a few hundred yards away, a pack of lions are relaxing in the morning sun having tucked in to last nights kill. It’s only when we get closer are we able to tell that their kill is a baby hippo – perhaps the pack of hippos weren’t laughing after all. "



We’ve just spent the last few minutes watching a cheetah with two cubs, and we’re the only people for miles around! The cheetah is perched on a small hillock with the cubs, using the raised ground as a vantage point as the sun comes up over the Mara. Our driver (who knows everything there is to know about wildlife in this part of the world) tells us that she'steaching her cubs, who seem relatively young, some of the techniques of hunting, from finding a good spot to survey the local area to protecting yourself from other wildlife. 

Throughout the area it seems that the wildlife takes very little notice ofvisitors in the park in their little metal boxes - in some national parks it seems that the local wildlife isn't as used to visitors as they are on the Masai Mara and other areas such as the Serengeti, and its not unusual for a lion to have a quick snooze in the shadow of a vehicle - there's not much you can do about it other than to wait for the lion to move on! 



Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years....No 2 The Taj Mahal


We're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.



Karen gets a little teary at the Taj Mahal 

"There are some places that you feel you know even if you haven't been, and the Taj Mahal is one of them - it's such an iconic building that everyone knows what it looks like, but when you actually visit you're really blown away with quite how beautiful this place really is.

I was part way through a trip to the highlights of Northern India when I visited the Taj Mahal - it was my first trip to India, and a real eye-opener to this fantastically diverse country. I'd started with a few days in Delhi, which acts as the main gateway to Northern India and is a good place to get started, both geographically and also historically and culturally. New Delhiand Old Delhi are two very different parts of the same city, and it's great to get an overview of the British influence in India and also a take on modern life here. 

Karen at the Taj Mahal, Agra
Karen at the Taj Mahal
I'd also been to Jaipur, which I think I'd have to say is my favourite part of Northern India - Amber Fort is a spectacular, perched on a hill outside of Jaipur itself, and the unique (and slightly wacky) Royal Observatory is very intriguing indeed. Besides the numerous things to see in Jaipur, there's something about the atmosphere here that I can't quite describe, but just makes it really worth visiting.

Touring India can be quite a tiring experience, as there's so much to take in, and it's such a hectic place - just walking down the road can be an experience! The roads can be very busy so getting around can be slow at times - don't try to do too much! But then, just when you're getting a bit tired, you arrive at somewhere as stunningly beautiful as the Taj Mahal, and you quickly remember how wonderful this place is.

Mosque at the Taj Mahal
Mosque at the Taj Mahal
It's fair to say that the Taj Mahal is amongst the most visited sites in India, so you're unlikely to get much in the way of peace and quiet here - forget having a 'Princess Di' moment to yourself. A good guide is invaluable as they'll explain the intricacies of this incredible series of buildings and gardens. From a distance the Taj Mahal takes your breath away, but its only when you get up close to it can you really appreciate the detail involved. The bas reliefs on the walls, the calligraphy on the gates and the gemstones that are inlayed in to the interior walls all come together to produce the most beautiful building imaginable. Seeing the beauty and hearing the story behind it brought a tear to my eye!

The entrance to the Taj Mahal itself is through the landscaped gardens, with a reflecting pool running through the centre giving another perfect photo opportunity - be sure to bring plenty of film, memory cards or batteries with you as you're bound to take more photos than you thought was possible!

The gardens do offer some corners of relative peace and quiet, allowing you the opportunity to take in the beauty of the Taj Mahal. I'd recommend taking a guidebook - there's so much to take in here, about the history of the building, the story behind it, the meaning of the architecture and the construction of it, that you're not able to remember all the detail. If you can find a quiet corner, re-read some of the details, just to ensure you've really appreciated why this place is quite so special!"

Next time...No 1..... The Masai Mara....




Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years....No 3 Christ the Redeemer

We're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

Darren receives a warm welcome in Brazil!

"This was my fourth visit to Brazil, but my first to Rio De Janeiro - I love the Brazilian way of doing things, where life revolves around the beach and there's always such a positive attitude towards things, so I knew I'd love Rio before I'd even arrived!

