Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Why can't I get a kids price for my holiday?

We get asked this abit and it can be a bit annoying when you have to pay a full adult price for a package holiday for your child. However there tends to be a reason!

If you are looking at a packaged holidays flying with a scheduled airline like British Airways or Thai Airways for say 2 adults and a child and the child is aged 11 and under then you tend to find that the airline will offer a child discount. Most hotels and resorts charge per room and not per person and will let a child share the same room as the adults, for free. So when the package is put together you will get 2 adult prices and 1 child price.

However if say only 1 adult and 1 child is travelling then the airlines should still offer a child reduction, but the cost of the room would still be divided by 2 so in this instance the child price will be higher than 2 adult and 1 child sharing.

If you holiday is based on a charter flight, say something like Thomas Cook or Thomson airlines then they tend to offer child prices to 12 years old and under when sharing with 2 adults, pretty much the same as above. However when it comes to just 1 adult and 1 child then they tend to charge 2 adult prices for the holiday package. This is because the flight price is always pretty much the same for adults and children, it's that the child price is largely derived from the saving on the accommodation when sharing with 2 full paying people.

Though as will everything in life there are exceptions to the above rules, like Virgin Airlines for instance will offer a child discount on some flights upto 18. Also some tour operators who put the packages together will negotiate specials family packages with the airlines and hotels to get you the best price.

The upshot is, if you go to a Travel Agent they will have access to all this information and should be able to get you the best possible package price for your family holiday.

Oh and always check that the holiday you are about to book is fully financial protected, it's you hard earned money after all!

Happy holidays!

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Friday, 16 November 2012

Focus on Koh Samui in Thailand

The Thai island of Koh Samui is a real tropical paradise, with beautiful beaches and a stunning interior, quality hotels, excellent food and cold beer - not surprisingly, it's one of our favourite parts of Thailand!

Stunning beaches of Koh Samui, Thailand

Just off the southern coast of Thailand and around an hours flight from Bangkok is the island of Koh Samui, a relaxed tropical paradise that offers everything from peaceful secluded beaches to late night nightlife, traditional temples to superb shopping, and a host more besides. Koh Samui makes the perfect destination for a beach holiday or can be included in to a multi centre holiday to Thailand or beyond.

Around the Island Tour
Discover the beauty of Samui by exploring the island - there's only one main road so it's very easy! Take in Big Buddha Beach and the nearby Wat Plai Laem, beautiful Na Muang Waterfalls, the famous rocks of Hin Ta and Hin Yai, go elephant trekking in the jungle and finish with sunset on Ang Thong beach.

Party in Chaweng
Koh Samui's largest, liveliest resort is a great setting for a fun-filled holiday, with plenty of atmosphere. Keep an eye out for the beach parties at the famous Ark Bar, or do what we do and work your way from one end of the resort to the other, stopping off for a cold Singha beer and satay or spring rolls as you go!

Discover historic Na Thon
Check out the historic Chinese shophouses and watch the boats arrive from the mainland at the Island's unofficial capital, Na Thon - a great place to get a slice of traditional Thai life and to sample excellent Thai food too!

Explore the islands of 'The Beach'
The 40 or so islands that make up the Ang Thong National Marine park, to the northwest of Samui itself, offers picture postcard scenery of sheer limestone cliffs, hidden lagoons and white sand beaches - no surprise the area was the setting of the book 'The Beach'.

Koh Samui is a short flight from Bangkok, with a myriad of flight options to get you there - the flight to Bangkok from Heathrow is around 11 hours direct, or there are flights from around the UK via a hub destination such as Dubai that take a little longer, but can often be cheaper. As the easiest way to get to Koh Samui is to fly via Bangkok, it's easy to arrange a Bangkok and Beach twin centre holiday, which tends to be great value for money too.

Koh Samui also has connections to other parts of Thailand, with daily direct flights to Chiang Mai for a superb Thailand multi centre holiday, as well as other beach resorts such as Phuket and Krabi. Nearby islands such as Koh Phangan are reached by ferry from Koh Samui.

