If you’re looking for a south-east Asia destination with sandy beaches, beautiful underwater reefs and foodie adventures - that isn’t a massive tourist hub - we recommend the Philippines .
This collection of more than 7,000 islands is still little known to British travellers. Despite bringing together everything that makes South-East Asia so popular (food, culture, beautiful beaches and warm weather), it also has a few unique quirks. English is widely spoken, the architecture is significantly different and the people are some of the friendliest you will meet. Here’s everything you need to know before your first visit.
Where to go and what to do
With over seven thousand islands, you won’t get to see everything – so we’ve narrowed it down to the following five things.
Swim with whale sharks
If you still haven’t ticked swimming with whale sharks off your bucket list, now is the time. Head to Donsol Bay on Luzon Island or Oslob in Cebu.
Sporty types are well catered to in the Philippines. Not only does its never-ending coastline naturally cater to watersports, but the hilly inland is also popular with hiking and mountain biking. Fun fact: the Philippines is also the unofficial zip-line capital of the world.
Island hop in Palawan
Island hopping is a must for any beach-bums visiting the Philippines – with Palawan being the number one option. This was actually where the author of The Beach (later turned into a film with Leonardo DiCaprio) was living when he wrote the book. The turquoise waters, colourful reefs, and the secluded location definitely get the imagination going!
Banaue Rice Terraces
If you’re looking for a beautiful hidden gem to add to your travel scrapbook – head to the Banaue Rice Terraces. These 2,000-year-old terraces – that were built by indigenous tribes - are a beautiful shade of green and the air is a lot cooler here. Remember to pay a visit to the nearby town of Sagada; enjoy a couple of days caving, spelunking and hiking!
Keep your eyes peeled for tarsiers
These funny looking creatures are native to the Philippines and have to be seen to be believed. They are actually endangered though – and being only five inches tall makes them really difficult to spot in the wild. The Tarsier Sanctuary in Bohol is the best place to meet them.
Food and Drink
Thanks to the country’s Spanish history, most dishes favour a sour or vinegary taste as opposed to the spicy flavours of other Asian nations. The most famous dish is adobo: a rich stew with garlic, soy and vinegar with some local meats or seafood. Pork is the most popular meat in the Philippines, but fresh seafood is also very common and the mangoes are meant to be some of the best in the world!
How to get there
A direct flight to Manila runs from Heathrow and takes just under 14 hours. However, the Philippines makes for a great twin-centre break with a stopover somewhere else on the way. Dubai is a popular choice, where you can combine a few days in the glittering city before relaxing on a white-sand beach on a remote Filipino island.
Domestic flights are very easy to come by as well and are often the best way to see different parts of the country.
When to go
December to February are the best months to visit the Philippines. Though the shoulder seasons of November and April are still pleasant and offer great value for money. The wet season is between May and October, but the rain isn’t constant and you will still see sunny days.
Other important information
Tagalog and English are the two primary languages
The currency is the Philippine Peso (which you can pre-order from Barrhead Travel)
Boracay Island will be closed to tourists from 26th April 2018 for 6 months for environmental rehabilitation
You can enter the Philippines without a visa for an initial period of 30 days (you can also get a tourist visa from the Philippine Embassy before you travel, which will allow an initial 59-day stay)
Check with your GP about two months before you travel to see if you need any vaccinations (this can depend on which area you visit)
Tipping in the Philippines is usually around 10%
Japan is a multi-faceted country with beautiful landscapes at one end and glittering neon cities on the other (with lots of temples, anime, sushi, technology, karaoke and hot springs in the middle). It’s a fabulous destination that can also be overwhelming for a first time visitor. If there’s anywhere in the world where an organised tour would be a great decision, it’s Japan.
Thankfully numerous organised and escorted tours are available. Whether you want a short trip around Tokyo, or you’re looking for a month-long itinerary that covers every mile of the country – you’ll find what you’re looking for in our choice of tours. Here are five destinations that are especially popular on an organised Japan tour.
First off is the world famous Tokyo. A larger than life metropolis that combines modern-day neon skyscrapers and futuristic technology with ancient shrines and old-school sweet shops. It’s also a haven for foodies, with a higher volume of Michelin-star restaurants than any other city in the world. Shopping is also world-class, offering high-tech gadgets, colourful anime toys, traditional crafts, and trendy clothing.
While Tokyo is one of the world’s most futuristic cities, Kyoto celebrates the old ways. Sometimes known as Japan’s spiritual heart, it is home to 2,000 temples and shrines and it’s not unusual to see monks and geishas wandering the streets. If it’s traditional Japanese culture that you’re looking for, this is where you’ll find it.
This includes traditional Japanese foods. In the afternoon you can stroll into a traditional teahouse, or tuck into some hearty ramen. Then in the evening, you can visit an izakaya (Japanese pub-eateries) or Michelin-star restaurant. Finish the night off at one of the trendy cocktail bars.
While it is certainly an unsettling part of Japan’s history, a visit to Hiroshima is essential for anyone interested in the country’s past. While it was once believed that the city would remain uninhabitable, the city has now been re-built (including the reconstruction of monuments such as Hiroshima Castle and Shukkeien Garden) and Peace Memorial Park was constructed as a reminder of the city’s past.
Osaka is Japan's second largest metropolitan area after Tokyo – and is a popular nightlife destination. The Kitashinchi and Dōtonbori districts are the most popular places for locals and tourists to head out to in the evenings.
During the day, we recommend you try out the unique cuisine (which differs from that of Tokyo on the east coast). Some local foods include battera (a block type sushi topped with mackerel), okonomiyaki (fried cabbage cakes that resemble a cross between a pancake, pizza, and omelette) and takoyaki (bits of octopus inside fried dumplings).
Also remember to visit Kaiyukan (one of the world’s largest aquariums), Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum and – of course – Universal Studios Japan.
Only an hour and a half in the car from Tokyo, the mountainous town of Hakone is the polar opposite of Japan’s capital city. Its main draw is its hot springs, which makes it a great final destination on a Japan tour. It is also a place of picturesque natural beauty with impressive views of the iconic Mount Fuji and is on the doorstep of the scenic Lake Ashi, which you can tour by boat and is overlooked by the stunning Hakone Shrine.
When many people dream about their honeymoon they picture sandy beaches, shimmering blue seas and a luxury 5* resort. Then there are couples who don’t want to get away from it all and their dream honeymoon involves a bustling city or exploring hidden caves.
What if we told you that there’s a popular honeymoon destination that offers all of this? Well, there is - and it’s Thailand. One of South-East Asia’s most popular holiday hot spots, it is also the perfect place for a romantic escape. Below we’ve rounded up five reasons why you should definitely consider Thailand for your first holiday as a married couple.
1. Luxury Resorts
It’s your honeymoon so you’ll want to treat yourself, and Thailand is not short of gorgeous hotels. Throughout the country you’ll find a mix of famous hotel chains as well as beautiful boutique accommodations. Even better, 5* accommodation is much more affordable in Thailand than in many other destinations.
2. Beautiful beaches
Want to treat your new spouse to a romantic walk on the beach? Thailand is home to some of South-East Asia’s most exquisite beaches. Many of Thailand’s 5* resorts are even found on uninhabited islands so you’ll have the whole stretch of sand to yourself.
3. There’s still the option for adventure
Relaxing on a beach or unwinding with a couple’s massage isn’t for everyone. If you and your sweetheart would rather be trekking up mountains or exploring a street market, you won’t be disappointed. From Buddhist temples and world-class dive sites to famous nightlife, Thailand offers more than just romantic candlelit dinners.
4. Delicious food
It’s been said that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, and Thailand definitely listened. Enjoy a romantic dinner with a sensual aroma of colourful soups, delicious flavours, fresh fish and beautiful desserts. Then toast to your future together with a fresh watermelon cocktail.
5. Ease of travel
The last thing you want to feel on your honeymoon is stressed. Thankfully travelling to and around Thailand is easy. Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok is a major hub, but international flights can also deliver you to Chiang Mai in the North, Pattaya to the East and Krabi and Phuket in the South of Thailand. Inter-city trains and domestic flights are also easy to come by. English is widely spoken and used in street signs.
If you’ve been on honeymoon to Thailand, let us know in the comments why you’d recommend it.
Hi Lyndsay, tell us a little about yourself, what you do at Barrhead Travel and your trip to India?
Hi there. I'm Lyndsay and I am a Commerical Assistant at Barrhead Travel within the Business Development Team. India has always been a once in a lifetime experience for me personally, it’s somewhere I never ever thought I would visit. Working for Barrhead Travel is more than just a lifetime job, there is so much opportunity for you to visit/feel a destination for yourself - especially destinations that are a bit different or might be out your comfort zone.
Although India was somewhere I also wanted to visit, I genuinely never thought it was for me as I like to go on beach holidays to relax and do my own thing opposed to an adventure holiday where you have your own local tour guide the full trip and you get to experience things like the locals which you don’t usually get to do on your usual beach/city holidays.
What parts of India did you visit?
I visited Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. This was the Golden Triangle Tour. A tour that gives you a feel for everything as each destination was really different to one another. Delhi was by the far the busiest city we visited. Everything was constant, cars beeping their horns every 10 seconds, roads with no lanes getting used so everyone was just driving wherever they could find a space, cows and goats walking around and stopping traffic whereas Agra and Jaipur was a bit more chilled out and touristy.
What attraction or activity was your favourite?
Visiting the Taj Mahal is probably going to be the most amazing sight I will ever see. This place is just incredible! We had to get up at 4:30am to be there for 5am to ensure we were first in line as it gets really busy and also very hot. The gardens and the views were just spectacular, it’s hard to put into words how amazing it is to see this, you need to see it with your own eyes. When you first go through the entrance gate it’s almost like it’s really cloudy at the other end and then the more you begin to walk through the Taj Mahal just appears… amazing!
I also did a hot air balloon ride over the city of Jaipur, also known as “The Pink City”. This again was another early rise same time as the Taj visit although totally worth it for the sunrise. The balloon goes 2,000 feet up in the air and glides across the city very smoothly and has incredible views. The hot air balloon can hold up to 16 people (dependant on weight) as it is split into 4 different baskets, you would be surprised, I thought a hot air balloon ride could only hold 2 people! We landed the balloon in a local village which again was another amazing experience. Watching all the kids chase the balloon as we were landed was just so nice, it was like we were landing a UFO they were all super happy to see us!
What did you think of the hotels you stayed in?
The hotels we stayed in were great, especially for a trip like this when you’re always out and about on the go and only need somewhere to sleep. The first two hotels we stayed in (The Picadilly Hotel and Seven Hills Tower) were a local 4/5* opposed to the other hotel we stayed in (Hotel Mabhuban) which was a heritage home. This was rated as a 3*, it was still comfortable and welcoming enough to sleep for 2 nights. On the second last night, we stayed at the local Fort Sawarda Village in Jaipur which is a 400 year old Fort but now converted into rooms etc. This was a real eye-opener for us as we got to live like proper locals for one night. This accommodation has no Wi-Fi, was very basic but had spectacular views.
What was the food like? Discover anything new?
The food was great considering I’m probably one of the fussiest people ever. I discovered that the majority of Indians are actually vegetarian so they have plenty options for everyone. You will find that you rarely get beef too. No menu in any restaurants will have any curries/Indian food that we get back home, I had never heard of the majority of things. A lot of curries are made with goat instead of chicken, which again was a shock to me. They have loads to offer though and are able to cater for everyone. They even have your usual McDonalds and KFCs!
What would you recommend someone packs when visiting India?
I visited India in the summer months, which was very hot. Ensure you have a lot of sun cream - there were days where it was 43 degrees.
You always need to be mindful when visiting religious places. You must respect their religion and cover up your knees, legs and shoulders.
I took a few pairs of trousers that were loose and light so you don’t get too warm along with proper t-shirts and not vests.
I also packed a LOT of bug spray. Mosquitos are everywhere and you don’t see them. I recommend taking plenty of bug spray and ensure your full body is covered and not just the parts you can see.
Even though this is an adventure and touring trip, still pack your swimming stuff as you will more than likely have some free time to chill out at the pool. Most hotels I visited had a pool or even a spa area.
Some of the hotel sockets were just the same as back home so we didn’t need an adapter, although I also used the European and US adapter. I would take a variety of both as this sometimes varies. I also took along an extension cable as many rooms only have one plug.
What are your top tips for someone visiting India?
I carried around tissues and wipes everywhere as sometimes public toilets didn’t have these.
Anti-bacterial hand gel. You can never have too much.
You are able to wear whatever you wish, although I recommend carrying a scarf around in your bag in case you need to cover up when visiting local mosques/religious places.
Whether you measure it by population, landmass, or tourist sights – China definitely believes in the saying ‘go big or go home’. This is a country that has a lot to offer and you’ll want to make the most of any trip you take there.
This is why touring holidays are very popular, whether it’s escorted or self-guided. We’ve rounded up seven amazing cities and villages that are must-visits while in China – and we even have an exclusive Escorted Tour with Wendy Wu that covers them all!
Start off in the capital of Beijing; a cultural and historical treasure trove are just a few of the guises of this magnificent mega city. A progressive and modern place that is growing at an explosive rate, you may have to peel back to the layers of modernity to find the three millennia of a tumultuous but glorious past beneath.
Beijing has been a political centre for 800 years, the last of the 4 Great Ancient Capitals of China. Huge sights such as the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace perfectly illustrated the great wealth of China’s old imperial families, whilst the stark austerity of Tiananmen Square and the executive buildings surrounding it are a monument to more recent history
2.The Great Wall
No journey to China is complete without a visit to the Great Wall. Found two hours from Beijing, the most convenient place to stay is the compact-sized city of Juyongguan. The wall itself is over 700 years old and clocks in at 5,500 miles – but don’t worry, most tours won’t make you walk the full way (you’re free to just admire it).
If it’s history you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Xian. It is home to some of China’s most fascinating sights, diverse architecture and delicious fares, thanks to its[TC3] important role in China’s history. The Museum of the Terracotta Warriors is considered the primary historical attraction that all travellers must pay a visit to. Here you’ll be able to admire one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
4. Yangtze River
If you’ve got four days to spare, we recommend a cruise along the Yangtze River. While cruising down this 6,300km waterway, you’ll pass the Three Gorges Dam (the largest hydroelectric dam in the world), the Wu and Qutang gorges, and the Goddess Stream.
Surrounded by picturesque mountains, the stunning city of Guilin even has a pretty name that translates into Forest of Sweet Osmanthus (a fragrant tree planted in large numbers throughout the city). While in the city we recommend trying some of the local food, which is a mix of Cantonese and Zhuang cuisine. Keep an eye out for dishes that contain what is known by the locals as the Three Treasures - Guilin chili sauce, Guilin pickled tofu and Guilin Sanhua Jiu (rice baijiu).
Leave the city behind and explore the scenic village of Yangshou[TC4] . A river cruise is a popular option, where you’ll slowly glide round river bends as staggering peaks rise over the horizon while grazing buffalos and local fishermen go about their day on the river banks.
While China is full of intriguing history and oriental architecture, don’t pass up the opportunity to explore the modern metropolitan hub of Shanghai. You can spend hours exploring shopping malls, watching a sports game, dipping in and out of museums or wandering the streets admiring the modernistic skyline.
