Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Koh Phangan, Thailand... so much more than just Full Moon Parties

Karen was recently in Thailand and headed to the beautiful island of Koh Phangan:

Christine and I visited Koh Phangan on a recent visit to Thailand, which also included Bangkok, Koh Samui, Phuket and Khao Lak, so it was a bit of a whirlwind trip! Because of this we had just one night in Koh Phangan, and we definitely could have stayed for an extra couple of nights.

We stayed at the Santhiya Resort, which is built into the hillside on the north east coast, and is stunning. From Koh Samui airport to the ferry terminal is only about 15 minutes, and Santhiya’s speedboat only takes around 30 minutes, so from landing into Koh Samui airport at around 09:30 it didn’t take long at all to set to the hotel. As the hotel is built into the hillside it can be quite hard work walking to your room (ours was right at the top of the resort!) but there are little wooden cars to take you around if you’re not feeling particularly energetic!

Unless you’re heading for the Full Moon Party Koh Phangan is all about relaxation. There are a few hotels on Thong Nai Pan Beach, with the Santhiya at one end, and taking a stroll down the beach, visiting a couple of restaurants and bars along the way to admire the view, is a lovely afternoon. There are loads of watersports available and elephant trekking inland can be booked at the hotel, but apart from this it’s all about chilling out. If you do fancy the Full Moon Party the hotels offer a boat service around the island to the party, which is on the south coast, and will bring you back again, so you wake up the next day in the comfort of your hotel!

Thailand is an amazing destination, give Karen a call 020 8989 0970

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

48hrs in Hong Kong with Escape Worldwide

Hong Kong is a great place to include in a Far East itinerary, and you can see much of it in a fairly short time - here's our guide of how to make the most of a short trip to this fascinating destination!

Holidays to Hong Kong and Macau with Escape Worldwide - Victoria Harbour from the observation deck at the KCC

The best way to get your bearings in Hong Kong is on the Star Ferry, so wherever you're staying get yourself to the ferry pier and catch a ferry across Victoria Harbour - probably the most spectacular ferry Star Ferry arriving at the Central Piercrossing in the world, and at just a few pence it's a bargain too! Before you board, though, get yourself an Octopus card for reduced price travel throughout the city. If you end up on Hong Kong Island take the walkway from the pier towards to the mid levels escalators, a series of escalators that take you up the side of the hill, passing through daily life in the process. Nearby, catch the 120-year old tram to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's highest point, from where you can look down on the rest of the territory - the cooler temperatures are refreshing too!

From the Peak head down to the old district of Western, close to the modern city centre but surprisingly ramshackled and traditional in feel. This is a great area for lunch Chinese-style, as the district is packed with great restaurants. After lunch explore the streets on foot - Bonham Strand is the centre of Ginseng trading while Ko Shing Street is home to numerous Chinese herbalists. Shops along Des Voeux Road are packed with dried fish that give quite a pungent smell! From here hop on a tram back towards Central, the modern heart of Hong Kong - the trams have been rattling along Hong Kong Island for over 100 years, and the fare is less than 20p! Get off at Statue Square and you're surrounded by Hong Kong's most important buildings, including the Bank of China Building and the HQ of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.

Head back to your hotel for a dip in the pool, heading out again in Symphony of Lights from the Kowloon Waterfront time for the Symphony of Lights, a spectacular light show that takes in many of the harbours tallest buildings. The show kicks off at 8pm, with the Avenue Of Stars promenade at the Kowloon waterfront being one of the best vantage points. From here head up Nathan Road and turn right at the Mira Hotel into Knutsford Road - take the turning for Knutsford Terrace, a small road crammed full with lively bars and excellent restaurants. Look out for Happy Hours to keep costs down!

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Kowloon catch the MTR to Wong Tai Sin in Kowloon, home of the Wong Tai Sin Temple, a large and colourful temple where you're likely to be the only foreigner amongst the 3 million devotees that visit each year. From here, continue by MTR to Mongkok station, from where it's a short walk to various markets dedicated to different trades - the goldfish market, flower market and bird market are particularly colourful, while ladies market is great for bargain womenswear as well as electricals, watches and a myriad of things you didn't know you needed.

You'll now be in Nathan Road, Kowloon's premier shopping district, a great place to grab a quick lunch. Jump in a taxi and head to the ICC, Kowloon's tallest building (the 4th tallest in
The view from the Sky100 observation deck at the ICC, Kowloon the world) located at Kowloon Station - the Sky100 observation deck on the 100th floor gives spectacular views across Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, so you can pick out all the places you've seen over the last two days! From here continue to the waterfront and stroll along the Avenue of Stars, which runs along the Kowloon promenade with superb views of the harbour.

Tonight head over to Temple Street Market to pick up some souvenirs before finishing off your trip to Hong Kong with dinner and drinks in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong's trendiest area for bars and restaurants. Start in Wing Wah Lane for food before heading to Lan Kwai Fong itself, where you're never more than 10 paces from.

We have some amazing holidays to Hong Kong and beyond - http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/far_east/hong_kong_holidays.html

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Guide to....Koh Samui, 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!

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.

Holidays to Koh Samui with Escape Worldwide - the beach at the Centara Villas Samui

Around the Island Tour
Big Buddha at Big Buddha BeachDiscover 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.

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!

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!

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 superbThailand multi centre holiday, as well as other beach resorts such as Phuket and Krabi. Nearby islands such asKoh 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.

Here are a few important facts about a visit to Koh Samui, to help you plan your next trip!

UK passport holders don't need a visa to visit Thailand for stays of up to 30 days. Ensure your passport has at least 6 months validity remaining!

There are no mandatory health requirements to visit Thailand, although visitors should be up to date for standard longhaul precautions.

Samui's weather is different to other areas of Thailand, and tends to be driest from January to April, and has its rainy season in October and December - in our summer months when Thailand's West Coast is wet, Samui tends to be much drier.

Thai people are so polite, try to avoid causing offence - don't point the soles of your feet at anyone, don't touch a monk and always be polite about royalty and politics!

The Thai Baht is the unit of currency in Thailand - there are easy to use cashpoints in most locations.

Costs are generally low - on a recent trip Mark spent £200 for an 8 night stay for all his food, drinks and sightseeing (breakfast was included at his hotel, the Centara Villas Samui) - and he eats and drinks a lot!

Go visit Koh Samui…..you won’t regret it!

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Sunday, 17 May 2015

48hrs in....Bangkok, Thailand

We Love Bangkok! It's our favourite Far East city and we can't get enough of it! We've put together our '48 hours in Bangkok' guide to give you some inspiration too.

At Escape Worldwide we travel to Bangkok frequently, to get to know this fast-paced city as well as possible - Darren recently stayed at the Chatrium Riverside Hotel, Mark's favourite is the Dusit Thani while Karen & Christine are planning their next trip for September!

Holidays to Bangkok with Escape Worldwide - Temple guardians at the Grand Palace, Bangkok

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 PalaceAt 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 Buddhas 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 Chinese Lumphini Parkwho 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?

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!

Go to http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/thailand/index.html for a great range of holidays to Bangkok and beyond.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Thailand a perfect Honeymoon option or just an amazing holiday

Honeymoons are always a difficult one, you want something special but at the same time you don’t want to totally blow your budget, you have after all you probably had to shell out a small fortune on the wedding!

One of our favourite and good value honeymoon options is Thailand. Thailand has so much to offer from the shopping paradise and fun of Bangkok to some of the most amazing beaches you’re likely to see. Also Thailand has some amazing value for money hotels, including some great options with Pool Villas.

I’d suggest spending 3 or 4 nights in Bangkok – it’s quite a hectic place so you need a few days just to take in the main sites. There’s loads to see and do in Bangkok, and I find it handy to stay near the Skytrain monorail network to make getting around easy. Areas such as Silom and Sukhumvit are popular for their mix of shopping, great food and easy links to the rest of the city – try MBK centre for bargain electronics, or my favourite Platinum Mall for great clothes and an excellent food court on the top floor. Staying by the river gives you a more relaxed atmosphere, plus there’s a network of river boats which I find are a cheap and fun way to get to historic sites such as the Grand Palace.
Then head to the beach, and boy what a choice of options Thailand has. 

Holidays to Bangkok with Escape Worldwide - Temple guardians at the Grand Palace, Bangkok

Phuket is the most popular of all the Thai beach resorts, and as it’s a fairly large island it offers something for everyone, from lively resorts such as Patong with loads of restaurants and nightlife, to quieter corners more suited to a relaxed stay, such as Cape Panwa or the Northern beaches. My favourite areas are Kata and Karon, where you have a mix of relaxation and activities. The coastline in this part of Thailand is beautiful, so be sure to take to the water during your stay – I took a boat to Phi Phi when I was last here, which was fantastic!

Holidays to Phuket with Escape Worldwide - Kata Beach, Phuket

The resorts of Hua Hin and nearby Cha Am are relaxed alternatives to some of the more commercialised resorts, and offer a more Thai feel – I find this area of Thailand to be perfect for a relaxed stay, without being dull. As they are reached by road from Bangkok they also offer a straightforward and great value option with no domestic flights involved. Hua Hin offers long, sandy beaches, great food (try the night market in the centre of town or the restaurants along the beach – the seafood is fantastic!) and a good range of quality hotels, while Cha Am has a more relaxed pace, but is only 20 minutes from Hua Hin.

Or something a bit more remote. Koh Lanta is a beautiful island located south of Krabi, and offers a small range of hotels plus places to eat & drink, mainly towards the north of the Island – I think it makes a good option for a relaxed beach stay, while remaining unspoilt. It’s a fairly small island that’s reached by boat and road from Krabi in around 90 minutes.

Holidays to Krabi with Escape Worldwide - Hong Island, near Krabi

With so much to offer Thailand is a fantastic Honeymoon option.

Happy travelling


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Can I hire a car in Cuba?

Yes, hiring a car in Cuba is an excellent way of seeing the more remote parts of Cuba. Though don’t expect the big plays like Dollar Rent A Car or Hertz. Car hire companies tend to be local Cuban companies so expect some paperwork! Pre-booking before arriving in Cuba is pretty much a must with most companies in the UK only booking the car hire as part of a complete holiday package.

A few points worth remembering when hiring a car...

Roads are pretty good in most of the country, but as the East is less developed some of the roads in this area can be a bit bumpy. It is more likely you’ll get stuck behind a donkey rather than another car, so progress can be slow occasionally! I found the traffic in Havana reasonably busy but once you’ve made it to the main ring road out of the city things came down a bit! Petrol stations aren’t as common as in the UK, so fill up when you see one!

Cars in Cuba tend to be modern and various sizes and types available ranging from small compacts to people carriers. Unfortunately you won’t easily be able to rent a big old American beast as these tend to be privately owned and also pretty much on their last legs, not sure they’d get you to your destination to be honest! You can however book an hour or two in one of these style of cars in places like Havana, though don’t necessarily expect a seat belt!

As with hiring a car in most countries you will need to arrange insurance and pay a deposit locally. There may also be a drop off fee if you are picking the car up in one part of the island and dropping it back in another. Also standard stuff applies like needing an international driving licence.

Hiring a car in Cuba, as opposed to fixed transfers for instance opens Cuba up and one of my favourite holidays would be starting with a few nights in Havana, pick up the car and visit Pinar del Rio in the West and the area around Trinidad in Central Cuba, finishing with a few nights on the beach in Varadero. You’ll see the highlights but won’t spend all your time in the car! Also there’s loads to see along the way and with a car you can stop when you like. Oh, I personally wouldn’t drive at night, especially log distance, as there aren’t many street lights!

Hiring a car is a FAB way to see Cuba, enjoy!

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Vietnam a must see destination

In recent years, Vietnam has established itself as a popular holiday destination in the Far East. Mark explores the sights and sounds.
Vietnam is a destination that combines incredible scenery and a varied history with vibrant cities, great food and exceptionally friendly people. This is a country of contrasts, and none more apparent than that of its two main cities, the elegant and charming capital Hanoi and the vibrant southern powerhouse Saigon. Both are well worth a few days to explore, and Vietnam's geography makes it easy to start your journey in one and finish in the other.
Hanoi's French influence is apparent in its elegant buildings and tree-lined avenues – the Old Quarter is a fascinating place to wander through. The 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.
Saigon – or Ho Chi Minh City – is very different to Hanoi, where the climate is steamier and the pace of life is far more frenetic. Modern Saigon congregates at the designer boutiques close to the Opera House, while the more traditional side heads to Ben Thanh market for groceries, clothes and plenty more. 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 and Notre Dame Cathedral show the city's French influence. The fascinating War Remnants Museum is quite possibly the most moving museum you're likely to visit, one that really brings home the effects of war. Make sure you have time to take a trip out of the city to see the Cu Chi tunnels, a mind-boggling series of over 250km of tunnels that criss-crossed the region at the height of the Vietnam War.
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. Hoi An is perhaps the most interesting of the two, with its restored wooden buildings and long history of seafarers giving it a charm that's hard to resist. 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. 
Vietnam Holidays
Holidays to Vietnam with Escape Worldwide
With over 1,000 miles of stunning coastline, Vietnam is also home to some beautiful beaches, from the diving paradise and nightlife of Nha Trang and the restaurants and bars of Mui Ne, to more peaceful spots such as Ninh Van Bay or the relaxed Quy Nhon, famed for its seafood. Both Hoi An and Hue have beaches close by, making them great options for a holiday that combines sightseeing with beach time. 
Vietnam is a charming and fascinating country, one that's steeped in history and packed with interest, and a trip there will leave you planning your return before you've even left.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Why can't a get a child 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!

Family holidays from Escape Worldwide

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!

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