Flights also connect Koh Samui with other parts of the Far East such as Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, so a multi centre holiday to the Far East taking in Koh Samui is easier than you may think.

There's a good selection of hotels available throughout Koh Samui, with the main resort of Chaweng having the widest selection. Nearby Bophut and Lamai are good options for those looking for shops, restaurants and bars outside of their hotel but without the full-on nightlife of Chaweng, while there are plenty of peaceful corners dotted across the island if you prefer to get away from it all.

Koh Samui us a beautiful island...make sure you visit it one day.......

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

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.

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.


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.

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!

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

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.

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 

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

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

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

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.....

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years....No 5 Elephants at Pinnawela

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 watches bathtime for baby elephants!

"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 Pinnawela 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.

Karen at the Pinawela elephant orphanage, Sri Lanka
Karen gets up close
Personally, I think Sri Lanka lends itself exceptionally well to a bit of touring, spending a few days in the main areas - the North has loads of historical interest, centered around Sigiriya and its famous Rock Fortress along with the ancient capitals of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura; the Central Highlands has some of Sri Lanka's most beautiful countryside with the tea plantations around Nuwara Eliya being really interesting; while the South is great for wildlife, with national parks such as Yala and Udawalawe being great for elephants and even leopard.

Schoolkids at the Pinnawela elephant orphanage, Sri Lanka
Local school kids on a day out
If you get to Pinnawela quite early, you can see the resident elephants in their forested area, a short way from the river and with plenty of space for the elephants to roam around in. The orphanage was set up to help orphaned wild elephants that were found in the area, and has now grown to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. There are elephants of all ages here - 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 for 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.

Bathtime at the Pinnawela elephant orphange, Sri Lanka
Bath time!
It’s easy to build a visit to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in to a holidayto 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.”

Next time shopping in Bangkok

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 6 Temple Spotting in Cambodia

This month 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 goes temple spotting in Cambodia.....

"The first time I really heard about Angkor Wat was 20 years ago, when I was backpacking around Thailand and made it to a temple that once stood on the edge of the Khmer empire, on what is now the border between Thailand and Cambodia - Khao Phra Viharn. This out of the way temple was in a sorry state and was around 100 miles from Angkor Wat itself, but it really gave a sense of how mighty the Khmer empire was in its heyday, and how magnificent Angkor would have been. I started finding out more about the Temples of Angkor, but it took me another 14 years to actually make it there!

Bas reliefs at Angkor Wat
Bas reliefs at Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is just one part of the complex at Angkor, but is the most important and most impressive - although the slightly eerie Bayon and the jungle-clad Ta Prohm are up there in my list of favourites. There's a lot more to Angkor than just Angkor Wat itself! Having said that, as Angkor Wat is the largest Hindu temple complex in the world and one of the finest ancient structures in Asia, it really is the main attraction for visitors to Cambodia. 

Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor
Trees and Temples at Ta Prohm
I spend three days in the area, based in the nearby town of Siem Reap, exploring the temples. Personally, while I get really excited by temples and the like, I do have a limit before I get 'templed-out', but at Angkor there's so much to see and the sites are all so varied, it's easy to really immerse yourself in the history without getting bored. Even in three days I still didn't get to see some of the outlying temples!

Angkor Wat itself is just vast - the sheer scale is incredible, and recent surveys have indicated that this was at the heart of a city of up to million people in its heyday, making it the largest city in the world at the time - by a long way. The site is over 200 acres in size, and it can easily take half a day just to take in the main features. The moat that surrounds the temple gives it a magical feel, while the temple itself is then surrounded by a wall almost 5 metres high. As you move towards the centre of the complex each level becomes increasingly higher - be warned, there are lots of uneven steps and I really felt my muscles aching at the end of the day!

