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Posted by: WS
Child Friendly Activities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia is a great place to take your children on vacation. Wherever you go on your Cambodia tour; children will be warmly welcomed and encouraged to take part in whatever they want to do. Travel in Cambodia can sometimes be a bit taxing though if all your schedule consists of is temples; children need some time on a trip to Cambodia to blow off a little steam. With that in mind we’ve tracked down some great places to visit with your children in Phnom Penh – the Cambodian capital.

The Playground – Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom’s a funny place – the modern temple at the heart of Phnom Penh. During the day it’s a throng of activity and definitely worth making a trip to see. At night it’s very much a different place and if you want a tour of the seamier side of life in Cambodia; it’s all on display here. So make sure you take the little ones during the day; they won’t see any monkeys on their travels (they were run off because of the problems they cause) but there’s a lovely playground to use and it may be the best playground in Cambodia.

Play Instruments – The Royal Palace

Cambodia’s royal palace may not be quite as splendid as the Dusit in Bangkok but it’s very much worth including in your vacation plans. Adults will love the Silver Pagoda in all its ostentatious glory but kids might prefer to learn a few new skills during their time in Cambodia. Take a side trip to the little stilt houses near the exit and you’ll find, near a Buddhist shrine, a bunch of folks playing traditional local instruments and they’ll be happy (for a small fee) to teach your kids all that they know about them too.

Get Wet – The Phnom Penh Water Park

Don’t expect Disney-style magic but the Phnom Penh Water Park is a great place to escape Cambodia’s heat and chill out. There are plenty of areas designed for even the smallest of children and while weekdays are slightly emptier – it’s probably worth taking a day out of your tour on the weekend if you want to ride the largest waterslides in Cambodia. That’s because they only get switched on at the weekend. Don’t forget suntan lotion, hats, sunglasses, etc. because there’s not a whole lot of places out of direct sunlight there.

Feed Some Fish – The National Museum

A visit to the National Museum should be mandatory anyway. This is the best collection of Khmer art in the country and most of it from the Angkor period in history. If you wondered why so many temples look a little bare – it’s because their collections were moved here to protect them from being stolen. The grounds of the museum are fabulous too and if you do a little hunting around – you should be able to find one of the Koi Ponds and then you and your children can feed the fish to their hearts’ content.

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Posted by: WS
Keeping Your Children Entertained in Laos

A vacation in Laos can be a great experience for children. They can learn about the culture and history of Laos throughout a tour. However, travel in Laos can sometimes get a little much for the younger ones if you don’t throw in a bit of light-hearted fun during your trip to Laos. We’ve searched out some of the most child friendly activities in Laos just for you:

Elephant Village – Luang Prabang

If you want to make your children’s vacation in Laos a memorable one; you could do much worse than a trip to the Elephant Village. Elephants are native to Laos and have been domesticated for centuries (as they have in much of the rest of Indochina too). Your children can travel on the back of an elephant, learn about elephants and Laos, talk to a real mahout (an elephant trainer) and enjoy seeing elephants at work and play.

Go Bowling – Luang Prabang

OK, it might not be an authentic Laos sport but it is a lot of fun. The bowling alley in Luang Prabang is famed as a late night drinking joint when the rest of the town closes down but during the days the tour parties of backpackers are pleasantly absent and the family can chill out and enjoy a few games of bowling. The food is a bit basic and if you want something more nutritious than noodles and a Coke – you can bring your own.

The Play Gym (Shopping Mall) – Luang Prabang

The play gym is suited best for younger children and it’s not a state of the art modern facility by any means. It does, however, have a fully padded play area, some small rides and a bouncy castle. We’ve found that the sandpit is a particular favourite for most children (though the sand is in fact black grains of rice). There are plenty of snack stands nearby to keep young appetites at bay. It’s also very cheap with entry costing just $1.25 for all the facilities.

Craft Workshops (Ock Pop Tok) – Luang Prabang

If you want your children to learn new skills on their Laos tour then you might want to take a trip to the craft workshop at Ock Pop Tok. Here you can learn the traditional Laos art form of weaving. The workshop runs for half a day and every child will make their own silk scarf by the end of it. If you want to stick around a bit longer; there’s the option to learn to dye the scarf too. The silkworm farm is also very educational.

Tad Thong Waterfall – Luang Prabang

If you want to do something a little more strenuous; you can always take a hike out to the waterfall and then enjoy an afternoon swimming in the waters. There’s a nearby restaurant so that you can relax afterwards and enjoy some traditional Lao cookery. It’s only a short tuk-tuk ride back to town when you’re done too. It’s quite a lovely experience for all ages.

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Posted by: WS
Dal Lake, Kashmir

India is a popular tourist destination for many reasons and one of these is because it is so affordable. There are many inexpensive tours to India and this means that just about everybody can afford to visit this exciting and dynamic country.

Although most tours start with the Golden Triangle, there are many other places to visit in India. The Golden Triangle refers to the tourist circuit that begins in Delhi, where most people arrive, and continues to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, and Jaipur, the “Pink City” before heading back to Delhi.

If you have the time and want to see something very special, consider taking a flight from Delhi up north to the area of India called Kashmir. Just the word “Kashmir” evokes visions of the exotic and the unusual.

The official name for this area in northern India is the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The largest city in the Kashmir area is called Srinagar: it is also the summer capital of the state and a popular place because of its cool weather during the warmest months of the year.

The city of Srinagar offers many interesting things to see and do, but one of the most special things about it is that it sits on Dal Lake. It is nicknamed “The Jewel in the Crown of Kashmir” and “Srinagar’s Jewel.”

Dal Lake is important locally for several reasons including fishing and harvesting of water plants. But tourism is king here on this beautiful lake.

What is so special about Dal lake? First, there are many parks around its nearly 10 mile shoreline. There are also several amazing gardens that were planted by early Mughal rulers hundreds of years ago.

Shalimar Bagh is the larger of the two most famous Mughal gardens on Dal Lake. “Shalimar” means “Abode of Love” in Sanskrit and a “bagh” is a garden.

This garden was built in 1619 by Emperor Jahangir for his wife, Nur Jahan. It is located on the right bank of Dal Lake and very close to Srinagar city. It was laid out in the style of a Persian garden with four arms joining at a central water source. Today it is a public park.

Nishat Bagh is the smaller of these two gardens. Its name means “Garden of Joy,” “Garden of Gladness,” or “Garden of Delight.” It was built in 1633 by Asif Kahn, the elder brother of the Empress, Nur Jahan.

The lake itself is part of a natural wetland and there are countless lotus flower blossoms during the warmer months. But there is something else on the lake that is very interesting: houseboats! And tons of them!

Why houseboats?

During the days of the British Raj, Dal Lake became the “in” place to go to escape the heat of Delhi during the hottest months. But there was a problem: the Maharaja of Kashmir would not allow the British to build houses.

Their way around it? Houseboats anchored along the shores of the lake. Some of these are quite lavish and “each one a little piece of England afloat on Dal Lake.” They are made of wood, have several bedrooms, and a carved wooden balcony. Many visitors choose to stay in these interesting houseboats during their visit to Kashmir.

During your visit to India why not hop on a flight to Kashmir and enjoy Dal Lake? It will be an unforgettable experience!

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Posted by: WS
Unbelievable Udaipur

There are many fantastic things to see and do in India. And one of the best parts? It’s very affordable! There are many tours to India and many of these are inexpensive.

Most tours begin in the capital city of Delhi and continue on to Agra and Jaipur. These three cities make up a tourist circuit called the “Golden Triangle.”

In Delhi you’ll visit the old part of the city and see the bustling market and the Red Fort. In New Delhi there are other more modern sights like India Gate. Agra is the home of the world-famous Taj Mahal, and Jaipur, the “Pink City” is the gateway to Rajasthan, the western state of India known for the Thar Desert.

There are other cities of interest in Rajasthan like Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. But, if you are venturing outside of the “Golden Triangle,” do not under any circumstance skip Udaipur: it is one of the most interesting cities in all of India!

One of the things that makes this city so special is that it sits on a large lake called Lake Pichola. This lake has given Udaipur its nicknames of the “Lake City,” “The City of Lakes,” and the “Venice of the East.” Other nicknames include “The Most Romantic City of India,” and the “Kashmir of Rajasthan.”

In addition to Lake Pichola there are two other nearby lakes: Fateh Sagar Lake and the smaller Swaroop Sagar Lake.

Maharana Udai Singh II founded Udaipur in 1599 as the capital of the Mewar kingdom. Because of the mountainous terrain, it was not as heavily influenced by the Mughal rulers as other places in India. Later, in 1818, Udaipur became a state of British India.

Udaipur is not only famous for its lakes: it is also the home of many fabulous palaces. The palace in the middle of the lake, often seen in photos, is the Lake Palace: it is a palace that was converted into a luxury hotel.

The Lake Palace is only open to guests, but the Udaipur City Palace is open to the public and is phenomenal! It is an elegant palace that sits high above Lake Pichola and dominates the lake shore.

The City Palace is built of marble and granite and includes many ornately decorated rooms, manicured gardens, towers, balconies, galleries, and museums.

Amar Vilas is a garden in the palace that is the highest point in the city. Fatehprakash Palace is a part of the City Palace and houses an incredible display of beds, chairs, sofas, tables, and much more, all made out of crystal!

In addition to the palaces, Udaipur is a great place to find temples, gardens, forts, and narrow alleys filled with all kinds of activities and merchandise.

Jagdish Temple is very close to the City Palace and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

Bagore-ki-Haveli is an 18th century mansion that has been turned into a museum with displays of costumes, glassworks, and paintings.

Saheliyon ki Bari means “Garden of the Maids.” It is a beautiful and tranquil garden with a lotus pool, fountains, and marble elephants, all located in the northern part of Udaipur.

Not far from Lake Pichola are the mountains which provide a beautiful background and also places to explore outside of the city.

There’s so much to see and do in Udaipur: make sure to include this on your tour of India!

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Posted by: WS
Awesome Facts About Thailand

If you travel to Thailand then you are guaranteed to have the vacation of a lifetime. Thailand is one of America’s favourite destinations in South East Asia and it sees regular tour parties all over the country. Before your trip to Thailand you might want to learn a bit more about Thailand; it can really enhance the travel experience:

  • The smallest mammal in the world lives in Thailand. If you see a bumblebee bat during your vacation you will be privileged indeed.

  • You won’t really be taking a tour of Thailand at all. The country’s real name is Prathet Thai and it means “Land of the Free” which may seem at odds with America but they have had the name for slightly longer than the United States.

  • It turns out that the name for Thailand is very appropriate because it was the only country in South East Asia that wasn’t colonized by a European power!

  • If you’re thinking about learning the language of Thailand during your trip; think again. It has 32 vowels and 44 consonants to master! Nearby Cambodia has even more vowels to learn!

  • It’s estimated that 1 in 10 of all the animal species on the planet are to be found in Thailand.

  • Thailand is also the world’s biggest producer and exporter of orchids. It’s estimated that there are more than 1,500 species of orchids to be found wild in Thailand and if you travel through the forests of Thailand’s national parks you may be lucky enough to encounter 100-200 species of orchid yourself.

  • The most expensive birds nests in the world can be found in Thailand too. They are the nest of the swiftlet and they are constructed entirely from... saliva. The Chinese use the nests in Bird’s Nest soup and at $1,000 a pound that makes them incredibly valuable.

  • There are 5,000 elephants in Thailand. It is the sacred animal of the nation and you may see some during your vacation. However, the numbers are nothing to celebrate if you’d taken your tour of Thailand a century ago – there were more than 100,000 elephants to be found then.

  • The King and I, is banned in Thailand. It is considered to be deeply disrespectful to the Royal Family of the nation because it shows the king to be an uncultured man when the truth was he was the first royal in Asia to be fluent in English and was one of the best educated men of his time.

  • The current monarch King Bhumibol is the longest reigning monarch in the world. He is revered throughout Thailand and insulting him or any member of the royal family is a criminal offence.

  • Thailand has the world’s largest golden Buddha, and the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world too.

  • The most expensive wedding of cats was conducted in Thailand when two cats were married in a ceremony costing nearly $20,000!

  • Thailand is one of the world’s most tolerant nations and it is famous for its katoeys (ladyboys) who are completely accepted in society.

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Posted by: WS
The Indian Festival of Holi

India is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. One of the things that makes it so special is that it is such an affordable place to visit!

But there are many other things that make India a great place to tour. There are fantastic sights, shopping, food, wildlife, activities, and so much more, including festivals!

Many tours to India begin and end in Delhi. The famous “Golden Triangle” is a tourist circuit that includes Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. On this kind of tour you will see New Delhi and Old Delhi with its markets and the Red Fort; the unforgettable Taj Mahal in Agra; and the famous “Pink City” of Jaipur with the nearby Amber Fort.

Everything you will see during your tour will amaze and astound you. Whether you are in one of the three cities in the “Golden Triangle,” or in another exciting place in India, don’t be surprised if you bump into a festival as you are walking down a street.

India is famous for its festivals and there are many throughout the year. There are different kinds of festivals but quite a few are related to the predominant religion of India; Hinduism.

Holi is one of the most important Hindu festivals. It is a spring festival and so it falls every year in March. It is often associated with India, but it is also celebrated in Nepal and other countries around the world where there are Hindu populations.

If you have ever seen photos of people sprinkled with vibrant colors, then you’ve probably been looking at participants in a Holi celebration. But throwing colors at each other is just part of this interesting festival: it is also the festival of love.

It is an ancient Hindu religious festival that begins the night before Holi with a bonfire called the Holika bonfire. This bonfire is symbolic of the triumph of good over evil. People gather wood to make the bonfire for several days leading up to the event. After lighting the bonfire, participants come together around the bonfire and sing and dance.

For days before the celebrations begin, markets are alive with activity. People buy their gulal and their abir as they eagerly await Holi to begin. Gulal is the colored powder that children and young people spray at each other for fun. Abir is a dry colored powder that adults smear on each other’s face, again in fun.

Why all the colors? This tradition symbolizes the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the time when flowers bloom and provide beautiful and vibrant colors throughout India. And, because agriculture is such an important part of the lives of many people in India, it signals the beginning of the crop growing season.

The morning after the bonfire the frolicking begins. Despite the fact that it is a religious festival, there is no praying: only having fun, partying, and throwing colors at other people! Balloons are also filled with colored water and you can imagine what is done with water-filled balloons!

By late morning everyone is covered in bright colors: this is why Holi is sometimes called the “Festival of Colors.”

If you’re visiting India during the Spring, maybe you will want to experience the fun and excitement of Holi!

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Posted by: WS
Interesting Facts That You Might Not Know About Vietnam

Vietnam’s become a firm vacation destination among many Americans. Whilst a tour of Vietnam no longer involves helicopters and M-16s; Vietnam remains one of the most exciting travel destinations on earth. To make your trip to Vietnam even more interesting – we thought we’d share a few fascinating facts about the nation with you:

  • Vietnam is longer than California which makes it seriously long. The good news for those who like a little beach time on their vacation is that Vietnam also has more coastline than Florida! Wherever you travel; you won’t be too far from the ocean.

  • “Banh Mi” the ubiquitous Vietnamese sandwich that you will encounter everywhere on your tour of Vietnam is both delicious and cheap. It was also voted one of the finest foods in the world! It was probably the French influence in Vietnam that made these possible. It doesn’t matter though – just make sure you try one on your trip!

  • Vietnam exports more cashew nuts than any other country on earth and they are cheap and plentiful everywhere in the country. It’s also the world’s second biggest exporter of rice after India.

  • Vietnam’s language has 6 tones in the South, 5 tones in the centre of the nation and 4 tones in the North. It is considered by linguists to be one of the hardest languages in the world and the transliteration attempts are more confusing that helpful because the pronunciation of words is completely different to a phonetic rendition of the transliteration.

  • Vietnam isn’t called Vietnam. Originally it was Nam Viet and today that has been reversed to Viet Nam – two words rather than one.

  • There are 30 different national parks in Vietnam and each of them is worth a trip to see them. The largest of them – Yok Dan is bigger than some of the provinces in the country!

  • One of the strangest hobbies in the country is Lizard Fishing! Men gather together with fishing poles with baited hooks in the arid parts of the Southern Central Vietnamese coast line and wait for their scaly prey to approach. Then the lizard is dragged off to a waiting kitchen where it will feed the family!

  • There are nearly 40 million motorbikes in Vietnam making it the country with the highest ratio of bikes to people. This can make crossing the road during your vacation a bit of a nerve wracking experience. The trick is to walk slowly but steadily and somehow (and we don’t know how but we do know it works) the traffic all veers out of your way. If you really find yourself struggling with this – find someone else crossing the road and stick by them.

  • Son Doong Cave is the largest cave in the world and was only recently discovered. Inside you will find a miniature rainforest! There’s also a river running through it.

  • The Ao Dai is the national dress in Vietnam and is considered to be incredibly beautiful by visitors. It has only recently returned to general use after being considered politically unacceptable for a long time.

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Posted by: WS
5 Great Places to Visit in Thailand

Thinking about a trip to Thailand? Then read on and consider including some of these places on your tour of Thailand. Thailand is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations and in particular the capital, Bangkok. However, there’s more to travel in Thailand than Bangkok and all of these places are worth a look:

Get Chill in Pai

If you’re thinking of travel in Northern Thailand and are going to take a trip to Chiang Mai, you might also want to head a little further north. Pai, lays on the Thailand-Myanmar border and it’s the most unspoiled jungle and mountain town you can find in the country. The Pai Canyon may not be on the scale of the Grand Canyon but it is surely lovely. There’s a surprising amount of Western oriented facilities in town and Pai’s street markets are among the most authentic and cheapest in the country.

Commune with Buddha at Doi Suthep

There are temples everywhere you go on your Thailand vacation but, perhaps, the most splendid of them all is Northern Thailand in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep is the kind of place that has you book a Thailand tour in the first place. It’s set on a mountain side above the city and while it’s a bit of a walk to get there – it’s very much worth it. Stop at the base of the mountain for a tasty street snack (Thailand’s food is always good) and then visit the most ornate modern temple in the country.

Get Snapping in Sukhotai Old City

In central Thailand you can travel a short distance from Bangkok and find Thailand’s most photographed place – Sukhothai Old City is a UNSECO world heritage site and the scene of an ancient Thai capital. It has survived wars and the years to become one of the best regarded places in the country and it makes a wonderful introduction to Thai culture.

Hit Rallay Beach in Krabi

If you’re going to visit one beach in Thailand on your vacation; it should be Rallay at Krabi. Krabi’s an island destination famed for its Karst landscapes (like a miniature version of Ha Long Bay) and the beach at Rallay is one of the best in the land. It’s completely unspoiled and feels like a top tropical destination with white sands and the bluest waters. There’s a lot to do in the area including elephant trekking and white water rafting. Or you could just lay on the beach and soak up the rays.

Go Diving in the Similan Islands

The best spot for diving in the whole of Thailand. The Similan Islands offer coral reefs with a host of marine life just flittering around them. There’s a mixture of hard and soft corals too. It’s a beautiful archipelago of 9 islands when you’re above the waves too and they are set up to cater for holiday makers without being tourist traps. If you want to explore the water in Thailand – there’s no where better to do it.

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Posted by: WS
7 Interesting Things You Might Not Know About Laos

Thinking about making a trip to Laos? It’s a great time to take a vacation in Laos not that the country has fully opened up and if you time your Laos tour in the next few months; you should beat the rush of tourists looking for destinations off the beaten path too. Travel in Laos can be made that little bit more exciting by having a better understanding of the country. So here are some interesting things that you might not know about Laos:

  • The country isn’t called Laos. Though no matter how long a vacation you take in the country you are unlikely to here its “proper name”. That’s because the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a mouthful and no matter where you travel in the country – people just don’t use it. So Laos is all you are likely to hear.

  • If you want to go shopping on your trip; there are plenty of ways to pay (though none of them are plastic – cash is king in Laos). However, you can spend US Dollars, Thai Baht and Lao Kip in most tourist cities and destinations. That means you don’t want to change up too many greenbacks; particularly as the Kip is worthless outside of Laos.

  • If your tour includes a trip to the Plain of Jars; then you’ll discover what are (probably) burial jars that are each large enough to fit a person inside. The biggest of them weighs in at more than 6 tons and is the largest earthenware jar in South East Asia.

  • You must be careful when you travel in Laos. It is home to the largest number of unexploded munitions in the world as during the Vietnam War the country became the most bombed nation on earth. You won’t encounter these in cities or at popular tourist sites but if you head off the beaten path you should seek advice before you venture into areas that seem undisturbed.

  • You may not associate Laos with coffee but believe it or not the nation’s biggest export is coffee. It may not ship as much as its neighbour; Vietnam but it’s a serious business in the country and if you get a chance to try a local brew – you should. There’s a certain bitter chocolate taste to the coffee that makes it a much richer experience than some other coffees.

  • Laos is a relatively latecomer to the world of high tech communications and internet in most locations can be charitably describe as “painfully slow”. This is a good excuse to pack your phones and computers away and enjoy the “wonderfully slow” pace of life which Laos is famous for. There’s no hurry in the country at all and it’s best to get with the program to make the best of your time there.

  • If someone ties three threads to your wrist at a temple; you are supposed to leave them for three days before you cut them or risk offending your guardian spirits.

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Posted by: WS
Shopping in India

There are many reasons to visit India and one of these is to shop for inexpensive merchandise that is made locally. Many tours to India include some time for shopping, so it’s a good idea to know some basics before your begin your visit to this amazing country.

The currency in India is the rupee: there are places to change money in the Delhi airport where most tours begin. There are also ATMs there; the other option is to change money at banks and other foreign exchange establishments.

Things are not expensive in India, but the most important thing to know before you start shopping is that you will be expected to negotiate prices with vendors. This rule doesn’t apply to big department stores, but who wants to shop there when you can get the full India experience out on the street and in the colorful markets?

A friendly and jovial attitude will help as you discuss prices with local sellers. If you spend enough time talking with a seller, it’s likely that he or she will throw in a small “extra” after you have made your purchase.

Speaking of friendly, if a friendly local approaches you as you are meandering around a bazaar and wants to take you to his family’s shop, you will probably end up paying more than if you go to the shop on your own.

What to buy during your trip to India? Here are some ideas.

Handmade jewelry is inexpensive. It is made locally and some of the necklaces and bracelets that you will find in India are quite beautiful and well made.

Semi-precious gemstones are sometimes used to decorate artwork: these pieces can often be stunning. Paintings are framed and can be created on different things like cotton or silk.

Products made from wood are a popular choice for gifts or souvenirs. These are hand-carved and offered at very reasonable prices. They can include things as large as pieces of furniture down to bowls, plates, and artwork.

Other popular carved products include marble and stone statues and other items. Carved elephants and Hindu gods and goddesses are among some of the many choices.

Many visitors to India look for articles of clothing. There are beautiful fabrics here and many are handmade and hand-dyed. Bed covers and pillow covers are also good finds in India.

Where to shop?

Since most tours to India include a stay in Delhi, check out the Chandni Chowk Market in Old Delhi. This 17th century market can be a very exciting and rewarding experience. Here you can find tons of things like books, clothing, electronics, home furnishings, jewelry, leather goods, and shoes.

Many tours of India also include a visit to Agra, home of the world famous Taj Mahal. In Agra you will find jewelry, leather goods, and stone products. There are also small boxes decorated to resemble the inlay on the Taj Mahal: these make great gifts or souvenirs.

The last stop on many tours of India is Jaipur. Jaipur is known for its hospitable Rajasthani people, so take time to talk to sellers: this will help during your negotiations!

Here you will find vibrant bazaars filled with flowers, spices, and even cobra snake charmers! Popular things to buy in Jaipur include jewelry, traditional blue pottery, and “rajais” which are a kind of light cotton-stuffed quilt.

Have a great time when you visit India and have fun shopping!

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Posted by: WS
Tay Ho – A Quarter with a Difference in Hanoi, Vietnam

A few years ago you would never have considered including Tay Ho in your Vietnam vacation plans. You travel to Vietnam to experience the nation at its best and Tay Ho had definitely seen its glory days pass by. Yet, a recent resurgence in the area and inward investment now makes Tay Ho a good bet during your Vietnam tour. If your trip to Vietnam is going to include Hanoi and you enjoy creativity, great food and local fashion – Tay Ho is for you.

About Tay Ho Quarter

Tay Ho is on the edge of Hanoi and it was a collection of fishing villages with not much to offer a tour party in Vietnam (or indeed the locals). Then in 2003 people started slowly investing in the area; it’s a great place to visit on your Vietnam vacation because you can see the old fishing roots of the quarter slowly merging with modern Hanoi.

The best restaurant in Hanoi, Don’s can be found in Tay Ho. You might not have expected to be eating food cooked by a Canadian during your Vietnam trip but back in 2013 – this was voted one of the 50 best places to eat in Asia. It’s worth noting that no other restaurant in Vietnam made the list.

About 5 years ago they opened a new highway connecting Tay Ho with the rest of Hanoi and that makes it much easier to travel to the quarter than it once was. This has brought a larger number of restaurateurs to the area and while Don’s is definitely the best – if there’s no room at the tables; there are plenty of other great places to choose from during your Vietnam vacation.

There’s a host of arts and crafts in the area from the traditional lacquered products (everything from tiny boxes to huge wardrobes) which have been popular in Vietnam for centuries and which can easily be exported home if you decide you want a great souvenir from your tour. To textile weaving in fashions used for generations by local minority tribes.

If food and drink’s more your thing then please remember to visit Betterday when you take your trip to Tay Ho. Betterday’s a fair trade concern and works only with local farmers to present their offerings in attractive manner and one that makes for nice presents for the folks back home. Vietnam’s the world’s second biggest coffee grower and it would be almost criminal not to grab some at Betterday.

The cashew nuts are excellent too and Vietnam is the world’s premier producer of cashew nuts so they’re much, much cheaper than they are anywhere else. It’s worth noting that cashew nuts aren’t actually nuts – they’re seeds.

If you visit on the weekend check out the weekend market which brings together some incredible products from local tribes which cannot be found anywhere else in the city. Then relax with a hot bowl of pho from one of the street vendors nearby.

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Posted by: WS
Your Health and a Vacation in Laos

If you’re planning your vacation in Laos it’s a good idea to get familiar with what you need to know health-wise before your Laos tour. Travel in Laos is generally safe and the vast majority of trips to Laos will go without a hitch but you can improve your chances of a visit without incident with the following:

Vaccinations

You should be up to date with all your routine vaccinations before you travel to Laos. This means visiting your doctor 2-3 months before your Laos vacation and ensuring that you have enough time to get these done. In addition to the routine vaccinations the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that anyone on a tour of Laos should also consider being vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid both of which are fairly common in the country.

You may also need protection from Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies depending on the activities you intend to include on your Laos trip. It’s best to talk to your physician to decide if this applies to you.

Malaria

Malaria is not a big risk in the cities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane but elsewhere in Laos - malaria mosquitoes are common. You can dramatically reduce your chances of catching malaria on your tour by using insect repellant on uncovered areas of your body and wearing trousers and long sleeves in the early evenings. It’s worth noting that malaria mosquitos only come out in the evening.

Upset Stomachs

Food is generally safe to eat in Laos and you shouldn’t spend too much time on your trip worrying about what to eat. It is, however, a good idea to bring some Imodium in case of an upset stomach. Travel can upset your stomach wherever you go and being introduced to new bacteria, etc. can make for an unpleasant 24 hours but nothing more than that. It’s best to be prepared.

If you do get an upset stomach it’s also important to rehydrate regularly and this includes replacing electrolytes.

You can buy these cheaply in any pharmacy to add to water and you may be able to find Gatorade as an alternative in some of the bigger supermarkets.

The Sun

Laos is a hot country for most of the year and it’s a good idea to ensure that you are well protected against the sun. A high factor sun cream will prevent you from getting burned and it’s always a good idea to pack some after sun cream just in case. You should wear a hat to prevent sun stroke and sunglasses to protect your eyes from ultra-violet rays too. Given that Laos is a Buddhist county – it is always a good idea to dress modestly and long sleeves and trousers can protect you from the sun’s rays too.

Footwear

In the cities you can wear what you like (within reason) but if you are going hiking then it is a good idea to pack the right footwear for this – not least because there are venomous snakes in Laos…

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Posted by: WS
The MyMe project

Burma is an intriguing country which is opening up all the time as visitors to the country will see. However there is still a huge inequalities gap and Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world. There are many children who cannot access education and some real poverty, especially in rural areas. But as Burma develops new initiatives are appearing all the time. One of the most well-known is the MyMe Project which visitors to Burma may be lucky enough to see.

MyMe is the Myanmar Mobile Education project which provides education to children who cannot get to school. Many of these children serve in tea shops and are in a life of servitude at a very early age. The children work long hours to support their families but the MY Me project comes to them and enables the kids to get a basic education in literacy and arithmetic. They can also get basic computer skills and gain confidence. Education is key to getting out of a lifetime of servitude and working in these conditions.

Visitors on cheap tours of Burma may have been in some of the Yangon tea shops and seen small children working in the background. The way the project works is that the bus with its teachers and equipment travels to the children and participating tea shops allow the kids to go to lessons. There are 2 levels of pupil and over 120 children have accessed the scheme since it started in January 2014. Already a second bus is on the way, such is the demand. Some classes are held in the tea shops after closing and others in the bus. Class sizes are between 40 and 65 and there is continual demand for education. Word of mouth has been essential in spreading news of the project as more kids clamour to access lessons in the basics.

The MYMe bus also teaches health and hygiene lessons to street children as many live in quite squalid conditions as a result of their working conditions and situation. This will help them stay healthy and enables the teachers to get an insight into the shelters for these kids in Yangon. This is a really innovative project that visitors on tours to Burma should be aware of, especially if they see kids working in the teashops or on the streets.

The project is a charity and relies on donations to continue. It is continually working on new projects and also supports internships from City University in Hong Kong. It has been instrumental in raising awareness of the plight of these tea shop children and their living conditions which is not immediately obvious to those on tours of Burma. The MyMe project has a blog and website where the latest updates and initiatives are displayed. It is a good example of the many social projects in Burma that aim to close the gap in inequality and poverty and particularly around the issues of child labour.

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Posted by: WS
5 Must-See Places a Short Trip from Hanoi, Vietnam

A vacation in Vietnam presents a huge opportunity for travel within Vietnam. If your Vietnam tour is passing through Hanoi then you have a wealth of places to visit just on the doorstep. We’ve found 5 great places you could squeeze into your Vietnam trip all within a few hours travel of the capital.

Ha Long Bay

There is, perhaps, no finer place to travel in Vietnam than Ha Long Bay. The magnificent Karst landscape has made this UNSECO world heritage site one of the seven natural wonders of the world and deservedly so. The city itself isn’t hugely inspiring but once you’ve jumped on a junk and began a tour of Vietnam’s coastal region – it is without a doubt the most spectacular place in South East Asia. You can even jump in a Sampan (a local fishing boat) and take a tour of the areas that your junk just can’t quite squeeze into.

NInh Bing

Very much under-appreciated at the moment but we see a Vietnam vacation boom in Ninh Bing’s future. The former capital of Hoa Lu is in the region as are some of the most amazing temples in the country. There’s a lot of mountains to climb and the area is one of outstanding natural beauty. Bill Clinton once visited and loved it. We do too.

Chua Huong

The perfumed pagoda is a perfect day trip from Vietnam’s capital. Less than an hour’s drive to the South you can find the original pilgrim trail leading you up the Perfumed Mountain. This is one of the most spiritual places in the country and a sharp contrast to the modernity of Hanoi. Enjoy the view and stroll gently on to the pagoda itself and then find a quiet spot for contemplation, meditation or prayer.

Mai Chau

Mai Chau’s also based on a karst landscape and the rice paddies that congregate in amongst the limestone hills are quite incredible. Travel to one of Vietnam’s best loved waterfalls – Son Da or just wander the lakes and streams. We find that many people enjoy meeting Vietnam’s hill tribes on their vacations and this is one of the best places to do so. It’s a little bit off the beaten path and the villages you find in Mai Chau are a better reflection of real ethnic minority life in Vietnam than some of the more regularly visited ones.

Sapa

Sapa is Vietnam’s premier trekking destination. It’s a rural location with plenty of prehistoric remains. If you travel to Sapa on a clear day you may be able to catch sight of Fan Si Pan which is the very last mountain in the Himalayan Mountain Range as it comes out of China. There are plenty of opportunities to meet local tribes and ethnic groups in Sapa too. We like to enjoy the walking and soaking up some of the best natural scenes in Vietnam. Bring your binoculars for a chance to spy some rare bird life too.

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Posted by: WS
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Posted by: WS
Highlights of Western Burma

One of the lesser known regions in Burma is in Rakhaing province on the Western Coast. Most visitors on tours of Burma tend to travel through this area en route to the turquoise coastline at Ngapali beach but there is a lot more to see in this region. Take a look at some of the highlights in Western Burma.

Visit the market at Sittwe

The capital of Rakhaing is Sittwe and is located where the Kaladan River meets the great Bay of Bengal. Most of the activity in the city takes place alongside the river on the Main Road. One of the best places to go and enjoy the local food and flavours is the Central Market. You’ll find dried shark, stingrays and fishing nets here as well as vegetables and other staple items. Look out for the Rice Market a few blocks away where traders look for brown and sticky varieties.

Explore temples at Mrauk U

One of the most under rated but magnificent temple sites is in Mrauk U on the Western coast of Burma. Visitors on cheap tours of Burma may have this in their itinerary and it is worth a visit to see the cast complex of temples. This involves a long journey up the Kaladan River to the last great Rakhaing capital- active from 1430 to 1784. At one time this was a free port trading with Europe and Asia and has some splendid stupas dotted on the landscape. Highlights of this area include the stupa at Shittaung Paya. This was built by King Minbin in 1535 and has 26 stupas surrounding a central one. The Palace complex is another important site in this area of Mrauk U and is popular with the few tourists who venture here.

Visit the Chin Villages

Near Mrauk U are several delightful Chin villages along the Lemro River. These are lovely places to observe life close up. Look for opportunities to visit peanut farms, chilli plantations, and bean growers around here. In Pan Mraun there is usually a busy market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Many of the elderly Chin women have tattooed faces which is a tradition here. This is a very impoverished area of Burma where education for children is limited.

Ngapali beach

As an up and coming resort on Burma’s western coast the attractions of Ngapali beach are central to the tourism industry. The palm lined beach is the perfect place to relax after tours of Burma and is beautiful. There are some lovely hotels along this coast and new restaurants are emerging all the time. For snorkelling and diving there are some magnificent reefs and a number of dive guiding companies with tours to some of the most beautiful places to see marine species . Thandwe is a smaller resort close to Ngapali which is known for its market and the temples.

For anyone planning a tour of Burma the Western coast has a lot to offer and is very unspoilt in some areas.

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Posted by: WS
The Best Temple Destinations in Cambodia

There are many things to do on your trip to Cambodia but the primary purpose of a vacation in Cambodia is nearly always to visit the incredible temples in the country. Your Cambodia tour will always include a visit to Angkor Wat but where else can you travel in Cambodia to find incredible temples without quite as many tourists to share them with?

Koh Ker

The ancient capital of Koh Ker was Cambodia’s capital for a startling 9 years! The temple site would be top of most people’s vacation lists if it was in an another country but with over 1,000 sites to choose from – this massive and incredible temple gets very few visitors indeed. It’s on the UNESCO world heritage site waiting list and it will almost certainly get busier. Koh Ker was never converted into a Buddhist site during its brief period of occupancy and is a completely Hindu site. The pyramid construction at the heart of the complex is one of the most impressive places you can see on Cambodia tour. It’s only a couple of hours travel from Siem Reap the home of Angkor Wat too.

Preah Vihear

The name means “Sacred Temple” and it is important enough that Cambodia and Thailand have fought wars over it – though thankfully this is now over since the UN confirmed Cambodia’s ownership of the site last year. Set on a mountainside overlooking Thailand it offers, perhaps, the most spectacular view in the country. Though please don’t trip when you get to the edge – it’s not safe to get right up to the cliff face. Consisting of 5 Gopuras (levels) each from a different period of Cambodia’s archealogical heritage it is also one of the most interesting temple collections in the country. Preah Vihear has already been confirmed as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Preah Kahn

Preah Kahn requires some arduous travel to get to. It’s not the Preah Kahn which makes up part of the Angkor Archaeological Park it’s the one in Preah Vihear province. Not yet, fully opened up to the world – it’s one of the remotest places you can visit in Cambodia. However, it’s worth the trip as it’s the world’s largest religious construction and the temples there cover more area than Angkor Wat (though no individual temple is as big). You’ll need to make special plans to get there but it’s worth it and you will almost certainly have the site completely to yourself if you do.

Banteay Chhmar

Another incredibly remote temple which requires a homestay nearby in order to visit; Banteay Chhmar was Cambodia’s fortress temple and designed to repel invaders as much as to be a place of worship. It is has been rather less ransacked by foreign invaders and local thieves than the majority of temples in the country and is therefore in better condition than most. That’s mainly due to its remote location and if you do venture out to see it – you’ll be closer to the time of Angkor than anywhere else in the kingdom.

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