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Friday, May 30, 2014

Travel Photo: Royal Opera House of Muscat

Most government buildings of Oman are pretty grand, but the royal opera house of Oman is opulence exemplified. The Sultan of Oman loves his opera performances and hence it comes as no surprise that he has really splurged to enjoy his passion along with his countrymen. I didn’t get a chance to see a live performance here, but did get to see the insides and outsides of this building at close quarters.

Royal Opera House, Muscat, Oman
This picture of the Royal Opera house was taken from the outside of this beautiful building. The outside itself is so well done up and maintained that many of us were joking that a lot of Indians would love to picnic with their families here. The insides wear an even more stunning look with its regal size and finish. I hope I get the opportunity to see a live opera performance here some day.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

10 Solid Tips to Market your Travel Blog

These days a lot of people across the world have taken to travel blogging to share their photographs and travel experiences with family and friends. But, a lot many of them remain completely hidden from the eyes of the internet. Well, to be honest, I faced similar hurdles when I first started blogging, but over the course of the last 5 years, I have listened to my readers, taken advice from other travel bloggers and have learnt from my mistakes. And today, I can say that I am not that hidden travel blog anymore.

If you wish to shed that ‘hidden travel blog’ tag and wish to be popular among the masses, do implement these 10 solid tips to market your travel blog. These tips come from the experience of my 5 year travel blogging learning curve.

1) Build your Brand
A successful travel blog needs a brand that the readers can connect to. For this to happen, you need to carve a niche area for yourself and stick to it. For me, it is adventure travel, budget travel, vegetarian good, wildlife holidays and unique cultures. Wherever I travel to and whatever I write about, the basic premise covers this niche as this niche is my passion. For others it might be history or temples or off beat destinations. Whatever it is, you definitely need to identify your area to have a loyal reader base. You cannot expect to be like a newspaper and cover all topics.

Your blog messaging should be in line with your niche area. Accordingly, design your logo and identify your domain name. After all, the logo and your domain name are like your face and name.

2) Have a Good Social Media Footprint
For a travel blogger who has no advertising budget, social media is the king. These days getting on to social media is like a no brainer. Everyone knows how important social media is and its rich capabilities. After all, your friends and future followers will most likely be on these social channels and what better way than to reach out to them.

It is imperative that every travel blogger has a good social media footprint that spans across Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, You Tube and Instagram. Not only does this allow your content to go viral at times, it also helps in building a loyal social media follower base who identify with your blog. But, do remember that the key to building a good social media footprint is by being regular and by engaging with your fans.

3) Be an Integral Part of the Travel Blogosphere
Every industry has its network. Likewise, the travel blogging industry also has its own networks. Do join them and get to know the other travel bloggers. This could be on a Facebook group or a Twitter Hashtag. Put your hand up and introduce yourself to other travel blogs. While there is healthy competition among travel blogs, I have got a lot of my recognition due to other travel bloggers. Everyone likes to share the love. Learn from top travel bloggers. Once you get to know a travel blogger, you can exchange guest posts with each other. This gives you access to a whole new reader base.

Also, see if you can find another travel blogger with similar interests and collaborate with them. You can travel together, launch new ideas and much more.

Remember this adage, if you are unknown to your own breed, you will definitely remain unknown to the world.

4) Attend Travel Blogging Events
Now that you are a part of the travel blogosphere and people relate to your blog, you should take it a step further and attend travel blogging conferences and seminars. You can simply participate and learn the tricks of the trade or be a speaker and share your knowledge, travel experiences, tips, stories and photographs with others.

Some travel blogging events like the international TBEX have immense potential. But, at the same time so does your local ones as that is where most of your readers are. Some of these events are paid ones, but you should look at it as an investment that will pay in the long term.

Do remember to have a well designed business card before you go attending this events.

5) Get Featured in Online and Print Media
It is a dream for all travel bloggers to be featured in the media. But, this doesn’t come easy. But, once it comes, it has the potential to increase your reader base multi fold. Plus, it helps improve your overall blog credibility.

There are many ways to this:
- Send in a good pitch to the editor of a travel magazine or newspaper and try to write an article for them.

- You can also contribute your photographs to magazines and dailies.

-  Participate in contests. In all probability, this might lead to some media exposure.

- Never shy away from giving an interview. There are a lot of people interested in knowing more about you.

And if you are successful in getting featured, do broadcast it to your readers across your many channels.

6) Treat your Blog like a Website
When it comes to unbiased and impartial content, people head to blogs and when it comes to finding user friendly and navigable content, people move to the top travel websites. Why can’t travel blogs offer the best of both worlds. And we all know that our blog (or website) is our most important marketing tool.

For this very reason, I request travel bloggers to treat their blog like a good website and implement the following on their blog : User Friendly Navigation and Search, Clutter Free User Interface, Standard Font and Color Palette across the site, Easy Access to Rich Media, Social Media Integration and Faster Site Loading.

7) Write Engaging Content
 

You can implement all these tips properly, but if you don’t have good content on your blog, people will stop coming to your blog to read or see it. There are 2 basic premises to writing engaging content. First, your passion needs to come out through that article and second, your reader has to connect with it. If these two premises are on track, then your content is bound to be popular.

And we all know that a photograph speaks a thousand words and a video speaks a million. Hence, having rich media in your article is very much recommended.

If you are ever in doubt about what to write, do ask your readers for ideas and then proceed accordingly. And try and write unique content and that too periodically.

8) Optimize your Blog for the Search Engine
The whole world knows the power of Google. All of us turn to Google for answers to our questions and you would be stupid if you didn’t expect your prospective readers to do so. You might have the most interesting content, but if readers don’t find it on Google, your passive marketing efforts are incomplete.

It is essential that you invest as much time, effort and money in optimizing your blog for the search engine as you would in active marketing. Sometimes, the returns from passive marketing are much higher than active marketing. For you be successful in your search engine optimization efforts, you need to look at the following: Unique content, clean template, Title Tags, Meta Tags, Keywords and other good stuff. If you do not understand all this, either head to Google or a specialist for answers.

9) Help your Readers

Your blog is popular because of your readers. Your readers are your customers. Treat them like your customers. These readers come to your blog because they find your content the most appropriate and the most interesting on the whole web. And in all probability, they will have questions, which they might ask through comments and email. You have to learn to respond promptly and unselfishly to these questions.

Sometimes, your happy reader will end up doing a lot of free marketing for you. Never miss out on such kindness.

10) Travel More
Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere Travel Blog, one of the top travel bloggers on the planet and one who has been traveling round the world non-stop since 2007 says that for a travel blogger to be successful, they have to make travel a habit. I agree with his thoughts.

Your readers come to your blog because they connect with your travel style and with your niche areas under the world of travel. And they are interested in connecting more with you on such areas. For this to happen, you have to travel more. I am not saying that you have to travel permanently, but you should try to travel at least 3 months in a year (all inclusive).

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Park Inn by Radisson: Great 4 Star Property in Muscat

On my recent trip to Muscat, the capital city of Oman, I stayed at the Park Inn by Radisson Muscat. This is a 4 star property that is comfortably located in the heart of the city. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying 3 days and 2 nights here.

1) This is a very comfortable business friendly 4 star hotel that is located right in the heart of Muscat. And the costs are very affordable at about USD 125 for their entry level rooms.

2) The hotel is located only about 15 minutes from the airport and about 30 minutes from the Corniche area and the central business district.

Roof top swimming pool of Park Inn by Radisson Muscat
3) There is a lot of construction happening around the hotel, so there might not be eye catching views all around, but one can get good views of Muscat’s wide open spaces from their roof top bar.

4) They are one of the few premium places to have a bar license and have a excellent bar and lounge that is located around the roof top swimming pool.

5) The rooms in this hotel are not that big, but they have all the amenities of a good business class 4 star hotel.

6) The hotel is one of the few hotels in Muscat to have blazing fast internet.