Serene faces at The Bayon, Angkor
Amazing Bayon
It's the detail included at the temple that's really breathtaking, including the huge amount of intricate bas reliefs that adorn the walls of the temple and tell stories of battles, tales from the Ramayana and of day to day scenes from Khmer life - the most celebrated panels, known as the Churning of the Sea of Milk relates to the solstice and equino. Be sure to take a decent guidebook with you to really understand the intricacies of the bas reliefs, the history of the temple and the importance of the whole of Angkor! "

Watch this space for number 5...... Elephants in Sri Lanka 

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Monday, 27 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 7 Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai

This month 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 makes a splash in Dubai

"My first visit to Dubai was on the way back from Thailand one September, and while the weather in Thailand had been hot and humid, I wasn't really prepared for quite how hot Dubai can get in the summer! I wanted to see Dubai's main attractions in the few days I had there, but having explored the older parts of the city and finding that the only place I could cool off was on a traditional abra crossing the creek, I decided to head to the beach and to one of the best water parks in the region, Wild Wadi. 

Abra on the creek in Dubai
Take an abra accross Dubai Creek
I wouldn't normally class myself as a water park kind of person, but in the heat of Dubai it's one of the best places to cool down - although the air conditioned shopping malls are also worth a look! In fact, I'd started cooling off at the Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest malls in the world and home to Dubai's very own indoor ski slope (once you've been to Dubai a few times nothing surprises you about what they can build there!) My only attempt at skiing ended up in hospital so I wasn't going to try that again, but the mall's air-conditioning worked its magic - as did the shops! 

Great views from across the park
Great view from Wild Wadi
Wild Wadi is a great family option, so if you're taking your kids to Dubai be sure to allow yourself a full day here. There's a host of rides and slides from the gentle to the plain scary, and I tended to stick to the more sedate side of things - there's something really relaxing about floating around the lazy river of Juha's Journey in a rubber ring while taking in the Dubai sunshine and the sights of the city from the high points!

When I visited, the park was home to the fabulously-named Jumeirah Sceirah, the tallest and fastest water slide outside of North America. At over 100 feet high, you shoot down in just a few seconds and can apparently reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour! Just climbing the stairs to the top of the Jumeirah Sceirah was hard enough in itself, and I spent a good 10 minutes at the top deliberating as to whether I could actually bring myself to hurtle down it - or just take the stairs back! Little kids were looking at me as if to say 'you're pathetic', but it's only when someone twice my age took the plunge without even batting an eyelid that I plucked up the courage! Apparently the view is superb - I wouldn't know as I had my eyes firmly closed throughout! 

the top of the Jumeirah Sceirah
Wild Wadi's great rides
Last winter the Sceirah was replaced with a new attraction to keep Wild Wadi bang up to date, so on my next visit (I'm sure to go back!) there's bound to be something bigger and more terrifying for me to pluck up the courage to ride - or not!"

Watch this space for number 6...... Angkor Wat Cambodia

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Kenya Wildebeest Migration Update

Wildebeest Migration Update

This week it has been all about the river crossings as wildebeest and zebra took the plunge and crossed the Mara River in their thousands. There were dramatic scenes as crocodiles snatched a meal and wildebeest struggled to cross the mighty Mara River

river crossing
Migration in full swing

The migration covered the plains and there were wildebeest as far as the eye could see.

Wildebeest as far as the eye can see!

In these time of plenty with abundant prey around the big cats of the Mara have been busy raising the next generation and our guests have enjoyed regular sightings of Malaika the cheetah and her cub and the newest additions to the famous Marsh pride of lions. 

cheetah mother and cubs
Cheetah mother and her cubs
We still have some tents available for this year's migration season, so if you would like to come on safari and see this incredible wildlife spectacle then go to www.safariescapes.co.uk to book! 

Many thanks to our friends at Governors Camp, Masai Mara for the update.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 8 Borneo

This month 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.

James gets a little too close to a baby Orang Utan!

"On my first visit to Malaysia I went to Borneo, which has always been on my 'must see' list of places. I was lucky enough to visit the Sepilok Orang Utan rehab centre, but it was back at my hotel where I got a little too close to these incredible creatures!

Borneo is a really special place, and while it's not the easiest to get to it's well worth the effort. Having spent a few nights in the capital Kuala Lumpur (which I just loved - but that's a different story!) I flew over to Kota Kinabalu, the main town in Sabah - Borneo's geography is quite complicated, with the one island split between three countries, but while the Malaysia side of the island is far smaller than the Indonesian side (the third country, Brunei, has a really tiny area) far more visitors head to the Malaysian side, and the province of Sabah receives most of these.

Stunning setting of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, Borneo
Shangri La Rasa Ria
The town of Kota Kinabalu - or KK as it's often known (they seem to like shortening town names in Malaysia!) - is a fairly bustling place with plenty of interest, some great restaurants and a relaxed feel - it's certainly far less hectic than KL. There are some glorious beaches along the coastline either side of the town, and I started my trip at the lovely Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, set right on the beach but just on the edge of the town too, so it was easy to get out & about to explore a little.

Orang Utan making a lunge for me at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria
The Orang Utan that liked James
I then flew over to Sandakan, on the east coast of Sabah, where the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is located. The centre has been helping rescued Orang Utans back in to the wild since the 1960s, with many of their residents coming from areas of Borneo that have been cleared for logging, or from illegal hunting activities or from being kept as pets. Orang Utans are so rare, and so mesmerizing, that a centre such as this is such an important place - I was really moved to see some of the younger Orang Utans being hand reared by the staff, on their gradual way back in to the jungle. 

Orang Utans at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo
Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre
When I came back to Kota Kinabalu I changed hotels, to the equally as beautiful Shangri-La Rasa Ria, set on a stunning beach but further from the town itself - the whole area has a very relaxing feel, but the highlight to me was their very own Orang Utan centre, a 64-acre site that allows guests to see these amazing creatures up close. Here, you can actually get closer to the Orang Utans than you generally can at Sepilok (which is a good sign for Sepilok as it shows that their programme is working as the animals are gradually moving back in to the jungle areas of the centre). As I was walking through the centre one of the younger residents showed a particular interest in my camera, and made a bit of a lunge from his tree position towards me - he managed to swing on his rope to within a few inches of me, before one of the rangers intervened. I'm not sure who was most surprised, the Orang Utan or me!"

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 9 Luxor, Egypt

Darren checks out Egypt's history from the air! 

This month 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.

"I'm a huge fan of Egypt's historical sites - I think it dates back to my school days when tales of Pharaoh's and their treasures buried in the desert really captured my imagination! The thing to my mind that's so wonderful about Egypt's history is how accessible it is, and how easy it is to picture the scene thousands of years old - so many temples and other sites are so well preserved, it has to be the best place in the world for any history buff! 

Hot air balloon taking off at sunrise
Balloon over Luxor at sunrise

Luxor probably has the highest concentration of antiquities of any part of Egypt, and the West Bank is probably my favourite area. If I was to pick a single temple it would be a hard call between the clean lines and stunning setting of the Temple of Hapshetsut, located on the West Bank; and the grandeur and sheer scale Karnak Temple, over on the East Bank closer to the town of Luxor itself. But for a whole area full of historical interest, the West Bank wins hands down. 

Statues at the Temple of Hapshetsut, West Bank Luxor
Temple of Hapshetsut
The West Bank at Luxor covers a large area that is home to some of Egypt's most important sites - the ancient Pharaohs thought that this mountainous setting on the edge of the desert would protect them from tomb robbers, which partly worked, so today there's a huge amount of interest here from the Valley of the Kings (where many of Egypt's most important Pharaohs were buried) and the Valley of the Queens, to the Temple of Hapshetsut and the Colossi of Memnon, who were originally guarding the entrance to a long-gone temple on an even grander scale.

