Saturday, 6 May 2017

South East Asia - One of the best holiday destinations around

South East Asia over the years has blossomed as one of the most popular tourist destinations for holidaymakers of all types. Each year, young backpackers, families and young couples come flocking to South East Asia in their thousands, many of which keep returning year after year.  But what is it that makes South East Asia so alluring and why do countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam make such great holiday destinations?

Typically the answer you will find is quite simple - they have it all. Take Thailand - for couples, you can find romantic getaways tucked away on some of Thailand’s most stunning islands. For cash-strapped backpackers, money can go a long way, enabling them to tour every corner of this amazing region taking them to some of the most interesting countries in the world. For families, you will find many activities from elephant trekking to scuba diving to keep everyone entertained.  On top of this you have some of the best tasting and most unusual cuisine served in restaurants and on most street corners for everyone to feast their eyes on.  On some menus you will find obscure dishes including deep fried insects, snakes blood, tarantulas and even dog in restaurants and street stalls throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. So take care when ordering...

Phi Phi, Thailand

However, these are probably some of the more typical reasons why South East Asia makes one of the best holiday destinations. Besides these reasons, one of the main reasons that keep travelers returning year after year to South East Asia is the people.  

a Vietnamese feast

It might look like unorganised chaos for many first time travelers but behind the hustle and bustle of large metropolitan cities such as Bangkok lies deep rooted tradition that is etched into everyone’s heart of people living there.  If you spend enough time getting to know the people and chatting with them you will learn more about their culture which will leave you with long lasting memories.

You’ll find most people will greet you with big smile and a warm welcome.  Their hospitable and inquisitive nature will make you feel very special leaving you relaxed and feeling at home even though you are thousands of miles away.  

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Overall it isn’t just because of good weather, the amazing beaches, great tasting food and affordability that keeps people returning to this region of the world, the real reason people keep returning time and time again is because of the people.  Without the people South East Asia wouldn’t have the same charm and if you plan on travelling to this region make sure you take time to get to know them and you will leave appreciating an entire new way of life. It is also important to respect local customs - for example, in Thailand one should not walk holding hands and certainly don't walk around topless - unfortunately many Westerners do this (as they would back home) so we strongly recommend reading up on some tips and customs before you go travelling. Also - it pays to learn a few local phrases before you go. The locals love hearing a few words in their local language and you can guarantee if won't do any harm to the quality of service and to the overall experience if you speak to restaurant staff using a little thai (with a smile on your face) too.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Non EU Holiday Destinations - Magical Iceland

Iceland is situated North West of the UK on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Capital and only city of Iceland is Reykjavic, with a population of about 120,000 it makes up well over a third of Iceland's entire population - this city is the hub of Iceland's tourism. After the European Championships last year, it was claimed 10% of the entire population were in France to see their incredible run in the tournament (beating England in the last 16, cough), and with a population as small as that it is easy to believe.

Iceland is geologically and volcanically active due to its situation on the Mid-Atlantic ridge - those who did GCSE Geography will know that where tectonic plates meet, volcanic activity is rife. This characteristic is one of the main draws for tourists to come to Iceland - the scenery and landscape make it one of the best holiday destinations for anyone with an interest in geography or geology - however anyone can enjoy the country's spectacular sights, from young to old.

One of the top tourist hotspots is the blue lagoon - an incredible geothermal spa. Considering the regularly freezing air temperatures that Iceland has, you may be shocked to learn that the water temperature of the blue lagoon averages at 40°C. This is becuase of a nearby geothermal power station uses an underground lava flow to heat water that turns turbines, and the hot water is then pumped out into the lagoon for bathers to swim in. The water absorbs many minerals such as sulphur as it passes through the rocks and these help give the water its distinctive blue colour, as well as having medicinal purposes - the water is siad to heal certain skin diseases.

