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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Prince Hotel and Residence: Great 5 Star Hotel in the heart of KL

On my recent trip to Malaysia where I was on an invite by Tourism Malaysia, I got the opportunity to stay at the Prince Hotel and Residence, a 5 star and business friendly hotel in the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpur. I stayed here for 1 day and 1 night and the below review is based on this recent experience of mine.

Twin towers and KL Tower as seen from a room window in Prince Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
1) This hotel is located right in the commercial area and central business district of KL. Hence, all the big office complexes, the shopping malls and main tourist attractions in the city center are in close proximity. Great connectivity is an added bonus.

2) The Prince hotel is located very close to the iconic Twin towers. In fact, one can easily see the Twin Towers and the KL tower from some of the hotel rooms.

3) The hotel, in line with its 5 star status offer great quality and excellent service at decent prices. Since it is more of a business class hotel, it caters to large business groups too.

4) The hotel has a couple of in-house restaurants that offer a great spread that span from continental to Malay to Indian to Chinese. Overall, a lip smacking treat for the foodie.

5) The rooms in this hotel are medium sized, but offer all the modern amenities. They even offer wired internet.

6) If you wish for a room with the twin towers view, simply ask for one. I stayed at room no. 2707 and it had a great view of the Twin Towers and the KL tower.

7) As with most other hotels in the Bukit Bintang area, getting to the hotel from the airport requires a lot of driving . Hence, the airport express trains are the best bet. They are comfortable, fast and help avoid the crazy KL peak hour traffic.

Overall, this is an affordable luxury class business hotel in the heart of KL. It offer more than enough amenities for the price it charges along with great quality and service.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chinese New Year Open House Celebrations at Taiping, Malaysia

Malaysia, in line with its multi-cultural status celebrates many festivals from various ethnic backgrounds and religions. Their three main popular festivals are the Eid ul Fitri to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Chinese New Year and Diwali. Each of these major festivals belong to a different religion, namely, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Malaysia is a secular country and proudly portray themselves as 1Malaysia. I got a sense of this unity when I attended their Chinese New Year Open House at Taiping in the Perak state of Malaysia.

Great Fireworks show at Chinese New Year Open House in Taiping, Malaysia
Even though this was a festival celebrating the Chinese New Year, a lot of people from various ethnic backgrounds and religions participated in this colorful event. Till I attended this event, I hardly understood the concept of an open house, but once I became a part of this event, I understood that open houses are a way for Malaysia to help its citizens and its visitors to enjoy its various festivals. Each time, a different city is chosen as the host city depending on the work it has done for the country. And each open house focuses on bringing a great festival to its people.

Chinese New Year Open House Celebrations at Taiping, Malaysia
At this open house, I got treated to some fantastic local food, stunning dance performances, a sight of Malaysia’s prime minister and an entertaining fireworks display at the end of the event. The highlight of the event for me were the lion and the dragon dances. The act of balance of the lion dance is something that I find very interesting. Plus, these dances and performances gave me so many insights into the colorful Malaysian Chinese culture.

Perfornances galore at the Chinese New Year Open house at Taiping, Malaysia
If you ever happen to be in Malaysia during an open house or during the festival days, I would recommend you to be a part of them. Like all festivals, it helps us understand the local culture better and it is a celebration with great food, fun and frolic. What more do we need as travelers and human beings?

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Royal Belum Rainforest: One of the True Eco Destinations of the World

This rainforest is many million years old. In fact, it is older than the rainforests of the Amazon and Congo, which makes it one of the oldest rainforests in the world. This is also the place where the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia is found. It has more hornbill species than the rainforests of Borneo. And, a lot of flora and fauna species are still being discovered here. Well, these are some startling facts about the Royal Belum rainforest that is a part of the Royal Belum State Park in Malaysia.

Rafflesia - the world's largest flower at Royal Belum, Malaysia
This park located on the northern edge of peninsular Malaysia is a part of the Perak state and borders neighboring Thailand. The best part about this state park is that it has been strictly maintained for research purposes instead of revenue generation or tourism. This has led to safeguarding most of the flora and fauna of this place and that is one of the more unique things about this rainforest and hence leads to a special rainforest experience.

The super dense and green Royal Belum Rainforests of Malaysia
It is home to the Malayan tiger, the Asian elephant, the very rare tapir, the sun bear, a lot of primates including the white handed gibbon, lots of cobras, pythons and all the species of hornbills of Malaysia. While it might not be easy to spot the mammals during every entry into the forest, it is pretty common to sight the Rafflesia flower and the hornbills.

One of the many waterfalls within Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia
Three varieties of the Rafflesia flower are found here, which include the Azlanii, Cantali and Liana. During my visit here, I was lucky to see the Liana species in full bloom. Apparently, it needs perfect conditions to survive and blooms for 5 to 7 days every year. The pristine ecosystem of Royal Belum ensures that the Rafflesia grows here in huge numbers. Apart from being one of the world’s largest flower, there are some other things that are special about this flower like it smells like putrefying flesh, which attracts flies for pollination and the fact that it is a parasitic flower that grows from one vine. While I was there at Royal Belum, the wildlife guide explained to me that the pregnant Elephants would eat the Rafflesia as a medicine to reduce their stomach and labor pain.

Dense Tropical rainforests of Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia
As you see, this rainforest offers tremendous avenues for that perfect wildlife and nature experience. But, it is also fairly tough to get access into this park as the number of visitors per day are limited and so are the places to stay. Either one can stay on the Royal Belum rainforest resort on Pulau Banding or you can stay at the basic camps inside the forest. Both these options are fairly pricey, but the experience is worth the money.

The cabbage that blooms into the Rafflesia flower at Royal Belum State Park, Malaysia
Since it is only possible to visit the rainforest by boat, bookings and planning needs to be made in advance. The boat, the park entry permits and the accommodation will get covered as part of this planning. Additionally, all you need are comfortable cotton clothing, some insect repellant, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, a pair of binoculars, a camera and lots of excitement.

About the Liana Rafflesia flower
Apart from the flora, the fauna and the sheer beauty of the rainforest, as a tourist, we can do a lot more additional things. There are waterfalls that we can trek to and also bathe in. There are carnivorous fishes at the fish sanctuary that we can feed and see the entire water turn red with their color. There are aboriginal people that we can meet and interact and last, but not the least, we can simply go all around the rainforest area by boat and admire one of nature’s best creations.

Houseboat on Banding Lake, Pulau Banding
This is one of those places that as a wildlife lover and nature enthusiast I would keep returning to. If you wish to visit this place, I would recommend this place with multiple thumbs up. Royal Belum is one of those places that you should have in your travel bucket list under the special destination or experience category.

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Have you changed the tires of a Formula 1 Race Car?

Most of us have definitely seen a formula 1 race car on television. Some of us rare and lucky ones must have got the opportunity to see the race car up close and live. But, have you ever changed the tires of a Formula 1 race car? Well, I have and so did 50 other people who were with me at the event in Sheraton Bangalore organized by Tourism Malaysia and Sepang International circuit. All of us got to remove and fix one tire of the Sahara Force India Formula 1 race car that was placed inside the lobby lounge of the Sheraton Hotel in Bangalore.

Sahara Force India Formula 1 Race Car on Display
This changing tires was part of an exercise to find the team that removes the four car tires and fixes it back the fastest. The team with the quickest time won a prize to go to the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang on Mar 28, 29 and 30, 2014. Unfortunately for me, I was not part of the winning team, but I got the opportunity to get close to a race car and this meant a lot to me. The Sahara Force India record is 3.5 seconds, but the winning team managed to do it in 39 seconds. The timing may have been bad compared to Sahara Force India standards, but all 9 of them landed themselves a fully sponsored trip to the Malaysian Grand Prix 2014.



If you are the Formula 1 enthusiast, you should mark your calendar for the dates of March 28, 29 and 30. Exclusive tickets to the event are expensive, but I was surprised to find out that there are tickets even for INR 1,800 which offer uncovered hill top space. If you have a good pair of binoculars, a raincoat and some water, I am sure even this spot will offer lots of fun. Basically, what I am trying to say is that people with all kind of budget can find themselves a seat here. And one of the more interesting things that I found out during this event is that this Malaysian Grand Prix 2014 ticket unlocks entry into many dance shows where international artists and celebrities perform and one that gets discounts at various shopping centers across KL. There are a lot of packages too in case you are the package type. Tourism Malaysia and/or Cox and Kings India will be able to provide you with details and prices. So, have you started planning your Grand Prix holiday to Malaysia?

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Top 13 Things to do in Dandeli, Karnataka

Dandeli, a small river side town in North West Karnataka is very popular with tourists from Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. A lot of people visit this town primarily to indulge in adventure water activities on the mighty Kali river and to see some wildlife in its wildlife sanctuary. But, Dandeli, which literally translates into 'by the river’ offers much more to the tourist apart from adventure sports and wildlife safaris, which is how this location has been historically promoted. Last month, I visited Dandeli after a gap of 10 years and indulged in the place to find out all the interesting things that can be done here. And these are my list of top 13 things to do in Dandeli, the next time you plan your holiday there.

1) Kayaking on the Kali river
Kayaking is fun on Dandeli's Kali river
If you love the white water and want to be high on adventure, then kayaking on the Kali river can offer year round adventure. If you are a professional, then there is nothing more crazy than kayaking on the class 4 rapids of the Kali and if you are a beginner, you can try and hone your skill in its calmer waters and smaller rapids. Basically, my top pick here.

2) Rafting on the rapids of the Kali River
Kayaking on the river Kali at Dandeli, Karnataka, IndiaRiver Rafting is a great team activity and the class 4 rapids on the Kali offer the perfect group getaway. There are half day or full day options and the river has water for most time of the year as the dam above the river is opened every morning to generate electricity. In my mind, the Kali river is possibly the best river to do high adrenaline river rafting in Karnataka.

3) Looking for the elusive Black Panther at Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary
Changeable Hawk Eagle at Dandeli National Park, Dandeli
Dandeli is one of those few places in India where the extremely rare black panther is spotted quite regularly. While most of the tourists just go to see the Black Panther, this wildlife sanctuary also has a lot of tigers, leopards and other interesting fauna and flora. A Dandeli wildlife experience is right on the top of most of South India’s wild experiences.

4) Visit some of the unique tribes of Dandeli
Elderly Gowli Tribe Woman near Dandeli, Karnataka
What most of the tourists do not know and that I found out is that a lot of unique cultures live in and around Dandeli through a variety of tribes. There is the Lamani tribe, the gypsies of Rajasthan. Then, there is the very famous Siddi tribe, who are people of African origin and who were brought to India as slaves. Then, there are the Gowli tribes who manage cattle and the Medar tribe who work in the forest and are bamboo craft artisans. Spending time with these tribes is a great way to know some interesting customs and to be a part of a unique culture.

5) Birding at Ganeshgudi

Malabar Pied Hornbill (Female) on the banks of the Kali river, Dandeli
Ganeshgudi is one of those places near Dandeli where one will often see professional bird watchers with their big bazooka lenses waiting patiently to capture the pretty small birds in their lens. The hornbills are the largest birds of Dandeli, but Ganeshgudi is known for its smaller birds that are endemic to the Western Ghats. If you are a true birder, this is one of those places you have to check out.

6) Watch the sunset from Ganeshgudi Hill

Sunset over the confluence of 4 rivers as seen from Ganeshgudi hill
Imagine that you are on top of a hill looking at the joining of 4 rivers and on the hill opposite you, the sun is setting down slowly behind the hill and its reflections make the 4 rivers glimmer in golden light. Well, such is the view you can get from the Ganeshgudi hill, which you can reach by hiking through the forest for 30 minutes from the Old Magazine house. If you get lucky, you will sight some rare and beautiful birds too.

7) Relaxing and soaking in lush green nature in Dandeli’s countryside

Unlike other wild places, Dandeli is still young and rough at its edges. This means that the development is much lesser and hence there are more rustic homestays than big hotels. If you like rustic holidays amidst pristine and tranquil nature, then the countryside of Dandeli offers the perfect blend of greenery, nature and peace. All you have to do is put your feet up, soak in the sun, sip a cup of tea and read a nice book.

8) Taking a coracle boat ride on the Kali
Malabar pied hornbill in flight in Dandeli's blue sky
For those who are not so adventurous, but still want to feel the Kali river, the coracle boat ride is for you. This is a great way to see the hornbills, the crocodiles basking in the sun and to see Dandeli from a totally different perspective, but at a much easier pace than the kayak or the raft.

9) Wildlife Safari inside Anshi National Park
For those true wildlife aficionados, the Anshi national park offers that special oomph factor. It has black panthers, leopards, tigers and much more. A true tropical forest that offers a special wild experience.

10) Finding Spirituality in the dark Kavala Caves
Shiva Linga inside Kavala Caves
Deep in the forest are caves where large stalactites and stalagmites exist and locals worship them as Lord Shiva. One has to descend quite a number of steps to reach this cave and have to crouch on all fours to reach its inner sanctum. Here, with the help of flashlights and candles, one can see these limestone formations. It is quite a steep climb back to the parking lot, but the Kavala caves offers enough thrill to overcome the tiredness.

11) Watch the umpteen Beehives at Sinteri Rocks
Sinteri Rocks of DandeliSinteri rocks is a place of eerie looking rock formations, underground river systems and lots of beehives. This is one of those places where you can go with your family on a picnic and enjoy half a day out. The waters in this place are very dangerous and hence swimming is strictly prohibited. Other than that, it is a great place and you can spend all your time counting the number of beehives on these rocks.

12) Trek to Nagjhari Falls
Deep inside the forests of Dandeli lies a seasonal waterfall called the Nagjhari falls. It may not be the biggest or the most beautiful one, but it sure presents a pretty picture in an otherwise dry looking terrain. Plus, the trek takes you through the deep jungles of Dandeli.

13) Trek to bird’s eye view point of Kali
Bird's eye view of Kali riverA little bit upwards of Kavala caves is a place where one can get a bird’s eye view of the Kali river. A steep, but short hike takes you to the place where you can see the Kali meander amidst lush green forests and mountains. This place offers a total different perspective to the mighty Kali river.

Courtesy: I planned this recent trip to Dandeli through www.dandeli.com.

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Discovering Diversity in Tenerife

Many holiday destinations boast great diversity and a long list of things to see and do. But one place that certainly tops the diversity list is Tenerife - and what's more, it's an absolute cracker of a holiday destination too.

Many people think of Tenerife and think "beach". Yes, it's got fabulous beaches, and plenty of lovely sandy bays that were just made for bathing, paddling, swimming, watersports, or just soaking up that lovely Canarian sunshine. It's also got a vibrant nightlife - another thing that the island has become famous for. Head to the neon-lit Playa de las Americas or stick around after dark in Los Cristianos and you'll soon see what all the fuss is about.

But there's much more to Tenerife than bars and beaches. Shopaholics and sightseers will have a whale of a time in Santa Cruz, the capital city of the island, which is home to fantastic shops, stunning architecture, fantastic restaurants serving up delicious cuisine and plenty more besides. Walkers and nature enthusiasts will get their kicks in the stunning National Park - a sprawling nature reserve in the centre of the island that's also home to Mt Teide, the resident volcano and the tallest peak in Spain. Here you can explore Tenerife's volcanic terrain, enjoy a picnic overlooking its craggy peaks and rolling hillsides, or even whizz to the top of Mt Teide by cable car for soul-stirring views across the island.

Another jewel in Tenerife's crown is its affordability. You'll find plenty of holiday deals to Tenerife on the Thomas Cook website, by searching for last minute holiday deals or by snapping up early bird deals on next year's holidays, which helps to make things that little bit easier.

You can find package holidays and snap up some great deals by searching the tour operators' websites, or you could go your own way by booking scheduled flights and hotel accommodation independently. However you get there, don't miss the chance to explore Tenerife and discover its diversity to the full - you won't regret it!

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Smiling Girls from the Siddi Tribe of Dandeli: A Travel Photo

If you want to see people of African origin in India and living as Indian citizens, you have to meet the Siddi tribes. They are found in two broad pockets, one in and around Sasan Gir in Gujarat and the other in and around Dandeli in North West Karnataka. I have this deep interest in tribes wherein I like to spend time with them, interview them, understand their history, background, culture, customs and more. I met this Siddi tribe last month in a village about 45 minutes from Dandeli.

Young Siddhi Tribal girls at a village near Dandeli, Karnataka
While I was interacting with the chieftain of this village, a retired Indian army soldier, I spotted these two young girls smiling at me before running away. This photo was taken when they were camera shy, but yet smiling. A more detailed story on this tribe is yet to come from my side, but I hope this smiling photo marks the start of an interesting series of stories and pictures from this unique African tribe of India.

Courtesy: I visited this tribe as part of a trip arranged by www.dandeli.com.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Top 4 Austria Cycling Holidays

Austria, with its majestic peaks, imposing fortresses and baroque abbeys offers a dramatic backdrop for cyclists. Its diverse terrain from mountainous roads to country lanes beside lakes and rivers offers all levels of cyclists an opportunity to enjoy Austria in entirety. Most of the cycling routes pass through picturesque lakeside villages dotted with impressive baroque buildings, stunning mountains, especially the Alps, Danube, the lifeline of Austria and its lush green countryside. Following are my top 4 quality cycling holidays in Austria.

Salzkammergut Lake District

640px-Danube_In_The_Wachau_Valley

This is a leisurely route through Austria’s famous lake district where crystal clear lakes combine with towering mountains to create unrivalled vistas. This wonderful route takes in dramatic Alpine scenery, leading past several of Austria’s most spectacular lakes and featuring charming and traditional houses in idyllic villages. On this route falls the Hallstatt, the jewel of the region and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Passau to Budapest
4 countries, 3 capital cities and a journey by boat and bike is how I would describe this journey. Covering Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary and the capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest, this route on and by the mighty Danube takes you through the dramatic Schlogener loop, a 180 degree turn in the Danube’s course, through the ancient streets and alleyways of Bratislava, through the imposing Hungarian capital of Budapest, the historic capital of Vienna and the special Wachau region, famed for its wines and attractive baroque towns.

Into the Valley of the Alps
One of the perennial cycling routes in Austria, this offers some of Austria’s finest mountain scenery from tow beautiful river valleys. From the Tauern national park to the Salzach valley, this cycling route criss crosses Europe’s highest waterfall, pine forests, picturesque villages and flower-strewn meadows. It is on this route that one can also see the snow capped peaks of Austria’s highest mountain range – the Grossglockner at 12,400 feet.

Danube Castles and Vineyards
640px-1_hallstatt_austria

The gloriously tranquil Danube valley with a glut of imposing fortresses, as well as monasteries and abbeys, is testimony to the ancient struggles of this region. A 40 kilometer stretch in the Wachau region is what will appeal to the cyclists as this region is one of the most picturesque regions of the Danube with its wine producing villages, pastel coloured houses clinging to hills clad with vineyards, forests and apricot orchards. This idyllic cycling route concentrates on the most alluring region of the Danube, between the historic town of Grein and the wine town of Krems.

Courtesy: The pictures in this article have been borrowed from wikipedia under the creative commons license.

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Top 4 Algarve Holiday Ideas

The Atlantic coast region of Southern Portugal, Algarve, is Portugal’s most popular holiday destination with excellent beaches and riches in terms of culture and diversity. The factors that act in its favor are it being relatively cheap, the ease of communicating in English and its overall safety. This ensures that whether you are holidaying with your family, traveling with your partner or backpacking solo or with friends, it fits into everyone’s need and budget. From family holiday villas in Algarve to cheap hostels and guest houses and from beach facing bungalows to service apartments, this place has it all. Below are what I think are 4 of the top holiday ideas in Algarve.

Beaches of Albufeira
This fishing town of yester years offers a rich spoil of beaches across its extended coast line to its tourists. Watersports, Golf, Bars, Night clubs and more add to the holiday atmosphere. Hugging the coast in Portugal’s southern Algarve region, this prime vantage point showcases white houses with Moorish flair, breathtaking multi-hued cliffs and modern amenities. Its Zoomarine is also a big hit for families holidaying with their young kids.

Portuguese beach Algarve
Traditional Architecture of Lagos

Set amidst cliffs, this seaside town is sculpted with traditional architecture and colors from the region with the Capela dos Ossos taking the icing on the cake. It’s harbor, its fish market, its lighthouse and many more such places are full of vibrant activity especially in the early morning hours. This 14th century town offers quiet sandy coves that are sandwiched between dramatic cliffs and picturesque churches that can capture the attention of any history lover. And it also offers some of the best nightlife of the Algarve region.

Quiet Holiday in Sagres
Sagres is one of those places that still has an easy paced life and feels like a fisherman’s town. This place with its scenic cliffs, museum, cape of St. Vincent and deserted beaches is perfect for those seeking a relaxed holiday. Since this place is a bit off beat it is more green and costs much less.

Moorish Castle of Silves
Silves is Algarve’s most famous winter destination with its castle being the highlight. This castle served as the administrative base for the rest of Algarve when Silves was the first Moorish capital of the Algarve. Apart from its castle, Silves like most of Algarve offers scenic beaches and a quaint beach atmosphere making it ideal for those who want a relaxed and quiet holiday.

Courtesy: The photo in this post has been borrowed from wikipedia under the creative commons license.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Royal Belum Rainforest Resort: Gateway to one of the oldest rainforests in the world

The Royal Belum rainforest is one of the oldest rainforests in the world and along with Semangor national park, it offers a tract of forests that has some of the best nature in peninsular Malaysia. Situated in the Perak state of peninsular Malaysia and bordering Thailand, the only way to get to this rainforest is by boat from Pulau Banding and if you wish to enjoy this rainforest and the pristine nature around it, the Royal Belum Rainforest resort is one of the top accommodation options. I stayed here recently while I was on an invite from Tourism Malaysia. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying 2 days and 1 night here.

Room of Royal Belum Rainforest Resort tucked amidst beautiful greenery
1) The resort’s tagline is ‘gateway to nature’ and hence it comes as no surprise that its location is right in the middle of pristine forests and a man-made lake.

2) This rainforest resort is very luxurious with every room coming with a lake view and is surrounded by lots of greenery. They have multiple restaurants, spa centers, swimming pools and many more such luxuries.

3) The resort has their own boats to take their customers into the forests to see the wildlife, the Rafflesia flower, the aboriginals and other flora and fauna. They also help in arranging all the required park entry permits.

4) One of the specialties of this resort is that they own a large steam boat with rooms and a restaurant. I did not get a chance to get on top of this boat, but got to see it at close quarters.

5) The place is great for birders and for those who feel like a nature holiday. Seeing wildlife, stepping foot into the rainforest and seeing the aboriginals is an added bonus.

Royal Belum Rainforest resort - gateway to nature
6) The rooms come in various sizes and with a lot of luxurious amenities and good internet connectivity.

7) The only thing that can see improvement in this place is its food. For a place its standard, the food is very mediocre. I would give this place 5 stars if the food becomes very good.

8) The reception and all the other staff of this resort are very helpful and service oriented.

9) If you dig a more wild experience instead of a luxurious one, you can ask the resort to book you in one of the basic camps inside the rainforest. However, these camps function only for large groups as every facility needs to be arranged from the mainland.

Overall, a great place with a beautiful view that offers a gateway to pristine rainforest nature and sensational flora and fauna.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

How To Eat Amazing Food While Watching a Sunset Instead of Working at a Desk

Are you trudging through your workday right now? How does it feel to be sitting at a desk in a windowless office? You may be dreaming of a thrilling adventure overseas, but you're sure that your budget would never allow for an off-the-beaten-path trek through exotic destinations. The amazing truth is that anyone can afford a one-of-a-kind holiday with the South East Asia Geckos Adventures sale with 15 percent off a range of trips.

The Greatest Land You've Never Heard Of

Have you ever been on a wildlife cruise? Do you even know what a wildlife cruise is? You're going to find out when you visit Kota Kinabalu. The Malaysian capital is the perfect place to forget about your worries by throwing caution to the wind during an exciting exploration of the wilderness.

The first adventure you get to try during your visit to Malaysia is sampling some stingray. You get the chance to check out some museums to soak in a little culture before the real fun starts. Orangutans await you in Sepilok, and you could even see one of these amazing apes in the wild when you explore the Kinabatangan River. 

Sepilok_orang-utan_sanctuary
This tour of Malaysia is not for the faint of heart. You're going to end up hiking up a steep mountain over a stretch of two days, but the view from the top is worth the climb. How many people in your office can say that they got to the highest peak in Southeast Asia? Check out all the details here: The Greatest land You’ve Never Heard Of

Sun, Sand & Sticky Rice

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Sticky rice is a delicious staple that practically flows like water in Thailand. Get rid of your self-conscious self while you wade your way through delicious Thai cuisine. No one is going to notice you struggle with those chopsticks in the middle of the bustle that is Bangkok.

Rice isn't all that Thailand has to offer. You're going to get to see those beautiful, dangerous barracudas up close if you opt to scuba dive. Snorkeling is optional for those travelers who aren't quite ready to come face-to-face with a ferocious fish. If you want some awesome travel stories, have a look at the Sun, Sand & Sticky Rice tour.

A Land Before Time Travel

AngkorWat
Have you ever wished that you could go back in time to explore ancient ruins before they got ruined? Angkor lets you get a glimpse of what life was like in ancient times. The Cambodian region is full of breathtaking temples that you can explore for hours. These amazing relics have been expertly preserved to show you how temples really looked before the ravages of time turned them to dust.

Optional guided tours let you make your Cambodian experience something that you can write home about. You can explore cities on your own if you're an independent adventurer, but there are plenty of optional tours available to guide you through hidden gems. Organize your tour with Geckos Adventures today.

Koh Samui Beach
Are you stuck in the monotony of office life? Are you tired of the same old spring break parties in bars, clubs and restaurants you've been to dozens of times before? The exclusive offer that makes all of these trips and more possible for you is only available for a limited time. Book now to enjoy traveling across Southeast Asia in March or April. Now nothing is stopping you from getting away from it all while seeing the real treasures hidden in the alleys and shops of Southeast Asia.

Note: All the images in this article belong to Geckos Adventures.

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Tropical Fruits of Malaysia: Have you tasted them?

The tropical and equatorial weather of Malaysia, its rich rainfall and fertile soils gives it’s a rich spoil of fruits and ones that are so exotic that you feel like something is missing in your diet when you are unable to taste it anymore. And the best part is that most of these fruits are available all year around and the monsoon period is the period of rich hauls both in terms of numbers and variety.

A tropical fruit shop scene enroute Ipoh, Malaysia
I have always been pro fruits and hence whenever I am visiting Malaysia, I simply gorge on them. It is my way of staying healthy while traveling and staying cool in the tropical weather. Some of the famous fruits of Malaysia are the Mangosteen, Mango, Pomelo, Papaya, Banana, Rambutan, Longan, Guava and Pineapple. My personal favorites are the Mangosteen, Pomelo, Guava and Papaya. Cold Pomelo with some dried plum and salt is like my favorite way to forget the heat and the humidity. Even ice cold Guavas are nice. The Mangosteen, a seasonal fruit is a hot favorite with many for its succulent taste and its sweet flavors.

Tropical Fruits of Malaysia
Every season brings in different and interesting varieties that you are almost spoilt for choice every time you visit this tropical south east Asian country. Have you tasted any of these fruits during your trips to Malaysia? If yes, what is your favorite? If no, you need to know what you are missing and hence do try it out on your next trip to Malaysia, the fruit country of South East Asia.

Courtesy: Tourism Malaysia

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Where to find Vegetarian Food in Malaysia?


If you are a vegetarian and planning a trip to Malaysia, you will think hard about the places where you can find vegetarian food. If you ask me, vegetarianism as a concept is foreign to this country, but it is surprising to know that vegetarianism is very prevalent among locals. It is just that they like to eat their meat too along with the vegetable dishes. In my personal experiences, I have always struggled to find vegetarian food at top restaurants and hotels in Malaysia. All I end up finding is Indian vegetarian or continental vegetarian like pizzas, spaghetti, etc., both of which taste better in their respective countries of origin. But, I have never faced any trouble in finding vegetarian food at street stalls, mamak stalls or small restaurants (restoran).

Delicious local food of Malaysia
Most of these places either have the daily platter served out in front of you or you can choose your ingredients and design your dish. The best part about such places is that they are cheap, the food tastes very good and it has a local flavor to it. I would never go to Malaysia to eat Indian food or to eat Pizzas or a sandwich. No offense to the others, but when I travel, I like to experiment with the local foods all meals of the day. If you are a pure vegetarian, you can stick with the vegetables and if you can eat eggs, then your options go up. Most of the Malaysian style places offer rice as the staple food, while at Mamak’s (Malaysian Muslims of Indian origin), they offer Roti Canai too. One can eat Sayuran (vegetables) and Telur (Eggs) with either rice or Roti canai. My favorites to eat with rice are Terong (eggplant) in sweet and sour sauce, Sayuran Kumis (Cabbage and carrots in a soupy broth) and Sayuran Kacang (Stir fired French beans and carrots). If you feel like eating a spicy hot meal, you can ask for Sambal Blachan to mix with your rice or noodles.

And once you have finished your meal, you can wash it down with Teh Es Susu (Ice tea with milk), Teh O (Plain hot tea), Teh Aliyah (Hot milky tea) or Air Bandung (Sweet and cold refreshing drink. Now, ain’t that a lot of options for the vegetarian to taste in Malaysian food? And that too available at every small town and village of Malaysia.

Courtesy: I was invited on this trip by Tourism Malaysia to attend the Chinese New Year Open House at Taiping.

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In the Know — What to Expect on a Trip to America

If you’re after a holiday experience with a difference, the United States could just be the perfect destination for you. Each year, more than 60 million people head to this large, diverse country for their vacation, and it’s not hard to see why. From the dazzling neon of Las Vegas to the swamps of Florida, there’s plenty to see and do in the United States.

Where to go?
To make the most of your holiday, you have to choose the right destinations. You won’t have time to see all of the country, so target the best bits. One popular holiday spot is Florida, and these days it’s easy to get flights to Tampa and other Floridian cities. While you’re in the Sunshine State you can enjoy brash theme parks, sun-soaked beaches, animal-filled wetlands, bustling metropolises and more.

Across the country, San Francisco and Los Angeles are an experience to behold. Meanwhile, if you fancy getting off the traditional tourist track, visit California’s central coast. This stretch of land on the western seaboard boasts relaxed, low-key beach towns, fantastic scenery, sea lion colonies and much more. Also, by heading inland, you can reach the Paso Robles wine country.

If you want to experience something a little more tropical, make your way to the Hawaiian archipelago. The island of Lana‘i, with its quiet beaches, shipwrecks, water sports, plantation-style homes and rugged hiking trails is a particular highlight.

Of course, no round-up of American holiday destinations would be complete without a mention of New York. The Big Apple is crammed full of landmarks and attractions, including the Bronx Zoo, Central Park, Coney Island, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal and the Statue of Liberty.

Top travel tips Wherever you decide to visit in America, it pays off to bear some top tips in mind. For example, it’s typical to tip 20 per cent on top of bills in restaurants and bars. Taxi drivers and many other service providers also expect to receive similar percentages above and beyond the official charges. It’s considered rude not to stick to this system of gratuities.

It’s also important to think about how you’ll get around while you’re on your vacation. Public transport can be hit and miss, so it may well be necessary to hire a car. This will also give you greater freedom and flexibility — and a chance to embark upon the great American road trip! Thankfully, the price of gas in America is considerably cheaper than in Europe and many other parts of the world.

As long as you choose a suitable holiday destination and make sure you do your research so you know what to expect when you arrive, you can rest assured your trip to America will be one to remember for all the right reasons!

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Room with the Twin Tower view

Silver lights on the twin towers during the night, an alarm clock on nearby Maxwell tower in the night and the beautiful high rises of downtown Kuala Lumpur by day and night. Now that is what I call a view and I was lucky enough to enjoy this for one day and one night while I was staying at Room 2707 in the Prince Hotel and Residence in the Bukit Bintang area of downtown Kuala Lumpur.

Room with a view at Prince Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
I slept to this view, woke up to this view, worked to this view and worked out to this view. This was a first time for me and I made utmost use of this view by keeping the drapes always open. Since this place is on the 27th floor, the view was even more appealing as I got to see an altogether different perspective of the twin towers. If you are visiting KL soon, I would definitely recommend this room and the room number is 2707!!

Courtesy: I stayed here while on a invite from Tourism Malaysia to attend the Chinese New Year Open house at Taiping on Feb 08, 2014.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On the Open Road: Road-Tripping Along Route 66

Road trips are a national institution in the USA and a great way for foreign visitors to explore the country. The ultimate US road trip has to be Route 66, one of the most famous driving routes in the world. This historic byway traverses the country all the way from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California on the west coast. Eager as you’ll be to head out on to the open road, you should always sleep well before getting behind the wheel. There are plenty of hotels in Chicago where you can get some rest, then it’s keys in the ignition and away you go, traveling through a series of US states including Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

USA freeways

Ultimate Americana

For lovers of Americana Route 66 is the ultimate experience. Diners, motels and gas stations decorate the roadside, seemly frozen in the 1950s, and classic small towns appear on the horizon after miles of open road. A myriad of weird and wonderful roadside attractions also await you, from a huge blue whale basking in a pond to a tree filled with shoes. Not to mention the series of upended and crazily painted cars at the Cadillac Ranch.

Breath-Taking Landscapes
The route also winds through some of the most famous landscapes in the States, including the cowboy towns of the Wild West and prairies of Kansas. The route isn’t short on stunning natural landscapes either. Highlights include the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest National Park and Mojave Desert.

History and Culture
The route also has plenty to offer when it comes to exploring American history and culture. Known as the ‘mother road,’ 66 is an important part of US history as well as being ingrained in popular culture. On your trip you’ll encounter farmers and cowboys and have the opportunity to learn more about Native American culture. Further west you can learn about outlaws and fortune seekers in the gold rush towns.

Planning your Trip
Asian and other international visitors will need to be in possession of an International Driving Permit to take a road trip in the US. You need to apply for this in your home country and have both paper and cards parts with you to hire a car. Different states have different driving rules, so make sure you’re familiar with these before you set off.

Hiring a Car
Whether you want to go for something modest and economic or a classic vintage vehicle, it’s possible to rent a variety of cars to drive route 66. Because this is a popular route many companies allow you to pick up a car in Chicago and drop it in off in California at the end of your trip. Remember you’re going to be travelling in the vehicle for around three weeks, so you want something comfortable and weather proof. Route 66 has to be one of the best ways to experience ‘real’ America, both past and present. Is this a road trip that you would consider undertaking? And what would be your wheels of choice to do it in?

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Friday, February 07, 2014

Tourism Malaysia invites me to Chinese New Year Open House Event

After close to 6 months, I am back in the beautiful country of Malaysia and this time on an invite from Tourism Malaysia to participate in the Malaysia Open House celebration, a program that brings together people from all walks of life to celebrate Chinese New Year and foster unity and harmony of 1Malaysia. I am currently in a quiet town called Taiping that has a colonial feel to it. And this is where this event will be held tomorrow (Feb 8, 2014) amidst esteemed delegates from the government of Malaysia and other guests.

I arrived here this morning after a short drive from Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang area where I stayed the previous evening and night. I didn’t have much time at KL, but managed to squeeze in some time to explore the Twin Towers yet again and some of the malls of the Bukit Bintang area. I also got to taste some exotic tropical fruits on the way to Taiping.

The plan for today is to enjoy the oldest museum of Malaysia and also go on a night safari. Tomorrow is more an event day, which will allow me to see cultural performances, taste interesting local foods and meet like minded people.

After the event, I am headed to the Royal Belum rainforest park at Pulau Banding where I spend a couple of days visiting waterfalls, aboriginal villages, rafflesia sites, fish sanctuaries and more before returning to Kuala Lumpur for some small shopping. This is an area that all locals seem to rave about and I am very excited in visiting this tract of rainforest and spend some quality time in true nature.

This 5 day trip organized by Tourism Malaysia will let me explore a side of peninsular Malaysia that I haven’t seen before and one that is slightly off the beaten track especially for foreign tourists.

For this trip, I ended up getting myself a one year multiple entry visa to Malaysia and I hope to use this multiple entry visa properly in visiting as much of Malaysia as possible. Malaysia as its tag line goes is Truly Asia and I personally feel that it deserves many visits!!

I am hoping to click many pictures and find lots of stories for all you people. Do stay tuned for lots of interesting stories about the Chinese New Year Open house and other off beat destination stories from Malaysia.

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Saturday, February 01, 2014

What to Check before Renting a Car on Vacation

You are finally ready to take that long deserved family road trip vacation but you are going to need to rent a car. Before partaking in your road adventure, you want to make that the vehicle you’re renting fits all your needs.

Factors to consider before renting a car

Car Vacations
Needs Assessment.
This should be your first consideration. If you are flying somewhere and plan on doing some sight-seeing independently, then you need a car. A car allows you the freedom to pick where you want to go and on your own schedule. Although some package deals offer excursions for a nominal fee, you have to adhere to the tour company’s agenda. However, a car rental will provide you with the opportunity to plan out your vacation and sight-seeing destinations according to your own itinerary.

Car Selection. Nothing is more frustrating than arriving at the car rental company and realizing that the car you reserved in advance is too small. A common mistake amongst travellers is to pick a smaller car in hopes of saving some money; however this can result in major problems depending on the number of passengers and their accompanying luggage. When choosing a car, consider the age and size of the occupants that will be riding in the car, and the amount of luggage that you will need to transport from the airport to your accommodations. Keep in mind that the longer the vacation, the greater the amount of luggage so plan accordingly. Also, consider what kind of activities you will be doing: if you are planning on taking long trips from your base accommodations, a larger vehicle is more comfortable for travellers than being cramped into a compact car.

Finding the Deals. Some car rental companies’ offer a discount if you are travelling on certain airlines, employed by a specified company or association member such as CAA or other similar organizations. You can also search online for promotional deals advertised on selected travel sites or check the rental website to see if there is a discount for booking online. Compare rates from companies located directly in the airport versus those off-site such as Discount Car and Truck Rentals which are usually cheaper due to reduce service fees paid by the rental car company that are passed on to the consumer.

The Insurance Factor. Check with your current automobile insurance company and see what coverage you have that can be transferred to a rental car. Also, some credit cards offer limited coverage; contact the credit card company and inquire as to what insurance components are covered if you pay for the car rental on their credit card. Additionally, be sure to obtain a copy of the credit card agreement which will provide proof of the coverage they offer.

Get it in Writing. A common complaint with rental cars is that the final price never matches the advertised price. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering the total cost exceeds the price you were quoted and now you feel trapped into signing the agreement. Prior to your actual vacation and booking the car, ask the agent for a written quotation for the final cost of the car rental including insurance (if needed), taxes, service charges and fees. With this quotation, you will know exactly what you are renting, and at what price.

Check the Fine Print. Before signing on the dotted line, read the contract thoroughly for any restrictions that make apply. Restrictions to be aware of include limited travel range or mileage allowance, who can drive the vehicle and late drop off charges. Senior travellers should check to make sure there aren’t any maximum age restrictions and related service charges.

To improve your rental car experience, be sure to shop around for the best price and ask questions so you know exactly what you are paying and what you can expect.

About the Author: Riley Gladstone is a travelholic. When she is not traveling the world, she’s writing about her travel adventures. You can find more her travel tips on her blog, TripHole.com. The photo in this post is fully owned by Riley Gladstone, the author of this post.

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