Category: Asia

Experience Thailand’s Songkran Festival

April sees Thailand in full party mode as they celebrate Songkran, a traditional New Year festival. Celebrated across the country from 13th-15th April, this water festival is a fun experience, with water pistols and buckets out in force. Here’s the best ways to enjoy Songkran and Thailand during April.

Songkran

This water festival is the perfect way to cool off during the heat of April in Thailand. Celebrated across the country, Songkran dates back centuries and focuses on cleansing and new starts. For fun and also symbolically, people will shoot water from water pistols or throw buckets of water over each other. Whatever you do, just accept that for the duration of the festival, you’re likely to get very, very wet!

The festival is a great way to immerse yourself in the Thai culture. When you’re not being drenched in water, visit one of the local monasteries to pray and help cleanse the statues and icons of Buddha. This ritual is believed to bring good luck to those who participate. There are also pageants and parades to enjoy and of course a Thai feast, with street food being readily available to feed the crowds.

Chiang Mai

Located in the north, the city of Chiang Mai has possibly the biggest Songkran festivities. Running for six days, there are many events and rituals to experience in the city. Start with the procession where all the sacred images and statues of Buddha from across the city are put onto floats and paraded through the city. Starting at Nawarat Bridge, the parade winds its way through to the temple Wat Prasing. Many of Chiang Mai’s Songkran celebrations are focused at the temple including the depositing of sand and flowers beside the river. You’ll also be able to enjoy music and dancing and of course, a good soaking!

Once the festivities are over, there is much to see and do in Chiang Mai. There are over 300 temples, including the beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which sits high in the hilltops. Spend the day exploring here, taking the tram up the mountainside to the temple. From the temple climb upwards to the Bhubing Palace and then further up to the Hmong Village to sample authentic village life. Chiang Mai is also a great place to see some of Thailand’s native animals in their natural habitat and there are many elephant  sanctuaries and farms to visit. I would definitely recommend the Elephant Nature Park where you can get up close to these majestic animals and be inspired by the conservation work the park is doing.

Bangkok

Surprisingly, Bangkok empties somewhat during Songkran as the Thais head back to their native towns to spend the time celebrating with their families. There are festivities through the city such as the Miss Songkran Beauty contest in the Wisutkasat district of Bangkok and the sacred celebrations at Sanam Luang where the Buddha image from the National Museum is taken. Head for Rattanakosin Island to experience the best of Bangkok’s new year celebrations by visiting the 9 sacred temples to witness the merit making rituals.

Thailand’s capital city is filled with attractions and must see sights. Take a cruise along the city’s canals through the Thonburi west bank and witness the floating market in Damnoen Saduak. On firm ground, you should also visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market which is popular tourist destination and the largest market in Thailand. Almost as popular is the famous Khao San Road  where you’ll find stalls, street food, clubs and bars as well as an electric atmosphere. For some culture and a sense of Bangkok’s history, visit the impressive Grand Palace which is still used for royal events to this day. Bangkok is extremely hot in April so I would spend a short amount of time here before heading off to the coast to cool off.

Check out our video from Songkran 2012.

Koh Samui

April is arguably the best time of year to visit Koh Samui if you’re a lover of the sun and hot weather, with temperatures averaging highs of 32 degrees. Sitting on the southern coast, Koh Samui is a large island filled with beautiful beaches which are the main draw for visiting here. For a beach set up for tourists, visit Chaweng and Lamai or alternatively, head for the west coast to find an idyllic sandy haven much quieter than those around the rest of the coast.

Koh Samui is home to many natural wonders such as the Na Muang 2 Waterfall and the iconic Grandmother and Grandfather rocks which you should definitely try to tour with a local to hear the legends behind them.  Other must see attractions here include the mummy at Wat Khunaram, the Big Buddha temple and the Secret Buddha Garden.

48 hours in Singapore

As a focal hub for all South East Asia, Singapore is too often treated as a fly through city. January is a great time of year to visit Singapore as the weather is typically tropical with the mixture of cooling tropical rain storms and sunny humid climate. With so much to see and do on a holiday to Singapore, Cox & Kings makes some recommendations to make the most out of a two-day stopover.

Getting to Singapore from the UK

Singapore Airlines flies twice daily from London Heathrow and once from Manchester. British Airways and Qantas both fly daily from Heathrow.

Just arriving into Changi airport is a pleasant experience in its own right – it’s one of the largest terminals in the world and the first in Asia to offer five-star services. Amongst hotels, cinemas and a rooftop swimming pool, there is an impressive collection of shops and boutiques, gym and spa facilities and even a butterfly garden. For more info check out changiairport.com.

Where to stay in Singapore

The Mandarin Oriental is a slick hotel with great restaurants and one of the best spas in town. Ideally located on Raffles Boulevard, the Mandarin Oriental has great views of the city and the water from its guest rooms and the rooftop swimming pool.

The place to see and be seen in Singapore, Raffles dates from 1887 and is one of the world’s great iconic hotels. Its sizeable guest suites are decorated in colonial style with teak and marble. Elegant and stylish, Raffles is a haven amid the bustle.

The Fullerton is set on the Singapore River and its landmark building has had a colourful history, serving as a Post Office, Singapore Town Club and Chamber of Commerce before being turned into a luxury hotel.

What to see in Singapore

Take a ride of the Singapore Flyer, which opened on Raffles Avenue in 2008. The Flyer is 30 metres higher than the London Eye – on a clear day you can see Malaysia to the north and Indonesia to the South.

Wander around the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which have been at their present site for 150 years and contain 64 hectares of beautiful horticultural and botanical displays. Don’t miss the National

Orchid Garden with its collection of more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is well worth a visit, packed with interesting artefacts and ornaments from all across South East Asia. Have a look at the museum website for more information.

From just outside the museum, take an hour-long cruise of the harbour – recommended in the evening, when the city’s riverside monuments are lit up.

Where to drink in Singapore

The Singapore Sling cocktail was invented by a Raffles’ barman and can still be enjoyed in the hotel’s atmospheric Long Bar. Or try Loof Bar, an open-air rooftop bar on top of the Odeon Towers, which has some of the best views in the city.

Where to eat

La Dolce Vita at the Mandarin Oriental has views over the city and the sea, and serves fine Italian cuisine, created by Michelin star chef Marco Pedrelli, alongside an impressive wine list.

Satay Club is a stretch of stalls, recently relocated to Clarke Quay, that sell a variety of meats, fish and vegetables all with the obligatory peanut Satay sauce. Each stall has its own special recipe and there is great vibrancy as they compete (in good humour) for your business. Each stall appears to claim its own accolade of awards, so choosing one can be tough. The hawker stalls in the Clarke Quay area are also well worth a try, and are a great place to sample more traditional Asian cuisine.

  • Remember: generally, the longer the queue, the better the food.
  • Check out what else is at Clarke Quay at clarkequay.com.sg.

Booking a Singapore holiday

A stopover in Singapore makes an ideal break en route to Australia, or as part of a luxury holiday to the Far East. It is possible to travel overland from Singapore to Bangkok, through Malaysia, on the Eastern & Oriental train.

Holiday ideas for the month of March

While the dark winter months are perfect for skiing and some winter sun, the summer months enjoy peak tourism numbers and an abundance of festivals and culture. March sits at the end of the winter period and is often overlooked as a prime time to travel. Well here’s a few ideas for you if you’re looking for something to fill those spring evenings with.

Bodrum, Turkey

Bodrum enjoys a mixture of cultures where the old world collides head on with the a new modern lifestyle. It’s not lost any of its character thankfully and the Aegean coast has no shortage of ancient history to keep you coming back. In recent decades Bodrum has become the place in Turkey for the rich and famous to hang out. With new marinas and promenades, night clubs and restaurants, it looks more at home along the French Riviera.

The most impressive landmark here is the Castle of St Peter which boasts some of the best views of the entire area. It also houses a museum of underwater archeology which is well worth checking out. Temperatures are around 17C with little rainfall, perfect weather for exploring.

  • Check out flights to Bodrum here

Honshu, Japan

Japan is well worth a visit in March and for one good reason. The cherry trees blossom with pink and white petals that are a sight to behold, attracting millions of visitors to the sub-tropical province of Okinawa. Think of it like trees covered in candy-floss. By the end of March the blossom is in full bloom as far north as Kyoto and Tokyo too. This beautiful occurrence lasts only a few weeks so be sure to make the most of the pretty parks and amazing Japanese culture too. Expect temperatures around 15C with occasional rain and overcast skies. This won’t detract from the beauty of the Cherry Blossom though so you’ll be sure to have a fantastic time in March.

