Travel can be fun – but planning for it is anything but. Choosing destinations, travel options, accommodation and a good company – all tough decisions that require the prospective traveller to weigh and value different experts and their opinion.
Summer is the season that witnesses the most frenetic travel activity and the knowledgeable UK traveller plans well in advance to maximise on a carefully monitored budget.
Asian Voice has gathered trusted travel information and evaluation of travel partners as well as advice from seasoned travellers to put together a list of locations that you could consider for your summer vacations this year.
Travelling in small groups has become a requirement for some, in the mature Asian community in London. As per Hitesh Mehta, Managing Director of Citibond Travel, the Escorted Tours company caters exactly to that necessity.
“The mature Asian community in UK have the know-how and the opportunity to travel the world, but are not always comfortable travelling alone - they would like the comfort of their peers, with their ethnic cuisine and home comfort.”
“This is what we focus on while designing our group tours. We aim to give them all the comfort and security they require, when travelling to some of the most far out exotic destinations around the globe,” Hitesh confirmed.
The evaluation of different destinations – ranging from historic to scenic, the beaches to the mountains; from road often-travelled and paths less trodden. Everything has been designed to ensure the best holiday experience.
“We have started a low deposit scheme where the travellers pay only 500 pounds and can guarantee early booking discounts at very low prices,” said said Dyvyakumar Shah, CEO, Sona Tours.
“We do tailor-made packages for within Asia, Africa, North America, Central America and South America and Australia and make it memorable for our clients,” he confirmed.
Exotic and Spiritual Asia
According to Jagnesh Shah of Incredible Tours, “some of the destinations that are very popular for this time of the year are places with culture like Cambodia and Vietnam, Malaysia and Borneo, and Thailand.”
Cambodia embodies some fascinating history and culture. You can see the Hindu history of Angkor Wat with the history of the Ramayana and Mahabharata on its walls.
“You could intersperse that with the visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Memorial, that brings out the horrors of the Khmer history in Phnom Penh. Then a journey to the vibrant, dynamic multi-cultural Ho Chi Minh City.”
From here, one can discover the waterways of the Mekong Delta – ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, also famous for exotic fruits and local cuisine. See floating villages and the historic charm of the Hoi An that will leave you breathless.
“You should finish off your tour with a visit to Ha Long Bay. Spend a night or two on one of the seven new Wonders of the world which is also a Unesco world heritage site,” he said.
Thailand, on the other hand is a frenetic mix of Bangkok’s city bustle, street food, sprawling street shops and branded marketplaces and exotic beaches and fine luxury hotels. This is one place, that caters to every travellers’ budget.
Borneo jagged valleys and forests are home to a rich flora and fauna, the most popular being the orangutan. The tribal population continues to follow the old traditional way of life, co-existing with the Borneo proboscis monkeys and elephants. These ethnic people and animals and, the stunning caves and pristine beaches in South China seas makes it an ideal spot for summer vacations.
Given it's physical proximity to the USA, Canada often gets lumped in with America. Canada is a very different place, with a generally more relaxed atmosphere. Take Ottawa for example, the capital city is a world away from the panic of bustle of somewhere like New York, although the two are under an hour and a half flight away from each other.
Ottawa sits on a river, full of grand Victorian architecture and museums like the National Gallery of Canada, but with an easy-going pace. Parliament Hill is the impressive suite of buildings that house Canada's parliament. It's position, near the Ottawa River and various points of interest, makes it a good place to start exploring from.
Water and waterways are frequent and numerous. There are a variety of lakes and canals that make for a wonderful way to either travel and just laze about on. Of course, if you want to visit the pick of the crop then you need to make the trip to Niagara Falls. The majesty and sheer power of the falls is something that has appeared in movies, such as Superman 2, but is difficult to capture.
You can take the Hornblower boat up to the river and into the mist at the bottom of the falls, or you can go into a tunnel that takes you behind the falls where you can look at the crashing curtain of water from behind. It's also possible to head over to America, because you're on the border, and visit the American piece of Niagara Falls (the famous horseshoe is in Canada, the Americans have a straight waterfall).
If you're a fan of movies or TV then a trip to Toronto is worth your time. Given the city's architecture, its often used to stand in for places like Chicago, New York, and Washington. Situated on Lake Ontario, there are plenty of places to visit, such as the CN Tower with its views of the city and petrifying (if you're afraid of heights) section of glass floor. There's also an aquarium, a zoo, and plenty of places to sample Canadian cuisine - you'll be amazed at how many dishes benefit from some maple syrup.
Wild and Fantastic Africa
Based in the Southern Hemisphere, South Africa offers some great spots for the winter sun. The picture-perfect landscapes, brightly-painted houses and African music and cuisine makes it a perfect adventure spot. The places to visit are the Table Mountain in Cape Town, the Kruger National Park and the Lion Park if you are in the mood for a safari and Graskop in Mpumalanga province.
Africa is the second largest continent in the world, and choosing a destination can be rather perplexing. However, July to September are the best months to enjoy the astounding scenic beauty and wildlife safaris in the Southern African countries of Zambia and Tanzania.
The largest waterfall in the world, the Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya) is Zambia’s biggest attraction. July to September is the best time to appreciate the spectacular natural views of the falls in the Zambezi river. For the adventurous traveller, the dangerous rapids give ample options for white-water rafting, zip lining and bungee jumping.
For families, the South Luangwa National Park is much-loved because of its abundant wildlife. You could drive from Lusaka in less than twelve hours. There are several bush camps and lodges located at short distances from the safaris, but Mfuwe and Chichele Lodges are the premiere ones.
A trip to Africa is incomplete without shopping for handmade arts and crafts. Artisans from Zambia and neighbouring Tanzania, Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe come to the Saturday Dutch market, with their wares. It is a favourite shopping spot for tourists – many getting to taste some authentic ethnic food there.
Neighbouring Tanzania also draws crowds for its safari adventures at the Serengeti National park, the white sand beaches of Zanzibar picturesque Afromontane peaks that summits alongside the iconic Mount Kilimanjaro, and the coastline along Lake Tanganyika makes Tanzania Africa’s most popular destinations.
Tanzania is a safe and stable country to visit, embodying the best of African culture, diverse and unique mesh of customs inspired from indigenous tribes and the colonial influences from British, Arabs and the Germans.
Dar Es Salaam, meaning ‘abode of peace’ in Arabic is the largest multicultural city in Tanzania. It is the home to South Asian, Arab, African Tanzanians, German and British communities who exist peacefully; making it a prominent city in fashion, music, film and arts. The blend of cultures gives it cuisine an inimitable palette from the authentic Zanzibari and Tanzanian fare to American, Chinese, Thai and Indian spreads. The market squares are also favourite spots for vibrant music and street dancing – jazz, contemporary and the native Bongo Flava, a derivation of hip hop.
For trekkers with or without much experience, climbing the world’s tallest free standing mountain - Mount Kilimanjaro would be a great experience. Kilimanjaro is the fourth of the Seven Summits, but is neither that expensive nor that hard to climb. There are several guided tours conducted for various age groups and fitness levels and gives ample camping opportunities along the way.
Oz Oz Australia
Travelling to Australia can seem daunting, given that it's in-between the Indian and Pacific oceans and a decent flight away from any other country. However, the lure is strong and it's certainly worth all the effort.
Australia is renowned for its climate and the sunny weather will give you ample opportunity to savour all the delights on offer without worrying about rain spoiling things. The cultural capital (and often incorrectly labelled as the actual capita of Australia) Sydney has the world-famous Opera House which houses a variety of entertainment, not just the titular operas that you'd expect.
For adventure-seekers you could climb the Harbour Bridge or go on the speedboat rides. If you're after a more relaxing day, then catch the ferries over to Manly Beach and relax on the sand. Of course, there's always the famous Bondi Beach if you're up for some surfing action.
If you want to experience nature, then venture outside of Sydney. To the North are the Blue Mountains which give amazing views across New South Wales and challenging walks for the more intrepid. Also in the region, there are also caves that you can visit at Jenolan and the Scenic Railway (very steep) at Katoomba.
