Category Archives: Around the World Travel

Top 5 South African Cities

Planning a city break in South Africa and not sure where to head to? Never fear, help is at hand! I was in much the same boat as you when organising my first urban adventure in South Africa, but after buckets of research I struck upon the ultimate list of top five cities to visit. To help save you time on sorting out your travel plans, I’ve written out my suggestions of the top 5 South African Cities below – I hope you find them useful!

Cape Town

Before I dive into my top five, I’d like to point out that all of the below are great candidates for luxury breaks in South Africa, thanks to their combinations of attractions and simply stunning hotels. So, this list is perfect for anyone hoping for a high-end holiday.

1) Johannesburg

Let’s begin with one of SA’s most vibrant and well-known cities – Johannesburg. For me, this is one of the ultimate city break destinations in the country, largely because it offers that classic mix of diversity, important cultural attractions and an amazing nightlife. Things not to miss in Johannesburg include the Apartheid Museum, Museum Africa and the Mandela Museum, as well as slick bars like Rock. It’s also worth checking out the fascinating local markets; Rosebank Flea Market is one of my favourites, since it’s where you can pick up some impressive African art.

2) Cape Town

Next up is Cape Town, which I think is probably just as famous as Johannesburg – if not more so. Cape Town has a special place in my heart because it’s got a great selection of attractions that really cannot fail to appeal to you – particularly Table Mountain, which forms the backdrop of the city.

It’s well worth ascending its summit (at 1,085 m) on the Table Mountain Cableway to see the amazing views. I also recommend going penguin spotting on Boulders Beach and exploring the cobbled streets of Bo-Kaap.

3) Durban

Half sophisticated city and half luxury beach resort, Durban is the place to go if you’re keen to enjoy utter indulgence on your holiday. This destination sits on the edge of a coastline lapped by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean, so it’s not hard to understand why this is such an amazing place for sunseekers.

When you’re not stretched out on the sand feeling decadent, you can slip into something slinky or sharp and head over to Wilson’s Wharf, which in the summer months puts on theatrical performances and concerts. It’s also worth remembering that Durban is home to some impressive colonial architecture; visit Durban City Hall to see this at its best.

4) Hermanus

The ultimate place to go whale watching not just in SA but in the whole world, Hermanus is an absolute must for wildlife lovers. Now, technically this is a town rather than a city, but it’s such an exciting and important spot that I’m hoping you’ll let me off!

If you do want to spot whales, come here between June and December, when they flock to Walker Bay. The beauty of whale watching here is that you don’t even need to step on to a boat for great views (though you can if you want) since these majestic creatures are visible from the shore.

5) Sun City

The final metropolis to make my top five is Sun City – and I should probably admit right now that this is another place that is technically not a city! This sprawling destination is in fact a very large resort, but for travellers like you and me it feels very much like a city – hence why I’ve included it.

This is a good place to choose if you’re travelling with your family, since it’s home to attractions like the Valley of the Waves water park. It’s by no means a resort only suitable for families, though, with luxurious touches like two 18-hole golf courses and stunning hotels making it perfect for couples too. As a quick tip, because Sun City is next to the Pilansberg Game Reserve, it’s easy to combine a city break with a classic South African safari here.

 

3 Premier Beaches in Phuket, Thailand

best beaches in Phuket
cc Image Courtesy of Shelby PDX via Flickr

Phuket is one of Thailand’s top destinations, and not without reason. It has a rich natural heritage in the form of the surrounding sea, long white beaches, mangrove swamps, canopied jungle forests, and a wealth of world-famous dive sites. In addition, it has a rich cultural history and is populated by a diverse selection of ethnic groups, bringing with them a wide choice of fine cuisine.

Phuket, which is only about an hour’s flight from either Bangkok or Singapore, is about the same size as Singapore (about 335 square miles or 540 square km in extent), and the largest island in Thailand. Those traveling to Phuket from overseas should arrange travel insurance to ensure they have access to emergency assistance and are covered for medical expenses.

There are only two seasons on Phuket, the hot season (from November to April) and the rainy “green” monsoon season (from May to October). While you will find people on the beaches all year round, the hot season is the ultimate beach season. The only issue is deciding which beach to spend time on.
Three of Phuket’s Premier Beaches.

If you’re looking for solitude, you may not be heading for one of Phuket’s most popular beaches, although if you know where to go, there are some surprisingly remote spots to be found. If you want to be near people, and you are keen to dive, snorkel, wind surf, jet-ski or sail, you will find that all the island’s major beaches have outlets that hire equipment and offer instruction. Here are three favorites:

Patong Beach

Best Thai Beaches
Patong Beach cc Image Courtesy of SoulSoup on Flickr

One of the best-known, most loved beach resorts, Patong boasts an unspoilt, 2 km (more than a mile) beach that is usually lined with deck loungers, sunbeds and colorful umbrellas.

At the northern end of the beach you’ll find a gorgeous little sandy creek with shallow, clear water where you can paddle, swim and snorkel. At the southern end there’s a small fisherman’s village near to a river mouth where they launch their picturesque fishing boats in search of the catch of the day. The best place to surf is at the north end, just before you get to the creek.

The facilities along Patong Beach are excellent, from public toilets to restaurants and cafés. In addition, vendors are always on hand with offers of snacks, drinks and a cold, welcome ice cream. Some also sell silk, henna tattoos, costume jewelry and ornaments you might like to take home as a keepsake.

A major attraction of Patong is the fact that after a day on the beach, it’s party time. This little town has an enviable night life, offering hundreds of restaurants, open-air beer bars, and adults-only go-go bars where scantily-clad girls dance and perform for the crowds.

Karon Beach

Best beaches in Thailand
Karon Beach cc Image courtesy of TeachingSagitarrian on Flickr

Karon Beach is located 3 km (not quite 2 miles) south of Patong, and a few minutes drive from the Bay of Kata, in the south west of Phuket. It is an upmarket part of the world, where the coast is lined with prestigious, high-rise hotels, although the beach itself is not as crowded as Patong Beach usually is.

At 5 km (a little more than 3 miles) this beautifully pristine beach is one of the longest on the island. While you can hire sunbeds and umbrellas, there is so much space, these are usually well spaced out, unlike those found on some of Phuket’s other major beaches. If you’re in the mood for a massage, you’ll find masseuses and reflexologists in the shaded areas at the top of the beach.

Unlike Patong Beach, there are no public toilet facilities here, but many of the restaurants are willing to let beachgoers use their facilities – sometimes for a fee. There are the same familiar vendors, though, as well as food stalls close to the beach where you can pick up a great Thai meal.

Surfing is not favored at this location, because the sea is very open all round, and the sandbanks are constantly shifting. But most other water sports are available, including windsurfing and waterskiing.
If you want to snorkel, head for the rocks at the southern end of the beach. At the northern end of Karon Beach you’ll find a stunning lake alongside a section of white sandy beach that is very often deserted (possibly because there are no loungers for hire). Sea turtles sometimes lay their eggs in the sand on this beach. So report any turtles or tracks that could have been left by turtles, to the staff at the hotel where you are staying, and they will notify the Phuket Marine Biological Centre to keep them safe.

Bang Thao Beach

Bang Tao Beach, Phuket, Thailand
Packed her trunk and said goodbye! cc Image courtesy of Canolais/ on Flickr

Further north than both Patong and Karon beaches, Bang Thao mixes luxury with the relatively primitive living of the local fishermen and farmers who reside in this area, in a quaint town called Cherng Talay.

While you will find lavish (and expensive) resorts and villas along the coastline, the way of life of these locals hasn’t changed in centuries.

Bang Thao Beach is long and varied, stretching some 6 km (not quite 4 miles). If you want to be alone, head north, because the northern tip of the beach is, as yet, untouched by any form of development.

In fact much of this beach is largely unoccupied, probably because there is no beach road straddling the coast. Instead, hotels and other establishments make use of the beach areas that are close to them, and it is the hotels that provide the bulk of facilities. The implications of this are that sunbeds and loungers are restricted to hotel guests, as too are windsurfers and hobie cats hired out by the hotels.

This also means that if you want to reach a remote spot, you’re going to have to walk.

There are no public toilets available anywhere at Bang Thao Beach, but like Karon, you can ask to use restaurant and hotel facilities.

The Very Best of Red Sea Diving

From famous biblical accounts to early trade routes and today’s thriving tourism industry, there’s no doubt that the Red Sea plays a deeply important role in Egypt’s past, present and future. For visitors to this ancient part of the world, the glistening body of water is truly a sight to behold. Better yet, viewing the Red Sea from below the surface is perhaps the best way to experience its natural magic.

red sea divingAs one of the world’s most revered scuba diving destinations, the Red Sea is lined with cities and villages that offer a variety of diving experiences. Choosing where to go can be tougher than squeezing on a damp wetsuit. To make your decision easier, check out this list of the best Red Sea diving spots:

The Sinai Peninsula

Sharm El Sheikh

One of Egypt’s trendiest Red Sea holiday spots, Sharm El Sheikh is renowned across the globe for its posh resorts, thriving nightlife and, of course, brilliant scuba diving.

While the city has plenty of diving spots, one of the best is just over 30km south, in the Ras Mohammed National Park. For advanced divers who are comfortable navigating slightly stronger currents, the Yolanda Wreck site is truly a must-see.

Other top dive spots along the Egyptian side of the Sinai include: the Blue Hole in Dahab and just off the shores of Nuweiba.

West Red Sea Coast

Hurghada

As Egypt’s second largest Red Sea city and an established tourist hub, Hurghada serves as a brilliant base camp for travellers wanting to explore the scenic coastline. It is also near the famous St. John’s reef system, a unique collection of colourful reefs.

Habili Ali, an oval reef within the St. John’s system, is considered one of the most spectacular dive sites in the area. In addition to multiple species of exotic fish, it’s not uncommon to spot pods of bottlenose dolphins swimming through its clear blue waters.

In addition to Hurghada, the Brother Islands (off the coast of Al-Qusayr) are also an excellent dive spot along the western Red Sea coast.

Southern Red Sea Coast

Marsa Alam

Traveling further south along the Red Sea coast will bring you to the town of Marsa

Alam, a rising star in the world of scuba diving. The addition of an international airport in 2001 has increasingly made it a top choice destination for Egypt holidays.

Marsa Alam’s most notable diving site is the Elphinstone Reef. Best known as a habitat for several different shark breeds, this dive site may be your best chance to encounter the fascinating animals.While you’re in the area, it’s worth travelling even further south to the ancient town of Berenice, where you’ll find plenty of more secluded dive sites.

A scuba diver’s paradise, there really is nothing like the bright, warm waters of the Red Sea. If you’ve always dreamed of an idyllic Red Sea holiday, why not dive right in?