Browsing Category

Travel

Accommodation Koh Samui Thailand

The Royal Muang Samui Villas – Your Slice of Thai Paradise

April 25, 2017

If you’re looking for paradise, look no further – we’ve found it at Choengmon Beach on Koh Samui, Thailand!

The Royal Muang Samui Villas have many fabulous room options. They range in price (to suit most budgets) and offer absolutr luxury to those seeking it.  Regardless of your choice, all  79 rooms are tastefully decorated with a mixture of traditional and contemporary Thai styled décor.  The spacious rooms are elegant and comfortable, including lovely touches to help ensure your stay is memorable.

Royal Muang Samui Villas Koh Samui hotel reviewWe opted to stay in one of the Pool Suite Garden View rooms and we were not disappointed – in fact I loved it so much it was hard to get me out!

Our suite included a small but peaceful outdoor terrace and private pool which could be accessed both via the cute outdoor terrace area and conveniently through the bathroom area (which meant we didn’t need to traipse through our room whilst sopping wet).

The bathroom itself was probably bigger than my last apartment and included an amazing whirlpool jacuzzi. It was such a pleasure to relax in the spa bath whilst being treated to stunning views of the pool and garden.

We found our stay at Royal Muang Samui Villas not only to be luxurious but incredibly relaxing and fulfilling – an awesome getaway, without doubt.

Fabulous Facilities

The facilities at the resort are first class through and through.

Cave Rai Ra Beach Spa is a unique spot that’s beautifully styled.  Located behind the waterfall in the pool area, treatments are provided in a cave-themed environment which is both inviting and exotic.

The spa is open from 10.00am – 10.00pm daily and offers various spa treatments and packages.

If your idea of relaxing requires a little more energy, there’s a well-equipped fitness room, kids corner and a complimentary shuttle service (offered four times a day to the sister beachfront resort in the bustling Chaweng Beach).

Not a villa resident lucky enough to have your own private pool?  Don’t worry – there’s a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by tropical palm trees with an amazing view out to Choengmon Beach.

If the beach is more your thing, there are plenty of sun loungers. That’s not the best part though – wait until you spot the buzzer! If you’re in need of a refreshing drink, cocktail or a spot of lunch, give it a ding and your wish will be their command.

Does it get better than that?

Extensive Activities on Offer

Alongside these facilities, the hotel also offers an exciting activities programme – the details of which are communicated through a weekly newsletter which will be delivered to your room.

They have an enticing array of options that include basic Thai language and cultural classes, Thai cooking, learning to make flower garlands, bike tours, morning yoga classes and many more.

Unfortunately our limited stay didn’t give us time to try out any of the classes and we were highly disappointed to have missed the Thai cooking class the day we arrived.  If you can make it into the kitchen, enjoy a delicious self-made curry for us!

To make your experience truly unique the hotel has a little floating market every Wednesday from 6pm – 11pm.  The floating market gives guests a taste of an authentic, traditional Thai experience without having to leave the hotel (but of course you’ll want to venture further afield too!)

I’m intrigued to know how exactly they fit everything they promise into the tiny canal in front of the hotel but next time you can bet we’ll include a Wednesday in our stay to experience the exquisite food and local products on offer!

Cuisine to Write Home About

There are three restaurants onsite, offering a range of delicious food.  After all, everyone knows meal times are one of the highlights of a good holiday!

Spice Zone, where you will find the breakfast buffet, provides a stunning setting to start your day.  The view overlooks luscious gardens and the beach, inviting guests to savour the first light of day.

The buffet is your typical hotel buffet, including a various fresh juices, a selection of bread, pastries, breakfast cereals, cheeses, cold cut meats and fresh fruit.  The hot section changes daily however it always has an egg station where they cook your eggs to order.  If you’re keen to make breakfast that little bit more luxurious (and why wouldn’t you?) they have sparkling wine and a bloody Mary station!

We also chose to dine at Spice Zone one evening and loved the romantic beach setting. The soft light glowing lanterns and the beautiful music provided by two very talented vocalists whom were accompanied by a guitar made it a meal to remember.

Whilst the restaurant offers different deals and specials on different evenings we opted for the la carte menu and to try the local food – it was a great choice!  Throughout the evening, the staff were extremely attentive and the extra gestures they made ensured we left happy.

You will also find Ciccio Ristorante & Pizzeria and Samui Sailor Grill & Restaurant at the resort, both serving up what looked to be delicious food!

Off to Thailand?  Book Yourself in at the Royal Muang Samui Villas

This spectacular resort lived up to everything we were expecting and more!

Aside from the gorgeous setting, the amazing rooms and the great location, the staff at Royal Muang Samui Villas are so incredibly friendly, helpful and warm.

They  ensured every part of our stay was as glorious and relaxing as we’d envisioned (and then some!)  It says a lot when you stay at a resort as gorgeous as this one and the staff still manage to shine – the team at Royal Muang really went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one!


We have no affiliation to Royal Muang in any way, we just loved our stay and wanted to give you the heads up.  If you do decide to visit Koh Samui we do not doubt that you’ll be just as impressed as us.

Adventure New Zealand

Anything But a Light Paddle: White Water Rafting Down the Kaituna River (and the Largest Commercially Rafted Waterfall in the World!)

April 22, 2017
Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New Zealand

Kiwis sort of have a track record of being a little crazy, and white water rapids seem to bring out the worst of us as seen here and here, however could I really call myself a travel blogger if I didn’t jump on every opportunity to try out as many of the activities New Zealand has to offer?

Probably not.

So when my partner mistakenly tells me I would NOT be gate crashing a boys day out before his best friend got married (keyword here mistakenly), of course I jumped on board for white water rafting in Rotorua, before heading to Cambridge for the gorgeous wedding of our two friends.

I’m going to say it right away, I have not a single regret and thoroughly enjoyed the escapade, however it did leave me a little shaken.

I’m not the biggest adrenaline-junkie around but I do love giving things a shot.  I also have this strange habit of going gung-ho into these sorts of activities feeling no fear, but then once I actually experience them for what they are (e.g. a little bit dangerous) I’m left questioning my sanity.

I have to admit, this was definitely one of those times.

Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New ZealandWe booked with Kaituna Cascades, a really fun group of guys, who look like they truly love their job. We signed up for their highest grade of rafting, a choice I thoroughly recommend.  It’s not overly exerting, it’s not particularly dangerous and the views are beautiful.

The trip takes you down (up?) the Kaituna river, through ‘historical’ rusty old power plants, beautiful inlets of water, cliff sides covered in classic Kiwi foliage and sends you careering through some stunning green water.

But let’s be real here – you’re not going white water rafting for a peaceful row through scenic vistas!

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re the kind of person looking for the next opportunity to be pushed around, thrown about, tipped upside down, and in one unfortunate instance, smashed pelvis-first into a rock.

Ok. Maybe you aren’t looking for that last experience – but don’t worry, I’ve got some tips at the end to hopefully keep you bruised-pelvis free…

For my first experience white water rafting, I would say this was definitely a good fit. While it has a pretty significant waterfall drop at one point (OK, it might just be the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world!), as white water goes this was pretty easy-going and a good starting point for anyone who, like me, might be afraid of getting the technique wrong.

When it comes down to it, there’s really nothing to it but to listen to your instructor and do as much shouting as you can – and you will shout!

But wait – what was that I said about a smashed pelvis??? Don’t worry, no bones were broken, just a serious bruise and that’s definitely avoidable.

Rafting the Kaituna River, Rotorua New ZealandWhile the guys at Kaituna were awesome and made sure they did the utmost to ensure we all had the best time that we could, I still ended up getting hurt. Which I suppose is what you risk – or even hope for – when doing something like white water rafting.

There were two spots on the trip where they said we could get out and swim; the first being a lovely gorge-like area of the river, and the second being um… right before a waterfall.

So that first one sounds great, right?! And it was. It was like being swirled around in a giant pool – a pool surrounded by nature and people laughing from exhilaration.

That last one, though? Um, not so great. We all jumped at the opportunity to dive back in the water after the fun we had in the gorge!  Just quietly, I think the instructor was keen to get us in too, as he didn’t manage to get us to flip the boat going down the big waterfall.

In retrospect, perhaps this wasn’t the most strategic place to get out of the raft though?

We all found ourselves careering towards the waterfall and despite the instructors’ best efforts to call us back to the boat, our swimming was no match for the current. In the end, one of us went down the waterfall by himself – a fairly scary experience I would say – while my partner and I were instructed to hold onto the side of the boat as it went down.

Now, I’m not an expert – as I said this was my first time rafting – but holding onto a boat as it goes wherever it pleases down a rocky waterfall? It was less than ideal.

Not only did we have the full force of the current, but also the full weight of the boat on top of us.  Both Michael and I were slammed against the rocks and then dragged across them.

Honestly, the experience shook me quite a bit and from there I was kind of keen to get out of the water.

Regardless of this, I thoroughly recommend the Kaituna Cascades guys and I absolutely recommend trying out white water rafting.  I’d just encourage everyone to be a little bit more wary of when you get out of the boat. Oh, and please, PLEASE don’t hold onto the side of a raft as it slams its way down a waterfall.

Just trust me on this one.


Off to New Zealand?  On the hunt for adventure?  Pin this post!

Find out what it's like to go over the biggest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. New Zealand, home of adventure sports should be next on your list! Rotorua, NZ

As this was a last minute plan, I didn’t have my GoPro on me but I would like to give a big shout out to Jacob Laukaitis who went down the river with us and got some awesome footage. He hasn’t put the clips into a Youtube video but when he does you can find them here, or see a bunch of his awesome travel shots on his Instagram account.

Activities Adventure Asia Sri Lanka

Taking to the Skies over Bentota – Paramotoring and Heli Flights in Sri Lanka

April 13, 2017

Whether you’re an absolute adrenaline-junkie or a little more on the cautious side, Bentota in Sri Lanka has you covered.  Paramotoring and helicopters will help you take to the skies – without breaking the bank but with all of the fun!

Though we’d unequivocally recommend giving both a shot, we’ll explain the differences between the two offerings so you can make the right choice for you.

Paramotoring with Sky Club

Paramotoring was what initially took us to Bentota – it was an experience that neither of us had tried before and looked like the perfect combination of excitement and absolute peace in the skies.  We’d both been sky diving before and I’ve paraglided in the past so between the two, we thought we had an idea of what to expect.

Suren and Natalie run Sky Club, the leaders (and only certified operators) in Sri Lanka and they are hands-down the only company to head up on a paramotor with.  They single-handedly brought this sport to the island nation and worked with local aviation authorities to ensure proper regulations were established.  Once they were given the go-ahead to begin flying, the couple trained ex-air force personnel and never looked back.

During the course of your flight, you’ll sit securely in a custom-designed cart.  The parachute above your head controlling your direction (flown by the expertly trained pilot of course) whilst the massive fan behind him decides the height at which you fly.

The whole experience was surprisingly calm – from the effortless takeoff to the smooth landing, there was never a point in time where either of us felt nervous (which says a fair bit as Nathan’s not a fan of heights).

These machines just feel like they were built to soar through the sky – probably because they were!

Even if you don’t think you’re brave enough, we’d urge you to give paramotoring a go – it’s surprisingly manageable, even for the most nervous of flyers and you’ll certainly be in safe hands with the Sky Club team.

Heli Flights with Skylark

Following our paramotoring session (and a quick dip in the ocean), we made our way over to the heli pad and before we knew it were racing over Bentota in what was to be a significantly different experience.

Can you tell from the next picture how we felt about it?

If paramotoring was surprisingly relaxed with stunning views out over the ocean, our heli flight was an adrenaline-inducing adventure that practically had beach-goers on the ground ducking for cover (in the very best of ways!)

In safe hands, we hopped into our ride for the afternoon, suited up with our headphones and took to the skies for the second time that day.

Our flight started with a relaxed tour of the surrounding area, taking in Sri Lanka’s famous architecture, buddha statues and lighthouses before whizzing over the beach in an exciting acrobatic performance.

I’m sure you could ask for the more mundane version of this flight but, really, why would you?

How to Get to Bentota Beach

Located on the stunning Bentota Beach, you’ll find both Sky Club and Skylark within easy reach of each other – you can walk between the two in less than five minutes or, if like us, you go from one activity straight to another, the helicopter will even drop you off right outside the paramotoring spot.  How’s that for a memorable transfer!

Many people choose to stay in Bentota (which is half way between Colombo and Galle) but more so opt for the beaches in and around Galle or the historic city itself.

Trains

If you too are based near Galle, there are many trains that connect the two regions – we found the train station staff to be friendly and helpful and the train system easy to navigate making it a great option.  Second class tickets were only 100 Sri Lankan Rupees each (less than NZD1 or USD0.65 each) and the ride took approximately an hour.  If you’re planning on making the trip, you’ll find train times departing here and returning here.

Helpful Hint:  The Aluthgama train station is less than a kilometre from Bentota so if you find more convenient connections there, don’t be afraid to walk down or catch a tuk tuk – it’s incredibly easy to find.

Tuk Tuk

Before making a move for the beach we checked in regarding the train departure time but managed to misunderstand the time we needed to be back – who knew 3.15pm and 3.50pm could sound so similar?

Left with the choice of either waiting around for two hours for the next train (and missing our snorkelling session at Jungle Beach) or hiring a tuk tuk straight away, we elected to head back to Galle ASAP.  The tuk tuk to get home set us back LKR2,000 in total – though it was a significant price hike over the train, it ended up worth it to be back ready for the afternoon activities we had planned.

Tuk tuks in the area are generally comfortable and safe and heading back by road, we managed to catch some sights we didn’t see on the train.

Though we didn’t intend to hail a tuk tuk for the ride home, the combination of train and tuk tuk ended up working well for us whilst still keeping the costs relatively low.

Two Very Different Experiences, Both Equally Worthwhile…

If you have the time and the funds (and let’s face it, adventure activities like these don’t come any cheaper whilst retaining stringent safety standards), we really recommend you give both of these activities a go.

Sitting in the open air as the paramotor glided above the heads of visitors below was a fantastic experience – serene with a touch of excitement, we couldn’t take the smiles off our faces.  This activity is relatively unique to the area too so it’s a great opportunity to try something new.

By comparison, the helicopter ride in Bentota is chock-full of excitement with tight turns and sudden drops.  It’s not for the faint of heart but is a great way to get your pulse going and to see a little more of the area as you fly further inland.

Why choose one though, when for the price of trying one of these activities elsewhere, you can do both over one of Sri Lanka’s most gorgeous beaches?

It was an easy decision for us!


Looking for adventure in Sri Lanka? Yes you are! Check out paramotoring and heli rides at Bentota Beach - the most affordable adventure activities around! Fly high over Sri Lanka. Bentota Beach offers the most amazing paramotoring and heli rides at affordable prices. Find out why we recommend you take to the skies...

Thank you to Sky Club and Skylark for so kindly hosting us both for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Asia Eco Tourism Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Turtle Hatcheries: Why we arrived excited and left early & disappointed

April 1, 2017

Both Nathan and I are suckers for sea creatures.  From getting excited about spotting the tiniest little nudibranch whilst out on a dive to watching gigantic blue whales breach the surface of the ocean – we love it all.

It makes sense then that when we decided to come to Sri Lanka, a visit to a turtle hatchery was top of my list – I’d seen photos from friends and it sounded magical.

In my head I had imagined dozens of little baby turtles, tottling off down the shoreline, destined for the great blue and a life of freedom.  Sounds amazing, right?

I’d almost certainly over-romanticised the experience but in I went, hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter for this animal lover.  What I left with was anything but.

The Writing Was on the Wall

From the moment I walked into the facility, I knew I’d probably made the wrong choice in visiting.

Dozens and dozens of babies were smooshed into a relatively little round tank and though I didn’t love it, it was easy enough to look past it when we heard that at most they would be there for three days before being released into the wild.

*Keep breathing Sarah, it’s not so bad*

Then we were invited to pick the babies up – again, I reconciled myself – with so many babies in the tank, chances are each one would only be held once before it finds its way to freedom (plus they’re so little, it’s easy to support them whilst holding them for a second or two).

And let’s not forget – they’re crazy cute!

*Okay, this is good*

… but that was where the positives stopped and the feeling of guilt started to set in.

We moved onto the next tank where a single adult turtle swam back and forth, back and forth, along the same far edge of the tank.

Would he ever be returned the the wild?  No, were were told – he was being held there to educate visitors.

Would we like to hold him?  You can take him out of the water and pose for photos, we were told.

It was at that point that the switch flicked for me.

This poor turtle must be picked up and passed around dozens of times throughout the day and when he’s not being shuttled from tourist to tourist for their next Instagram shot, he’s left pacing back and forth in his far-too-small tank, a sure sign of boredom.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram as much as the next person (check us out if you’re not already!) but no photo should be at the expense of an animal’s wellbeing.

I’m not sure if things actually got worse at that point or if I had just decided that I didn’t want to be there anymore but from then on we saw more fully-grown turtles in tanks that were obviously too small for them and our ‘guide’ who was meant to be giving us a tour of the hatchery disappeared only to return to look over our shoulder.  We had hoped that we might have learned more about the work they were doing there, especially considering the 1,000 Sri Lankan Rupees we’d each paid (USD7 per person) for a guided tour but it wasn’t to be.

The feeding tank housed turtles for three hours a day (where unsurprisingly they spent time eating) but with three fully-grown turtles in the tank, there was very little room for movement.  Another tank housed one of these gentle giants in a space that was barely twice as wide as him.

Though I know the work they do here generally helps the turtles, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for the adults left behind – what kind of a life is that?

The offer was made to release a baby turtle into the ocean at an additional charge.  This was what I’d really come to do but suddenly as we stood there, we just knew we weren’t comfortable handing over any more money (1,500 rupees per turtle) to support this centre.

Photos online had shown dozens of turtles heading out to sea at once, each of them presumedly having a fair shot at survival.  The reality of sending two lone babies out into the ocean just didn’t feel the same – it’s a big world out there for two littlies by themselves.

Conservation Work?

Opened in 1996 to help promote responsible tourism, the turtle hatchery aids conservation by buying the turtle eggs from fisherman. This goes a long way towards discouraging them from selling the eggs…

Koggala Experience

Each night, when the sun goes down and the turtles have laid their eggs safety, locals dig them back up again.  We were told that in the past, men would sell turtle eggs to villagers that would eat them but thanks to the hatcheries buying them at an inflated rate, this is no longer an issue.  These eggs are now hatched, allowed to grow for approximately three days before tourists pay to set them free.  Thankfully any turtles that are not ‘purchased’ are released after hours by the hatcheries so of course the vast majority do make it into the ocean.

Though hatcheries aim to support turtle conservation, the benefits of their work have not gone unquestioned.  By removing and relocated the eggs, the gender of the babies can be affected (as the temperature plays a significant role in the gender outcome of eggs).  Allowing the babies to grow in captivity can also be detrimental to their overall chance of survival.

When the turtles hatch in their natural habitat, they head for the sea and swim for 48 hours non-stop, passing areas where most of their predators are. “But when they are hatched in simulated environments, they are put into tanks in which they swim for 48 hours. As a result when they are released into the sea later, they do not have the strength to swim past their predators and hence become easy prey.”

Upali Padmasiri, Wildlife Department Assistant Director

Final Thoughts

To be honest, both Nathan and I left feeling guilty and disappointed.

Though I don’t doubt that setups like this obviously work positively in their conservation efforts, this felt more like a way to make money off incoming tourists than as a genuine means of turtle protection.  For us, it wasn’t so much about the cost of entry as the conditions that the adult turtles were kept in – we would have happily have paid twice the price had it been clear that funds raised were being reinvested into the centre to provide better homes for the turtles.

We visited hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Sri Lanka’s turtles but unfortunately left with a reminder that generally animals are better off left in the wild.

I know some friends have had amazing visits so it’s possible that we were just unfortunate in our choice of hatchery?  Maybe our expectations are different?  I’m not sure what to make of it but there is one thing I do know…

At least for us, we’ll stick to spotting turtles in their natural habitats.

If you would like to see turtles in the wild, they love riding the waves at Dalawella Beach.  We found half a dozen of so directly out from the rope swing.

This post is of course in no way affiliated with anyone and our thoughts are entirely our own.  Should you wish to visit (or avoid) this hatchery, it was the Sea Turtle Conservation Project & Hatchery, Koggala that we visited.

Have you been to visit the turtles in Sri Lanka?  If so, we’d love to hear of your experience and thoughts!


Unfortunately our visit to a Sri Lankan turtle hatchery was anything but what we'd hoped for.  Find out what you need to know before deciding whether or not you too want to visit. Unfortunately our visit to a Sri Lankan turtle hatchery was anything but what we'd hoped for.  Find out what you need to know before deciding whether or not you too want to visit.

Accommodation Adventure Asia Eco Tourism Mid-Range Sri Lanka

Adventure & Glamping in Sri Lanka – Not Your Average All-Inclusive!

March 29, 2017
Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka

An easy drive from Colombo you’ll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word ‘all-inclusive’ when it comes to our travels but not this time!   Read on to find out why Borderlands should be a must-see on your visit to Sri Lanka…

It’s an amazing thing to leave a place feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of practicing gratitude—how it can boost your mood, help you treat others better, improve physical health, and keep stress and fear at bay. Now, here’s a little trick for how to automatically infuse more gratitude into your life: Spend more money on experiences, and less on material objects.

Real Simple – Amanda MacMillan

Gazing through the shroud of netting out into the Sri Lankan jungle, you just can’t help but feel appreciative.  If experiences are where it’s at, then this one would be hard to top.

Layer after layer of a jungle, from the closest painted in hues of vibrant green, to the last few trees silhouetted against the sky, sitting high on the misty mountain – all laid out in front of us without having to leave our bed. The call of countless birds and lizards, the buzz of insects waking up, the river racing along below us.

How fortunate were we to have spent even a few nights in paradise like this?

Borderlands is about as far from a typical all-inclusive holiday destination as it gets.  Yes, for a set rate you’ll get a roof over your head (and a million dollar view to boot!) and all of your meals included.  Also included are two adventure activities a day with fully trained guides and free WiFi.  Unlike your average all-inclusive resort though, Borderlands has an overwhelming sense of character and a jungle outlook that just can’t be beaten.

Lounging in the chill-out area, we spotted a chameleon in the first five minutes of being there and throughout the day, magnificent eagles soared back and forth.  Even if you’re not on the hunt for adventure, Borderlands is a great choice in Kitulgala – it’s the ultimate in back-to-nature adventure in the true spirit of Sri Lanka.

Our room obviously wasn’t your standard hotel room but it was perfect for the location.  With plenty of ventilation and a fan, we didn’t get too hot and there was a partial sunshade to stop the morning daylight from streaming in – we went with it though, leaving it open so we could see the fireflies and birds out in the jungle.

Attached to our room was a partially outdoors ensuite (with a hot-water shower and toilet) and his and hers hand basins.  We also had a couple of tables, beanbags, fresh drinking water, electrical outlets and lights in our room – though it wasn’t fancy, it was more than adequate.

We’ve sometimes stayed in luxurious hotels and have come away less impressed than we did from Borderlands which says a lot about our experience there.  If you’ve got a good sense of adventure, this place is for you!

Food, Glorious Food!

We arrived at Borderlands a little unsure of what to expect when it came to meals but the food on offer was absolutely delicious!  Hearty and varied, every meal was one to look forward to and served up buffet style, there was plenty to go around.

Adventure is Calling

Though you can stay at Borderlands just to take advantage of the facilities and delicious food, we recommend you book in the full package including activities.  The team is known as being the most safety-conscious in the area (they were also one of the founding companies on the Kelani river) and their care and professionalism really shone through – if there’s one company you want to be pushing your personal boundaries with, it’s these guys.

White Water Kayaking

Our first activity started very quickly with a dunk in the water!  After jumping back in the kayak (and then falling out a few more times) we started to get the hang of keeping our balance in the whitewater.  The whole experience was a blast and with a river that’s currently a grade 2, it was the perfect introduction to kayaking in this environment – the right balance of challenge and security.

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka kayaking

Advanced Canyoning

Having been on an amazing canyoning trip once in the past we had high expectations from this activity!  Did it stack up?

We started with a hike down to the canyon though gorgeous tea plantations and farmland, our guides stopping to show us a range of local produce (with a few tastings thrown in too).  Once we made it to the river, we received a full safety briefing and made our way to the first obstacle, as double rock slide into the cool water below.  After slipping and sliding down a few rocks we approached the first of our cliff jumps… at approximately 12m high, we decided to save it for the braver souls amongst us and scrambled down the rocks instead.  With another smaller jump (which was much more to our liking) and an abseil our canyoning adventure was almost over.

We had a great time up the canyon with our two guides (we weren’t kidding when we said Borderlands was safety conscious) but wished the experience was a little longer.  Considering they’re making use of the natural environment only 10 minutes from the campsite though, it’s a fantastic introduction to canyoning.

Mountain Biking

From a fitness point of view, mountain biking made the other two activities feel like a walk in the park.

I can’t even recall the number of times I mentally chanted this saying back to myself as we kept pedalling up that mountain…

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”

– Nietzsche, 1888

Fortunately, our lovely instructor foresaw what was to come and had the Borderlands truck follow not too far behind us up the hill.  We made it about half way before stopping and hitching a ride with him!

At the top, we stopped for a while in an ancient cave, tried to spot the local bats and admired one of the region’s waterfalls – a gorgeous spot and a great chance to catch our breath!

With the choice of going off-road or following the path we took up, we elected to stick to the ‘road’ – better safe than sorry we decided.  With spectacular views and a comfortable pace headed back downhill, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we made the right choice.

Was it physically hard?  Yes.

Were we pleased we did it?  For sure!

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka mountain bikingBorderlands is about as close to the perfect jungle experience as it gets.  Tropical and wild whilst retaining a touch of comfort and calm, we really couldn’t recommend it enough to those adventurous spirits amongst us.

Leave your hair dryer at home, come with a can-do attitude and get stuck in – you won’t regret it!


Love a good adventure?  Save one of these pins!

An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation. An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation.

Thank you to Red Dot Tours for recommending and organising our stay at Borderlands.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Asia Destinations Luxury Reviews Sri Lanka

Staying on a Working Sri Lankan Plantation – Horathapola Estate

March 25, 2017
Horathapola Estate Sri Lanka review Red Dot Tours

How many hotels do you know that would check you in at 5.30am, graciously welcoming you with a fresh coconut and showing you to your room (when you don’t officially check in until later that afternoon)?

Prior to our visit to Sri Lanka, I would have said not one hotel would generally provide that level of service; I was proven wrong though.

Horathapola Estate has got you covered!

From the moment we arrived, we were treated like absolute royalty.  This boutique hotel, set on a genuine, working colonial estate is as authentic and gorgeous as they come but even with its obvious beauty, it’s the superb hospitality that stood out for us.

With 50 acres of crops and stunning gardens, it’s easy to slip into a slower pace of life.  Bird call rings out over the lush greenery as lizards and squirrels dart from one tree to another.  Life on the estate for guests is anything but hard with the staff carrying the load to ensure you won’t have to.

Dining at Horathapola Estate

All rooms at the estate come with the ‘half board’ option which includes breakfast and dinner – it’s a good thing too as meal times at Horathapola are a treat!

Their chef works hard to ensure food is prepared in a classically Sri Lankan manner, staying true to the property’s roots.  Fresh produce is taken from the plantation (including milk, rice, cashew nuts and salad greens) and cooked based on guest preferences.

Lunch is available a la carte and is fairly priced with a wide range of options available.

Touring the Estate

It’s not every day you’re welcomed onto a working plantation so we were delighted when the offer of a tour around the estate was made!

A bullock cart ride (you guessed it, that’s a cart pulled by a bull) takes guests around the expansive property, offering insight into rural life in Sri Lanka.  The unmistakable smell of cinnamon hangs in the air and countless trees bear fruit, ripe for picking – it really is a tropical paradise.

Whilst our guide explained the many different crops found on the plantation (coconut, rice, cashews, mango, pepper corn and cinnamon just to name a few) our driver raced up a coconut palm, more than happy to provide us with fresh coconut water and flesh.

On Your Bike!

Should you wish to head outside of the estate – and we recommend you do – mountain bikes are available at no additional charge.  We shouldn’t have been surprised by the quality of the bikes (we came to realise that this hotel doesn’t do things by half) but they really were heads and shoulders above what we’ve been offered in the past.

The roads around the estate are safe with locals driving slowly and incredibly patiently.  The majority of people we came across were on scooters or walking and everyone (literally everyone!) gave us a friendly beep or called out to us.  Compared to other parts of Sri Lanka, the Horathapola Estate feels a little off the tourist trail (which is fantastic news for those that visit) and though I’m not sure if the locals were excited to see us as they’re not yet inundated with tourists or if they’re just incredibly friendly to everyone they come across, it was a real pleasure being a guest in their slice of paradise for the day.

Why You Should Pick Horathapola Estate Over a Stay in Colombo

Others will tell you that although Colombo isn’t a drawcard for visitors to Sri Lanka, a stop in the country’s largest city is almost unavoidable.  Red Dot Tours are onto a winner here though, instead recommending visitors make the hour long drive out to Horathapola Estate for some serious rest and relaxation.  When I compare our stay here with the idea of contending with Colombo’s hustle and bustle, there’s absolutely no doubt that this was the right decision.

Really though, look at these photos.  Was there ever any doubt that this was the best choice?


 Skip Colombo and head straight to Horathapola Estate to unwind and experience the real Sri Lanka. Warm and welcoming staff, a stunning pool, delicious food and local tours - this working plantation is a must-see on your itinerary. Skip Colombo and head straight to Horathapola Estate to unwind and experience the real Sri Lanka. Warm and welcoming staff, a stunning pool, delicious food and local tours - this working plantation is a must-see on your itinerary. Skip Colombo and head straight to Horathapola Estate to unwind and experience the real Sri Lanka. Warm and welcoming staff, a stunning pool, delicious food and local tours - this working plantation is a must-see on your itinerary.

Thank you to Red Dot Tours and Horathapola Estate for making our visit possible.  To find out about the customised tour that Red Dot put together for us, check out our itinerary!

Accommodation Asia Destinations Itineraries Sri Lanka

Plan Your Visit to Sri Lanka! Our Two Week Itinerary

March 24, 2017

Is there any better feeling than that experienced the day or two before you head off on holiday?

That feeling of excitement as you head off into the unknown, ready to soak up new sights, experiences and cultures.

Sri Lanka’s not a place I ever thought I’d get to but later today we’ll be jetting off from Abu Dhabi and we could not be more excited!

We’re booked into the most gorgeous hotels and will be experiencing some of the island’s most unique (and if all goes to plan, memorable) boutique offerings.  After what feelings like months of planning, everything has some together and with unseasonable rain in Abu Dhabi, a holiday is certainly welcome.

If Sri Lanka’s on your wish-list or you’ve started planning your visit, this post is for you!

Getting There

Flights

A number of flights service the international airports in Sri Lanka.  The largest airport, Bandaranaike, is situated just out of Colombo  and though it’s currently undergoing renovations (which are causing significant delays), it is still the airport visitors are most likely to use.

If you are flying out of Colombo, ensure you allow additional time to check-in until the runway repairs have been completed.  At present, the runway is closed to aviation traffic between 8.30am and 4.30pm each day and the check-in recommendation has been pushed out to 5 hours (with counters closing 90 minutes before departure instead of the standard 60 minutes).

Sri Lanka looks and sounds too amazing to pass up so we certainly didn’t allow the potential delays to sway our decision to travel there – just ensure you allow enough time to get through the airport without having to worry.

The addition of a second international airport in 2013 has done little to distribute the flights through the country; Mattala Rajapaksa services the south-east coast but few airlines use it – it has in fact been labelled the emptiest airport in the world.  This makes it an unlikely option for potential tourists but I’m sure would allow for the fastest check-in in history should you decide to use one of the few airlines there!

Visa Requirements

The vast majority of visitors to Sri Lanka will require a visa to do so.  If time allows, you can apply for your visa online or, as we are going to do, you can be issued one upon arrival.  A single entry visa (for 30 days) is a little cheaper if applied for ahead of time or USD40 at the airport.

Touring with Red Dot Tours

Having worked in the past as a reservation agent for an airline and a tour guide, I get a real kick out of planning our own itineraries but with so much going on around the UAE, we didn’t have the time to organise our Sri Lankan visit to the level we normally would have liked.

We knew what we wanted to see and do near Galle but  hadn’t had a chance to lock down details elsewhere.

Enter Red Dot Tours!

Jennifer became our Sri Lankan miracle worker, putting together an amazing customised itinerary for us.  She listened intently to our requests and added her own recommendations – creating a trip that is is a perfect balance between our travel preferences and her personal knowledge of the country.

Red Dot have taken care of the majority of our accommodation for us (with the exception of Cantaloupe – two gorgeous hotels we’d already excitedly booked), our transport and many of our activities.

If like us, you’re short on planning time or would rather let someone take care of the planning for you, we can already confirm that Red Dot goes above and beyond – and we’ve not even touched down on Sri Lankan soil yet!

Getting Around

Buses, trains, tuk tuks, taxis and drivers – Sri Lanka is not short on transport.

Though maps make distances from one location to another appear short, we have been warned that traffic, road condition and mountainous conditions can make trips longer than anticipated so allow plenty of time to get around the island.

We decided to book a chauffeur-guide in for the majority of our visit.  Though the scenery from the train looks absolutely gorgeous, we’re hoping to fit a fair few activities and sights in and having a driver will allow us to do so.  We also love stopping on the side of the road when something catches our eye and a train just won’t do that!

Accommodation

We will be coming back to you with reviews of the following properties following our visit so I won’t go into specific details at this point.  We are excited by the gorgeous vistas, stunning pools and the unique offerings of these properties though (some include safaris, barbecue dinners, canyoning and mountain biking – seriously!) and are excited to discover ourselves.

Night 1:  Horathapola Estate

Photo credit: Booking.com

Night 2/3:  Borderlands

Photo: Borderlands Sri Lanka

Night 4: Cantaloupe Aqua

Night 5/6: Cantaloupe Levels

Kaetana Lanka

Night 7: 3 Sisters

Night 8:  Fort Bazaar

Night 9: Kulu Safaris

Night 10:  The Hammock Lanka

Night 11:  Mandira Dickoya Bungalow

Night 12:  Kings Pavilion

Night 13/14: Aliya Resort & Spa

Activities

All of our stops in Sri Lanka were decided based upon the activities and sights that we wanted to enjoy.

Snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching, canyoning, visiting a turtle sanctuary, hiking Adam’s Peak, leopard spotting whilst on safari, touring a tea plantation, checking out both religious and ancient monuments and more; our visit to Sri Lanka is full of adventure, nature and local culture.

It’s perfect for us!

For us, one of the big appeals of this beautiful country is the diversity it offers.  From beach days to safaris and everything in between, there are enough activities to keep even the most active adventurer busy but there’s also plenty on offer if doing nothing is more your style.

We’re going to be dipping into both sides of the pool (so to speak) so stay tuned as we bring your our thoughts on each of the activities we have planned…

Let’s Do it…

Now, on our last morning in Abu Dhabi, our bags are calling out to be packed, the electronics are charging away and our passports are set to go.

Sri Lanka, we can’t wait to check you out for ourselves!


If you’re headed to Sri Lanka, pin your favourite images so you came come back to these beautiful hotels…

The best boutique accommodation in Sri Lanka. Avoid the crowds of tourists and check out our suggestions - from adventure to glamping to absolute luxury (plus everything in between). We've also included a travel and flight guide to make things easy. Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, offers something for almost everyone. Read our accommodation recommendations, tour provider of choice, transport guide and much more! The best boutique accommodation in Sri Lanka. Avoid the crowds of tourists and check out our suggestions - from adventure to glamping to absolute luxury (plus everything in between). We've also included a travel and flight guide to make things easy.

Accommodation Budget Europe Iceland Reviews

Kex: A Funky, Affordable Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland

March 19, 2017
Kex Hostel review Reykjavik Iceland

Iceland is has a well-deserved reputation for being drop-dead-gorgeous.  It is.

It also has a reputation for being fairly expensive.  For the most part, that’s true too.

Though we tend to stay in more private, comfortable accommodation options these days, our desired locations and activities always drive our decisions.  If there’s only basic accommodation in the area we’re headed, we go regardless.  If we want to travel long term, we tend to favour hostels and Airbnbs apartments to help cut down on our spending (with the added bonus of meeting other travellers and locals).  If we’re headed to an expensive area, you can be sure we’ll reduce the amount we spend on accommodation, putting our savings towards amazing activities, as opposed to missing out on those.

So when we found ourselves looking at accommodation in Iceland, we knew we’d have to look at alternatives.  We were there to see the country, not blow our budget on hotels – after all, nobody goes to Iceland just to sit inside their fancy room (though if you are looking for one, we know just the place where you can treat yourself!)

Recommended by a blogger friend (thanks Diana – check her out at MVMT!), we knew off the bat that Kex was anything but a fall-back option.

Located in an old biscuit factory and decorated with salvaged materials, this hostel has a distinctively eclectic, industrial feel – one that’s impossible to miss.  It’s also known locally for hosting the best musicians in town – one of our tour guides even recommended it as the place to be come evening.

Funky, quirky and certainly memorable, Kex provided us with everything we needed in a comfortable base.

What We Loved About Kex:

  • Kex is well located, a comfortable walk from the centre of the city.  As far as position goes, the hostel is spot on.
  • Breakfast is hearty, filling and plentiful.  It’s reasonably rustic – don’t come expecting pancakes and eggs cooked to order – but for a hostel, it’s easily the best we’ve ever seen.
  • Earplugs are on offer at the front desk free of charge – take some!  Though our roommates (we were in a four person co-ed room) were incredibly respectful, there was a fair bit of noise coming from outside on the first night of our stay.  I made the mistake of passing on the earplug and regretted my decision for a number of hours as I lay there, wishing the noise away.  Learn from my mistake a grab a few packets!  We used them the next few nights and slept really well – no complaints from us.
  • The quirky vibe of the place was awesome.  Kex has a unique feel to it – it makes you take yourself a little less seriously (which is never a bad thing).
  • There’s a room configuration (and quality) to suit a range of travellers.  Sure, it’s not a high-end, boutique offering, but with a range of rooms from industrial mixed dorms right through to private hotel-style rooms (which come with private bathrooms – yes!), there are plenty of options on offer.
  • If you’re travelling by yourself or would just like someone else to take care of your activities, they offer a selection of day trips from Reykjavik – too easy.
  • There’s free WiFi and a fully equipped kitchen (another great way to save money in Iceland – we found eating in to be significantly cheaper than eating out).

Things to Note:

  • In true European fashion, showering is a communal affair at Kex.  I remember the feeling that washed over me when I first walked into the woman’s bathroom to find all of the shower heads grouped in the one big cubical – I must admit, my first thought certainly wasn’t “oh yea!”.  With that said, there are a few unisex single showers so as long as you’ve got time on your side, you are able to have a private shower if you prefer.  One morning we had to race out the door and the single showers weren’t available so I braved the communal one – it turns out I shouldn’t have been worried at all – not a single soul walked in whilst I was in there (but I still get kudos for being brave so it’s win-win).
  • Being right by the city, Kex doesn’t have any private parking.  This means that, if you’re driving, you’ll either need to figure out the pay and display machines out front, use the carpark building a few hundred meters down the road or do as we did – check out the spots around town and then come back once the free parking begins (which, from memory was at 6pm – just don’t overstay your welcome the next morning as we did see a car get ticketed).

Though Kex houses 215 guests, we never once felt crowded or like we saw even a portion of those guests.  Granted it wasn’t absolute peak season whilst we were there but the private rooms were fully booked, leading us to believe they were running at a fairly high level of occupancy.

If you’re looking for a polished, luxury hotel, there’s no doubt this isn’t the place for you.  However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and a hostel you won’t soon forget, Kex could be the place for you!


Do you know someone headed to Iceland?  Pin this post to help them with their planning!

Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need?

Thank you to Kex Hostel for so kindly hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Activities Adventure Dubai Middle East

Dubai: Home to the Largest Inflatable Water Park in the World!

March 16, 2017
Aqua Fun Dubai - largest inflatable water park in the world JBR

Dubai is a city that pushes boundaries; if they can build it bigger, better, taller or more complex then you can be certain that this city will! This attitude extends to all facets of life, so it’s no wonder that when the idea of building the world’s largest water obstacle course was hatched, that it was destined for Dubai.

Located a short swim off JBR beach, you’ll find exactly that – the world’s biggest inflatable park, which just happens to form the Dubai logo when seen from above.  Would you expect anything less from a city that markets itself so proudly?

After kitting up on the beach, we began the short swim over to the course itself. The first obstacle? Getting on!

Nathan and I had a go at a smaller course whilst we were in Cozumel, Mexico and I found it next to impossible to actually get up on the inflatable from the water. These courses are serious-exercise-business!

Thankfully though, Aqua Fun have installed entry mats and ladders to help those of us who are less athletically inclined. Even with the mats, getting up on the course is a bit of a challenge but it is manageable and as they say, nothing worth having comes easy.

As we climbed aboard, we watched other others brave souls having a crack at the course – the lady closest to use scooting along the track just to slip and fall on the bouncy surface. Surprised, we couldn’t help but wonder if she was a little lacking in co-ordination! As it turns out though, even walking on the flat entrance part of the course is a challenge as we promptly found it, slipping and sliding all over the place.

We spent the next hour climbing, jumping, balancing and swinging our way through a variety of obstacles. Some were physically very demanding whereas others were more about technique than strength. Regardless, they were all great fun!

If we were to have one critique, it would be that the course is little repetitive with the same obstacles repeated at either side of the ‘track’. The advantage of this is that you can have a go on your obstacle of choice without having to wait on other people to clear it – if it’s busy on one side, work your way over to the other. It does feel a little like a missed opportunity to add more variety to the course though (and to actually make it feel bigger) – had there been more options, we would have stayed out on the water longer still. To be fair though, our aching muscles probably couldn’t have taken much more!

We came off the course with a few new scratches and bruises to add to the collection but huge smiles that showed it was all clearly worth it! If you have an adventurous spirit, we’d definitely suggest checking out Aqua Fun. Though you’ll find it easier if you have a good level of fitness and balance, it is within reach of most people, a heck of a lot of fun and a fun dose of adventure in the city.


If you’re on Pinterest, why not save this so others can find this post?

Duabi is now home to the largest inflatable water park in the world.  Located in one of Dubai's nicest areas, find out what we thought about it.  Is it worth stopping by Aqua Fun on your stopover to the city of the future?

Thank you to Aqua Fun for hosting us for the afternoon.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Destinations Doha Luxury Middle East Qatar Stop Overs & Quick Trips

A Weekend Itinerary in Doha – Why You Shouldn’t Just Fly Through Qatar!

March 14, 2017

With a weekend to spare, Nathan and I decided to hop over to Doha, Qatar.  Though I work with a number of teachers that have lived in Doha in the past, I’d heard mixed things about just how worthwhile the city was.  Is it work a stopover if you’re flying through?  Should you book a flight if you’re living in the Middle East and want a weekend away?

Despite having the highest GDP per capita in the world, we found the people of Qatar to be welcoming and approachable.  The wealth of the country is evident in its gorgeous buildings that are shooting up like wildfire.

Though the city doesn’t rival Dubai in terms of scale or grandeur or compete with Muscat’s stunning mountain ranges, it does have an energy that is uniquely Qatari and, in our opinion, certainly worth seeing.

If you’re planning a visit to Doha or stopping over on your way elsewhere (which you definitely should do), this guide is for you.

Tourist Activities in Doha, Qatar

Admire the Museum of Islamic Arts

Home to a variety world-class exhibits, the Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) contains beautiful and intriguing artworks from three continents, spanning 1,400 years.

Though we’ve lived in Abu Dhabi for the last year and a half and have travelled fairly extensively throughout the region, we’ve not seen an art collection that comes even close to rivalling this one.

Soak Up Traditional Middle Eastern Vibes at Souq Waqif

With the smell of shisha and oud drifting through the air and the buzz of goods changing hands as if in a scene from Aladdin, Souq Waqif has an old-world charm that is sometimes lacking in other Middle Eastern markets.

Souq Waqif was one of our favourite parts of Doha and we could have very happily stayed there people-watching all night.  The souq alone is reason to visit Qatar!

Take a Walk Along the Corniche and Check Out the City Lights

Winding 7 kilometres along Doha Bay is the corniche, providing visitors with perfect views back over the city.  Doha’s skyline is gorgeous and instantly recognisable with such iconic buildings – things will only get more exciting too as the city ramps up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Construction is already well under way – we can’t wait to see how the skyline continues to evolve.

If parks, restaurants and statues are more your style, there are plenty of other options along the corniche including pop-up markets,  traditional arts and crafts and playgrounds.  If you’re after a cheap momento to take home, you might get lucky and find a local lady offering henna – if you do (and you’re a lady), jump at the chance – henna smells amazing thanks to the addition of essential oils and it’s a great opportunity to chat with a Qatari.

Did you know?  Qatari’s make up only 12% of the entire population in this small Middle Eastern country.

Relax with a Massage

After a busy week at work or when you’re straight off a long flight, there’s not much better than a luxurious massage or spa treatment.  Upon arriving into the city we checked into Chi, the beautiful spa at the Shangri-La – we booked in for a wellness massage (the ku nye to be specific) and it hit the spot perfectly!

If massages aren’t your thing, Chi also has a hydrotherapy pool and a full range of health and beauty therapies to help make you look and feel like a million dollars.

Enjoy World-Class Cuisine

When we talked to our friends that have lived in Qatar they all had the same advice – go to Doha and eat up a storm.  Food is an important part of life there and it’s done well because of it.  I’m not sure if people eat out lots because the food is good or if the food’s good because lots of people head out but either way, make the most of it!

Our favourite was the Shanghai Club where we enjoyed world-class Chinese food with breath-taking views (162.3m above ground to be exact) – just go in with empty tummies as the amount of food was absolutely incredible.  Duck pancakes and sweet and sour fish were the standout dishes of the night for me – I’m getting hungry just thinking about them again!

Have More Time Up Your Sleeve?

There’s a surprisingly diverse range of things to do in Qatar considering the size of the country.  Why not pay a visit to the Singing Sand Dunes, the Katara Cultural Village or the Pearl (Doha’s take on the Dubai’s Palm)?  Alternatively, head into the warm Arabian waters and enjoy a scuba dive or head out into the dessert on a quintessentially Middle Eastern desert safari.

Getting There – Flights and Visa Requirements

Qatar shares a land border with only one country, Saudi Arabia, and due to visa limitations, the vast majority of people are not able to use this point of entry to the country.

If you’re visiting Qatar, chances are it will be on a stopover or a quick getaway from another Middle Eastern country and your point of arrival will be Hamad International Airport.  This stunning airport sits approximately 25 minutes out of the city centre making it easily accessible.

Residents of thirty-three countries are entitled to a visa on arrival (for QAR100 per person) and though this can be purchased online, doing so at the airport is quick and easy making it a viable option.

Alternatively, if you’ve booked a stopover through Qatar Airways (for between 5 and 96 hours), you’re entitled to a complimentary transit visa – just be sure to allow at least 7 days to process the visa.  Once it’s up and running, you’ll have a 30 day window with which to use it.

If you book a through-ticket with Qatar Airways, you’ll also be eligible for a free city tour (on a first come, first served basis) but it is a real whistle-stop tour so should you have the time to explore on your own accord, we’d definitely recommend doing so.

To find the lowest priced fairs and compare value between different airlines, we recommend using Skyscanner.

Hamad International Airport teddy bear Urs FischerRegardless of how you get to Doha, you’ll want to head into the city.  To do so, you can choose between taxis (which you’ll find waiting just outside of the terminal) or have the Shangri-La organise a private car for you.  Check out our ride!

Getting Around

Doha is well serviced by taxis, which are the easiest way to get around.  They’re well priced and the drivers we had all knew their through the city (which is more than we can sometimes say for drivers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai!) – just remember to ask them to put the meter on and round your payment up for the driver.

Though it’s possible to hire a car, we did see some fairly erratic driving and taxis are cheap and comfortable so we’d be hard pressed to recommend driving yourself for a short stay.

Where to Stay in Qatar

Shangri-La Hotel Doha

Opened in 2015, the Shangri-La Hotel Doha is synonymous with warmth and luxury – the perfect balance, ensuring guests are spoilt whilst still feeling at home.  It’s a spectacular option in Doha.  With 272 rooms, this striking city hotel is located in the central business district of West Bay which makes it a convenient base for a weekend away.

With a fully appointed gym (and personal trainers on hand throughout the day), four restaurants, three bars, a falcon and its handler in the lobby (I’m not joking!) and a direct connection to one of the biggest malls in Doha, there’s plenty to keep guests busy.

Most impressive of all though is the incredible pool and the spectacular city views.

The pool, built on the 7th floor of the hotel, is surrounded by towering hotels and office blocks.  It’s a genuine oasis in the hustle and bustle of downtown and with its sheer size and the number of palm trees (2,000 square metres and over 70 palms!), it’s surprisingly easy to forget there you are.  In all our travels, we’ve never seen anything quite like it.

When you’re finished relaxing pool-side, we suggest heading up to the Horizon Club Lounge on the 42nd floor.  Here breakfast is served to guests in the largest lounge in all of Doha, with stunning 360-degree views.  Regardless of the time of day, refreshments are available at no additional charge and come early evening, a lavish spread is put on making the Horizon Club Lounge the perfect spot to relax before dinner and watch life in the city go by beneath you.

We’re not normally ones to sit around in a communal space, preferring instead to be out exploring or relaxing in our room but with snacks, relaxing music, books galore and incredible views, we found ourselves slipping quietly onto a comfy sofa more than once.

If you’re looking to treat yourselves (and why wouldn’t you?), the booking a Horizon Club room is the perfect way to do so.  By the time you account for all of the additional benefits, it’s an easy decision.

As you would expect, the rooms in the Shangri-La Hotel are exceptional, each with their own floor-to-ceiling windows allowing guests to make the most of views out over the ever-expanding city.

All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, TVs with a wide range of channels (and a sound system that even lets you listen to your favourite shows whilst in the bath!) and spacious floor plans.  The bathrooms are also generously sized with moulded bathtubs, rain showers and high-quality toiletries.

It’s the finishing touches in a five-star hotel that set it above the rest and the addition of a simple hair-tie to our amenity collection is surprisingly telling.  As silly as it is, I hate it when my hair tie breaks and the fact that the Shangri-La go to that level of detail to look after their guests tells you just how invested they are in giving their guests the very best experience, each and every time.

Beautiful pools and views aside, it’s those personal touches that take a gorgeous hotel to the next level and the Shangri-La Hotel Doha sits very comfortably in the that echelon – what I would call personalised-luxury.

As we found in when staying at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, service is the core focus of these beautiful hotels.  When we walked around the Horizon Club Lounge we couldn’t help but notice that our hosts knew all of the guests by name – no small feat considering the number of people they must see through their doors.  Though the building and facilities are obviously top-notch, in our opinion, it’s the service and finishing touches that makes Shangri-La memorable as a brand.

When all is said and done, was the trip to Qatar worth our time and would we recommend others visit?

Absolutely.

Though it’s not a glitzy as as Dubai or steeped in history like Cairo, Doha has its own down-to-earth charm whilst still wowing with its obvious wealth (a difficult balance but one that it somehow manages).

Having visited, I can now understand why so many of my friends that have lived in the region consider Doha to be such a liveable city – it seems to strike the right balance in so many regards.

So, next time you’re looking for a weekend away from your adopted GCC homeland or are considering stopping off in the Middle East, don’t overlook Qatar.  Too many people pass through the airport without ever really setting foot on Qatari soil and take it from us, they’re missing out.


If you’re headed to Doha, Qatar, why not pin this post for future reference?

Doha is growing into a buzzing Middle Eastern city but too many people make the mistake of passing straight through. Don't be one of them! Find out why we recommend exploring Qatar. What to do, where to stay and how to get around - our guide will help you make the most of this charming city. Doha is growing into a buzzing Middle Eastern city but too many people make the mistake of passing straight through. Don't be one of them! Find out why we recommend exploring Qatar. What to do, where to stay and how to get around - our guide will help you make the most of this charming city. The best pool in all of Qatar! Check out why you have to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel in Doha (plus your guide to the city).

Thank you to the Shangri-La Hotel, Doha for inviting us to join them to experience a snippet into life in Qatar.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

%d bloggers like this: