Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Mark in Cairns, Port Douglas and a visit to the Great Barrier Reef

Mark was recently in Australia and part of his trip was to Queensland and included a visit the Cairns and Port Douglas, both gateways to the amazing Great Barrier Reef

As one of the gateways to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is the main hub for visitors to Far North Queensland and is a great place to base yourself for a few days of relaxation and activity alike. Take a trip out to the reef itself or head inland to the amazing rainforests of the Daintree region to experience one of the few places where the rainforest meets the beach. The town itself offers a huge range of activities from bungee jumping and cableways gliding over the canopy to swimming lagoons.


Whatever you do whilst in Cairns, be sure to get yourself out to the Greater Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s top attractions - there’s a myriad of options of how to visit this unique place with option for every level from qualified diver to total water-phobe, but the most important thing to our mind is just to make sure you get out there - it’s amazing!


I was lucky enough to take a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef and would strongly recommend doing this as it give you a totally different perspective of this world wonder.


 Alternatively, classy Port Douglas is the closest resort town to the Great Barrier Reef, and offers a more upmarket feel to Cairns, which is an hour down the coast. The town has a more relaxed feel than Cairns and has a great selection of places to eat, drink and shop, while the impressive marina is the perfect jumping-off point for trip to the Reef itself - all of this, backed by beautiful mountains and the beautiful Four Mile Beach, which is well worth a stroll along.


Between classy Port Douglas and  laid back Cairns are a string of smaller beach resorts such as beautiful Palm Cove and Trinity Beach which offer a more intimate hideaway for a Queensland beach retreat, with easy access to either of their larger neighbours but a more low-key feel. This stretch of the Queensland Coast is a picture-postcard of tropical gems.

We have a number of great holiday ideas to this part of Australia, http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk/queensland_holidays.html , all are very flexible so let us know what you have in mind!

  
Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Pool Villas at the Evason Hua Hin in Thailand a perfect Honeymoon option

If you are looking for something a little special then how about a stay in a pool villa and nowhere does them better than Thailand.

Thailand is home to some of the most luxurious hotels you can find and many offer rooms that not only are stunning but also feature your own private swimming pool.

One of Darren’s favourite pool villas can be found the beautiful Evason in the Thailand beach resort of Hua Hin.

Hua Hin Thailand

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

Evason Hua Hin

The 4*+ Evason HuaHin is perfect for a stylish, relaxing option. It’s about 30 minutes to the south of the town centre in a peaceful setting – an excellent chill-out retreat. The resort offers high standards with a natural feel, and I think it’s a great option for a special trip without breaking the bank. The main bar is perfect a chillout sundowner and with a choice of dining options it’s hard to beat.

Evason Hua Hin Thailand

The pool villas here are not only great value for money but are just stunning and very private. These spacious villas come with a king sized bed and large indoor day bed perfect for lounging around if it all gets a little bit too hot lounging around your pool.

Bath Tub evason Hua Hin

Outside there is a bath tub set within a water lily pond with an adjacent outdoor shower, however the most outstanding feature is the good sized private plunge pool complete with adjacent sala which is ideal for chilling out with a good book before taking a cooling dip.

Pool Villa Hua Hin

Personally I think the pool Villas at the Evason Hua Hin have to be some of the nicest I have seen and are remarkable value for money. So if you’ve got a honeymoon planned or a special birthday or anniversary then these have to be top of your list.


Visit www.sixsenses.com/Evason-Hua-Hin for more details of this hotel.





Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Great Barrier Reef Helicopter Ride


video

On a recent trip to Australia, Mark took a helicopter ride over the Great Barrier Reef and we just loved his video of the helipad!


Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Marks San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley & Vegas Fly-Drive holiday

Mark is a great fan of the USA and one of his favourite areas is California (and surrounding areas) which is so much more than just the glitz and glamour of the cities, he suggests:

I love the USA and would suggest starting in vibrant San Francisco before collecting a car and driving to stunning Yosemite national Park. Continue to Death Valley and finish your USA fly-drive in Las Vegas. Best from April to September.

Day 1 - UK to San Francisco
Fly from London to San Francisco, arriving later the same day. On arrival make your way to your chosen hotel, for a three night stay - we have a range to choose from, and your length of stay in San Francisco is flexible.



Days 2-3 - San Francisco
Spend the next few days exploring San Francisco. Perhaps prebook our San Francisco Helicopter tour, the ultimate San Francisco sightseeing trip - witness stunning views of the city skyline, San Francisco Bay and world-famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.


Day 4 - San Francisco to Yosemite
Collect your rental car from the San Francisco depot, and head out of town towards Yosemite (approx 200 miles / 3 hours 15 mins) starting by crossing the vast Oakland Bay Bridge. If you’re in good time head straight in to Yosemite National Park and the spectacular Yosemite Valley (extra 50 miles / 1 hour 30 mins), in the heart of the park. Check in to your hotel for a two night stay.


Day 5 - Yosemite
Spend the day exploring this spectacular national park, which I adored - tomorrow you’ll cross the Tioga Pass (weather dependent), so today I’d recommend focusing on the Yosemite Valley area.


Day 6 - Yosemite to Death Valley
It’s a long drive today, but totally spectacular and extremely dramatic (approx 340 miles / 6 hours 30 mins, plus stops). As you head from the high altitude of Yosemite to the lowest place in the USA at Death Valley. From your hotel head across the spectacular Tioga Pass (weather dependent), and onwards to Mammoth Lakes - this is about half the journey time-wise, and Mammoth makes a good place to stop. Continue on via Bishop and Independence in to Death Valley National Park, visiting features such as Stovepipe Wells. On arrival in to Furnace Creek check in to your hotel for one night.


Day 7 - Death Valley to Las Vegas
This morning I’d suggest exploring Death Valley a little more - the views from Zabriskie Point are spectacular and at Dante’s View you can see the lowest and highest points in the contiguous USA. From Death Valley continue to Las Vegas (approx 145 miles / 2 hours 15 mins), perhaps detouring to Red Rock Canyon before arriving in to Vegas. On arrival in to Las Vegas drop your car off at the airport depot and make your way to your chosen hotel, for a five night stay - we have a range to choose from, and your length of stay in Las Vegas is flexible.

Days 8-11 - Las Vegas
Spend the next few days exploring Las Vegas. I’d recommend a trip to the Hoover Dam, a must do if you are visiting Las Vegas! Enjoy a fascinating visit to the Hoover Dam, one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. Constructed in 1935, the impressive structure stands more than 700 feet high and spans the width of Black Canyon.


Day 12 - Return
Make your way back to Las Vegas airport for your return flight the UK, arriving the next day.
I did a similar trip to the above and loved every minute of it, though the holidays are very flexible so why not create your own perfect itinerary!


Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Our Top Trips in 2016 - Mark in India, October 2016

Mark was in India in October last year and spent a week exploring the sights of the famous 'Golden Triangle' of the North, and a few days discovering the charms of laid-back Kerala in the South. Here's why it was his somewhat unexpected top trip of 2016 . . . .


I visited two sides of India in October in two different ways, combined in to one trip. The first part of my trip was a group tour of the classic sights of the 'Golden Triangle ' - Delhi, Agra and Jaipur - which was arranged by our friends at G Adventures, who run amazing escorted tours with an adventurous streak. I then said goodbye to my group of fellow G Adventurers and headed to Kerala to spend a few days exploring the beaches, backwaters and history of this charming area, in the company of the fabulous folks at Kerala Travel Centre. Being an independent company ourselves we love working with other independent companies around the world.


In all honesty an 'adventure' tour isn't really my kind of thing - my days of roughing it are well past me (I wouldn't say I'm a travel snob, but I do like a few nice touches at the end of the day!) but my friends at G Adventures were sure I'd love it - and they were spot on! To my mind I was expecting a trip more geared towards backpackers, with a young age group and basic accommodation - not exactly my thing. Some of the accommodation was fairly simple, but some were excellent and almost all were well located and charming. The itinerary of the tour was excellent - all of North India's classic sights, plenty of experiences away from the history, and just enough downtime to take it all in. Our group gelled exceptionally well, and our CEO - Chief Experience Officer - brilliantly balanced things to keep everyone happy.

The trip had many highlights - India's sights are incredible and the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatephur Sikri and Jaipur's Amber Fort are amongst the most impressive historic sites I've ever been to. However, for me it was the experiences of the trip that will last long in my memory, just as much as the sights. One night was spent at Dhula, a small village outside of Jaipur and just off the well beaten 'Golden Triangle' route. G Adventures have worked closely with a local landowner who has opened a small tented property on his family land - simple but well equipped tents (more glamping than camping) plus great vegetarian meals and a fab pool to cool off in, all set around historic monuments that tell the family history. A few of us wandered around the village in the morning, and the untouched nature of the place, located just a few miles off the main road to Jaipur, was astounding. We were genuinely welcomed by young kids and old villagers alike, and popping our heads in to the local school brought huge smiles from the school kids - and everyone in our group!


It was also great to see a few places that aren't on every single itinerary of this area, and I think G Adventures are great at doing this - one afternoon we went to the Abhaneri step well, which I can't even find in the Lonely Planet guidebook. It's a thousand year old hole in the ground, part water tank and part temple, and beautifully restored. It’s unusual to get 'off the beaten track' these days, but along with Dhula village, this was one of those moments where I found myself thinking 'where am I?!'


Two other highlights were all about the group - one of the optional activities on the tour (most things are included) was a Bollywood dance class on the roof of our Jaipur hotel. Almost all the group joined in (one looked after the music and the other kept the beer flowing), and while we're not holding our breath for a call from a Bollywood studio just yet, it was incredible fun. Next evening in Jaipur was a walk around the old city as the sun went down, then we were whisked off in rickshaws through the crowded streets, stopping at a local lassi shop and various food vendors for a local snack or two. Take a look at my high-speed Jaipur rickshaw video here!


From Jaipur I flew south to Trivandrum, the gateway to the beaches of Kerala - and to a completely different world ! The big cities of Northern India are crowded and noisy, bursting with life, whereas the South is far more relaxed and laid back - the perfect antidote to the hectic North. The main beach resort is Kovalam and the area has a very traditional feel - low-key restaurants line the beachfront where fishermen bring their catches to shore each morning, for dinner that night.


I then headed a little further north to the Backwaters, a vast area of tranquil waterways, where I spend a day and a night on a traditional house boat - this is seriously one of the best travel experiences I've ever had, I adored it! The boat took two guests and came with a crew of three (someone to steer, someone to cook and someone to generally look after us), simple but fantastically tasty meals were served on deck and we stopped once or twice to explore local villages. The boat moored overnight as the sun went down and the peace and tranquility of this magical area will live long in my memory - just incredible. Have a look at my video as the houseboat floatsaround the Backwaters!

Finally, I finished my Indian journey in the city of Cochin, which has a long history of seafarers and traders, all of which can still be seen today. A local historian walked me around the sights of Fort Cochin, taking in the Chinese fishing nets, St Francis Church with the original burial site of Vasco Da Gama, Jew Town with its historic Synagogue, and the old bazaar district of Mattancherry (where I picked up a fab huge cooking pot for next to nothing!) On my last evening I saw a traditional Kathakali dance (in all honesty I had no idea what was going on!) and finished off with a few beers and a superb meal at the fabulous Old Harbour Hotel. Cochin's appeal is immediate and obvious, and I could easily have spent longer here.



This was my fourth visit to India and my second taking in the classic sights of the Golden Triangle, but on this trip I discovered a different side of the North, and fell in love with the charms of the South - which is why it was my Top Trip of 2016!





Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Our Top Trips in 2016 - Darren in Kenya, November


Throughout December we're having a look back at some of our favourite trips from 2016 - just last month Darren visited Kenya and was blown away by the wildlife of this magical destination. But he found a lot more besides, with beautiful landscapes, fabulous beaches along the coast, superb places to stay and he even managed a lively night out in vibrant Nairobi!  

On Safari in Kenya

Over the last few weeks I've been completely enthralled by David Attenborough's 'Planet Earth II' series, and while I wouldn't class myself as a wildlife buff I get very excited on safari. In November I spent four nights on safari and four nights on the beach, which is the ideal mix for part-time Attenborough's like me!

On this trip I flew by light aircraft from Nairobi to the Masai Mara - I've been to Kenya a few times before and on my last visit I had a 4x4 vehicle to take in three different areas of the country, starting in Samburu in the north of Kenya before heading to the Great Rift Valley and finally the Masai Mara. Travelling by light aircraft takes out the longer drives (although I do really enjoy seeing the local towns & villages and the beautiful scenery from ground level), so I was on the Masai Mara by lunchtime on my first day. The wildlife sightings had started even before I'd hit the ground, with zebra and wildebeest visible from the plane as we came in to our airstrip - this was a sign of things to come, as over the next few days I saw more wildlife (with some superb up-close sightings) than I could have hoped for!



On the way from the airstrip to my camp I counted a total of 11 lions, mainly snoozing in the heat of the day and looking well-fed - my driver explained that the migration which usually takes vast numbers of zebra, wildebeest and other animals from the Mara to the Serengeti in September and October had actually crossed back in to Kenya recently, so animal numbers had been boosted - and the lions were taking full advantage! Personally I adore big cats, so you can never have too many lions, but I've not had much success with leopard over the years as they're a lot more elusive. This trip was different, though - our superb driver spoilt us with not one but TWO fantastic leopard sightings, one hiding in the long grass before crossing a small river, and next morning our second leopard was snoozing in a tree before climbing down backwards and moving to the shade beneath the tree. Both leopards were within 30 yards of us!

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS DESTINATION


The Masai Mara

For me when I hear the word 'safari' I instantly think 'Masai Mara' - there's nowhere else quite like it! On this trip I spent two nights at each end of the Masai Mara, starting towards the eastern end at the beautiful Sarova Mara Game Camp - this is a great introduction to the Mara, and ideal if you want the experience of a tented camp but with the reassurance of a larger property. Tents here have solid roofs so feel nicely sturdy while still being a tent - mine even had a small family of mongoose just outside!



I then moved across the plains of the Masai Mara (which was an experience in itself with huge herds of elephants) to the western area, on the banks of the Mara River. Although it's not a big distance geographically the areas are very different, both in terms of the wildlife and also the landscapes - even the climate is different! The eastern areas felt more open and were home to herds of zebras, large numbers of giraffe and also one of the best rhino sightings I've ever had. The western areas have more rivers and forests so attract different wildlife, and I saw a fabulous cheetah teaching her cubs how to stalk prey - although they seemed more interested in playing with each other! My home here was the Ashnil Mara Camp, with some of the largest tents I've come across on the Masai Mara - my tent overlooked the river itself, and the noise of the hippos in the bend of the river below the tent was amazing!



The absolute highlight of my time on the Masai Mara was when I was able to see a crossing of the Mara River by 10,000 or so migrating wildebeest and zebra - this is the kind of stuff you only see on programmes such as 'Planet Earth II', but our excellent driver could tell that the animals were preparing to cross, and he knew where to head to. After around an hour of huge herds congregating on the banks of the river, they set off together, taking around 15 minutes for all of them to cross successfully. I was able to capture some of the stampede on video - check it out here!

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS DESTINATION

Beaches of Mombasa

After a few days on safari I was ready to hit the beach - Kenya's Indian Ocean coastline is lined with stunning beaches, and I headed for the North Coast of Mombasa, a fairly short transfer from the airport. I stayed at the fabulous Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa and spent a few day chilling out and doing very little indeed! The resort is perfect for me - quiet areas for chilling out but a livelier atmosphere in other areas too, so the best of both. Their beach bar is amazing, and just down the beach is another great option for a few sundowner Tusker beers, Yul's beach bar.



If you prefer more chill and less party then head to the South Coast of Mombasa - Diani Beach is amongst the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to anywhere - ever - with the whitest, softest sand. The atmosphere along this stretch of coast is just perfect for relaxation, and there are some great hotel options here too. My favourite for total relaxation is the low-key Indian Ocean Beach Resort, set on a fabulous section of Diani Beach and with whitewashed traditional buildings giving it a local feel - spot-on!

On the way back to the UK I had a night in Nairobi, which isn't somewhere that's high on many people's itineraries but there's lots to see and do here, and with the city in the middle of a boom it's a surprisingly vibrant place - I stayed at the Sankara Hotel in the Westlands area of the city, and had a great night out in some of the local bars. I can highly recommend Brew Bistro with its rooftop bar and microbrewery - working my way through their beer menu during Happy Hour seemed like a great idea at the time, but the hangover on the flight home wasn't ideal!

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS DESTINATION

I've been lucky enough to visit East Africa a number of times over the years, but each time is always different. Kenya is a truly magical destination, and on this trip I had the best wildlife experiences I've ever had (I never thought I'd be lucky enough to see a migration of wildebeest) - which is why it was my Top Trip of 2016!






Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Our Top Trips in 2016 - Karen in Malaysia & Bali, September

We're having a look back on some of our favourite trips from 2016 - it's been a busy year at Escape Worldwide and the team have been criss-crossing the globe from Sydney to Havana, Tokyo to Nairobi. Karen visited Malaysia and Bali in September, taking in vibrant Kuala Lumpur, Bali's various beach resorts including Nusa Dua, Seminyak, Legian and Sanur, and the relaxed mountain hideaway of Ubud. Here's a quick look at her highlights . . .

Kuala Lumpur is one of my favourite Far East cities - it has such a buzz, there's loads to see and do, great quality hotels and some of the best food in Asia! I stayed at the Hotel Istana which is in a perfect location closed to the lively Bukit Bintang area of the city (think Oxford Street), and with one of my favourite streets a close walk away - Jalan Alor, which is packed with dozens of stalls each selling a local delicacy - delicious!



I spent a day exploring the city using the local hop-on hop-off bus, which is a great way to get around, especially to areas slightly further out. I found the National Mosque to be totally fascinating, and spent quite a lot of time around the colonial districts of the city, taking in the architecture of the Old Railway Station and the Central Market. Afternoon tea at the Majestic Hotel fitted in perfectly!

On my last night in KL I did some shopping in the renowned Petaling Street market (the best quality knock-offs anywhere!) followed by an amazing Chinese meal nearby, and finished off with drinks in one of the bars in Bukit Bintang before flying to Bali next day!


One of the best things to my mind about Bali is how all of the beach resort areas are so different, in such a small area - there are places such as Kuta that are perfect for a lively party stay, or quieter areas such as Jimbaran if you want to chill out. I started in Nusa Dua, which has a great range of quality hotels, a few local restaurants and shops, and some great beaches - if you want upmarket and peaceful but not dead then it's ideal. I stayed at the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel, which I couldn't fault - great rooms, full of character, and the food was superb!

From here I headed to the other coast at Seminyak, which has a stylish, trendy feel, super-cool beach clubs and funky bars, and a good selection of hotels. Most hotels are a little further from the beach than in other resort areas, but there's such a great range of places to eat and drink outside of the hotels, I found myself spending less time in the hotel and more time out & about. My particular favourite here was the Anantara Seminyak, an uber-stylish hotel right on the beach, with beanbags on the sand for sunset cocktails!



Last stop for me was Sanur, which balances local restaurants, bars and shops with a relaxed feel - it's not party-central, but you're not stuck to your hotel either, which I really like. I stayed at the Puri Santrian, which I just adored - beachfront, full of Balinese character, and handy for local facilities.



If you head away from the beaches then Bali becomes a completely different destination, with beautiful scenery, incredible temples and a rich, intricate culture - even if you just base yourself on the beach I'd really recommend a day trip inland to Ubud and some of the other villages, but if you have time then spend a few nights up here. 



It's around an hour from most of the beach areas so it's easy to include, but you'll see a very different side of the island - I explored the famous Monkey Forest, went to various temples and saw traditional dance in the village. My home here was the gorgeous Alila Ubud, located in a valley just outside Ubud itself, with the most incredible swimming pool hanging out over the valley - a real 'takes your breath away'!


I'm a huge fan of the Far East and have been lucky enough to visit both Malaysia and Bali before, but this trip took me to some new places, some fabulous hotels and a whole load of new experiences - which is why it was my Top Trip of 2016!








Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 
http://www.escapeworldwide.co.uk