Dublin, Ireland

A city that’s perfect for a short-break or long weekend and the spiritual home of St Patrick’s Day.  Be sure to check out the famous Guinness factory tour, worth doing even if you don’t like the taste of the black stuff. There’s some great city tours that cover all the major landmarks and teach you much of the history of this amazing city. During the celebrations there’s also street parades and you’ll see many of the city’s landmarks are light up green too.

Austin, USA

March is a great time of year to visit the city of Austin in Texas. Home to the ever-expanding arts festival known as South by Southwest, or SXSW as it’s often called. This ten-day festival is filled with everything from musical performances to film premieres, tech conferences and seminars, art installations and street parades too. While an official ticket to the entire festival will cost you around $600 there are a lot of fringe events happening that mimic much of the core of the festival. You’ll find every bar, venue and even cafes are getting in on the act with art events and music gigs. If you have the budget then the full event is well worth it but even if you don’t, Austin is the place to be in March.

Review of La Résidence Phou Vao: Laos in the Low Season

On a balmy Saturday afternoon in late April, my friend Carter and I arrive at La Résidence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang, Laos. As we sip on a welcome drink of dark fuchsia hibiscus juice, one of the hotel’s managers, Sai, explains that Phou Vao translates as “Hill of Kites” in Lao, telling us: “This is the place where the kings used to come to play with their kites.”

Nowadays, Luang Prabang plays home not to kite-flying kings but travelers in search of a peace and calm somewhat harder to find in other corners of Southeast Asia. With hardly another guest in sight, things appear especially quiet today. Almost by accident, Carter and I have arrived in Laos in the low season – but we couldn’t have picked a better time to visit.

Arrival

Our trip from Bangkok was not exactly seamless: an overnight train to the border, followed by bus journeys from Vientiane to Vang Vieng, and from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang. When we finally arrive, we are met at the bus stand by a driver from the hotel. He offers us cold towels, bottles of even colder water, and fresh macaroons, in perfect pastel shades of green and yellow. The only thing Carter and I regret is that the ride to the hotel is so short.

After dropping off my bags, I sit down with Sai for a longer chat and take my first sip of the hotel’s signature cocktail. Fittingly named “Simply Laos,” the drink features Lao-Lao whisky, hibiscus flower, honey water, lime juice, and egg white, and is garnished with a couple of dried hibiscus seeds. “You will not find this anywhere else in Laos,” Sai tells me. Although I’ve only been in the country some 24 hours, I have a feeling he’s right.

La Résidence Phou Vao

Room

Located on nearly eight acres of lush, verdant land are just 34 rooms – even in high season, the hotel could never get too crowded. Split between 32 junior suites and 2 suites with separate sitting areas, the rooms are further differentiated by the view they offer: garden view, mountain view, or mountain and pool view. With a vista of layered hills from our mountain view balcony and two pools less than a minute’s walk away, Carter and I still count ourselves lucky.

Our luck continues inside the room, where modern comforts such as a free-form terrazzo bathtub and Nespresso coffee machine meet locally sourced rosewood floors and fresh frangipani flowers placed across our beds, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. There’s a simplicity and openness to the design that is natural yet elegant. At night, hid inside the folds of my mosquito net, it feels like I’ve been transported to another world entirely.

Dining

On our first night at the hotel, we dine al fresco along the edge of the infinity pool. As lanterns glow in the trees above us, we try out classic Laotian dishes: pork-stuffed bamboo shoot for a starter and aor lam for the main – what our server Lavang explains as Laos-style ragout, complete with coriander, lemongrass, garlic, mushrooms, beans, and a choice between beef, chicken, or pork. We end the meal with a crème brulee as a tip of our hat to the French.

But it’s over breakfast each morning that Carter and I linger even longer, filling our plates with a spectrum of tropical fruits, homemade yogurt, freshly baked baguettes, mango and papaya jams, and piquant Luang Prabang sausage. We then head to our favorite table overlooking the terrace, where the pool gives way to the jungle below, the golden stupa of Phousy Temple glinting on a distant hilltop. As many lattes as we can manage round off the perfect meal.