Beach-lovers will want to head to the Gold Coast in Queensland (just over an hour's flight away from Sydney) where along with long, golden beaches there are also theme parks and water parks. If you're looking for something a little more slow-placed then there are islands off the coast of Queensland, like Brampton Island, where you can relax in quiet surroundings and treat yourself to some snorkeling and check out the Great Barrier Reef.
Jonathan Howell, an avid traveller leaves some tips for Sydney. “Check out the Sydney Tower. You can go up to the top to get amazing views of the city but there's also a fantastic revolving restaurant that serves a buffet of over 50 freshly-prepared dishes. You really need to try the kangaroo, it's surprisingly tasty. And if you're on a budget then the tower is built on top of a shopping centre than has an impressive, and good value, food court.”
The land of the Kiwis - New Zealand
Once upon a time New Zealand was a far-away place where potential visitors might not know what to expect. However, the Lord of the Rings films has provided a fantastic cinematic brochure to showcase the country and its beautiful landscapes. There's even a book, available in lots of the shops over there, that details the locations that were used in the filming of the trilogy.
New Zealand has two islands, north and south, and you can fly into either. Taking the southern island, you can arrive at Christchurch, rent a car, and then tour around at your own pace. Exploring is part of the fun and it's not unusual to be driving along and suddenly, around a bend, an impressive vista opens that takes your breath away.
If you're looking for a bit more action with your views, then try climbing a glacier. Fox Glacier is a small town on the west of the island where, if you're fit, you can clamber up a mountainside covered in ice. It's even possible to have a helicopter fly you over the glacier and take you to sections that are more remote and difficult to reach by climbing alone.
Thrill seekers will make a beeline for Queenstown where you can go skiing and snowboarding. There's also bungee jumping, jet boating, and white-water rafting. Adrenalin junkies will have a ball, but there's also a vibrant town with lots of delicious food options and it's a good base to explore the south west of the island.
One of the areas of interest in the far west is the Fiordland National Park where you can take a boat and explore the beautiful fiords, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and tall waterfalls. On the other side of the island there's Dunedin which claims to have the worlds steepest road (it's particularly scary if you're driving an automatic) and Cadbury World where you can indulge your chocolate desires.
Jonathan says “If you're out towards Queenstown then I'd recommend dropping into Puzzling World at Wanaka. There's a 3D maze, holograms, and various other optical illusions that you can pose inside and take photos. The high point is the Hall of Following Faces where 168 famous faces appear to stare at you and follow you around the octagonal room. Very eerie.”
Good old Europe
If you do not want to travel that far, you could simply fly into Zurich, Switzerland and take a train to different parts of the Alps.
You could also look at doing Italy and the South of France. If you are fond of historical places, that blend beautifully with modernity in a quaint, unassuming manner – Italy is where you should be visiting. The capital Rome has individual guided tours at the Colosseum and Vatican City that are customised to keep children engaged. They last for nearly three hours, but are interactive and interesting.
Be ready to have a pair of good walking shoes, since the city is best explored on foot. Amina Khan, a seasoned traveller told the Asian Voice “every corner of the city is historic. You can do the walk in short burst with several cafes and quaint shops to take a break.”
Not to be missed is a tour of the river Tiber that makes a great picture at sunset. The dated stone bridges on the river are interesting as they form modern day pavements and divides the city into two.
“A touristy place is Trastevere, with nice pubs, cafes, good food and street shopping; it is very safe,” she recommended. “Italy being the fashion capital – stood that test very well. All stores very chicly designed. Even roadside vendors were selling very good quality stuff. Nothing from China, which was a relief,” she chuckled. Florence, Venice, Milan, Sienna, Tuscany and Cortona and Lucca.
Croatia, Greece and Cyprus are the other countries that one could explore, but they will be rather crowded.
If you are willing to brace the heat, you could look at countries like Oman, Jordan, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Whatever your holiday plans, make sure you embark on a safe journey.
“Always book with an agent that gives the names of the hotels on their website,” says Jagnesh.
As per Jagnesh, “always book with a reputed agent who is covered by the AOTL protection scheme. This means that as soon as you book your trip even if you are paying the deposit, you should receive an AOTL certificate from the agent. This should state the flights and hotels as covered by your itinerary,” he advised.