Muscat view from Park Inn hotel
7) Park Inn has 2 in-house restaurants. One of them specializes in steaks. The food is of good quality, though there is nothing exceptional about it.

8) The staff are very customer oriented, but their front desk face some English language issues and are slow when they come up against multiple customers.

9) The hotel is located next to shopping malls and is not far away from most of Muscat’s top tourist attractions like Sultan Qaboos mosque, the Sultan’s palace and much more.

Whether you are a business or leisure traveler, if you are looking for a good 4 star hotel in Muscat, you should give this place a try. I would love to stay here again.

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Travel Laptop: Handy Tips to Choose that Perfect One!

No traveler likes to lug around a heavy laptop in their backpack and end up massaging their sore shoulders. We don’t like losing our expensive gadgets either to a thief or to inclement weather. We want our laptops to have long battery life like tablets so that we can happily see one or two movies while we are in a train or bus. Professionals on the move (writers, journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers, etc.) always rue the fact that they don’t have that extra processing power to edit their photos and/or videos.

Everyone is looking for that small laptop that is cheap, has enough processing and memory power, has the latest tech specs, is light, is rugged and has long lasting battery life. I wish we could find such an ideal laptop in the current market that is full of diverse choices. 
 
Choosing the right laptop for your travels is of paramount importance. The laptop should be value for money and it should suit your travel requirement. Below are handy tips that you should keep in mind before choosing your travel laptop. It doesn’t matter whether you are a business traveler, a leisure traveler, a travel blogger/writer, a travel photographer or a person who works online to make his money, these tips and questions will help you address your requirements properly and help you nail on the right travel device for you.

Note: I haven’t mentioned the best laptops here as devices keep changing in the market . However, if you use these tips properly, you will easily find the best fit for you.

1) Laptop versus Tablet
You might be wondering how did a tablet come into this laptop discussion. Well, the reason it features here is due to the fact that tablets are very convenient and fiercely popular. If you need your device to make Skype calls, check your emails, browse the internet, play games, watch movies and/or keep a diary, I would recommend you opt for a tablet with or without a small Bluetooth keyboard. If you need your travel device to do more, go for a laptop.

Tip: Figure out your needs first and then choose your travel device (laptop or tablet) accordingly.

2) Windows versus Mac?
If you are a power Windows user like me, you will opt for a Windows based laptop. If you are a loyal Apple user, you will go for the Mac OS. Macbooks are extremely popular with photographers, videographers and people who need to use it for creative work. If you don’t have a preference for any operating system, you can ignore this question and see the other areas where the device fits your parameters. Both operating systems offer good value for money. If going for Windows, opt for Windows 8.1 as it is drains less power when compared to Windows 7. Mac based laptops are a bit on the pricier side, but come with good quality.

Tip: Both OS are good. Find your comfort zone.

3) Cost
Cost plays a very important aspect in making the right decision. The laptop with all the specs costs a lot and the ones that are cheap may not have the required power for your kind of work. Also, the more expensive the laptop, the more pain it will cause when you lose it to a thief, a hot cup of coffee or that bad weather.

Tip: You should land a good laptop in the price range of USD 400 to 600 unless you are looking at the Apple range in which case you will spend more. I would keep the price number on the top of the laptop discussion menu.

4) Laptop Weight
I have carried heavy and light laptops during my travel days and my shoulder and back seem to prefer the light one. I am sure everyone does the same. But, the problem is that the light laptop either costs more due to superior components or weighs lighter because it has lesser capability. It sounds like a cache 22, but you should be able to find a good light one if you look hard.

Tip: Look for something in the range of 1 kilogram. You can keep a tolerance of +20%.

5) Screen Size
Small screens make laptops lighter, but they also make it difficult to type especially those with big hands. But, there is not much that can be done here. Small is the way to go for travel as there is only so much we can fit into our travel packs.

Tip: Opt for something in between 10 inch to 11.6 inch in screen size.  

6) Battery Life
A 10 hour battery backup is what we would all like, but let’s not be too greedy. I would be happy if I got through 2 full movies and a little bit leftover for some browsing and word processing. Powerful batteries also increase the weight of your laptop.

Tip: A travel laptop should get a minimum of 5 hours of battery backup on a full charge. Anything less and you can safely ignore it.

7) Processor
The processor is one of the more important components of the laptop and can make or break your choice. The latest processors like Intel’s i7 are very good, but will dent a big hole in your pocket. The Intel Celeron and Pentium processors are alright for very basic use, but then I would stay away from them as they are not scalable for future needs. The Intel Haswell technology and equivalent on the AMD stack are worth looking into as these 4th generation Intel processors give much battery life for the same performance.

Tip: Go for Core i3 or above (and equivalent on the AMD stack) and opt for the Haswell technology.

8) RAM
These days most operating systems, apps and programs are memory intensive. Hence, there is a much perceived need for more memory power. At the same time, those who are not hard core gamers or into photo/video editing, don’t need excessive memory.

Tip: These days, a minimum of 4GB RAM is required. Editing work will need at least 8GB of RAM if not more.

9) Hard Disk
Traditionally, hard disks led to more weight, more sound and more heat. But, that is not the case with the latest stable of solid state drives (SSD). These are lighter, faster and generate much lesser speed. But, they cost much more. In terms of hard disk space, I would go for at least 500 GB, but 256 GB is also doable.

Tip: Opt for SSD if you can and at least 256 GB of space.

10) Ruggedness
I put my travel laptop in my backpack along with my clothes and with my other gear. It sees dust, salt air, extreme temperatures, bad road conditions, small spills and much more. In a nutshell, I my style of travel needs rugged laptops. Apple laptops have been known to be good, but I would not put them in the rugged category, especially keeping in mind their product and service costs. Based on past and current usage, I can say Dell laptops and Asus to a certain degree make very sturdy laptops.

Tip: Touch and feel the construction, hinges, keyboard and screen before you buy your laptop. A travel laptop should be very rugged. Try not to compromise on this aspect.

11) Touch versus Non-Touch
In this case, I would recommend going with the technology flow, which means I am in favor of touch. Win 8.1 is touch oriented and offers superior features to its non-touch predecessor. And a touch laptop can also be a good extension of your tablet.

Tip: Go for Touch

12) Ultrabook, Chromebook, Netbook
Laptop manufacturers have coined many terms such as Ultrabook, Chromebook, Netbooks, etc. Ultrabooks are very powerful and also very expensive. Netbooks are cheap, but are low on processing power and performance. I would recommend that you ignore these names and instead focus on the minute details as that would give you much better clarity.

Tip: Ignore manufacturer names or categories and focus on the above categories

13) International Warranty and Service
If you take your laptop on international trips, then do ensure that your manufacturer offers international warranty and service. This will reduce your headaches in case your laptop stops working while you are traveling.

Tip: Opt for international warranty and may be opt for an extended warranty if your laptop is expensive or if you need to stay connected all the time.

14) Adapter or Charger for your Laptop
A lot of us forget about our laptop charger, but it is a very important component that needs to be lugged around. Personally, I don’t prefer those big, bulky chargers. What is the point of buying a 1 kilogram laptop if the charger weighs an additional 500 grams.

Tip: Look for Laptops that have chargers as light as cellphone chargers.

Apart from the above pointers, do ensure that your device has USB 3.0 ports (for faster data transfer), a SD card slot (so that you can easily copy photos and videos from your camera) and a HDMI port (so that you can project your photos and videos on your friend’s HD TV.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Lemon Nana: My Favorite Drink of Oman

The Appy Fizz advertisement in India calls itself the ‘cool drink to hang out with’. After tasting the lemon nana on my recent trip to Oman, Appy Fizz is long forgotten and the cool drink to hang out with is the Lemon Nana, one of the most refreshing drinks in the Middle East. This natural drink made from crushed mint leaves, lemon juice, crushed ice, water and honey is like the perfect summer drink to have on a hot middle eastern afternoon.

Lemon Nana - a refreshing summer drink
Some locals have also known to add cucumber slices to this drink to increase its quenching capabilities. If you have this drink once, you are bound to have it on every hot afternoon. Such, is its its capability to reinvigorate you that you will forget the oppressive heat and rather become brave enough to face it. Though this drink is native to the Middle East, I would recommend everyone living in hot conditions to experiment with the ingredients and make this fabulous drink. Remember, the ideal composition is less mint, medium honey and lots of concentrated lemon juice and no sugar. Let me know how it is once you have made and given it a try.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mae Hong Son: The Land of 1864 Curves

Mae Hong Son! This north west district and city of Thailand has a lot of natural riches and tourist sights. Most of the tourists to Thailand stop their northern exploration with Chiang Mai, but that is where the journey to Mae Hong Son begins. If you yearn for pristine nature, lovely local people, fantastic forests, a myriad of tribal settlements, great adventure and lots of outdoor activities, then read on and know more about this mountainous region of Thailand.

Mae Hong Son Valley during sunset
The most popular way to explore the region of Mae Hong Son is by going on the Mae Hong Son loop. This route takes you through the cultural hub of Chiang Mai, the high and green Doi Inthanon national park, the scenic town of Mae Sariang, the charming province of Mae Hong Son, the insane cave system of Seppong and the lovely paddy fields of Pai.

Inside the beautiful Thampla Forest park near Mae Hong Son, Thailand
A lot of motorcycle enthusiasts prefer this route and its umpteen curves. If I am right, this is the most popular motorcycling route in Thailand. It is not just the motorcyclists, but even car and SUV owners seem to like driving on this scenic route. This second half of the loop from Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai via Pai has a total of 1,864 curves and that is why Mae Hong Son, which is at the far end of this loop is fondly referred to as the ‘Land of 1864 curves’ and thus the title of my post.

The Myanmar style Wat Chong Klang of Mae Hong Son, Thailand
While one can easily take many pit stops on the way to Mae Hong Son and back, the idea of this post is to focus on the rich tourism opportunities in and around Mae Hong Son, the largest town on this loop. Well, lets set the right precedent. The reason I like Mae Hong Son the most is because of its rich association with neighboring Myanmar and this can be seen in its temple architecture, buildings, religion, people and more.

Dense Tropical forests of Mae Hong Son area, Thailand
The other thing that Mae Hong Son is really famous for is its diverse set of people. Due to its proximity to Burma, it has an interesting mix of Burmese, Shan, Thai and many hill tribe groups that include Black Karen, Red Karen, Long Necked Karen, Chinese Tribe, Akha and much more. The remote location of Mae Hong Son and its heady mix of people make it a top tourist attraction.

Baan Nai Sai - The long necked Karen village near Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Mae Hong Son is actually a very green valley that is surrounded by mountains and the border of Myanmar is to its west. Unlike the rest of Thailand, this place sees cold winters and warm summers. The entire town is built around the Nong Jong Kham Lake and temple. So, technically, this becomes like the heart of the city. All the guest houses and restaurants are located around this lake and the Burmese styled temples.

The Myanmar style Wat Chong Klang of Mae Hong Son, Thailand
It is during the evening hours that this entire area comes alive to sell souvenirs, local delicacies, handicrafts, precious stones and handicrafts. Local hill tribes come to this evening market and set up their stalls. I stayed in Mae Hong Son for 7 days and nights and this evening market was my go to place every evening.This is where you will get to appreciate the easy going culture of the people of Mae Hong Son.

Wat Phai Doi that overlooks Mae Hong Son
During the day, one can visit the beautiful Nong Jong Kham temple overlooking the lake and admire its rich Burmese history and heritage. Either during the sunrise hours or the sunset hours, one can climb up to the Wat Doi Kong Mu temple and see spectacular views of the city below. The Wat Doi Kong Mu temple showcases Burmese architecture too.

Long Necked Karen smiles for the camera
But, the main attraction around Mae Hong Son is visiting the remote hill tribe villages. This includes trekking in the green forests and mountains to these remote tribal villages and then spending time with the hill tribes in their village before moving forward to the next village on the next day. This form of rural tourism is one of Mae Hong Son’s top tourist buys.

Pha Sua Waterfall near Mae Hong Son, Thailand
In terms of scenic sights, the outskirts of Mae Hong Son boast of the multi-tiered Pha Sua waterfall, Tham Pla fish cave, natural hot water geysers and Tham Lod, the coffin cave in the Soppong area. Out of these, the Tham Pla fish cave is very popular with the local Thai tourists due to deep spiritual beliefs. All these sights can be either explored on a motorcycle or by car. Buses do take you near the destination, but last mile connectivity options are limited.

Karen tribal woman from near Mae Hong Son
So, you can see that the Land of 1864 curves is blessed in plenty. Do give it a try the next time you visit Thailand. You can either take a bus from Chiang Mai, rent a motorcycle or hire a car to explore the entire Mae Hong Son loop.

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The View at Hail Al Shas, Oman: A Scenic Outpost for exploring Nizwa and Jabal Shams

When most of us think of Oman, we visualize deserts, hot weather and dry landscapes. Even I had similar pre conceived notions in my head when I visited this beautiful country for the first time. Most of the country stayed true to my pre-conceived notions, but when I visited the scenic property of ‘The View’ at Hail Al Shas, all such notions flew out of the window as I saw a Oman that had rain, flash floods, mountainous dirt tracks and finally a fairly nippy night in the peak summer months. I was lucky to see all this when I stayed at ‘The View’ on my recent trip. The below review is based on my recent experience of staying here for a night.

1) This place has stunning setting. Situated on the edge of a cliff and surrounded by mountains, this property offers great views of the Al Hamra town situated below. The view is so good that you feel like waking early in the morning and see the scene just around sunrise.

2) This place is just about 30 minutes from Nizwa and hence if you are planning on exploring this cultural capital of Oman, then ‘The View’ can be a great off beat accommodation option as it offers the best of both worlds.

The Scenic oasis town of Al Hamra in Oman
3) Jabreen castle, Bahla Fort, Al Hoota Caves and Jabal Shams are all easily accessible from here.

4) All the rooms in this property allow the visitors to enjoy its special views. They are either superior rooms or suites.

5) The place has a nice swimming pool overlooking the view.

6) The common dining area is situated on cliff’s edge and provides one of the best views of the Al Hamra town below. Food is served in buffet style and is a mix of middle eastern, continental and Indian.

Early morning view of Al Hamra from the View, Oman
7) The people running the place are extremely friendly and are really into pleasing their customers.

8) The rooms are nothing fancy, but come with all the modern luxuries that one will find in a 4 star hotel.

If you are one of those types, who likes a off beat hotel that is away from the hustle and bustle, but is not too far, then you should definitely look at this place. And definitely so if you are a star gazer. I would love to visit this place again.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Out In the Cold: Preparing for a Fun Snowy Holiday in Lapland

Think of places where to go and enjoy plenty of snow and Lapland holidays in 2014 might be on your mind. A little planning and preparation will go a long way to making sure you have the best possible holiday experiences, whether you’re going snowboarding, sleigh riding or just taking photos of the Northern Lights.

For the Lapps, snow is part of their daily life, and they’re well-equipped to cope with it. Your travel company may offer you padded overalls, gloves and hats to wear as an outer layer when you’re taking part in particular activities, but you’ll need to have two or three layers to wear underneath. When thinking about your packing, consider a backpack, perhaps one which comes with a detachable daypack, as a wheeled case can be quite difficult to maneuver in snow.

Avoid garments made of cotton, since they absorb moisture. Wool is excellent for inner layers, as it’s very warm and non-absorbent. You will have to wear four layers of clothing. For instance, you should put on two layers of thermal underwear, which should be of hi-tech fabric, wool or silk; a heavy-weight wool sweater or a fleece top; and lastly, your jacket.