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The geysers of Iceland are also another incredible sight - fountains of piping hot water shooting up into the air. Many tours will stop at one or two - you can take your own wheels but be wary of the ice - it'll be a very different experience to driving in most of Europe.

Venice - Most Romantic Destinations in Europe

Venice is without doubt one of the most romantic holiday destinations on the planet. Located in Northern Italy, it is a truly unique and historic town, brimming with culture. It has been described as the most beautiful city in the world by many and it is easy to see why.
Venice is famous for being situated right out in the Adriatic sea, with a network of rivers weaving through the city itself. It is made up of 118 small islands - this characteristic has earned Venice the title of the "City of Water". The traditional image of tourists snuggled together in a gondola being transported down the narrow, winding waterways between beautiful riverside buildings is a famous one - and rightly so. Nowhere else on the planet is quite like Venice and for this reason alone it is a holiday destination that everyone should visit at some point in their life.

Venice is definitely a good city for couples - gently drifting down the rivers in a goldola, the traditional Venetian rowing boats, is an experience to savour, and very romantic. The city is so beautiful as well, it is easy to spend hours just wandering the streets in your partners arms, soaking up the sun (if you're lucky). The Italian lifestyle and culture is itself is very suave and chic, so combined with the city you get an very sexy holiday destination. The restaurants in Venice are typically very good, serving up your traditional Italian fare like pizza and pasta as well as more up market speciality dishes such as freshly caught fish and local meat dishes. One tip - watch out for tourist traps - we went to a restaurant which was basically the first one we came across upon entrance to the city main, and paid about 18 euros for a frozen base pizza and bottle of water. So be wary of vendors trying to get you into their restaurants, although this is true in all cities, as Venice is quite pricey anyway you'll be even more annoyed about paying over the odds for a poor quality meal. If you fancy exploring areas outside of Venice itself, we would recommend renting a car to drive down the coast or wherever the wind takes you. If you want car hire, Venice has many companies to choose from all offering various deals and cars, at various locations.

Traditional Venice gondolas

Overall, Venice is a really special town, full of history. Whether you're in a relationship, with friends, on your own or with your family, there's plenty of things to keep you occupied. However there's something about Venice that makes it one of the most romantic holiday destinations in the world - I'd definitely recommend it as somewhere to go with your partner.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

West Coast Road Trip - Big Sur, California

No trip to the West Coast is complete without driving up Big Sur, a 90-mile stretch of coastline with some of the best driving roads in the World. While many tourists refer to Big Sur purely as the coastal road Highway 1, there are in fact many other areas to explore if you turn off and drive inland - housing some stunning regions of mountains and national parks. Most visitors will arrive from either the North, via Monterey or Carmel, or the South, via Cambria or Hearst Castle.

If driving Big Sur, plan your trip carefully. It's easy to rush the drive in a day if your going straight from, say, Monterey south all the way down to Santa Barbara. You really need at least a day just to drive Big Sur, so ideally you want to stay just North beforehand, and just south after your drive (or vice versa) to allow more time to enjoy the drive in daylight hours. There isn't a huge amount of accommodation on the route either, and what there is is generally very expensive compared to nearby towns. Camping is also an option, with a few campsites scattered around within the state parks. 

Time of year is also a factor. The road can be closed during periods of bad weather - especially in Winter. Although it's worth noting in Spring/Summer, your views can often be spoiled by long morning coastal fogs. Plus - the crowds in Summer can potentially spoil the views and make the roads much busier. We visited in November - while a little chilly (although the roof was still down on the convertible) and with short daylight hours, the days were usually filled with clear blue skies and few cars on the road. Plenty of lay-bys mean slow drivers usually let you through nice and regularly. 

Every turn of the road reveals a new stunning vista, overlooking the rugged coastline across the Atlantic. Leave time to explore one of the many great state parks too. McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer state park is a top tourist pull - one of only a few waterfalls in the world which falls directly onto the beach. The other side of the road, you can lose the tourists and hike up into the mountains on a 3-hour round walk, taking in redwoods, steep trails, open mountain views and cliff-edge vistas looking back down on the road below and across the ocean from 1,000+ feet up.