I decided to do a hot air balloon ride over the West Bank, to see the whole area from a different angle. As balloon rides go (I've done one other, over the Masai Mara in Kenya) this one wasn't about the distance travelled as we pretty much only went up and down again, but the view was just spectacular. We probably covered a few miles over the area, launching in time to see the sun rise over the Nile, and in the hour or so we were in the air we'd seen all the main sites. Most of the tombs look more like a quarry from the sky as their unimposing entrances hide the tomb itself, but the most famous tomb of all, that of King Tutankhamen, was pointed out to us. We came down a little over the Colossi of Memnon, and the views over the magnificent Temple of Hapshetsut were just spectacular.

Balloon over the Temple of Hapshetsut, West Bank Luxor
Amazing Balloon Trip over the West Bank

There's something really special about a hot air balloon ride, where all the noise of ground level is taken away and the silence is only interrupted by the occasional blast on the burner. Seeing the antiquities of Egypt from the air is something that will stay with me forever."

Next time....No 8 -  Borneo Orang Utans

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 10 Hawaii

Escape Worldwide are 10 years old this year - Happy Birthday to Us! 

This month 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's fear of heights goes out the window! 

"I'd been in a helicopter once prior to my visit to Hawaii, and that was over the Victoria Falls in Zambia - I have a terrible fear of heights but I'm OK with flying and thankfully the experience in Zambia showed me that I was OK in helicopters too (unless the pilot does any sudden maneuvers which leave my stomach half a mile behind!) On Hawaii's Big Island, however, the view was so incredible that I didn't really have a chance to think about anything else!

Helicopter for our flight over the lava
The helicopter that Mark took over Big Island

The Volcano National Park is an incredible and unpredictable place, where the Kilauea Volcano has been continually erupting since 1983, making it the world's most active eruption. Before my visit I'd been keeping up to date with volcanic activity at the park, not sure whether I wanted little activity (but to perhaps be disappointed - after all it's a very long way to Hawaii!) or lots of activity (and to be so scared I'd bottle out of going to the crater!) At the time of my visit activity was actually fairly low, I'd been told, but that just led me in to a false sense of security as I was really blown away with what I saw!

Kilauea Volcano, Big Island Hawaii
Kilauea Volcano in Big Island

I took the helicopter trip from Hilo, the main town on the east coast of Big Island and apparently the wettest place in the USA (all Hawaiian island have 'wet' sides and 'dry' sides, and the difference on relatively small islands is quite unbelievable! The flight was before I'd explored the area at ground level, so I really didn't know what to expect. Kilauea isn't your traditional 'pointy' volcano, but rather it's more a series of craters along the flank of Mauna Loa, the biggest volcano in the world - Hawaii is seriously volcanic! The landscape around Kilauea is very dramatic, and from the sky you can see how the lava flows have cut swathes through the fertile landscape, irrespective of towns and villages in its way - our pilot pointed out a number of houses that had been completely cut off by the lava flows.

Signpost in the Volcano National Park
Sign post in Volcano National Park
As you get closer to the current activity you can see fresh lava flows that are still glowing bright red and orange as they burn their way towards the coast - those that reach the coast hit the Pacific Ocean with a blast of steam. We circled over Pu'u O'o cone a number of times to see the lava coming out on its way to the ocean - dangerous gases prevent you getting too close to some of the vents as you try to take in this bizarrely beautiful sight.

Lava flow at Volcano National Park, Big Island Hawaii
Amazing Lava flows

At ground level Volcano National Park is very different, and we drove through the park, along the superbly-named Chain of Craters Road to the coast, as far as we could before the road was cut off by the latest eruption - in this part of the world, there are reminders everywhere as to how powerful and destructive nature can be. This is a superb national park and one I'd highly recommend visiting - so long as activity isn't too much!

One option that you may want to consider if you do take a helicopter ride over Volcano National Park is the 'doors off' flight - experience the smell and the heat of the volcano as well as the view. Now that would have brought my fear of heights straight back!"

Next time....No 9 - Balloon ride over the West Bank in Luxor, Egypt

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

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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