What city or area of China is your favourite must-visit?
While Kuala Lumpur is one of South East Asia’s most modern hubs, the traditional street market is still an important part of the city’s culture and visiting one is a must while in the city. Along the street edges, travellers will find an array of fresh produce, apparel, handicrafts, accessories and jewellery all at excellent prices – making it an amazing options for any holidaymakers seeking authentic Malaysian culture. Even better, the best ones are either in the centre or conveniently located beside popular public transport stops.
1. Petaling Street
Considered the most popular street market in Kuala Lumpur – and open every day – Petaling Street is a vibrant shopping hub found in the Chinatown District and is the perfect place to pick up some budget-friendly souvenirs (haggling is a way of life here). The indoor market is also the perfect place to stop for lunch – especially if you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine or seafood.
2. Kasturi Walk
If the crowds of Petaling Street put a little fear into you, Kasturi Walk (found beside Central Market) is considered a quieter version. Also indoors, it’s a great place to look for some cheap clothing and local food. At certain times of year you will also be able to catch a cultural performance that ties in with the regular festivities of the city.
3.Chow Kit Market
Here’s one for the foodies! Regarded as Kuala Lumpur’s largest wet market, food lovers will find rows upon rows of vendors selling seafood, meat, fresh vegetables, local fruits, and spices. There’s also a dry section of the market that sells delicious street food and the other street market essentials of DVDs and clothing. The selling style of the vendors is a bit tougher here, and you’ll need to be assertive when anything is pushed on you – but the food is still some of the best.
4.Kampung Baru Market
Most stalls in the Kampung Baru Market are run by the local Malay community, and is a great place to pick up some traditional Malay crafts. Like most street markets in the city, you can also pick up some delicious food while you browse. But here it will be Malay delicacies such as rojak (spicy fruit and vegetable salad), grilled fish, satays (grilled meat skewers), nasi lemak, and colourful kuih. It’s only open on Saturday night, and we recommend working it into your itinerary.
5. The Taman Connaught Night Market
Night markets are a regular occurrence in Kuala Lumpur, and The Taman Connaught Night Market is one of the biggest with 700 stalls lining up every Wednesday. While many vendors sell your usual knickknacks of inexpensive clothes and jewellery, Tamman Connaught has become well-known for its Chinese street food, ranging from curry noodles, char kuey teow, laksa, and satay.
Have you ever visited a street market in Kuala Lumper? What one would you recommend the most?
If you’re stopping by Cambodia on your next Far East Asia adventure, a day trip to Angkor Wat deserves to be at the top of your itinerary wish-list. One of the world’s biggest ancient religious monuments, it was built somewhere in the early 12th Century and still maintains its original divine charm to this day. Its fascinating walls are steeped in history and decorated with beautiful carvings – but how much do you know about this historic temple that is important enough to Cambodia that it has taken centre stage on its flag? Here’s 10 facts to get you started.Here’s 10 facts to get you started.Its fascinating walls are steeped in history and decorated with beautiful carvings – but how much do you know about this historic temple that is important enough to Cambodia that it has taken centre stage on its flag? Here’s 10 facts to get you started.
It was originally a Hindu place of worship
While Buddhists still visit Angkor Wat to worship even now, the complex was originally a Hindu structure and wasn’t transferred to the Cambodian Buddhist community until the late 12th Century.
It is believed that its original purpose was to hold funeral services
Most Hindu buildings built at the time faced east, however Angkor Wat faces west. This has led many scholars to believe that Angor Wat was originally constructed as a funeral temple. The bas-reliefs are also designed in a counter-clockwork direction, which is considered more evidence of this line of thought.however Angkor Wat faces west. This has led many scholars to believe that Angor Wat was originally constructed as a funeral temple. The bas-reliefs are also designed in a counter-clockwork direction, which is considered more evidence of this line of thought.
It was dedicated to Lord Vishnu
Facing west wasn’t the only Hindu tradition that Angkor Wat went against the grain on. When it was built it was dedicated to Lord Vishnu - the second god in the Hindu triumvirate – while most other Hindu sites were dedicated to the current king.
It was once an enclosed city
While nothing remains of the wall today, when it was first built a wall enclosed the religious complex into a 820,000 square meters area. In fact, Angkor Wat roughly translates as "City of Temples".
There’s a dinosaur carving
The jury is a little out on it though. Within the temple, there is a carving that some believe to be a stegosaurus dinosaur. While science generally advises that dinosaurs and humans did not co-inhabit the earth at the same time, there are some groups who believe this is proof that the timeline might be out. Others believe it is just an over-enthusiastic carving of a rhino (or a modern day hoax).
The three-tiered gallery has spiritual meaning
The three-tiers of the inside gallery represent Brahma, the moon, and Vishnu. Plus the overall design of the temple is meant to represent the spiritual home of the Hindu deities, Mount Meru.
More sandstone was used to build Angor Wat than the Egyptian pyramids combined
The sandstone was believed to be quarried from 25km away in Mount Kulen. Plus, the binding agent has never been identified (though natural resins or slaked lime have been suggested).
Tomb Raider was filmed here
If you’re a fan of the Tomb Raider films you probably already knew this. But if you’re wanting to walk in Angelina’s exact footsteps, head to the Ta Prohm temple where most of the filming took place.
It wasn’t known by its present name until the 16th Century
Prior to this it has been known as Pisnulok, after the Khmer king Suryavarman II who built it (Pisnulok was his official royal title).
It attracts 2 million visitors annually
Will you be one of the next million?
If you want to travel somewhere off-track where not many people can say they’ve been, then we recommend Myanmar. Its borders only became open to tourists in 2012, having spent years untouched by the nuances of 21st Century life. If you want a taste of the true orient, then the Fast East doesn’t offer a more authentic experience than Myanmar with its traditional tea houses, Buddhist temples and monks that are admired and respected like Hollywood royalty. Here’s our guide to exploring this beautiful and organic landscape.
Main tourist hubs
Madalay and Yangon are the two main hubs that attract tourists. Madalay is noted for its unrivalled collection of Buddhist temples (there’s 700 pagodas in the city) and being the home of world's official book of Buddhism (it lies at the bottom of Mandalay Hill). Yangon on the other hand is a prime example of a 19th-century British colonial capital mixed in with Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences. There’s still a few places in the north of the country that are not yet open to tourists and it’s still recommended that foreign nationals don’t go wandering too far.
Myanmar is emerging as a popular destination for adventurous travellers, however Myanmar’s tourist infrastructure hasn’t quite caught up with demand. It’s highly recommended that all holidaymakers book their accommodation well in advance – this is not a country where you can rock up at the airport and take things as they come.
When to go
Myanmar is at its best between November and February, when it’s cool and dry. How warm it is will depend on what altitude you are at – the hills can get very chilly at night. It’s also a great idea to time your visit around a Full Moon so you can witness the street parades and festivities.
Myanmar still has an old world charm about it, and many aspects of traditional Asian life are still upheld. Clothing wise men still opt for the skirt-like longyi, while woman wear the female equivalent htamein. Locals rarely expose their shoulders or knees, and travellers will probably get looks if they choose to reveal more skin than the locals. Remember to remove socks and shoes before entering a pagoda or monastery.
Money and Visas
Myanmar’s local currency is the kyat and US Dollars are accepted, though much of the country is trying to move towards its own local monetary system. Our recommendation is to bring US Dollars into the country and have them exchanged at the airport you land in. Make sure your dollars are crisp with no marks and don’t have the letters AB and CB at the start of the serial number, as the country has had issues with counterfeit money and could refuse your note on those grounds.