As Escape Worldwide's offices were in Stratford for many years, a mile from the Olympic Park for the London 2012 Olympic Games, I was interested to see how Rio's 2016 Olympic Games would be shaping up - beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade is one thing, but on Copacabana Beach is quite another! There's still a very long way to go, but the plans for Rio's games are looking good, and the city itself will be a most beautiful backdrop.
Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio De Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer
The highlight of my visit to Rio for me would have to be a visit to Corcovado Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, with its arms wide open to welcome visitors to this wonderful city. The mountain itself rises 700 metres above the city in a really dramatic fashion, wedging the streets below between it and the beach beyond - even without a huge statue on top, Corcovado would be quite a landmark. Since it was constructed in the 1920's the statue of Christ the Redeemer has become a symbol of Rio and of the whole of Brazil - expect to see lots of images of it during the 2016 Olympics!

Beach bar at Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro
Great places to chill on the beach
It's quite journey to the statue - the tram ride from street level (sit on the right hand side for the best views) takes you gradually towards the summit, from where it's a short - but fairly steep - walk up to the base of the statue itself (there's a lift at one point and even a few escalators!) The base of the statue is quite a compact area so it does get quite busy, but at 40 metres high and 30 metres from fingertip to fingertip, it's impossible not to be blown away by the sight - I certainly was!

There's a lot more to see and do in Rio De Janeiro. The city centre is really interesting, with a range of architecture from old Portuguese style buildings dating back 100 years or more to some distinctly modern additions - the Metropolitan Cathedral is one such building, dating from the 1960's and with a very concrete feel - personally I really like the lines and the space inside, but it was controversial in its day!

Darren cycling down Copacabana Beach
Darren cycling from Ipanema to Copacabana
Back on the beach is where Rio comes in to its own for me. On a Sunday, I cycled along Ipanema and Copacabana beaches - I hadn't been on a bike for years, but thankfully there was a wide promenade, and the main road was closed to traffic, so I (or rather everyone else) was quite safe. Hundreds of other cyclists mixed in with swathes of joggers, while games of beach volleyball took place on the sand. All along the promenade, cafes and bars make a great pitstop on a cycle ride - I really can't think of anywhere to feel quite as sporty, with a cool Antarctica beer in my hand!"

 Next time No 2.....Karen at the Taj Mahal


 
Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Friday, 5 October 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years....No 4 Shopping in Bangkok


We're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.


Natalie picks up a bargain - or three! 

"This was my first visit to Bangkok, and as an experienced shopper and bargain-hunter back home I was pleased to see that there were tons of shops and lots of shopping to be done - I am a self confessed handbag addict and was pleased to see that there was plenty on offer!

Before shopping comes sightseeing, and I started at the Grand Palace, a real 'must see' for anyone visiting Bangkok. The palace is a series of palace buildings and temples, and is very much in use - it dates back over 300 years and although the current King doesn't live here, the palace is still used for official events, and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one of the most important religious sites in Thailand. Getting around here is easy on foot or by tuk tuk, which you can rent by the hour for next to nothing.

Tuk tuks in Bangkok
Getting around by Tuk Tuk
On my way to the Grand Palace, I noticed some fantastic denim handbags as I got off of the river taxi at Tha Chang. Unable to resist I enquired about the price of the bags. They seemed reasonable, however, there was lots to see on this trip and I had my eye set on my visit to the huge MBK shopping centre for some retail therapy - one of my colleagues in the office had recommended this place for the best bargains. There is a bargain to be had everywhere in Bangkok, depending on what it is that you want and how much luggage allowance you have left!

The following day we had the morning off and I decided that I would go in search of some denim bags (and whatever others I could find!) in MBK. This shopping centre is one of the largest I have visited with floors and floors of merchandise from upmarket designer outlets to market-style stalls in the one building. I have to admit, I got a little lost and there were no denim handbags to be found! Now with a mission to accomplish, I decided that I would return to the same spot to get the bags that I had originally seen. MBK is at one end of the skytrain line and the port for the river taxi is at the other. So that was simple enough to remember. From there it’s a short walk to the boats and tickets are purchased on board. Remembering my route from the day before (Tha Chang=Chang Beer) and the orange express route, I was well away. 

Shopping in Patpong Market, Bangkok
Famous Papong Market
On arrival the stallholder immediately recognised me and wanted to enter into a discussion about the bags. She originally quoted me 1400B (£28) for two handbags and a purse. Unimpressed, I thought I’d use my newly acquired bartering skills and see what I could achieve. The final price was 750B (£15) which was fantastic

Pleased as punch, I went on my journey back to the hotel. Unable to resist, I thought I’d try a smaller shopping mall close to the hotel I was staying at, the Dusit Thani. Looking around I didn’t really see anything that I wanted to buy. One particular shop caught my eye – denim handbags! On closer inspection, one of the handbags that I had just bought was on sale for 850B (£17). What a result!"



Next time...No 3 Brazil.....


Darren
Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk