The Beautiful Beaches of Phuket, Thailand

If you are looking for soft white sand, aquamarine water nestled against a deep blue sky and the bliss of sun-kissed warmth caressed by a tropical breeze, then the amazing beaches of Phuket, Thailand are perfect for you! Phuket is an island treasure blessed by geography and geologic destiny, a masterpiece of steep mountains, clear waters and exceptional beaches and bays.

Tourists visiting Phuket find a wide range of amenities, ranging from fine restaurants to annual festivals and luxurious Phuket villa rentals. These features, plus the superb beaches, keep visitors coming back year after year.

Located just off the mainland of Thailand, Phuket is a 208 square mile island that stretches south into the clear waters that emerge from the depths of the Andaman Sea. Over the course of time the coral reefs and shells in the area have been ground down into very fine sand. This sand helped form over 30 picture-postcard beaches on the island, each offering different vistas and magnificent settings that will take your breath away.

Most Popular Beaches

Kata is famous Phuket beach with fine white sand that gently slopes to the sea. It is lined with Casuarina trees that offer shade to those sensitive to the sun. Swimming conditions are wonderful most of the year, and surfing waves appear during the monsoon season. There are numerous tourist amenities here including lounge rental, the Ska Bar built around a tree and restaurants along the beach. Local vendors are happy to serve you sandwiches, snacks and beverages right at your oceanfront lounge.

One of the best Phuket beaches is Bang Tao, where you will melt into bliss as you gaze along a 5 mile expanse of sand kissing the water’s edge. There are a number of upscale resorts in the center of the beach. The northern part of the beach is the most quiet and least developed. Dining choices include inexpensive, delicious food from Thai food stalls and offerings from high end restaurants.

If you are looking for a great place where you can swim at high tide venture over to Kamala Beach. It’s a popular destination with families and there are lounges for rent along the way. The fine white sand is beautiful and slopes gently toward and continues into the sea. There are restaurants, bars and shopping along the south end of the beach, while the northern part offers a more serene and quiet setting.

The sand of Karon Beach is exceptionally soft and fine. Because of the near perfect mix of silica, coral and ground shells, this beach is often chosen as a venue for the Asian Beach Games, sand building contests and other activities. In addition to the stunning sand, the water is crystal clear and the long beach is great for extended walks. It’s a great beach for singles, families and couples.

Gems off the Beaten Path

Your search for small, hidden gems should begin with Freedom Beach, which is one of the least accessible beaches on the island of Phuket. To reach the beach you will need to traverse six-tenths of a mile through thicker jungle on private land or go by boat. The setting is right out of a Hollywood movie, with a bay nested against hills of deep jungle and powder-like white sand. You can easily spend the day relaxing here, in a rental lounge under the shade of tall coconut palms.

Snorkeling is a popular activity at Kata Noi Beach, one of Phuket’s most gorgeous beaches. There are plenty of services and activities but the relative quiet of the beach will appeal to those who want to spend a day mesmerized by the sweet golden sand and the ocean waves. Drinks and snack stalls are available at the beach.

Nai Harn Beach is nestled in the most beautiful bay in Phuket, with lofty hills surrounding the sides and a coconut palm covered island immediately offshore. A Buddhist meditation retreat is there and the sacred monastic title of the land has kept development to a minimum. It’s a perfect place to enjoy the view and while away the sun drenched day.

Another hidden beach is Nai Thon, which is renowned because of it’s squeaky sand. As part of the Sirinath National Park it is immune from development and is located far from Phuket’s major tourist centers Here swimming conditions are wonderful and the fine sand extends into the sea. The local community here is small although there are some hotels across the street and back from the beach area.

If you find yourself yearning for endless ocean, beautiful sand and the feel of a timeless tropical beach, Phuket is the place for you. The variety of beach settings, beachside services and pure beauty is unparalleled. There’s a reason why travelers to Phuket always come back for more!

A Guide To Climbing Japan’s Mount Fuji

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For any visitor to Japan there are a few things that are absolute must do activities and one of these is climbing the famed and beautiful Mount Fuji. For those who are not physically able to climb this mountain, which stretches to a very high 3,776 metres above sea level, just seeing it is still high on the priority list. Fuji in all its splendour seems to almost perfectly encapsulate Japan – that is to say seeing a picture of Fuji seems to represent Japan almost in its entirety though many other things do a hefty job as well. For those interested in braving the slopes of this mountain, read ahead for a climber’s guide to conquering Mount Fuji.

When To Climb?

While it may be tempting to tackle Mount Fuji at any time of year there are some times of year where it’s plain just not accessible – such as in winter and in late autumn and early spring. In fact if you try to climb it during these times you will find nothing on the mountain open to the public and al trails closed. Trails open early July through to mid-September and this is the official climbing season. The mountain is at its peak in August when all the climbers seem to descend onto its slopes and you will find yourself in queues in some parts to traverse the paths. In this sense, if time is not a factor for you consider timing your climb for either early or late in the season.

Late June and late September will find snow on many portions of the mountain with some huts available. Only experienced mountaineers with proper equipment should consider the climb in these shoulder seasons. Climbing in October is perilous as heavy snows at higher elevations pose risks of avalanches and the weather is unpredictable at best.

Explore

Climbing Fuji lends itself to being great for the outdoor lovers among us and the region includes the Fuji Five Lakes. Lake Kawaguchiko is the most well developed to welcome foreign tourists and this region is ideal for viewing the mountain at close range – perfect for photos! – and is a great base for climbing the mountain as well. There are also many hot springs and options for catching a quick bite to eat before tackling Mount Fuji around the area, so be sure to take advantage of the amenities, even if you aren’t climbing Fuji.

Fujinomiya

This region on the slopes of the mountain is home to the Fujinomiya Sengen Shrine as well as the Shiraito Falls – Japan’s most beautiful waterfalls. This is the traditional starting point for climbing Mount Fuji and is still used today as one of the most popular routes for climbers.

Trails

A quick rundown on the trails is as follows:

  • Yoshida Trail: Ascent 5-7 hours; descent 3-5 hours.

  • Subashiri Trail: Ascent 5-8 hours; descent 3-5 hours.

  • Gotemba Trail: Ascent 7-10 hours; descent 3-6 hours.

  • Fujinomiya Trail: Ascent 4-7 hours; descent 2-4 hours.

It’s not advisable to try to summit and descend in one day and instead is advised to overnight at one of the mountain huts along the trails that offer sleeping spots as well as food.

Guides

It’s not necessary to hire a guide, however if you don’t want to leave anything to chance and prefer a professional to plan your climb for you there are a number of professional guiding companies that will provide guides for a fee.

Costs and Miscellaneous

Costs to climb Fuji depend on whether you eat at the mountain huts, but at the trail heads expect to contribute around 1000 yen (about $10USD) to go toward various mountain upkeep. Mountain huts average around 7000 yen for an overnight stay plus two meals (5000 without meals). Camping is not allowed on the mountain and any garbage that you create must be taken with you as there are no garbage facilities.

There you have a couple of tips and information on climbing the highest mountain in Japan. Climbing Fuji is one of the most exhilarating things you could do in the area and is definitely worth doing for the sunrise if you’re up to the task. So pack your hiking boots – the mountain won’t climb itself!

6 Reasons To Visit Singapore Now!

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If you are trying to choose a country in South East Asia to head to but you aren’t sure exactly where you’re interested in, why not consider the great city nation of Singapore? Featuring beautiful gardens, a mix of western modernity and ancient Asian culture, Singapore is an ideal place to either start a holiday in the region or is great as a stand alone holiday to introduce you to the area. Read ahead for six reasons to go to Singapore now!

Food

Singapore was founded as a British trading colony in the 1800s and as a result enjoyed a number of influences from across the Empire in terms of food. Likewise the surrounding area of Malaysia and nearby China have added to the almost literal melting pot of food choices here with authentic Malay, Chinese and Indian food on offer as well as western options like burgers, chips and the like. Some Singaporean specific dishes (such as Singaporean noodles) enjoy prominence as well, but ultimately this is the place to try a bit of everything, making it ideal for people who are finicky eaters.

Shopping

With huge shopping malls, authentic local bazaars and other markets to choose from, Singapore enjoys vast shopping that draws people from around the region and abroad for some of the deals to be had regardless of whether it’s in the street side bazaars or the glistening malls.

Vibrant Nightlife and Lifestyle

Across the city state, bars, nightclubs and restaurants are prominent, with many options playing host to live music, DJs from around the area as well as abroad and fantastic opportunities to kick back with a drink or two and get your groove on on some of the quirky and colourful dance floors.

East Meets West Meets East Again

Singapore is a true conglomerate of regional cultures as well as those from further afield. Mandalay, Mandarin, Tamil and English are the official languages of Singapore along with the religions of Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism and Confucianism showing just how culturally and ethnically diverse this country is. With Little India, Chinatown, and other regions of the city playing host to travellers it’s easy to see why this is such a great nation to travel to for a truly unique experience.

Getting Out

For those who are interested in getting away and exploring more of the region at large, Singapore is perfectly connected internationally to welcome travellers from around the glove while simultaneously allowing travellers multiple options for getting out of the country by sea, air, or road. Situated on the very southern tip of Malaysia, Singapore is an ideal place to start your South East Asian adventure, with train, boat and bus links into neighbouring Malaysia or Indonesia and further north to Thailand and the rest of the area.

So hopefully these top six reasons to hit up Singapore will help you make the decision to head to this unique, bustling and vibrant city full of welcoming, friendly people and delicious varied food. So pack your bags – Singapore and Asia at large await your arrival!

Things To Do In Laos – Aside From Getting Drunk

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Inevitably these days if you’re heading to South East Asia you will end up in more than one of the countries in the region. With ease of movement and cheap options through airlines such as Air Asia, it’s relatively pointless going for only one country when you could see two or three in your time there. One country that is becoming the next big tourist hot spot aside from Thailand is its quiet neighbour to the north – Laos. There are a few things you should know about Laos before you go, so here they are, before we get into what there is to do aside from getting drunk.

A Quick Note To Say…

Laos is not Thailand. In that sense, it’s a lot stricter than Thailand with regards to partying and all night shindigs. While some places such as Vang Vieng used to be known for having island parties on the river that stretched into the wee hours, this is no longer the case thanks to the influx of backpackers who made too much of a good thing an inherently bad thing and so all the parties were shut down – along with most of the bars in the town.

A curfew is in effect throughout the country. Yes, you read that right – a curfew is in effect throughout the country. This is partially due to the communist government still in place (but trust me, you can’t really tell), and partially due to the Laotian way of life – getting up at the crack of dawn to give alms to the monks. You might get away with staying out past curfew (around 11pm in most places) in the countryside villages, but to be honest you won’t really want to as you will likely be one of, if not the only, person out.

What’s There To Do Then?

In a word, tons. There are two main strips of Laos depending on what your preferences are and what you’re after: the north route from Vientiane to Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang and further north if you’re so inclined to Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi; or the South route from Vientiane to Kong Lor (if you’re so inclined) to Savannahket to Pakse, and then the Bolaven Loop/further south to the 4000 Islands and the Cambodian border. For informative purposes I will tell you what there is to see and do on both of these loops to help you gauge whether it’s the loop for you.

The Northern Route

From the capital Vientiane you can easily get a shuttle bus to take you up to Vang Vieng, former party town, now mostly quiet village with a few 18 year old backpackers determined to keep the party alive. These days it’s a quiet place, ideal for relaxing, checking out some nearby caves and waterfalls and renting a motorbike to go exploring the valley of beautiful karst limestone mountains. A few bars cater to specific musical preferences such as psy-trance (again, perhaps in an effort to keep the party alive), but on the whole this place has more of a homey, village, family feel to it these days with quiet evenings spent stargazing on the riverbank.

Heading further north to Luang Prabang – a UNESCO World Heritage city thanks in part to its numerous temple complexes and fantastic French Quarter with its beautiful colonial structures set amid the lush jungle greenery and dusty roads filled with passers by. This is a hot spot for travellers of all kind – from backpackers to luxury travellers, Luang Prabang has become a bit of a Laotian mecca for everyone. Check out the night market in the city centre for some truly unique finds. There are likewise street stalls selling fruit shakes and baguette sandwiches throughout as well as the full blown food market that serves all manner of delicious items from fish on sticks, chicken on sticks, to various noodle side dishes and fresh vegetable spring rolls. You can get a banquet for 2 people for around $5 here.

If you’re a bit adventurous and don’t mind going a bit further, you can go to Nong Khiaw and then further onto Muang Ngoi, which is a village set in a valley similar to that of Vang Vieng, surrounded by beautiful karst limestone mountains. For the truly adventurous and travel hardened, you can try getting to Hanoi, Vietnam from Luang Prabang – but be warned that it’s around 30 hours on winding country mountain roads and has been dubbed the “nightmare journey”. You’re probably best to split it up into chunks, or just fly – Luang Prabang has a well serviced, well connected international airport.

There are a lot of other really interesting things to do up in the northern parts of the country, such as Vang Xai – an intricate cave city that was used for shelter during the Vietnam war to protect residents from the bombings and also the Gibbon Experience – where you can spend a few days in the tree tops like the Gibbons, an experience which has been coined as being “living like an Ewok”.

There are a lot of bars and potential party spots along the way – particularly these days in Luang Prabang you will find more bars that cater to a party kind of atmosphere, but also cater to quieter laid back atmospheres as well. If you want a bit more in the way of excitement restaurants, bars, music wise this is probably the route for you.

The Southern Route

From Vientiane you can opt to take a bus to the village of Kong Lor, home of one of the longest underground rivers in the world. The village is a dusty, very remote little thing, everything you could imagine from rural Laos. The best guest house in town is Chantha House – on the edge of the village, right on top of rice paddies. Most of the accommodation in town is in the form of home stays with locals, and there are only a handful of places to eat – if even. Chantha house almost operates as the local restaurant and watering hole – best food in town by far.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can head to Thakek and rent a motorbike, doing the “Kong Lor Loop” which takes you around several of the small backwaters and to the village of Kong Lor eventually – a great experience for anyone in the area.

Further south is the city of Savannahket. Admittedly, there is not much in the way of things to do in Savannahket and it’s more a stopping off point to break up the journey between Kong Lor and Pakse – 12 to 14 hours by bus, but with a stop in Savannahket it breaks it up into a larger portion of about 8 and a smaller portion of 3-4. Great for a night, but not really much more, Savannahket features a French colonial quarter which is missing out on some much needed TLC, featuring nearly derelict buildings and some even riddled with bullet holes – a prominent, yet unfortunate feature reminder of the Vietnam war. Savannahket is also home to a strange but beautiful combination of Buddhist and Taoist temples as well as Christian churches.

Further south you come to the municipality of Pakse – a well equipped city with many fantastic amenities including tours available, motorbike rentals, supermarkets, cafes with great internet, and numerous guesthouses. It’s also where you can renew your Laos visa if you want to extend your stay. Here you can rent a motorbike as well and do the Bolaven Plateau Loop – a favourite amongst travellers to the region which again takes you around the many backwater villages of the loop and eventually back to Pakse.

The loop also takes you through fertile coffee plantations, tea plantations, and alongside beautiful waterfalls and tribal villages where children run after you waving hello. One village along the loop, a beautiful little village called Tad Lo is a perfect place to set down for a couple of days and take a load off – only recently having gotten power and internet, connection to the outside world here is still confined to few guest houses. Most of the accommodation here is likewise in the form of home stays, some even home stay dorms (such as at Mama &Pap’s). Regardless, you won’t struggle to find a place to stay here – there’s even a resort on top of the large waterfall a bit away from the main strip.

Further south from Tad Lo and Pakse you will find the Mekong River begins to widen and towards the border with Cambodia is a number of islands on which you can stay – generally referred to as the Four Thousand Islands. Don Det is the typical backpacker haunt here, but other great islands offer a quieter more relaxed locale in which to stay. Don Khong is perfect – with motorbike rentals available to head out and bike around the island. We recommend Kong View Guest house – it has a balcony that overlooks the Mekong out back with commanding views and is a great place to relax with a Beer Lao and watch afternoon thunderstorms roll in.

So there you have the numerous things to do throughout Laos aside from partying and drinking. After the relative hectic atmosphere that can be had in Thailand, Laos will seem like a welcome break – so pick your route – travel adventure or slightly more party hardy – the choice is yours although it doesn’t have to be. Overnight buses are available from Pakse to Luang Prabang, so you could have it all.