After inhaling the fragrant spices of the Mumbai street markets, admiring the intricate details of the Taj Mahal and rolling across the vast landscape keeping an eye out for the elusive tiger, you’re going to need to unwind. You’re in luck though, as India offers a beautiful and serene balance to the adventure of its main cities: the pristine beaches of Goa.
Typically people visit Goa as a relaxing final voyage after exploring other parts of India. But since most visits to Goa tend to only offer a few days of unwinding, visitors have to ask themselves whether they would prefer the north or south.
Even if you’re not familiar with each area of Goa, you probably already know what kind of beach holiday suits you more – so whether your prefer partying to culture, or fine-dining to watersports, there’s a side of Goa to suit you.
1. Crowds and popularity
If you’re looking for a walk along the beach without a single sole in sight, then we recommend South Goa and its quieter atmosphere. However, if you like bustling streets and beaches, North Goa would more likely be your bag.
One of the reasons North Goa draws in the crowds is that it has a lot more to offer than just beaches. The UNSECO-listed Old Goa is reminiscent of India’s Portuguese past and at one point it was one of the biggest cities in the world (exceeding the population of London or Lisbon).
3. Luxury accommodation
North and South Goa both offer high-end holidaymakers the option of indulgent accommodation. However, the sandy shores of South Goa is almost exclusively scattered with hotels that meet the needs of the discerning traveller, while the North boasts a good mix.
If it’s a party you want; it has to be North Goa. Head to the legendary Tito’s Road where the atmosphere is filled with top-name DJs and Top 40 hits, or if it’s a quirk beach bar that is more your scene, head to Anjuna Beach.
The unruffled beaches of South Goa aren’t just perfect for quietly topping up your tan – they’re also great for beach-lovers who love watersports. Dona Paula is one of the best beaches for adventure with kayaks and jet-skis for hire.
6. Forest treks
South Goa is definitely the option for people after a sleepy beach escape. But if you do fancy a bit of adventure, head inland and venture through lush and monkey-inhabited forests where you might just stumble upon the Shantadurga Temple (the largest Hindu sanctuary in Goa) or Cabo de Rama Fort.
India has long been considered a great destination for foodies – and this is where both North and South Goa stand up equally, but in different ways. North Goa is home to many markets and sampling the street food is a must while visiting the towns. In contrast, South Goa is punctuated with rustic beach huts selling seafood and high-end hotels serving up delicacies from a la carte menus.
The capital of Vietnam is one of Asia’s most visited cities. Found in the centre of the country and perched on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi is sometimes referred to as the Paris of the East thanks to an atmosphere that is equal parts cultural and cosmopolitan. But one of its main charms is definitely its extensive and multi-faceted history that has given birth to fascinating museums and temples. In between visiting the modern day shopping malls and eating some of the best Vietnamese food the country has to offer, make sure you stop by these impressive relics.
Temple of Literature
This Confucian temple was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and is the site of Vietnam’s first university, established here in 1076, when entrance was only granted to those of noble birth. Inside you’ll find statues of Confucius and his disciples, steles with inscriptions of the names of distinguished scholars, a pavilion dedicated to the Constellation of Literature, plus the Well of Heavenly Clarity.
You’ll find the temple on Van Mieu Street, about two kilometers from Hoan Kiem Lake.
National Museum of Vietnamese History
Another must-see (as well as a great place to get a good all-round introduction) is the National Museum of Vietnamese History. Found just down from the Opera House, exhibit highlights include the menacing sculpture of Quan Am (the Goddess of Mercy who has 1,000 eyes and arms), Hung era and Neolothic mortuaries, and items from Vietnam’s pre-history before the 1947 revolution that led to the country we know today.
The building itself is also a tremendous example of historical architecture. Built between 1925 and 1932, the architect Ernest Hebrard constructed what was to be the first building in Vietnam to blend together French and Chinese design elements.
Ngoc Son Temple
Arguably Hanoi’s most visited temple, you’ll find Ngoc Son Temple on a small island in the Hoan Kiem Lake accessible by a crimson red bridge. The name means ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain' in English and was built in allegiance to General Tran Hung Dao (who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century), La To (patron saint of physicians) and the scholar Van Xuong.
Hoan Kiem Lake
The lake that surrounds Ngoc Son Temple also has a fascinating backstory. Legend has it that in the 15th Century, Heaven sent a magical sword in the direction of Emperor Ly Thai To, who was to use it to protect Vietnam against the Chinese. But the sword was to be used only for the war, and after the war had ended a green turtle grabbed the sword off him and dived into the lake (the lake’s literal English translation is Lake of the Restored Sword).
Bach Ma Temple
Considered to be the oldest temple in the city, the Bach Ma Temple is unassuming at first but inside lies some of Hanoi’s most sought after historical remnants. When you move through its wooden doors, you’ll set your eyes on a statue of a white horse – with folklore suggesting that Emperor Ly Thai To built the temple in the 11th Century to honour a white horse that guided him to this site.
Located in the heart of the Old Quarter, the current structure and exterior walls were most recently reconstructed in 18th century (and the shrine to Confucius was added in 1839).
Quan Su Temple
Hanoi has been the centre for Vietnamese Buddhism for over 1,000 years and since 1858 the Quan Su Temple has been the Vietnam Buddhist Association’s Headquarters (the word Quan Su has origin in the old word for “embassy”). Originally the temple was used as a boarding house for Buddhist Ambassadors visiting from other countries, but in 1822 it was opened to the public and routinely filled with worshippers and travellers.
Trấn Quốc Pagoda
Boasting a lifespan of roughly 1,450 years, the Trấn Quốc Pagodais the oldest temple in Hanoi. Found on the south-eastern shore of Hanoi's West Lake, monks have lived here for centuries teaching the public about Buddhist philosophy. Across the complex there is a wealth of Buddhist symbolism, including lotus flower statues, a stone wall with carvings of lotus flowers and a Bodhi tree. The temple also has nearby statues of gods and goddesses that were worshipped in Vietnam before Buddha.
Hanoi Opera House
The Hanoi Opera house was constructed between 1901 and 1911 while it was still a French colony and was based on the architecture of the Palais Garnier in Paris. Today the stage hosts a mix of Vietnamese and Western ballets, opera shows and orchestras.
Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
A UNESCO World Heritage, Hanoi's Imperial Citadel was the hub of Vietnamese military power for over 1,000 years. The first royal enclosure was built by the Lý Dynasty and subsequently expanded by the Trần, Lê and finally the Nguyễn Dynasty. The Hanoi Flag Tower (built during the Nguyen Dynasty) is a symbol of the city.
Old East Gate
Hanoi once had sixteen medieval gates that guarded the city, however this is the only one that remains today. The gate is of historical significance but isn’t the easiest to spot - it can be found on the narrow street corner between Hang Chieu and Dao Duy Tu Street. It is also sometimes referred to as Cua O Quan Chong
Macau is a destination that seems to be popping up in conversation a little bit more than it used to. In 2013 it featured predominantly in the Bond Film Skyfall and (the city was also a plot-device in The Man with the Golden Gun) and in 2016’s Now You See Me 2 giving audiences a taste for this lesser known destination only 40 miles from Hong Kong.
This cinematic mention could explain the recent rise in travel to Macao. It’s becoming an increasingly popular destination for people doing a multi-destination holiday to Asia and makes for a great city-break before enjoying the beaches of Bali or Thailand. If you’re considering somewhere different for your Far East holiday we’d highly recommend Macao – here’s everything you need to know before booking that trip.
What to Do
Quietly wander peaceful Coloane
After exploring the beautiful UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Macao (the perfect reflection of Macao’s unique Portuguese-Chinese heritage) and the traditional Taipa Village we recommend heading into the Coloane district. Here you’ll be transported back to Macao’s past with pastel Portuguese-style houses and narrow lanes that are reminiscent of a Mediterranean village. You’ll also find two of Macao’s best beaches: Cheoc Van and Hac Sa.
Few Asian destinations can beat Macao on entertainment and nightlife. Swanky rooftop bars, live entertainment, including the spectacular House of Dancing Water show, and glamorous casinos are set to a glitzy and illuminated skyline. Connected to central Macao by three illuminated bridges, much of the nightlife is located on the Cotai *****, between Taipa and Coloane.
Dominating the skyline the Macau Tower stands at 1,109 feet high, but don’t let its impressive height put you off. Once you’re at the top you’ll be able to enjoy incredible views of the destination – and mainland China – from its Observation Lounge. If you’re feeling adventurous, take your pick from a Skywalk, Tower Climb or the world’s highest bungy!
Macao is home to a plethora of modern shopping malls and traditional street markets. First point of call should be the 200,000 square feet One Central Macao, the Shoppes at Four Seasons (Macao’s first luxury mall), or the grandeur found in the Shoppes at Venetian.
Enjoy the local food
Macao has a rich and vibrant foodie scene. Its multi-cultural past as a Portuguese port-city has resulted in a fusion of international flavours, As well as Portuguese and Chinese, Macanese is the local cuisine with spices and influences from Africa, India, Malaysia and South America. Signature dishes that we recommend while in the city are Galinha à Africana' (African chicken) and Macanese Chilli Prawns.
Explore beautiful temples
Beyond the glamorous nightlife and Portuguese-style houses lies Chinese temples, including the A-Ma Temple (the oldest in Macao). These temples have been pivotal places of worship for hundreds of years and primarily serve the Buddhist, Taoist and folk faiths.
Language and culture
English is widely understood in Macao and most hotel staff will know how to speak it. On the streets you will hear a lot of Cantonese, while a lot of public signage is still written in Portuguese, one of the city’s official languages.
When to Go
Macao’s subtropical location offers a pleasant climate year round. Spring and autumn are warm and pleasant, while January to March is cool and dry and the summer months can reach temperatures of 30°C. Annual events that draw in the crowds include Chinese New Year, which falls sometime between the middle of January and February, and the Macau Grand Prix in November.
If you want to fly direct from the UK, you’ll need to opt for Hong Kong International Airport and transfer via fast ferry (taking around one hour) from the Airport or downtown Hong Kong. The destination is also home to the Macau International Airport that offers numerous direct flights to other popular Asian destinations, making it really easy to fit Macao into a wider Far East itinerary.
Currency and Money
The official currency of Macao is the pataca (MOP), which is tied to the Hong Kong Dollar (the HKD is also widely accepted). Restaurants usually automatically add a service tip but its good practice to tip taxi drivers and luggage porters.
The Indian Ocean is a tropical stretch of blue waves symonous with bright sunshine, stunning reefs, palm trees, sandy beaches and attractive islands that are favoured by holidaymakers seeking a relaxing summer getaway.
There are four islands in particular that have remained firm favourites with British jetsetters: Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Seychelles. If you’re wondering which island is right for you, here’s our guide to picking the right one.
Mauritius is home to the kind of beautiful coastline typically associated with the Indian Ocean, but this tropical island is a lot more than just powdery soft sand. The main town has been built up with striking Hindu architecture and boasts an impressive to-do list– the Mauritius Tourist Board are even currently running a campaign called #BeyondTheBeach.
Historically, Mauritius was colonised by the Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English, and is now a unique mish-mash of different cultures, evident in everything from food to architecture and language. Popular things to do on the island include climbing Mount Le Morne, visiting a rum distillery, admiring the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens, and karting around the beautiful coast in a boat (whether it’s a small luxury cruise or a speedboat).
If you’re looking for a secluded beach hidden away from the crowds, then the Maldives might just be your best option. The island boasts 5 beaches for every inhabitant and locals don’t wander along them with the intent of selling sarongs or coconuts to tourists.
There are 1,200 islands in total with 100 of them turned into resorts – many of them dedicated to proving why the Maldives is considered the holiday of choice for people who prefer the finer things in life. While the water bungalows typically associated with the Maldives are definitely not hard to find, there are other more traditional hotel options available as well.
Another holiday destination that has consistently fought to be recognised as one of the world’s most sophisticated spots is the Seychelles. This archipelago is brimming with four and five star accommodations, so when the sun is setting over the shoreline you know there will be a tasty a la carte dinner waiting for you.
Seychelles is definitely a holiday for those that want to relax. The only recommendation most tour guides would collectively agree on is that you must island hop to see all sides to this mesmerising island chain.
This singular island lies on the intersection between the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean creating a vibrant and unique holiday experience. There are few places on earth that can offer travellers such a seamless blend of pristine beaches, timeless culture and striking landscapes.
As such Sri Lanka appeals to a wider variety of travellers than some of its Indian Ocean cousins – specifically holidaymakers who want to relax on the beach, but also want to break it up with some cultural sightseeing (there are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this small island-country).
For a country that is one of the smallest in Asia, Sri Lanka is blessed with a high number of ruins and temples. In fact, the ancient Buddhist relics that are scattered across the country are one of the main reasons why so many people choose Sri Lanka as their yearly escape (the warm waters and sandy beaches also don’t hurt!). These monuments are considered to be so historically significant that the country now boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites that can all be easily visited within one slow-paced holiday thanks to the country’s pocket-book size.
1. Sacred City of Anuradhapura
Start your Sri Lankan adventure with a visit to its ancient capital. Found in the north of the island and on the banks of the notable Malvathu Oya, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The site boasts an abundance of ancient ruins and many of them date back more than 2,000 years.
2. Sacred City of Kandy
Moving onto another ancient capital: Senkadagalapura (also referred to as Kandy) was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings before the British occupation in 1815. These days it acts as the capital of the Central Province and the modern city built around the historic site is a bustling hub of contemporary activity. The ruin it is most noted for is the Temple of the Tooth, which hosts the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Other notable buildings in the ancient area include the Royal Palace, Audience Hall, and Mahamaluwa.
3. Golden Temple of Dambulla
Step back in time to the 1st century BC and admire the delicate paintings created with indigenous traditional paints and the 57 statues of the Lord Buddha scattered between five fascinating caves. It is believed that the Valagamba of Anuradhapura had the caves converted into a temple as a way to thank the gods after he spent 15 years hiding in them during exile.
4. Ancient City of Polonnaruwa
After the fall of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa became the kingdom in 1070 AD. The Parakrama Samudra is its main attraction, which is the largest man-made rainwater reservoir in the country clocking in at 2,500 ha.
5. Sinharaja Rainforest
Sri Lanka’s tropical climate makes for plenty of lush rainforests, however the Sinharaja Rainforest is definitely the most impressive. A UNESCO World Heritage Site it covers 7,648ha and is a biodiversity hotspot that is home to twelve endemic mammals including the giant squirrel, dusky-stripped jungle squirrel, badger mongoose, purple-faced leaf monkey and torque macaque.
6. Central Highlands
Another biodiversity hotspot is this mountain region comprising of the Knuckles Conservation Forest, Horton Plains National Park and the Peak Wilderness Protected Area. The range was named after the peaks and folds that resemble a closed fist when seen from afar, and the Knuckles Mountain Range is home to rare flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else.
7. Rock Fortress of Sigiriya
The former capital city of Sigiriya is found on top of a 200m high granite rock near the town of Dambulla. It was constructed over 1,500 years ago and King Kasyapa chose to build his kingdom on top of a large rock to gain strategic advantage over invaders. After his death it became a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.
8. Old Town of Galle and its Fortifications
Originally built in the 16th Century by the Portuguese, this settlement has also been expanded and influenced by Dutch and British colonies and is now the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia. These days it’s a thriving contemporary town with many of the traditional Dutch and British buildings converted into boutique shops and stylish guest houses.
Bali might not take up much room on a map, but the tropical island is growing in popularity with sun-seekers. Home to soft beaches, flawless sunshine, first-class restaurants and impeccable water sports, more and more people are choosing Bali for their yearly escape. If you’ve joined the pack and are heading to Bali soon, here’s our handy guide of what you should bring with you.
The important documents
We know you’re excited to plan your wardrobe, but firstly remember to pack the important things. As Bali is outside of the EU you’ll need to ensure you have your passport and visa packed, as well as plenty of Indonesian Rupiah. After this, all important documents will be what you would take on any holiday: booking reference, credit cards, ID, and a copy of your travel insurance.
Clothes, for women
Like all hot destinations, you are looking for something in your wardrobe that is lightweight. You might be in the habit of throwing on denim shorts over your bikini or swimsuit, but in Bali the denim material might be too much. Pack in some loose-fitting beach dresses, floaty tops, and three-quarter length trousers.
If you like treating yourself to stylish new swimwear every holiday, then Bali is the perfect excuse. The island is home to some amazing beaches – so we won’t judge you if you go on a bikini shopping spree. Sunglasses, as well a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight scarf are also must-haves.
As for footwear: we’d recommend leaving the heels at home and opting for stylish sandals and flats.
Clothes, for men
Similar to women, you want to make sure you’re not melting under layers of cotton or denim. Opt for loose fitting causal shirts and t-shirts in light colours. Same goes for trousers. When choosing your footwear, also mirror the women and pack a few pairs of sandals.
Toiletries and make-up
You’ll need all your usual essentials, but there’s a few extra bits that will need included. Remember to pack a high factor sunscreen and a lip balm with SPF properties. If you wear make-up, a full-face will melt in the Bali sun. Instead try a tinted moisturiser or BB Cream with some mascara, eyebrow gel and lip gloss.
It’s not very glamorous, but it’s a good idea to pack yourself a small medicine kit. Travel/seasickness tablets, Imodium and insect repellent will cover your basics. Remember to ask your doctor about medication for travel.
Bali is a stunningly photogenic place, and you’ll want to ensure you bring home plenty of pictures. What type of camera you bring is up to yourself, but we’d recommend a spare battery plus a waterproof cover for some scuba diving adventures.
And remember to bring a plug adapter (Indonesia uses European style two-pin socket)!
What’s your must-haves for Bali?
The turn of Chinese New Year has turned the world’s collective eyes towards this iconic Asian country. If the UK celebrations have piqued your interest in travelling to China at some point, we’d recommend Beijing. The capital city has an impressive historical influence on the rest of the country and is fuelled by its distinctive culture. While travelling through this large urban sprawl, we suggest making a pit stop at these 10 must-sees.
1. Forbidden City
This is likely already on your list, but if it’s not we strongly recommend it. It is located in the centre of Beijing, and has been the political centre of China for over 500 years. The complex consists of 980 buildings include the Palace Museum, which is the most visited art museum in the world.
2. Workers Culture Palace
Before you arrive in Forbidden City, you’ll pass what is considered to be this hidden gem of an attraction. Once upon a time this was the emperor’s premier place of worship and is home to the Sacrificial Hall – a temple as grand as any other in Beijing but without dense tourist crowds.
3. Temple of Heaven
This Taoist temple is an intricate complex of religious buildings found in the Chongwen District of Central Beijing. It was constructed between 1406 and 1420 and remains one of China’s largest existing ancient sacrificial buildings – and is larger than Forbidden City.
4. Beihai Park
Recognised as the oldest, largest and best-preserved ancient imperial gardens in China, you’ll find Beihai Park in the centre of Beijing. It clocks in at 175 acres – most of which is taken up by a gorgeous lake – and is home to four main scenic gardens: the Eastern Shore Area, the Northern Shore Area, the Botanical Garden and the Circular City.
5. Tiananmen Square
Located in the city centre, it would be difficult to not include Tiananmen Square in your daily itineraries. Clocking in as the largest city square in the world, it can hold 1 million people at once and its boundaries are lined with culturally important attractions.
6. Bell and Drum Tower
These two iconic towers are hard to miss as you wander through the city of Beijing. They’ve been a prominent part of the city structure since 1272 and made their mark in Chinese history for helping residents tell the time when there was no other means. Visitors can explore the inside of the building and examine the large drum and bell that baselined the atmosphere of the city for years.
7. National Museum of China
On the eastern edges of Tiananmen Square, lies the most inclusive collection of artefacts celebrating China’s history and culture. There’s a total of 48 exhibit halls with the two mains ones being dedicated to Ancient China and The Road to Rejuvenation.
8. Capital Museum
The Capital Museum is smaller than some of its Beijing counterparts, however it is still worth a visit in its own right. There are 5,622 pieces of cultural relics on exhibition, many of which were unearthed in Beijing itself in 1949.
9. Lama Temple
Considered the most renowned Buddhist Temple outside of Tibet, the Lama Temple is a beautiful example of extravagant Asian architecture. It was once the residence of Emperor Yong Zheng, and to this day remains an active place of worship.
10. Hòuhǎi Lakes
Sometimes referred to as Shíchàhǎi, this small collection of lakes is one of the city’s most popular outdoor spots. During the day visitors can fish, fly kites or fit in a daily workout with the exercise machines scattered along the banks. As night falls the various restaurants, bars and cafés spring into life with buzzing crowds and plenty of karaoke!
Thailand is one of Asia’s most sought-after holiday destinations, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Hugging the eastern edge of Indochina, it effortlessly blends breath-taking natural landscapes, fascinating history and relaxed Buddhist charm with ultramodern amenities. It’s genuinely one of these countries where there is something for everyone. Here are our top 10 reasons why it needs to be on your to-travel list.
1. Delicious street food
Thailand is every foodie’s dream. An eclectic mix of fine dining, international influences and iconic street food creates a never-ending list of potential culinary adventures. If you’re a fan of spicy food this is one of the best countries to test your limits – when they say Thai food is hot, they really do mean hot.
2. Golden beaches
Pictures of Thailand’s beaches are instantly recognisable. The iconic longtail boats docked in the clear waters while beautiful domed islands tower behind them. Thailand has a good mix of beaches – if you’re after a bustling tourist hot spot you’ll find it at Patong Beach in Phuket. But if you’re after a secluded beach to relax, the Thai islands are your calling.
3. Colourful reefs and world-class diving
The scenic islands surrounding Thailand are home to exotic sea life and extravagant coral reefs. Islands such as Ko Surin, Ko Similan, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Talu are all desirable spots among scuba divers.
4. It’s affordable
Thailand won’t constantly add to your worry that you’re spending too much money. Budget hotels are found across the country, and the street markets offer budget alternatives to restaurants and shopping malls. And if you do fancy treating yourself to a luxury hotel or an opulent dinner, you should do as ‘affordable luxury’ is a genuine thing in Thailand.
5. Fascinating Buddhist temples
Thailand is the most Buddhist country in the world and there are an estimated 40,000 Buddhist temples. The architectural style of these temples, or wats, differ from other South-East Asian countries with most temples being made up of multiple conjoined buildings. Wat Phra Kaew, in the historical district of Bangkok, is considered one of the most sacred in Thailand.
6. Friendly locals
Thai people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet and the country has rightly earned its nickname “Land of the smiles”. Expect some of the most charming hospitality you’ll ever receive.
7. The scorching weather
Even in the cooler months, Thailand is still warmer than an average British summer. Temperatures in the winter months start at 18 degrees Celsius, but in the summer months they can reach highs of 40 degrees Celsius.
8. Scenic rail journeys
If you’re looking to city-hop while visiting Thailand, train is one of the best ways to explore the country. Admire the lush scenery from the comfort of a modern railroad heading from Bangkok to a wealth of other oriental beauty spots such as Chiang Mai and Koh Samui.
9. Endless island hopping opportunities
If you’re looking to get away from it all, there is an abundance of striking islands scattered along the coast of Thailand. These secluded islands are so stunning and peaceful film directors regularly use them as backdrops (you’ll recognise them from films such as The Beach and the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun).
10. Shopper’s paradise
Bangkok is sometimes referred to as a “shopper’s paradise”. The capital city is home to modern shopping malls and traditional markets, offering everything from high-end luxury goods to cultural souvenirs to remember your trip to Thailand forever.
If there's a country you should travel from north to south, then do it with Japan railways. From its Siberian north to its bustling cities in the south (and not forgetting the 6,800 islands) it is a stunning destination.
Luckily, travelling through the country is simple with their high-speed rail tours. If your inner travel bug has begun persuading you to choose Japan as your next far-flung exotic trip, and you cannot decide on just one place, we have some advice for planning your own Japanese rail adventure.
There are two rail itineraries to discover Japan with: Discovering Japan and the Grand Tour of Japan. Both of them are equally as breath-taking as the other, but have unique routes. The two itineraries also include return flights from the UK and hotel accommodation along the way.
The first of these tours takes you through the highlights of Japan, from the skyscrapers of Tokyo to the Ancient Temples of Kyoto. Starting in the capital of Tokyo, enjoy a two-night stay along with a friendly welcome dinner and a full-day guided tour of the city. This full-day tour includes the ancient Asakusa Kannon Temple and the fascinating Ameyoko Market, as well as taking in the Imperial Palace Plaza, Hamarikyu Garden and the Edo Tokyo Museum.
Away from the towering city, you’ll also discover the quieter side of Japan. Walk through the Hakone National Park at the foot of Mount Fuji, relax in the sulphurous hot springs at Owakudani, explore picturesque villages in Takayama Valley and take a boat to Miyajima Island.
But when you return to the contrast of the bustling city, it won’t always be Tokyo. Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima all feature on this packed-itinerary.
Grand Tour of Japan
The second itinerary however goes deeper into Japan’s history starting in Sapporo right in the north and ending in Fukuoka in the south. Between the start and end passengers will soak up the sights of Mount Fiji, experience an authentic tea ceremony and explore the bustling cities of Tokyo and Hiroshima.
The addition of Sapporo as the starting point is a beautiful one. Here passengers can wander picturesque streets with 19th century architecture and large outdoor spaces. Whiskey fans can visit the Yoichi Distillery where award-winning Nikka whiskey is produced (using Scottish techniques – it’s something to behold).
However, this itinerary leaves the best until last. The tour stops at Hakata, and takes in important ancient religious monuments. Awe at the Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine, which is dedicated to the Shinto god of literature. Or the Komyozenji Temple: constructed in 1273, and celebrated for its karesansui garden, the only example in Kyushu. Finish off learning more about Japan’s history at the near-by Kyushu National Museum, with their impressive collection of artefacts.
Travelling Japan via train
Japan has a modern and punctual train line system – you’ll find the country boasting that the longest delay they’ve ever had was 30 minutes. If you’re looking to travel across the country by train, it is the bullet train you should be looking at.
Known as Shinkansen, it is a dedicated high-speed Japanese rail network that connects the largest cities to wider the country, including the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. Known for being punctual and frequent, the trains run at speeds of 86mph. Inside they have comfortable reclining seats and large windows for passengers to admire the striking scenery of Japan.
Where to stay in Japan
Both of the above itineraries have overnight hotel stays included (as comfortable as the trains are, you’ll want an actual bed). Hotels include the 4-star Hotel Buena Vista in Matsumoto which boasts Japanese, Chinese and French cuisine, plus a cafe, bar and a bakery.
Also on the list is the stunning Hakone Hotel, which enjoys a breath-taking location. Situated on the shores of Lake Ashi it offers fantastic views of Mount Fuji from its lakeview lounge and gardens on the lake shore. Other amenities include a Teppenyaki restaurant, a French cuisine restaurant, hot spring bath and souvenir shop.
One of the biggest films to hit the screens in 2016 is Walt Disney's real-life take on the classic Jungle Book. Already a larger hit at the box office than expected, the family favourite is this time being personified using a live actor as Mowgli with realistic CGI animals guiding him through the landscapes of India.
The location team took over 1,000 pictures while researching the Indian jungles, which would explain why the CGI is so life-like. Speaking of which, did you realise the whole film was staged in a Los Angeles Studio with green screens and set props? Regardless, the Jungle Book is cinematically stunning and has been widely praised for being geographically accurate.
This does mean that fans of the film cannot visit physical filming locations while on holiday in India. Aside from one place. Long before the Jungle Book was ever a Disney film (even the animated one in the 1960s) it was exactly as the name suggests – a book. Written in the late 19th Century by Indian-born English author Rudyard Kipling, the inspiration for his vivid descriptions was Khana National Park, right in the heart of India.
An introduction to Khana National Park
The largest national park in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, Khana National Park is an exotic sanctuary of bamboo forests and grassy meadows. The minute you step out onto the planes you'll understand why it was the inspiration behind the original Jungle Book writings.
Home to a range of animals, jeep safaris take place daily. Bengal tigers, Indian leopards, the sloth bear and Indian wild dog can all be found roaming the grounds.
Spotting a real life Shere Khan
Also known as Khana Tiger Reserve, if the film has piqued your interest in seeing these beautiful cats in the wild then this is one of the best places to do so. The new Jungle Book film has been noted for it's geographically accurate appearance of the animal characters, with Shere Khan being no exception.
Usually easier to spot on a morning safari, the big cats are protected from outside threats while in the park. The nearby Bandhavgarh is also a popular location for tiger encounters, so travellers who really want to spot the stripy mammals will have more than one opportunity.
The friends and family of Mowgli
The creators in charge of bringing Mowgli's animal family to life took their time to create characters that were visually stunning but also native to India. All the animals seen on screen can be found in the country (aside from King Louis – who is based on the Orangutan Gigantopithecus, a prehistoric mammal that is geographically accurate but now extinct) as the artists took care to bring the story to life in an authentic fashion.
Keep an eye out for Baloo while on safari - sloth bears are commonly found in the Khana region. The wolf population in India is still on the plus side and prefer rural areas so sightings of Akela and Raksha are not unheard of. If Kaa and Bagheera are your favourite characters, you might have to look a bit harder – both are under threat of extinction and are difficult to spot unless you're looking for them.
The first village after the Jungle
Eventually it's time to leave the jungle like Mowgli. Instead of heading to the nearest village, a popular choice after a jungle tour is the city of Nagpur. Known as the “Tiger Capital of India” it is a hub that connects the rest of India to the tiger reserves.
Nagpur is the third largest city in the state of Maharashtra, and one of the most modern cities in India. Tourism footfall is high as the city offers a wide range of activities and sights, not just involving tigers. Visit one of the many temples, take in the stunning views at Ambazari Lake, explore Maharajbagh zoo and watch a game at Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium – a world-class cricket stadium. Nagpur is the perfect place to introduce yourself to the urban world again after creating your own book of jungle memories.
There's no questioning that Mauritius has one of the world's most beautiful coastlines. The pristine white sands that slip into the sapphire blue waters is the reason many visitors choose to pay a visit. You'd be forgiven for assuming that Mauritius is the holiday getaway of beach-lovers - and only beach-lovers, but you would be wrong - Mauritius food lovers read on...
While beach bodies will certainly love soaking up the sun on the edge of the Indian Ocean, Mauritius appeals to a much wider array of travellers. Another type of holidaymaker that will adore the island nation is the foodie traveller. A country located in waters bordered by Asia and Africa, and was once part of French, Dutch and British colonies (while originally discovered by the Portuguese), has developed a unique palate of flavours influenced by three continents. Foodies will be so busy trying out the street food and palm trees (you can eat palm trees in Mauritius) they might even forget to explore the beachy coastline. To make sure you don't miss out on the beach (and we recommend you don't, pictures of the coastline are used in holiday brochures for a reason), we've pulled together a handy guide so you have a head start when you arrive in (foodie) paradise.
Caught from the ocean: fresh seafood
Being an island nation surrounded by the rich Indian Ocean, it's no surprise that seafood is a staple on menus around the island. Seafood lovers will find an eclectic mix, including lobster, octopus, and calamari. The Asian influence has made seafood curry incredibly popular, such as the fish vindayem adapted from the Indian Vindaloo. Octopus curry is also popular on the southern side of the island in Gris Gris Beach, if you're feeling adventurous.
For an evening tipple: rum
Rum is the most commonly found spirit on the island, though it's a bit sweeter than the rums you'll be accustomed to. Rhumerie de Chamarel on the south of the island is distillery museum that showcases how Mauritian rum is manufactured. You'll also find rhum arrangé in most bars – rum infused with various fruits and spices ranging from coconut to pineapples.
If you're a rum drinker look out for Phoenix Rum that is brewed locally on the island.
The national street food dish: Dholl Puri
Street food is very easy to come by in Mauritius, and the capital of Port Louis is the best place to find it. While there's a lot of offerings to choose from the most popular is dholl puri, which could arguably be the national dish. It's rumoured to be derived from Indian paratha: when Indian immigrants arrived on the island but couldn't find the correct ingredients so adapted the recipe. Whether this history is accurate remains unknown, but this fried thin bread stuffed with ground yellow split peas is usually served with bean curry, atchar and chutney.
Something light and refreshing: Victoria Pineapples
Across Mauritius in supermarkets and at street food stalls, you'll spot miniature-sized pineapples, much smaller than the varieties you see in the UK. These tiny pineapples are not to be sniffed at: for what they lack in size, they make up for in flavour (they're much sweeter). They're commonly sold by street vendors sliced, and dusted with chilli salt.
In the mood for Chinese: head to Chinatown
Mauritius is home to a strong but small Chinese immigrant population. While it feels as though you can get Chinese food everywhere in the world, and a lot of cities have their own Chinatown, some of the Chinese dishes available in Mauritius aren't the same as what you'd find in mainland Asia though. Mooncakes are made with a different recipe and you'll also find Bol déviré across the island, though you won't find it in Asia. It's literal translation in English is 'upside down bowl' and that's exactly what it is. When you uncover the dish you'll find rice cooked with chicken, vegetables, dried mushrooms in oyster sauce, and a fried egg sitting on top of the domed shape.
Trying something truly exotic: palm hearts
We mentioned earlier that palm trees don't just line the beaches in Mauritius: they are also a delicacy. Not the whole tree (that would be difficult to eat) but the core of the tree. Known as 'palm heart', this vegetable is regularly found in Millionaire’s Salad, a popular dish in Mauritius that will also please seafood lovers.
Flavours to expect: coconut, vanilla and pineapple
If you're reading about these dishes and wondering what they taste like: there's a high chance it will be one of these three. Coconut, vanilla and pineapple and the three flavours found commonly on the island, and infused into all sorts of dishes ranging from crème brulee to the piña colada.
For the spice lover: chilli (on everything)
If you're a chilli lover, you'll be excited to know that Mauritians love chilli too and include it in almost everything. If you're not a chilli fan, you can rest assured that the chilli usually comes served as a side dish so diners can mix it to their tastes.
Explore the Mekong River
Fancy a change from your usual holiday, where you can explore life off the beaten track? A trip discovering the delights along the Mekong River in South East Asia could be just the cure.
A team of our travel specialists recently travelled to Vietnam to experience the Mekong for themselves - after all, it helps us plan your perfect getaway if they've done it themselves. Here, they've written about their visit – what to expect and what they loved most – in a handy itinerary.
Day 1 - Saigon/Ho Chi Minh
We flew from Glasgow to Dubai on a comfy Emirates flight, connecting at Dubai Airport for our flight to Tan Son Naht Airport in Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh). We were surprised at how stress-free the journey and airport was – we were through customs in minutes, as it was so well organised.
We then checked into our hotel in Saigon which benefits from a great location on the Saigon river within easy walking distance to many local attractions, including shopping on ***** Khoi Street. We all wanted to experience the local culture immediately, and what better way to do this than sample some Vietnamese cuisine at a local restaurant. This is where your Western tour leader is invaluable, as he recommended this place and joined us for a quick meal. We all had a great 2 course meal here with a local ***** and it only cost around £2 each!
Day 2 - Ben Tre – the gateway to the Mekong Delta
Our first full day in Vietnam was definitely a full on one!
We drove from Saigon to Ben Tre, the gateway to the Mekong Delta, which is around 2 hours south of Saigon. The Mekong River Delta covers an area of around 15,000 square miles and is an integral part of the way of life in Southern Vietnam. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of this as on this tour we visited a brick factory, a coconut processing factory and a bamboo mat weaving factory.
We then had lunch with the infamous 'elephant ear fish' and some other local delicacies, cooked by a real local family and it was fantastic to try some authentic cuisine. After a delicious dinner, we were then treated to drinks at the legendary Saigon Saigon Bar at the Hotel Caravelle, which is a piece of history in itself as this is where foreign journalists used to meet during the Vietnam War for press conferences etc.
Days 3&4 – Da Nang and Hoi An
Today we headed back to Saigon airport for our flight to Da Nang in Central Vietnam (1 hour flight). Da Nang airport is a small airport handling mainly only domestic flights, so within 20 mins, we were on our way to Hoi An.
Hoi An is a picturesque town in the heart of Vietnam, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The old town of Hoi An is designated as a World Heritage Site with many points of interest, which we were lucky enough to see on a walking tour of the town, as Hoi An is a very walkable city, and all of the sights can be seen on foot, including the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Chinese Assembly Hall.
In the evening we had a delicious dinner in Hoi An and it was lovely to see the town at night, there are no street lights, just paper lanterns which line the streets of this sleepy town, which feels like a world away from bustling Saigon the night before.
Day 5 - Hanoi
We made our way back to Da Nang airport for our flight to Hanoi in the north of Vietnam (1 hour flight), not before we made a stop at China Beach in Da Nang, this is where the American troops landed during the Vietnam War, we then also got to see the Cham Museum in Da Nang and learn about the country's Cham heritage.
Hanoi is an eye-opening experience, there is nowhere on Earth like it, in the old quarter you really feel like you are stepping back in time with narrow streets, street vendors hawking their wares and the sounds and smells of the street food captivating your senses. Couple this with the hundreds upon hundreds of motorbikes whizzing past you at every turn and you really get a sense of the real Vietnam.
Days 6&7 – Halong Bay
Today we got on our bus for the 4 hour bus journey east to one of the Natural Wonders of the World, the majestic Halong Bay.
We boarded our tender which took us to our boat, which only had around 10 cabins. We had a phenomenal seafood lunch onboard and as we cruised into the bay, I don't think any of us were prepared for the beauty of what we were about to see. Towering green limestone karsts around every turn, shrouded in mist. There is nothing that will ever compare to seeing the beauty of Halong Bay for the first time.
Day 8 – Hanoi
We returned to Hanoi for our final day, seeing the famous Hoa Lo Prison and Ho Chi Minh Museum before boarding our flights home. This was definitely one of the best holidays I have ever experienced and I can't wait to tell my clients all about it!
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