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Phuket

Thailand, Asia

A holiday in Phuket gives travellers the chance to escape to pristine beaches, crystalline waters, sumptuous cuisine and a pulsa...

string(3041) " A holiday in Phuket gives travellers the chance to escape to pristine beaches, crystalline waters, sumptuous cuisine and a pulsating nightlife. Phuket has it all. Dubbed ‘Pearl of the South’ by the tourist industry, Phuket is Thailand’s largest, most populous and most visited island. A whirl of colour and cosmopolitanism, Thailand’s only island province revolves around and thrives on tourism but still retains a spark of the real Thailand. Phuket has a long history. In centuries past, it was an important trading post. Two centuries ago, extensive tin mining drew thousands of Chinese labourers to the island and their influence has remained, leaving the province of Phuket with the highest percentage of ethnic Chinese in the country. The southern and coastal areas of the island were predominantly inhabited by Muslim fisherman. Whether it’s world-class diving in the Andaman Sea, golf at the world standard championship courses or exciting eco-adventures in tropical forests, it is the place to extend your horizons. Take an exhilarating speedboat ride to the surrounding islands or enjoy a serene cruise around mystical Phang Noa Bay. Or why not enjoy the vibrant nightlife at legendary Patong Beach with its bewildering mix of restaurants, bars, discos, live music clubs and cabarets. Inexpensive deals abound for this stunning destination and there is a wide variety of holiday packages available that need not break the budget. Phuket is more than a provincial capital; it is also a fascinating location for enthusiastic shoppers with all kind of budgets. You will find items ranging from antique Asian art and crafts, clothing boutiques, household knickknacks to bolts of famous Thai silk with bargaining the order of the day. With its idyllic tropical weather, Phuket is a favourite with beach lovers. There are, broadly speaking, two seasons: the dry and the wet. The dry season begins in December and lasts until April, when the rainfall increases. Wet or dry, temperatures remain remarkably consistent, nestling around 30°C and always with a dash of humidity. Just a 45-minute speedboat jaunt and a 90-minute ferryboat ride from Phuket are the towering limestone outcrop of the twin Phi Phi Islands. The larger and inhabited island, Phi Phi Don attracts hundreds of visitors to stay on its lovely shores. It is paradise perfected with beautiful beaches, stunning rock formations and vivid turquoise waters teeming with colourful marine life. Without roads, there is no hustle and bustle, no reason to hurry. Longtail boats make the many secluded beaches around Phi Phi Don accessible. The sheer limestone walls of the smaller Phi Phi Leh are dotted with caves and passages and the island’s shallow blue-green lagoons and coral gardens are a snorkeller’s paradise. So whether you want to snorkel the day away, relax in the sun, dance ‘til dawn at a club, or indulge in Thai specialty cuisines, it’s not difficult to see why Phuket is considered the ultimate holiday destination in Thailand. "
Maldives

Asia

The 1190 low-lying coral islands that make up the Maldives are so small that dry land makes up one percent of the country’s tota...

string(8867) "The 1190 low-lying coral islands that make up the Maldives are so small that dry land makes up one percent of the country’s total territory. The 26 coral atoll nation is situated southwest of the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, extending across the equator in a north-south strip. Capital and major centres Malé is a small, quaint capital city and the hub of the Malé Atoll. This chain, comprising the old North and South Malé Atolls, stretches for more than 120 kilometres from north to south, but only 10 of its islands are inhabited; some used for specific purposes. For instance, Funadhoo is an island where oil is stored; Thulusdhoo has two factories, Dhiffushi is a fishing island and Kuda Bandos is a picnic island for the general public. Malé is tiny when compared to other capital cities, however, it houses one third of the total population of the Maldives. Malé is different to the other atolls in the archipelago with its high-rise buildings, paved streets and small parks dotted about the city. Seawalls surround Malé and there are no beaches although an artificially landscaped beach now stretches to the new harbour in the southwest. To the west is the Alifu or Ari Atoll, in the north is the large island of Thoddu, and to the south of Alifu Atoll is the Faafu Atoll and the island of Nilandhoo. In the Laamu Atoll are Isdhoo and Gadhdhoo, both of which feature impressive ruins. The Huvadhu Atoll is the largest true atoll formation in the world, with a huge lagoon and in the Gnaviyani Atoll is Fuamulaku, one of the most fertile areas in the Maldives. Meedhoo is located in the southernmost atoll of Seenu and is one of the rarest naturally protected atolls in the entire archipelago. The people The inhabitants of the Maldives are thought to have descended from both Southern India’s Dravidians and Aryans from India and Ceylon. Dhivehi, the national language, is Indo-Aryan in origin and found only in the Maldives. A contemporary Dhivehi culture is strong, despite many foreign influences, which range from Hindi movies and oriental martial arts, to Western music and Muslim fundamentalism. It has been an Islamic nation since 1153 AD when the king converted the entire country from Buddhism. The religion is a delicate blend of traditional and modern ideals, with women having more freedom than in other Muslim countries. English is widely spoken in Malé, the capital, and on all the resort islands, and on Seenu, or Addu Atoll, where a British air base was formerly located. Nature The brilliantly coloured coral reefs result in the Maldivian seascape being among the most beautiful in the world. Since natural fauna is sparse, the most exciting wildlife is found under the water. If you visit the Maldives, make sure you grab a mask and snorkel so that you can discover amazing corals and fish such as butterfly fish, angel fish, parrot fish, rock cod, unicorn fish, trumpet fish and bluestripe snapper. Other marine life includes molluscs, clams and crabs while sharks, stingrays, manta rays, turtles and dolphins may also be spotted. While the larger, wetter islands have small areas of rainforest, for the most part plant life is limited. The most common plants include pandanus, banana, mangroves, breadfruit trees, banyans, tropical vines and coconut palms; and the main crops are sweet potatoes, yams, taro, millet and watermelon, citrus fruits and pineapples. Tropical flowers are found in abundance and grow either in the wild or are cultivated in gardens. There are 100 species of birds, most of them migratory. Other fauna includes giant fruit bats and tree shrews, lizards, skinks, rhinoceros beetles, paper wasps and colourful butterflies. The sights The capital city of Malé is only about two kilometres long and one kilometre wide but is neatly packed with buildings, roads and public spaces. The mosques, markets and small streets give it a charm of its own. The National Museum houses exhibits of the sultans’ belongings and some archaeological discoveries, while the nearby Sultan Park is a pleasant place for a stroll. The imposing white three-storey Islamic Centre & Grand Friday Mosque holds more than 5000 worshippers and dominates the city’s skyline. The oldest of the 20-plus mosques in Malé is the Hukuru Miskiiy, famed for its intricate stone carvings. Friday Mosque on Isdhoo is more than three centuries old and features lacquered supports, flowing calligraphy and finely carved rafters. Gadhdhoo is home to one of the Maldives’ most impressive ruins, from which rises an enormous stupenda, formerly a huge, white limestone pyramid. The solitary and exceptionally fertile island of Fuamulaku produces vegetables and fruits such as mangoes, oranges and pineapples, which are not grown anywhere else in the country. Baa Atoll is famous for its handicrafts, which include lacquer work and finely woven cotton felis (traditional sarongs). Where to stay The wide variety of accommodation ranges from island resorts and hotels to modern, motel-style rooms and guesthouses, with more on offer in the high-end range. Hotel rates usually include full board. There are also yachts and yachtdhonis, specially converted Maldivian vessels licensed to sleep guests. Developed on uninhabited islands, some exclusive hotels accommodate a limited number of guests while some cater more or less exclusively to certain nationalities, notably Italian, German, French and Japanese visitors. Some resorts have better access to specific dive sites, local villages, or Malé than others and while all offer scuba diving, some are known as hardcore divers’ destinations. Bungalows equipped with modern conveniences and en suite facilities offer magnificent views. Getting around Transfers between the islands are by either dhoni (local boats), speedboat or seaplane. Transfers for visitors with confirmed reservations in the Maldives are arranged by the host. Taxis, private cars, motorcycles and bicycles are used for transport on the larger islands including Malé and Addu Atoll. There are two companies operating regular seaplane services in the Maldives. Tourism is strictly regulated, and independent travel is discouraged as it is seen as disruptive to traditional island communities. Cruising across all atolls is now allowed with a permit. Food and entertainment Almost everything needs to be imported in the Maldives, except for fish, coconut and some fruit such as watermelon and banana. Fish and rice are the staple foods of Maldivians, with meat and chicken eaten only on special occasions. While there are strict local laws against the consumption of alcohol, liquor is freely available at the resorts. The local brew, raa, is a sweet liquid from the crown of the palm trunk. Maldivian men enjoy ‘short eats’ (small snacks) in the many small teahouses. Nightlife in Malé is confined to these teahouses and a few Western-style restaurants. Various resorts offer weekly dances with live music from local musicians and tourists are encouraged to hire boats and attend the dances on other islands. Activities Seenu, the ‘second city’ of the Maldives, is the best base from which to visit traditional Maldivian island communities, while Gan is linked by causeways to the adjacent islands and a bicycle is the easiest way to get around and see village life. For those keen to learn to dive, all resort islands have schools run by fully qualified instructors, while some offer training up to professional diver level. The warm lagoon has coral gardens, turtles, shells, crustaceans and schools of brilliantly coloured fish. Trips in dhonis visit some of the best fishing grounds in the world. Night fishing expeditions for snapper and barracuda or dawn excursions seeking tuna, dolphin, fish and rainbow runners are excellent. Other pursuits include cruising from atoll to atoll in boats with bunk beds or private cabins, yachting with professional crews, waterskiing, windsurfing, parasailing, and beach volleyball. Shopping Malé is the best place in the Maldives for shopping, and has minimum duty on most items. Best buys include reed mats and lacquered wooden boxes, woven sarongs called ‘felis’ in wide black and white stripes, Chinese ceramics, electronic items and souvenirs such as coral rings and sea shells. Climate It is warm and tropical throughout the year with a cooling sea breeze. The average daily temperature is between 25°C and 32°C. What to wear Light, informal cotton and linen clothing is recommended. Most resorts do not enforce any dress regulations. In Malé visitors must wear appropriate attire and cover up. Currency The currency is Maldivian Rufiyaa. Credit cards are accepted at resorts, as well as with travellers cheques and tipping is not discouraged. "
Koh Samui

Thailand, Asia

Koh Samui is an oasis of natural beauty with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Roughly circular in shape, the island...

string(2676) "Koh Samui is an oasis of natural beauty with white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Roughly circular in shape, the island is the third largest island in Thailand after Phuket and Koh Chang and one of the most popular destinations for international travellers. The central part of the island is an almost uninhabitable jungle where Samui’s highest mountain, Khao Pom, peaks at 635 metres. The various lowland areas are connected together by a single 51-kilometre road that meanders mostly along the coast to encircle the bulk of the island. The old capital Nathon is located on the southwest coast of the island and remains the major port for fishing and inter-island transportation. Nathon is the seat of the regional government and for Samui locals is the recognised commercial hub. It has a charming pace, and is almost small enough to walk everywhere. The old Chinese shophouses along the middle street whisper of an exotic history. Although Koh Samui is in southern Thailand where Islam has a strong inf luence, the original inhabitants of the island, known as Chao Samui, are predominantly Buddhist. In the past, most of the locals made their living in the coconut farming business. Today, however, most islanders work in jobs related to tourism because in recent years Koh Samui has developed into a popular, tropical beach resort destination. While still maintaining its unique charm, from coconut tree fringed beaches to tropical jungles and a vibrant nightlife, it has something for everyone. Accommodations range from bungalows and villas to five-star boutique resorts and are suitable for all budgets. There are fine dining restaurants that offer a wide range of international and exotic local Thai dishes. If pampering is high on your list, there are many day spas available. Koh Samui offers an abundance of activities including elephant trekking, canoeing, sailing, diving, golfing, fishing, cycling and almost anything else you can think of! Nature lovers will find it a paradise of waterfalls, temples and jungles. There is a butterf ly garden, aquarium, tiger zoo, monkey theatre, snake and crocodile farm to visit. Day tours to the neighbouring islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao and the Angthong Marine National Park are also highly recommended. With direct f lights to Samui Airport from Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong as well as ferry services from Suratthani, Koh Samui is conveniently accessible. Koh Samui boasts many popular beaches including Chaweng and with its white sandy beaches, coral reefs and coconut trees it is easy to see why travellers from all over the world make it their preferred holiday destination. "
Savai’I

Samoa, Pacific

Scenic Savai’i is Samoa’s largest island at 80 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide. Less populated, it is renowned for its ...

string(2204) "Scenic Savai’i is Samoa’s largest island at 80 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide. Less populated, it is renowned for its slower pace, natural beauty, and lava fields. Its size and lack of population make Savai’i the ideal place to get away from it all, immerse yourself in true Polynesian culture and explore incredible landscapes. Savai’i is accessible by ferry from Upolu. The island’s main town and arrival point for ferries from Upolu is Salelologa in the southeast, accessible by the main road that encircles the island. Savai’i has plenty of pristine beaches, caves, blowholes, great snorkelling, kayaking and diving. Near Salelologa, in the southeast, the Afu Aau Falls plunge down a rock face to a deep freshwater pool. Stroll across the dramatic Saleaula lava fields where molten lava from the Mt Matavanu eruption buried five villages over a century ago. In the interior, Mount Silisili is Samoa’s highest peak. In the west, the Falealupo Rainforest Preserve features the Canopy Walkway. Cape Mulinuu is Samoa’s westernmost point, according to legend, this is also the place where the dead pass into the underworld. There are several archeological sites of interest in this area including Devil’s Haden, Vaatausili’s Cave, Paepae o Apaula, Vai Sua Toto (Blood Well), Lualotooalii Pool, Spirits Meeting Ground, and Fusipotopoto Pool. Aganoa Beach, on the southeast coast, is renowned for surfing. A wide range of accommodation options are available in Savai’i along with some of the best local food experiences in Samoa. Getting around is easy. Rental cars are available or can be brought over from Upolu by ferry. All visiting drivers in Samoa must have a temporary drivers’ licence. Riding one of Samoa’s brightly coloured buses is a must-do local experience. In Salelologa, buses depart from the wharf or market. There are no bus stops, simply wait on the side of the road and wave your bus down. Bicycles are another popular way for visitors get around Savai’i, and you can hire a bike or join a guided bike tour of the island. Taxis are reasonably priced but don’t have meters so its it’s best to agree on a price at the start. "
Langkawi

Malaysia, Asia

The archipelago of 99 islands that make up Langkawi almost matches Singapore in land size and boasts modern amenities and infrastr...

string(2573) "The archipelago of 99 islands that make up Langkawi almost matches Singapore in land size and boasts modern amenities and infrastructure, while still retaining its traditional culture. Shrouded in myths about ogres, gigantic birds, warriors, fairy princesses, battles and romance, it’s a natural paradise unmatched anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Its geological history dates back 500 million years and the islands contain many unique rock formations including numerous caves with stunning stalactites and stalagmites. The outstanding geological landscape and features of Langkawi led to its classification as the first Geopark, not only in Malaysia, but Southeast Asia by UNESCO, with the aim of preserving and maintaining its unique attributes through conservation and ecotourism. The Chuping Limestone at Pulau Dayang Bunting dates back some 280 million years and it is this kind of history that makes Langkawi so spectacular. Nestled among Langkawi’s mist covered hills, limestone outcrops and lush forests are awe-inspiring waterfalls, like those of Telaga Tujuh, as well as mysterious caves and a rich diversity of f lora and fauna. Those looking for a holiday with a difference might try jungle trekking or taking a boat trip up the rivers and around the many islands. Kuah, located on the southeastern side of Pulau Langkawi, is the capital and entry point to the islands by ferry. Kuah is a thriving centre of modern hotels and, because of its duty free status, a shoppers’ haven. A visit to the Teluk Burau Oriental Village is recommended. Designed as a new concept in resort shopping, more than 30 specialty outlets offer a diverse variety and range of brands and products which can often be purchased very cheaply, from alcohol and perfume to electrical goods and tobacco. Langkawi International Fashion Zone (LIFZ) is a prominent international factory outlet showcasing many international fashion brands, like Gucci, Versace and Hugo Boss. Beaches such as those of Pantai Cenang on the west coast and Pantai Kok on the opposite side of the island from the capital offer relaxation while the clear, emerald waters around the islands are ideal for watersports and recreation. Nightlife is a special experience in Langkawi, as some of the bars are located right on the beach. Most popular nightclubs are located at the bigger resorts, however most of the local bars offer live music and performances as entertainment. There is a wide choice of dining options, from local fare to Western and Eastern gourmet cuisines with Asian spices. "
Malaysia

Asia

Geographically divided into two, Malaysia has a peninsula stretching from Thailand to Singapore, and is blessed with enchanting is...

string(8689) "Geographically divided into two, Malaysia has a peninsula stretching from Thailand to Singapore, and is blessed with enchanting islands, beautiful mountains, tropical flora and fauna, as well as modern, thriving metropolises. Capital and major centres Malaysia consists of six major regions with Kuala Lumpur the capital city. Peninsular Malaysia’s central region is made up of the states of Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Malacca, while the north is occupied by Penang, Perlis, Perak and Kedah. Terengganu, Kelantan and Pahang make up the east coast, and in the south is the state of Johor. The states of Sabah and Sarawak are on the northern third of the island of Borneo. Each region has unique qualities in terms of features, local culture, food and historical sites. The people Malaysia is a fascinating mix of ethnicities, ranging from the Malays, Chinese, Indians and indigenous Orang Asli (Original People) of Peninsular Malaysia to the diverse tribal communities of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia. Although the national language is Bahasa Melayu (Malay), English is widely spoken amongst the population of around 31 million. Nature Malaysia has a precious collection of national parks and wildlife reserves, which have been established to protect flora and fauna unique to the region. More than 60 percent of the country is under rainforest cover, home to over 8000 species of flora in Peninsular Malaysia alone, as well as 2000 tree species. The fascinating wildlife in the country includes elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, leopards, tapirs, sun bears, orangutans and gibbons. The designated Permanent Forest Estate covers 3.8 million hectares of virgin jungle, and more than 1.49 million hectares of conservation area. Peninsular Malaysia’s great Taman Negara National Park is one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests. Taman Negara National Park straddles the borders of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang, the latter part being the most visited. Endau-Rompin, which covers the boundary between Johor and Pahang, boasts many unique and endemic varieties of plants that were discovered within the centuries-old forest. These include the magnificent fan palm, climbing bamboo and the slender stemmed walking stick palm. Moths and butterflies of every kind, and deer and wild boar can be found in this lowland forest, one of the few remaining in Peninsular Malaysia. On the Borneo side of Malaysia, Gunung Mulu National Park in North Sarawak is one of the state’s most popular sites. It boasts an extensive limestone cave system— including the largest cave chamber in the world, the Sarawak Chamber—and is home to the second highest mountain peak in Sarawak as well as many plants and animal species. Kinabalu Park has the Poring Hot Springs, and Mt Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. Another cave site, Niah National Park is one of the largest limestone caves in the world. On the wild side, Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is set in a virgin equatorial rainforest and has rare plants, animals and birds. The sights Kuala Lumpur (KL) delights visitors with its colonial architecture, which still manages to stand out against the shining office towers and multi-lane highways. Further south, waterfront developments are changing the face of Malacca (Melaka), Malaysia’s oldest town. The island of Penang, the oldest British settlement in Malaysia, is one of the country’s top tourist attractions. It is renown for its beach resorts and the historical George Town, noted for its cuisine. Penang Hill offers a spectacular view of the island, and is particularly popular at dusk. Langkawi’s archipelago offers stunning beaches and resorts, as well as myths and legends. There are also many spectacular mainland beaches such as Cherating in Pahang, where you can watch for turtles. Over on the east in Sabah, Mt Kinabalu, the Turtle Islands, Sipadan and the national parks are the main attractions. Sarawak’s capital city is ideal for travellers, with landscaped parks and historic buildings. Where to stay There are plenty of hotels, condos and apartments in Malaysia. There is plenty of budget accommodation such as traditional Chinese hotels and dormitory-style guesthouses that can be found in most cities. The homestay concept is still relatively new, but is a great way to learn first hand the Malaysian way of life. Getting around Taxis are very common in Malaysia, and although meters are often used, it is always helpful to agree on a price beforehand. For trips to airports and railway stations, purchase coupons at the taxi counter stationed at both places. Several car rental agencies offer self-drive and chauffeur-driven cars. The national KTM train runs from Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar in the north, Singapore in the south, and up to Tumpat on the east coast. Buses are fast and economical, and seats can be reserved fairly easily. Food and entertainment The food in Malaysia is nothing short of fantastic. There is a choice of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Western. Nyonya cuisine is probably the most famous of these fusions and is a blend of Chinese ingredients and Malay spices. Malay food uses seafood, meat, coconut and other indigenous fruits with rice. Street stalls or hawkers are where the best local cuisines can be enjoyed cheaply. The theatrical ambience of these hawkers is like no other, with continuous demonstrations of wok tossing, teh tarik (tea pulling), the artful skill of flipping rotis (Indian bread), and barbecuing of satay sticks. As a Muslim nation, there are restaurants offering halal food prepared in religiously approved conditions. Malaysia is famous for its wide variety of tropical fruits, including rambutans, mangosteens, jackfruit and durians. Sights of roadside vendors selling fruits and other snacks are common and the prices are usually cheaper than in supermarkets, especially when the special skill of bargaining is employed. Although Malaysia is a Muslim country alcohol is widely available in bars and nightclubs, especially in capital cities and tourist areas. Nightlife in Malaysia is anything but boring. Kuala Lumpur offers a wide choice of nightspots with entertainment ranging from cultural shows to Western-style bars and discos. Hot spots include Petaling Street, Jalan Alor, the Asian Heritage Row, Bangsar and many neighbouring suburbs. Activities For those without much time in Kuala Lumpur, a city tour on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus is a great way to see the highlights. The huge Batu Caves will give tourists an unforgettable cultural experience. Golfing is on offer at 200 courses in diverse settings such as hill resorts, islands, beaches, cities, towns and off the beaten track. The diving and snorkelling off Tioman Island and Redang Island is superb, both islands boast underwater caves and incredible coral reefs. Sipadan Island, off the coast of Sabah, is said to have some of the best diving in the world. Trekking through the jungle trails of Taman Negara Park, visitors may see elephants, tigers, panthers and rhinos, although sightings are rare. A hike up Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is amazing as tourists can watch the sunrise from beneath the clouds that surround the peak. Shopping Kuala Lumpur is very good value, with a variety of fashionable products and handicrafts available from shopping complexes, department stores, boutiques and markets. The Central Market in Chinatown is a centre for handicrafts, antiques and art. Here visitors can employ their bargaining skills to get the best prices on ‘branded’ merchandise. There is also the Chow Kit Market, a Malay market with many roadside vendors lining Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (also known as Jalan TAR). On Saturday nights, some streets are closed to traffic and host lively night markets. Visitors should be prepared to negotiate a good price and go home with a bargain! Currency The Malaysian Ringgit is usually written as RM. Tipping is not expected although much appreciated. Climate Temperatures range from 21°C to 32°C with cooler temperatures in the hills, particularly during the evenings. The east coast, Sabah and Sarawak have heavy rainfalls during November to February. The west coast of the peninsula is wet from April to October. Cool, lightweight summer clothing is best with medium-weight woollens at night in the cooler highland areas. Entry requirements All visitors need a valid passport/travel document with minimum validity of six months beyond the period of intended stay. Visa requirements vary for different countries so be sure to check. "

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