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Monthly Archives: October 2017

25 
Oct

A traveller’s tale: Singapore – Lion City

A traveller’s tale: Singapore – Lion City

Singapore is a ‘must visit’ destination for any traveller. Whether you’re looking for a long weekend break or a stop-off during long-haul travel to Australia or New Zealand, this incredible place has so much to offer.

This was my second visit to the ‘sovereign island-city state’, which is located at the southern tip of Malaysia – and I wasn’t disappointed. My first visit had been a quick stopover on my way to Australia (over a decade ago), but this time I allowed 5 days to take in the sights. However, I could’ve easily stayed for longer.

Singapore is known as the ‘Lion City’ or the ‘Garden City’, and is made up of one main island and 62 tiny islets. A peaceful cultural melting pot that embraces a mix of people from around the world, you will be in for a culinary experience to die for. Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Western restaurants are plentiful. We tasted a different international dish every single day – you will never get bored! The city comprises of various cultural areas, off-set by the high-tech business district. You can easily get around the city using the simple, speedy MRT train system, which means you can travel into the city directly from the airport to virtually any area you are likely to stay in.

We stayed in an apartment in the Little India area – however, there are beautiful hotels all around and only a stone’s throw away from the city highlights. We were fascinated walking around this area, sampling tasty ‘foodie’ treats, mooching around vibrant markets and shopping malls with seemingly infinite levels. Did you know that some of the shopping centres have entire floors devoted to local schools?

If you can stay here during the Chinese New Year period, you will be in for an extra treat. Festivities were warming up during our visit, so our visit to Chinatown enabled us to see fantastic street decorations, taste festive treats and experience the night markets. We even dived in to experience a traditional Chinese reflexologist – warning: they do not offer a softly, softly approach!

A traveller’s tale: Singapore – Lion City - Raffles Hotel Dining
Raffles Hotel Dining

One of the most famous landmarks is the Raffles Hotel, and a walk around the city would not be complete without seeing this iconic building. With a backdrop of soaring skyscrapers, the blend of architecture in Singapore is truly eclectic.

Singapore Zoo is well worth a visit, especially if you have children. Next door, you will find the world-famous ‘Night Safari’, which gives you the opportunity to get up close to fruit bats, flying squirrels, leopards and a whole lot more. I was within a hair’s breadth of a giant fruit bat – such amazing creatures!

A traveller’s tale: Singapore – Lion City - Singapore Bay view with Marine Bay Sands in the background
Singapore Bay view with Marine Bay Sands in the background

Our absolute highlight has to be the Marina Bay Sands area, especially the incredible Gardens by the Bay located nearby. Marina Bay Sands is quite simply an architectural masterpiece. One of the largest hotels in the world, before you venture into the park area, you must experience the breathtaking lobby. Boasting sculptures from some of the world’s famous artists, and its own art gallery, you will forget you’re even in a hotel. But, most importantly of all, take the lift to the 57th floor to observe the jaw-dropping cityscape. Unless you stay at the hotel, you won’t get access to the infinity pool – however, you can ‘people watch’ from the bar, enjoying one of the hotel’s delicious cocktails.

A traveller’s tale: Singapore – Lion City- Supertree in Gardens by the Bay
Supertree – Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is a ‘must see’, and will be beyond your imagination. Think Star Trek meets the Eden Project. Huge tree ‘sculptures’ dominate the landscape; you can go up and walk around the platforms, which encircle the trees. These ‘trees’ generate solar energy and even create a micro-climate for the gardens. Choose between the Cloud Forest or Flower Dome – or both – the domes provide a fantastic experience for couple and families. Walking through (and up to various levels), these huge, climate-controlled tropical landscapes include incredible waterfalls. They really are sights to behold.

Allow at least a day to walk around this area because you will easily tire walking around the gardens, which include rainforest, orchids, wetlands, and numerous other themed zones. You don’t have to be a plant lover or a gardener to appreciate this spectacular part of Singapore. The blend of technology with ecology can only be seen to be fully appreciated.

If there is one place you should add to your ‘bucket list’, it’s definitely Singapore – I can’t wait to return to this magnificent island-city.

If you would like to visit Singapore, please call Destinasia from Not Just Travel on 01455 240522 – whether you’re interested in a quick stop-off or you would like to spend time in this amazing location, we can help you with your trip.

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Published Date: 25th October 2017
Category: Travel Blog
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11 
Oct

A traveller’s tale: Kerala

A traveller’s tale: Kerala

Nothing quite prepares you for the spectacular scenery you will find when you visit Kerala, India’s serene and stunning South Indian state. If you’ve never visited India before, Kerala offers a laid-back, gentle introduction – this beautiful, tropical region is a world away from the chaotic northern cities. Kerala is growing in popularity as a honeymoon destination, due to the breathtakingly beautiful Arabian Sea coastline, glittering backwaters and tropical landscapes. Surrounded by green hills bursting with tea and spice plantations, Kerala is truly the jewel of India. As Kerala Tourism state “God’s own Country”

Kerala Backwaters by Night
Kerala Backwaters by Night

Although you can fly to Cochin International Airport in the northern part of Kerala, our adventure began in the south, so we flew from the UK into Trivandrum International Airport. Did you know that Kerala is the most literate state in India? In 2016, it became the first Indian state to achieve 100% in primary education. Plus, it is very clean too – technically, you can drink the tap water, but as water quality varies in most countries, we recommend sticking to bottled water to avoid any ‘tummy issues’ during your holiday!

Varkala Beach and Cliffs
Varkala Beach and Cliffs

Our first stop was Varkala; a gentle, hippy-like resort perched on a cliff-edge looking down onto a wonderful beach. Staying in beautifully furnished bamboo beach huts, we spent the first few days relaxing and enjoying walks down to the shoreline. We also experienced a traditional

Kathakali-Dance-Kerala
Kathakali Dance

Ayurvedic oil massage – perfect for kneading out those tight muscles, knots, and stiff backs, especially after a long-haul flight. Every night we enjoyed a tantalising dinner consisting of freshly caught fish, along with a variety of tasty vegetables and rice. During our stay, we also watched a traditional dance performance called Kathakali. Dressed in colourful, elaborate costumes and make-up, the actor-dancers perform a classical story, which some historians claim dates back to more than 500 years old.

Houseboat
Houseboat – Cruising the Kerala backwaters

If there’s one thing you must do when you visit Kerala, it’s to experience the beauty of the backwaters on a houseboat. From Varkala, we booked a transfer up to Alleppey to board our very own houseboat and embark on the next leg of our adventure. Traditionally made of wooden planks held together by coconut fibre, the roof of the houseboat is made of palm leaves tied to bamboo planks. The result is an intricately woven floating wicker basket, complete with your own bedroom below and upstairs sitting area. However, if you’re anything like us, you will take pride of place sitting on the open top deck as the boat gently glides along picturesque waterways, lagoons and lakes lined with tropical plan trees and rich jungle foliage.

Chinese fishing nets at Cochin
Chinese fishing nets at Cochin

This was a truly unforgettable experience. When you reach the larger open waters, you will see ancient Chinese fishing nets still in use to catch the numerous varieties of fish you can try at local restaurants.

 

On the houseboat, you will be served freshly made Keralan meals, usually on a large banana leaf. In our opinion (and many others too!), Keralan food is by far the most delicious Indian food you will ever taste. It is less rich and heavy than Northern Indian food (which is usually what you will eat in a standard UK Indian restaurant). In many ways, there are more similarities to South Asian food, due to the use of ginger and coconut, which results in a much lighter and fragrant style of cooking. Typically, you will be served a variety of different vegetable, fish and rice dishes, accompanied by colourful chutneys, along with small rice pancakes called uttapams and small semolina cakes called idlis.

 

Masala Dosa
Masala Dosa

Wherever you are in Kerala, you must try a masala dosa! A spicy potato and onion mix is rolled in a giant, paper-thin rice and lentil pancake, and is served with a hot thin soup called ‘sambar’, a red chilli-onion chutney and a delicious coconut chutney. The masala dosa is the ultimate flavour sensation – once you’ve tasted your first dosa, you will be going back for more!

 

Fort Kochi at Sunset
Fort Kochi at Sunset

Our houseboat tour took us to Fort Kochi; a wonderful mix of crumbling colonial Portuguese architecture intertwined with Indian culture. We visited a spice factory located in a 400-year-old building, where vast amounts of fresh ginger lay drying in the sun outside. We took the opportunity of buying a spice pack to bring home with us, so we could attempt (and fail!) to cook some of the incredible dishes we tasted during our stay.

 

 

kovalam beach
Kovalam Beach

Our last destination took us right back to where we started. Near to Trivandrum International Airport is a delightful beach resort called Kovalam, where we witnessed some of the most stunning sunsets we have ever seen, anywhere in the world. The area is tiny, but full of superb cafes and restaurants serving Indian and International dishes, as well as lovely shops and stalls for souvenirs. We bought a beautiful hand-painted Indian landscape to bring back with us. There are also numerous high-quality hotels and resorts dotted along the coastline – accommodation is available to suit every budget. Asides from lazing on the beach in the sun, where we ate giant fruit and coconut salads for lunch each day, we also took a couple of yoga classes before we headed back to the UK. Indians are serious about their yoga, so make sure you explain any physical limitations before taking a class!

All in all, despite our travels across the globe, Kerala still firmly remains as one of the best holidays we have ever experienced – we will definitely be visiting this location again in the future.

Kerala tourism

If you would like to see Kerala for yourself, or you would like to experience another part of India, please call Not Just Travel on 01455 240522. We will tailor your trip to meet your needs, whether you’re planning a holiday, honeymoon, or an off-the-beaten-track adventure.

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Published Date: 11th October 2017
Category: Travel Blog
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06 
Oct

New Sept 2017 – Renaissance Pattaya Resort & Spa

Renaissance Pattaya Logo

5* Renaissance Pattaya Resort & Spa

Renaissance Pattaya - Lobby Area

9/9 Moo 3, Na Jomtien, Sattahip,  Pattaya  20250  Thailand 

www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pyxbr-renaissance-pattaya-resort-and-spa/

launched on September 15, 2017

The Renaissance brand is part of Marriott Hotel Management and will be its first resort in the sea-side town of Pattya in Thailand.

“We are extremely pleased to be collaborating with Marriott International to introduce the first Renaissance branded property to Pattaya,” the resort’s owner, Vipavan Mahadumrongkul, managing director of The Ninesotel Co., Ltd said in a statement. ”We saw an opportunity to offer a non-traditional hotel experience in one of Thailand’s most mature tourism markets. With an investment of $87 million, pioneering architectural and interior design and the brand hallmarks of Renaissance Hotels, we are optimistic that this hotel will be well received when it launches later this year.”

Renaissance Pattaya - Lounge AreaDesign plays a major role, being inspired by its surroundings of the beach at Na Jomtien once a small fishing village. Wood, veneer and metal finished the organic earthy tones. Colour is from Marine shades of cobalt and gentian blue and texture from local Thai silk from Jim Thompson, complimented with cotton, chenille and jute 

Renaissance Pattaya - Pool Area
Renaissance Pattaya – Pool Area
Renaissance Pattaya - Spa
Renaissance Pattaya – Spa
Renaissance Pattaya - Deluxe Room
Renaissance Pattaya – Deluxe Room

At Renaissance® Hotels & Resorts, you’ll find a place where simple delights become memorable moments. Where distinctive style flirts with touches of whimsy. And where unparalleled service and uncommon sophistication always provide a unique experience. Stylish and vibrant interiors will wow guests at the 257-room Renaissance Pattaya Resort & Spa. Renaissance Pattaya will offer some of the city’s most comfortable accommodation, including chic Pool Villas and spacious Family Suites. Recreational facilities will include two outdoor swimming pools, a kids’ pool, kids club and a luxury spa.

Inspirational gourmet choices will be available around the clock, as dining options at the resort are set to include 609 Kitchen for breakfast and all day feasting and speciality restaurant, Pebbles Bar and Grill, for fine cuts served alongside hand crafted beverages, created by an expert mixologist. R Bar will create a relaxing space in the lobby area, where guests can unwind and soak up the buzz of the resort.

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Published Date: 6th October 2017
Category: Travel Blog
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05 
Oct

Destination Wedding – booking flights over a year in advance?

The problem is that you want a destination wedding, you know where you want to get married and the dates, but because it’s over 11 months away you can’t book flights. You don’t want to book the venue until you’re sure you can get flights, but don’t want to lose the venue because it’s already been booked up.

Major Airlines release flights only 11 months to 1 year in advance, whereas low cost are around 5 to 6 months. Wedding venues start to get booked up 18 month to 2 years in advance.

There is a process that some travel suppliers use called “ghosting flights” with the major airlines. As they have relationships with the airlines and a trading history, they will guarantee flight prices to you even though the airlines have not released them. The benefit is that you can book flights over a year in advance and if the price goes up significantly, the supplier will stand the additional cost.

According to TheKnot.com a wedding planning website in the US, in 2015, 49% of couples were married 200 miles or more from where they live, up 21% on 2014. There were more than 350,000 destination weddings in the US alone, with 32% in the Caribbean and 19% in Mexico. This trend of getting married on a sun kissed Caribbean or Maldivian beach, high-up on the Sydney Harbour Bridge or on Safari on the Maasai Mara, is only going to increase.

Airlines are also starting to create special Destination Wedding Group Packages by offering special group discounts, bride and groom upgrades one-way, open ticket name changes etc… The benefits will vary depending on the destination and the size of the party.

If you want less stress and need help or advice regarding planning your dream destination wedding, honeymoon or renewal of vows then contact Tracy Allen on 01455 240522 or email tracy.allen@notjusttravel.com.

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Published Date: 5th October 2017
Category: Wedding Travel
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