Tuesday, 17 April 2018

China....one of Darrens favourite destinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Beautiful Indian Ocean island of Mauritius

The beautiful Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is a melting pot of people and cultures, and is one of the world’s most exotic destinations. Karen  loves the destination.

The island of Mauritius seems like just a small dot on the map hundreds of miles off the African coast, but as soon as you arrive you’ll find out there’s a surprising amount to it, and while Mauritius may be seen to many as a place to soak up the sun and relax on the beach, there’s plenty more to see and do. Golf is hugely popular here with a range of excellent courses, the most spectacular of which is probably the Bernhard Langer course on Ile Aux Cerfs, a beautiful island just off-shore. Take a quad bike through the sugar cane plantations, go diving on the coral barrier reef that encircles most of the 200 mile coastline, learn to cook creole-style or be pampered in an award-winning spa.

Mauritius offers some of the world’s best hotels, with properties such as Shangri-La's Le Touessrok and Le Saint Géran being world renowned for their spectacular settings, superb facilities including excellent spas and golf courses, and immaculate service. Elsewhere on the Island, however, Mauritius has been clever to introduce a range of hotels that still offer good standards but with a more affordable price tag. Properties such as the Preskil Beach Resort and the Veranda Pointe Aux Biches offer a more informal option that still includes friendly service and great facilities, while the value for money is unbeatable. Stay close to Grand Baie on the north coast if you like to get out of your hotel to try different restaurants and bars, head for the east coast for some of the most beautiful beaches imaginable, or to the south coast to chill out completely.

For a special trip such as a honeymoon Mauritius is ideal, plus it’s very much a family-friendly destination too, and many of the hotels have some of the best facilities for kids that you’re likely to find anywhere. Full activity programmes and well equipped kid’s clubs means that the younger members of any group will be more than entertained.

Away from the beaches there’s a beautiful interior that’s dominated by jagged peaks and sugar cane plantations. For a fairly small island there’s a lot of scenery crammed in, with the southwest tip at Le Morne being amongst the most spectacular areas. Here, the flat-topped Le Morne Mountain dominates, seemingly rising straight out of the Indian Ocean. The best way to see the area is from the ocean itself, so take a trip on a catamaran for an excellent view and a cooling sea breeze. Travelling across the island via the main road you’ll see the sugar cane plantations all around you, and as they cover up to 90% of the Island it’s no surprise that rum is produced – and consumed – in large quantities here.

The small but inviting capital of Port Louis is definitely worth a visit, with plenty to see, an interesting history and some of the Island’s best shopping – try to allow yourself half a day to get a good feel for it. Start your exploration at the Champ De Mars racecourse, the second oldest horse track in the world, before walking through the streets of the old town and popping in to the St Louis Cathedral and the colourful Central Market on your way to the newly developed waterfront area, with its mix of restaurants, bars and shops.

For most visitors to Mauritius, though, it’s all about the beaches, and with such a beautiful coastline where the white sands are backed by lush vegetation and beautiful mountains, it’s easy to see why.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Christines stay in stunning Koh Phangan in Thailand....not all about Full Moon Parties

Thailand is one of our fav destinations, home to fascination culture, scenery, beaches, people and food. Thailand has plenty of island paradises and one of our favourites is Koh Phangan. Christine spent a few days here and loved it! 

'I was on a trip around Thailand and spent some time on Thailand east coast. Koh Phangan, just to the north of Koh Samui, is renowned for its monthly Full Moon parties, but away from the partying there’s a beautiful island that makes a perfect hideaway destination. 

Adjacent to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan is reached by boat from her neighbour, taking around 90 minutes in total to travel from the main areas of Koh Samui to the resorts of Koh Phangan. Koh Samui airport has regular flight connections from around Thailand.

With over half the Island being a national park there’s plenty to explore with a hilly interior and coastline dotted with fishing villages, plus it’s a great spot for diving too. Koh Phangan makes an ideal destination for total relaxation, and twins perfectly with nearby Koh Samui.

I spent a few days exploring the island and have to say it I found it to be a great island to chillout and get away from it all. If you're a party animal, then schedule your stay on the island to coincide with one of the Half or Full Moon parties, personally they sound all too lively for me! 

Escape Worldwide can offer plenty of holiday ideas to Koh Phangan. Combining Koh Phangan and Koh Samui is easy, and we’d recommend at least a night on Koh Samui before visiting Koh Phangan.

There are some stunning resorts on the island and I was fortunate enough to stay at the stunning Santhiya Koh Phangan which is set on a stunning beach, with good quality accommodation and a couple of stunning swimming pools! 

Koh Phangan is well worth a stay for a few nights and also including Bangkok in to your itinerary is easy, while other areas of Thailand such as Chiang Mai and Phuket are possible, via Samui.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Karen's Leopard on Safari in Kenya

We love Kenya here at Escape Worldwide and Karen is a massive fan:

'I was lucky enough, again, to spend two nights on safari on the amazing Masai Mara in Kenya recently and every game drive you go on is a different experience, you always see something new, as even if it’s the same animal they are doing something different.

Leopard on Safari in Kenya

This time we saw a leopard, one of the cats I have never seen so I was very excited! Usually people see them up a tree keeping out of the way, but this one was just wandering in an out of the trees and it was amazing. It wasn’t bothered by us sitting in the safari vehicle watching him – in fact, he was showing off a bit and quite enjoying himself! I had to remember to stop taking photos and just sit back and watch the show – quite difficult to be honest!

Leopard on Safari with Escape Worldwide

Although we saw elephants, cheetah, giraffe and all sorts of other things, this was definitely the highlight of the trip, and for some of my fellow passengers with me it was their first time on safari so they were incredibly lucky.  I was staying at the Ashnil Mara Camp which is extremely well located on the Masai Mara and has a fire pit which we all sat round after dinner with a glass of beer or two - a great place to discuss the day’s game drives!

Ashnil Mara Camp with Escape Worldwide

Safaris really are one of the best experiences I have had, watching these amazing creatures in their own environment, doing all they can to survive and look after their children at the same time, is awesome.
I simply love Kenya and a safari here is a truly magical and memorable experience.'

Want to see your very own leopard, then checkout the great range of safaris we have available to this amazing part of the world:  http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/safari/kenya_holidays.html 

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Robot Restaurant in Tokyo - simply amazing!

Japan is a fun and crazy place and nowhere is crazier than the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo. Mark visited this amazing place when he was in Tokyo on a trip around Japan.

We have some amazing holiday ideas to Japan - http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/far_east/japan_holidays.html

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi

Darren was recently in Abu Dhabi in the UAE and whilst there visited Ferrari World and the amazing Formula Rossa, the worlds fastest roller coaster..... certainly not for the faint-hearted as you can see!

Ferrari World is located on Yas Island, close to the Formula 1 Grand Prix race track, which is also well worth a visit!

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays