Tuesday, 17 April 2018

China....one of Darrens favourite destinations

Darren loves China and has been a couple of times, let him guide you on how to make the most of this amazing destination:

China is one of the most fascinating destinations imaginable, with incredible history, stunning scenery and a modern twist. For the first-time visitor, there’s a list of “must see” highlights that are on most people’s agendas, but there’s so much to see that you could spend months touring the Country and still have only scratched the surface.

Shanghai and Beijing are by far the two most important cities in the Country and are the main gateways to China, and both have a wealth of interest – Beijing is a real assault on the senses so it’s often easier to start a trip to China in Shanghai, which has a more western-orientated outlook. Take a stroll along the Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront boulevard, where the art deco and neoclassical buildings of the colonial era now house the city’s most exclusive boutiques and innovative restaurants, and the view across to the futuristic skyline of Pudong, Shanghai’s new financial heart, is just spectacular. Take the super-fast elevator to the world’s second highest viewing platform at the 492m-high Shanghai World Financial Centre for views back across to the old city.

Beijing itself packs more interest in to one city than most entire countries do, with the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven leading the way. Explore the hutong, Beijing’s old streets that have escaped the city’s rapid development, where a more traditional way of life can be seen. Outside of the city centre, various stretches of the Great Wall of China can be accessed – some sections receive hundreds of thousands of visitors a day and can be choked with domestic tourists, so it’s worth travelling a little further to a slightly more peaceful section to really appreciate it.

Modern-day China is just as fascinating as its past, and the contrast between ancient and modern is most apparent in the big cities such as Beijing, where the Country’s economic rise in recent years is startling. International luxury brands from Prada to Ferrari have really made their mark, with designer shops rubbing shoulders with traditional markets and trendy bars replacing old-world teahouses.

The friendliness of the Chinese becomes more apparent as you get a little off the beaten track, and many visitors end up enjoying the lesser-known places more than the headline locations. In Sichuan province, the small riverside town of Leshan is a friendly place to spend a day or two, and has a major draw in the shape of the Grand Buddha, the world’s largest Buddha statue. Take in some of the teahouses that Sichuan is renowned for and sample local delicacies such as sour cabbage fish soup and Sichuan hotpot – be warned, Sichuan food packs a fiery punch!

China can be quite a daunting destination to deal with, as little English is spoken away from the main tourist areas and communicating can be difficult. Unless you’re familiar with written Chinese characters or can manage a few words of Mandarin, simple things like reading street signs or menus is just about impossible. The Chinese are a very resourceful bunch, however, and have embraced technology to communicate with overseas visitors – be prepared to order food and drinks via a translation app on a mobile phone! Travelling as part of a tour group is by far the most straightforward way to deal with day to day China, where a guide will navigate around the language, the streets and the vast numbers of domestic visitors that the major sites receive.

Many people see a visit to China being for history buffs and culture vultures, and while there’s a huge amount to keep them entertained, the Country offers such a wealth of interest and a real contrast of images that really engage you, it’s hard not to fall in love with the place.

Don’t miss…the world’s fastest train, the Maglev, connecting Shanghai airport to the city centre in around 7 minutes – travel faster than a Formula One car at over 260 mph.

Top Tip…take a business card from each hotel you stay in – taxi drivers rarely speak English, so if you have the name of your hotel written down you’ll be able to find your way back again.

One to avoid…being scammed in to attending an extortionate tea ceremony by con artists targeting visitors in Tiananmen Square, the Bund and other main areas. Don’t be fooled by over-friendly students wanting to practise their English, who want to take you for tea!

We have some amazing holidays to China - http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/far_east/china_holidays.html

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Wednesday, 11 April 2018

We love Hawaii.....it's a long way but worth it!

We love Hawaii, it’s a very long way to Hawaii, so once you’re there it’s worth taking in more than one of the six magical islands that are open to visitors. First stop for many is the island of Oahu, spending most of their time in and around Honolulu and Waikiki, but to get a true taste of Hawaii you’ll need to head over to one of the other islands.

Don’t dismiss Oahu as being just the high rise hotels of Waikiki Beach – it’s true, Waikiki is wall to wall hotels crammed in to a fairly average stretch of beach, but there’s something about the place that’s a little intoxicating, with great restaurants, relaxed bars and quality shopping, beautiful sunsets and a stunning setting - no trip to Hawaii would be complete until you’ve been to Waikiki!

Elsewhere on the Island there’s plenty of interest. Honolulu itself has been voted the most liveable city in the US and it’s easy to see why – it’s fairly small and easy to get around, plus it has a near-perfect climate and it’s full of interest. Fans of ‘Hawaii Five-0’ will recognise buildings such as the Ali’iolani Hale (used as Five-O Headquarters) with the statue of King Kamehameha just outside, while the Aloha Tower gives great views over the downtown and harbourfront areas.

Just outside Honolulu is Pearl Harbor, site of one of the most important events in World War II. The Arizona Memorial and its visitor centre are particularly moving, while the USS Bowfin submarine is really interesting, if a little claustrophobic.

Further afield on Oahu (although you could easily drive the whole island in a day) leave the city behind and take in some of the Island’s incredible scenery. The North Shore has become one of the world’s most famous surfing venues, while the east coast is dominated by dramatic scenery that’s been used in films such as ‘Jurassic Park’ and on TV in ‘Lost’.

Oahu is very much the American side of Hawaii, but as it’s only been the 50th state of the US since 1959 it’s easy to see a more traditional side of things, where connections to Polynesian neighbours such as Tahiti and Fiji are more obvious than those to the US mainland. The island of Maui is perhaps the most beautiful in the archipelago, with stunning beaches and a dramatic volcanic interior, while tiny Kaui has some of the most varied landscapes imaginable on such a small island. Our favourite is Big Island, for its laid-back pace of life, stunning coastline and dramatic scenery dominated by volcanoes.

As its name suggests, Big Island is the biggest of all of the Hawaiian Islands, and a few days with a car will allow you to explore away from the beaches. The island is dominated by Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in the Pacific, one of the best locations in the world for star-gazing – the clear air above the clouds away from light pollution means the summit of the often snow-capped peak is home to a number of the world’s leading high-tech telescopes. A visitor centre at 9,000 feet is easy to reach by car, but if you’re heading higher take a breather here to avoid altitude sickness!

Big Island’s number one attraction, however, is Volcano National Park, a dramatic, unpredictable place of bubbling lava and steaming craters, where eruptions have been continuous since 1983. Certain parts of the park become off-limits as activity starts up, but at the moment visitors can walk along the floor of Kilauea Iki Crater, see the plumes of smoke from the Halema’uma’u Crater and take the Chain of Craters Road to see where the lava flows have made it to the sea. Dramatic, exciting and unnerving all at the same time!

Finish off your Hawaiian adventure on the beaches of the Kona coast, where the relaxed resort of Kailua seems a million miles from hedonistic Waikiki. The area is famed for its Kona coffee, but our top tip is the local beers from the Kona Brewing Company – brewery tours are free, or just relax in the brewery gardens with a cool Longboard lager or a Castaway IPA as the sun sets on another perfect day in paradise.

Don’t miss…The Big Kahuna breakfast at the Cheeseburger in Paradise diner, where the kitsch Hawaiian d├ęcor and great views of Waikiki Beach combine.

Don’t miss…Take a helicopter over Volcanoes National Park to see the latest eruption from the sky – the brave (or stupid) can opt for a ‘no doors’ flight!

One to avoid…Lunch. Portions tend to be huge, so if you managed breakfast (with a side of pancakes) and are heading for dinner, we’d skip lunch entirely!

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