McWay Falls

Food/fuel is also something to consider - most restaurants are fairly overpriced, and make sure you fill up before you start Big Sur - petrol stations are excessive. 

Overall Big Sur is definitely a must-do when in California, if you have a car. The drive really is one of the best in the world, plus it's usually on the way for many visitors driving from San Fran - LA or vice versa. 

Best Winter Sun Destinations - Tenerife, the Canary Islands

With summer still feeling a long way off, a bit of las-minute winter sun wouldn't go amiss would it? Tenerife is one of the best holiday destinations for a spot of winter sun, and Feb-March are great times to go. The Canary Islands, off the North West coast of Africa, have year long sunshine and high temperatures - because they are near the equator there are no distinct seasons. Around February-March, temperatures average 22-23˚C, rising to around 28˚C in August. Cheap package deals have made holidays here hugely popular all year round, combined with just a 4 hour flight and you are onto a winner. Being a Spanish island the locals speak Spanish but most know some English so you should be able to get by, if not the obligatory tourist hand signals should do the trick.

There are several main resorts in Tenerife. The first is near the airport in the South of the island, and is split into 3 areas, Los Cristianos, Las Americas and the Costa Adeje. This large resort attracts most of Tenerifes tourists, as the South gets the best weather and generally has nicer beaches than the North. Tenerife is a volcano and as a result it tends to be rainier and cooler in the North due to the winds, however it is windier (but sunnier) in the South. There is plenty to do in this area - a newly opened waterpark, Siam Park, is one of the main attractions and is much more impressive than anything found back in the UK. There are also a variety of tour operators that specialise in dolphin and whale watching.

The main disadvantage of Los Cristianos etc. is that the 18-30's flock there on lads holidays, and as a result the area has become slightly tacky. Drinks offers can be found in force, with a large array of bars and clubs perfect for youngsters. Gary Lineker's brother even owns a bar here and is one of the top draws come sunset - the creatively named Lineker's Bar.

The North of the island is slightly less developed, including Puerto de la Cruz. The town has a couple of decent black sand beaches - the main attraction here is Loro Parque, an impressive zoo which also has live dolphin, sea lion and killer whale shows - well worth a visit no matter what your age.

I would recommend getting a hire car if you wanted to explore the island, the best beaches are out of the tourist hotspots - for example Playa las Teresitas, just east of the capital, Santa Cruz (see photo below). Although the beach is artificial, it has white sand (imported from the Sahara) unlike the natural Tenerife beaches and is probably the best beach on the island, and rarely gets crowded. There is also a breakwater that makes the sea great for safe family swimming, and the water is usually nice and warm.

Overall Tenerife has alot to offer - a trip up to the top of Mount Teide is a must as well - and is definitely one of the best holiday destinations for some winter (or summer) sun.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

American West Coast Road Trip - San Diego, California

Last November saw us travel to the US for a 2 week holiday. Flying into Phoenix for a night, we picked up a Ford Mustang hirecar (it’s compulsory, right?) and drove the 4-5 hour drive to San Diego on the West Coast of America. Reading forums, we had considered flying to San Diego - costing about £20 more, but probably more faff. Users talked of a long, dull drive, however it was a drive of many contrasts - from dusty vistas, to full-on deserts, to twisting rocky mountain passes where you could really feel the chill of the air. We also passed a huge livestock farm - miles long and literally full of cows - presumably one of the fast food giants. Quite a shock but still another interesting early insight into the Arizona/California region.

Arriving in San Diego to a beautiful sunset, we stayed in an Airbnb - a little Spanish style self contained flat. Starving, we went out for dinner in the Hillcrest area. Being November, Southern California is still sunny and fairly warm in the day but there was a real chill at night, while the further up North you go the colder and rainier it tends to get. The following day we took a 30 min drive to La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya) - a beautiful, affluent suburb of San Diego. Set along the coast, the huge Atlantic waves come crashing against the rocks, sending spray soaring in front of your face and creating mini-rainbows. Sea lions also sat in crowds, lazing on the rocks, just metres from the wandering locals and tourists. La Jolla is definitely one to visit if you’re in San Diego - there are some great cafes and restaurants in the area as well as some stunning short walks along the coast.
Sea lions at La Jolla

Being a surf hotspot, we decided to go for a spot of surfing the next day. Having gone once before and got up  few times, we were confident we would master it this time round. Unfortunately, the waves, although smallish, were crashing aggressively on Pacific Beach. Usually packed with surfer, we were joined by only 5 or so other surfers, including a surf school of teacher and 2 students who retreated to the beach after only 20 mins. We did the same after being wiped out repeatedly by the waves, combined with oncoming hypothermia from the chilly water and cloudy conditions that day. A trip to San Diego Old Town for lunch, home of many taquerias, helped sooth the pain with a burrito and bottle of Mexican beer.
Evening surfing, San Diego

Overall San Diego is definitely a great place to spend a few days (or more) - with great food, lovely weather (most of the time) and a chilled out vibe - different to that of it’s big brother Los Angeles a couple of hours North.

Pacific Beach, San Diego


Monday, 6 February 2017

Holidays in Grenada, Caribbean - The Spice Isle

Grenada is a fantastic destination for tourists looking for a fun-filled Caribbean holiday. Nicknamed the Spice Isle, after the array of spices grown and used there such as nutmeg, the island offers a host of activities for visitors, such as scuba diving, snorkelling, scenic boat trips, hiking and much more. There is also plenty of culture to enjoy - especially in the capital of St Georges, making the island a great destination for visitors looking for a blend of qualities and experiences with their holiday.

The beaches in Grenada deserve a special mention. Picture your perfect idyllic Caribbean beach scene, and you'll be getting close to Grenada. Glorious white sands coupled with turquoise waters and palm trees gently swaying in the Caribbean breeze. Grand Anse beach, located in the south west of the island, not too far from the majority of the hotels and villas on the island, is Grenada's most famous beach. It's sheltered position means it generally avoids strong winds, currents and large waves. Plus, it's 2-mile stretch of white sand means you'll always be able to find some space to yourself, and you shouldn't have anyone disturbing your relaxation or kicking up sand in your face, Benidorm style. Having mentioned Grand Anse, it's worth noting there are a huge number of other stunning beaches on Grenada. Some of these may be a bit of a drive away but you can be sure that a bit of exploration will yield the rewards. Some of the beaches, especially the further North you go, will be pretty much deserted. Just remember to pack your sun block, as you won;t want to leave once you've laid your towel down and got stuck into your holiday read.

Grand Anse beach

The food in Grenada is delicious - fresh ingredients and flavoursome, exotic dishes dominate menus. The national dish is oildown - a stew made with salted meat, breadfruit, daheen and vegetables, simmered in coconut milk with dumplings until the liquid has been absorbed. Give it a try if you visit. Rotis, calaloo (a soup made with a spinach-like leafy green) and seafood (caught fresh locally and often served within hours of being caught) will often pop up regularly on menus. You certainly won't go hungry and you're sure to try a range of new dishes and flavours you won't find in Europe or America.

In terms of accommodation, there are a multitude of choices, mainly within fairly close proximity of Grand Anse and the airport. Our personal recommendation for accommodation is a beautiful luxury villa in Grenada overlooking the bay, 10 mins from Grand Anse and 20 mins from the airport - it features an infinity pool and modern interior. 

If you're looking for a Caribbean holiday, we think Grenada is a top destination - with it's blend of sun-soaked beaches, culture, great food and (generally) easy transport links from the airport.