Dining at La Résidence Phou Vao

Spa

Hidden down a palm-lined walkway, the Mekong Spa offers a range of treatments, including a traditional dry massage called Sip Sen. “Monks used to do this for the royal family,” I am told by the spa manager. They also keep several areas of the spa open for guests to use free of charge – any resident, it seems, can get the royal treatment.

Carter and I have the spa’s smaller pool and footbath to ourselves, as well as a steam bath that we try out. Another spa employee, Mr. Onnsy, advises us to do three sessions of 10-15 minutes inside the sauna-like room, each one followed by a quick dip in the pool. As the sauna’s air grows thick with steam – potent with lemongrass, eucalyptus, camphor, peppermint, ginger, and turmeric – we sink back and let the heady haze wash over us.

Luang Prabang

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 – and thus preserved by careful design codes – Luang Prabang is a sleepy mix of French colonial architecture, towering coconut trees, and nearly three dozen temples, and is bordered by two rivers: the Mekong and the Nam Khan. It’s the kind of place where a Sunday afternoon is best-spent sipping coconut shakes at a riverside café, followed by a quick hike up Mount Phou Si to catch the sunset.

My favorite glimpse into the local culture, however, is on our last morning, when our wake-up call comes at 5:15am. The hotel’s shuttle service – which offers free rides into Luang Prabang throughout the day – makes a special early trip, dropping us off in town to see the daily alms giving. A blur of orange appears as Buddhist monks make their way through the streets, receiving offerings of rice and food for that day’s meals.

It’s a tradition that takes place every morning across Southeast Asia, and to witness it here in Luang Prabang is a lasting image I’ll carry with me.

More Information

With many thanks to Orient Express for their hospitality at La Résidence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang. For more information visit:

Celebrate the Holi festival in Nepal

Nepal is a beautiful country, landlocked in Asia between India and China. Due to its place within the Himalayan Range, tourism is the largest industry in the country and there are certainly a wealth of sites to visit for a truly magical vacation.

March offers a great opportunity to explore Nepal. Whilst Autumn is deemed high season, the Spring brings great weather to the country, with temperatures in Kathmandu averaging highs of 20C (68F). There are occasional rains but you’ll find the country a lush, green landscape, perfect for trekking.

Here’s my guide to why March is the best month to visit.

Holi festival

Holi is celebrated across Nepal and neighbouring India during the beginning of March and is a moveable feast depending on the dates of the full moon. This Hindu Festival lasts for a week and celebrates the arrival of spring. It is a colourful affair, with the abiding image of Holi celebrations being participants covered themselves and anyone nearby in colourful, scented powder which certainly adds to the excited party atmosphere.

The Terai is a great place to experience the Holi celebrations, particularly in the cities of Biratnagar and Birgunj and the capital Kathmandu. The Terai stretches across Nepal and into neighbouring India and are located to the south of the country. As well as the explosion of colourful powders, Holi is celebrated with impressive bonfire and the installation of the ‘Chur’, a ceremonial pole which is decorated with colourful material for good luck. There are also comedy contests and shows organised to add to the festivities.

Spiritual Nepal

After celebrating Holi, be inspired to explore the spiritual side of Nepal as there are many Hindu and Buddhist sites to visit. Most notably, there is Lumbini, the birthplace of Gantam Buddha. Located in the Rupandehi District of Southern Nepal, this is one of the most important and sacred sites for Buddhists and forms one of the main pilgrimage points. Lumbini is a UNESCO listed area and features the ancient ruins of the monasteries, the sacred Bodhi tree and of course the Mayadevi temple which marks Buddha’s birthplace.

Other great Buddhist spiritual sites within Nepal include the Golden Temple in Patan and the impressive Bodhnath Stupa, located on the outskirts of Kathmandu.  It is the largest Stupa in Nepal and one of the most important Buddhist sites within the country. For a taste of the Hindu culture, visit the Pashupatinath Temple. Located in the east of Kathmandu, this is one of the most important Hindu temples in the world and is another UNESCO listed site.

Natural Nepal

Nepal is dominated by the Himalayan Mountain range which carves its way through the country. This range attracts so many tourists and mountaineers for the sheer fact that it contains 8 out of  the 10 tallest peaks in the world. The tallest, and most famous peak is Mount Everest.

This area is made for climbing, trekking and hiking though hiking the taller mountains is something that is not for the amateur climber. There are ways to explore Everest without climbing it though, which means you’ll still get to experience this iconic goliath. To appreciate the sheer scale and beauty of the mountain and the range it’s within, I would recommend taking a flight available from Kathmandu Airport which will take you for a sightseeing tour over the Himalayas. Alternatively, take a trek up into the foothills of Everest, visiting the Rongbuk Monastery which is a climb suitable for novices. If altitude sickness isn’t a problem, continue up from here to the Everest Base Camp which sits at 17,000 feet above altitude. This is one of the most popular treks within the region and it’s worth organising a guide to take you on your way and to ensure your safety. Guides can cost from as little as US$10 per day.

  • Visit taan.org.np for a list of registered guides and companies to climb and trek with

4 Ways to explore Singapore for the family

Singapore is a stunning country, balancing natural beauty with a thriving city experience and rich cultural diversity. It is truly a wonderful place to holiday with the family, as there is something for all ages to enjoy. Here are 4 ways to explore Singapore that your family will love.

City Sightseeing Tour

When you arrive in Singapore, make sure you buy a City Sightseeing ticket. This gives you access to 5 specialised tours and a dedicated transport service to help you truly explore the city. It’s a 24 hour ticket that gives you the freedom to travel across 33 stops on a hop on, hop off style tour to let you go at your own pace. From Little India and Marina Bay to the Historic Civil District and The Esplanade, the City Sightseeing tour is one of the best ways to explore Singapore with the whole family.

Singapore Night Safari

For a unique experience that the whole family will absolutely love, spend an evening discovering all the amazing creatures that come out at night. Night Safari is a special safari park dedicated to night time animals, and offers a range of trails, trams and special shows to ensure an action-packed adventure for everyone. The restaurants and shops open at 5:30pm, followed by the park itself at 7:30pm, making it a great way to have dinner before you start. The park closes at midnight, though last tickets are sold at 11.15pm.

One of the star attractions of Night Safari is the guided tram ride. Once aboard, you and your family will experience an unforgettable journey through environments such as the Asian Riverine Forest and the Himalayan Foothills. The narrated tour provides fascinating information on the unique ecosystems and animals that you’ll spot during the tour.

Shop Along Orchard Road

Most people who’ve heard of Singapore will know Orchard Road. The famous shopping destination is a great way to take the family out and spend a day looking through the wealth of stores on offer. It is Singapore’s largest vertical mall, and has an array of delightful restaurants with alfresco dining for when you need to take a quick break from all of the shopping.

From the most prestigious European designer brands to great little bargain stores, this magnificent mall will bring out the shopper in everyone. Make sure to check out the unique Mediterranean style marketplace, as well as the huge array of health and beauty services available throughout the mall for some well-deserved indulgent pampering.

Cruising in Style

The stunning Singapore harbour is best seen from a boat, and nothing beats cruising with the family in luxury style while exploring the best that Singapore has to offer. The cruises departing Singapore reach a range of amazing destinations, and a trip could see you wandering through open air markets, exploring lush rainforests and discovering the secrets of ancient cities. Singapore is truly the gateway to Southeast Asia, and the countless captivating destinations offer the perfect opportunity for a cruise.

With these top ways to explore Singapore, you and your family will be seeing the very best that this amazing country has to offer. The unique destination of Singapore will truly enchant the senses, and give your family a holiday experience that they will never forget.

Visiting Singapore in March

Being just 1 degree north of the equator, Singapore enjoys warm and humid days all year round. Tropical thunderstorms are always a possibility here but the city is well prepared for the rain. Temperatures are fairly consistent here, hovering around 31C (88F) with a high and somewhat oppressive humidity level. You’ll find no shortage of air conditioning here so its easy to keep cool when you want to. March is the end of the “dry phase” which means you can expect less rain in the afternoons but slightly higher daily temperatures.

A middle east holiday in Qatar, UAE

As one of the emerging Middle East destinations, Qatar is a holiday destination successfully mixing the old with the new. Although heavily modernised now, there are still a few areas such as the remaining labyrinth of souks at the heart of the city of Doha to get a real taste of the culture and tradition of the country.

The official language of Qatar is Arabic but English is widely understood thanks to the country’s status as a British protectorate from 1917 to 1971.

Expected temperature in April will sit around the 30˚C mark and will be hot but tolerable. It is recommended that tourists do not visit during the summer months of July to September as the heat is intense and unrelenting.

Qatar is a dry country. Most of the hotels and a wide selection of the restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol (although quite expensive to buy), but drinking outside of these establishments is not allowed. While here you can enjoy the local delicacies of curries, kebabs, falafel and biryanis as well as shawarma – the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Turkish doner kebab.

With impressive skyscrapers being erected all the time, the landscape of Qatar is continually changing. You also have your pick of the most beautiful beaches to soak up the sunshine. Here are a few must-see attractions to get the most out of your stay in this beautiful country.

Museum of Islamic Art

Standing out as an architectural gem, the building of the Museum of Islamic Art is set in the park of the same name by the waterfront. You can while away the hours inside with a selection of masterpieces of Islamic art collected from three continents and dating from the 7th century all the way up to the 19th century. The masterpieces available to view include metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles and glass.  This is a great attraction to understand more about the culture and history of Qatar.

  • Opening times:
    • Sunday – 10:30am – 5:30pm
    • Monday – 10:30am – 5:30pm
    • Tuesday – Closed
    • Wednesday – 10:30am – 5:30 pm 
    • Thursday – 12pm – 8pm 
    • Friday – 2pm – 8pm
    • Saturday – 12pm – 8pm
  • Admission: Free (some charges for temporary exhibitions)
  • Website: mia.org.qa/en

Camel Racing

The Qataris are very passionate about this sport with serious money invested into training the camels to race and in the jockeys used. Beginning in October and ending in April, if you visit in April you will be around for the closing ceremonies. Just 30 minutes’ drive west from Doha on the Dukan road, you will find the purpose-built camel racing track and all the excitement of the events. Arabic riders take on the larger camels and 1ft high robots are used on the smaller camels controlled by their owners from 4×4’s alongside the track. The robots even come with whips and the owners can speak to the camels from a speaker. The winner of the race gets a handsome cash prize and a brand new car to drive away in. A very odd, but very enjoyable day out.

Khor al-Adaid

Known as the ‘Inland Sea’ the Khor al-Adaid area – located in the south-east of the state of Qatar – is surrounded by crescent-shaped sand dunes with some as high as 40 metres. As you can imagine, four-wheel-drive is necessary to tackle the terrain and you should not attempt to drive it unless experienced. You can also join a tour operated trip of this UNESCO World Heritage Site with both day trips and overnight camping trips. If you choose to stay overnight you will be treated to the delights of the Qatar sky at night and can enjoy a delicious barbeque under the stars. As well as driving along the dunes, you can ride camels and even sand ski if you’re feeling adventurous.

A hub of opulent hotels, beautiful beaches and inviting restaurants, Qatar is an all-round destination for a holiday in April.

Holiday in an alternative Egyptian resort

Situated on the north Egyptian border, Taba is full of beautiful scenery and ancient splendour. With the Middle East on one side and Africa on the other, the town is also lined by the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba and benefits from soft golden sands.

Not well-known as a holiday destination, Taba enjoys a quieter existence than other Egyptian resorts such as Sharm El Sheikh and Luxor. This means you will escape the crowds while still enjoying a great location for exploring more of this spectacular country.

The best time to visit Egypt is outside of the summer months, as the hot arid desert climate can be too much for tourists. Between the months of October and May are suggested so a visit in April would be perfect. You can expect lows of 18˚C, to highs of 30˚C with an average temperature of 24˚C, so feel free to pack your skimpy beachwear.

Taba also boasts a 70 kilometre stretch of coastline from Taba town to Nuweiba and is considered one of the best beaches of the Red Sea. With bays, coves, lagoons and an island in the vicinity, it is a slice of paradise.

With April not being part of the peak season for Egypt, you will be able to find a great deal on your getaway.

Pharaoh’s Island

Just a 30-minute ferry ride from the town, is the island of Pharaoh which attracts many divers because of the spectacular coral reef and marine life surrounding it, including the Picasso Trigger Fish. And when you tire of the warm and inviting turquoise waters you can head inland to visit the impressive 12th century fortress named Castle of Salah ad-Din. The island was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003 and is a great way to spend half a day on your trip.

Jerusalem

High in the history and religion stakes is the day-trip to the city of Jerusalem. Dating back 4,000 years it is crammed with churches, temples and mosques and while in Taba you can book yourself on a fantastic day out packed with sights to see. Starting out early you will drive to Israel, through the Negev Desert with a stop off to the lowest place on Earth – The Dead Sea. Here you can float in the waters packed with minerals after you cover yourself in the mud, said to have therapeutic powers. The next stop is Jerusalem where you will see:

  • The breath-taking views at the Mount of Olives
  • The Church of Sepulchre (built where Christ was crucified and buried)
  • The Wailing Wall and Dome of the Rock
  • Follow in the footsteps of Christ as he carried his cross along the Via Dolorosa
  • The haunting garden of Gethsemane
  • The Last Supper Room at Mount Zion
  • Prices equate to £109 for adults and £69 for children aged 2-11
  • Discover more about Jerusalem here

Seascope Adventure

If squeezing yourself into a diving suit doesn’t sound up your street, there is a way to see the spectacular marine life of Taba without a drop of water on you. The Seascope Adventure is a glass-sided boat with a very deep hull where you can enjoy the colourful fish of the area from the comfort of your seat. Three metres under the surface, you are transported in amongst the colourful creatures including eels, rays, clownfish, catfish and starfish to name but a few. The experience lasts about an hour and a half and is a must-do if you aren’t planning on diving or snorkelling.

A Night in the Sinai Desert

Taba town is backed by the Sinai Mountains and while here you can travel into the desert to enjoy an authentic day and evening there. Leaving behind civilisation you will drive into the sun-streaked mountains and dunes to see the arid landscape first-hand. You will be treated to a traditional Bedouin dinner in a magnificent tent enjoying the hospitality of the tribespeople. Then you will receive expert guidance as you observe and photograph the heavens. With computerised telescopes you can the night’s sky up-close and personal in the silent and dark desert.

  • Prices equate to £39 for adults and £20 for children
  • Discover more about the Sinai Desert here

Best March cruise holidays around the world

There aren’t many holidays in life that feel more luxurious than stepping onto a cruise ship, ready to be whisked off for a few days at sea exploring the area. With a wide range of destinations and cruises available, here’s my guide to the best cruises you should book onto for your holiday in March.

Cruise Australia

Southern Australia is magnificent in March as you can enjoy the warm climate of Autumn. Temperatures remain around 22 degrees and the sun continues to shine, meaning you can enjoy the beautiful surroundings without the searing heat or blazing sunshine of the summer.

For your perfect cruise, choose Crystal Cruises Australia for your choice of liner. This award-winning company will take you on a trip of a lifetime on board their luxurious ships, complete with ballrooms, theatres, bars and opulent rooms. Their three-week cruise around Southern Australia starts in Auckland, New Zealand where you can explore this exciting city on the North Island. Aboard your ship, set sail along the western coast down to Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Christchurch and finally Dunedin before making your way over to Australia. Cruise across the Tasman Sea before you see Sydney and its iconic skyline appear on the horizon. Believe me, it’s an emotional, unforgettable experience. Spend time exploring this fantastic city before making your way to Melbourne, where you must visit the set of Neighbours! From here it’s along the coast to Perth and Fremantle, your final destination. It’ll be three weeks you’ll never forget.

Cruise Singapore

Singapore is possibly the most suitable place to take a cruise from, with many of the cities buildings taking you back to a time when boarding a liner was the only way to explore far off destinations. March is ideal for a trip here as the monsoon season comes to an end and the temperature is cooler than the humid months that follow.

Board Crystal Cruises’ 2 week round trip to Singapore which will take you deep into the Indian Ocean. Explore the city before you depart, visiting iconic sites such as Raffles to sample a ‘Singapore Sling’, The Majestic and the Zoological Gardens. Once aboard your ship, set off south and start ticking off all the countries you’re visiting. Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar and even India all in the space of two weeks of sheer unadulterated beauty and excitement before landing back where you started.

Cruise China

Spring heralds the best time of year to visit China, with temperatures at a steady and comfortable level. With the weather great across the country, there’s no better time to take a cruise along the Chinese coast. Passing through the South China, East China and Yellow Sea, take a cruise from Hong Kong to Beijing. Here you’ll start and end in one of China’s most iconic destinations and will take in Shanghai on your way north. I found it simply remarkable just how many legendary sites this stretch of coastline holds. Being a culture lover, I was in awe of see Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, Huangpu River and The Peninsula all in the space of a fortnight. Simply spectacular.

Cruise the Caribbean

The Caribbean almost feels as if it was made for cruising around. With a cluster of tropical islands in such a relatively small space, cruising is the ideal way to explore this lush region of the world. March is definitely the best time of year to do so as well, with weather at its sunniest, warmest and driest. It’s a popular time of year for tourists wanting to escape the winter.

Take a 14 day Caribbean cruise that will see you start and finish in Florida. Take time to explore Fort Lauderdale and Key West which are both beautiful coastal cities. Your first stop in the Caribbean is the Bahamas, where life really does feel like it’s begun to slow down. After a day exploring, you feel immediately relaxed and in Jamaica, the clock might as well just stop! Your cruise will take you onto the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and the most remarkable thing is that you’ll only have scratched the surface as to what the Caribbean has to offer.

Spiritual destinations for your spring holiday

With spring in the air and new life breathing into the world after the chill of winter, April is the perfect time of year to take yourself off on a spiritual break. Good for the mind, body and soul, here’s my guide to the best destinations to indulge in your spiritual side.

The Vatican, Vatican City, Italy

Easter falls at the weekend of the end of March and start of April this year, making April the perfect month to visit this holy city. Visited by over 4 million people each year, the Vatican is the home of Roman Catholicism and the focus point for Easter celebrations. On Easter Sunday, thousands of people crowd into the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to hear the Pope say Mass. This is a free event but it can be hard to gain entrance so ensure you arrive early for the best chance.

The Vatican’s museums is closed to visitors over the Easter weekend so use this time to explore Rome and its many churches and historical sites. Easter Monday is a national holiday in Rome and there is a fantastic atmosphere in the air. End your day by watching a magnificent firework display over the Tiber River. Then take a trip to the Vatican to visit its many museums and iconic buildings where you must see the incredible Sistine Chapel and visit the Papal Tombs.

India

India certainly feels like one of the most spiritual destinations on earth and April is a fantastic month to visit. There are many Hindu festivals throughout the month including the Hindu New Year (11th April), Ramayana Week (11th-20th), Ramanavami (19th) or Hanuman Jayanti (25th). To get the best out of the Ramanavami celebrations, head for northern India to Rameshwaram. Here literally thousands of people bathe in the sea before heading off to the temple for worship. The temple is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus and dates back to the 12th Century.

For other spiritual sites, you are spoilt for choice in India. Visit Haridwar in the Himalayan Foothills, which is seen as the most sacred place in the country as well as one of its oldest cities. Here you have your pick of impressive temples and of course, the Ganges River which pilgrims bathe in to wash away their sins. Staying in the north, visit Rishikesh,  a favourite spiritual destination of the Sixties and home to many Yoga retreats. The south also has some fantastic, and very different, temples and spiritual sites to offer especially those in Madurai.  The Golden Temple in Amritsar welcomes over 50,000 visitors a day and is arguably the most sacred site in India for Sikhs.

Nepal

April is a great month to visit this most sacred of countries, with the temperatures starting to climb towards their eventual summer highs. Nepal is home to one of the most important sites for Buddhists with Lumbini famed as the birthplace of Buddha. A trip here is one of the main four pilgrimages for Buddhists and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site itself is protected by monasteries which surround the area and these buildings are fascinating to visit. Lumbini hosts the Mayadevi Temple on the exact spot of Buddha’s birth as well as ancient ruins, the sacred Bodhi tree and shrines.

Nepal is famously home to the Himalayas and there is a special sacred site located near this iconic mountain range. Muktinath is a holy site for both Buddhists and Hindus and is also a fantastic site for mediation and relaxation. Located in the Mustang District, Muktinath is a place of great natural beauty combined with temples, shrines, pagodas and monasteries, all sitting at high altitude. If you’re looking to get away from it all, this is the place for you.

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