Bangkok could be your ideal holiday location

May 18th, 2013

A shoppers delight? Tick.
Utter madness and culture shock value? Tick.
Hair-raising tuk tuk rides? Tick.
Mouth watering food for all tastes and budgets? Tick.
Sparkling Palaces and dancing disco balls? Tick.

No matter what your style, taste or budget, Bangkok ticks many boxes as the ideal holiday location.

Get lost in the vibrant and colorful city that is Bangkok. Emerging as the new Tokyo of South East Asia, Bangkok has more to offer than one could possibly imagine. However, while it is all too easy to get caught up in this rapidly developing and cosmopolitan city, you are also still able to find a more rustic side of Bangkok.

Like all cities in Asia, the day starts at the crack of dawn. Markets are abuzz before the sun has even made an appearance. If you can handle an early morning start, organise a trip to Bangkok’s infamous floating markets. You can either sit back and enjoy the people watching spectacle or get amongst it on one of the long boats to peruse what each stall has to offer. A fantastic way to start the day.

The Grand Palace is also a must see for all new visitors to Thailand. However, given the hoards of tourists that pass through these gates everyday, you can expect to be fooled more than just once.

OK, first things first. Before you even start your journey, if the tuk-tuk driver tells you the Grand Palace is closed for a Buddhist holiday and therefore you should let him be your tour guide for the day – either ask him to take you there anyway or find yourself another driver. The Grand Palace is open everyday except during Royal Ceremonies. Inside the Grand Palace you are also permitted to view the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) in all its golden glory. One of the largest Buddha images in the world, Wat Pho comes in at an impressive 46m long and 15m high.

If you are in Bangkok on a weekend, a visit to Chatuchak is mandatory for all shop-a-holics. With almost 9000 stalls to choose from, Chatuchak Weekend Market is the essence of a shoppers paradise. Escape the standard chaos of department stores, and head to Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market for a more cultural shopping experience. When I say you can buy anything here… I mean you can buy absolutely anything here. From handicrafts and underwear to ‘real’ Ralph Lauren Polo’s, jewellery and illegally imported animals. You will be in awe at the array of choices.

Finish your day off in Khao San Rd – the central hub of backpackers from all corners of the globe. Here you can find dingy hotels, seriously cheap eats, bargain beauty treatments and massages for all and of course an abundance of shops to peruse. Khao San Road comes alive at night with a sensory overload of smells, sounds and sights to feast on. Night markets fill the streets while nomadic backpackers wander up and down their new place to call home. Park yourself on the side of the street and watch this amazing world go by as you indulge in a Chang beer and more than a few helpings of pad thai from one of the colourful street vendors.

Ko Chang – Your Own Piece of White Sands Heaven

May 18th, 2013

Who needs nightlife when you can pass the days sunning yourself on Ko Chang’s White Sand Beach with a fruit cocktail in hand? Say no more. White Sand Beach certainly lives up to its name with 2.5kms of white squeaky sand, crystal clear waters and quaint little beach huts to complete the postcard picture. I can assure you that Thailand beaches don’t get much better than this.

Ko Chang is located in the Gulf of Thailand, east of Bangkok. Ko Chang is Thailand’s second-largest island and although its popularity is increasing with tourists, the majority of the island remains untouched. The west coast of the island is blessed with clearer waters and more impressive beaches so it is well worth the extra baht in taxi costs to get you to there from the ferry terminal.

Accommodation stretches along the shores of all beaches on the western side of the island, with rooms to match any budget. Restaurants, cafes, bars, street stalls, beach-side seafood grills are also in abundance wherever you go.

If massages and sun baking are not your style, then you can hire a canoe and explore the abundant caves and deserted islands around the periphery of the island. Be sure to take a head torch to avoid any unexpected encounters with the animal kind… And keep track of tides when you are visiting in the rainy season as exiting the caves might not be as easy as they were to enter!

The mountainous landscape of Ko Chang makes its infamous Klong Plu waterfalls all the more spectacular. The site has a well-marked path for hikers to view the falls. Klong Plu is easily accessible from the main beach area in Ko Chang and is well worth the visit. Elephant trekking and authentic Thai cooking courses are also a popular activity while visiting the island. As with most cooking schools in Thailand, your course will include a guided visit to the market to learn about the various local produce used in Thai cooking.

Getting to Ko Chang from Bangkok is simple. Buses depart regularly from Bangkok’s Ekami bus terminal to Trat. Although only a 4-hour journey, the buses are exceptionally comfortable with some even serving food and drinks on board! From here you are no more than an hour boat ride away from your own little piece of White Sand heaven. NB check out the early morning market at the bus terminal in Trat – if you’re game enough for the extreme spice of the curries, this is the place to test your taste buds out!

If Cambodia is your end destination, going overland from Bangkok, Ko Chang makes for a great pit stop en route. Relax your body and your mind with the sun and sand before heading into the rough and unruly terrain that is Cambodia. You can easily hitch a ride from Trat to the Cambodian Koh Kong boarder. From there, the ease of Thailand travel will end and you will be forced to challenge the adventurer within!

Consider these travel safety tips

April 9th, 2013

For many people, traveling, be it for business or for pleasure, is on balance an exciting experience. The excitement can be maintained, provided some travel safety tips are considered.

Unfamiliar, or new surroundings sometimes effect some people in such a way that they tend to throw some caution into the wind by taking unnecessary risks. Taking unnecessary risks will sooner or later land one in trouble.

1. Do thorough research.

It’s advisable to do some kind of research to the place you’ll be visiting, particularly if it’s for the first time. Research can be into areas such as the location of the hotel and its proximity to the sights you’ll want to visit.

The research will reveal how much walking you’ll do, as opposed to having to rely on public transport. If you’ll be walking, you’ll want an idea of the kind of areas that you’ll pass through. Remember that in many major cities there are the so- called no- go- areas. So you’ll naturally want to avoid those.

It’s always worthwhile to check whether other hotels are also located in the area you’ll be staying. The presence of other hotels signify the popularity of the area, meaning that there will probably be many other like minded visitors such as yourself.

Of course, concentration of tourists can bring its own problems: some undesirables such as pickpockets will also be attracted to those areas. In those circumstances, extra care must be taken with personal belongings. Items such as personal jewelery should be kept out of sight. Wearing a money belt is an excellent way of protecting valuables such as money and credit cards.

If you’re not sure about an area, ask a member of your hotel for advise. If you have doubts about an area, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

2. Traveling alone

It’s never advisable to go walking alone at times such as late at night. If you need to be somewhere, perhaps there may be others that you can travel with. Consider taking a cab, or share one with fellow traveler (s).

Never accept the offer to be shown around by total strangers, unless you know that they are some kind of official such as a tour guide.

Before leaving your hotel, read the map and try to memorize the routes you’ll be taking. Nothing advertises the fact that you’re are a stranger than walking around with your nose buried in a map!

If you need to consult a map at any time while you’re out, don’t do it in the street. Visit a coffee shop, a rest room, etc. Thus, you can jog your memory without giving too much away.

Be aware of your surroundings. When out walking, look out for changes in the neighborhood. If you notice gradual changes that makes you feel uneasy, don’t worry. Calmly reverse your direction of travel and keep walking at a steady pace until you are back at a more familiar surroundings.

Don’t use cash machines in remote areas. If you’re not sure, visit a main bank branch. If you are not near a bank, then consider the more expensive option of changing money at your hotel.

When you leave your hotel for the first time, try and remember certain landmarks such as unusual buildings, etc. This will help you when returning to your hotel.

If you suddenly end up in a rough neighborhood, don’t ask for directions from strangers in the street. If you cannot find an official such as a police officer, then ask at a shop or establishment.

If you find yourself lost in an area that you feel uncomfortable in, don’t persevere in attempting to find your way back. Consider taking a cab as soon as possible, however short the journey may be.

Adopting the above safety tips will give you further peace of mind, so you’ll be able to concentrate more- to enjoy yourself.

Five important tips when visiting Europe

April 9th, 2013

europe-political

Europe is a vast and an exciting destination well worth visiting. Use the guidelines below to have a safe and an enjoyable visit.

1). Documents

Never attempt to visit Europe unless your documents are in order, and the appropriate visas are included.

Wherever you go within Europe, carry some identification. Keep photocopies of important documents such as passports separately.

Make sure that you are familiar to the correct amount of duty free items such as alcohol and tobacco that you are allowed. If your duty free exceeds the allowed quota, declare it at the customs. Remember- countries that are not part of the European Union, may well have different regulations.

Never agree to carry parcels/ packages from strangers. If caught carrying illegal substances such as drugs, it carries hefty penalties in ALL countries.

2). Languages

In Europe there are some 320 different mixture of languages. But in all major European towns and cities, English is widely spoken.

If your stay is for a relatively long period, consider taking a phrase- book along. All nationalities will appreciate your attempts at the local language(s)- however badly that may be!

Most European countries tend to favor the 24- hour clock for timetable of buses, trains, and so on. It is a good idea to become familiar with the 24- hour clock before the date of travel.

Be alert to time differences between some European countries. For example, apart from a short window, there is usually an hour time difference between Britain and the rest of the continent.

3). Electricity

Most European countries operate a different voltage than the American system. For example, in many European countries the standard voltage is 230. For some electrical items such as electric razor, you’ll almost certainly need to include an adapter.

4). Cars and driving

To drive in European countries, the minimum legal age is eighteen. Furthermore, some European countries require an ‘international’ driving license.

Do not attempt to drive, unless you are fully entitled to do so. For example, all countries require some kind of insurance.

Ensure that the car you’ll be driving complies with all the requirements of the country involved.

Ensure that you have a practical road map.

The legal alcohol limit for driving varies between many European countries. Driving over the permitted alcohol limit usually carries a fine. If involved in an accident while driving over the alcohol limit, a custodial sentence is usually followed. If unsure to the exact alcohol limit, do not risk it, consume no alcohol at all.

5). Research

Prior to travel, do a little research regarding costs in the country that you’ll visit. Some items such as food and gas do cost more in Europe than in the US. So when you have an idea of the general prices, budgeting will become that much easier.

Try and make reservations for important parts of your trip such as hotel, car hire, and sear reservation for trains. Do not take chances in turning up on the day of arrival without some prior reservations. Remember- just like home, popular establishments will fill up quickly. No reservation can mean having to put up with another less desirable place, which can effect the ‘quality’ of your visit.

As much as possible, plan ahead. The more chores such as hotel, and car hire that you cover in advance, the more hassle- free time you’re likely to have.

Buying annual travel insurance

April 4th, 2013

If you are an occasional traveler, you’ll probably buy your insurance from your travel agent each time you travel. However, if you travel at least twice per year, it is more cost effective to buy an annual travel insurance.

Although annual travel insurance is not compulsory, it does give you the peace of mind in case of any eventualities such as loss of personal effects, illness, or accidents. Some people take the risk of traveling without an insurance. Although initially they may save paying out for the premium, in case something goes wrong, the total costs can add up to several thousands of dollars. In which case the saving on the premium is false economy.

One of the first ports of call is your bank. In recent years banks have diversified into many fields, and their rates can be competitive. Furthermore, if you are a ‘valued’ customer, your bank may offer a very low premium.

The next logical place is your credit card provider. Credit card companies do not always offer the lowest rates. But in case of loss of your credit card, there is the added advantage of receiving a replacement card- sometimes within a few hours.

Another popular source for purchase is your insurance company responsible for your other aspects such as your home or car. Because you already use their services, they may be able to offer a low premium, or a discount for your travel insurance.

It is important to check carefully your home contents insurance policy. This is because some home policies cover personal items, even if you are away from home.

For last- minute purchase of travel insurance there is always the airline or companies at the airport. But in most cases their rates are higher.

Do not be complacent. Travel insurance from different companies are not identical. As well as price differences, there may well be limits in the types of personal items covered. Some policies may only cover a certain number of journeys. In many cases there is also an upper age limit.

Generally you’d expect your policy to include such eventualities as loss or damage to property, flight delays and cancellations, accidents, and illness.