• Sydney Australia - credit Jackie Appleton

Some ideas of places you can still visit this year.

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Vicki Tester

 

Costa Rica

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

December is a great time to visit Costa Rica. Here you will find one of South America’s largest cloud forests, Monteverde, with its evergreen canopies, exotic birds, butterflies and a host of other wildlife. There are numerous national parks and wildlife spotting opportunities, waterfalls, rain forests and volcanoes!

There really is so much to see and do here: visit Arenal Volcano, hike through the lava fields, go birdwatching, bathe in the hot springs, zip-lining and trekking through the rainforest.  This is an ideal place for a family holiday, and when you are feeling less adventurous you could spend time on the many beautiful beaches such as the golden sands of Manuel Antonio National Park.  Click here for your Costa Rica Adventure.

Picture Courtesy of Peter Ellis

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

 

 

Hawaii, USA

For some winter sun, Hawaii has it all. With its golden sands, turquoise waters and a tropical feel, you could have a very different Christmas this year, spent on the beach!

Take a trip out to see the whales and dolphins. Snorkelling is a popular activity here and a great place for this is the partially submerged volcanic creator off Maui’s southwest coast. Here there is a thriving coral reef with an array of marine life to spot.

On land you could hike Kauai’s forest trails to the hidden waterfalls, or go island hopping on a small plane for more adventure in the glorious winter sunshine.

Picture courtesy of Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) Kirk Lee Aeder

Picture courtesy of Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau (IHVB) Larry Marshall

 

 

Whistler, Canada

Picture courtesy of Destination BC – Blake Jorgenson

This very popular ski resort is definitely one for the ski lovers bucket list.  The snow is in abundance throughout the winter months, making the chalets look picturesque, with tree lined streets  and twinkling lights.

There are no end of activities to take part in such as, dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and hiking the trails up Blackcomb Mountain stopping off for a fondue dinner at the top.  Or on a Sunday night you can watch skiers and snowboarders pulling tricks with fire for a bit of live entertainment.

Picture courtesy of Destination BC – Blake Jorgenson

Picture courtesy of Destination BC – Blake Jorgenson

 

Vietnam

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Our winter is a popular time to visit South East Asia as there is very little rain and the days are sunny.  Stay at one of Vietnams beach resorts, surrounded by tropical rainforest and fishing boats hauled up on the beach, for a bit of relaxation.

See the water lilies and flower fields begin to bloom, which are then picked to decorate the temples and shrines.  Any cultural seeker would love Vietnam. It has a thousand-year-old civilisation and a fascinating history. Wander through the streets of the Hanoi Old Quarter or Hoi An Old Town to get a glimpse of the French architecture mixing with the ancient and modern temples. See one of our Vietnam bespoke itineraries.

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Enchanting Vietnam

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Vicki Tester

 

Vietnam located on the South China Sea is known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities with Hanoi as its capital known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences.

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Vietnam

Vietnam located on the South China Sea is known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities with Hanoi as its capital known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences.

Day 1: Hanoi

Day 3: Halong Bay

Day 5: Hue

Day 7: Hoi An

Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City

Day 13: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Lang Co Fishing Village

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

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With stunning scenery, a fascinating history, enchanting culture and friendly people, Vietnam has all of the ingredients to make for a fantastic holiday destination. Whilst it is often included as part of a wider Indochina holiday combined with Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam has so much to offer that it can easily offer a varied holiday experience on its own. Here is just one itinerary to show you how.

 

Day 1: Hanoi

Arrive into Hanoi, located in the north of the country. Here, visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the One Pillar Pagoda and the Hoa Lo Prison (more commonly known as the Hanoi Hilton). Take a walking tour through Hanoi’s Old Quarter or experience a Water Puppet show – a uniquely northern Vietnamese art form.

Two nights Hanoi

Consider slotting in a visit to Sapa from Hanoi – an inland mountainous region accessed by overnight train or by road. A stay here would provide an opportunity to see rural Vietnam.

Day 3: Halong Bay

Travel by road to Halong Bay, providing a chance to enjoy the scenery – predominantly farmland – en route. Look out for farmers on scooters transporting water buffalo! World Heritage listed Halong Bay is a beautiful place, comprised of limestone rock formations dotted throughout the bay. The best way to view this is from a cruise on a traditional junk ship.

Two nights Halong Bay Cruise

Day 5: Hue

Leaving Halong Bay behind, returning to Hanoi before flying down to Hue. Here explore the Imperial Citadel, take a ride through the ‘Old City’ to Tinh Tam Lake with its lotus flowers in summer, visit the Thien Mu Pagoda and the Mausoleum of Tu Duc.

Two nights Hue

Day 7: Hoi An

Travel by road to Hoi An, a major Asian trading port in the 17th and 18th Centuries. The scenic route passes through the wonderfully photogenic fishing village of Lang Co before climbing over the Pass of Ocean Clouds (Hai Van Pass). Take a walking tour of the ancient town centre to visit former merchant’s houses, the 400 year-old Japanese Covered Bridge and the colourful market.

Three nights Hoi An

At certain times of the year, Hoi An provides a good beach stay destination, in which case a longer stay might be preferred.

Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City

Fly down to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon). From here, take a tour out to the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, constructed by Vietnamese resistance fighters (Viet Cong) during the wars. In the city itself, visit the War Remnants Museum, the History Museum and the former Presidential Palace. The Old Saigon Post Office, Dong Khoi Street, Continental Hotel, the Opera House and City Hall provide an insight into the colonial past.

Three nights Ho Chi Minh City

Day 13: Depart Ho Chi Minh City

Today, depart the city for the onward or homeward journey.

Halong Bay

Imperial Citadel Hue

Pictures courtesy of Angie Watson

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Indochina

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With iconic historical attractions such as Angkor Wat, stunning coastal areas such as Halong Bay, and the vital lifeline of the Mekong River, Indochina offers diverse experiences along with a chance to learn about the culture, traditions, and way of life of the people

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Indochina

Indochina is comprised of three countries in the Far East – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Their geographical location, shared histories and fascinating culture make these three countries the perfect combination for a holiday in the Far East. With iconic historical attractions such as Angkor Wat, stunning coastal areas such as Halong Bay, and the vital lifeline of the Mekong River, this region offers diverse experiences along with a chance to learn about the culture, traditions, and way of life of the people.

Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh
Day 3: Siem Reap
Day 6: Luang Prabang
Day 8: Elephant Explorer
Day 9: Hoi An
Day 11: Hue
Day 13: Hanoi
Day 15: Halong Bay
Day 16: Hanoi
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Description

 

Indochina is comprised of three countries in the Far East – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Their geographical location, shared histories and fascinating culture make these three countries the perfect combination for a holiday in the Far East. With iconic historical attractions such as Angkor Wat, stunning coastal areas such as Halong Bay, and the vital lifeline of the Mekong River, this region offers diverse experiences along with a chance to learn about the culture, traditions, and way of life of the people.

Vietnam Airlines now offers a direct flight to Ho Chi Minh City from London Gatwick, making the region more easily accessible. Alternatively, there are plenty of flight options via other Far Eastern gateways – Bangkok being one of the most popular.

The region can be explored independently by the more adventurous traveller, or one can join a small-group tour if preferred. The below independent itinerary provides an example of a comprehensive holiday to the region, but is by no means the only option – there are almost endless possibilities to consider.

Day 1: Arrive Phnom Penh
Arrive into Phnom Penh for a two-night stay. Take time to explore the Royal Palace, the majestic Silver Pagoda, and gain an insight into Khmer history at the National Museum. Visit Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, and learn about the Khmer Rouge regime and the legacy this has left.

Day 3: Siem Reap
This morning, depart for Siem Reap by road. Siem Reap is the base for exploring the temples of Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer empire. Over 100 temples are spread over a vast area and the site easily lives up to its status as one of the seven wonders of the forgotten world. Witness sunrise at Angkor Wat and explore some of the many other temples, including the ruins of the tree-covered Ta Prohm. Take a river cruise on Tonle Sap Lake – the second largest freshwater lake in the world and home to the famous floating village, where you’ll see floating houses, a school and even a floating hospital.

Day 6: Luang Prabang
Fly to Luang Prabang for a two-night stay. Luang Prabang is often referred to as the ‘Jewel of Indochina’, and is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. The ancient royal city is surrounded by mountains and is situated at a junction of the Mekong and Khan rivers. Watch the ancient ritual of local monks collecting alms, take a boat trip to Pak Ou Caves, or visit stunning Kuang Si Falls. In the evening, visit the vibrant night market.

Day 8: Elephant Explorer
Today, begin a two-day adventure by elephant, providing the opportunity to explore the region and learn about these magnificent creatures.

Take an elephant ride through forests and over hills to the hidden valley of Huay Sae Valley. See the secluded waterfalls and swim in the natural pools. Continue by foot across bamboo bridges, passing waterfalls and dense jungle. Raft down the Nam Khan River, floating slowly downstream passing local farmers and fishermen going about traditional village life, and stopping en route at the Tad Sae waterfall. Stay overnight in a luxury tent

Day 9: Hoi An
Get up early with the magical sunrise atmosphere and trek to the jungle to collect the elephants from their forest home. Together with the Mahouts, the traditional elephant drivers, walk back down to the river for their daily morning bath. Ride bareback on the elephant’s neck, wash it, scrub it and guide it through the river to the camp – an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. Return to Luang Prabang, fly to Danang and transfer to the charming town of Hoi An. Explore traditional houses and temples and see the Japanese Bridge. Relax on the beach, or take a boat trip through ‘Water Coconut Palm Canal’ – a tranquil area little visited by tourists, and learn about the likes of the local fishermen.

Day 11: Hue
Today, your destination is Hue but en route visit the Marble Mountains; an important religious site with a number of imressive caves, temples and viewpoints. Drive the short distance to China Beach with a chance to enjoy a refreshing swim in the South China Sea. Continue on to Danang City to visit the Cham Museum. The Cham people occupied this area of Vietnam from the 2nd to the 17th century and the museum houses the best examples of Cham sculpture anywhere in the world. Complete the drive over the spectacular Hai Van Pass to Hue. Here, relax on the beach or take time to explore the old Citadel.

Day 13: Hanoi
Fly to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital for a two-night stay. Explore the vibrant Old Quarter and visit the ancient Temple of Literature. Watch a water puppet show or visit the Hanoi Hilton prison.

Day 15: Halong Bay
This morning transfer to Hon Gai, the gateway to Halong Bay. Considered Vietnam’s greatest natural wonder, Halong Bay boasts over 3,000 limestone islands that rise out of the sea to provide a spectacular natural environment. Take an overnight cruise on a wooden junk ship on the bay, exploring fishing villages, islets, and caves and with a chance to swim.

Day 16: Hanoi
Return to Hanoi today for the onward or homeward flight.

More time? Consider adding a cruise along the Mekong River – a great way to see small riverside villages and learn about the local’s traditional way of life. Explore Ho Chi Minh City, see the Cu Chi Tunnels, discover Vientiane – the capital of Laos, or add a beach stay in Thailand.

Photographs courtesy of Travel Indochina and Elephant Village Camp, Laos

Angkor Travel Indochina      elephant explorer camp experience ws      Halong Bay fishing boats ws

Halong Bay junk ws      Phnom Penh Royal Palace ws

 

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Great Rail Journeys of the World

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Vicki Tester

 

We are often asked what and where is the best rail journey in the world? So in answer to this we have detailed below some of our must do Great Rail Journeys of the World:

  • Consider the luxury rail experience offered by the Eastern and Oriental Express, operating between Singapore and Bangkok and taking two or three nights depending on the direction of travel. Enjoy vistas of tea plantations, rolling farmland, colonial cities and historic temples.
  • Take a rail journey in Vietnam, from the bustling city of Hanoi to the village of Sapa, located in the mountains overlooking spectacular views of the Ta Van valley’s terraced rice fields. The train operates overnight in both directions.
  • Think about the super-fast Shinkansen ‘Bullet Train’ in Japan. There are a number of routes on offer, but no trip to Japan is complete without at least one trip in the iconic Bullet Train.
Picture courtesy of JNTO

Picture courtesy of JNTO

 There are three iconic rail journeys available in New Zealand, one on the North Island, and two on the South.

  • On the North Island, the Northern Explorer runs from Auckland to Wellington through diverse countryside comprising of rolling farmland, towering viaducts and beautiful hidden valleys.
  • On the South Island, the Tranz Alpine train runs from Christchurch in the east to Greymouth in the west through stunning scenery. A stop is made in the small mountain town of Arthur’s Pass, where a stay enables a closer inspection of this Alpine region.  The Coastal Pacific runs from Picton (tying in perfectly with the ferry from Wellington on the NorthIsland)  south to Christchurch. This rail journey stops in Kaikoura en route, where a stay gives the opportunity to take a whale watching cruise.

 

  • An impressive and popular rail journey on the Devil’s Nose section of railway in Ecuador could be a part of your holiday itinerary.  Named Devil’s Nose due to the many deaths amongst workers as well as difficulty of building it, the route connects the Alausi and Sibambe stations taking a stunning trip down the rocky slopes of the Andes through breath-taking scenery.
  • Board the tourist train in Peru taking you on a journey through the Urubamba Valley or Sacred Valley of the Incas, to the marvellous mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu.
  • One of the more popular rail routes is the Coast Starlight which takes you along the west coast between Seattle and Los Angeles stopping in Portland along the way. Why not take a day out of your itinerary to treat yourself by taking a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train where you can relax on-board the exquisitely restored vintage rail cars and experience fine dining service, multiple course meals and the stunning Napa Valley scenery. Most people see the Grand Canyon from the skies but since 1901 the Grand Canyon Railway has been taking people right through the heart of this amazing place and you could be one of them, you’ll feel like you’re travelling back in time. For something a little different during your visit to Colorado why not travel along the 45 miles of 3 foot narrow gauge track on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway which has been running since 1881. However long your journey is travelling by rail is a definite must do during your USA holiday.
Picture courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

Picture courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer

  • The most famous rail journey in Canada has to be the Rocky Mountaineer. With a variety of routes available you can spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks on board. One of the more popular routes is the Journey through the Clouds which takes you between Vancouver and Jasper with an overnight stop in Kamloops. With different grades of      service available this is a must no matter how big or small your budget is. If you want to travel the width of Canada in comfort and without missing the scenery as you concentrate on driving then take a ride on The Canadian. In the space of four nights and three days, you’ll get to see the lakes in Northern Ontario, the lush boreal forest, the western Prairies, and the magnificent Rocky Mountains as you travel between historical Quebec and modern Toronto.
  • Australia has some of the most iconic rail journeys in the world. There isn’t enough room here to talk about them all but here are some to whet your appetite. The Indian Pacific gets its name because it covers 4352km between Perth on the Indian Ocean and Sydney on the Pacific Ocean. The whole journey takes three nights, although you can break it up with a stop in Adelaide. You’ll travel through a variety of landscapes from towns and cities to the desert like Nullarbour Plain, from the outback to the forest of the Blue Mountains. So we’ve taken you East and West, but what if you want to go North and South? Named after the Afghan Cameleers who travelled this route, the Ghan will take between Darwin in the North to Adelaide in the South going straight through the centre of Australia. If it’s just a day on a train that you would prefer then a trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway is perfect. It was built between 1882 and 1891 and is made up of 15 hand made tunnels and 37 bridges taking you from Cairns into the Barron Gorge National Park on your way to Karunda, known as the village in the rainforest.

 

  • Africa has a wealth of train experiences that cover the whole spectrum from world leader to leaving a lot to desire.  Rovos Rail has exciting itineraries that stretch from Pretoria, in South Africa through all their southern neighbouring countries and even a trip to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Where possible they travel during the day. The Blue Train is another South African luxury train that travels from Johannesburg to Durban and Cape Town or vice versa.
Picture courtesy of SA Tourism

Picture courtesy of SA Tourism

For further information, and for assistance planning your next bespoke, tailor made holiday which could incorporate one of these great rail journeys, please call us on 01323 446550, email us at  info@experienceholidays.co.uk 

 

 

 

Vietnam – A Fascinating Country

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Vietnam

Credit Angie Watson

I have just returned from Vietnam – a country with a fascinating and complex history, happy and friendly people, and of course incredible scenery. From the crazy traffic in the cities of Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon) and Hanoi to the peaceful tranquillity of UNESCO World Heritage Halong Bay the country has diverse attractions to offer, and reasonably priced too.

Ho Chi Minh is the gateway with most airlines, and a few nights here provides a chance to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels (where the Viet Cong fighters lived and fought during the war), as well as the Mekong Delta. Hue was next on our list, and home to the Tu Duc Mausoleum, Thien Mu Pagoda and the Imperial Citadel – all of which give an insight into the long-ago history and culture of Vietnam.

A few hours drive past pretty fishing villages and over the scenic Pass of the Ocean Clouds brought us to Hoi An – a lovely coastal town. This is a great place to combine relaxation by the sandy beaches with the history and culture of Vietnam. The ancient town centre has a 400 year old wooden covered Japanese Bridge, a colourful market famed for its lanterns and a lovely atmosphere.

Up in the north of the country, our next stop was Hanoi – another frantic city well known for its massive number of scooters – which often have four passengers, or perhaps some pigs on board! The ‘Hanoi Hilton’ is the nickname of the former prison in this city, which whilst having a long history in French Colonial days is better known for housing American pilots during the war – who were treated so well that the nickname came about!

The drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay is interesting, passing through farmland – and usually past scooters with enormous loads (water buffalo are even transported by scooter – albeit illegally). Halong Bay itself is out of this world, with thousands of limestone islands rising majestically out of the water. The best way to explore is to take an overnight junk ship cruise around the islands, stopping for swimming, kayaking and cave explorations along the way.

The above route simply touches on some of the highlights of Vietnam, but is by no means the only option – with a good amount of time to spend, one could also explore Sapa in the mountains, the former French hill station of Dalat, and the central highlands. Vietnam is also perfect to combine with Cambodia and Laos – but do ensure you plan to spend enough time in each place.

For more information, please call our office on 01323 446550, email us at  info@experienceholidays.co.uk or see our website www.experienceholidays.co.uk and we can put together a bespoke, tailor made itinerary to suit your requirements and preferences.

Going to Vietnam just got cheaper!

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Vicki Tester

 

The good news is that Vietnam has waived the need for British Passport holders to obtain a visa for trips up to 15 days. This is with effect from 01 July 2015.  This is a saving of £95 per person – well worth taking in to consideration.

For full details of a bespoke tailor made holiday to Vietnam, a destination of huge contrasts and excitement, just get in touch with Angie who has recently visited:

Tel: 01323 446550 or Email: angie@experienceholidays.co.uk

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

 

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

Picture courtesy of Angie Watson

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