Fleece trousers, topped off by ski-pants, will keep the lower half of your body warm and dry, and a waterproof but breathable padded jacket with a hood is essential. Check the label, which will give you all the technological information you need. One rated 10000+ is best. Down-filled jackets are an excellent choice because down is warm and light but you can you compress it easily for packing.

Boots must be sturdy, warm and waterproof. Buy a size larger than you need to leave room for thick thermal socks, or a foot-warmer pad. Make sure you ‘wear them in’ before your trip. Mittens are warmer than gloves, as they allow warm air to circulate around the fingers. A knitted ‘beanie’ hat is a good choice.

The Lapland air and temperatures can dry up the skin, causing it to become sore and cracked. Use a good moisturizer, body lotion or oil, and lip balm. If your friends want to laugh, let them: they’re the ones that will have the sore lips afterwards!

Finally, for those precious memories of Lapland, bring a powerful, compact camera. You never know when you might bump into Santa. The chances are you’ll be photographing the Northern Lights, and if so, using a long exposure, you’ll also require a lightweight tripod, or your pictures will come out blurred. Take plenty of batteries, as they become depleted quickly in the cold, and don't forget a spare memory card. Oh, and enjoy your trip!

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Portraits of Long Necked Tribal Women from Baan Noi Soi, Thailand

This tribe is originally from Myanmar (Burma), but due to the army rule in their country and due to the fact that they were struggling to make a living, they migrated to neighboring Thailand. Here, they live as refugees in the north west border of Thailand. They eke out a living by doing odd manual labor jobs and by doing some basic agriculture where possible.

An Elderly Long Necked Karen Tribal Women from Thailand
They are the Karen tribe of Burma and they are famous for their women and their long necks. The Karen men look like normal people donning normal clothes and doing normal jobs. But, their women use brass rings to elongate their necks. This is a very rare sight and these women use these heavy (some of them are 4-6 kilograms) brass rings because they believe that the longer their neck, the prettier they look.

Long Necked Karen Woman from a village near Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Some years back, a lot of tribal women used to wear these rings, but these days, only a very few wear it to generate some income from the tourists who come to see them. Today, these tribal women have understood that long necks also mean frail necks and have stopped their girl children from continuing the tradition. Instead, they try and give them regular education.

Long Necked Karen Women at Ban Nai Soi village near Mae Hong Son, Thailand
If you are in Thailand and wish to see them in person, head to some of the villages to the north of Mae Hong Son in Northern Thailand. Many of these villages along the Myanmar border are long necked Karen villages and offer facilities for tourists to interact with these women. I went to Baan Noi Soi village to see these tribal women and had to pay 200 THB to explore their village, talk to the women and take their photographs. This money is used to supplement the income of this village and is spent in getting food supplies and reading material.

Long Necked Karen woman with the scarves woven by her
If you wish to help this community a bit more, then you can buy some of the handicrafts made by them. These handicrafts include hand woven cotton scarves, long necked Karen statues as souvenirs and other interesting handicrafts.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Al Sawadi Beach Resort and Spa: Gateway to the Damaniyat Islands of Oman

If the coral reefs and the marine life of Damaniyat Islands is in your radar, then your closest base has to be Al Sawadi at the coastal fringes of Oman. And the best property in Al Sawadi is the Al Sawadi Beach Resort and Spa. On my recent trip to Oman, I stayed here for 2 days and 1 night while exploring the Damaniyat Islands and the below review is based on this recent experience of mine.

Al Sawadi Beach Resort - Gateway to Damniyat Islands, Oman
1) This beach property holds all permits to go to Damaniyat Islands. So, if you stay here, you need not worry about your permits to Damaniyat Islands.

2) They hold rights to the only scuba diving outfit in this region. So, if your interests are scuba diving and snorkeling trips, then this place would be your ideal option. You can also do your certification here. They are a SSI certified outfit.

3) The place has great location, but the property is quite dated and hence one can find rooms to be pretty worn out at places.

4) Customer service is in this place is a bit slow and leaves a lot to be desired.

5) Food is served at a common dining hall and it is in buffet style. Food is of good quality, though nothing is exceptional. The spread is good though.

6) In the entire property, internet is available only at the reception area.

The Beach at Al Sawadi, Oman
7) Every room is given access to a beach towel.

8) The Al Sawadi beach is alright and one can swim in its waters, but for the best experience, head to Damaniyat Islands.

9) The resort also has a nice swimming pool located next to the bar.

Overall, the place has great location, can do with some repairs and an overall lift in quality. If you seek some luxury while going to Damaniyat Islands, this is your best option as they have monopoly here.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Crossing the Canada/U.S. Border With Your Pet This Summer

Whether he’s riding shotgun, sleeping in the back seat or dragging his head out the window, a road trip is just better with your pet in tow. And if you’re like many other Canadians, you may be crossing the Canada/United States of America border this summer in search of amusement parks, beach vacations or other adventures south of the border -- with Fido by your side.

Before you grab your pet’s bed, a couple of toys and a leash and head on your way, there are a few more steps you’ll want to take to make your time crossing the border as short and painless as possible.

Bringing Fido Into the U.S. The United States is very welcoming to healthy, rabies-free pets, so as long as you do your research and have your paperwork prepared, your border experience will be relatively easy.

- The one document you need to cross the United States border with your pet is a valid rabies vaccination certificate. The vaccination must have taken place at least 30 days before entering the country, and the certificate should display the vaccination’s expiration date. If no expiration date is on the certificate, the date of the vaccination must be within 12 months. To avoid confusion, make sure the certificate is in English or it has been translated.

- If you’ve just adopted a puppy, and he’s less than three-months old, your pet may need to remain in confinement (at your home or a place of your choice) until your pet is vaccinated and 30 days have passed since that vaccination. If your pet falls into this category, you’ll need to sign a Notice to Owners and Importers of Dogs form that will be sent to the health department to ensure your pet’s vaccination does take place.

- Although Hawaii and Guam have the same rabies vaccination requirements as the U.S., they have additional quarantine requirements, so it’s important to do a little extra research when entering those territories.

Bringing Him Back Home to Canada
Bringing your dog or cat back across the border requires the same paperwork as entering the United States (under most circumstances), so if you follow a few simple steps, you’ll be back home with your pet in no time.

- If your pet is less than eight-months old, he will require a signed veterinary certificate of health. Although you don’t need this form to cross into the U.S., your puppy or kitten will need it to get back into Canada.

- Canada does not quarantine domestic dogs or cats, and they don’t require a confinement period after the rabies vaccination is given.

- Your pet’s rabies vaccination certificate must be written in English or French and contain a signature from a licensed veterinarian, the identity of the animal, the date of their rabies vaccination, the serial number of the vaccine as well as the expiration date of the vaccine. If no expiration date is given -- like the United States -- it will be assumed that the vaccine is valid for 12 months.

- If your pet does not have a rabies vaccination certificate when crossing the border, you’ll be required to get him or her vaccinated and provide that vaccination certificate to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Pet lovers know that having a furry friend by your side on vacation can make all the difference, and with most dogs and cats requiring only a rabies vaccination certificate to cross the Canada/U.S. border, it’s not as complicated as you may have thought.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, learning new cultures and surfing new waves.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to keep up with the World Cup when traveling

Out of the country for the World Cup? Having nightmares about missing the action? Unless you’re planning a summer break to North Korea there’s no need to worry as living in the age of the internet means you can follow every kick of the ball from even the most remote locations. Here we take a look at some of the easiest ways to ensure that your summer tan doesn't hamper your social life forever!

TV
Wikipedia provides a helpful list of which networks will be broadcasting the World Cup. Rights have been assigned in almost every country imaginable, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe so as long as you’re near a TV you should be able to sneak off and catch a game.

Kick off times are generally either at 1PM, 4PM or 6PM (Brazilian time) but make sure to take account of your time zones. Luckily for the viewing public, afternoon kick offs mean that the games should be on during waking hours for America, Europe, Africa and even parts of Asia, albeit at punishingly early hours.

Twitter

Love it or loathe it the enormously popular social network will be abuzz for the entire two weeks of the finals. Every goal, save, mistake and quote will bounce around the Twitterverse and the website must surely be gearing up for its most active period ever.

All major media outlets will also have a Twitter presence, so even if you don’t want to learn the latest from hastily assembled and oh-so-funny memes it may well be the best place to get live updates.

Betting sites

Bookmakers are beginning to understand the value of in depth World Cup coverage, as Coral’s shiny new website shows. In addition to previews, match reports and analysis they’ll also be offering a variety of specials throughout the tournament. If you enjoy a flutter on the football then Coral offer a one stop shop for all your World Cup needs.

Newspapers

Even if your foreign language skills extend as far as ordering a beer and asking directions to the toilet, you can still keep up to date through newspapers. Many newsagents, especially in tourist hot spots, will carry major foreign language newspapers; which can be expected to devote vast sections to World Cup news and analysis. Don’t expect your copy to be hot off the press though, most of the time you’ll be getting yesterday’s edition.

Wherever you’re going this summer, the world’s favorite football tournament will never be far behind. If you want to follow the action from a far flung country the chances are it won’t be a problem. Make sure to find some good news sites, a newsagent and hopefully a sports bar and you won’t miss a thing.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

7 Highly Essential Rules for Renting a Car

Life is probably already stressful enough for you if you're looking to rent a car. Perhaps your car is in the shop, or maybe you're planning a huge vacation and overwhelmed by the planning process. You could be one of the 54.7 percent of people who request a car rental on a business trip. No matter your reason for renting a car, you can help the process run smoother by following these rules for renting one.

1. Shop Around
The first thing you should do when you know you'll need a car rental is to compare different companies in the area. Check online for rates, models, and discounts, and search for reviews on the particular car rental company. With this information, you can decide on the cheapest and most convenient company for a successful and stress-free trip.

There are plenty of great places to get estimate prices on car rentals, like CarRentals.com. Whether you are going to a comparison website or checking out the rental company's website before you arrive, be sure to always get an estimate before walking in the door. Most importantly, allow yourself time to compare companies so that you're not searching the web on the way to the lot to help you make a more informed decision.

2. Make Arrangements Beforehand

Sometimes there's no predicting when you'll need a car rental, such as if your car breaks down and you need an emergency replacement while it's being repaired. However, if you know ahead of time that you'll need a car, such as if you're flying for a family vacation or a business trip, it's important that you reserve your rental car before you depart for your trip. This offers several advantages. - You can often get a discounted rate if you book your rental a week or more ahead of time. - You'll know that there's a car waiting for you, so you won't have to settle with the last pick or run around town trying to track down a rental car. - Booking early allows you more flexibility to choose the car you want at the most affordable price.

3. Consider the Vehicle

If you're booking in advance, you'll have plenty of options to choose from, but the key with so many choices is that you have to consider which car you want to drive and choose the best option for your trip needs. One of the first things to consider is the size of the vehicle. If you have a large group, you have to make sure you have enough room for people and luggage.

You should also look at fuel economy to help you save on gas during your trip. Other factors to look at include safety features, technology, and reliability. In addition, the type of car for rent can influence the price so make sure to compare prices before settling on a specific vehicle.

4. Confirm You Have Insurance
One common mistake people make with car rentals is that they overlook insurance. First, confirm with your primary insurance provider whether your policy covers rental cars. Even if you know your insurance policy covers rental cars, make sure you understand the parameters of the coverage. For example, your insurance may not cover vehicles when you rent internationally, or there may be additional restrictions on your policy.

If your primary insurance provider doesn't cover rental cars, the rental company will likely offer you insurance. At this point, take it. Since it's not your car, something is bound to go wrong. And if you don't have insurance to cover it, the cost of damages will come out of your own pocket.

5. Understand Extra Fees
When you rent a car, you're generally charged an initial fee plus a certain amount for every mile you drive. However, there are several extra fees that come along with renting a car that you should understand before signing anything. These types of fees and the costs will vary depending on the company you rent from, but some common things that could add extra costs to your bill include: - Adding an extra driver to the agreement. - Returning the car late. - Damaging the car in any way. - Driving out-of-state. - Renting additional items such as a GPS or a car seat. - Returning the car with an empty gas tank. For more information on extra fees, check out this article that explains more about hidden costs.

6. Rent Longer Than You Need
It doesn't sound like you would want to rent a car longer than you need it, but it could actually pay off. The New York Times explains that if you plan on returning your car on Friday morning but you extend the length of the agreement by a few hours, you could end up paying the weekend price for the vehicle, meaning you'll drive it at a discounted rate.

But it's not just this money-saving strategy that can make this idea pay off. In the world of traveling, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Give yourself a bit of extra time in case you have to deal with traffic or other issues. This will help you avoid charges for returning the car late. However, make sure you read the fine-print in case there are any charges associated with returning the car too early.

7. Prepay for the Vehicle
You could qualify for large discounts, sometimes up to 20 percent, if you prepay for your vehicle when you book it. This also leaves you with peace of mind knowing that your car will be waiting for you and not already rented out to someone else. But be careful. If you don't show up or if you cancel your reservation, you may have to charge extra fees, and the amount you paid isn't usually refundable. If you're sure you'll be there, though, it's a great idea to opt for this discounted option.

As you follow these tips, you can ensure that the car rental process will run smoother, leaving you one less thing to worry about on your travels. For more information about renting a car, check out this additional information before you rent.

About the Author: Abigail Clark is an up-and-coming freelance writer. She graduated from The University of South Florida with a bachelors in marketing, minoring in journalism. When she isn’t up to her neck in coupons she is enjoying the outdoors fishing. She loves doing reviews for technology, home products and beauty products. If you would like her to do a review for you look her up on twitter @downtownabby17.

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Explore Scotland during the Games

Have you been planning a holiday to Scotland? If yes, then you have double reason to visit the land of the Loch ness monster as this July the Commonwealth games is moving to Glasgow. The Commonwealth games offers the perfect excuse to visit Scotland and discover its many and varied attractions. And even if you are not planning to attend the Commonwealth Games, you can still holiday royally in Scotland and enjoy everything from wonderful walks and atmospheric castles to world class golf courses and whiskey tastings.
Explore Scotland during the Commonwealth Games 
If you do end up going to Scotland this summer, do not miss to visit these top 5 attractions:

Loch Ness: The largest lake in Scotland by volume, Loch Ness is most famous for being the home of the mythical Loch Ness monster. It is possible to find out all about the history of both Nessie and the Loch at the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition Experience.

The Scotch Whiskey Experience: Scotland and whiskey go hand-in-hand, so naturally learning more about the production process and tasting different varieties is one of the top things to do in Scotland. Those visiting Edinburgh can kill two birds with one store at the Scotch Whiskey Experience.

Golf: Scotland is famous for its golf courses, and this year it will host the 2014 Ryder cup at its prestigious Gleneagles course in Perthshire.

Castles: The country is also well known for its castles, which are well discovered by following the caste trail. Based in Aberdernshire, this trail takes its visitors to 17 of the area’s finest castles.

Walk the Kintyre Way: Thousands of people head to Scotland to tackle its walks each year. The Kintyre Way, which runs from Tarbert to Dunaverty, spans 87 miles and takes between four and seven days to complete.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Arabian Oryx Desert Camp: Tucked Amidst the Sand Dunes of Wahiba Sands, Oman

As a traveler, I have stayed at interesting hotels across many countries. But, only a few such stays are etched hard into memory. Either they are special due to their location or may be we met some great people while staying there. The Arabian Oryx Camp is one such place, but I remember it very well due to its special location. It is set amidst tall sand dunes and is especially sensational at sunrise and sunset. I stayed here for a 2 half days and a night and this review is based on my recent experience of staying here.

1) The Arabian Oryx camp looks like a typical Bedouin camp, but comes with all the basic luxuries like air conditioning, hot shower, hot tea kettle, etc. It is not too basic nor too gaudy luxurious.

2) The location of this camp is truly special. It is located right in between the sand dunes of Wahiba Sands. One can just walk from the camp and start climbing onto the dunes. This augurs well for those who are interested in watching the sunset from atop the dunes, dune surfing and dune boarding.

Arabian Oryx Desert Camp at Wahiba Sands, Oman
3) If you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, then the vast expanse of dunes is just 2 minutes away and before you realize, you are doing some serious dune bashing.

4) The rooms are not too big, but they are snug and comfortable for something that is right in the middle of the desert.

5) All meals are included in the camp room tariff. Food is served at a common restaurant in buffet style. Meals include a mix of continental, Middle Eastern and Indian fare. Food is not exceptional, but pretty decent.

6) Evenings are interesting when they organize local dance performances and play traditional Bedouin music.

Beautiful Arabian Oryx Camp of Wahiba Sands, Oman
7) There is no internet connectivity at the camp and even data connectivity is only available near the restaurant area. It is truly remote.

8) The people running the place are very service oriented and take good care of their customers.

9) This is a great place to watch the desert sky and all the millions of stars in it. Apart from watching the desert sky, talking to friends or reading a book, there is nothing else to do during the night hours.

This camp is a nice place and I would definitely recommend this place for a true desert experience. I would have preferred a much more rural setup, but considering the harsh weather during the day, I would not mind the luxury.

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Let’s fly away…on the cheap

Have you checked out the cost of a peak season flight recently? If you have, you could be forgiven for cringing a little as you press the ‘search’ button. If you’re looking in the middle of the school holidays also, I will hand you the Kleenex now. Put simply, flights are expensive, but thankfully there are ways we can cut costs, to allow us our annual two weeks in the sun. So, how can we do this?

How to reduce your flight expenses
Be flexible on where you fly from

You might have seen that certain airports are always cheaper than others. For me, my regional airport, East Midlands, is always more expensive than flying from Manchester, and for that reason, I always book airport parking from Airparks, and drive myself to Manchester. This saves me money even when the travel factor is incorporated, and I can put my saved money to better use.

Be flexible on date
Weekend flights are generally more expensive than mid-week, so if you’re flexible with when you fly, you will probably get a cheaper cost on your flight. Tuesdays and Wednesdays always seem to come up cheaper, so avoid Thursday, Friday and Saturday if at all possible, and you might save a little here.

Share luggage
If you are a family of four travelling, just for example, see if you can book only two suitcases, instead of four, and that way you can save the cost of the other two cases. On average you can add up to £40 on the cost of a flight per person just by adding baggage, so if you can cram it all in two, you’re saving around £80. In my opinion, that £80 could be put to some seriously good use in resort.

Look at London
We’ve talked about being flexible with where you fly from but in the case of the London airports, you could seriously save some pounds. I have been known to save up to £150 flying from Gatwick, compared to more regionally, so I decided to grab the saving and travel instead. Yes, it was a bit further, but I was going on holiday and didn’t care. Look at Gatwick parking to drive down and give your car its own little holiday, and you may even save on the cost of the flight and travelling combined. I regularly use this service, so I can certainly vouch for it.

At the end of the day, we can do nothing about the increasing cost of travel, but we can be a little sneaky and find ways to save wherever possible.

About the author: Molly Austin is the content creator for Airparks and she has a passion for fashion, fun and travelling.

Note: The image in this post has been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the creative commons license.

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The Great American Road Trip

The United States is great motorcycling terrain. Motorcycle travel has been very much a part of its rich history and it really caught speed when the iconic Route 66 was created. Today, this stretch has been decommissioned, but the romance of this route as well as the joy of riding still remains in our hearts. I am a hardcore motorcycling lover and if given an opportunity, would love to hit the tarmac and see America through the Great American Road Trip. The diversity of the United States is well known and so is the excellent quality of its road infrastructure. If you are the kind who loves the wind in your hair, wish for some adventure, want a once a life time trip, stay in or wish to visit the United States of America and love motorcycle travel, then this road trip should be very high in your bucket list.

The Great American Road Trip 
This land of riding offers many interesting routes. Personally, I have explored parts of I-90, the coast to coast highway from Seattle to Boston. This highway covers close to 5,000 miles of the country across many states, landscapes and beautiful sights. Then, there is the iconic 101 highway that kisses the pacific coast from Washington to Oregon and then to California. Like these, there are many diverse routes that the motorcycling aficionado can choose and go on their own, but if you wish to go on a trip that you can aptly call the great American road trip, then it has to be the 5,000 mile long stretch of tarmac that starts in New York and ends in Santa Monica, Los Angeles.

This route, aptly called the ‘Southern Sun’ takes you across wonderful places, gives you a feel of the diversity of American countryside and provides you with a set of rich experiences that you’d never have if you simply flew from New York to Los Angeles. This route closely mirrors Route 66, the Mother Route. Although, America’s mother road was decommissioned thirty years ago, the spirit of the great American road trip still lives on today.

If you wish to ride on this iconic road trip, take a closer look at the above info graphic, plan your trip with friends and family, pack in some great travel music and like ‘Ray Charles’ said ‘You can hit the road Jack’!

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Thursday, May 08, 2014

The wonders of Cappadocia

When you ask people about going on a holiday to Turkey, most of them probably think of exploring the vibrant capital Istanbul or lounging on the beaches by the popular Turquoise Coast resorts. However, Cappadocia in central Turkey is well worth a visit.

This stunning region is renowned for its natural beauty, and has even been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This recognition isn’t just down to its breathtaking scenery, but also the various historical sites that have been discovered in the area.

Cappadocia’s natural attractions We’ll start by taking a look at what makes Cappadocia’s landscape so unusual. The Goreme Valley, which is the best place to get a feel for the stunning scenery, is made up of soft rock, which has been eroded by the elements over the course of hundreds of years to create the rock hills, pinnacles, cones and cliffs that you’ll find here today.

The geology is truly fascinating - ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed the whole region in a thick layer of ash and other material, which eventually solidified into a predominantly soft rock. The hard parts of its composition are what’s left in today’s rock formations, with the rest having been worn away.

However, the reason why Cappadocia is so special is down to how humans have shaped the landscape over the centuries, with people carving out a vast network of caverns and tunnels in the soft rock of the hills to create what’s best described as a honeycomb of habitations, many of which you can still explore today.

As you can probably imagine, the area is a wonderful place for hiking and there are numerous trails you can follow to really get a good overview of Cappadocia and all its attractions. Companies like Explore Worldwide offer trips dedicated to uncovering some of the region’s secrets and best-known sites.

The history of Cappadocia What will undoubtedly blow you away on a trip to Cappadocia is the elaborate cave dwellings that have been carved by hand and added to over the centuries. These are much more than simple homes, though, with shrines, churches, stables and convents among the places created.

In some cases, there were subterranean villages that were completely hidden underground, with homes up to eight storeys below the surface of the earth. This is truly remarkable and exploring these winding tunnels and ancient dwellings will certainly be unlike anything you’ve ever done before.

As well as the caverns themselves, there are many beautiful frescoes painted on the walls. In the early days of Christianity, this part of Turkey became something of a refuge for monks, nuns, priests and the other faithful who were displaced. There are incredible examples of Byzantine artwork hidden within these subterranean places of worship, some of which date back as far as the 4th century.

Work is constantly ongoing to preserve these rare paintings, not to mention the chapels and churches they are part of. You can learn about this preservation work, along with finding out other nuggets of information about Cappadocia and its fascinating past, at one of the many museums that have been established in these troglodyte dwellings.

The Goreme Open Air Museum is also worth a visit, and within its boundaries you can admire rock-cut churches and fairy chimneys - it’s a magical place to wander around.

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Omani People: A Photo Essay

The people of Oman are possibly one of the more hospitable races on the planet. Apart from being very kind and friendly, their dress, head gear and demeanor gives them the ‘X factor’ look that appeals to all Oman visitors. Unfortunately, the women of Oman do not like their photos clicked and hence there are no women photos in this photo essay, but just so you know Omani women have some of the best eye features. I have tried to add a small story with some details about the local culture so that you connect better with each of these photographs.

Note: Please ask permission before clicking pictures of Omani people. In most cases, the women will decline and the men will happily pose. You might get into trouble if you do not ask for permission before hand.

Colourful Traditional Headgear of a Omani man
The Omani men wear a traditional dress that is called the dis dasha and a traditional turban called the muzzar. Apparently, this dressing is an ideal way to beat the Oman heat.

Elderly Omani Man at the entrance of Jabreen Castle, Oman
An elderly Omani gentleman.in the traditional attire at Jabreen castle near Nizwa.

Enjoying the sandy waters off Damaniyat Islands, Oman
This was Syed, the captain of my boat from Al Sawadi to Damaniyat Islands. While the divers were still in the water, the captain decided to cool off by taking a dip in the waters.

Indian artisans carvings souvenir ships at Sur, Oman
He is not a Omani national, but nonetheless an important part of Oman. If such people from Kerala or the rest of India stop coming to Oman for work, Oman will not have any labor workforce. A lot of skilled manual labor work is done by people from the Indian sub continent. In this case, this guy from Kerala is designing ships to be sold as souvenirs.

Inside a traditional Bedouin Tribal House at Wahiba Sands, Oman
Two Omani nationals (one originally from Pakistan and the other from Baluchistan) inside a traditional Bedouin house in the middle of Al Sharqiya Sands.

Man from Nizwa selling Khallas and Fard dates at Nizwa Date Souk
A shop keeper from Nizwa who sells the very juicy and succulent Khallas and Fard dates of Oman. Personally, I prefer the Khallas dates, but both of them are really top class.

Naser - Stylish Omani Man
Naser, my driver was also my model. Here, he is wearing a traditional head gear called the Kummar. The head gear is a great fashion accessory.

Omani Man from Nizwa, Oman
Another stylish looking Omani gentleman from Nizwa. He was working at the ticket counter and on my way out, I asked him for his permission to take his photograph and he happily obliged.

Omani man on the tall dunes of Wahiba Sands, Oman
While the tourists went off to watch the sunset, this Omani man parked himself on the sand dune and seemed to be enjoying himself. This was taken at around sunset time at Wahiba Sands.

Omani men at Nizwa who wanted to get photographed
Generally, Omani people don’t like to get their pictures clicked. But, the guy on the right was super keen on me clicking his photograph. He was so keen that he modeled for me and got multiple pictures of himself and his friend.

Omani men take a break from dune bashing at Wahiba Sands
Omani men take a break at Wahiba Sands after an exerting dune bashing session. These men are great drivers and find great thrill in dune bashing.

Smiling Tourist at Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman
She is not a Omani national, but a tourist or an expat who came to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat.

Young Bedouin Girl at Wahiba Sands, Oman
This was a pretty Omani girl who belonged to a Bedouin family. While the family had requested that we not photograph the women and men of the family, they were okay with me taking pictures of their kids and their house. This kid seemed to be very friendly with our group.

An Omani in traditional dress and head gear
My Omani friend, Naser in his white dish dasha and stylish Muzzar at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque at Muscat.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Malaysia Visa for Indians

Malaysia as a country offers a visa friendly policy to Indian citizens, but doesn’t offer visa on arrival to Indians. One cannot also go directly to their embassy or consulate in India and apply for a visa. Instead, the Malaysian consulate requires everyone to go through an authorized travel agent. But, this is where the problems end. The best part about applying for a Malaysia visa from India is that Indians get a 12 month multiple entry visa instead of a single entry visa.

The procedure for the tourist visa process is simple. You go through either VFS or an authorized travel agent with the following documents:

Malaysia Visa for Indians1) Original Passport that has at least 3 blank pages. If passport is less than 3 months old, then sometimes the embassy requires bank statements of 3 months

2) Completed visa application form

3) 2 or 3 passport size photographs (Refer the Malaysia visa form for photo size and specifications)

4) Return flight tickets

5) A sponsor letter if you have one, but it is not mandatory

6) A visa fee of INR 1000 + agent fee of either INR 1500 or 2000 depending on agent

If everything is in order, you can get your visa and passport in 4-5 days depending on your office location. And the visa in your hand will allow you multiple entries into Malaysia for a period of 12 months with each visit allowing the visitor to stay in Malaysia for 30 days.

While this article is primarily targeted for people looking for a tourist visa, those looking for work permits, business visas and jobs in Malaysia can look up the Search Jobs Abroad website.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Busing it on the Road: Tips and Must-packs

It’s crowded. It’s bustling. It’s hot. You’re about to undertake your very first Indian adventure on a bus, and you’ve heard tales about chaotic bus driving that have left you unsettled. Yet, you already made the smart choice of booking in advance and you knew that you were getting a good deal for your redBus ticket that would make the journey more budget-friendly – at least, I assume that you’ve done ample research to ensure that you’ve found a bargain. You’ve even made a reservation for a seat, despite hearing that you might have to make a run for it both ways if you want to secure your spot. You hope for the best, but is there anything else you can do to prepare for your journey?

It’s my opinion that things never usually go as planned, so I’m not here to tell you how exactly to organize your vacation because a small part of us knows that itineraries don’t always unfold the way we want them to. It is my opinion though that one should at least have a backpack prepared with items that will come in handy on the way to your destination. Some of these things are so obvious that you’re probably wondering why I’m even noting them. Well, it’s usually the obvious that we don’t see staring us in the face until we need it the most.

1) Pack yourself a bottle or two of water to keep yourself hydrated
Depending on how long your trip is and whether or not the bus you’re in is air-conditioned (not very likely as this is hardly economical), you may end up needing more water than you originally expected. One of the biggest challenges here, I find, is finding the right balance between hydration and not needing to rush to the bathroom every hour. It’s probably a good idea to check whether or not the bus you’ll be taking is equipped with a bathroom to begin with (not all buses have been updated to accommodate this need). Most people don’t expect it, but I’ve been put in situations where there hasn’t been an accessible bathroom on hand – the price you pay for opting a cheap ride.

2) Speaking of bus toilets, pack tissues and hand sanitizers
Do you know how many people on average use the same bus toilet a day? I’m guessing you don’t and that’s exactly the thought that scares me. Don’t always expect to find tissues and sanitizer at your disposal, so pack some to make sure that you’re not caught in an icky situation.

3) Pack snacks
Even if it’s just an 11 hour journey through the night, and you plan on sleeping through 8 of those hours (or so you wish), you will get hungry and there’s nothing worse than a sleep and food deprived person. Buses stop at stations and various check points that offer a limited range of snacks, but you ought not to rely on these as they can be expensive and probably won’t be offering what you prefer. Instead, take advantage of those short stops to stretch your legs and catch some air.

4) Pack some entertainment
Some people like to read on long journeys because it helps them kill the time and transport them to another world, which is a nice break from the realization that you’re sardine-packed on a bumpy vehicle. Others prefer to listen to music or surf the web using their tablets or laptops (enjoy free Wi-Fi or 3G services where they’re offered!). Just make sure to be considerate and wear headphones so as not to disturb your fellow passengers. It’ll also serve you well to double check whether or not the bus you’re on has Wi-Fi or power outlets to charge your electronics in case you prefer to reserve a seat that has a power outlet. If you’re carrying expensive electronics, but don’t plan on using them, make sure they’re not in plain sight of potential pickpockets. Don’t underestimate the prevalence of petty theft on buses.

5) Optional: Pack a neck pillow and necessary medication
The number one tip to uphold is packing light, but if you have extra luggage space, then there’s no harm in including a few optional items that will also make your trip more bearable. I’m not so sure what they’re actually called, but you can usually find portable travel pillows at most airports that are designed for upright comfort when lying down isn’t an option. This is a luxury item indeed, but if you already have one and have the extra space for it in your luggage, it’ll be a shame not to bring it along to make what little sleep you have the chance of catching more comfortable. I definitely recommend this piece of article for those who suffer from neck and back aches. Some people (like me) also suffer from motion sickness when on the road. Bus rides are the epitome of where motion sickness can strike the most because of the particularly bumpy nature of most trips, so you’d want to dose yourself with enough antiemetic medication or remedies to last the trip.

About the Author: Joanna Jaoudie is a content editor, blogger and country manager at Flipit. She graduated with an MSc in Cognitive Psychology from Leiden University in the Netherlands before joining the Flipit team in Amsterdam. She has a deep passion for understanding how human behaviour interacts with various technological interfaces and is also a freelance writer and translator. You can connect with Joanna by sending her an email: Joanna.jaoudie@gmail.com.

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

Why Oman is a great Honeymoon Destination for Indians?

These days, Indians are traveling far and wide on holidays, but I see a very bland trend wherein Indians prefer the well beaten path for their honeymoon. If the Indian couple is not honeymooning in the mountain or beach resorts of India, they are either honeymooning in Switzerland, Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bali Singapore or Dubai. While, these destinations are great in their own right, personally, I would prefer something with a bit more zing or what we call ‘X factor’ for my honeymoon. And I am sure that you would agree with me.

Scenic coastal town of Sur in Oman
I recently traveled to Oman on an invite from  Oman Tourism and it was during this trip that I got to experience the rich off beat nature of travel that this middle eastern country has to offer. During this trip I got to experience different facets and places of this beautiful country and believe that it has all the ingredients in the right proportion to make for a perfect honeymoon destination.

Below are my thoughts on why Oman is an ideal off beat honeymoon destination for Indians. These points will even resonate with citizens of other countries.

The lovely landscape of Wahiba Sands, Oman
Close Proximity to India

Muscat, the capital of Oman, is located at about 3 and a half hours of flight time away from most of India’s major cities. This is more or less the same flight duration that it takes to get to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Dubai. Oman Air and other Indian airlines have daily flights from different cities of India.

The insides of a Nizwa Souk Crafts shop
Attractive Flight Prices
A full service airline roughly charges INR 20,000 or below per person for a return trip to Oman. This price goes down to INR 12,000 to 15,000 per person on a low cost airline for the same return trip. Basically, cost of travel is very reasonable.

Spices on sale at Nizwa Souk Spice Market, Oman
Easy Visa Process

Even though there is no visa on arrival for Indians here, Indians can get a visa easily though a local Omani tour operator. I got mine through Tour Oman. Once your flight and hotel bookings are complete, it just takes 2 days for you to get your tourist visa and this visa allows you to holiday in Oman for 30 days.

Omani Gentleman at Jabreen Castle, near Nizwa, Oman
Off Beat! Off Beat! Off Beat!

How many of you have heard of Indians holidaying in Oman? We know Indians go there for employment opportunities, but not on a holiday. This country with its rich culture doesn’t get even a small percentage of the tourists that Dubai gets, but that it because, it wants to promote itself as an off beat destination. You will be one of the few elite tourists to experience this sultanate at your own leisurely pace.

Old Omani Building Entrance inside Matrah Souk, Muscat, Oman
Deserts, Mountains, Beaches

Oman’s landscape is very vibrant and rich. It is blessed with a long coastline that is full of coral reefs and beautiful islands and kissing the coastline are the mighty mountains of Oman. And in line with its Middle Eastern heritage, it is blessed with a large desert with super tall sand dunes. Whether you like mountains or beaches or deserts, Oman has it all. And the best part is that all of these are located close to each other. Today, you might be surfing on the dunes of the Omani desert at Wahiba Sands. Tomorrow, you might be diving in the waters around some of its islands like Damaniyat Islands and the day after you might be enjoying a hot cup of quewah coffee on a mountain top like Jebel Akhdar. You will truly love this vibrancy of landscapes that Oman has to offer.

Mother and son getting reader to snorkel in the waters off Damaniyat Islands, Oman
Luxury Tourist Destination

It is very rare to see a budget hotel or accommodation in Oman. That is because, Oman does not want to become a budget travel destination. Instead, it takes pride in being a luxury tourist destination. There are some really stunning 4 star and 5 star properties located around Oman. And in this list includes the world famous Shangrila and Al Bustan Palace. Even though the country promotes itself as a luxury destination, the prices are not that high. In fact, you can get a room in a good five star hotel for 200 US Dollars or INR 12,000. Oman gives you the option of staying in a palace, a luxury Bedouin camp in the desert, a luxury resort on an island and much more. The luxury aspect of a honeymoon is well taken care of in Oman.

Glass and wooden work inside the female prayer room of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat
Indulge in some Adventure with your Partner

These days Adventure Honeymoons are quite the norm. Couples have gotten more daring and the urge to indulge in some adventure together is very high. In Oman, you can take part in many such adventures. You can go scuba diving in the coral islands, do some dune bashing and surfing in the deserts of Wahiba Sands, do some trekking and camping in the mountains, do some cycling to remote Bedouin villages and much more.

Beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman
Indian Food is everywhere!!

Wherever the Indian travels, they prefer their curries and spice. If you are one such Indian, then Oman will appeal to you as the rich expat Indian population has led to a surge in Indian restaurants around the country. Whether you are a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian, the restaurants of Oman provide food that caters to all kinds of palates. Thanks to its rich coast line, Oman has access to excellent sea food. And their kebabs are legendary. If you are a meat lover or a sea food lover, then you will definitely like this country. They also have excellent food from other middle eastern countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, etc.

Beautiful Jabreen Castle near Nizwa, Oman
Shopping!!

Irrespective of a honeymoon or a normal holiday, women really like their shopping. If you wish to surprise your wife with an interesting shopping experience, then Oman has a lot of avenues. Jewelry, traditional middle eastern souvenirs, designer dresses, perfumes, bags and much more are on offer here. The Souks of Nizwa and Muscat and the shopping malls of Muscat would be the top places.

The Oasis town of Al Hamra in Oman
Extremely Friendly People and a very Safe Country

In my experience Omanis are a very friendly race. They are very helpful and always invite tourists into their house for a cup of coffee and some dates. There is no racism in this country and the country is safer than most of Western Europe. Thus, the safety aspect while planning a holiday destination is taken care of.

Omani Khanjars on sale at Nizwa Souk, Oman
Less People, Less Clutter, Less Noise
We come from a busy country with high levels of noise, clutter, chaos and pollution. While planning a holiday destination, most of us seek places that are anything but like our country. Oman is a big country with a small population, zero garbage, very low noise levels and absolutely zero pollution.

Dune Surfing is a fun sport
High on Comfort

Oman as a country is high on comfort. Everything is air-conditioned. A high level of cleanliness is the norm. The cars are big and comfortable. Meals are of big portions. On a honeymoon, the couple seeks comfort and Oman offers all of it.

Crafts on display at Nizwa Souk, Nizwa, Oman
Islam Religion is not enforced on Tourists

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Oman does not require its tourists to wear head scarves or to be fully clothed. Tourists, especially women are allowed to wear any comfortable clothing. It is only in religious places that both men and women are expected to dress conservatively.

Beautiful Chandelier inside Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque of Muscat, Oman
Alcohol is available in Oman

Even though Oman is a country that follows Islam, it serves alcoholic beverages to its tourists. If you wish to get high on spirits, it is possible in Oman.

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